Thursday, December 13, 2018

Sugaray Rayford: “Somebody Save Me” (2019) CD Review

As certain people become more irritating and horrible, with their racism and their dishonesty and their devotion to the NRA and their complete lack of driving skills, the rest of us turn more and more to music for a taste of humanity. Somebody Save Me, the new album from singer Sugaray Rayford, delivers some really good soul and blues sounds, with a voice that is earnest and human. The material is original, though not written by Rayford. All the songs on this disc were written by Eric Corne, who also produced the album and plays guitar, harmonica and percussion on it. Corne is also founder and president of Forty Below Records, the label that is releasing this album. Also joining Sugaray Rayford on this release are Sasha Smith on keys, Rick Holmstrom on guitar, Eamon Ryland on guitar, Taras Prodaniuk on bass, Matt Tecu on drums, Mark Pender on trumpet, Ron Dziubla on saxophone, and Richard A. Rosenberg on trombone. There are also several guests playing on various tracks.

The disc kicks off with “The Revelator.” This song is bluesy, it is funky, it has soul, and it is seriously cool. There is a strong, prominent bass line to latch onto, to get you moving. I also dig those backing vocals. Eric Corne, Brittany Gael Vaughn, Brittney S. Wheeler, Gabriel M. Newman, J. Blake White and Terika Jefferson provide those backing vocals. And then the horns come in, taking the tune to another level of cool. Ah, this is just what I need. And if all that isn’t enough, this tune also features violin and cello. “No, I ain’t your preacher/No, I ain’t your preacher.” That’s followed by “Time To Get Movin’,” a bluesy rock song with a good groove. Here Sugaray Rayford addresses some of the troubles we’re facing, both from without and within, such as the hatred and social division. “Everything’s not black and white, there are different shades of grey/We need to come together now before it’s all too late/It’s time to get movin’/You’ve got to get behind the wheel.” Rayford belts out the lyrics, and man, he isn’t messing around. He means every word here; his is a voice of honesty and power. There is some great stuff on harmonica too. “It’s about to get real.”

The horns play a delicious role in “You And I,” giving the tune a classic vibe. “When we’re apart, it’s an awful crime.” Oh yes, that’s how I feel about being away from my girlfriend. This one too has a nice groove, and I enjoy what Sasha Smith is doing on organ. Carol Hatchett and Roberta Freeman provide backing vocals on this one. “Everywhere all the people are fighting/I just think of you, and I feel all right/You and I/Hand in hand, and side by side.” Yes, that’s what it’s about. That’s what makes it all right. And in “I’d Kill For You, Honey,” he sings “I’d even kill for you, honey/Baby, would you really do the same for me?” Good question, because if you would, I have a list of people prepared. Now, this is going to involve a trip to Washington, D.C.  I like the rough and wild vocal delivery, and the overall raw vibe of this track. Plus, it contains some more good work on harmonica.

“Sometimes You Get The Bear (And Sometimes The Bear Gets You)” has more of a fun groove. Yeah, I dig that kind of classic rhythm. Then suddenly, like halfway through, the groove changes, with the horns almost giving us a big band feel, while the guitar over it delivers some fantastic blues. It’s a cool section, an unexpected and delightful digression, functioning as a bridge between this world and the next. When the song returns to its original vibe, the next line is “Made it to heaven by the skin of my teeth.” That’s followed by “Somebody Save Me,” the album’s title track, which has a whole lot of soul. This is a wonderful tune, with a passionate vocal performance. “Somebody save me/I can’t make it on my own.” Eric Gorfain plays violin, and Richard Dodd plays cell on this one. It is one of my personal favorites. The CD concludes with “Dark Night Of The Soul,” which has a good blues groove. David Ralicke plays saxophone on this one. “How come you always take more than your share/Best beware, dark night is coming for you.”

CD Track List
  1. The Revelator
  2. Time To Get Movin’
  3. You And I
  4. My Cards Are On The Table
  5. I’d Kill For You, Honey
  6. Angels And Devils
  7. Sometimes You Get The Bear (And Sometimes The Bear Gets You)
  8. Somebody Save Me
  9. Is It Just Me
  10. Dark Night Of The Soul
Somebody Save Me is scheduled to be released on March 1, 2019 on Forty Below Records.

Balsam Range: “Aeonic” (2019) CD Review

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but there is something about bluegrass that works so well to raise our spirits. With its natural sounds, generally talented players and good blending of voices, bluegrass at the very least puts us at ease, and often gets us smiling and dancing. Aeonic, the new release from Balsam Range, does both, and it features some excellent vocal work. The band is made up of Tim Surrett on bass, dobro and vocals; Buddy Melton on fiddle and vocals; Caleb Smith guitar and vocals, Marc Pruett on banjo, and Darren Nicholson on mandolin and vocals. These guys have been putting out good music for more than a decade now, and this new release has some excellent tracks. And yes, the band explains the album’s title in the liner notes.

The CD gets off to a great start with “The Girl Who Invented The Wheel,” an energetic tune that should bring a smile to your face. There is a lot of great playing on this track. “A real fast song with a lonesome feel/’Cause there goes the girl who invented the wheel.” There is something about that banjo that makes me remember how good life can be. We could all use a reminder like that, eh? That’s followed by “Tumbleweed Town,” a pretty song written by Milan Miller and Beth Husband. The lines that stood out for me the first time I listened to it are: “Searching for a sign of the man I hope to be/Now the dreams I didn’t find are another casualty.”

Rambling is a one of those topics that finds its way into a lot of bluegrass tunes, and on this disc Balsam Range gives us “The Rambler,” a slower, mellower, sweeter tune that features some wonderful vocal work. And check out these lines: “You’re making twenty, you’re saving ten/’Til you get that ache again/To spend whatever you have to spend/To take away your blues/Thirty days is awful long/When the road you’re riding on/Makes you weak instead of strong.” This song is gorgeous and moving, and is one I like more and more each time I hear it. “You’ve seen too much, and not as much as you thought you’d see.” They then pick up the pace with “Get Me Gone,” a fun, lively, joyous song. “Get me gone like a shooting star/Just as fast, and just as far.” I love it, and I certainly appreciate these lyrics. I have a feeling we’ll be singing them a lot, as they express a desire that many of us have these days.

“Let My Life Be A Light” is another jubilant number, a bit of bluegrass gospel. It has a positive attitude that I would love to adopt. “Help me do some good deed while I live/Let my life be a light/Shining out through the night/May I help struggling ones to the fold/Spreading cheer everywhere/To the sad and the lone/Let my life be a light to some soul.” Even though the religious aspect of the lines doesn’t speak to me, I do appreciate the idea of being an example and trying to help one’s fellow man. Plus, I love that mandolin. There is also some really nice work on guitar. Another of the disc’s highlights is “Graveyard Blues.” This is a seriously cool number, bluegrass blues, with a strong vocal performance. They follow that with a thoughtful, gentle cover of Paul Thorn’s “Angel Too Soon.” The album then concludes with a Beatles cover, “If I Needed Someone.” It is a lively, fast-paced rendition. This is what it’s all about, and is exactly what I want from a bluegrass album, including excellent vocals and some good jamming.

CD Track List
  1. The Girl Who Invented The Wheel
  2. Tumbleweed Town
  3. The Rambler
  4. Get Me Gone
  5. Hobo Blues
  6. Help Me To Hold On
  7. Let My Life Be A Light
  8. My Cross To Bear
  9. Graveyard Blues
  10. Angel Too Soon
  11. If I Needed Someone 
Aeonic is scheduled to be released on January 4, 2019 through Mountain Home Music Company.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Tom Petty And Me: My Rock ‘n’ Roll Adventures With Tom Petty (2018) Book Review

In 2017, a friend asked me if he should buy me a ticket to see Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers at the Hollywood Bowl. I wanted to go, especially as I had somehow never seen Tom Petty in concert, but I had to fly to Boston the next morning and figured I’d be too rushed and too tired. “Let’s see him the next time he plays,” I said. And I didn’t go. That show, of course, turned out to be Tom Petty’s final performance. I’m still sad that I missed it. One person who did not miss that concert was Jon Scott, a man who was instrumental in launching Tom Petty’s career. In fact, Tom Petty even dedicated a song to him that night. He writes about that show, and about his long career promoting Petty’s music, in his new book, Tom Petty And Me: My Rock ‘n’ Roll Adventures With Tom Petty.

Author Jon Scott is a fellow music lover, and his passion for music – especially, but not limited to, Tom Petty’s music – is clear on every page. Interestingly, his story begins with him losing his job. He was fired from MCA, then soon hired by Charlie Minor at ABC Records. Oh, if only everyone’s firing could be so advantageous. It was at his new job that he first encountered the music of Tom Petty (well, except for the Mudcrutch single he’d heard earlier), and the strange anecdote of finding that unlabeled record in his office closet rings true. Those of us who love music have all experienced this from time to time, upon discovering some new musician or band – that tremendous, world-opening joy, followed by an intense desire to share the music with everyone we know. (Hell, that’s the precise reason I started this blog.) And reading this book, I was getting those same chills that I had when I first heard Petty (or, for that matter, some of the other music groups who had that effect on me, such as The Peak Show and Josh Lederman Y Los Diablos). Jon Scott’s passion for the music will likely bring up that excitement for anyone who reads the book. And it is a good thing for all of us who enjoy Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers that he had that passion, for the label was planning on dropping the band before he begged for the chance to promote them.

The book has plenty of great anecdotes, such as his rather surprising first meeting with Tom Petty backstage at the Whisky A Go Go. And there are notes from the road, with Jon Scott offering a different perspective on touring than what is usually written in rock and roll tales. I love the story about getting to their show in Boston, where they opened for J. Geils Band. I was also kind of fascinated by the dynamic among artist, manager and promoter. And there is some interesting material about how decisions are made regarding radio playlists and so on. Jon Scott writes: “This was the beginning of media mergers and the use of data to make creative decisions. Media ownership groups bought up FM stations around the country and were just starting to hire professional radio consultants, who did extensive music research and then told station management what songs the listeners wanted to hear” (p. 44). I was lucky, for when I was a radio DJ, I worked at KWVA and could basically play whatever I wanted. Later in the book, Jon Scott talks about his work at KCSN, and that section certainly took me back to my time at KWVA.

But perhaps the most interesting material is on the different ways Jon Scott promoted Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers. Promotions such as the “radio station frequency tour” and the private listening party of Southern Accents at Tom Petty’s house are wild. And I love the New Year’s Eve party idea. The book contains several photographs, including a copy of the 1977 letter sent to radio stations programmers with a live version of “Breakdown.” The book basically goes in chronological order, and so at the end there is a chapter about that final concert, a concert I should have attended, the concert where Tom Petty dedicated “I Won’t Back Down” to the book’s author.

Tom Petty And Me: My Rock ‘n’ Roll Adventures With Tom Petty was published in 2018 through CB Publishing, a division of Chickasaw Buddy, Inc. It includes a foreword by John Mellencamp.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Charlie Faye & The Fayettes: “The Whole Shebang” (2019) CD Review

If you are looking for some music to wash away the taste of the nation’s current troubles, an excellent choice is The Whole Shebang, the new release from Charlie Faye & The Fayettes. This girl group rode a train straight out of the early 1960s, hardly making any stops between then and now (perhaps just one in the mid-1970s), seemingly with the sole intention of making us all happy. They released their self-titled debut in 2016, and it was a delight. When I saw them perform in August, they played several new songs, songs the audience immediately embraced, songs which have now found their way onto their new album. Backing them on this release are Eric Holden on bass, synths, organ, baritone guitar, glockenspiel, percussion, vibraphone, and mellotron (Holden also produced the album); Pete Thomas on drums and percussion; Marcus Watkins on guitar; and Chris Joyner on keys. There are also several guest musicians on certain tracks. Though they may sound like classic pop songs, all the songs on this album are originals, written or co-written by Charlie Faye.

They get things off to a wonderful start with “1-2-3-4,” a ridiculously fun and adorable pop song. This is one I saw them perform at The Federal Bar in August, and loved immediately. It has an appealing innocence. Bill Barrett adds some really nice work on harmonica. That’s followed by “I Don’t Need No Baby,” which begins with a familiar drum beat, then goes in a great direction. The vocals and the attitude behind them are sweet, yet strong. “I know that look there in your eyes/I’ve seen it more than once on other guys/Before you say a word, let me get in a few/It’s best you knew/I don’t want, I don’t need no baby.” They played this one in August when I saw them in concert. Then “The Cream Rises To The Top” is a seriously cool song, with an oddly haunting vibe to its delicious pop sound. I dig that percussion, helping to make this one of my favorites. It was written by Charlie Faye and Eric Holden.

“The Whole Shebang,” the album’s title track, is one of the its most fun numbers. It has a cheerful, playful sound, one I can’t imagine anyone not falling for. “Never lined up all the pieces right, or had all the puzzle parts/But now that I’ve met you, I can believe in the real thing/Because to me, to me, baby, you’re the whole shebang.” “The Whole Shebang” was written by Charlie Faye and Bill DeMain. That’s followed by “Stone Cold Fox.” Just the phrase “stone cold fox” is kind of adorable at this point, and takes us to a different time. This one is rock and roll with a country flavor. “But when it comes to rockin’ no one else compares.” Bill Kirchen joins the group on guitar for this one, which is seriously cool. Then “Night People” has more of a late 1970s vibe, with a distinct disco feel in the music, and also in the lyrics. “Night people are my kind of people/Meeting up at all the coolest clubs/Night people are a different kind of people/Dancing to the music that they love.” Steve Herrman is on trumpet, Kristen Weber is on violin, and Austin Hoke is on cello, with the string arrangement by Jim Hoke.

My absolute favorite track on this release is “Baby We’ll Be OK.” I love this one, in part because of the message of the song, in part because the vocals have the sweetest possible sound. Their voices are just absolutely wonderful, as they tell us that we’ll be okay. And I believe them. The first line is “There’s something wrong with the world today,” a statement I don’t think anyone could possibly argue with. But the next line, in response, is “Baby, we’ll be okay.” And I love these lines: “Sometimes I just need to hear those words/I know that reality is absurd/But I can’t fall asleep ‘til you say/Baby, we’ll be okay.”  This is the perfect song for our time, wrapped in the sounds of another time, and is a song I know I’ll be turning to often. It was written by Charlie Faye and Bill DeMain. That’s followed by “Tonight’s The Night,” which has a classic vibe. It’s hard to believe this is a new song, particularly when listening to that first section. It kicks in to become a fun, rocking tune, a song that has a delightful innocence, one that reminds me of Happy Days.

“That’s What New Love Is For” has one of the album’s best vocal performances. “You don’t need to make me sigh/Or look up when I walk by/You say love grows every day/But the passion fades away/That’s what new love is for.” “Riding High” is another cheerful song of love. The world is a good place, isn’t it? It certainly seems so while I listen to this song. The album then concludes with “You Gotta Give It Up (Party Song),” a great rock and roll number with a strong beat. This is the song they opened with the last time I saw them in concert. It was a great opener, and it’s a great closer here, another of the disc’s highlights. “We’ve got to wake up/Yeah, we’ve got to get wise/We’ve got to speak up/We’ve got to organize.”

CD Track List
  1. 1-2-3-4
  2. I Don’t Need No Baby
  3. The Cream Rises To The Top
  4. The Whole Shebang
  5. Stone Cold Fox
  6. Night People
  7. Baby We’ll Be OK
  8. Tonight’s The Night
  9. That’s What New Love Is For
  10. Say Those Words
  11. Riding High
  12. You Gotta Give It Up (Party Song)
The Whole Shebang is scheduled to be released on February 8, 2019.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Steven Graves: “How Long” (2018) CD Review

Steven Graves’ new album, How Long, is a great mix of rock, country and soul, featuring original material. With one exception, all the songs on this release were written or co-written by Steven Graves. His band includes David Mendoza on bass and backing vocals, Robert Melendez on bass and backing vocals, Travis Cruse on guitar, James Mikey Day on keys, Bryant Mills on drums, and Jim Greiner on percussion, along with a whole lot of other folks on various instruments on different tracks.

The album kicks off with its title track, “How Long.” It has a fun vibe right from the start, with something of a 1960s pop flavor to that opening. It then develops into a good, easygoing rock tune with country elements. I appreciate these lines: “Mother Nature, she sure is on the run/She’s trying to make it through the damage that we’ve done.” That damage seems more extensive every day. The sooner the current administration is buried, the sooner we can get back on track with regards to the environment. “How Long” is followed by “Good Day.” This one has a bit of a funky edge to the groove, which I dig. And then check out those great backing vocals, which rise up with a glorious gospel sound, adding more than a dash of soul to the song. Veronica McWoodson and Kellie McCoy Anderson sing on this track. I also really like that lead on organ halfway through. “It’s a good day,” indeed!

“Let It Reign” also has a strong soul vibe and a positive message. “No need for anger, restitution or blame/The color don’t matter, we’re all the same.” Yeah, it might seem a simple idea, but these days it is needed. Seriously, what went wrong with this country? I know we’re all looking forward to the day when Donald Trump is behind bars. But that will be just the beginning of our work. There is a lot of healing to be done. I am hopeful that it can be done. Then we get into reggae territory with “People Rise Up.” Reggae is known for delivering positive vibes and empowering messages, and so it is fitting that we turn to that kind of music in these days of intense division and hatred. “Take back our hearts/Take back our minds/When we all unite/Power we will find/Let the people rise up/Let the darkness go away.” Plus, this track features a horn section, which I love. Armen Boyd is on sax, Becky Dees Boyd is on trombone, and Robin Anderson is on trumpet. “All of the people choose love over fear/Let the sun shine again/Let the water flow so clear.”

Last year, Steven Graves released an album titled Captain Soul. On that album, there was no title track. Now on his new album Steven Graves gives a song titled “Captain Soul,” a warm, easygoing tune that offers this advice: “Follow the stars until your dreams come true.” This song has perhaps a nod to the Grateful Dead in the line “So many roads we go down, down, down.” This track also features a really good instrumental section. Luca Fredericksen is on keys, and Jim Coulson is on drums. And speaking of the Dead, the album’s sole cover is a nice rendition of “Sugaree” that has a happy, soul feel, and features some nice work on keys. And I love those backing vocals, reminding me more of the Jerry Garcia Band sound than that of the Dead. Veronica McWoodson, Kellie McCoy Anderson and Keith Greeninger sing on this one. And, hey, there is another Grateful Dead connection here: Dennis McNally is part of Steven Graves’ publicity team.

One of my personal favorite tracks on this disc is “Fool For You,” a beautiful country love song with pedal steel (that’s BJ Cole on pedal steel). The song is presented as a duet with Sasha Dobson, and is moving and wonderful. It’s a song I’ve already listened to many times, and expect to listen to a lot more. “If you love me forever/Darling, I’ll love you so true/Nobody knows me better/Baby, I’m a fool for you.” This one was written by Steven Graves and Keith Greeninger. BJ Cole returns on pedal steel for the disc’s final track, “Fly To The Stars,” a beautiful, uplifting country song. This one was written by Steven Graves and Rob Owen. “Take my hand and take my heart/I’m giving it all away so we can fly to the stars.”

CD Track List
  1. How Long
  2. Good Day
  3. Forces Of Love
  4. Let It Reign
  5. People Rise Up
  6. Captain Soul
  7. Fool For You
  8. Weary Man
  9. Sugaree
  10. Set Me Free
  11. Stand For The People
  12. Fly To The Stars
How Long was released on October 10, 2018.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Simone Kopmajer: “Spotlight On Jazz” (2018) CD Review

Vocalist Simone Kopmajer, born in Austria, has been putting out albums for fifteen years, not only recording and performing beloved standards, but also her own material. Her new release, Spotlight On Jazz, is a mix of standards and originals, her voice friendly and beautiful as she delivers some gentle, soothing, romantic yet fun jazz. Joining her on this album are Terry Myers on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Paul Urbanek on piano, Martin Spitzer on guitar, Karl Sayer on bass, and Reinhardt Winkler on drums.

Simone Kopmajer opens the album with an original composition, “Spotlights,” which she co-wrote with Karolin Tuerk. This song has a delightful, bright vibe, which is interesting since she sings “It’s all right, it won’t be long/Time will bring a happier song.” After all, it feels that this is the very song she is promising. This is a song offering some comfort, even joy, and it’s a great start to the disc. It’s followed by a cover of “Pennies From Heaven,” a song written by Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke, and made famous by folks like Bing Crosby and Billie Holiday. Simone’s voice is warm and welcoming, as if ushering us into a more perfect world. I’m also quite fond of Karl Sayer’s work on bass here. Then “You Don’t Call Me” is an original song written by Paul Urbanek and Karolin Tuerk. It has a lonely late-night vibe at times, fitting lines like “Silence creeping/Through the sheets I sleep in/And I know that I’m missing you.”

“Mighty Tender Love” is a fun number written by Simon Kopmajer, with a more upbeat groove. Something about this one makes me feel really good. Perhaps it’s because it makes me think of my girlfriend. “But I can’t believe that you’re the one I get to kiss/Oh, lucky me, I’ve found you.” And I love the instrumental section with the horn taking over, followed by a really nice lead on guitar. This is a song that reminds us of how good life can be, and lord knows we need as many of those as we can get these days. That’s followed by another song that was recorded by Bing Crosby, “Poinciana.” Simone Kopmajer’s rendition has a sweeter vibe, which I love. I really appreciate these late-night jazz gems, maybe because the world seems more peaceful at night, when we’re left to our own thoughts, and our responsibilities are few. The politicians are asleep, and so can do no more harm, at least not until morning. Don’t we just want to dwell within the span of a song like this one? The warmth and beauty of her voice seem to cradle us and say “Everything is okay.” And I love that lead on saxophone. Simone then turns more playful with “Dig That Riff.” I particularly enjoy Paul Urbanek’s work on piano on this track. There is a nice flow to that lead, as well as to Martin Spitzer’s lead on guitar. This one was written by Paul Urbanek and Karolin Tuerk. Simone sings, “Hey, it’s crazy/The music hasn’t started yet.” No? This disc includes a second version of this song, a remix with a funkier groove.

“Remember Jeannie” is an original composition about the television series I Dream Of Jeannie, perhaps an odd subject for a song, certainly an unexpected one. There is something sweet and adorable about this track, and it features some good work on piano, as well as some fun stuff on drums. “Out of a colored cloud of smoke/Appeared a genie, oh so cute/Who couldn’t wait to kiss her master/And make his wish come true.” This one was written by Simon Kopmajer and Karolin Tuerk. Perhaps the most adorable vocal performance of the whole album is that on “Exactly Like You.” It begins with her vocals accompanied only by percussion, a nice touch, and then even includes a bit of scat. I also love the clarinet. This is such an enjoyable song. It was written by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, and has been recorded by a large number of artists over the years, including Louis Armstrong and (yes) Bing Crosby. That’s followed by an original number, “A Gift From Buddy,” written by Terry Myers and Simone Kopmajer. This one has a delicious, late-night, intimate vibe that draws you in. A gorgeous, romantic song that features a gentle lead on sax. This song is in no rush, but rather feels like a nice long embrace. “Then you were walking by/Like an angel to the melody/Lights shining down upon your face.” “We’re Goin’ In” is the final original song of this release, written by Terry Myers and Simone Kopmajer. It’s a fun tune with a good, cheerful groove. Ah yes, things are just beginning to move, and optimism is high. And I love Martin Spitzer’s work on guitar. “You know we can’t be so dull/We’ve got a cooler full.”

CD Track List
  1. Spotlights
  2. Pennies From Heaven
  3. You Don’t Call Me
  4. Mighty Tender Love
  5. Poinciana
  6. Dig That Riff
  7. Remember Jeannie
  8. Struttin’ With Some Barbecue
  9. Exactly Like You
  10. A Gift From Buddy
  11. Stompin’ At The Savoy
  12. We’re Goin’ In
  13. Mood Indigo
  14. Dig That Riff (Remix)
Spotlight On Jazz was released on November 9, 2018 on Lucky Mojo Records.

3x4: The Bangles, The Three O’ Clock, The Dream Syndicate, The Rain Parade (2018/2019) CD Review

I’ve been lucky to experience some seriously special music scenes a couple of times in my life – first that of the excellent folk artists in Boston in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and then the amazing bands that played at the Peak Show Compound here in L.A. in 2002-2004. There was something magical about these scenes, where the bands were all fans of each other’s work. There was a wonderful camaraderie with other fans too, because the band members would be in the audiences with them for the other bands’ shows. The artists were there to cheer each other on. Such was clearly the case with the groups collectively known as the Paisley Underground, a term apparently coined by Michael Quercio of The Three O’ Clock. Back in the early 1980s in Los Angeles, several groups shared a passion for a certain type of music, a brand of pop with psychedelic elements, a bit of punk, great work on guitar, and strong vocals. Four of the keys bands from that scene reunited for a special concert at the end of 2013 – The Bangles, The Dream Syndicate, The Three O’ Clock and Rain Parade. Now those same bands have gotten together for an interesting and wonderful album, 3x4: The Bangles, The Three O’ Clock, The Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade, in which each band covers a song from each of the other bands. It’s a really cool and unusual idea for an album. Clearly these guys are still cheering each other on, still digging each other’s music. This disc’s liner notes include thoughts and memories from several band members, with The Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn acknowledging “I think we were all intense music fans who also happened to be musicians.”

The disc opens with The Three O’ Clock covering The Bangles’ “Getting Out Of Hand.” Actually, they were still The Bangs when this song was recorded (you can hear it on Ladies And Gentlemen…The Bangles!). Anyway, this music is just so much fun, and it’s even more of a treat getting to hear this after just enjoying the compilation from Permanent Green Light, the band that came about after The Three O’ Clock disbanded. That’s followed by The Bangles covering The Dream Syndicate’s “That’s What You Always Say,” a song featured on their excellent album The Days Of Wine And Roses. From the time The Bangles began, different members sang lead on different songs, before the music industry decided that Susanna Hoffs was the voice of the band. And on this disc, they keep that dynamic, which is wonderful. By the way, this album features the group’s original lineup, including bass player Annette Zilinskas. Her bass features prominently in this great cover of “That’s What You Always Say.” The Dream Syndicate covers Rain Parade’s “You Are My Friend,” a song with something of a sweet and moving sound. “So sad this had to end/But broken things don’t mend/They lie where they fall.” That’s followed by Rain Parade covering The Three O’ Clock’s “As Real As Real,” a song from that band’s Baroque Hoedown EP. This is one of my favorite tracks, beautiful and compelling, with an otherworldly, enchanting sound. I love that guitar.

The Three O’ Clock then delivers an excellent rendition of The Dream Syndicate’s “Tell Me When It’s Over,” another song from The Days Of Wine And Roses. The band gives it more of a psychedelic sound than the original, and of course the vocals have less of a Lou Reed sound. Interestingly, that’s followed by another song from that same album, “When You Smile,” here performed by Rain Parade, who gives it a dreamy opening. Then it kicks in with a glorious force. “It seems like the end of the world/When you smile.” This is such a good song, and Rain Parade delivers a seriously cool rendition, with some delicious psychedelic guitar. And the jam at the end is both gritty and trippy. Then The Bangles give us a wonderful rendition of Rain Parade’s “Talking In My Sleep,” the lead track from that band’s Emergency Third Rail Power Trip LP. I love those sweet vocals over that psychedelic base. There is also a bit of a folk sound at the heart of this track. This is another of the disc’s highlights. That’s followed by The Dream Syndicate covering The Bangles’ “Hero Takes A Fall,” an interesting choice, for rumor has it that the song is about Steve Wynn. The Dream Syndicate bursts right into the song, this version featuring a lot of great guitar. Interestingly, Vicki Peterson sings backup on this track, like a guest on her own song, which is cool. I also dig the bass.

The Bangles cover The Three O’ Clock’s “Jet Fighter,” a song from Sixteen Tambourines. The way it suddenly bursts in with that beat reminds me of their cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade Of Winter.” This is such a catchy song. It’s followed by Rain Parade covering The Bangles’ “The Real World” (here listed as “Real World”), the lead track from the band’s self-titled 1982 EP. There is something pretty about this track. “This is the real world/And I believe our love is real/The only thing I’m counting on.” “What She’s Done To Your Mind” is a delightful pop number with a strong 1960s vibe, originally done by Rain Parade and here covered by The Three O’ Clock. Susanna Hoffs joins them on backing vocals on this track. The disc then concludes with The Dream Syndicate covering “She Turns To Flowers,” by The Three O’ Clock (actually, at that point the band was still The Salvation Army). It begins like a punk song, with that beat, and is certainly the most rockin’ track on the disc, a great wild energetic tune to wrap up this remarkable release.

CD Track List
  1. Getting Out Of Hand
  2. That’s What You Always Say
  3. You Are My Friend
  4. As Real As Real
  5. Tell Me When It’s Over
  6. When You Smile
  7. Talking In My Sleep
  8. Hero Takes A Fall
  9. Jet Fighter
  10. Real World
  11. What She’s Done To Your Mind
  12. She Turns To Flowers
3x4: The Bangles, The Three O’ Clock, The Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade is scheduled to be released on CD on January 11, 2019 through Yep Roc Records. It was first released as a limited edition on both vinyl and CD on November 23, 2018 as part of Black Friday Record Store Day.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Los Straitjackets: “Complete Christmas Songbook” (2018) CD Review

Every year, just over fourteen million new Christmas albums are unleashed on the public. And most are covering the same material, picking from a group of only twenty or thirty songs. It’s weird. But some of those albums manage to be quite good. In general, instrumental Christmas albums are better than those with vocals, because the lyrics are often insufferable. So a compilation like Los Straitjackets’ Complete Christmas Songbook has a leg up on most of the other releases before it even begins. This band also mixes up the track list a bit, which I appreciate. Sure, most of the music is still traditional fare, but there are also a couple of original compositions thrown in, and a lot of the traditional songs include nods to other non-holiday tunes, in a fashion similar to that employed by The Ventures on The Ventures’ Christmas Album. Los Straitjackets have been around for something like twenty-five years, and in that time they’ve released two Christmas albums, plus some holiday singles. All that music is collected here to aid in your holiday enjoyment.

This compilation kicks off with a rock and roll surf rendition of “Here Comes Santa Claus.” This is not a great song, obviously, but once you take out the lyrics, it becomes a whole lot better. The trick is to enjoy it without letting the lyrics creep into your noggin. That’s followed by “It’s A Marshmallow World,” which is a song of winter, not precisely a Christmas song, though it has long been associated with the holiday. It has an easygoing pleasant vibe, with a catchy guitar line. Then “Feliz Navidad” begins with a nod to “La Bamba.” This is a sweet, cheerful rendition of “Feliz Navidad,” and partway through it returns to “La Bamba.” That’s when the guitar begins to rock. “Jingle Bell Rock” has a good beat, and is a fun and lively track. They follow that by “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer,” a choice I just can’t condone, even though the version they offer is an instrumental, combined with a slowed-down “Tequila.” “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” is one of the worst songs ever written.

But that is followed by one of the disc’s best tracks, a seriously cool surf rock rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” This is definitely one you should add to your holiday play list. Los Straitjackets add in a bit of Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” Then we get an excellent version of “Frosty The Snowman” (okay, that sentence felt bizarre to write). It opens with a great big band beat. Yeah, this version has some swing to it, making it one of the best versions out there. And then after the second drum solo, it begins to really rock. I’m not kidding. I love that guitar.

“Christmas In Las Vegas” is an original composition, written by Danny Amis, Eddie Angel, Peter Curry and James Lester. It begins with what sounds to me like a fast bit of “Brazil,” which is great. I also really like the bass line, and there is a delicious moment on the drums. The other original composition is “Christmas Weekend,” one of my favorite tracks. It opens like an early Who song or a tune from The Creation or something, and it just rocks from there. That’s followed by “Little Drummer Boy,” which was always one of my favorite Christmas songs. Growing up, I was particularly fond of Joan Jett’s rendition. This version by Los Straitjackets is excellent, and is another of my favorite tracks. Then we get a sweet rendition of “The Christmas Song,” the last of the tracks from ‘Tis The Season For Los Straitjackets.

The next ten tracks are from Yuletide Beat, beginning with a really fun version of “Deck The Halls.” That’s followed by a seriously cool rendition of “We Three Kings,” that surf guitar at the beginning coming on strong. I don’t recall ever hearing a version quite like this one. Another of the disc’s highlights is “Groovy Old Saint Nick,” a fantastic track, with a nice vibe and plenty of great stuff on guitar. That’s followed by “Silent Night Rock,” sounding like a peaceful Christmas night on a beach in Hawaii, at least at first. And what could be better? Then it suddenly kicks in to become a fast-paced rock and roll tune. I like this take on the classic holiday song. I also really like what Los Straitjackets do with “Joy To The World.” It begins like one of those great Stax tracks, and then the guitar at times has a distinct CCR sound. Yuletide Beat concludes with “Soul’d Lang Syne,” a song for New Year’s Eve, not Christmas, but one of the best tracks either way. It has a delicious groove, and I love the sax.

“Holiday Twist” is a track from the Oh Santa! compilation, and is the only track on this disc to feature vocals. That’s George Miller on vocals. It’s a goofy, fun tune. “Wrap your muffler around your throat/Put on your gloves and overcoat/And shake it to the left and to the right/And do the holiday twist tonight.” That’s followed by “Hark The Herald Angels Sing,” which was released as a single, and then its flip side, “Silver Bells.” I always thought “Silver Bells” was a pretty song, and this version retains a lot of that vibe, while adding a dash of rock and roll, particularly in the guitar. Far and away the best Christmas television special is A Charlie Brown Christmas, in large part because of Vince Guaraldi’s music. This compilation concludes with a cool rendition of “Linus And Lucy” recorded live in Boston and originally included on The Quality Holiday Revue Live.

CD Track List
  1. Here Comes Santa Claus
  2. It’s A Marshmallow World
  3. Feliz Navidad
  4. Jingle Bell Rock
  5. Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
  6. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  7. Frosty The Snowman
  8. Christmas In Las Vegas
  9. Let It Snow
  10. Sleigh Ride
  11. Christmas Weekend
  12. Little Drummer Boy
  13. The Christmas Song
  14. Deck The Halls
  15. We Three Kings
  16. Que Verdes Son
  17. O Come All Ye Faithful
  18. Groovy Old Saint Nick
  19. Silent Night Rock
  20. Joy To The World
  21. Close To Christmas (The First Noel)
  22. Jingle Bells
  23. Soul’d Lang Syne
  24. Holiday Twist
  25. Hark The Herald Angels Sing
  26. Silver Bills
  27. Linus And Lucy 
Complete Christmas Songbook was released on October 19, 2018.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Carla Campopiano Trio: “Chicago/Buenos Aires Connections” (2018) CD Review

Carla Campopiano is a flutist who was born and raised in Argentina, then lived in Chicago. Her new EP, Chicago/Buenos Aires Connections, bridges the two places, the two cultures. Joining her are Angel Colacilli on guitar and Gustavo Cortinas on drums and percussion. The music these three create is absolutely wonderful, full of joy, full of passion, full of life.

The EP opens with “Sacachispas,” a piece composed by Julio De Caro. What a total delight! It immediately transports me away from all the current insanity plaguing our country, dropping me off in a cool, romantic land where everyone dances and drinks, and the night has a warm breeze. This track features some excellent work on flute. That’s followed by “Melancólico,” which begins with some wonderful work on guitar. The flute then calls us all together, gathering us to join in a dance which it then leads. The flute is partner to us all, and what a wonderful partner. There is so much joy to the playing. “Melancólico” was written by Julián Plaza. Then, with barely a pause, the trio launches into “Don Agustín Bardi,” a piece written by Horacio Salgán. Yes, this is a realm where the music and the wine flow generously. I dig the loose, yet intricate work on percussion, which gives the music a spontaneous feel. This is a lively number.

Then “La Balada Del León” is a mellower, thoughtful piece, at least at the start. It then picks up a bit at moments, but it is in those quieter moments that the piece has an undeniable beauty, the flute offering solace and warmth. “La Balada Del León” was written by Gustavo Cortinas. That’s followed by “Zita,” this one having an unusual opening. It then builds from there. On this track, Angel Colacilli switches to bass, and Julián López plays guitar. Partway through, this track takes a breath, enters into a mellower section that is quite moving, particularly the work on flute. It then explodes into a burst of vibrant movement again, with some nice work on percussion, and is probably the most intriguing of the EP’s tracks. It was composed by Astor Piazzola, as was the EP’s final track, “Triunfal.” The flute begins this one, flute and percussion working together, creating an unusual dynamic. This track features some interesting changes too, and has a rather sudden ending.

CD Track List
  1. Sacachispas
  2. Melancólico
  3. Don Agustín Bardi
  4. La Balada Del León
  5. Zita
  6. Triunfal
Chicago/Bueno Aires Connections is scheduled to be released on CD on December 7, 2018.

Permanent Green Light: “Hallucinations” (2018) CD Review

Permanent Green Light came about after The Three O’Clock ended in the late 1980s, with that band’s singer and bass player Michael Quercio joining up with guitarist Matt Devine and drummer Chris Bruckner to create some delightful psychedelic power pop. The trio released one album, some singles, and an EP before disbanding in the mid-1990s. It was all over so quickly that a lot of us didn’t get a chance then to enjoy the band. But now, thanks to a new compilation titled Hallucinations, we are getting that opportunity. This compilation features music from Against Nature, as well as the singles and EP, and also includes some previously unreleased tracks. This compilation also contains fairly extensive liner notes, with interviews with all three band members and other musicians.

The disc opens with “(You & I Are The) Sunshine,” a song from Against Nature that was also released as a single. This song is fun pop, the perfect song for summer, or any time in the year that you want to feel like it is summer. There is of course a bit of psychedelic sound to the music, and there is a bit of a punk vibe to the vocals at times. The vocals have that youthful, innocent, joyful vibe, and the first line is “You and I have no worries.” Ah, how I miss that sense. But this song makes it all feel possible again. This compilation also includes the 4-track demo version of this song, which is one of the previously unreleased tracks. The sound is a little rougher, of course, with the cymbals seeming to bleed into the other sounds, but it’s a cool version. It fades out, and there is just a bit of banter at the end.

“We Could Just Die” is a faster-paced pop rock tune with some cool work on guitar and a bit of punk to its style. This song was the lead track from the band’s self-titled EP, and it’s a seriously good song. It was also released as a single. That’s followed by “The Goddess Bunny,” an odd song, the verses having a more serious, sad tone, and delivered at a much slower pace than the chorus. The chorus is rather playful. “Having my way with the Goddess Bunny/Twisted limbs, but that’s not funny/Especially to Bunny.” The song is about a real person, a drag queen who is disabled due to polio and who goes by the name Goddess Bunny.

“The Truth This Time” was originally released as the flip side to “We Could Just Die,” and has a great rock sound. What stands out for me is its main line, “But I don’t believe the truth this time.” That line perhaps has more significance in these dark days when the bastard pretending to be president doesn’t believe in or speak the truth, when that creepy gargoyle Rudy Giuliani actually says “Truth isn’t truth.” Then the following song, “Street Love,” has the line “If I tell the truth, it’s because I couldn’t lie.” “Street Love” was originally included on Against Nature. The demo of “Street Love” is also included, a track which was previously unreleased. Another of the disc’s previously unreleased tracks is a 4-track demo of “Lovely To Love Me.” It’s an interesting song, because it has a really sweet vibe, yet also is kind of a thumping good rock tune.

My favorite track on this compilation is “Portmanteau.” This one has a very different sound from the start, with some excellent work on guitar. Then it kicks in, sounding more like a solid rock song, yet has plenty of surprises, both in the lyrics and the music. Plus, it has the most compelling vocal performance of the disc. “Old age and syphilis will chase you down/Go where you want to go.” This is a fantastic song from beginning to end. That’s followed by “Marianne Gave Up Her Hand,” another interesting and unusual track, though with a very different vibe. This one has a mellower feel, and features some really good lyrics, such as these lines: “I know the band’s made out of gold/The weight on her finger will show after time” and “He gave her his heart, she gave him her best.” The album concludes with an odd little track titled “From A Current Issue Of Sassy Magazine,” another of the disc’s previously unreleased tracks. In high school, a girl I didn’t really know (I went to a rather large high school) came up to me, saying she wanted to nominate me for Sassiest Boy of the Year, or some such thing. I had no idea what she was talking about, and she explained that there was a new magazine titled Sassy and they were looking for the sassiest boy in America, and she thought that I was a good choice. I thought she was joking. She wasn’t. It was the first and last time I heard about this magazine (until now), and – I think – the first and last time I heard from that girl. Anyway, this track is a phone message asking the caller to press a four-digit access code from an issue of the magazine in order to hear music from Permanent Green Light’s LP.

CD Track List
  1. (You & I Are The) Summertime
  2. We Could Just Die
  3. The Goddess Bunny
  4. The Truth This Time
  5. Street Love
  6. Wintertime’s A-Comin’, Martha Raye
  7. Ballad Of Paul K.
  8. Lovely To Love Me
  9. Honestly
  10. Portmanteau
  11. Marianne Gave Up Her Hand
  12. Fireman
  13. (You & I Are The) Summertime (4-Track Demo)
  14. Street Love (4-Track Demo)
  15. All For You
  16. From A Current Issue Of Sassy Magazine
Hallucinations was released on October 19, 2018 through Omnivore Recordings.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sonar: “Live At Moods” (2018) CD Review

Sonar is an unusual, progressive band based in Switzerland, their music sounding like rock that decided to reside in the darker realms of jazz. The band is made up of Stephan Thelen on guitar, Bernhard Wagner on guitar, Christian Kuntner on bass, and Manuel Pasquinelli on drums. On their new release, a live album titled Live At Moods, the band is joined by David Torn on guitar. Torn also does some live looping, which is interesting, as Sonar seemed to pride itself on not resorting to looping during live performances. The music here is all original, most of it composed by Stephan Thelen.

The album opens with “Twofold Covering,” which feels kind of creepy, kind of intense right from the start, like it’s stalking you, and you can’t shake it, because there is something steady in the rhythm. You feel like something is going to explode at any moment; the sound is dangerous, intriguing. And in the moments when it gets quieter, it is actually more frightening, ominous. Nearing the end, the guitar has something of a psychedelic quality, a serious trip, indeed. Then in the last few minutes you just become enveloped by the sound, by the whirring advance. And this is all performed live, which you don’t sense during the track, the applause at the end coming as a surprise. “Twofold Covering” was originally included on Sonar’s Static Motion. That’s followed by “Waves & Particles,” which also begins with a something of a steady groove, then builds on it from there, creating a very different sensation, conjuring images of otherworldly dances at moments, performed by pixies or sprites. The band doesn’t go too solidly in that direction, refrains from getting immersed in that realm. And certain elements sound like some kind of military radio tuning into the proceedings, which give us a different perspective of the action of the music, where perhaps our observation is affecting it in some way, making it act in some strange unnatural fashion. “Waves & Particles” was originally included on the band’s Vortex album, an album that also featured David Torn.

Another composition from Vortex is “Red Shift,” which has a different sort of rhythm, to keep you just a bit on edge, off balance. But the guitars work to create a strange welcoming, a doorway we willingly pass through. Things scurry about at our feet, but we can’t focus too much on them, for our attention is more at eye level, and the world around us keeps changing, and we peer more intently ahead, as the music grows quieter. Then toward the end the music builds and rises from the ground to fill the atmosphere, and we breathe, move through it and with it. “Tromsø” begins quietly, then begins pulsing, approaching. And we have a decision – step out of its way, or see what it will do with us. But the pounding of the tom stops, as if waiting to see what we’ll do. Then, perceiving no action on our part, it begins again, rising then receding. At one point it seems ready to overtake us, though by then we are digging the groove, which becomes heavier, the bass at the heart of the beast.

“For Lost Sailors” feels like tuning for a moment when it starts. This track grows in intensity too, like a methodical electronic fire devouring whatever may lie in its path, forever hungry, never satisfied. And chaos results from its destructive progress. The smoke clears to reveal an emptiness, and we tentatively step out into it, effectively nullifying the void with our presence, and there are touches of hope in that. Is this electronic pulse our own pulse? “For Lost Sailors” was composed by David Torn. The CD then concludes with “Lookface!” which bursts in with a heavy rock sound, catching us off guard. There is a chaotic feel, but something rises in the middle, attempting to assert control, to tame the electronic specters. And for a moment it is successful. But it is then things turn strange, and you have to stay on your toes, and what survives, what thrives, is some combination of this force and ourselves.

CD Track List
  1. Twofold Covering
  2. Waves & Particles
  3. Red Shift
  4. Tromsø
  5. For Lost Sailors
  6. Lookface!
Live At Moods was released on November 16, 2018.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Collisionville: “Stones, Keys, Flat Ninths & Salvage” (2018) Record Review

Collisionville is a band that combines a great country rock sound with punk elements and attitudes, and writes some pretty damn good lyrics. They are based in Oakland, and have experienced a few changes in the lineup over the years. The band is currently made up of Stephen Pride, Conor Thompson and Cory Snavely. Their new release is an excellent double album titled Stones, Keys, Flat Ninths & Salvage, and it is available on vinyl. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I am ecstatic that vinyl has made a comeback. It just feels right that music like this release from Collisionville is on vinyl. Plus, it being a double album provides the opportunity for a cool layout (see photo at the end of this review). Stones, Keys, Flat Ninths & Salvage features mostly original material, and includes some guest musicians on certain tracks.

Side 1: Stones

The double album kicks off with “Walkin’ Without The Lord,” which begins with a humorous bit of salesmanship, the words of a huckster of the tenth degree: “Along the banks of a trickling creek wearing the finest boots that you can afford/The way is rocky, but you’ll have no help when you’re walkin’ without the lord.” The song then kicks in with a glorious force to become some great shit-kicking country rock, with the emphasis on rock, featuring some excellent stuff on guitar, and all with a punk attitude. This is just fucking awesome. It’s followed by “Paint By The Numbers,” which is a total delight from the moment it starts, with Stephen Pride playing banjo as well as guitar. It has sort of an old-time sound, but with lyrics you won’t find on any records from a previous age: “I’m a sexy motherfucker but I can’t stay on the mattress.” I love the part with the backing vocals echoing certain words, single syllables, creating a cool vocal rhythm, but really it’s that banjo that makes this track so wonderful. This is one of my favorites. Then “Las Vegas, New Mexico” is more of a rock song with a straight-ahead sound. What stands out for me about this track is some of the vocal work, specifically when Stephen raises his voice. Those moments really grab me. Plus I dig the bass. And no, I had no idea there was a Las Vegas in New Mexico. The album side wraps up with “Somebody’s Free,” which also has a good rock sound, like that supplied by your favorite bar band. And it has a fun beat.

Side 2: Keys

The second side opens with “Signifiers,” a slightly slower number whose interesting use of references to the Rolling Stones at the beginning pulled me in: “Learn well the lessons of the Rolling Stones/Not just Bill Wyman, but also Brian Jones.” This track has some seriously excellent lyrics, such as these lines: “I have a wish inside my darkest heart/To speak it would release it and break the lights apart” and “I'll drive until I'm lost in some horseshit gravel town/Everyone who's expecting me, I'm gonna let you down.” There is a lot going on in this song. Then in “Forgotten Time Zone Blues,” they mention a band called the Strolling Bones in the lines “I found something strange at Jerry's Record Exchange/Between the Righteous Brothers and the Strolling Bones.” The Strolling Bones are a Rolling Stones cover band, and that reference makes me think perhaps this is the side that should have been titled “Stones.” And the line “It’s all been a terrible mistake” seems to describe perfectly the 2016 presidential election and its ongoing fallout.

We then get back to that delicious old-time vibe with Charlie Patton’s “Shake It And Break It,” one of only two covers on this release. This rendition is a whole lot of fun. I love the banjo. Then the addition of trumpet partway through takes the tune to an even more delightful place. That is Indofunk Satish on trumpet. Matt Campana plays guitar on this track. “Your Sister’s Man” has a heavier rock sound at the start, with something of a darker vibe. There is both anger and bravado in the vocal delivery at times. And I dig Stephen’s work on harmonica at the end. He plays harmonica on “Nuclear Fountain Pen” too. This song also has one of the most interesting and powerful vocal performances of the album. Check out these lines: “There's a conspiracy it seems/To set a bomb off in your dreams/And send you home/To nurse your broken bones.” I love this song’s punk vibe, particularly the bass line. This is a seriously cool song, another of my favorites. “And this has all happened before/But something feels different about this war/Like there's no way back/As though the heavens have cracked.”

Side 3: Flat Ninths

The next side opens with “I’m The Only One,” a slightly twisted and totally wonderful song, like from a haunted country singer from a distant land. Check out these lyrics: “The tank's all empty but I can't sit still/Give me treatment, give me matches and a sleeping pill/Is there anybody else who wants to crawl inside a gun?/I'm the only one.”  Seriously, these guys write some fantastic songs. Plus, this tune features pedal steel.  That’s followed by “Tearjerker,” which has more nice work on banjo. Not only that, but Stephen also plays fiddle on this track. “Goddamn it all, I just don’t care/You can take me like I am, or drop me off at a station somewhere.” You might find yourself singing those lines, or maybe shouting them. This tune has an unusual country sound which I love. Matt Campana is on guitar and backing vocals. Then “Turpentine” bursts in, grabs you and tosses you around the room. This one has more than a dash of punk, in the vocal delivery and in that great drum beat. “It's time to get down/It's time to get out/Raise your voice/If you don't know what you're talking about/A voodoo potion/What the country needs.” This track features the unusual, interesting addition of theremin (that’s Shifra Pride Raffel on theremin). Yeah, things get a little crazy near the end. Then things calm down for a sweet-sounding country tune, “When It Comes,” featuring nice work on pedal steel. How many different instruments does this guy play? “Take this promise from me/With a gentle grip between your fingers and your thumbs/I'll keep loving you beyond the heavens/When it comes.” Shifra Pride Raffel and Willa Mamet join the band on vocals on this track.

Side 4: Salvage

The final side of this double album opens with “Progressive Anthem For Kid Rock To Sing.” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this one. For supporting Donald Trump, Kid Rock can lick my toilet clean, and seeing his name sets me on edge. But the title is also a nod to The Minutemen’s “Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing” (from Double Nickels On The Dime, which is also a double album), so I figured the tune would lean toward punk, which it does. This track comes on strong, the lyrics delivered with some anger, the first line being “Wake up, assholes.” The band then switches gears with “It’s Nice To Be Needed (But Not Needed Too Much),” a slower country number, a waltz, with Josh Wirtschafter joining them on fiddle. This song has probably my favorite title from this double album, although “Nuclear Fountain Pen” is also pretty awesome. Stephen adds some nice pedal steel. That’s followed by “I Gotta Laugh While I’m Cryin’ (To Keep From Just Cryin’),” a good solid rock tune. The line I love from this one is “I have no regrets that I know of yet.” We then get the double album’s other cover song, Robert Johnson’s “They’re Red Hot,” and it is another delight, with Stephen once again on banjo. This track also has Matt Campana on ukulele. It’s a fun track, and I dig the bass line. The double album then comes to a close with “We’re Called Collisionville,” a song whose title almost gets them a spot in that list of bands who have a song sharing their name. This one has a great opening line: “There’s been a lot of wrecks in my life.” They follow that with a line that made me laugh out loud “Don’t take it from me, just ask my wife.” It’s a playful look at not only the band’s name, but its history, making mention of the changes in the band’s lineup.

Record Track List

Side 1
  1. Walkin’ Without The Lord
  2. Paint By The Numbers
  3. Las Vegas, New Mexico
  4. Somebody’s Free
Side 2
  1. Signifiers
  2. Forgotten Time Zone Blues
  3. Shake It And Break It
  4. Your Sister’s Man
  5. Nuclear Fountain Pen 
Side 3
  1. I’m The Only One
  2. Tearjerker
  3. Turpentine
  4. When It Comes
Side 4
  1. Progressive Anthem For Kid Rock To Sing
  2. It’s Nice To Be Needed (But Not Needed Too Much)
  3. I Gotta Laugh While I’m Cryin’ (To Keep From Just Cryin’)
  4. They’re Red Hot
  5. We’re Called Collisionville 
Stones, Keys, Flat Ninths & Salvage was released on October 19, 2018.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 28” (2018) CD Review

The Grateful Dead took some time off at the end of 1974 to reevaluate their situation. During their break, they recorded a new album and were involved in several side projects, but did only a few concerts. Then in June of 1976, they came back in force, with Mickey Hart back in the band and without the Wall of Sound. The new live release, Dave’s Picks Volume 28, contains the complete show the Grateful Dead performed at Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey on June 17, 1976.

Disc 1

The band starts the first set with “Cold Rain And Snow,” always a fantastic choice of openers, and this version has a good energy, as well as some smooth vocals from Jerry. Yes, things are off to a good start, and you can hear how appreciative the audience is at the end of the song.  Bob then gets things moving and popping with a nice crisp version of “Big River,” a version to get you smiling and dancing. I love Keith’s work on keys. I know the other band members became unhappy with his work a few years later, but at this point he is totally on. This is a seriously good rendition, with a tight little jam. They follow that with “They Love Each Other,” which in 1976 had a somewhat different feel than it did in 1973, but with a nice slow groove. Then we get a sweet rendition of “Cassidy,” one of my favorite Dead songs. This version has such a good vibe about it. There isn’t a whole lot of jamming, but everything seems to fall into place perfectly. They follow that with a version of “Tennessee Jed” that feels a bit sluggish, but still enjoyable, with some nice touches on guitar. And then Bob leads the band into an interesting version of “Looks Like Rain.” This one has a bit more power to the drums than a lot of versions, and yet Bob and Donna’s vocals retain that gentle beauty. “I only want to hold you, I don’t want to tie you down/Or fence you in the lines I might have drawn.” There are moments when Donna’s vocals are absolutely gorgeous, and the vocal play between Donna and Bob at the end is excellent.

They follow that with a good version of “Row Jimmy,” my favorite element of it being Jerry’s guitar playing, the way he bends notes and makes each one sing at times. Then “The Music Never Stopped” gets you on your feet. The song at this point was still fairly new to folks. Sure, it was included on a studio release the previous year, but not many people had heard it performed in concert yet. And this is a delicious, bouncy rendition. That’s followed by “Scarlet Begonias.” I always enjoyed Phil’s playing on this version, and this song never fails to raise people’s spirits. This version contains a cool bit of jamming, the only real jamming in the first set. The first set then concludes with “Promised Land”

Disc 2

The second disc contains the first half of the second set, which kicks off with a great “Help On The Way.” I fucking love the way they start this version. This song, like “The Music Never Stopped,” was included on Blues For Allah, but had not been played live very many times before this show. They were still doing the “Diga” bit at this point. It leads straight into an interesting version of “Slipknot!” and on into “Franklin’s Tower.” “Franklin’s Tower” is another of those songs that get you dancing and feeling good. “If you get confused, listen to the music play!” Oh yes. That leads straight into “Dancing In The Street,” with the new disco-like arrangement that would be included on the following year’s studio release, Terrapin Station. This rendition contains a nice long, groovy jam, and it leads straight into “Samson And Delilah,” which would also be included on Terrapin Station. This is an energetic, fun version. The second disc then concludes with an absolutely wonderful rendition of “Ship Of Fools,” with Jerry delivering a great, passionate vocal performance. This is one of the best versions of this song I’ve heard.

Disc 3

The third disc contains the rest of the second set, beginning with “Lazy Lightning,” another new song, one that Bob Weir recorded with Kingfish during the Grateful Dead’s break. It leads straight into “Supplication.” That’s followed by a sweet and slow “Friend Of The Devil” that is gentle at times. Keith delivers some really nice work on keys in the second half of the song, and Jerry’s guitar lifts us all up. Bob follows that with “Let It Grow,” which has a dance rhythm at the start, which is interesting and a little odd. But the jam in this version gets pretty good, and it leads to a relatively short but playful drum solo. And then suddenly we’re back in “Let It Grow,” but it isn’t long before the band eases into an excellent and moving version of “Wharf Rat.” Then, as with the first set, they conclude the second set with a Chuck Berry tune. This time it’s “Around And Around,” which starts off slowly, then toward the end picks up in pace.

There is no encore, but there is some filler included on the third disc. I have mixed feelings about filler. On the one hand, I’m happy for every bit of Grateful Dead music I can get my hands on. On the other hand, I get nervous that its inclusion means that there are no plans to ever release the complete shows the filler comes from. And the filler on this disc comes from two different shows, both from this same tour. First we get a really nice “Sugaree” from June 23rd in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. Then we get a beautiful “High Time” from June 28th in Chicago. The vocals are just completely wonderful, and everything sounds exactly right. This filler is one of the highlight of the entire three-disc set.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Cold Rain And Snow
  2. Big River
  3. They Love Each Other
  4. Cassidy
  5. Tennessee Jed
  6. Looks Like Rain
  7. Row Jimmy
  8. The Music Never Stopped
  9. Scarlet Begonias
  10. Promised Land
Disc 2
  1. Help On The Way >
  2. Slipknot! >
  3. Franklin’s Tower >
  4. Dancing In The Street >
  5. Samson And Delilah
  6. Ship Of Fools
Disc 3
  1. Lazy Lightning >
  2. Supplication
  3. Friend Of The Devil
  4. Let It Grow >
  5. Drums >
  6. Let It Grow >
  7. Wharf Rat >
  8. Around And Around
  9. Sugaree
  10. High Time
Dave’s Picks Volume 28 was released in October, 2018. I received my copy on October 26, 2018.

Darryl Way: “Vivaldi’s Four Seasons In Rock” (2018) CD Review

There have been several excellent rock interpretations of famous classical pieces, from Electric Light Orchestra’s version of “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” to Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth Of Beethoven,” from Jethro Tull’s rendition of Bach’s “Bouree” to Phish’s take on “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” from Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s version of “Fanfare For The Common Man” to, well, several other tracks by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Back in 1970, Curved Air included a track titled “Vivaldi” on the Airconditioning album. It was written by founding member and violinist Darryl Way. Now Darryl Way has released an album of Antonio Vivaldi’s most famous work, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons In Rock. As you might guess from the title, this album includes “The Four Seasons”: “Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269, ‘Spring’ (La primavera),” “Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 8, RV 315, ‘Summer’ (L’estate),” “Concerto No. 3 in F major, Op. 8, RV 293, ‘Autumn’ (L’autunno)” and “Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297, ‘Winter’ (L’inverno).” Darryl Way doesn’t really change the music; that is to say, for the most part he doesn’t change the notes, just the way the notes are approached. Also, these pieces are still played on violin rather than, say, electric guitar, so fans of Vivaldi’s work should certainly appreciate this release. And the music, for those who are somehow unfamiliar with it, is extraordinary.

Spring

There are three tracks for each of the seasons, beginning with spring. “Allegro (in E Major)” sounds mostly as you know it, but with a pop beat through parts of it. It’s certainly not hard rock or anything. Rather, it is uplifting and pretty, a wonderful take on this famous and gorgeous piece of music. Then “Largo e pianissimo sempre” has more of an electronic feel, but retains the piece’s beauty and emotional weight. It is clear that this music resonates strongly with Darryl Way. “Allegro pastorale” has a bright sound right from the start. There are some minor fluctuations in volume that do not feel natural, but rather like a glitch, but these do not detract much from the enjoyment of this music.

Summer

“Allegro non molto (in G minor),” the first section of “Concert No. 2 in G minor,” is truly pretty and moving. It then suddenly takes a turn, becoming exciting and fun. Yet this version allows for those pauses, those quieter moments, before exploding again in sound. Sounds like an intense summer, full of wild emotion and even danger. Then in “Adagio e piano – presto e forte,” the beat feels more pronounced, under the sad sound of the strings, and the contrast in those two sounds is intriguing. “Presto (in G minor)” comes on strong, with a progressive rock feel, the violin fiery and serious.

Autumn

“Allegro non molto (in F major)” has such a cheerful vibe, feeling to me like some glorious regal celebration where all people of the realm are invited, regardless of class. This is a piece of joy, of dance, of love, of light. It moves through some changes toward the end, including a brief somber section. Then “Adagio molto (in D Minor) has an electronic feel from the start, more so than the others, though the strings rise above that landscape somewhat. There is something sad about the sound, at least to my ears, just a touch of melancholy. Then “Allegro (in F major)” has a brighter feel from the start, though still some of that electronic feel. There is something of a dance about this track too, but with a slightly more serious air. It’s like the need to celebrate is felt by the people more intently, more urgently.

Winter

“Allegro non molto (in F minor)” has an intensity from the moment in begins, more prominent than in other versions I’ve heard. It feels like someone’s life is at stake. Yet there is also some beautiful work on violin. Then “Largo” has a mellower, gentler vibe, and is quite pretty. “Allegro (in F minor)” feels like it delivers some kind of warning as it begins. Things have become more serious again. But then it’s like we’re able to turn that to something delightful. This track has an exciting ending.

CD Track List
  1. Allegro (in E major)
  2. Largo e pianissimo sempre (in C# minor)
  3. Allegro pastorale (in E major)
  4. Allegro non molto (in G minor)
  5. Adagio e piano – Presto e forte (in G minor)
  6. Presto (in G minor)
  7. Allegro (in F minor)
  8. Adagio molto (in D minor)
  9. Allegro (in F major)
  10. Allegro non molto (in F minor)
  11. Largo (in Eb major)
  12. Allegro (in F minor)
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons In Rock was released on May 4, 2018 on Right Honourable Records.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

500 Miles To Memphis: “Blessed Be The Damned” (2019) CD Review

Things continue to be weird and ugly out there, with the racist egomaniac in the White House sinking deeper into the heavy waters of fascism, and pulling the country down with him. It leads many of us to drink frequently, and to follow those drinks with other drinks. But sometimes it is better to just cut loose, to rock out to some damn good music. Blessed Be The Damned, the new album from 500 Miles To Memphis, should do the trick. This disc certainly rocks, and it also has a great deal of country in its soul, helping to keep things grounded in a familiar and attractive reality. This band has been around for like fifteen years, and is made up of Ryan Malott on vocals, guitar, banjo and mandolin; Noah Sugarman on bass, vocals, guitar and pipe organ; Kevin Hogle on drums, percussion and vocals; David Rhodes Brown on lap steel, guitar and vocals; and Aaron Whalen on guitar and vocals. Yeah, that’s a lot of guitar, and it keeps everything driving forward. Blessed Be The Damned contains all original material, written by the band, and features a few guest musicians.

The album gets off to a great start with “The River,” which begins with the vocals delivered to just a bit of accompaniment on percussion, the vocals almost like those from some glorious choir celebrating the day. “Follow me down the mountain/We can sing the blues/The thought of losing you made me shiver/Then you came back and washed me in the river.” Then, when it kicks in, it has something of uplifting rock sound that moves at just the right pace to drive away your sorrows. The song then ends where it began. That’s followed by “Bonnie,” which has a sound akin to Irish folk-punk, which I fucking love, but also a strong country bar sound. Basically, it’s a whole lot of wild fun, to get you dancing and stomping your feet.

“Hold On Tight” is one of my favorite tracks. It’s a totally delicious and energetic rock tune with something of a punk rhythm. “You were crazy/I was crazy too.” You’ll want to crank this one up, maybe invite some friends round to bounce off the walls and drink your beer. It ends like some high school band in a garage, even with a bit of banter. Then “I Said Babe” is a fun song that makes me feel like I should be in a rock club with a bunch of folks in their twenties. It has that kind of energy, that kind of invulnerable attitude. I’m going to need to see this band in concert soon. “I Said Babe” is followed by “Blessed Be The Damned,” the album’s title track, a song with a good, raw power. It’s like a country band suddenly developed demonic strength and appeal, and began preaching the Word of the Weird from the bar stage. Damned good country punk.

“No Doubt About It” is another one to rock out to, and I love the vocal line, which has an enjoyable and bouncy rhythm during the verses. And you might find yourself singing along to the chorus, particularly the line “I’ll get there one day.” The band then gets into a country hoedown-type song, “Piggie Boy,” which is a whole lot of fun. Spin your gal round, turn her upside down, and then it’s suddenly over. The song is less than a minute long, but is a total delight. The next song, “In My Chest,” comes on strong to keep you moving. Toward the end, it becomes a wild bluegrass number for a bit. Actually, the whole thing is a rock and roll bluegrass mash that comes barreling toward us with a fiery energy. Like I mentioned, it seems like this band would be great to see in concert, though I fear my ears might be ringing at the end. “Save Me” seems another tune that would get the crowd bouncing and rocking. “Do you really want to save me/From the past mistakes that I have made/And it’s too late/My fault.” Then “What A Waste” rushes in, grabs you, shakes you about. The disc concludes with “I’m A Bastard,” which begins in a mellower place. And, while it does kick in, it doesn’t pick up in pace, and it then relaxes again. It’s almost a folk song, but one with a serious amount of power. “And I won’t forget/And you won’t forgive/And I’m not expecting you to.”

CD Track List
  1. The River
  2. Bonnie
  3. Hold On Tight
  4. I Said Babe
  5. Blessed Be The Damned
  6. No Doubt About It
  7. Piggie Boy
  8. In My Chest
  9. Save Me
  10. What A Waste
  11. I’m A Bastard 
Blessed Be The Damned is scheduled to be released on January 25, 2019.