Thursday, August 16, 2018

Vivian Lee: “Let’s Talk About Love” (2018) CD Review

Let’s Talk About Love is the title of skilled jazz vocalist Vivian Lee’s new release. And, yes, it seems like the right time to talk about love. Most of the time these days is spent talking about treason and racism and gun violence, and though these are all important topics, it seems that we’re being worn down by them. We need to also talk about those enduring and endearing human qualities that unite us, and love is certainly the strongest of these. Vivian Lee explores some of the aspects of this perennially intriguing emotion on the tracks of this album, and she certainly has the voice for the task. She has one of the most appealing, friendly voices I’ve heard. Joining her on this release are Brendan Lowe on piano, Buca Necak on bass and Jeff Minnieweather on drums.

Vivian Lee opens the album with “Wives And Lovers,” a song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Though this song has always been popular and has been recorded by a lot of artists over the years, it has never really done much for me. That being said, I do like this rendition. I appreciate the way the bass starts it off, and then suddenly the other musicians burst in, leading the way for Vivian’s vocals. It is her voice that makes this rendition something special, and I like the way the track concludes with just vocals and bass. That’s followed by “Before We Fall In Love,” a beautiful song that has an intimate, romantic sound. And this is a love song that also contains the voice of wisdom in lines like “The truth is we have both been here before/Been caught in love’s revolving door/So if we can, let’s take our time/And get it right, not just tonight.” But ultimately this is a song about giving in to desire, and you get the sense that everything is going to work out right. “Let’s rush into each other’s arms/Before we fall in love.” And as the lovers embrace, the piano takes over, for clearly she is too busy to sing at that moment. This is one of my favorite tracks. I love the warmth and honesty of her voice.

Joe Gilman joins her on piano for “Some Other Time,” a song written by Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein. There is a moment that is so bloody adorable that it catches me off guard every time I listen to this album, and makes me smile. It’s the way she delivers the phrase “Oh well” that first time. It’s so youthful and feels spontaneous. Yes, it’s surprising and delightful. You have to hear it. This rendition makes me optimistic that the two people involved will actually catch up some other time, as they say they will. Sometimes when I’ve listened to this song, I felt that they’ll never see each other again. “There’s so much more embracing/Still to be done, but time is wasting/Oh well, we’ll catch up some other time.” Vivian Lee delivers a fun, light rendition of “Secret Love,” a tune written by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster that was a big hit for Doris Day. Each instrument gets in on the joy of this version, adding little touches, little comments. The world of this song is so much better than the world outside. Perhaps it’s time to escape into music. The joy continues in her rendition of “You Turned The Tables On Me.” I love that section with the bass taking the lead. It feels like the instrument is doing a little tap dance or something. Seriously, you have to hear it.

Jeff Clayton joins Vivian Lee on saxophone for “Emily,” written by Johnny Mercer and Johnny Mandell. The saxophone lead halfway through the track is gorgeous. That’s followed by “The Man I Love.” I’ve said it multiple times, but you can never go wrong with Gershwin. Vivian Lee delivers a really nice rendition, and I love that lead on piano. Then there is a whole lot of joy in her version of “Out Of Nowhere.” That’s followed by “Didn’t We.” Something about this song always makes me sad, even with Vivian Lee’s sweet vocals. It’s the idea of almost doing things, and then asking the other person for validation of almost making it. “This time we almost made it to the moon/Didn’t we?” There is a futility about life, isn’t there? We are all destined to fail, or at least to not quite succeed. And that strangely hopeful tone that the song has also seems so sad to me, in the face of it all. Maybe it’s hitting me harder now than it used to. Then the piano sounds like magic at the beginning of “Waltz For Debby.” And indeed, the song is a fanciful jaunt into a child’s world. Vivian Lee concludes the CD with “Bein’ Green.” This choice surprised and delighted me. The Muppet Show was one of the best television shows ever, not just because it was hilarious but because it had important things to say, as it did with this song (which was also performed on Sesame Street). It’s nice to end the album with a song about loving who you are.

CD Track List
  1. Wives And Lovers
  2. Before We Fall In Love
  3. Some Other Time
  4. Secret Love
  5. You Turned The Tables On Me
  6. Emily
  7. The Man I Love
  8. Out Of Nowhere
  9. Didn’t We
  10. Waltz For Debby
  11. Bein’ Green 
Let’s Talk About Love is scheduled to be released on August 30, 2018 on Tara Records.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Ben Bostick: “Hellfire” (2018) CD Review

If you’re looking for some kick-ass country rock music, full of attitude and energy, check out Ben Bostick’s new album, Hellfire. This is his second full-length release, following his self-titled album, and it features all original material, written by Ben Bostick. Joining him on this release are Kyle Lalone on guitar and backing vocals, Luke Miller on piano and organ, Perry Morris on drums, and Cory Tramontelli on bass. This album is a tremendous amount of fun, and a lot of these songs demand some volume. Let loose and enjoy. These are songs that will you get you drinking and dancing and singing along.

Ben Bostick kicks off the album with “No Show Blues,” a great, angry bluesy country rock tune tackling some of those timeless blues and country themes – a crummy job and a mean woman. And, of course, drinking. “I’m gonna go to the bank and cash out my account/Drive straight to the tavern and drink a disgusting amount.” Man, sometimes that sounds so appealing, particularly these days, when our country is being run by racist morons. Check out the keys during the instrumental section. “I had a job in the valley, but I doubt I do anymore/I took a day off and then I took four more.” There is a bit of a Springsteen sound to the vocals on this track. That’s followed by “Hellfire,” the album’s title track, a playful country tune with a lot of attitude. And there is more drinking. Hey, if you’re like me, you’ve been drinking heavily since November 2016. I love the lines about the church, where once he feels free of sin, he starts drinking: “So I stumbled into church and sat down for a spell/A few minutes in, I felt free of sin, so I polished off my bottle of bathtub gin/And got stinking, dirty, awful drunk as hell.”  After all, who wants to feel too clean and holy? It just won’t do, not these days when Nazis wander the land in red baseball caps. (Remember, friends, Nazis are still the enemies of the United States, and should be treated as such.) Have I mentioned how cool his voice is? His voice fits in with that great tradition of country outlaws. Listen to him on “No Good Fool”; his voice is low, strong, without artifice or bullshit. “So you say you like bad boys/Well, run away while you can/I told you I ain’t no bad boy/I’m a bad, bad man.”

“Blow Off Some Steam” is fantastic fun, coming at you at a fast pace, with some wonderful work on guitar. Plus, I seriously dig that stuff on keys. This track features some playful vocal work, with a sort of stutter. “I got to blow off some steam before I b-b-b-b-blow up/I’ve been holding it in through the whole work week.” Shit, a lot of us have been holding it in since the 2016 election. That’s followed by another totally enjoyable tune, “It Ain’t Cheap Being Poor.” Sure, it’s a song about struggling financially, but it is a lot of fun, one to get you tapping your feet. “Well, it ain’t cheap being poor, and I can’t take any more/Of the tickets and the taxes and the fees/I work hard for my pay, then they take it away.” And, yes, there is more cool work on keys. Then “Tornado” is about a woman who comes along and changes the man’s life, and not for the better. “Well, I lost my job and all of my money/Most of my friends and half of my mind.” And the story takes place here in Los Angeles, beginning on a hazy day. Ah, you know just exactly what he’s talking about. “I want to hate her, but I love her instead.”

Things go wrong in “The Other Side Of Wrong” too, which is basically a list of mistakes and woes. It also includes the line, “But if I didn’t make bad decisions, I wouldn’t make no decisions at all,” a variation of the old “bad luck” line. There is something of a Bo Diddley beat at times. Then “Work, Sleep, Repeat” employs that familiar western rhythm, like a horse trotting along casually. What is it about that rhythm that always makes smile? I think a lot of us can relate to these lyrics: “Work, sleep, work, sleep, that’s all I ever do anymore (work, sleep, work, sleep, work, sleep)/Somewhere up the line I forgot what I was working for/There goes life, looks like it ain’t slowing down for me.” The album concludes with “The Outsider,” a solid, thumping, rocking song. “Yeah, I’m on the outside but I ain’t looking in/What everybody’s doing really ain’t that interesting/Yeah, I’m on the outside but that ain’t far enough.”

CD Track List
  1. No Show Blues
  2. Hellfire
  3. No Good Fool
  4. Blow Off Some Steam
  5. It Ain’t Cheap Being Poor
  6. Tornado
  7. The Other Side Of Wrong
  8. Work, Sleep, Repeat
  9. How Much Lower Can I Go
  10. Feeling Mean
  11. The Outsider 
Hellfire was released on June 29, 2018.

Mark Winkler and Cheryl Bentyne: “Eastern Standard Time” (2018) CD Review

In 2013, they gave us West Coast Cool. Now jazz vocalists Mark Winkler and Cheryl Bentyne join forces again on Eastern Standard Time. However, it’s not like they haven’t worked together in the intervening five years. They performed two duets on Mark Winkler’s 2015 release, Jazz And Other Four Letter Words, and sang together on his 2017 release, The Company I Keep. These are two singers who work wonderfully together, and the resulting tracks on this new album are full of joy. Backing them on this release are Rich Eames on piano, Gabe Davis on bass, Dave Tull on drums, Grant Geissman on guitar, Bob Sheppard on saxophone, and Kevin Winard on percussion.

They start things with “Devil May Care,” and right away, the bright energy of these two vocalists takes hold and pushes aside the dark clouds that hang above our heads in this country these days. “No cares or woes/Whatever comes later goes.” Then approximately two minutes in, the tune shifts for a delightful lead section on piano, followed by a lead on saxophone. “Devil May Care” was written by Bob Dorough and Terrell P. Kirk, Jr., and originally recorded by Bob Dorough. This album is dedicated to Bob Dorough, who died a few months ago. That’s followed by “Rhode Island Is Famous For You,” a goofy, likeable tune written by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. Mark sings lead on this one, and he totally commits to it, even with the silly wordplay like “Tentessee” and “Wyomink.” This track features more nice work on piano.

They then deliver an original composition by Mark Winkler and Larry Steelman, “Like Jazz,” a song that Winkler originally included on his 2000 release, Easy The Hard Way. Ah yes, a song that reminds us all of how cool even the idea of jazz is. And this new rendition is wonderful. I love Cheryl’s playful way of delivering the line about “wicked ways,” and I dig that bass. Plus, there is a cool lead on saxophone. This tune makes us all want to “live like jazz.” Think of that world for a moment. Oh man, there’d be a lot of dancing, a lot of sex, a lot of drinking, a lot of city lights, a lot of spontaneity. Cheryl then sings lead on “The Gentleman Is A Dope,” delivering an excellent vocal performance. This track features more cool work on bass, as well as some good stuff on drums.

“I Could Get Used To This (Bumpin’)” is a song that was originally a Wes Montgomery instrumental titled “Bumpin’” to which Mark Winkler added his own lyrics. “I could get used to this/Not being alone/Turning this house I have into a home.” Oh yes, I could get used to that too (well, if I had a house). There is a cool instrumental section, featuring some wonderful work on guitar. That’s followed by a good rendition of “The Best Is Yet To Come,” that begins with snapping and Cheryl’s vocals. Yes, sometimes I believe that the best is yet to come. We have to keep a bit of optimism, right? Then Pat Kelley plays guitar on “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most,” which Cheryl sings, giving another remarkable performance.

“Walk On The Wild Side” opens with a bright burst, before the bass takes its due prominence. This is an interesting version of the famous Lou Reed tune. It’s a lively, kind of cool version with a bit of swing, a bit of swagger, and a bit of jazzy chaos. Although it’s lame that they don’t sing the “Even when she was giving head” line; instead, Cheryl sings “Even when she was, you know.” They also drop the “colored girls” line. Still, I really like what they give us here, and they do include the “doo doo doo doo” part, delivering it in an unusual manner. Plus, there is some great stuff on horn. There is also a brief spoken word section toward the end, in which they mention Lou Reed and William S. Burroughs. “Things Are Swingin’” is a lot of fun. Mark Winkler and Cheryl Bentyne deliver a lively, bright rendition of the Peggy Lee song. “Things are swinging,” indeed! The disc then concludes with a medley of “The Ballad Of The Sad Young Men” and “The Lies Of Handsome Men,” featuring Stephanie Fife on cello. The lines “All the news is bad again/Kiss your dreams goodbye” seem particularly pertinent these days, eh?

CD Track List
  1. Devil May Care
  2. Rhode Island Is Famous For You
  3. Like Jazz
  4. The Gentleman Is A Dope
  5. I Could Get Used To This (Bumpin’)
  6. The Best Is Yet To Come
  7. Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most
  8. Walk On The Wild Side
  9. You Smell So Good
  10. Things Are Swingin’
  11. Ballad Of The Sad Young Men/Lies Of Handsome Men 
Eastern Standard Time was released on CD on August 13, 2018 on Café Pacific Records.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Bird Streets: “Bird Streets” (2018) CD Review

Bird Streets is the new project by John Brodeur and Jason Falkner, and on their self-titled debut release, the two musicians play most of the instruments as well as providing the vocals. In fact, only a few tracks feature guest musicians (and those guests include vocalist Miranda Lee Richards). The songs are all originals, with lyrics written by John Brodeur, and music by John Brodeur and Jason Falkner. The music is rock and pop, with an engaging sound and meaningful lyrics.

The album opens with “Carry Me,” a cool rock tune with a nod to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in the lines “Marching slowly down the road/Coming for to carry me home.” That line, “Coming for to carry me home,” has an uplifting feel almost regardless of context, even in a stanza about a car crash. And earlier in the song, they sing, “Flip the hourglass again/’Cause the morning’s breaking soon.” Those lines sound so positive these days, as many of us are eager for a new morning to take us out of these dark times. There are a lot of lines and phrases that stand out for me, such as “Every night’s the longest night” and “beautiful unknown.” Then the first lines of “Betting On The Sun” made me laugh out loud the first time I put on this disc. They are “I remember when/We were tighter than Steely Dan.” I always felt that band was too tight, too clean, too mechanical. But my favorite lines of this song are “It’s a very fine line/Between living and just getting by/And you’re so comfortable/Being miserable to even try.” Those are fantastic lyrics. This song has a fairly bright sound, in contrast to lines like that and “Darkness falls on everyone’s daydream.” This song also features some really nice vocal work. Then the lines that stand out for me in “Direction” are “We walk in the direction of home/But we are never getting any warmer.” I love those lines, but it is the catchy pop rhythm of this one that makes it such an enjoyable track.

“Spaceship” has a quieter, serious folk sound to start. “No way of stopping/Until life has passed me by/Life had passed me by.” Is there something Kinks-ish here, in the vocal line?  And check out these lines: “Having the time of someone else’s life/Until the alarm sounds/And the morning arrives/If it ever arrives.” This album contains a lot of seriously good lyrics. “We’ve got a long way to go,” they sing here. Yes, it certainly feels that way. By the way, this is one of the tracks to feature guest musicians. Craig Greenberg in on piano, Chris Kelly is on bass, Scott Tofte is on drums, and Jeff Litman adds some work on guitar. There are some gorgeous backing vocals by Maesa Pullman, Miranda Lee Richards and Michelle Vidal, helping to make this track one of my favorites. The song’s last lines are “I’m just a capsule floating in space/No destination/But my resting place,” and I can’t help but think that soon hundreds of people will be floating in space thanks to Donald Trump’s new Space Force scheme. Ah, if only we could send every Trump supporter deep into space.

Another of my favorites is “Thanks For Calling.” It has a catchy rhythm and lyrics that make me laugh. The first lines, in fact, make me laugh: “Thanks for calling/I would have been better off never knowing/But you had to tell me everything.” And then also these lines, which are wonderful: “Every time the phone rings/I get a chill, it could be you/But when it is, it’s always bad news.”  “Pretty Bones” is yet another of this disc’s highlights. It has a quiet acoustic sound to start, soon creating a haunting, intense vibe, but still with moments where sunlight gets through. And of course there are some excellent lyrics, such as these: “After all the times you’ve reached your last resort/You’re still coming up short” and “Hollywood’s a graveyard/All the stories have been told/But you’re sifting through remains/Looking for some pretty bones.” This is an excellent, engaging song. The album concludes with a solid pop tune titled “Until The Crown.” “You think you’re the king of the world/Solved every problem/Until the crown wears off.

CD Track List
  1. Carry Me
  2. Betting On The Sun
  3. Direction
  4. Spaceship
  5. Stop To Breathe
  6. Thanks For Calling
  7. Same Dream
  8. Heal
  9. Pretty Bones
  10. Bullets
  11. Until The Crown 
Bird Streets was released on August 10, 2018 through Omnivore Recordings.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Charlie Faye & The Fayettes at The Federal Bar, 8-12-18 Concert Review

Charlie Faye And The Fayettes
Democracy is truly in danger of being extinguished in this country, and the entire right wing couldn’t care less. In fact, they cheer its destruction. It’s bewildering, infuriating and depressing. More and more, I seek refuge inside of a song. And today I found joy and spirit at The Federal Bar in North Hollywood. Charlie Faye & The Fayettes headlined the latest concert in the Mimosa Music Series, hosted by Gary Calamar. I love attending these shows, and today’s was a bright burst of cheerful pop with an early 1960s flavor, just exactly the right thing to momentarily push aside our fears, our anger, our despair. This music couldn’t help but raise the spirits of all who attended the concert.

At 11:49 a.m., Gary introduced the opening act, Whispertown, a band I hadn’t seen before, but whom I immediately liked. They did songs from their 2017 release, I’m A Man, including “Big Fish,” “Born To Ride” and “Free Faller,” as well as newer material. Then, after a very short break (less than fifteen minutes), Charlie Faye & The Fayettes took the stage. The band actually got things going with a brief instrumental tune, titled “Party Song,” as the girls danced onto the stage. They then went straight into “I Don’t Need No Baby,” and the fun early sixties sound immediately took hold and made me smile. They followed that with “Stone Cold Fox,” which featured some nice stuff on guitar, and then got into some of the material from their self-titled 2016 release. “Eastside” is a whole lot of fun, and the girls have synchronized moves which are wonderful. This song never fails to make me happy, and the band jammed on it a bit at the end, which I appreciated. They followed that with “Sweet Little Messages,” another cool tune from that album.

“That’s What New Love Is For” is a sweet, pretty song, and after it Charlie Faye mentioned the group’s upcoming release. “Here are a couple of new ones,” she said. They played “1-2-3-4” (which I had assumed was titled “Elementary”) and “The Whole Shebang.” “That’s what we decided we’re going to call the next record – The Whole Shebang,” she said afterward. Well, from what they played at this show, the new album is bound to be something special. They went from something new to something old, a cover of The Ramones’ “Rockaway Beach,” which, as I’m sure you can imagine, was a lot of fun. They did that song the first time I saw them perform too, which was nearly two years ago now (geez, time is racing along).

That was followed by “Cream Rises” and “Tonight’s The Night,” and then “Green Light,” the lead-off track from their debut release. They finished off the set with an absolutely delightful cover of “Seven Nights To Rock,” a song that was originally done by Moon Mullican in the 1950s, and has been performed by Bruce Springsteen, Nick Lowe, The Refreshments and others over the years. This rendition by Charlie Faye & The Fayettes featured some excellent work on keys. All it was missing was a saxophone. The band continued to play as the girls danced off the stage into the audience. There was no encore.

Set List
  1. Party Song
  2. I Don’t Need No Baby
  3. Stone Cold Fox
  4. Eastside
  5. Sweet Little Messages
  6. That’s What New Love Is For
  7. 1-2-3-4
  8. The Whole Shebang
  9. Rockaway Beach
  10. Cream Rises
  11. Tonight’s The Night
  12. Green Light
  13. Seven Nights To Rock 
Here are a few photos from the show:

"Stone Cold Fox"
"Stone Cold Fox"
"Sweet Little Messages"
Whispertown

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

James Scott Bullard: “Full Tilt Boogie” (2018) CD Review

Perhaps the only way to approach things is to go full tilt boogie. Why do something with anything less than complete dedication and focus? That seems to be the case for James Scott Bullard, and his music. The title of his latest release, Full Tilt Boogie, was not chosen haphazardly, but is an indication of his drive. The music here is country rock with the emphasis on the rock. These songs have energy and passion and movement. The band is made up of James Scott Bullard on vocals and guitar, Mike Knight on drums, Justin Banks on keys, Kevin Singleton on bass, Jeff Springs on guitar and lap steel, Rebecca Morning on backing vocals and Jordan Adams on backing vocals. All the tracks are originals, written by James Scott Bullard.

The album gets off to a good start with “Lord, Have Mercy,” country rock with a full sound and just the right amount of twang to the vocals. “So go paint the town, my dear/’Cause I don’t feel much like dancing/You look too good to stay here/But have a little mercy on me.” Oh yes, let that electric guitar carry you away. “Now, honey, don’t you forget me/If I should stay gone for too long/And don’t treat me like a stranger/When I come rolling back home.” Then the ripping guitar leads us into “Wicked Ways,” a tune with a promising title for those of us of dubious faith. And it’s a whole lot of fun. The lines that first made me love this track are “One Sunday morning, a preacher told me/He said boy, you’re going straight to hell/I said, well preacher, when you get to heaven/Have the good lord to forward my mail.” Is it a cautionary tale? Hmm, it’s like gospel if every church had a full bar and an active night life.  This one has a false ending, like a brief death from which it rises to boogie once again, praise the lord.

“Hey, Hey Mama” is a rockin’ tune that encourages us to enjoy the good life. “Shake it ‘til it rattles/Shake it ‘til it quakes.” The line that stands out for me each time I listen is this one: “I’m going to love you, woman, like it’s against the law.” Oh, hell yes. How’s that for going full tilt boogie? This goes a bit more in the blues direction than toward country, but rocks throughout. James Scott Bullard keeps things moving with “Warpath,” after a mellow intro. In this one, he sings “Take me to a place where nobody knows my name,” sort of the opposite of the Cheers theme. This one got me dancing in my apartment, especially during that great jam toward the end. While “Warpath” is about moving on after a woman nearly drove him insane, “Jesus, Jail, Or Texas” is about telling the woman it’s time for her move on. Hey, someone has to be moving, right? Well, the music is getting my feet moving. This song is a lot of fun. When “Oh me oh my” is followed by “Oh my oh me,” you know things are good. I love the backing vocals on this track. And check out these lines: “Honey, you ain’t the first one/You ain’t gonna be the last/You might not be the worst one/But you damn sure ain’t the best.” And then “Evil Lovin’” includes this great line: “I said I might be crazy, but, mama, I ain’t crazy about you.” And in both songs, the woman is the cause of some serious drinking. There are more troubles and more moving on in “The Next Tear,” in which he sings, “You won’t get a chance to leave me hurting/I’ll be gone before the next tear hits the ground.” Ah, a song of self-preservation, and one featuring some nice work on guitar. The album then concludes with “Back To You,” which has a kind of sweeter vibe. Yeah, there is still movement here, but in a different direction. “Down every road that takes me back to you.”

CD Track List
  1. Lord, Have Mercy
  2. Wicked Ways
  3. All To Pieces
  4. Hey, Hey Mama
  5. Warpath
  6. Jesus, Jail, Or Texas
  7. Evil Lovin’
  8. Leavin’ On My Mind
  9. The Next Tear
  10. Back To You
Full Tilt Boogie was released on April 27, 2018.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Andy Wickett & World Service: “Creatures Of Love” (2018) CD Review

Sometimes I just want to hear some really good pop music. Creatures Of Love, the recent release from Andy Wickett & World Service, certainly fills that need. All songs are originals, written or co-written by Andy Wickett. If his name sounds familiar but you can’t quite place it, before Simon Le Bon took over, Andy Wickett was the lead singer of Duran Duran. You can hear him on Girls On Film 1979 Demo, released last year. So there’s that. On this album, he plays guitar, keyboards and harmonica, as well as providing the lead vocals. Joining him are Barry Lim on guitar and keys, Peter Churchill on bass and backing vocals, Antony Cook on drums, Glyn Phillips on percussion, Hannah Lawson on violin, Ash Sheehan on horns, and Julianne Bastock on backing vocals. Will French and Paul Foad provide some additional guitar work.

The album opens with “Border Song,” a positive-sounding and uplifting pop gem, with some delightful surprises. “We’re on the south side of the border/I never thought we’d get this far/We came across the desert in a tiny car/We never knew what we would find/That’s why my heart is blind.” This is a song I enjoy more each time I listen to this album. That’s followed by “Make It,” which starts with a folk sound, Andy Wickett’s vocals accompanied by acoustic guitar. “I bet I can make it through the night/Boy, it gets so lonely/Oh, I’d love for you to hold me tight/If I can make it through this life.” Then when it kicks in, there is something so delicious and catchy about this song, in part because it is has a playful quality. It’s that adorable bass line that comes in like halfway through the song. And those backing vocals along with Andy’s main vocal line make me so bloody happy. “Don’t look so forsaken/Maybe you’re mistaken/Things will be all right/If you just be patient/Love will be awakened.” This song has a surprising ending, a strange, somewhat calming electronic sound. This is one of my favorite tracks.

There is something pretty about “Kingdom,” its sound, while reminding me a bit of Peter Gabriel. I really like Andy Wickett’s vocal approach, and those backing vocals are wonderful. This one was written by Andy Wickett and Antony Cook. “Evidently” is a totally enjoyable, bright pop song, with a good rhythm, another of the disc’s highlights. “I’ll tell you, boy, you’ve got to try/Don’t tell yourself you’re finished, finished, finished/Because now is not the time to die.” This is a track that never fails to raise my spirits. “Children Of The Night” is yet another highlight, a glorious pop song with a great energy. “The way they do things on TV/That’s the way I’d like to be/They say the dream can be so real/But that’s the way I’d like to feel.” That’s followed by the album’s title track, “Creatures Of Love,” which was written by Andy Wickett and Antony Cook. This one is an unusual song, one that keeps me intrigued as it takes us through an interesting and varied pop landscape. And with the backing vocalists singing the title line, I am reminded of the Talking Heads song of the same name, but only in that moment. This song is one to pay attention to, and features a really good vocal performance. “Are you frightened of my love/Are you scared to share your heart/Neither of us makes a move.”

The album concludes with another delightful pop song, “Take Me To The City,” also written by Andy Wickett and Antony Cook. With its catchy bass line and groovy beat and fun flavor, this song makes me happy. This is pop at its best, at its most effective. It does everything I want a pop song to do, everything I need it to do. “You’re such a pretty girl/Wondrous and crazy/I want to take you out to the city tonight/And treat you right.”

CD Track List
  1. Border Song
  2. Make It
  3. Kingdom
  4. The Good Die Young
  5. Darleen
  6. Evidently
  7. Ain’t No One
  8. Children Of The Night
  9. Creatures Of Love
  10. Preacher Man
  11. Take Me To The City
Creatures Of Love was released on March 9, 2018.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Jeremiah Johnson: “Straitjacket” (2018) CD Review

Jeremiah Johnson is a singer, guitarist and songwriter working mainly in the blues realm, but with some serious rock in his blood and a bit of country in his soul. He is based in St. Louis, Missouri, a city steeped in the blues, though also known for its country and jazz music. His new album, Straitjacket, features mostly original material, music that will get you on your feet. The band is made up of Frank Bauer on saxophone and backing vocals, Tom Maloney on bass, Benet Schaeffer on drums, and Mike Zito on rhythm guitar. Zito also produced the album.

The album opens with its title track, “Straitjacket,” which is blues rock with a funky edge. It’s party blues, you know? I love that bass line. The song becomes a fun jam, with a lot of cool stuff on lead guitar. And then that horn, oh yes! There are a lot of folks in this country that should be fitted with straitjackets, but no one who makes music this fun should be counted among their number. That’s followed by “Getting Tired,” a tune with a strong blues groove, and with more cool work on horn. “I’m getting tired of getting old/Yeah, it’s getting old feeling tired.” Yup, that sounds just exactly right. Well, folks, we all need to “keep on keeping on,” no matter how difficult it might be at times. We’re all getting tired, we’re all getting older. But this song is working perfectly to lift my spirits and provide encouragement, and I especially love when that sax sings. Then “Blues In Her Eyes” is a somewhat mellower song, but with more groovy work on saxophone. Things get jumping with “Keep On Sailing,” with a bit of a country swing to its vibe, and a rockin’ energy moving through it. “Never thought I’d feel so lonely/Leader of the pack, I’m king of the fools/Never thought I’d feel so broken.” Need I even say that this track features some cool work on saxophone?

I got a little nervous at the beginning of “Believe In America,” as it starts with this bit of spoken word: “Now I’m not trying to make a political statement or nothing/I just really love my country/And I think you do too.” It’s tough, because as soon as someone mentions a love for the USA, I feel myself tightening up, worried that the person will say something in favor of the Republican Party. That is especially true these days, when that mendacious, incestuous puppet is pretending to lead. But of course, those of us who want Trump gone from the Earth do so for the very reason that we care about this country (and about the planet). This song is about those who are struggling (most of the people I know fit in that category), but there is still faith in the dream that is at the heart of the nation, and somehow that hasn’t been completely extinguished by their personal struggles, or by the current corrupt and authoritarian administration. Believe in this country in spite of the demented, self-obsessed racists currently in power. The groove changes partway through the song, and there is some really nice work on guitar, as well as a good drum beat. There is more delicious guitar work in “King & Queen,” over that classic blues rhythm. Hey, a blues song about chess (well, in part, anyway)!

“Dirty Mind” is one of my favorite tracks. In this one, Jeremiah Johnson sings, “Hope to see you soon/And I don’t care what you’ve been doing/Because I’ve always got the time for your dirty mind.” I need to play this one for my girlfriend; she’s going to appreciate it. This one is a good ride, to be sure. It is catchy at times, and also rocks, particularly at the end. The band is having fun with it. And, hey, there is more nice work on sax. Another of my personal favorites is “Bonneville Shuffle,” the disc’s only instrumental track. I absolutely love this classic mean groove, and of course the saxophone. It’s a tune that makes you feel cool just for having listened to it. Everything about this tune makes me happy, and makes me think that the world is a damn good place, full of joy and sex and dancing. It’s followed by “Hold My Hand,” which has a very different feel at the start, a mellower, sweeter vibe. And I love the way Jeremiah Johnson delivers the line “Felt like everything’s gonna be all right.” His delivery is so direct and true, that I feel things are going to be all right. The album then concludes with its only cover, “Rock & Roll Music To The World,” the Ten Years After song, written by Alvin Lee. “Give peace a chance/Get up and dance.”

CD Track List
  1. Straitjacket
  2. Getting Tired
  3. Blues In Her Eyes
  4. Keep On Sailing
  5. Believe In America
  6. King & Queen
  7. Dirty Mind
  8. 9th And Russell
  9. Old School
  10. Bonneville Shuffle
  11. Hold My Hand
  12. Rock & Roll Music To The World
Straitjacket is scheduled to be released on August 24, 2018 on Ruf Records.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Rachel Caswell: “We’re All In The Dance” (2018) CD Review

When it seems that more things these days divide us than unite us, and people drive us quickly to anger, it’s beneficial to take a step back and force ourselves to remember what we have in common. It’s difficult, to be sure, but necessary for our health and survival. An album title like We’re All In The Dance provides a good reminder. Jazz vocalist Rachel Caswell’s new album seems designed to soothe us, to heal us, to lift our spirits, and to remind us that (with possibly a few exceptions) we are all capable of love. Joining her on this release are Dave Stryker on guitar (he also produced the album), Fabian Almazan on keys, Linda May Han Oh on bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums. Violinist Sara Caswell joins her on a few tracks.

Rachel Caswell chooses a Sting composition titled “Fragile” to open the new album. A lot of Sting’s material is perfect for this kind of approach, for there is a strong jazz element to some of his music. Rachel Caswell delivers a really nice rendition, reminding us “That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could/For all those born beneath an angry star/Lest we forget how fragile we are.” Indeed. This track features some nice work on drums. And I love the addition of violin, which acts as a second glorious voice. Rachel even includes a bit of scat partway through. “Fragile” is a song that was also recently covered by Carol Saboya. That’s followed by “A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening,” written by Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh. This rendition has a cool vibe, in large part because of that excellent work on bass. This song is sweet and romantic. “I want to save all my nights and spend them all with you.” Oh, I know the feeling. Sometimes words don’t quite capture the joy we’re feeling, and so Rachel Caswell turns to some fun scat. Seriously, that section had me smiling, even laughing. Wonderful stuff.

“We’re All In The Dance,” the album’s title track, is a sweet, gentle, thoughtful and uplifting rendition of the song from the film Paris, Je T’aime. Rachel Caswell sings it in English. “People are moving together/Close as the flames in a fire/Feel the beat, music and rhyme/While there is time.” I love Sara Caswell’s work on violin. The version of “Drown In My Own Tears” on this CD has a cool sound right from the start, with that delicious work on guitar. Then Rachel Caswell’s vocals come in – so smooth, yet so passionate. I love the way she holds onto certain words. This is my favorite vocal performance on the album. It’s a tremendous performance, and Dave Stryker’s work on guitar matches it.  There is more great work on guitar in Rachel Caswell’s rendition of Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me A Bedtime Story.” This version includes the lyrics by Tom Lellis, but it is that instrumental section that really shines on this track. There are no lyrics to Charlie Parker’s “Dexterity,” so Rachel begins her version with some scat, vocally performing the saxophone part. This track features a nice lead on bass, as well as some cool work on keys and a drum solo. Yes, there is plenty here to keep me interested. The CD then concludes with “Reflections (Looking Back),” which begins gently on piano. This is a beautiful, late-night, thoughtful tune to conclude the album. “In looking back, we just peek through the cracks/Between what’s real and false/In this eternal waltz/Meanwhile, we just keep dancing.” Keep dancing, everyone.

CD Track List
  1. Fragile
  2. A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening
  3. We’re All In The Dance
  4. Devil May Care
  5. Two For The Road
  6. Drown In My Own Tears
  7. I Didn’t Know What Time It Was
  8. Tell Me A Bedtime Story
  9. Dexterity
  10. Reflections (Looking Back)
We’re All In The Dance is scheduled to be released on CD on September 7, 2018.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Mia And Jonah: “Spin As One” (2018) CD Review

Things are certainly getting strange out there. There is new evidence of it every two or three minutes, too much, in fact, for any one person to even keep track of. What seems to be happening is that humanity in this country is splitting into two distinct groups, one of which has given into its basest instincts, and as a result has turned ugly and horrid. This group shows no sign of being able to right itself, even when this nightmare finally comes to an end. Fortunately, the other group is the one creating art, and it is to these folks that we turn for comfort and hope and humanity, and also for cheer and beauty. Mia And Jonah, a folk duo based in Los Angeles, deliver all of this on the new release, Spin As One. Mia And Jonah have been performing together for approximately fifteen years, first residing in San Francisco before moving south to L.A. In that time, they’ve released a few CDs. This new one features all original material, with beautiful vocals and gorgeous arrangements designed to connect to something deep within us all, and to connect us to each other. Music that says to us, You are not alone. Music that we need. Joining Mia Mustari and Jonah Blumstein on this release are Seth Ford-Young on bass and backing vocals, Steve DiStanislao on drums, Alan Grubner on violin, and Chris Pandolfi on banjo.

The CD opens with “Our Old Farm,” which immediately establishes a sweet folk sound, with pretty and expressive work on strings. The vocals here have a beautiful, uplifting vibe. Everything is working to offer comfort, to offer a haven from the chaos and ugliness of the world, like welcoming arms. The lyrics seem to express that very idea: “Our old farm, there upon the hill/Ready for a new life, when we choose to heal/When we choose to heal.” This entire country is going to need an extended period of healing once we emerge from this darkness. I only hope it won’t be too late. “Our Old Farm” is followed by “Spin As One,” the CD’s title track. This is a livelier tune, with a rhythm to lift our spirits, maybe get us moving a bit. “When this world turns upside down/Change crumbling the towers/Our hearts are carried by the dove/Soaring high above the flood.” Adding to the positive sound of this track is Chris Pandolfi’s work on banjo. You probably know Chris from his work in The Infamous Stringdusters. Jonah adds some nice work on harmonica.

“Sugarbones” has a sweet, gentle, pretty vibe. This song seems to hold us, swaying slowly, lovingly. “Sugarbones, sugarbones/Oh, I won’t let you feel alone/Walls crumble as you take me inside.” It’s interesting that this song also employs the image of walls crumbling (as “Spin As One” does). When has destruction ever sounded so comforting? And, like “Our Old Farm,” this song’s lyrics mention healing: “I need your touch to heal once more.” Destruction and healing, these things are certainly on the minds of many of us these days, and this music taps into that current. It is change that we crave, that we need. Then “Nightingale” has an undeniable beauty. This music has a gentle optimism that I need these days, that I’m guessing most of us need. “Oh, she’s down from the wind and the rain/But her broken wing she’ll mend/To take herself over the mountains again.”

Their vocals on “Season Of Opening” seem capable of carrying us all into a dream, or perhaps through a dream. This music is emotionally engaging, and at times I just want to let go and drift off within it. “Open the skies above, and it rains down seeds/Open the life we love, in the songs we breathe.” The CD concludes with “Daybreak.” How is that for a hopeful title, eh?  Looks like our luck delivered by a starless sky/I see a cloud surrender to the sun that shines/Our love survives.”

CD Track List
  1. Our Old Farm
  2. Spin As One
  3. Sugarbones
  4. Nightingale
  5. Season Of Opening
  6. Daybreak
Spin As One is scheduled to be released on September 7, 2018.

Keith Stone With Red Gravy: “Blues With A Taste Of New Orleans” (2018) CD Review

What is it about New Orleans that makes that city so bloody appealing to just about everyone? People I know who don’t travel at all talk about going to New Orleans. I haven’t been there in years, decades actually (geez, time is cruel), and yet I feel a connection to New Orleans perhaps as strong as if I’d spent my youth there. I think a big part of the draw is the music. The music seems to pulse through every aspect of the city, like the folks there are made of music as much as of skin and bone. And the rest of the country is able to pick up on that vibe. Maybe all we can get is a taste, but that taste is enough to keep us going, to keep us connected. And so an album titled Blues With A Taste Of New Orleans gets me excited and feels familiar even before I pop the disc in. Keith Stone With Red Gravy is made up of Keith Stone on guitar and vocals, Tom Worell on keys and backing vocals, Kennan Shaw on bass and backing vocals, and Eddie Christmas on drums. Their new album also features a couple of guest musicians on certain tracks. Blues With A Taste Of New Orleans contains all original material, written by the band.

The album opens with “Ain’t That The Blues,” which has kind of a standard blues rock sound. Brent Johnson joins the band on slide guitar for this track. “When you just can’t win or lose/Ain’t that the blues.” There is some good work on guitar, but this song is not nearly as interesting as what follows it. The next song, “Love Done Put Me Down,” is the track that really grabbed my attention the first time I listened to this album. It is funky blues with a great rhythm. Seriously, this track features some absolutely wonderful stuff on bass and drums. “Told me you loved me, but you told me a lie/Said you’d stay until the day I die.” It’s interesting that the woman is assuming he’ll die first. Don’t turn your back on this chick. This track also features some cool stuff on keys, particularly during that great jam section. This tune is a total delight.

Then “You Ain’t Got Nothing” has a more relaxed blues groove. “You ain’t got nothing/Nothing I want/You ain’t got nothing/Nothing I need/No, you ain’t got nothing/Nothing for me.” He then goes on to describe the woman as owning a lot, and casts some doubt on her method of obtaining her riches. I love the addition of sax on this track. That’s Jimmy Carpenter on saxophone, and he delivers a really nice lead part. This tune becomes a good blues jam, with more interesting work on guitar. Things never get too crazy here, but rather stay close to that groove. That’s followed by “Red Gravy,” a song about New Orleans, a song that feels and sounds like the dancing heart of the city. I love that groove, and I need to get back to that city at some point. This song, like a lot of New Orleans tunes, is about food. But these guys are also singing about themselves, aren’t they? After all, the song is titled “Red Gravy,” which almost gives them a spot on that list of bands that have songs sharing their names (along with groups like Bad Company, Black Sabbath, I See Hawks In L.A., and They Might Be Giants), except that the full name is Keith Stone With Red Gravy. “Way down in New Orleans/A city that loves to eat/We’ve got a special dish we make/With or without meat/Now you may call it sauce/But let me tell you something, baby/When you get down here, get the red gravy.” This song is a lot of fun, and that moment when Keith Stone laughs is perfect.

The band then turns romantic with a mellow, passionate, sweet, late-night number titled “Crazy In Love With You,” one of my personal favorites. This one features some nice work on keys and a heartfelt vocal performance. Plus, Jimmy Carpenter delivers a great saxophone part. This song makes me think of my beautiful girlfriend; I am crazy in love with her. “I want to find the words/To say what’s on my mind/But I can’t think straight/When I look in your eyes/Oh, I’m crazy, crazy in love with you.” The band gets back to a funky rhythm for “Time To Move On.” Yeah, the groove is king here, and will get you on your feet. “What worked don’t work no more/So it’s time for a change/If you keep doing things the same way/That’d be insane/And I got a feeling it’s time for me to move on.” Oh yes, we are all ready for a change! We are all ready to move on. This track also features Jimmy Carpenter on saxophone.

“Hard To Have The Blues” has a cool late-night vibe, with some delicious work on both keys and guitar right from the start. It then becomes a really good blues jam. “I did not know love could be this good/Please tell me that you feel it too/I cannot hide my love for you/’Cause you make it hard to have the blues.” The CD ends with another tune with a strong New Orleans vibe, “Something In The Water,” about New Orleans, its people and its music, and about the way that all works on us. “There must be something in the water/Giving music that beat/There must be something in the water/It’s got ‘em dancing in the street.” This one features more delicious stuff on keys, and there is a section in the middle with percussion and whistles, like a second line entered the studio, inviting us to join the party.

CD Track List
  1. Ain’t That The Blues
  2. Love Done Put Me Down
  3. You Ain’t Got Nothing
  4. Red Gravy
  5. Crazy In Love With You
  6. Don’t Count Me Out
  7. Blue Eyed Angel
  8. Time To Move On
  9. Hard To Have The Blues
  10. Something In The Water
Blues With A Taste Of New Orleans is scheduled to be released on September 10, 2018.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 27” (2018) CD Review

Most Grateful Dead concert releases have focused on shows from the 1970s. Of course there is a good reason for that. The band was in top form for a lot of that decade. My three favorite years for Grateful Dead concert tapes are (in order) 1973, 1977 and 1970. But I’m glad we’re getting some 1980s releases now. The new Dave’s Picks three-disc set contains the complete show the Grateful Dead performed on September 2, 1983 at BSU Pavilion in Boise, Idaho.

Disc 1

As they begin “Wang Dang Doodle,” we hear this strange announcement: “Citizens of Boise, submit or perish. You are a conquered people.” “Wang Dang Doodle” was new to the band at the time, and they deliver a good rendition. A bluesy groove to get things moving in Boise. Plus, it’s great to hear the Dead play anything with the words “All night long” right at the start of the show, a delicious promise that we know is almost never literally fulfilled, but still rings of truth. And maybe this is the night, right? The band goes right into “Jack Straw,” a choppy transition. This is a decent “Jack Straw,” with some absolutely wonderful stuff from Jerry on guitar, raising the level of energy. They follow that with a somewhat mellow and slow “They Love Each Other.” For me, this version gets good during Brent’s lead on keys. That’s the beginning of a really nice jam.

For the Country Bob slots, we get “Mama Tried” into “Big River.” “Mama Tried” has a great little jam, with some nice energy. And “Big River” is always a fun one to dance to, and they keep that groove going for a bit. “Brown-Eyed Women” is one I always get excited about, and this is a delicious rendition, with some interesting stuff vocally and more than enough energy. Listen to Jerry sing “Daddy made whiskey and he made it well/Cost two dollars, you know it burned like hell.” Wonderful. Bob then takes things back in a bluesy direction for “New Minglewood Blues.” It takes a while for this one to take off, but when it does, watch out! There is a fantastic section during the jam, with the band reaching some new heights. The crowd totally appreciates it too. Jerry then follows it with “Big Railroad Blues,” which for just a moment at the beginning sounds distant. But that is fixed quickly, and this version is a lot of fun, at moments feeling like a Chuck Berry rock and roll number. That’s followed by a really pretty and ultimately powerful version of “Looks Like Rain.” The first set then wraps up with “Deal.” I usually don’t care all that much about “Deal,” but this is a particularly good rendition, with a whole lot of energy to keep everyone in high spirits throughout the set break.

Disc 2

The second disc contains the first hour of the second set. The second set opens with that great burst setting “Help On The Way” in motion. This version is a bit messy at moments. “Slipknot!” gets kind of intense, not your fun, groovy version. So when we emerge into “Franklin’s Tower,” the joy is all the greater. And this is a good, pulsing “Franklin’s.” “If you get confused, listen to the music play.” This jam is definitely worth listening to. This version keeps you on your toes, offering surprises, the band really thriving in the moment. It’s also interesting how the band eases out of this one, finishing it gently.

We then get my favorite pairing of tunes – “Estimated Prophet” into “Eyes Of The World.” The energy is high for “Estimated,” and it feels like the band could just continue building and rocking, when suddenly Bob comes back in on the vocals, halting that climb, that fiery drive, and suddenly returning the band to that good groove. Then the band starts jamming again, but it’s a very different type of exploration now. For me, this is when it gets interesting, and after a little while the jam leads into “Eyes,” a song that always makes me happy, a song that always gets me dancing. Its vibe is just so light and positive, you know? The sound gets weird for a bit during the last verse, like it switched from soundboard to audience or something, which caught me by surprise, but this is still an excellent version. For some reason, part of the jam is presented here as a separate track, a very cool jam with heavy percussion. And the second disc wraps up with “Drums.” This is a fairly short “Drums,” less than six minutes, and has some strange moments.

Disc 3

The third disc then picks up with “Space.” This is a seriously good “Space,” much more together than it often is, with themes and some pretty moments. This is one of the best “Space” segments I’ve ever heard. Bob teases “Throwing Stones,” and a minute or so later, the band goes into it. “A peaceful place, or so it looks from space/A closer look reveals the human race.” The song was only a year old at this point, and the jam gets a little ugly, but the song ends gently, like letting go. And then the groove of “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” begins, and everyone starts to feel optimistic about those “possibilities” Bob mentioned at the end of “Throwing Stones.” We’re all together now, zooming down the road. Then Jerry eases us into a nice, passionate “Black Peter.” There are some incredible moments in this version, particularly vocally, as when Jerry suddenly lowers his voice to draw us in further, to draw us closer. The second set then concludes with a rousing “Sugar Magnolia.” It gets a bit messy just before the “Sunshine Daydream” part, but no matter. The encore is a sweet and powerful “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Wang Dang Doodle >
  2. Jack Straw
  3. They Love Each Other
  4. Mama Tried >
  5. Big River
  6. Brown-Eyed Women
  7. New Minglewood Blues
  8. Big Railroad Blues
  9. Looks Like Rain >
  10. Deal
Disc 2
  1. Help On The Way >
  2. Slipknot! >
  3. Franklin’s Tower
  4. Estimated Prophet >
  5. Eyes Of The World >
  6. Jam >
  7. Drums 
Disc 3
  1. Space >
  2. Throwing Stones >
  3. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad >
  4. Black Peter >
  5. Sugar Magnolia
  6. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
Dave’s Picks Volume 27 was released in late July, 2018. My copy arrived on July 28th.

Peter Lin and The Lintet: “With Respect” (2018) CD Review

With Respect is the debut album from trombonist Peter Lin and his band, The Lintet. The music here is apparently mostly made up of standards, but not from the Great American Songbook. Rather, these are songs from the Chinese and Taiwanese popular music realms, and so music that might not be familiar to a lot of us. I am glad that these tunes are now becoming familiar to me, because the music on this disc is seriously good. By the way, not all the tracks are standards. There is one original composition, written by Peter Lin. There are notes on each of the tracks in the album’s liner notes, giving us a little background on the compositions. The musicians joining Peter Lin on this release include Anthony Nelson Jr. on saxophone and flute, Oscar Williams II on piano, Ben Rubens on bass, and Nic Cacioppo on drums, as well as some guests on certain tracks.

The album opens with “Forgotten Times,” which actually – according to the liner notes – comes from a film. There is something absolutely delightful about this tune at times. It makes me feel light and happy, in part because of Oscar Williams II’s work on piano. And though it has a nice groove, it also somehow has a calming effect. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable tune. Benjamin Kovacs plays tenor saxophone on this track. That’s followed by “Sweet As Honey,” which has a lively, exciting feel right at the start, with its somewhat unusual rhythm. There is also plenty of cool work on horns to keep us interested. “The Moon Represents My Heart” also raises my spirits immediately. The horns have such a bright and warm and cheerful sound. While the famous version of this song by Teresa Teng has a sweet and gentle vibe, this rendition swings and is quite fun.

“Born Here, From There” is an original composition written by Peter Lin. It has an interesting title, and one that certainly feels personal and relevant to the overall theme of this release. Peter Lin was born in the United States (in Louisiana, and now resides in New Jersey), but is clearly interested in his Taiwanese heritage, exploring the music on this album. And so this composition feels to be the heart of the CD, and its placement right in the center of the tracks seems perfect. It is a thoughtful, engaging tune, featuring lots of moving work on horns, some cool stuff on bass, and some nice work on drums. The album’s other track that is not part of the Chinese or Taiwanese popular songbooks is “My Blues,” composed by Slide Hampton. Peter Lin’s connection to Slide Hampton is strong, and the CD’s liner notes include a note from Slide Hampton. They’ve played together, and apparently Peter Lin is Slide Hampton’s manager. This track pops and moves, and I love the drumming. There is a lot of joy in this recording. Several musicians join Peter Lin on this track, including Anthony Ware on alto saxophone, James Zollar on trumpet, Charlie Sigler on guitar, and Winard Harper on drums. All the musicians have moments to shine, and this track includes a cool bass lead followed by a drum solo toward the end.

Peter Lin’s rendition of “Rose, Rose, I Love You” feels like New Orleans music. It has that kind of joy, that kind of energy, that kind of style. All of the musicians who play on “My Blues” also join Peter Lin for this one. I love this track. The CD then concludes with “Evening Primrose,” featuring Anthony Nelson Jr. on flute. This one too feels designed to make us all feel a little bit better about life, something we can certainly use these days.

CD Track List
  1. Forgotten Times
  2. Sweet As Honey
  3. The Moon Represents My Heart
  4. Born Here, From There
  5. My Blues
  6. Rose, Rose, I Love You
  7. Evening Primrose 
With Respect was released on June 22, 2018.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters: “Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters” (2018) CD Review

The self-titled debut release from Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters is a wonderful album mixing rock, country, and folk, and featuring some damn fine songwriting. The album contains all original material, written or co-written by Ashleigh Flynn. Though this is the first CD from Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters, it is certainly not the first release from Ashleigh Flynn herself. She has put out several solo albums over the last couple of decades, the most recent being the 2016 EP The Low Arc Of The Sun. On the new album, Ashleigh Lynn performs all the lead vocals and plays acoustic guitar, and she is joined by a group of accomplished musicians. The Riveters include Nancy Luca (from Whole Lotta Rosies) on electric guitar, Carmen Paradise (from The Marvins) on bass, Jolie Clausen on drums, Jenny Conlee (from The Decemberists) on keys, Kathryn Claire on fiddle and backing vocals, and Ara Lee on backing vocals.

Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters kick off the album with a bang, getting things going with an energetic rockin’ number titled “This Love,” which features a lively vocal performance and some wild stuff on electric guitar. Ashleigh Flynn tells us she aims to give us some of her loving, and urges, “Don’t be shy.” No worries there. She is a strong force, which would easily overcome any shyness on the part of the person she’s after. That’s followed by one of my favorite tracks, “The Sound Of Bells.” This one eases in, and has a rather pretty vocal performance. Something about the way she ends certain lines with “mm-hm” just wins my heart. “Winding up the canyon drive/The only stars are my headlights, mm-hm/The stutter of my engine sound/The moonlight dances on the ground, mm-hm.” You have to hear it. This song then kicks in and develops a fun and totally cheerful vibe. This is a wonderful song that makes me feel good. It’s one I’m going to be listening to often.

The band then follows that with a seriously rockin’ number, “Cold Black Line.” It’s remarkable how varied Ashleigh Flynn’s vocal performances are, how she tailors her approach to the material. Then “Too Close To The Sun” has more of a pop sound, and the vocals fit that sound. This song features one of my favorite lines of the album: “Race to the top just to roll down the hill.” “Too Close To The Sun” was written by Ashleigh Flynn and Nancy Luca. Chris Funk, who produced the album, joins the band on vibes and backing vocals for this track. “One Moment” is a song that really grew on me. It becomes kind of a glorious song. Seriously, it energized me and had me singing along. “You’re going nowhere/You can’t seem to get there/And all you want, and all you want is one moment in the sun.” This one was written by Ashleigh Flynn and Virginia Cohen.

“You Will Remember,” written by Ashleigh Flynn and Nancy Luca, has a strong 1970s rock feel. And yes, the line “You will remember my name” does make me think of Fame. That’s followed by “Shrouded Sun,” a mellower, pretty country and folk song. “Don’t know why I always feel lonely/These thoughts coming and going/My heart beats like a burning flame/I know I can’t be the only/One who hears the bells ring.” Kyleen King joins the band on violin and viola on this track, adding to the song’s beauty. “Oh, how beautiful life could be.” Then “Fly Away” has a great positive vibe, and a catchy hook. I also like Kathryn Claire’s work on fiddle. “High On A Mountain” is a pretty country song, with a sweet-sounding vocal performance. “When I go out walking, the moon gives all the light that I need/My only desire is to see you in front of me.” The album then ends with a delightfully playful tune, “Big Hat, No Cattle,” which offers an affectionate and humorous look at the contradictions and poses of a modern country personality. “Big hat, no cattle/Been forever since I sat in the saddle/In fact, I never rode a horse in my life/I’ve got a gun rack and an American flag/On the window of the back of this cab/She’s an F-150 with mud flaps/Silhouettes of tits and ass.” There is some really nice stuff on keys. I love this song.

CD Track List
  1. This Love
  2. The Sound Of Bells
  3. Cold Black Line
  4. Too Close To The Sun
  5. One Moment
  6. You Will Remember
  7. Shrouded Sun
  8. Fly Away
  9. High On A Mountain
  10. Big Hat, No Cattle
Ashleigh Flynn & The Riveters is scheduled to be released on September 21, 2018 on Home Perm Records.

James Austin Jr.: “Songs In The Key Of Wonder” (2018) CD Review

Songs In The Key Of Wonder is an album of Stevie Wonder covers by jazz pianist James Austin, Jr.  What’s interesting is that this is James Austin, Jr.’s debut album. I find it intriguing whenever an artist chooses for his or her first release to do a tribute album. The person the artist is covering and honoring must mean a lot to him or her personally and must have had a strong influence on his or her musical development. If you are going to do a tribute album for your first release, Stevie Wonder is certainly a good choice of artists to cover. Stevie Wonder has so many excellent songs. For the ten selections on this CD, James Austin Jr. chooses a few of Wonder’s most famous songs, such as “My Cherie Amour” and “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life,” but also some lesser-known numbers like “Golden Lady” and “Tuesday Heartbreak.” Joining the pianist on this release are Bobby Broom on guitar, Ben Rubens on bass, David Williams on bass, Kobie Watkins on drums, Samuel Torres on percussion, Jarrard Harris on alto saxophone, and Joe Magnarelli on trumpet.

This album opens with a sweet rendition of “Isn’t She Lovely,” a song that was included on Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life, the 1976 album that obviously gives this release its playful title. James Austin Jr.’s rendition begins differently from Stevie Wonder’s original version, with a nice, thoughtful, quiet introduction on piano. This version then builds and grows in joy, with some wonderful stuff on both trumpet and saxophone, as well as on drums, even including a drum solo. That’s followed by “My Cherie Amour,” which is given a different and prominent rhythm. But it is that lively piano lead that is most interesting. I don’t recall this song ever sounding so sprightly. James Austin Jr. then returns to Songs In The Key Of Life, giving us a rendition of that album’s “Another Star.” This version begins with the good groove, and the piano, when it comes in, basically at first simply joins that rhythm, adding its voice to it (a piano is a percussion instrument, after all). It is then the horns that rise above the strong rhythm. This is one should get your body moving.

“You’ve Got It Bad Girl” is a more relaxed number, with some nice work on bass. This is a song that was included on Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, a 1972 LP from which James Austin Jr. chooses a total of three tracks to cover. The second song from that album to be included here is “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life,” which was also released as a single and reached #1 on the Billboard chart. The flip side to that single was “Tuesday Heartbreak,” the third track from Talking Book to be covered on this release. This version has kind of an easygoing vibe, and I really like James Austin Jr.’s lead section on keys.

“Part-Time Lover” was a big hit for Stevie Wonder in the mid-1980s, and here James Austin Jr. and his band seem to be having fun with it, getting loose, and delivering a really good rendition. This was never one of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs, but this version is giving me more of an appreciation for it. I particularly love the work on guitar and on drums. That’s followed by “Golden Lady,” which features some really nice stuff on both piano and trumpet, and a prominent rhythm. Then James Austin Jr. dips back into In Square Circle (the album that gave us “Part-Time Lover”) for a cover of “Overjoyed.” This is a gentle, incredibly pretty rendition, and I love that gorgeous, tender work on saxophone. This is one of my favorite tracks. This tribute to Stevie Wonder ends with “Lately,” from Hotter Than July. This version includes just piano and bass, and is an absolutely gorgeous way to conclude the album.

CD Track List
  1. Isn’t She Lovely
  2. My Cherie Amour
  3. Another Star
  4. You’ve Got It Bad Girl
  5. Part-Time Lover
  6. Golden Lady
  7. Overjoyed
  8. You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
  9. Tuesday Heartbreak
  10. Lately
Songs In The Key Of Wonder is scheduled to be released on August 3, 2018 on JCA Records.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Peter Holsapple: “Game Day” (2018) CD Review

In the opening track of Peter Holsapple’s new album, he asks, “Do I still have what it takes?” He then offers up fifteen more tracks (including three bonus tracks) to answer his own question, that yes, absolutely, he does still have what it takes. Game Day is Peter Holsapple’s first solo album in two decades, and it is an excellent group of songs. He wrote all the material (except for one of the bonus tracks), and plays almost all the instruments. Known for his work with the dBs (who six years ago released their first album in twenty-five years, Falling Off The Sky, Peter Holsapple has kept busy with a variety of projects. But after enjoying Game Day, I am hoping he’ll now focus on more solo material.

The album opens with its title track, and the first lines, “My horoscope read/You oughta stay in bed,” got me on board immediately. Plus, the song has a very cool vibe, and is about playing music. He playfully leaves it to his doctor to tell him, “There’s no reason to quit/So you’d better get used to it.” It seems like the perfect song to open what is his first solo effort in a mighty long time. That’s followed by “Commonplace,” in which he sings “There’s nothing wrong with being common,” a thought no one can really come to terms with. The next line is “We don’t all have to be king,” and yet the most common of all people is now acting as king of our country. (Sorry, sometimes it’s difficult to keep from straying into that territory. I’ll try to keep it to a minimum.) This track builds a bit in intensity toward the end. Then “Continental Drifters” has a sweeter tone, with something of a nostalgic feel, looking back at an earlier band. Susan Cowsill, who was a member of the Continental Drifters with Peter Holsapple, joins him on vocals on this track. “And never was a better time had/And never was a finer band/In a time and a place and a different space/’Til it fell apart in our hands.”

For “In Too Deep,” he delivers an angry, snarling vocal performance which totally fits my mood these days. “In too deep/A hill too steep/I can’t look away/’Cause I don’t know how.” And it comes to us over a steady thumping rhythm. There is also some good work on electric guitar. This is a song I think I’ll be playing a lot. It is followed by “Inventory,” which has become one of my favorites. The first time I listened to the album, this is a song that grabbed me partway through. Check out these lines: “Now everyone and everything is gone, and they left me all their stuff/’Cause we all knew that memories alone would never be enough.” There is something oddly catchy about this song, and a weird joy in his voice when singing “Everything is gone” at the end. That’s followed by another of my favorites, “I Got High With You.” Something about this one makes me laugh (and I’m not even high at the moment) – the way he sings it, the tone. “We can talk about the president/We can talk about it all night long.”  For some reason, these lines about getting high by ourselves make me smile: “That’s nothing new/That’s just what we do.” I love this song, and enjoy it more each time I listen to this disc. It’s a gloriously quirky and honest pop song.

“She Handed Him A Pencil” is one of my two favorite song titles on this album. This one has kind of a punk groove to start, and I dig that bass. It’s a strange, intriguing song, with plays on words like “write” and “right” (“You’re supposed to be the writer, right?/So write something tonight”) and then “bear” (“And he went out and thought he shot a bear, but he couldn’t bear to look”). And I love his surprising delivery of “That boy ain’t right.”  The song with my other favorite title is also one of the album’s most enjoyable tracks, “Don’t Ever Leave.” From the moment this one begins, with the whistling, it is just absolutely wonderful. “Sometimes I turn up my radio real loud/Sometimes I try to stay out of the crowd/Sometimes I feel like I’m yelling at clouds/Just yelling, just yelling, yelling at clouds.” Oh yes! This is a song I could listen to all night. Maybe I will. But of course there are several fantastic songs on this album, including “The Smartest Thing I’ve Ever Done,” which had me from its opening line, “There is no sense in what I say, what I’ve done or what I tried to do.” How is that for an excellent first line? “And I’ve been told a thousand times by people better than myself/That this was not the smartest thing that I have ever done/No, not so smart, I agree.” This is the final track of the bulk of the album. The remaining tunes are labeled as bonus tracks.

The first bonus track is the only cover on the album, an excellent, thumping version of Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes,” combined with The New York Rock And Roll Ensemble’s “Sing Lady Sing.” The two songs have extremely similar openings. Jeremy Boomhower joins him on trumpet and trombone for this one. This track has a strange, sudden ending. The CD then concludes with both songs from the single that Peter Holsapple released last year. The first, “Don’t Mention The War,” has something of a Neil Young vibe at the beginning. This is a tremendous song, and I’m glad it’s included here. There are some excellent lyrics, like “And he gives off a smell that’s like old rotten meat/And he opens his eyes, and he’s still seeing the dead/And he’s trying to get back to her couch in his head/So don’t mention the war.” The flip side is “Cinderella Style,” an odd tune that I can’t help but like. The musicians joining him on these tracks are James Wallace on piano, drums and vocals; Mark Simonsen on drums, acoustic guitar, vibraphone and vocals; Skylar Gudasz on flute; and Mark Daumen on tuba. “Hanging from a rock/The metamorphosis is incomplete/She made it out to be so bad/But all it really was was true Cinderella style.”

CD Track List
  1. Game Day
  2. Commonplace
  3. Continental Drifters
  4. In Too Deep
  5. Inventory
  6. I Got High With You
  7. Tuff Day
  8. The Better Man
  9. She Handed Him A Pencil
  10. Don’t Ever Leave
  11. Yelling At Clouds
  12. Not Right Now
  13. The Smartest Thing I’ve Ever Done
  14. Them Changes/Sing Lady Sing
  15. Don’t Mention The War
  16. Cinderella Style
Game Day was released today, July 27, 2018, through Omnivore Recordings.