Sunday, October 21, 2018

JJ Appleton And Jason Ricci: “Beautiful Slop” (2018) CD Review

A few years ago guitarist JJ Appleton and harmonica player Jason Ricci teamed up for a blues album titled Dirty Memory. They are now following that up with Beautiful Slop, a fantastic album featuring mostly original material, songs with a great classic vibe. That comes, in part, from JJ Appleton’s use of a 1932 National Resonator. This music has a natural, real sound that I love, a sound that I’ve always gravitated toward, but a sound that feels needed especially these days when we’re all wanting to grasp some truth. Joining Appleton and Ricci is Derek Nievergelt on acoustic bass.

JJ Appleton and Jason Ricci kick off the new album with a cover of “Don’t Take Advantage Of Me,” some good, honest, lively blues with a whole lot of excellent work on harmonica and a really cool vocal performance. “Don’t think I’m weak ‘cause I’m sweet to you/Well, don’t think I’m weak, baby, ‘cause I’m so goddamn sweet to you/Well, another man, another time/Wipe that mess right out of your mind/Yes, I will.” That’s followed by “Hurt Myself,” a song with a slower, darker, more serious groove. This one was written by Jason Ricci, and features a moving vocal performance. “Well, there’s something on my mind/Makes me want to die/I don’t know why.” The delivery is both powerful and delicate. This tune also includes some howls that might remind you of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Yeah, it is one of the disc’s strongest tracks.

Another favorite of mine, “I Got The Feeling,” has a kind of fun vibe, with a friendly groove. This one was written by JJ Appleton. “Oh, I’ve known some dark clouds/They sneak up with the rain/They say they’re gonna love you/And then they bring the pain.” This wonderful blues song is like a ray of sunlight piercing the darkness that seems to surround the world these days. That’s followed by another song written by Appleton, “Distraction,” which has a sweeter, more intimate tone to the vocal delivery. “You’re such a distraction/You’re such a delight.” And there is a beauty and a passion to Jason Ricci’s work on harmonica. We are then treated to an instrumental tune with a strong Cajun vibe to get us on our feet. “Geaux Nuts Kids” was composed by Jason Ricci.

“Don’t Badger The Witness,” also written by Ricci, is another cool number. It begins with some nice work on harmonica, then develops an easygoing groove with a good bass line. “They say I’m up, but I feel down/They say I’m lost, but I feel found/It don’t matter what I say/You all won’t believe me anyway/I’m just trying to stick around.” That’s followed by a gospel number, “Standing In The Safety Zone,” one of the album’s covers, a song recorded by The Fairfield Four. “Brighter Days,” a slower blues number written by Appleton, promises that brighter days are coming now. Good! We certainly need them. Then “For The Very Last Time” has a delicious rocking energy, and is yet another of the disc’s highlights. This one also was written by JJ Appleton, and features some exciting work on harmonica. The album then concludes with a cover of Rihanna’s “Stay,” a song written by Mikky Ekko and Justin Parker.

CD Track List
  1. Don’t Take Advantage Of Me
  2. Hurt Myself
  3. I Got The Feeling
  4. Distraction
  5. Geaux Nuts Kids
  6. Don’t Badger The Witness
  7. Standing In The Safety Zone
  8. Brighter Days
  9. For The Very Last Time
  10. Stay
Beautiful Slop is scheduled to be released on October 26, 2018.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Chris Pasin: “Ornettiquette” (2018) CD Review

The Grateful Dead introduced me to a lot of different music and musicians, including Ornette Coleman. I was in high school when Jerry Garcia joined Ornette on a few tracks of an album titled Virgin Beauty. (When is that disc going to be re-issued, by the way? It’s been out of print for far too long.) There was a weekly Grateful Dead radio program in Massachusetts in those days, and the host played “Singing In The Shower,” and I was hooked, fascinated. What struck me then about Coleman’s music was that it was exciting and had a great deal of movement and joy to it. Accomplished trumpet player Chris Pasin pays homage to Ornette Coleman (and to Don Cherry) on his new release, Ornettiquette, covering several of Coleman’s compositions while also offering a couple of original tunes. This album follows Pasin’s 2017 holiday album Baby It’s Cold Outside. Joining Chris Pasin on this new release are Karl Berger on vibraphone and piano, Harvey Sorgen on drums, Michael Bisio on bass, Adam Siegel on alto saxophone, and Ingrid Sertso on vocals.

The album opens with a wonderful original composition, “OCDC,” written by Chris Pasin. The trumpet is the focus right at the beginning, though the bass is the instrument I latch onto early in this track. It seems to be pumping along, keeping things moving. And boy do things move on this track, the music having an unbridled, joyous feel, particularly the trumpet. There is a cool lead on bass halfway through, and this track also features plenty of great work on drums. This is a piece that breathes and slides and flies. I dig the title, using Ornette Coleman’s initials for a play on AC/DC, and also perhaps Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Complex (or perhaps not; that might just be in my head, but no matter). It might also function as a reference to an album like Ornette!, in which all the track titles are abbreviations. Chris Pasin follows that with a piece composed by Ornette Coleman, “Jayne,” which has a bright, kind of loose vibe. I love that drumming, which has a gloriously manic feel at times, but somehow maintains enough control to drive the band forward. And the horns have a whole lot to say, some of it being delicious lunacy, an unbound excitement. Ah, Jayne is dancing on the fire escape again, dressed in leather and feathers and lights. Coax her back inside with a mesmerizing, hypnotizing vibraphone part. Yeah, that’s working just fine. This tune was named for Ornette’s wife and was included on Something Else!!!!

Ingrid Sertso joins the group on vocals for “Ghosts,” a piece written by Albert Ayler, with lyrics written by Sertso. She gives a kind of breathy delivery of the opening lines: “The night and day will pass away/But love will always stay.” The tune then kicks in with a positive sound, the vibraphone in particular having an incredibly cheerful feel on this track. There are a couple of moments when the track feels like it’s about to wind down, but then another instrument takes up the cause, keeps things going, brings us all back up again. And again, that bass is at the heart of the thing. Things get wonderfully weird like halfway through, and Ingrid returns with some kind of trippy scat. That’s followed by another of Ornette Coleman’s compositions, “Tomorrow Is The Question,” which was the title track to a 1959 release. It’s a cool, fun track, with the trumpet acting like a messenger from a distant corner of heaven, a place where joy is taken seriously and the rules get an occasional, affectionate nod but are soon forgotten. And it’s all over too soon. We then get a good rendition of “Just For You.” What, a mellower, thoughtful number? Yes. Sometimes I forget that Ornette Coleman was equally adept at writing these sorts of tunes. Not that it’s sedate; the trumpet, while having a sweeter, more romantic bent, is not completely restrained.

Ingrid Sertso returns on vocals for “When Will The Blues Leave,” providing some cool scat. I’m not sure when the blues will leave. It’s a question I’ve had on my mind for some time now. Perhaps the blues may lessen after the midterm elections. But listening to this seriously cool tune should help alleviate some of our fears and despair. Ingrid seems to communicate a lot without using many specific words. Or maybe these are words; I’m certain of very little these days. But suddenly she asks, “When, how, and where can one overcome the needs of life?” There is something magical or otherworldly about her vocal performance, which gives more power to what she is saying. Words from beyond, you understand. At the very end, she answers the question posed by the title of the tune: “Never.” Hmm. Ingrid Sertso also sings on “Lonely Woman,” lyrics that she wrote herself, setting them to the famous composition by Ornette Coleman. It’s an unusual and captivating rendition. The album then concludes with an original composition by Chris Pasin, “PTU,” a track which surprises me at times, feeling like a car ride through a bustling city inhabited by gnomes and shimmering prostitutes. Who is that beeping at me? This one is short; I feel like there is more to explore here, more to see.

CD Track List
  1. OCDC
  2. Jayne
  3. Ghosts
  4. Tomorrow Is The Question
  5. Just For You
  6. When Will The Blues Leave
  7. Lonely Woman
  8. PTU
Ornettiquette is scheduled to be released on October 21, 2018.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Bob Weir And Wolf Bros. at Theatre At Ace Hotel, 10-18-18 Concert Review

Bob Weir And Wolf Bros. performing "Dear Prudence"
Last night Bob Weir brought his new trio, Bob Weir And Wolf Bros., to the Theatre At Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Of course, as soon as the show had been announced, fans were remarking how appropriate the venue was for Bob Weir, and wondering how much Bob would play from his 1972 “solo” album Ace (“solo” is in quotation marks, because all the Grateful Dead members play on it, with the exception of Pigpen). It turns out, actually, that he wouldn’t play a single song from that album, which was a bit of a surprise. There were a couple of other surprises during the show, but that’s getting ahead of myself.

I had never been to the venue before, but had heard it was relatively small. And, indeed, the capacity is 1,600, making the Theatre At Ace Hotel a wonderfully intimate place to see a Grateful Dead-related show. It’s a beautiful, ornate venue, with fairly comfortable seats (not that we’d be seated during the show, of course). The concert was scheduled to start at 7 p.m., but folks were still finding their seats at that point.  At 7:21 p.m., the house lights went out, and moments later the trio of Bob Weir on guitar, Don Was on upright bass, and Jay Lane on drums came out on stage (I love Jay’s furry drums). And while the stage was bathed in a pretty purple light, Bob led the trio into “Easy To Slip,” a Little Feat song that Bob included on his 1978 release Heaven Help The Fool. Bob repeated the phrase “Nothing at all,” and the song included a sweet, mellow jam. Bob introduced “Deep Elem Blues” as a song that goes back a ways. The trio set a damn good groove and jammed on the song before getting to the lyrics, and also jammed again after a couple of verses. The crowd sang along with the chorus.

The only track from Bob Weir’s relatively recent Blue Mountain to be played last night was “Gonesville,” and it was an enjoyable version, with a bit of jamming. That was followed by “Loose Lucy,” which felt perhaps a bit slow, but was good, with a kind of blues groove. “Thank you for a real good time.” (Earlier in the day, I had been watching a video of the Grateful Dead performing “Loose Lucy” in 1990 at a show I attended near Buffalo.)

For “West L.A. Fadeaway,” Bob Weir switched to electric guitar. As the song was starting, the guy behind me and I recognized it simultaneously. Another guy behind me told me the Red Sox were winning, 4-0. All right! Bob Weir flubbed a line, or came in too early, then joked about it by walking up to the microphone and not saying a thing. The next line of the song, coincidentally was “Met an old mistake,” which the crowd appreciated. Anyway, it was an excellent, cool rendition, a fine choice for this setting, this band configuration, giving it a somewhat more gritty feel. You know? For me, it was the highlight of the first set. It was followed by “Scarlet Begonias,” which seemed to surprise and delight everyone. There might have been a couple of bad notes on guitar, or perhaps I was just high. Yes. Certainly high, because at a certain point I thought I was hearing “Fire On The Mountain,” but then Bob began the last verse of “Scarlet Begonias,” and the band – rather than going into “Fire” – followed that with “Easy Answers.” I didn’t like this song in 1993 when the Grateful Dead introduced it, and I don’t care all that much for it now either. For a moment, it seemed like the trio was going to do a Chuck Berry number to close the first set. But no, it ended there with “Easy Answers,” leaving us on ground level rather than lifting us to some glorious heights to tide us over until the second set. It wasn’t necessarily a bad version, but the song just always felt flat to me. The first set ended at 8:22 p.m.

During the set break, another vocal microphone stand was placed on stage.  I took a pee and refilled my water bottle – two separate actions, those – then went back to my seat, ready for the second set and knowing the Red Sox are going to the World Series. Yes, they won the game against Houston at the end of the first set. We had Red Sox fans directly behind us and next to us, so there was a small celebration in our section during the break. At 9:11 p.m., the lights went out, and a moment later the guys took the stage. Bob opened the second set with “Lost Sailor.” There was no cheer from the audience on the line “Where’s the dog star?” I guess everyone could finally tell he was not saying “dark star.” This was a really good rendition. “Drift away.” Oh yes! As you’d expect, it led directly into “Saint Of Circumstance,” which began with a great burst of energy. “This must be heaven,” indeed. A woman behind me shouted nervously, “I’m not going down there.” And, yes, I could see how the aisle might seem a steep drop into a fiery pit, with the orange lights on stage, and everyone facing forward expectantly, like for some strange religious rite. I was having a bit of trouble maintaining a strong footing myself. “Saint Of Circumstance” was excellent, by the way.

Then Bob switched to acoustic guitar, and announced to the crowd, “We’re going to bring out Perry Farrell.” And, yeah, Perry Farrell, the lead singer of Jane’s Addiction, joined the band. He sang backing vocals – as well as lead on a verse or two – on “Friend Of The Devil.” This was a faster rendition, closer to the original from American Beauty rather than the way the Dead played it in the 1980s and 1990s. It was an interesting and playful version, with some odd stops, and the whole crowd singing along. There were some funny moments, like when Perry Farrell started to come in too early. He laughed, and the audience cheered him. Hey, it’s okay, just relax and enjoy yourself. Bob included that extra verse (the “You can borrow from the devil, babe, you can borrow from a friend” verse). After the song, Perry Farrell joked about fucking up and about the audience applauding. “It didn’t hurt so bad,” he said. That was followed by a surprise, a cover of Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers’ “Breakdown,” with Perry Farrell singing lead. Very cool, and the crowd was digging it. Before leaving the stage, Perry gave Bob a hug. Bob led us all in thanking him.

Another surprise followed: “Althea.” It’s no rarity or anything; I was just surprised to hear it without John Mayer there to sing it, since we all know how much he loves that song. It was nice hearing Bob’s take on it, with him repeating “This space is getting hot,” feeding the crowd. That was followed by “New Speedway Boogie,” which took me a moment to recognize. This version had a cool, bluesy jam, with Jay Lane at one point doing a little “ch chhh” on the microphone. The jam then started to rock. “This darkness got to give.” No kidding. That led straight into “The Other One,” an odd but oddly effective song in this configuration. This song seems to be different every time it’s played, and this rendition had a cool vibe, with a nice jam before the first verse. That was followed by an okay take on “Dear Prudence,” which led straight to the set’s closing number, a really good version of “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad,” with everyone singing along. It started to really rock, with the ending drawn out. The encore was my favorite song of all time, “Ripple,” a song I am always happy to hear, even if Bob messes up the lyrics (he started to sing the song's final line much too early). The show ended at 10:34 p.m.

Set List

Set I
  1. Easy To Slip
  2. Deep Elem Blues
  3. Gonesville
  4. Loose Lucy
  5. West L.A. Fadeaway
  6. Scarlet Begonias >
  7. Easy Answers 
Set II
  1. Lost Sailor >
  2. Saint Of Circumstance
  3. Friend Of The Devil
  4. Breakdown
  5. Althea
  6. New Speedway Boogie >
  7. The Other One
  8. Dear Prudence >
  9. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad 
  1. Ripple
The stage before the show started (check out the furry drums)

 The Theater At Ace Hotel is located at 929 S. Broadway in Los Angeles, California.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Benjamin Jason Douglas: “First World Blues” (2018) CD Review

Benjamin Jason Douglas’ debut full-length release, First World Blues, is a phenomenal album mixing folk, country, rock, blues, and gospel. The music is infused with humor and heartache, just like life. It is all original material, most of it written by Benjamin Jason Douglas. Joining him on this album are Joseph Lekkas on bass, keys, electric guitar and backing vocals; Ryan Dishen on electric guitar and backing vocals; and Erin Nelson on drums, percussion and backing vocals.

The CD gets off to a great start with “Tentpole,” which has a fantastic raw, kick-ass country sound mixed with gospel. There is something devilish and something glorious in this lively country gospel song. “Down through the valleys below/I’m a stranger in a strange land/Never too far from home.” Hey, doesn’t this make you want to be a believer? Well, a believer in the healing, uplifting power of music, to be sure. It’s working for me. This track includes a bit of “Amazing Grace,” which fits right in. There is even a section with the vocals supported by just percussion, something that I still find immensely appealing. “Tentpole” is followed by “Beat Black & Blue Collar Blues,” a rough, rockin’ tune in which Benjamin Jason Douglas sings “I can’t win no matter what I do/I’ve got them beat black and blue collared blues/Got a brand new demotion at a brand new job.” I also really like this line: “Working nights to keep the lights on.”

Benjamin Jason Douglas then switches gears for “Walkin’ Down The Grain,” which has a deliciously dark, haunting folk sound, with a raw vocal delivery. This is the voice of someone who has experienced some harsh and hard days on the land, the voice of someone facing the end of his family’s farm. “Now I fear God and the devil/But fear for my family most/They put their hopes in me/And I put mine in the silos.” The song has a lonely, doomed sound.

The phrase “Raggedy Andy Williams” caught me by surprise the first time I put this disc on. Obviously, I hadn’t been looking at the track list, for that’s the title of the song, a song about the end of a marriage. And actually the title is similar to “Beat Black & Blue Collar Blues,” combining two ideas with a common word, something I like. I also like the lines “You can have the records/And the player too/’Cause I can’t hear them now/Without thinking of you” and “I’ll just watch a horror movie if I want ghosts at every turn” and “You know, a man should never gamble more than he has left to lose.” That’s followed by “Doc Red Blues,” a wonderful folk tune with a perfect, laid-back vibe. Check out these lines, which begin this one: “I could write you a story, but not a check/I could give you the answer that you want to hear/But that don’t mean I’m correct.” Yes, this album features some damn good lyrics. In “Funny Feeling,” one line that stands out for me is “Striking out without a swing.” Perhaps it’s because I’m a big baseball fan, and my team is in the playoffs (go Red Sox!). I also love the song’s main line, “I’ve got a funny feeling I’m not over feeling funny over you.”

“Tchoupitoulas” is the album’s only track not written by Benjamin Jason Douglas. This one was composed by Joe Lekkas, who not only plays several instruments on this release, but also produced the album. This one has a fun, cheerful vibe, and is about enjoying things down in New Orleans. “We can have a relationship/We can have our fun/We can have it all/We can have it all.” Yes! The CD concludes with “Gloria,” a compelling, engaging song that has more of a mellow folk sound. “But I just can’t keep it straight/If it’s mine or if it’s God’s will/I swallow all the hate/Just to keep from tasting the guilt.”

CD Track List
  1. Tentpole
  2. Beat Black & Blue Collar Blues
  3. Walkin’ Down The Grain
  4. Raggedy Andy Williams
  5. Doc Red Blues
  6. Diggin’ A Stigmata
  7. Funny Feeling
  8. Tchoupitoulas
  9. Streetpreacher
  10. Gloria
First World Blues was released on August 9, 2018 on Flour Sack Cape Records.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Linda Thompson: “My Mother Doesn’t Know I’m On The Stage” (2018) CD Review

Take a break from our horrid reality, and step into a delightful, humorous world of old music halls with Linda Thompson’s new release, My Mother Doesn’t Know I’m On The Stage. It’s a (mostly) live album of some classic tunes, featuring a lot of special guests, including Martha Wainwright and Teddy Thompson. These tracks, with a few exceptions, were recorded in May of 2005 at the Lyric Hammersmith in London, the singers backed by Michael Haslam on piano and snare, Sam Lakeman on piano, George Hinchliffe on ukulele and bass, and Roger Digby on concertina. These songs are humorous, as I mentioned, but also heartbreaking at times; these are songs from a better world. So pour a drink, gather around an old upright piano, and sing some tunes, at the top of your lungs if you so desire, without embarrassment or pride, but just for the bloody joy of it.

Linda opens this disc with “I Might Learn To Love Him Later On (Tra-La-La),” a track which is adorable from the start, with that piano part (that’s Michael Haslam on piano). Linda is clearly having fun with this tune. “He swore at me the other day, he did upon my life/Called me a silly something just as though I was his wife/Tra-la-la-la, that shows he loves me.” (By the way, the “Tra-la-la” reminds me of a song I used to hear folks sing at a little hall when I was a kid – “Seven Old Ladies.”) And there is a laugh in her voice as she sings, “His language will be shocking/I’ll just gag him with my stocking/I know he’s clean and tidy/Because I wash him every Friday/I might learn to love him later on.” Then Martha Wainwright sings lead on “Beautiful Dreamer,” one of Stephen Foster’s most beloved compositions. She delivers a gentle, gorgeous rendition, backed by Michael Haslam on piano.

“My Mother Doesn’t Know I’m On The Stage,” the album’s title track, is presented by someone well-acquainted with acting and the stage – Colin Firth. This track is ridiculously fun, and is one of the tracks not recorded live; it was recorded at Helicon Mountain Studios in London, with Colin backed by Steven Large on piano. “The chaps I meet outside know I’m an actor/But I never breathe a word of it at home/So my mother doesn’t know I’m on the stage/It would break her poor old heart if she found out.” That’s followed by another track that was not recorded live, “London Heart,” which strikes a more pensive and sober note. This one is performed by James Walbourne solo on guitar and vocals (with a bit of whistling as well), and – unlike the other tracks – is an original tune. “Born and raised I was in the city that can never be torn apart/Now I’m a stranger living far across the sea/Oh, woe is me/My London heart cries constantly/I try to sleep, but it won’t let me be.”

Linda Thompson gives us a beautiful and captivating rendition of “Good-bye Dolly Gray,” on which she is backed by Michael Haslam on piano. That’s followed by “I Wish You Were Here Again,” sung by Bob Davenport, backed by Roger Digby on concertina. This is a moving number, and Bob Davenport’s vocal performance is excellent. “I wish you were here again/Your long absence fills me with pain/Your voice and your smile/Live with me all the while/I wish you were here again.” Justin Vivian Bond is a compelling and delightful force sent here by gods who certainly have a sense of play. There is a bit of funny stage banter at the beginning of the track as Bond introduces “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” Bond then takes that energy into the performance of the song, particularly on a line like “Just when you’re thinking he’s your pal, you find him fooling around with some other gal,” which is delivered almost with a growl. Justin Vivian Bond is supported by Michael Haslam on piano and George Hinchliffe on ukulele.

I was turned onto Teddy Thompson through his performance in the 2005 Leonard Cohen documentary, Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, in which he did an excellent rendition of “Tonight Will Be Fine.” On this disc he delivers another beautiful and moving vocal performance, with “Here Am I Broken Hearted.” Teddy Thompson also gives us “Burlington Bertie From Bow,” showing us a very different side of him, with a different style and tone, and does an absolutely wonderful job with it. This humorous tune was also performed on The Muppet Show. Teddy Thompson is accompanied by Michael Haslam on piano and George Hinchliffe on bass. Teddy Thompson’s third number is “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” This is a serious, thoughtful, earnest rendition, with Teddy playing acoustic guitar, accompanied by Michael Haslam on snare drum.

John Foreman sings “If It Wasn’t For The ‘ouses In Between (Or The Cockney’s Garden),” accompanied by Linda Thompson on harmony vocals. This one is delivered a cappella, and is among the tracks not recorded at the concert. “The Lark In The Clear Air,” sung by Cara Dillon, is one of the best tracks. She has such a gorgeous, light, glorious voice, and is backed by Sam Lakeman on piano. That’s followed by “Wotcher! (Knocked ‘Em In The Old Kent Road),” sung by Roy Hudd, with Jools Holland backing him on piano. This track was not recorded live, but is from a BBC documentary titled Jools Holland: London Calling. The CD concludes with the ensemble singing “Show Me The Way To Go Home,” a song I first learned from Jaws when I was a kid.

CD Track List
  1. I Might Learn To Love Him Later On (Tra-La-La-La)
  2. Beautiful Dreamer
  3. My Mother Doesn’t Know I’m On The Stage
  4. London Heart
  5. Good-Bye Dolly Gray
  6. I Wish You Were Here Again
  7. A Good Man Is Hard To Find
  8. Here Am I Broken Hearted
  9. If It Wasn’t For The ‘ouses In Between (Or The Cockney’s Garden)
  10. Burlington Bertie From Bow
  11. The Lark In The Clear Air
  12. Wotcher! (Knoced ‘Em In The Old Kent Road)
  13. Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?
  14. Show Me The Way To Go Home
My Mother Doesn’t Know I’m On The Stage was released on September 28, 2018 through Omnivore Recordings.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles: “Love’s Middle Name” (2018) CD Review

In these discouraging, disheartening and disgusting days of Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh, it’s a relief to hear some raw, powerful female voices. Almost regardless of what they choose to sing about. Just their presence feels like an antidote to the poison being pumped into the arteries of this country from the horrors occupying the capital. Sarah Borges provides one of those strong and joyous voices, a voice to combat feelings of despair and hopelessness. Love’s Middle Name, the new release from Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles, features mostly original material, written or co-written by Sarah Borges. The music here is good solid rock, without a hint of bullshit or artifice. There is a bit of blues, of course, as rock has always had blues at its base, and at this point in our country’s existence there is some blues in every breath we take. There is also some punk in the raw delivery, another element we can’t help but appreciate these days. The band on this album is made up of Sarah Borges on vocals and guitar; Binky on bass and backing vocals; Eric “Roscoe” Ambel on guitar, keyboards and vocals (Ambel also produced the album); and Phil Cimino on drums and percussion. Ed Arnold plays drums on a couple of tracks.

The album kicks off with “House On A Hill,” which announces itself as straight-forward rock from its opening moments. The track has a solid groove, and Sarah’s vocals remind me at times of Joan Jett. That’s followed by “Lucky Rocks,” which has kind of a wonderfully harsh edge in the guitar. Her vocals rise above the music with a great force. “I know you got places to go and people to see/Maybe one of those people could be me/I’ve been putting lucky rocks in my pocket/To make you fall for me whole-hearted.” Sarah Borges then switches gears for “Oh Victoria,” a song that has a softer, acoustic sound, but does not lack a power of its own. It is one of my personal favorites. “We are all sad souls trying to get out.”

We then get back to a solid rock sound for “Let Me Try It,” this one co-written by Sarah Borges and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel. The vocal line is interesting, particularly on lines like “There ain’t nothing that I would not be able to forgive you for/Except for making me look in the mirror if you were to walk out that door.” Though this music is largely rock, there is a country kick to her vocals. “As long as it’s good for you, I want to try it.” That’s followed by one of the album’s two covers, a really good rendition of Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay’s “Are You Still Takin’ Them Pills.” This version has a fun feel, what with the hand claps and that cool work on guitar, though the subject is rather serious. “I think they almost made us feel a little happy/I think they really made us feel like we belong/They set us working on something for an entire day/And we would talk about it all night long.” And at the end, we hear pills rattling in their bottle like maracas.

“Get As Gone Can Get” is another of my favorites. This one is pure fun, a party tune to get you dancing. It’s rock and roll with energy, particularly in the vocal delivery. The band then slows things down a bit with “Grow Wings,” putting the focus more on the lyrics, with certain phrases standing out, such as “This world is too painful” and “I’m caught between fighter and victim.” Sarah’s vocals have a certain glorious ache. “Grow Wings” was written by Sarah Borges and Sean Staples, and is another of the disc’s highlights. Then “Headed Down” opens with punk energy, something we can use these days. I appreciate the somewhat angry, insistent tone of the guitars. “Go a little farther than you really think we should/You know it’s fun because it’s a little bit dangerous.” “Girlie Book,” written by Sarah Borges and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, has a steady, driving rhythm. “And her sister with her satin looks/She had me once, you know that was all it took/I’ve been trying to tell you/That I’ll be leaving soon/I’ll send you a postcard from nowhere/That I’ll write by the light of the moon.” The album then concludes with “I Can’t Change It,” the album’s other cover, which is more folk music at its base, though with rock elements. I love Sarah’s vocal performance on this track, the lines delivered with honesty and heart. “My one true love has gone away/What can I say/He left that day/The moon still shines a different way/What can I say/He left that day/I can’t change it/But I’m waiting patiently.” “I Can’t Change It” was written by Francis Miller.

CD Track List
  1. House On A Hill
  2. Lucky Rocks
  3. Oh Victoria
  4. Let Me Try It
  5. Are You Still Takin’ Them Pills
  6. Get As Gone Can Get
  7. Grow Wings
  8. Headed Down
  9. Girlie Book
  10. I Can’t Change It
Love’s Middle Name was released today, October 12, 2018, through Blue Corn Music.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

A Few Notes And Photos From Honk! Festival 2018

Bread & Puppet Circus Band
Though my girlfriend had been telling me about the Honk! music festival for a long time, 2017 was the first year I’d been able to attend. I had a blast, and so was excited to check out some of the music again this year. This festival, which features brass bands from all over the country and elsewhere, takes place in two locations: Davis Square in Somerville, and Harvard Square in Cambridge. My girlfriend and I went on Saturday, October 6th, which was the Davis Square day. Bands played in seven locations around the square, and we tried to see as many of them as possible. We managed to see Environmental Encroachment, Rara Bel Poze, Bread & Puppet Circus Band, Brass Balagan, Rude Mechanical Orchestra (I had to see this band because of my passion for Shakespeare), Unidos Do Swing, Unlawful Assembly, and School Of Honk. All were good, but the highlight of the day was, without question, Unidos Do Swing, a band from Sao Paulo, Brazil. These guys were a whole lot of fun, playing some damn good music and putting on a great show. They did a fantastic rendition of “Sing, Sing, Sing,” and then concluded with “When The Saints Go Marching In,” joined by members of Bread & Puppet Circus Band.

Here are several photos from the day:

Environmental Encroachment
Rara Bel Poze
Brass Balagan
Brass Balagan
street sign
Bread & Puppet Circus Band
Bread & Puppet Circus Band
Rude Mechanical Orchestra
Unidos Do Swing

Unidos Do Swing
Unidos Do Swing
Unidos Do Swing
Unidos Do Swing
Unidos Do Swing and Bread & Puppet Circus Band
Unlawful Assembly
School Of Honk

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Trevor Sewell: “Calling Nashville” (2017) CD Review

Blues musician Trevor Sewell has some fantastic folks backing him on his 2017 release Calling Nashville, including Janis Ian and Tracy Nelson. The album features all original material, written by Trevor Sewell. Though Trevor Sewell is known as a blues musician, on this album he is not strictly held to those parameters, incorporating elements of rock, jazz, soul, gospel, and even country into the music. Trevor Sewell, in addition to providing the lead vocals, plays guitar, mandolin, bass and keys. He is joined by Justin Kimball on bass, Dave Robson on bass, Sean O’Bryan Smith on upright bass, Trevor Brewis on drums and backing vocals, Kellen Michael Wenrich on fiddle, and Tim McDonald on organ. Janis Ian plays piano on a few tracks. Backing vocals are provided by Janis Ian, Tracy Nelson, Vickie Carrico, Mia Moravis, and Chris McCartie.

This disc opens with “Some Day,” a strong and compelling blues rock tune with something of a gospel spin. It’s driven by the guitar and the rhythm, but also by an optimistic thought, that “Some day/We’re going to start again/Treat each other right.” A message for the world right now, eh? I’m completely disgusted with a significant portion of my country’s population, and I wonder if I would ever be able to treat those people (read that as Trump supporters) right. I’m afraid I’m beyond that point. We’ll see, I suppose. Then in “Mountain Of Gold,” the vocal delivery has an intimate feel, like he’s right next to us, speaking directly to us. “If I tried until the day I died/I could never be the way you want me to.” But then he tells us, “We must learn to trust each other through these troubled times/Or sink without a trace beneath the tides.” This tune strongly, and seemingly effortlessly, connects to us, and perhaps connects us to each other. It has something of an easygoing vibe.

“Fade To Grey” is one of the album’s best tracks. It is delivered as a duet with Janis Ian, who also plays piano on this track. “Sometimes I pray/That I could fade to grey/Like you/And just become see-through.” This song has a seriously cool jazzy vibe, particularly with that rhythm and that nice work on piano, and includes some wonderful instrumental sections. I also appreciate that it’s not overproduced, that they didn’t stick a lot of other instruments here, but rather let the track breathe a bit. “Well, I have my problems/But so do we all/And though you never fail to answer when I call.” That’s followed by another of the disc’s highlights, “Matter Of Time,” which has a solid groove and vocals that are delivered with just the right amount of rawness. “I was wrong/I agree/Now there’s just no way back for me/Thankfully/I don’t care/If this is the outside, please leave me there.” It becomes a pretty good jam too. And the line that is repeated as the song slowly fades out is “It really doesn’t matter.” I find myself uttering that line a lot these days.

“Long Time Ago” is another of my favorites. This kind of groove always works for me, so I’m on board right from the start of this one. Trevor’s vocals are smooth and wonderful. “We all do some things we would rather forget, and I should know/But that was a long time ago.” I love the way he sings “and I should know,” like it’s an added thought, something that just occurred to him. And then Tracy Nelson comes in. Yes, this song is another duet. “Well, I thought I’d get even/Lord knows how I tried/That in due course of time all the anger subsides.” There is some nice stuff on organ here. Trevor sings, “Nobody knows what the future may hold.” True. Things then get rocking with “You Ain’t What I’m Looking For,” a fun and lively number that has a bit of a swing feel. “We all make bad decisions/I guess that’s just life/Well, I may not know much, but one thing is for sure/You ain’t what I’m looking for/You just ain’t.” I really like the backing vocals on this track, repeating, “You ain’t what I’m looking for.”

Trevor Sewell then dips into country territory with “Tear It Down,” a mellower tune with nice work on fiddle. “No matter what you have in store/You can’t hurt me anymore/And soon you’ll melt away/Like the ice that you are made of.” Another line I really like is “Then innocence helped ease the pain.” Then “Stand Next To Him” comes on with a great force, and features more good work by Kellen Michael Wenrich on fiddle. “The Way You Are” has a more relaxed vibe. “Don’t spare a thought for anyone who seems/To be caught in the crossfire on your battlefield/Don’t consider casualties/The way you are/The things you say/And the hearts you break/Will come around.” Then “Blanket Of Hope” has a more upbeat, positive feel. “I’ll take my chances and stay who I am/I’ll face these dark days alone.” I hope these dark days will come to an end soon. Friends, be sure to vote in the midterm elections, and start the process for removing that vile racist and his corrupt gang of assholes from power, so the country can begin healing. The CD then concludes with “Shadows,” a gentle, beautiful song, with Janis Ian backing Trevor on piano. “The sky was dark/I was afraid/You chased the shadows away.”

CD Track List
  1. Some Day
  2. Mountain Of Gold
  3. Fade To Grey
  4. Matter Of Time
  5. Long Time Ago
  6. You Ain’t What I’m Looking For
  7. Tear It Down
  8. Stand Next To Him
  9. The Way You Are
  10. Blanket Of Hope
  11. Shadows 
Calling Nashville was released on July 25, 2017.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Leonard Griffie: “Better Late Than No Time Soon” (2017) CD Review

The country has the blues, and sometimes blues music is the very thing to combat that. Leonard Griffie’s latest album, Better Late Than No Time Soon, could be the thing to lift you up, for a lot of this music is fun and features horns. The album contains all original material, written or co-written by Leonard Griffie. Joining Leonard Griffie on this album are Doug McAlister on bass, Mark Stever on drums, Michael Vannice on piano and organ, Gordon Greenley on saxophone, and Randy Scherer on trumpet. Leonard Griffie is based in Oregon, yet none of these songs are about the rain (something that eventually got me down when I lived in that state). They are about relationships and money (or a lack thereof), and are songs that should appeal to a whole lot of folks.

The album kicks off with “Look Me In The Eye,” a delicious blues tune with a good, catchy groove and some wonderful work on guitar. Plus, there are all these great touches on horn throughout the song. It’s a song about dishonesty. “Don’t you look away/I put my faith in you/Right up ‘til today.” And of course these days these lines stand out: “For once in your life/Try and tell the truth/You might be surprised/What it can do for you.” Then “I’m Not Like That” opens with these lines: “I’m not like that/I won’t mistreat you/I won’t do a thing/That you don’t want me to.” It’s sad that we might need to assure someone of something like that, but the world has gone sideways. Lots of people have been hurt, even damaged, and everyone wants to feel loved and safe. It’s a love song for our twisted times. I dig the bass line, which has a cheerful vibe, and there is some nice work on guitar as well.

“I Got News” has something of a classic sound, which I love, and features some good stuff on horn. This is a song announcing the end of a relationship. “I’ve got news/I’ve got some news/I’m through with you.” Ah, we’ve all had relationships that we just wanted to sing about ending, perhaps that we did sing about ending. And if you’re in that sort of situation right now and need a song, well, here it is. It features one of the album’s best vocal performances. “What You Got Is What You Get” is one seriously fun and vibrant track, with prominent horns and some nice work on drums. “Go out, looking good in that brand new dress/While I sit over here, my old clothes all in a mess/Well, this ain’t working from where I sit/So what you got is what you get.”

“I Do Love You” is a blues love song with a delicious groove. “When you love somebody, only the truth will do/And I do/Oh, I do/I do love you.” Well, I say that only the truth will do in all circumstances. I know, it’s a crazy idea, particularly in these days when we suffer with a mendacious leader. Anyway, I love the feel of this song, and it’s one of my favorite tracks. “You’re on my mind, whatever I do/Ain’t a minute goes by that I don’t think of you.” Then “Goin’ Downhill” starts with one of those perennial blues subjects – being left by a woman. But it’s also about aging and slowing down. “I’m heading downhill faster than I want to be.” That line makes me laugh, though part of that laughter is due to my relating to its message. Another line that makes me laugh is “Brakes ain’t stopping this old Cadillac.” It’s an unexpected metaphor, but I also love that there is a bit of bragging in a line about his own decline. After all, he isn’t calling himself a Ford Pinto. I love this song’s rhythm, which works to bring a smile to my face, even as it reminds me that I am facing my own impending demise. We all are.

“Ain’t No Happy Home” also has a great groove, though it’s about loneliness, its main lines being “There ain’t no happy home/When a man’s all alone.” But he’s trying to do something about it, asking “What’s it going to take to keep you there with me?” The horns tell me things are going to work out just fine. That’s followed by a cool instrumental track titled “Up And At ‘Em,” a nice little jam with some good stuff on organ, and then by the album’s title track, “Better Late Than No Time Soon,” which has an easygoing rhythm and features more good work on keys. “Oh, I’m pretty sure there’s honey in my spoon/Know what I say/Better late than no time soon.” The album concludes with an instrumental track, “I’m Good Where I Am.”

CD Track List
  1. Look Me In The Eye
  2. I’m Not Like That
  3. I Got News
  4. What’s A Man To Do
  5. What You Got Is What You Get
  6. Leave This Town
  7. I Do Love You
  8. You Done Stepped In It Now
  9. Goin’ Downhill
  10. Ain’t No Happy Home
  11. Up And At ‘Em
  12. Better Late Than No Time Soon
  13. A Dollar Or Two
  14. I’m Good Where I Am
Better Late Than No Time Soon was released on July 21, 2017.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Vince Guaraldi: “The Complete Warner Bros. – Seven Arts Recordings” (2018) CD Review

When you’re compiling a list of the most joyful songs ever – as I am sure everyone is wont to do now and again – one tune you’d certainly include (unless of course you’d gone temporarily insane) is Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus And Lucy.” This song feels like pure joy, with innocence and determination. And that is the song that opens The Complete Warner Bros. – Seven Arts Recordings, the new compilation of Guaraldi’s work. This two-disc set includes three complete albums, as well as several previously unreleased tracks. There are also new liner notes by Derrick Bang.

The first disc contains two complete albums – 1968’s Oh, Good Grief! and 1969’s The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi. On both of these, Vince Guaraldi plays electric harpsichord as well as piano. Oh, Good Grief! is, as you might guess from the title, made up of music for the Peanuts cartoons. All of the tracks are originals, written by Vince Guaraldi. As I mentioned, it opens with “Linus And Lucy,” one of Guaraldi’s two most famous compositions. This is the one people usually think of when they think of the Peanuts Theme. And this is an excellent version, lively and totally enjoyable. It’s followed by “You’re In Love, Charlie Brown,” which feels like a strange and magical amusement ride, something that is fun and light, and also loving and gentle. “Peppermint Patty” is one that perhaps isn’t as known and beloved as some of the other Peanuts themes, but I am kind of crazy about it. Peppermint Patty was my favorite character when I was kid, so that might be part of it. This track becomes a kind of intense late 1960s jam, which is wonderful. Then “Great Pumpkin Waltz” comes in great contrast, its delivery more traditional and sweet. Still, there is some really good stuff on guitar.

Joy simply abounds in “He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown” (which, as explained in the set’s liner notes, had been previously incorrectly titled “It’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown”). There is something comforting about this music, which, sure, might be partly due to my having first fallen in love with it when I was a child. The title track, “Oh, Good Grief!,” has a delicious Brazilian vibe. Geez, how cool were children’s television specials back then? I guess I’m lucky to have grown up when I did (though I assume they’re still showing these cartoons to kids, or at least I hope they are). One of the best tracks is “Red Baron.” It contains little nods to “Linus And Lucy,” but goes in a widely different direction, and is completely enjoyable. Oh, Good Grief! then concludes with “Rain, Rain Go Away,” a pretty and relaxing tune that begins with wonderful stuff on piano and also features some interesting, cool work on guitar.

The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi album then begins with “Nobody Else.” Immediately, you’ll notice a difference in the sound for this album, with the presence of strings. Another major difference is that most of the tracks on this album were composed by other people. “Nobody Else,” however, is one of the exceptions. I like some of the work on strings, and some of it I don’t care for, but I love Vince Guaraldi’s piano part. That’s followed by “Lucifer’s Lady,” a cool tune. To me at the beginning the piano sounds like it’s delivering an amped up version of The Classics IV’s “Spooky.” This one is all about the piano, and the piano is all about laying down a good groove and then at certain points exploring the areas around it, which I totally appreciate (although it might go on a bit longer than necessary). This track also features some good stuff on guitar.

We then get into the cover material, beginning with Tim Hardin’s “Black Sheep Boy,” which features vocals by Vince Guaraldi, and strings. This is the first of two Tim Hardin songs included here, the other being “Reason To Believe,” which is also the only other track to feature vocals. “Back Sheep Boy” is followed by a gentle, pretty rendition of Jobim’s “Once I Loved” and then by a strange rendition of Sonny And Cher’s “The Beat Goes On,” which feels rather pointless and repetitive. We then get a romantic rendition of “Yesterday,” featuring strings, followed by the final of the album’s original tracks, “Coffee And Doe-Nuts.” There is a kind of sweet chaos about this number, and I like it. There is also a bass solo, as well as some nice work on drums toward the end. The album concludes with “It Was A Very Good Year,” a song written by Erwin Drake and most famously recorded by Frank Sinatra. This is a good version; it goes in some interesting directions.

The second disc includes one complete album, Alma-Ville, as well as the bonus material. It actually begins with the bonus tracks, as they were recorded before Alma-Ville. There are four bonus tracks, none of which were previously released. The first is a cover of “Do You Know The Way To San Jose,” written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and made famous by Dionne Warwick. This is actually a really enjoyable rendition, developing a good groove and a lively vibe, with some delicious stuff on guitar. That’s followed by an alternate take of “The Beat Goes On.” This is quite a bit longer than the album version, allowing you to really sink into the groove, but not offering much else. We then get a cover of Edwin Hawkins’ gospel song “Oh, Happy Day.” The last of the bonus tracks is the only original composition among them, “The Sharecropper’s Daughter,” a rocking, fast-paced number, with a bit of a late 1960s psychedelic flavor which I love.

Alma-Ville then kicks off with “The Masked Marvel,” which is an original composition, as are most of the tracks. It has a steady groove, and features some wonderful and playful work on both piano and guitar. That’s followed by one of the album’s few covers, “Cristo Redentor,” written by Duke Pearson, with Guaraldi adding a sense of cool to this meditative tune. Partway through, it suddenly changes, taking on a livelier feel. Then “Detained In San Ysidro” has a light, kind of fun sense about it, and is an enjoyable tune. On The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi, Guaraldi covered The Beatles’ “Yesterday,” and on this album he gives us a good rendition of “Eleanor Rigby,” featuring some great work on guitar. “Uno Y Uno” is kind of an odd one, driven by guitar (Vince Guaraldi plays guitar on this track). “Alma-Ville,” the album’s title track, is a composition that Guaraldi originally included on his 1962 release Jazz Impressions Of Black Orpheus. I like both versions, but the one here is even more fun than the first, with a certain energy and a spring to its delivery. This version does contain the bass and drum solos (I think I prefer the drum solo in the original version). That’s followed by “Rio From The Air,” which, as you might guess, has a strong Brazilian flavor. The final cover on the album is “Watch What Happens.” The CD then concludes with “Jimbo’s,” an energetic tune which had previously been incorrectly titled “Jambo’s.” This one features a whole lot of fun work on piano, particularly in the first half, then some cool stuff on guitar in the second half, and even a good lead on bass.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Linus And Lucy
  2. You’re In Love, Charlie Brown
  3. Peppermint Patty
  4. Great Pumpkin Waltz
  5. He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown
  6. Oh, Good Grief!
  7. Red Baron
  8. Rain, Rain Go Away
  9. Nobody Else
  10. Lucifer’s Lady
  11. Black Sheep Boy
  12. Once I Loved
  13. The Beat Goes On
  14. Yesterday
  15. Coffee And Doe-Nuts
  16. Reason To Believe
  17. It Was A Very Good Year
Disc Two
  1. Do You Know The Way To San Jose
  2. The Beat Goes On
  3. Oh, Happy Day
  4. The Sharecropper’s Daughter
  5. The Masked Marvel
  6. Cristo Redentor
  7. Detained In San Ysidro
  8. Eleanor Rigby
  9. Uno Y Uno
  10. Alma-Ville
  11. Rio From The Air
  12. Watch What Happens
  13. Jimbo’s 
The Complete Warner Bros. – Seven Arts Recordings was released on July 6, 2018 through Omnivore Recordings.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Rudi Ekstein: “Carolina Chimes” (2018) CD Review

What music works best for you when you’re trying to fight the despair and horror brought on by a sick reality that allows a demented narcissist into the White House? I’m guessing that for a lot of folks it’s bluegrass. There is something bright and cheerful and honest about this music, and honesty is something that seems hard to come by in the world at large. Mandolin player Rudi Ekstein’s new album, Carolina Chimes, features all original bluegrass music. All tracks are instrumentals. Here is good, pure music played by some talented musicians. In addition to Rudi Ekstein on mandolin, this album features Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Jeff Autry on guitar, Mark Schatz on upright bass, and John Plotnik on banjo and dobro, plus guest musicians on certain tracks.

The album opens with “Cornerstone,” a tune that features some fine playing, music to ease our worried minds. This kind of music is always so effective, particularly when played by skilled musicians like the folks on this disc. That’s followed by “Indian Rain,” which begins with more plaintive, emotionally driven work on fiddle. The feel then changes like thirty seconds in, with the pace picking up somewhat, and the track becomes a pleasant, somewhat easygoing number with a western vibe. Then “All Night In Kentucky” is a faster-paced tune with some glorious picking. Again, there is joy here, and the chance to get swept up by the music and carried far, far away.

One of my personal favorite tracks is “Hoot Owl Hop.” And, no, it’s not just because of its cool title, though that certainly doesn’t hurt. This is a delicious jam that has a strong groove at its base and goes in some wonderful directions. There is a delightful, playful quality about it, and it is a lot of fun, in addition to being rather catchy. Toward the end, the bass takes the lead for a moment, which I love. Then “Jessy’s Fancy,” a song named after Rudi Ekstein’s daughter, has a sweeter, prettier vibe, with a kind of western rhythm, a sort of horse-trotting-out-on-the-range kind of thing. Things then really take off with “Spikebuck,” one of those wild bluegrass races where everyone wins. I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for these fast-paced bluegrass gems. They’re a whole lot of fun, and always seem to impress. Plus, I feel like this song could help us all lift right off the ground and fly off into some splendid, bright land of indeterminate alcohol content. Patrick Sauber plays banjo on “Hoot Owl Hop,” “Jessy’s Fancy” and “Spikebuck.”

Another of my personal favorites is “Flapjack,” an interesting, kind of sneaky, groovy tune which features more fantastic playing. I just totally love this track. Then comes a tune to make you grab your partner and spin her around. Titled “Bacon In The Pan,” there is something innocent and joyful about it. This really is all about dancing. It’s followed by “Rockalachia,” another fun, light number, a rockin’ kind of bluegrass. Check out that bass; there is even a solo later on, but throughout the song the bass is just making the world a bit better. Rob Parks plays bass on this track, and Seth Rhinehart is on banjo. Then “Carolina Chimes,” the disc’s title track, is one that completely delights me, certainly another of the disc’s highlights. There is something incredibly catchy and even pretty about it. It’s happiness in the form of music. It’s followed by a slower, more somber number, a strange waltz titled “Dixie Sunset,” led by that work on fiddle. Well, it has a somber feel at the start; then it takes on a different, kind of exciting, perhaps foreign flavor. The disc then concludes with “Back Drag,” which opens like a horse race. And off they go! Listen as these musicians come recklessly down the stretch, hoping to be embraced by the arms of insanity. Yes, this is another of the disc’s highlights.

CD Track List
  1. Cornerstone
  2. Indian Rain
  3. All Night In Kentucky
  4. Hoot Owl Hop
  5. Jessy’s Fancy
  6. Spikebuck
  7. Flapjack
  8. Bacon In The Pan
  9. Rockalachia
  10. Carolina Chimes
  11. Dixie Sunset
  12. Back Drag
Carolina Chimes is scheduled to be released on October 5, 2018.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Tar & Flowers: “Indian Summer” (2018) CD Review

These days I often find myself seeking refuge in music, needing some beautiful or soothing or uplifting or honest – or even simply human – sounds to balance out the general, loud and unpleasant noises of the world. And occasionally, in this quest I stumble upon magic, upon an album or band that somehow exists on a plane completely separate from whatever insanity is driving the country into oblivion. It was like that with We Are The West. It is also like that with Tar & Flowers, another band based here in Los Angeles. Their music is basically in the folk and country realm, but sometimes with a haunting, ethereal and timeless quality that nevertheless works to make the listener feel better about life, because it immediately lifts us from the quagmire, from the chaos, and in effect obliterates ugliness. I don’t know how it accomplishes this exactly; that’s part of why I use the word magic. The band is the project of Taylor Hungerford, who plays guitar, sitar, banjo and percussion on the new release Indian Summer, as well as sings. He is joined by Wolf Kroeger on vocals, bass and percussion, and by Vern Monnett on pedal steel on one track. All of the songs on this album are originals, written by Taylor Hungerford.

The album opens with “Danny,” telling a deliciously compelling folk tale with a somewhat dark tone, reminding me a bit at times of Donovan, particularly at the beginning, before most of the instruments comes thumping in. “Danny traveled many lands in search of a queen/But no kingdom would take him.” That’s followed by “Summer At Michael’s House.” Some folk strumming on acoustic guitar is at the base of this one, but that is the only thing ordinary about this song. What’s built on top of it is strange and strangely beautiful. I am drawn to the vocals on this track. This track boasts some excellent vocal work, especially on lines like these: “And I find when I return again/Cursing what I gave/Because the light of time can amend/The changes our world made.” Also, those are some good lyrics. Then “Ten Ton Heart” begins with a more upbeat pop-country sound, but the vocals still have something of that haunted quality. Check out these lines: “I wanted the truth but I got honesty/Like a boxer who fights but doesn't know how to bleed/You don't get a prison, it comes in parts/And you learn to build it with a ten ton heart.” I especially love the line, “I wanted the truth but I got honesty.” To my ear, the electric guitar has something of a late 1960s psychedelic vibe. “I told the jester like I told the king/That everything I do doesn’t mean a thing.”

“August” has a kind of sweet, gentle folk sound, particularly at the start. Its first line is “It was hot that winter and it was hot that June,” a perfect line for Los Angeles. And check out these lines: “I felt your hand, was cold to the touch/Had I given too little or kept too much?/But I think you wanted it that way.” In addition to some excellent lyrics, this song has an undeniable beauty. “Because all I had and all I had done/Was turned to dust under your bright sun/Like the lies we tell that we wish were true.” And “This Machine” has a beautiful and engaging tone from the start. In an album full of excellent material, this is probably my favorite track. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I am the poison in the well/I am the garden in which we fell/’Cause even then I still could see/The snake was crawling in this machine.” Something about this song is so effective, so moving, so intriguing, that I find myself listening to it repeatedly to make sure I take everything it’s giving.

On “Lost,” it is the guitar work that first pulls me in. There is also some interesting percussion. And of course there are some good lyrics, like these lines: “Sleep comes to the proudest of the weary/As life does to the stillest of the dead./So rest your head and try not to figure the weight and cost/To find your way starts with getting lost.” There is some optimism in there, which I appreciate. That’s followed by “Opium,” which has an unusual type of beauty of its own, gathering us in its shadowy embrace. “Opium has clouded my mind/And though I do not want to die/She never treats me unkind.” “Rumor” comes on strong, with glorious bursts of color. “And if you listen very still/You'll hear the past you just can't kill.” This absolutely wonderful album then concludes with “The Lovin’ Kind,” which is the track that features Vern Monnett on pedal steel. This one takes place in Los Angeles, mentioning Echo Park in one stanza. But for some reason, these are the lines that always stand out for me: “In the morn, he looks to the west/And sees her risin’ there/He moves his hand across his chest/Making shadows with her hair.”

CD Track List
  1. Danny
  2. Summer At Michael’s House
  3. Ten Ton Heart
  4. August
  5. This Machine
  6. Lost
  7. Opium
  8. Rumor
  9. The Lovin’ Kind 
Indian Summer was released on March 2, 2018.

The US Festival 1982: The “US” Generation Blu-ray/DVD Review

The first US Festival was held in September of 1982. This three-day music festival featured bands for a fairly wide range of musical tastes, with The B-52s, Eddie Money and Santana among the acts. Apparently, it was a glorious financial failure. But for those who attended – both on stage and in the audience – it was an incredible success. The US Festival 1982: The “US” Generation is a documentary recounting the story of that festival, and how it came to be. It features interviews with the people behind the festival, as well as some of the performers, and of course also includes plenty of concert footage. The Blu-ray/DVD package also includes some special features.

You can’t help but like Steve Wozniak, the man who had the idea for the festival. His passion for the project is still apparent when he speaks of it all these years later. And his heart seemed to be in the right place. Wozniak is the co-founder of Apple, and so in the early 1980s he had quite a bit of money. He’s also a big music fan, and he decided to spend some of his money to put together a music festival. He wanted it to be about the whole experience, including camping and so on, not just the music, and so the event was planned really well. As Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart says in an interview: “Woodstock wasn’t really thought out. This one was.” Peter Ellis (the president of UNUSON Corporation, which was created for the purpose of putting on the concert) says the concept of the festival was “the idea of community, the idea that technology’s going to make us a community.”

There are interviews with several of the musicians, including Mick Fleetwood, Mickey Hart, Stewart Copeland, Kate Pierson, Eddie Money and Joe Sharino. Joe Sharino tells a wonderful anecdote about being late. Kate Pierson talks about the appeal of the “Unite Us In Song” idea (which is what UNUSON stands for), making it “more than just a concert, more than just a party.” There is also a bit of footage of interviews conducted at the time, with people like Danny Elfman, Fred Schneider and Joey Ramone. And there is some backstage footage. The stuff about the gold backstage passes is funny.

We are treated to The B-52s playing “Big Bird” and “Strobe Light,” The Police performing “Can’t Stand Losing You” (that’s an awesome version), Eddie Money playing “Gimme Some Water,” The Cars playing “Bye Bye Love,” Santana playing “Black Magic Woman,” Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers performing “Refugee” (which is fantastic), and Fleetwood Mac playing “The Chain.” There are also short snippets of most of the other bands, including The English Beat, Oingo Boingo, Dave Edmunds, Talking Heads and the Grateful Dead. Noticeably absent from this documentary are The Kinks and Pat Benatar, both of whom performed on the second day. Of course, I wish there was more footage of the Dead (we get just a few seconds of “Truckin’”). The Grateful Dead’s involvement is what led me to hear about this festival in the first place. But there is a bit of footage of the Dead at a press conference, where they talk about how they’ll be playing at nine in the morning. And in fact their part of the show was billed as “Breakfast With The Grateful Dead.” There is also footage of Bill Graham talking about the Grateful Dead: “I think they should be here, because they’re the only ones who do what they do.” Indeed!

As much as I love the concert footage, some of the most interesting footage comes in the section on securing and creating a venue for the festival, including footage of a meeting where citizens expressed their concerns regarding a festival taking place in the area. And the material about the creation of the site is fascinating, all that had to be done, including building a special off-ramp from the highway. I love the footage of Bill Graham at the site as the stage is being built.  I also love that the success of the festival – then and now – is judged by how happy people were, not by whether it made a profit.

Special Features

The special features are on both the Blu-ray and the DVD, and include a commentary track and three extended interviews. The first of the interviews is with Steve Wozniak, where he talks about his passion for music, and the way music affects people. “Music was something that just relaxed my soul,” he tells us. He also talks a bit about Apple computers, and how technology began being used in music, and talks a bit about hiring Bill Graham. This interview is approximately sixteen and a half minutes. The second interview is with Mick Fleetwood, who talks about being approached to play the festival, and about the size of the crowd, and about the involvement of Bill Graham. This interview is approximately six and a half minutes. The third interview is with Stewart Copeland, in which he talks about some of the things that made the US Festival special. He too talks about Bill Graham, recounting an interesting anecdote about him from before The Police. This interview is approximately nineteen and half minutes.

On the commentary track, director Glenn Aveni tells some anecdotes on the making of the film and the conducting of interviews, and about the festival itself. Interestingly, the festival was filmed for Wozniak’s own enjoyment, with no intention of the footage being released. He talks about The Kinks not being filmed, so that explains why there is no footage of them in this documentary. He also tells a pretty humorous anecdote about The Kinks at this festival. And he does get into the reasons why there isn’t more footage of the Grateful Dead. He has plenty to say about The Police. But he also at times lets minutes go by without providing any thoughts or information.

The US Festival 1982: The “US Generation was directed by Glenn Aveni and was released as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack on August 10, 2018 through MVD Visual.