Monday, February 19, 2018

David K. Mathews: “The Fantasy Vocal Sessions Vol. 1, Standards” (2018) CD Review

David K. Mathews has played piano and keyboards with a lot of great artists over the years, most notably Tower Of Power, Etta James and Santana. Yes, his resume is impressive. For his new release, The Fantasy Vocal Sessions Vol. 1, Standards, Mathews has recruited the help of several different talented vocalists, including Maria Muldaur, Nicolas Bearde and Amikaeyla Gaston. The band for this release includes David K. Mathews on piano, Jim Nichols on guitar, Peter Barshay on bass and Akira Tana on drums, with Wayne de Silva joining on tenor saxophone for several tracks, and Carl Lockett providing some excellent work on guitar on one track (“When Sunny Gets Blue”).

The album kicks off with “I Want To Talk About You,” written by Billy Eckstine. We could all use a little romance these days, and this music will certainly set the mood, led by David K. Mathews’ light and heartfelt work on piano. Vocalist Nicolas Bearde delivers a wonderful performance here, smooth and passionate and true. And Wayne de Silva’s saxophone speaks clearly of the woman too, a second voice singing her praises. “Because I love you and I want to talk about you.” Nicolas Bearde also provides vocals on a sweet and delightful rendition of “Smile.” “I Want To Talk About You” is followed by “Alfie.” I still haven’t seen Alfie (the play or either film version, actually), but I’ve heard several versions of this song over the years. This one features the touching vocal work of Amikaeyla Gaston (her own story is incredible, so when you get the chance, look her up). The production is decidedly somewhat restrained, so that Amikaeyla’s voice is given the space to shine and really be the focus. Wayne de Silva provides more excellent work on sax.

Peter Barshay begins this rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” on bass, setting a cool tone before the rest of the band comes in. The vocalist on this track is none other than Steve Miller, and it’s great hearing him deliver a jazz performance. I grew up listening to his 1970s rock output and enjoying it. I used to play that Greatest Hits cassette a lot. This track finds him giving a very different performance, and totally nailing it. I need to look into whether he’s put out any other jazz material, because I love how he approaches this song. “I should smile/That’s exactly what I’ll do.” This is an excellent track, with a groovy late-night vibe, and I love Mathews’ work on piano, which is absolutely wonderful. This is certainly one of my favorite tracks on this CD. That’s followed by “Oh Papa,” which features another familiar voice working in a realm somewhat different from that for which she is best known. Maria Muldaur is probably still best known for her hit “Midnight At The Oasis,” though she has thrived in blues and other genres as well (I especially love her work with Jerry Garcia Band in the late 1970s). There is something both sensuous and comforting in her approach to “Oh Papa,” a song that she actually recorded before, including it on her 1974 album Waitress In A Donut Shop. While I like that earlier version, I prefer this new rendition. I love the texture of her performance, and of this track in general. There is some really nice work here. Maria Muldaur also joins David K. Mathews for “Lover Man,” which she also recorded before in her career. This track has a cool vibe right from the start, and features excellent work on piano and a delicious vocal performance, particularly toward the end.

In “Ruby,” there is the line “They say, Ruby, you’re like a song.” It’s an interesting line, as women named Ruby seem to only exist in songs. I don’t believe I’ve ever met a Ruby, but I’ve certainly heard of Ruby in songs like “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town,” “Ruby Tuesday,” “Ruby Baby,” “Ruby’s Shoes” “Rock ‘N’ Roll Ruby” and of course this one, written by Mitchell Parish and Heinz Roemheld. Vocalist Glenn Walters delivers a somewhat gentle, yet passionate rendition. I like how this track doesn’t rush into the sax solo. This entire album, actually, is really good at letting the songs move at their own pace, allowing them to breathe and grow. This track also features good work on guitar by Jim Nichols. Glenn Walters also joins David K. Mathews for “Skylark,” a track that begins with a sweet piano solo. Glenn Walters’ performance has a friendly vibe, both engaging and comforting. This track also features Wayne de Silva on saxophone.

CD Track List
  1. I Want To Talk About You
  2. Alfie
  3. Blue Skies
  4. Oh Papa
  5. Ruby
  6. Smile
  7. When Sunny Gets Blue
  8. Lover Man
  9. Lush Life
  10. The More I See You
  11. We’ll Be Together Again
  12. Skylark
  13. In The Wee Small Hours Of Morning
 The Fantasy Vocal Sessions Vol. 1, Standards was released on February 2, 2018 on Effendi Records.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Great American Music Ensemble: “It’s All In The Game” (2016) CD Review

Does music have the power to lift this country out of the cesspool it has found itself submerged in since the day it allowed a mendacious, incestuous, self-obsessed, delusional, racist, fascist moron to occupy the White House? Maybe. Music can certainly lift the spirits of individuals and groups, so why not raise an entire nation from this dark pit? It’s All In The Game, an absolutely fantastic big band album by The Great American Music Ensemble, should be of help. The album takes familiar tunes and makes them thrilling once again, like they were just written. Directed and arranged by Doug Richards, the music on this disc was recorded in 2001 and features some talented and inspired musicians, as well as vocalist Rene Marie on several tracks.

The disc opens with a very strange, intriguing rendition of “In The Mood,” different from any arrangement or approach I’d heard before, but just as exciting and exuberant, particularly at the end. This will cause you to take a new look at the famous song made popular by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and gives you an idea of what you’re in for with this outstanding disc. Things then turn romantic and sexy with “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man Of Mine,” with Rene Marie joining the group on vocals. The way she sings “The roof is leaking,” it sounds like something to be desired. This is an interesting rendition, with certain lines delivered a cappella. I love how the instruments not only support Rene Marie, but seem to encourage her. That’s followed by one of my personal favorite tracks, “Clap Yo’ Hands.” As I’ve said on other occasions, you can never go wrong with Gershwin. At the beginning, the instruments have a delightful playfulness, acting sly, like they might hide on you, then suddenly sneak up on you. Rene Marie’s vocals have a devilish quality as well, perfect as she sing about voodoo. And then suddenly we emerge into a brighter party. The music tells us to relax and enjoy ourselves, the danger is over, as we’ve come to some understanding with the darker powers. If not a truce, then a momentary merging of joys. This is wonderful.

The Great American Music Ensemble delivers a beautiful rendition of “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” with Joe Kennedy, Jr. joining the group on violin. His playing is so moving, so effective, so heartfelt. This version has power and beauty, and is tremendous from beginning to end. Joe Kennedy, Jr. also joins the group for “West End Blues,” which follows “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South.” This track is ridiculously fun, with a lot of character in the performance. Seriously, there are times when I feel each instrument is a living, breathing, fully fleshed persona, and these voices together create something absolutely fantastic. Joe Kennedy, Jr. delivers more wonderful work on violin, and I love that piano, making me feel like I stepped into a bar in the old west. And those horns, those glorious, sexy horns, raising spirits and roofs and any other damn thing they please.

Rene Marie joins the band again for a sweet version of Cole Porter’s “I Am Loved,” a song from the musical Out Of This World. “I am loved/What a wonderful thing/What a beautiful thing/What a glorious thing/To be able to say.” Indeed! “They All Laughed” comes on strong like a party in full swing. Then it’s like the party pauses a moment while Rene Marie enters, to see what she’ll do. She delivers her first line a cappella, then the party joins her, and things just roll along from there. This is a great song, written by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, and this is a superb rendition. (By the way, if you haven’t seen the Peter Bogdanovich film They All Laughed, you should check it out.) We get more Gershwin with a sweet, beautiful, tender instrumental rendition of “Embraceable You.” The disc then concludes with a fun, lively medley of Charlie Parker compositions titled “Bird Blue.”

CD Track List
  1. In The Mood
  2. Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man Of Mine
  3. Clap Yo’ Hands
  4. Stardust
  5. When It’s Sleepy Time Down South
  6. West End Blues
  7. I’ve Got The World On A String
  8. I Am Loved
  9. September In The Rain
  10. April In Paris
  11. Cherokee
  12. They All Laughed
  13. Ain’t Misbehavin’
  14. Embraceable You
  15. Bird Blues
It’s All In The Game was released on March 4, 2016 through Jazzed Media.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Nicole Saphos: “Buzz & Bloom” (2018) CD Review

Nicole Saphos is a talented jazz vocalist, composer and bass player, based in Washington, D.C. In 2016, she released her debut full-length CD, Tiptoe. She is now following that up with Buzz & Bloom, an excellent EP featuring all original material. The music here is an interesting mix of jazz and pop and rock other elements, all driven by Nicole’s distinct voice. The trio is made up of Nicole Saphos on bass and vocals, John Lee on guitar, and Ele Rubenstein on drums.

The EP opens with “Phony Flowers,” a quirky, delightful song powered by Nicole’s unusual and endearing voice, and her interesting phrasing. This track features a strong rhythm, and nice work on guitar, particularly during the instrumental section. That section becomes a good jam, then suddenly gives way to the next vocal section and its lighter vibe. That’s followed by “Desert Island Song,” which begins with just bass. This one too has an unusual rhythm, particularly in the vocal line, which draws me in. I am captivated by her voice, and I love the use of backing vocals on this track (which I believe are also performed by Nicole – my copy of the CD contains no liner notes, so I can’t be certain). Those backing vocals are beautiful. This is a song that I love more each time I listen to it. “Soon everything will be just fine/Upon my desert island/We’ll have no worries or cares/Yes, we will be living high/Upon my desert island/’Til something spoils the air.” This one also has a good jam, with more cool stuff on guitar. This track fades out at the end during another good jam, and I’m curious where that jam would have gone. I need to see this trio perform live at some point.

“My Old Tune” has a quieter, mellower feel, with a classic, old-time vibe and sound in the vocals, fitting with the song’s title. “To my one and only tried and true/Oh, my old tune.” This track features some impressive work on guitar. “Spin Of The Wheel, Tick Of The Wind” makes excellent use of backing vocals to offset the unusual main vocal line, creating a strong contrast. I also dig the loose rhythm of this track. “Mirror, mirror on my wall/Won’t you show me something to make sense of it all/’Cause I’m moving in circles, I’m chasing my tail/Endlessly searching, but to no avail.” Then drums kick off “Train To Caen,” the kind of rhythm that could easily lead to a big band tune. The bass then comes in, and it sounds very cool. Then when the song really kicks in, it comes as something of a surprise. I wasn’t expecting the direction it took. But, of course, this entire disc has a wonderfully different approach, the music having its own sensibilities and structure. This song turns out to be a delightful love song. “I would get stuck anywhere with you/There’s no one I’d rather stick to.” There is a great section of just bass and drums to conclude this tune. “Train To Caen” is followed by “Buzz & Bloom,” the CD’s title track, the drum work at times reminding me of Princess Frank’s work with Holland Greco. The EP then concludes with a reprise of “My Old Tune.” But it is actually quite a different approach to the song, with a different rhythm and pace, and more of a country style to the guitar playing.

CD Track List
  1. Phony Flowers
  2. Desert Island Song
  3. My Old Tune
  4. Spin Of The Wheel, Tick Of The Wind
  5. Train To Caen
  6. Buzz & Bloom
  7. My Old Tune (Reprise) 
Buzz & Bloom is scheduled to be released on CD on March 30, 2018 through Local Woman Records. It will also get a vinyl release on May 4th.

Thor: “Electric Eyes” (2018) CD Review

Electric Eyes is an album that Thor recorded in 1979, intended to be the follow-up to the hard rock band’s first LP, Keep The Dogs Away. For one reason or another, it was left unreleased until now. Of everything I’ve heard from Thor, Electric Eyes is my favorite album. It has more of a raw, straightforward rock sound than other material I’ve heard (admittedly, I haven’t listened to Thor’s entire catalogue). It features mostly original material, written or co-written by Jon Mikl Thor, with just one cover, a good rendition of The Troggs’ “Wild Thing.”

Electric Eyes opens with “Special Flight,” a seriously good rock number with a steady driving rhythm. It begins with a jam, and I love the way it builds before the vocals come in. There is a bit of punk to its sound, and a bit of glam. Basically, it has everything you could want from a late 1970s rock tune. Oh, those innocent times. “We’re not trying to be rough/We’re not trying to be tough/We just want to have fun/So grab all the girls, lift up their dresses/Have some fun in the sun.” I particularly dig that bass. That’s followed by “She’s A Fancy Lady,” a fun rockin’ tune with a strong rhythm. And speaking of glam, this song refers to “All The Young Dudes” in the line “All the young dudes just sit and stare.” I grew up listening to a lot of music like this, and don’t listen to enough of it now. This is a treat, and is one of my favorite tracks. It brings me back to my early childhood.

“Interception” reminds me just a bit of Heart’s “Barracuda” at moments, with that rhythm on guitar. The song fades out just as it seems to be building, which is an interesting effect. That’s followed by the album’s only cover, The Troggs’ “Wild Thing,” which has a raw feel and a playfulness, both of which are totally fitting. There is also some good work on guitar. It’s an all-round good rendition, and it too includes an unusual fade-out at the end, with the instruments sounding like they fade out faster than the vocals. Sure, the album’s title track, “Electric Eyes,” is a bit goofy, with the lines “Electric eyes, those laser eyes/You must beware those lightning eyes,” but I’m already fully on board, and ready to go wherever this album takes me. And it features more good work on guitar.

“Twitch (Let’s Go)” is one of my favorites. It immediately establishes a rhythm to get you on your feet, and has a bit of punk to its sound, as well as some playful backing vocals. “Oh, I want to kiss you (Kiss you)/Oh, I want to squeeze you (Squeeze you).” It’s a totally enjoyable rock song. Another of the disc’s highlights is “Poison,” a song I love right from the start. It’s a joyful, fun hard rock song, with just enough pop to make it one to get you dancing. This sound really takes me back to a time when the world made a little more sense, when problems could be solved in the length of a song. Songs like “Twitch” and “Poison” make this album worth picking up. Then, with a title like “Gladiator Romp,” you know the disc’s closing number is going to be fun. It has something of a theatrical element in the vocals, the way certain lines are delivered.

CD Track List
  1. Special Flight
  2. She’s A Fancy Lady
  3. Interception
  4. Wild Thing
  5. Electric Eyes
  6. Twitch (Let’s Go)
  7. Storm
  8. Poison
  9. The Door (Face Behind My Mask)
  10. Gladiator Romp
Electric Eyes was released on January 26, 2018 through Deadline Music, a division of Cleopatra Records.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Stone Hill All-Stars: “Wilson Comes Home” (2017) CD Review

The country is a mess, and once again I am turning to music for sanity, for joy, for reason, for relief. Today I turn to The Stone Hill All-Stars, a band I’ve been enjoying for several years, a band I can count on to provide excellent, well-written material to lift my spirits. Wilson Comes Home, the group’s latest release, features all original material, written or co-written by Paul Margolis. The Stone Hill All-Stars are John Shock on accordion, piano and vocals; Paul Margolis on guitar, bass and vocals; Dan Naiman on saxophone and bass; Hoppy Hopkins on drums and percussion; and Tim Pruitt on guitar. On this release, they are joined by a few guest musicians.

The album opens with one of its best tracks, “Just These Things,” which has a delicious Latin rhythm, and lets that rhythm develop into something wonderful, for a moment making me think it might be an instrumental track. But then a minute into the song, the vocals begin, and then the song just gets better. I love the straight-forward vocal delivery here. “Let the road run a little longer/It doesn’t have to run forever/That I could go back and say things better/Answer each and every one of your letters/Unfettered, time suspended/Just these things and nothing more.” I love that work on guitar in the second half of the track, and of course the horn. Saxophone and accordion are a great combination, don’t you think? What a delight this track is. It’s followed by “Hammer In Her Hand,” a more serious song which tells a story, creating vivid characters and a relationship through some strong, key images, like “And sweat stung both her eyes” and “He spent a month in rehab in a wheelchair” and of course “She had a hammer in her hand.” Check out these lines: “She had slowly come to fear/The worst of it was drawing near/Maybe he grew tired of hearing/The list of all her grievances/Spent more time on fishing/And his periodic binges.”

“The Mark Of A Man” immediately announces itself as more fun, with elements of ska, a rhythm to get you moving. And yet, it still has something to say. “What keeps us from going under/What keeps us from going numb/He’s well aware/He’s halfway there.” But perhaps the best part of this track is the saxophone over that rhythm. That’s followed by “To Be Her Man,” one of my favorites. I love the sweet folk rock vibe established right at the beginning. There is another well-defined character here, with details like “She leans backwards when she dances” and “She slouches when she stands” creating a clear image of her in the listener’s mind. Some of the lyrics are delivered almost as spoken word, putting those lines and details into stronger focus, and these sections segue naturally from and back to the other sections. I just completely love this song.

“Soft As A Sponge” has a lighter, fun tone, emerging brightly from the previous track (several of the tracks flow into each other), with some breezy work on drums. Again, this band delivers well-crafted characters, with charming details like “But she won’t see a doctor or try medication/Her eyes the most beautiful dilated hazel.” Yeah, this album features some excellent songwriting. “Viscous Meniscus” is another delight.  This is the second song with the word “meniscus” in the title that I’ve heard in the last week or so. Was that word always used in songs, and I just missed it? I am much more aware of the word these days, after tearing the medial meniscus of my left knee several months ago. But so many other words and lines stood out to me the first time I listened to this song, such as “He’d have more elbow room in the next town over” and “Like overripe fruit in the stink of a boot” and “If you see some way that we can uproot him/Other than shoot him.” This one has an unusual vibe. And is that a kalimba? Yes, that’s Jim Hannah on kalimba. The CD then ends on a more serious note with “Wilson Comes Home,” the title track. I love that moment when the saxophone rises above the action, echoing down the street, followed quickly by guitar. Wonderful stuff.

CD Track List
  1. Just These Things
  2. Hammer In Her Hand
  3. The Mark Of A Man
  4. To Be Her Man
  5. A Hundred Answers
  6. Alexander Grothendieck
  7. Soft As A Sponge
  8. It Weighs Nothing Against Her Neck
  9. Viscous Meniscus
  10. Wilson Comes Home
Wilson Comes Home was released on August 15, 2017.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Gus Spenos: “It’s Lovin’ I Guarantee” (2018) CD Review

The country entered a dark, disturbing and ugly era when it allowed Donald Trump and his racist gang of incompetent assholes to begin occupying the White House. Things have become awful out there, and seem to be getting worse. But, man, you’d never know it listening to the new CD from Gus Spenos, It’s Lovin’ I Guarantee. This music shouts joyously, almost defiantly, that things are good. And it’s not long before I’m a believer. There is nothing like some swing to lift us from the mire, and this disc certainly does swing. Those horns will take us right out of the dank, incestuous hole of Trump’s administration. In fact, I believe they could lead us safely out of the apocalypse. Something in me is convinced that the right song could put an end to Donald Trump, Mike Pence and the rest of those fascist bastards, that it would cause them to implode. This CD may very well contain that song. I’m not sure which song, so play them all. Gus Spenos is a talented saxophone player and vocalist, and he has assembled a fantastic group of players for this album. It’s Lovin’ I Guarantee might be just exactly what we need today.

The album gets off to an excellent start with its title track, written by Gus Spenos and pianist Collin DeJoseph. “I’ll make you happy/It’s lovin’ I guarantee.” No question that he can make us happy. This track makes me happy almost from its opening notes. This song moves right along at a good clip, blowing joy our way, and pushing away everything else. Seriously, it’s like the music is able to clear away the muck and grime of the nation, creating space for dancing and happiness. That’s followed by “She Walked Right In,” a tune written by Thomas T.N.T. Tribble. “Well, I done found out you don’t love me no more/Well, I’m packing my drift bag, going right out your door.” Ah, when does finding out that a woman no longer loves you sound so damn good? I seriously dig that bass line, that this song also features some fun backing vocals, as well as more great work on horns.

One of my absolute favorites on this disc is “Fool’s Blues,” a song by Jimmy Rushing. It’s cool in the way that “Minnie The Moocher” is cool. Great vocal performance, delicious work on horns, and plenty of attitude. How can anyone help but love this? “Yes, I know I’m a fool/But what am I going to do?” That’s followed by another great number, “Every Tic’s Got A Toc,” an original tune by Gus Spenos and Collin DeJoseph. Oh, those horns! “Don’t run to your future/It’s going to get here anyhow/It won’t be long ‘til you reach it/Then it all becomes right now.” Things get gloriously bluesy with “Livin’ Is A Crime,” another original track written by Gus Spenos and Colin DeJoseph, and another of the CD’s highlights. The first lines are “Too much drinking, baby/And I don’t sleep like I should.” Well, that describes basically everyone I know since the election. The whole country has the blues. “Yes, it’s been a long time, people, since things made any sense at all/Oh, I get up in the morning, then I just wait for night to fall.” I love this! And that horn is powerful and sexy.

“Lil’ Dog” is a delicious and joyful instrumental track, originally done by Buddy Johnson And His Orchestra. That’s followed by a wonderful rendition of “I’m Gone,” originally recorded by Billy Brooks And His Orchestra in the 1950s. As much as I love the horns on this album, that section with guitar and organ is one of my favorite parts of this track. This excellent disc concludes with “Got Myself A Diamond,” an original tune featuring some delightful backing vocals and more great work from the horn section. “Whenever we’re together, it’s my bell that’s going to ring.”

CD Track List
  1. It’s Lovin’ I Guarantee
  2. She Walked Right In
  3. Hush Baby Don’t You Cry
  4. Fool’s Blues
  5. Every Tic’s Got A Toc
  6. The Blind Boy
  7. Livin’ Is A Crime
  8. Lil’ Dog
  9. I’m Gone
  10. Have Mercy Baby
  11. Hey Girl
  12. Kind Loving Daddy
  13. Got Myself A Diamond 
It’s Lovin’ I Guarantee is scheduled to be released on March 1, 2018.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Mica Bethea Big Band: “Suite Theory” (2018) CD Review

There were two reasons I first put on Suite Theory, the new album from The Mica Bethea Big Band, neither of which had anything to do with the music. The first is the color scheme of the album cover. Purple and green are my favorite colors, and so I was naturally drawn to this disc (though in photos it looks more like blue and green – weird). The second is the title of one of the tracks, “Meniscus.” I tore the medial meniscus of my left knee on July 13th. It’s a word I didn’t know before July, and a word that has been on my mind a great deal since then. So I felt a need to hear that track. Sure, these are perhaps not the best reasons to choose a CD to listen to, but I’m glad they helped make the choice, for Suite Theory is an excellent album.

It features four connected pieces, the first titled “Crystal Clear.” This track is a wonderful reminder that life is good. It seems to be saying just that, what with that work on horns, and with that easygoing, joyous rhythm. It’s a reminder we can use these days. And then suddenly the horns quiet down, and there is a cool lead on bass, which makes me smile. Actually, much of this track makes me smile. The horn solos that follow the bass solo have distinct personalities, and display a clear sense of humor. There is a great deal of joy in this music; this track is a delight. It is followed by “Destiny’s Boat,” which immediately feels different, having a darker tone, a sense of foreboding at the very start that gives way to a lighter sense, but still with a serious, introspective vibe, sometimes moving with caution, sometimes gathering its forces and courage to burst ahead.

“Meniscus” announces its lighthearted approach at the beginning, making interesting use of pauses. This track features some cool percussion, a bit of a jazz fusion feel and sudden Latin rhythms. This tune feels like an offbeat character from a forgotten 1970s romantic superhero exploitation film, a delightful character with several different sides, each coming to the surface at the opportune moment. It’s a lively and unusual track that includes a percussion solo that I love. This track leads straight into “Guardian Of Forever.” This too has something of a 1970s feel, with a bit of funk, at moments threatening to cross the line into disco. Yeah, it’s a fun track. At one point, it goes into an area akin to progressive rock. Star Trek fans will recognize the title as a key element of an episode of the original series, “The City On The Edge Of Forever.” It is a portal to other times and places, and The Mica Bethea Big Band pulls us through the portal to a delightful time. The album then concludes with an alternate take of “Destiny’s Boat.”

CD Track List
  1. Crystal Clear
  2. Destiny’s Boat
  3. Meniscus
  4. Guardian Of Forever
  5. Destiny’s Boat (Alternate Take) 
Suite Theory is scheduled to be released on March 1, 2018.

Laurie Jane & The 45s: “Midnight Jubilee” (2017) CD Review

Laurie Jane & The 45s are a seriously good blues band based in Louisville, but are not strictly blues, mixing in elements of country and rock and other musical genres to create an engaging and entertaining and totally satisfying sound. The band is made up of Laurie Jane Duggins on vocals; Cort Duggins on guitar, piano and lap steel; Jason Embry on upright bass; and Scott Dugdale on percussion. The band’s newest release, Midnight Jubilee, features mostly original material written by Cort Duggins.

This is a disc that I love right from the start of its first track, “Wait So Long,” country blues with a great groove and some damn good playing. Check out that instrumental section halfway through. Holy moly, each time I listen to that part, it’s a different musician that impresses me most.  Oh yes, it feels like a party, with its loose, excited vibe. And then of course there is Laurie Jane’s vocal performance, which has a casual, honest feel that almost causes you to overlook how talented she is. Because it feels so natural, you know? This is one hell of a good song, one of my personal favorites. It’s followed by “Lucky Boy,” which has a different kind of hook, but is just as effective. It’s a bit slower, a bit more intimate. “Oh, baby, don’t act like you don’t know/That you got lucky, boy, back when I first met you.” Oh, I know, I know.

“Midnight Jubilee,” the CD’s title track is another of the disc’s highlights. The title reminds me of Jon Svetkey’s “Television,” in which he sings “You know I’d love a shopping spree/At K-Mart’s midnight jubilee” (sometimes the store name would change to Walgreens). That song was always a great, high-energy number at those End Construction shows. And this song by Laurie Jane & The 45s is perhaps the CD’s best track. Scott Dugdale starts it off with a good groove on drums, and the song builds from there into a deliciously cool number. Laurie Jane sings, “All night long, that’s all the time I’ll need/I’m going to make you love me/Baby, wait and see.” Oh, I have no doubt of that, and I think it will take even less time. I also love Laurie Jane’s vocal delivery on “Fine By Me,” a track which features some good work on piano (I especially love that piano lead section partway through).

Another of the CD’s highlights is “It’s Been A Long Time,” a very cool blues tune in which Laurie Jane sings, “I’ll miss you in the morning/But I’ll miss you more at night.” Oh yes! And her vocal performance here is sexy. This track features some good work on guitar. “It’s Been A Long Time” is one of the disc’s few covers, and was written by Howard Biggs and Joe Thomas. That’s followed by another bluesy gem, “Couldn’t Cry Alone,” combining country and blues, with a wonderful old-time vibe, particularly in the keyboard part. “It isn’t right, I know/Not to be at home/When I’m missing you/I’m sorry, I couldn’t cry alone/They say that misery/Loves her company/But all I love is you/That’s why I’m sorry/I couldn’t cry alone.” Midnight Jubilee ends with a fun number titled “Not With You,” one to get you on your feet. “Youre trying to bend me, trying to make me sway/Nothing you do is gonna make me break.”

CD Track List
  1. Wait So Long
  2. Lucky Boy
  3. Midnight Jubilee
  4. Howlin’ For My Darlin’
  5. Fine By Me
  6. Down This Road
  7. It’s Been A Long Time
  8. Couldn’t Cry Alone
  9. Got Me Where You Want Me
  10. What’s A Girl To Do
  11. Not With You 
Midnight Jubilee was released on October 27, 2017 on Down In The Alley Records.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Choir: “Artifact: The Unreleased Album” (2018) CD Review

I love 1960s rock music, particularly stuff from the second half of the decade, and am surprised and thrilled when I find out about some band from that time that I previously was unaware of. Such is the case with The Choir, a band based in the Cleveland area, performing from late 1964 to 1970 (though the first two years as The Mods). They did have a moderate hit with “It’s Cold Outside,” and released a few other singles, but that was about it. It wasn’t until several years after the group had disbanded that more of their recorded material was released. There were many personnel changes in the band’s relatively short history, with several band members going on to greater success with other bands, such as Raspberries and James Gang. So the band at the end of its run was quite different from that at the beginning. Artifact: The Unreleased Album presents the band as it sounded toward the end, featuring tracks from an early 1969 recording session. The band at this point was Phil Giallombardo on organ and vocals, Randy Klawon on guitar and vocals, Denny Carleton on bass and vocals, Jim Bonfanti on drums and vocals, and Kenny Margolis on piano and vocals. Though the album has remained unreleased until now, a few tracks did appear on compilations after the band broke up. This release includes liner notes by Al Kaston, with thoughts by band members Denny Carleton and Phil Giallombardo, as well as fan Eric Carmen.

Most of the songs here are originals, with three band members contributing tracks. The first song, “Anyway I Can,” was written by Phil Giallombardo, and is a good, fun, cheerful 1960s pop song. This track was previously released on The Choir, an EP from 1976.  It’s followed by “If These Are Men,” which to my ear is more interesting. It has a good groove, sure, but a slightly more serious tone and rocks a bit more. Plus, there is some good stuff on organ. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Although they know I’m to blame/They say don’t give in/Just make her squirm and crawl/You’ve got to show her her sins/But if these are men, then count me out.” This song was written by Denny Carleton, and was previously included on 1994’s Choir Practice. It’s one of my personal favorites of this release. “Ladybug” is another of the disc’s highlights. It has more of a psychedelic flavor and goes in some interesting directions, and includes some good guitar work toward the end. This is not your standard pop or rock tune. “Didn’t know where to go/Or where to find myself/Sailed off to fairyland/Came upon an elf/And so we wandered off/To rid us of our curse/Came upon a ladybug/Knew what she was worth.” “Ladybug” was written by Phil Giallombardo.

One of my all-time favorite bands is The Kinks, and on this album The Choir chooses as its one cover a Kinks song, “David Watts,” which was originally included on Something Else. This is a catchy and playful number written by Ray Davies about a real guy. “He is the captain of the team/He is so gay and fancy free/And I wish all his money belonged to me/I wish I could be like David Watts.” The Choir does an excellent job with this tune, sticking closely to the original version. “David Watts” was also included on Choir Practice. That’s followed by another of the disc’s highlights, “Have I No Love To Offer,” a slower and oddly compelling song, compelling particularly in the vocal delivery. “Why can’t I live my life all alone and free/I always dream about the way it used to be.” And I really like the jam that concludes the song. “For Eric” is the album’s only instrumental tune, and is one that has really grown on me. It begins innocently enough, with a simple groove on bass, which is soon taken up on keys as well. And it builds from there, and there is something beautiful and uplifting about it at times. “For Eric” was written by Kenny Margolis. Margolis’ “It’s All Over,” which follows it, is also quite effective. Check out the opening lines: “It’s all over/But now I love you/I wasn’t happy/And now you’re gone.” The album ends with an absolutely delightful and catchy song, “Mummer Band,” written by Denny Carleton. As you might guess from its title, this tune is a whole lot of fun, and clearly the band feels the same way, as evidenced by the laughter and joking you can hear at the end of the track. “Even though I’m younger, I still love your mummer band/I love rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues, but oh that mummer band.”

CD Track List
  1. Anyway I Can
  2. If These Are Men
  3. Ladybug
  4. I Can’t Stay In Your Life
  5. David Watts
  6. Have I No Love To Offer
  7. For Eric
  8. It’s All Over
  9. Boris’ Lament
  10. Mummer Band
Artifact: The Unreleased Album is scheduled to be released on February 16, 2018 through Omnivore Recordings.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Dolores Scozzesi: “Here Comes The Sun” (2018) CD Review

Jazz vocalist Dolores Scozzesi has a voice that seems at home in any musical realm. She can tackle standards, handle those great smoky late-night numbers, deliver intriguing renditions of pop tunes, dip into songs with Latin flavors, and do it all with soul and style. On her new release, Here Comes The Sun, she is backed by Quinn Johnson on piano, Andy Langham on piano and melodica, Lyman Medeiros on bass, Kevin Winard on drums and percussion, Larry Koonse on guitar, Dori Amarilio on guitar, and Nolan Shaheed on trumpet. Here Comes The Sun was produced by vocalist Mark Winkler.

Dolores Scozzesi kicks off the album with Cole Porter’s “It’s Alright With Me,” a wonderful rendition, delivered with a strange sense of urgency. Check out that work on bass, which drives the song forward at a wild pace. And the way Dolores delivers lines like “You can’t know how happy I am that we met/I’m strangely attracted to you/There’s someone I’m trying so hard to forget/Don’t you want to forget someone too?” make me think she’s trying to get this guy into bed quickly before she has second thoughts. And there is a fast flight along the keys, followed by some nice work on guitar. That’s followed by a very cool rendition of “I’m In The Mood For Love,” her voice supported just by a wonderful bass line at the beginning. Then there is a surprising and delightful lead on melodica. Oh yes, this track is getting me in the mood for love, and it will likely do the same for you.

I am a big fan of Randy Newman’s work. Well, his early work, before he sold his talents to that horrible company Disney (I despise Disney). On this CD, Dolores Scozzesi covers “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” a song from Newman’s phenomenal 1972 album Sail Away. I think the first version I heard was the Joe Cocker rendition from the film 9 1/2 Weeks (I was fourteen when I saw that movie, so it had an impact on me). This version from Dolores Scozzesi features another prominent, strong bass line at the beginning, setting up a delicious vibe. And of course, the fact that it’s a woman singing this one gives certain lines a different feel. Like the Etta James version, Dolores changes the word “dress” to “vest.” She then gives an unusual reading of the “Yes, yes, yes” line, particularly with that added first “Yes,” almost like an acknowledgment that he is doing as she instructed. It sounds almost like it just slipped out, an honest reaction, before she then returns to being in control. A nice moment.  This rendition also features some good work on keys, and then that horn. Wow, that trumpet is totally fucking delicious. This is a seriously excellent version.

Dolores Scozzesi follows that with “Wild Is The Wind.” Though this song has been covered many times, the first version I ever heard was the David Bowie version from Station To Station, and that’s still the version I compare all others to. I really like what Dolores does with this song, particularly in the second half, where she adds some vocal improvisation. She then gives “Here Comes The Sun” a different and prominent rhythm, which took me some time to get used to. The song has a very different feel than that of the original version by The Beatles. Dolores also delivers quite a different rendition of “Tequila.” You might think “Tequila” would be a strange choice of songs for a vocalist to cover. After all, the lyrics comprise a single word. But this rendition features new lyrics by Mark Winkler and Dori Amarilio. It’s a goofy and playful rendition, and I like it. “And when the band played/She would be dancing/And when the band stopped/You could hear Juanita say ‘tequila’/That’s what she’d say.” The album concludes with a gorgeous rendition of “Harlem Nocturne.” I love the way Dolores delivers this one, especially when she dips into her lower registers. There is an entire world and history in her voice. Plus, this track features some wonderful work on guitar and melodica.

CD Track List
  1. It’s Alright With Me
  2. I’m In The Mood For Love
  3. You Can Leave Your Hat On
  4. Wild Is The Wind
  5. Here Comes The Sun
  6. In My Solitude
  7. Tequila
  8. A Little Taste
  9. Harlem Nocturne 
Here Comes The Sun is scheduled to be released on February 15, 2018 on Café Pacific Records.