Monday, June 18, 2018

Gary Brumburgh: “Moonlight” (2018) CD Review

Jazz vocalist Gary Brumburgh released his first album, Up Jumped Spring, more than a decade ago, and has now followed it up with Moonlight. Why did so much time pass between releases? Gary spent a good deal of that time battling cancer, which was in his neck and tonsils. Fortunately, it did not affect his vocal cords, and the cancer went into remission in 2016. Now he’s back, and there is plenty of joy in his voice. Interestingly, in the liner notes he quotes the first line of Twelfth Night: “If music be the food of love, play on.” It’s interesting because Orsino, who speaks that line, is suffering from a sort of faux melancholy brought on by his love not being answered by Olivia. Anyway, on Moonlight, Gary Brumburgh delivers his personal spins on some familiar songs, including material by The Beatles, The Supremes and Irving Berlin. He is joined by Jamieson Trotter on piano, Gabe Davis on bass, Christian Euman on drums, Conor Malloy on drums, Pat Kelley on guitar, Larry Koonse on guitar, and Bob Sheppard on saxophone.

I love the way this album begins, with just the bass providing a cool introduction. Then, after a few moments, the familiar sounds of “Day Tripper” emerge, and soon the rest of the band joins in for a cool rendition of the Beatles tune, with a bit of swing to the rhythm, and some really nice work on saxophone. Gary Brumburgh is clearly enjoying himself, and his vocal work has a fun, excited feel, with even a bit of scat.  Just before the end, the song returns to the vocals backed by bass, and then the track ends gently, with a final note on piano. That ending works well, as the following song, “I’ll Close My Eyes,” begins quietly on piano. I like when an album has a flow like that, when the entire album is in mind as a band records individual tracks. It’s not long before this song picks up a bit, with Larry Koonse’s work on guitar. I really like Gary’s delivery, particularly on these lines: “I’ll lock my heart/To any other caress/I’ll never say yes/To a new love affair/Don’t you know, don’t you know that I’ll close my eyes/To everything that’s gay/If you’re not there/To share each lovely day.” And this track features some good work on piano.

“Dig/Sweet Georgia Brown” immediately announces itself as a fun track with that great drumming, and then those backing vocals shouting “Dig Georgia Brown.” The track is a combination of Miles Davis’ “Dig” and “Sweet Georgia Brown,” two compositions having a lot in common. As you might expect, this one cooks, and it features more fantastic work on piano. “Moonlight,” the CD’s title track, was written by John Williams, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and was recorded by Sting for the 1995 remake of Sabrina. The song was nominated for several awards, but I never cared all that much for it. Still, there are things I like about this rendition, particularly Bob Sheppard’s work on sax. Interestingly, Gary follows that with another Sting song, this one written by Sting, “Heavy Cloud No Rain” from Ten Summoner’s Tales. It’s a really good version, in part because Paulette McWilliams provides backing vocals on this track.

Gary Brumburgh’s rendition of “My World Is Empty Without You” is quite a bit different from that by The Supremes (and the other versions I’ve heard). It begins with serious and sad tones, Gary at first accompanied only by Jamieson Trotter on piano and some light touches on percussion by Conor Malloy. From there, it does pick up, and it features some really nice work by Gabe Davis on bass. One of my favorite tracks is Kenny Rankin’s “Haven’t We Met.” This excellent rendition is delivered as a duet with Gail Pettis. I mentioned earlier that Gary Brumburgh quoted Shakespeare in the liner notes. Well, this song has a direct reference to Romeo And Juliet: “And I know that’s just how it happened/When Romeo met Juliet/Somewhere I read that Juliet said/‘Pardon me, haven’t we met?’” In Kenny Rankin’s original version it is Romeo that says “Pardon me, haven’t we met?” Perhaps in this version it is switched to Juliet because Gail Pettis sings that line. Because then at the end the lines are repeated, except this time it is Romeo delivering the line, and Gary sings it. This track features some damn good drumming toward the end. The album then concludes with a mellow tune, a passionate rendition of Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do.”

CD Track List
  1. Day Tripper
  2. I’ll Close My Eyes
  3. Dig/Sweet Georgia Brown
  4. Wichita Lineman
  5. Moonlight
  6. Heavy Cloud No Rain
  7. Eggplant
  8. My World Is Empty Without You
  9. Just A Little Lovin’ (Early In The Mornin’)
  10. Haven’t We Met
  11. What’ll I Do
Moonlight was released on June 1, 2018 on Café Pacific Records.

Friday, June 15, 2018

John Daversa: “Wobbly Dance Flower” (2017) CD Review

Honestly, I picked the John Daversa CD Wobbly Dance Flower out of the stack because of its title. I was up for some fun, vibrant music, and figured this might be just the thing. And indeed, it was. This disc features mostly original compositions by John Daversa (with only one exception). Joining the trumpet player on this release are Bob Mintzer on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Zane Carney on guitar, Joe Bagg on piano and organ, Jerry Watts Jr. on bass, and Gene Coye on drums.

It opens with a tune titled “Ms. Turkey,” and immediately I’m into it, the horn getting the song started like some fun, glorious announcement. There is certainly a great amount of joy to this track, but the tune goes in some exciting directions too, and there is some excellent drumming. Just the thing to pick you up. That’s followed by the album’s only cover, a cool rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee.” It has kind of a slow groove at the start, and some wonderful stuff on horn. I also dig that work on piano; and wow, listen to that bass beneath it. This track features some impressive playing, particularly in the second half of the track, when it starts to cook.

“Be Free” begins like a call to get out of bed and onto the dance floor, which might in fact be the entire landscape. I can imagine a crowd dancing to this one. And then when things start getting a bit wild, like thirty seconds in, the crowd leaps into the air, melts into trees and façades, and the buildings begin rumbling and dancing in their own way. It gets a bit chaotic, but it’s like coloring book chaos, you know? All fun, all perfect in its way. And why not? After all, it’s titled “Be Free,” and it seems to express a freedom to go off in different directions, to be a person or a cavorting tree or whatever you can draw or imagine. Then at the end, it returns to the beginning, dropping us back off where we started. Then we get “Brooklyn Still,” a mellower, kind of bluesy, soulful tune that builds toward the end.

“Wobbly Dance Flower,” the title track, is a lot of fun, as you’d expect. Every part of your body will want to dance, perhaps doing different dances, but not to worry, you’ll come together again later. By the way, the song’s playful title came from Daversa’s young daughter, who also created the album’s artwork. That’s followed by “Jazz Heads,” a track I love right from its opening. It has a great playful, almost child-like quality. I can imagine this song playing in a scene from The Muppet Show, with some delightful Muppet dancing with the episode’s guest star. Actually, I want to see that. Let’s bring back that show. Hey, they’re bringing back every other darn show that ever existed (though obviously some aren’t lasting as long as one might have thought), so let’s (once again) bring back The Muppet Show. There are some good conversations between instruments in this track, and this one too returns us to the beginning, after taking us on a wonderful journey. That’s followed by “Meet Me At The Airport,” the title fitting well its mood and themes. There is something very positive about meeting someone at the airport, or being met at the airport. For most of us, it means seeing someone we haven’t seen in a while, someone we very much want to see. And this track has an excited, happy quality. As it goes on, it then settles into conversation, like the two people are catching up, or like several people are catching up, as each instrument adds to the conversation. I especially like that lead on bass. This tune becomes powerful, forceful at the end.

We then get “You Got A Puppy?!” Okay, first I have to say I really dislike when people put a question mark and exclamation point together. Pick one! Okay? (Though it’s not as irritating as when people use multiple exclamation points or multiple question marks, an offense that deserves a serious smacking.) That being said, I do like this track. It opens with some drumming, and moves a good clip. It also features more great work on bass. And I really like what Zane Carney is doing on guitar. Bob Mintzer’s work on bass clarinet is also absolutely wonderful. But of course it is the trumpet that really soars and cooks here. The entire band has plenty of opportunities to shine, even though this track isn’t even three minutes long. A whole lot of deliciousness is packed into that short span. The CD then ends with an even briefer number, “Extra Credit,” which is less than a minute long. This strange, electronic jam features cool work by Joe Bagg on organ. I’m curious where this one would go, given more time.

CD Track List
  1. Ms. Turkey
  2. Donna Lee
  3. Be Free
  4. Brooklyn Still
  5. Wobbly Dance Flower
  6. Jazz Heads
  7. Meet Me At The Airport
  8. You Got A Puppy?!
  9. Extra Credit 
Wobbly Dance Flower was released on September 22, 2017.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

All Those Ships: “Meteorology For Runners” (2016) CD Review

All Those Ships is the project of Brandon MacNeil, who not only wrote all the songs on Meteorology For Runners, but also played all the instruments. The music is basically folk, but certainly not the typical folk fare. He has a freedom to explore some interesting territory here without being self-indulgent, certainly a danger when an artist might have no input from other musicians. There isn’t just a sense of adventure, but a sense of humor to this music. If you are into groups like Blimp Rock and Moldy Peaches, you should definitely check out this release. All Those Ships is based in Derry, New Hampshire.

The album opens with “Head Up,” which made me burst out in surprised laughter at one point the first time I listened to it. “Don’t you know how this will end/Won’t you slow down, turn around now/Or you’ll end up all cooked in a stew/You’ll end up all cooked in stew.” The way he plays with the word “in” in that last line is surprising and kind of delightful. There is also an interesting contrast in the somewhat drawn out vocal line and the percussion. That’s followed by “Making Sense,” a song that grabbed me right from its start. The first lines are “One night I dreamt that I was driving/And I couldn’t keep my eyes open/I couldn’t stay awake/So I nodded off/Then I woke back up/And then I woke back up again.” And it just gets better and better. This is an unusual and wonderful song, powerful at moments. This is one of my favorites. “If I don’t make it where I’m going, well, at least they’ll say I made a valiant effort/If I make an effort, if I make an effort.”

“Gravel” has kind of a bright, friendly sound. “You know summer’s been fading/And I am a runner in waiting/Away, away.”  That’s followed by “Good Luck,” an odd and playful song that offers some advice, such as “Get some sleep/Shower often/Lots of exercise/Don’t get into strange cars/Set some goals.” He repeats the line about not getting into strange cars, so perhaps that’s the most important advice. I like that it’s not “strangers’ cars,” but “strange cars.” Some of my closest friends have strange cars. Hmm. It’s a lively tune, and in addition to advice, he wishes us “the best of luck.” “I hope it comes to you/Well, it’s bound to come soon.” Ah, sometimes we need to hear that, don’t we? I’m kind of in love with this song.

“Stuck In Your Head” begins by establishing an intimate folk feel. And how is this for an opening line: “Something tells me denial won’t help at all.” I also love this line, which stuck out the first time I listened to this disc: “I hope this song’s enough to replace the one that’s been stuck in your head.” This song has its own kind of beauty. “Squish Spiders For You” is a decidedly lo-fi affair, like he recorded it on whatever equipment he had handy, or was going to play it over the phone to the person afraid of spiders. This song is kind of adorable and made me laugh. “You know I’d squish spiders for you/Even though I don’t like to/They might bite you/So those spiders just have to go/They just have to go.”

Another song I can’t help but love is “We Won’t Rest.” It reminds me just a bit of Syd Barrett.  We live in, we live in, we live inside/We may go out, we may go out, oh, we go out now and then/But we live in, we live in, we live inside.” This song is a total delight. And this line is another that had me laughing aloud: “We won’t rest, we won’t rest, we won’t rest until we get some rest.” There are more unusual lyrics in “Tiny Clouds,” such as “Tiny little storm clouds grow up big and strong by and by.” I love being surprised by music, and this CD surprised me multiple times. Other lines from this song that stood out include “But you can do something new with something old” and “You may say it’s some kind of magic, I don’t know what else to call it.” The album then concludes with “Broken Cassette,” which begins a little chaotically. Apart from the “self”/“shelf” rhyme, which I never care for, I totally dig this song, its title being a play on the idea of a broken record, repeating one’s self.

CD Track List
  1. Head Up
  2. Making Sense
  3. Gravel
  4. Good Luck
  5. Stuck In Your Head
  6. From Far
  7. Squish Spiders For You
  8. Backtracked
  9. We Won’t Rest
  10. Tiny Clouds
  11. Broken Cassette
Meteorology For Runners was released on September 12, 2016.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Big Harp George: “Uptown Cool” (2018) CD Review

Big Harp George, on his new album, sounds like he’s been on top of things for a long time, so it’s surprising to learn that he released his debut CD only four years ago. He followed that with 2016’s Wash My Horse In Champagne and now with Uptown Cool, this new release featuring all original material, written by George Bisharat (Big Harp George). In these songs, he tackles his subjects with humor and style, and is backed by a great band, which includes Chris Burns on keys, Alexander Pettersen on drums, Joe Kyle on bass, Kid Andersen on guitar and bass, Little Charlie Baty on guitar, Michael Peloquin on saxophone, Mike Rinta on trombone and tuba and Derrick “D’Mar” Martin on percussion. Loralee Christensen and Derick Hughes provide backing vocals. Yes, this is the blues, but there certainly is a whole lot of joy in these tracks.  

The album opens with “Down To The Rite Aid,” which is some fun, slightly goofy blues, with delightful work on horns. It has a kind of classic sound, while being about a modern place and modern issues, as the line playing with the idea of having an erection that lasts more than four hours. The lyrics also include a reference to The Walking Dead. The song is delivered with a sense of humor, and with plenty of good work on harmonica. I love the way the harmonica interacts with the horns and guitars in that instrumental section. Likewise in “Internet Honey,” he employs a delicious classic sound to tackle a modern subject, online romance. “Swipe left, swipe right/I really can’t figure it out/I need that cyber magic/Right away, without a doubt/I want an internet honey.” It’s a fun song with more cool work on horns, particularly toward the end. Oh man, I wish that jam went on a bit longer; it was just starting to really groove and cook when suddenly the song is over. I’m guessing from these moments that this is a band worth seeing in concert.

Another modern subject is addressed in “Alternative Facts.” In these sad and disturbing days, Big Harp George sings, “I always thought that truth mattered.” It’s a good song, and I am always in favor of poking fun at Trump and his gang of mendacious assholes, but this is also a serious matter. We can’t let honesty and truth be things of little consequence or things of the past. I can’t wait for Trump to be a thing of the past. Anyway, I dig the groove, and of course there is more good, expressive work on harmonica. “Don’t get shackled by the truth/Only fools think that truth matters/When in truth, it just distracts/You’ll never reach your vast potential/Without alternative facts.” At the end it mentions “fake news” as the excuse to use when you’re called out on your lies. What I want is for reporters to never let up on Donald Trump or Sarah Huckabee Sanders, to not let them get away with bullshit responses. Just keep asking the questions, demand answers. Keep on them until they fucking explode. And then toss their pieces into the trash, so the country can get back on track.

“Nobody’s Listening” is a wonderful, slow number about the end of a relationship (always a good subject for a blues tune), where we are given the man’s assessment of the woman’s lesser qualities. “How many nights, baby, did we go out with friends/You’d drop an insult from which no friendship mends/And I’m sorry to share with you/Nobody’s listening anymore.” Nice, right? “And now the time has come, dear/For you to find your own way/I’m done cleaning up your messes/That’s why I left you yesterday.” I love this song, particularly the way the horns are used in this track, supporting him and almost like comforting him, backing him up as if they’d been present during these scenes with him and his ex-girlfriend. They are like good friends. Plus, there is some nice work on both keys and guitar. And this line describing the woman is just perfect: “Some kind of magnet for woe.” I think we’ve all known someone that that line accurately describes. That’s followed by a fun, upbeat instrumental track titled “In The First Place,” the harmonica acting as the main voice, engaging the other instruments in a bit of conversation, with some call and response.

“Cold Snap By The Bay” is a very cool tune, with a mean vibe and some stunning and moving work on horns over a serious groove, plus a really good vocal performance. And then there is that great work on keys. Man, everything is working so well here. This is one of my favorite tracks. That serious song is followed by a fun tune with something of a New Orleans vibe, “Just Calm Yourself.” Loralee Christensen delivers a strong vocal performance, singing lead in certain sections. Then “Uptown Cool,” the album’s title track, is a nice, kind of bouncy instrumental track. The CD ends with “Lord Make Me Chaste,” a humorous tune with a bit of gospel thing. “Lord make me chaste, but not yet.” And while we’re on the subject, here is a note to those out there who confuse “celibate” with “chaste”: Quit it. “Celibate” simply means “not married.” The word has nothing to do with sex or a lack thereof. The word you’re looking for is “chaste” (as Big Harp George is obviously well aware). Please pass that on. Thanks.

CD Track List
  1. Down To The Rite Aid
  2. Internet Honey
  3. Alternative Facts
  4. I Wanna Know
  5. Nobody’s Listening
  6. In The First Place
  7. Standing In The Weather
  8. Bulletproof
  9. Cold Snap By The Bay
  10. Just Calm Yourself
  11. Uptown Cool
  12. Lord Make Me Chaste
Uptown Cool is scheduled to be released on July 16, 2018 on Blue Mountain Records.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Lucky Losers: “A Winning Hand” (2015) CD Review

After enjoying Blind Spot, the new release from The Lucky Losers, I decided to go back and listen to the band’s debut CD, 2015’s A Winning Hand. Unlike the new album, this one features a lot of cover tunes. There are some originals too, of course, written either by vocalist Cathy Lemons or by vocalist Phil Berkowitz and Danny Caron. And some of the same musicians back them: Robi Bean is on drums, Chris Burns is on keys, Kid Andersen is on guitar and percussion. It’s an impressive debut, and certainly worth listening to, or revisiting.

The album opens with an original track, “Change In The Weather,” a fun, kind of funky number written by Phil Berkowitz and Danny Caron. It has a great vibe, and some good lyrics as well. Check out these lines: “Can you feel a change in the weather/Making clouds around your heart/A chance to dance around the subject/For the sake of playing a part.”  And these: “The weeds will start to grow among the flowers/That we planted in hopes of a better tomorrow.” Oh yes. There is some cool work on harmonica toward end. They follow that with a cover of “I Take What I Want,” the Sam & Dave song that was included on that duo’s 1966 LP Hold On, I’m Coming. It’s a fun, upbeat soul tune, and The Lucky Losers do a good job with it, with Phil delivering more good work on harmonica. Another cover follows that, Jimmy Rogers’ “What Have I Done,” a really cool blues song. I always liked the lines, “You got me coo-coo, baby/Coo-coo in my head.” Love can do that to you.

We then get a couple of songs written by Cathy Lemons, starting with “A Winning Hand,” the album’s title track. It’s performed as a duet, and I love that moment when those backing vocals come in. Lisa Leuschner-Andersen provides the backing vocals. Steve Freund is on lead guitar on this track. “This game is all I got.” Then “Suicide By Love” features some really nice work by Joe Kyle on upright bass and Chris Burns on piano. This is a cool late-night jazzy song, one of my personal favorites. I love the way Cathy delivers lines like “I was drinkin’ and druggin’ oh so well/I had my portrait taken at the city jail.”

The Lucky Losers do an interesting rendition of Bob Dylan’s “What Was It You Wanted,” giving it a perkier vibe than the original recording. Chris Burns’ work on organ is featured prominently, and Phil Berkowitz delivers some good stuff on harmonica. Marvin Greene is on lead guitar on this track. They follow that with a really nice rendition of Allen Toussaint’s “What Is Success,” their vocals blending well. Ben Rice plays slide guitar on this track. They also give us a fun version of “Baby, You Got What It Takes” and a kind of sweet rendition of Charles Brown’s “Cry No More,” both of which feature Kevin Zuffi on keys.

While on the new album, Cathy Lemons has a song titled “Take The Long Road,” on this release Phil Berkowitz delivers a song titled “Long Hard Road,” a good bluesy tune with a horn section. “’Cause I’ve been trying so hard to love you, baby/But you see I’ve got to love myself/’Cause I’ve given up pretending/To be somebody else.” Michael Peloquin is on saxophone, and Tom Poole is on trumpet. This disc concludes with two more original compositions. The first is “Detroit City Man,” a mean and cooking blues tune written by Cathy Lemons. She really gets into this one, telling us the story of a guy who maybe is less than perfect. “He had blond hair and blue eyes/He was long and lean/Everything he said to me/My god, lord, I swear he didn’t mean.” And then “Don’t You Lose It,” written by Phil Berkowitz and Danny Caron, has a classic mellow rhythm and blues vibe, and is another of the disc’s highlights. “Can you hear the whistle blowin’/It may feel like a warning sign/The past exists only in your mind.

CD Track List
  1. Change In the Weather
  2. I Take What I Want
  3. What Have I Done
  4. A Winning Hand
  5. Suicide By Love
  6. What Was It You Wanted
  7. What Is Success
  8. Long Hard Road
  9. Baby, You Got What It Takes
  10. Cry No More
  11. Detroit City Man
  12. Don’t You Lose It
A Winning Hand was released on June 1, 2015 on West Tone Records.

Monday, June 4, 2018

David Cross & David Jackson: “Another Day” (2018) CD Review

David Cross is electric violinist known for his work with King Crimson, and David Jackson, who plays flute and saxophone, is known for his work with Van der Graaf Generator. The two (who both also play keyboards) have joined forces for an intriguing album titled Another Day. This instrumental album features all original material, written by Cross and Jackson (with a few tracks co-written by band mates Mike Paul and Craig Blundell). Mike Paul is on bass, and Craig Blundell is on drums. These tracks take us on some wild journeys, creating entire worlds in the span of several minutes.

“Predator,” the album’s opening track, starts a bit chaotically, but once that funky rhythm is established, I am on board. This track mixes jazz and progressive rock, but with a twisted carnival vibe, which I love. It’s like a passageway to a strange, captivating, and perhaps dangerous realm. Watch your footing, mind your head. Then, with “Bushido,” we’re invited into a very different world, one perhaps more natural, but also darker, with denizens lurking about, checking you out from the periphery. There is something almost magical about this brief number. “Last Ride” begins with a more ominous sound and tone, with a heavy feel. Then suddenly, after a minute or so, it opens up into a wild landscape, with devils on trapeze, tossing poison darts at your feet to get you to move. And you have no choice but get caught up in the progress of the tune. There is some excellent playing on this cool track.

“Trane To Kiev” is an interesting track. It begins tentatively, cautiously, like taking small steps into an unfamiliar place. But then the music becomes bolder, even insistent. And the drums, when they come in, at first have a sort of an official feel. Then at one point things come to a sudden halt, with just a heartbeat remaining. The heartbeat continues as the world comes rushing in on it, spinning around. Then “Millennium Toll” comes in sounding like the ticking of time, or the dripping of water. Time suddenly fractures and disappears as the tune breaks through, rising forth with confidence. The idea of time is never gone, however, and comes in force toward the end, with what sounds like the striking of a great bell. That’s followed by “Arrival,” which has a more uplifting vibe to it and becomes rather beautiful.

“Mr. Morose” is a more bluesy tune, a sad and passionate yearning for something you feel the person knows he or she will never get or achieve. Yet, there is life in it. If not hope, then there is at least some sort of acceptance of the state of things. And, after all, it isn’t the end. That’s followed by “Anthem For Another Day,” which begins with a lone instrument raising its voice. There is some joy there, but it is when it is joined by other instruments that the tune really begins to feel cheerful. It becomes rather pretty and works to raise our spirits, with those repeated phrases raising us up more each time through, working in time with our hearts, our hopes. It feels like it is uniting us, and as it does, it becomes one of my favorite tracks. Wonderful.

CD Track List
  1. Predator
  2. Bushido
  3. Last Ride
  4. Going Nowhere
  5. Trane To Kiev
  6. Millennium Toll
  7. Arrival
  8. Come Again
  9. Breaking Bad
  10. Mr. Morose
  11. Anthem For Another Day
  12. Time Gentlemen, Please
Another Day was released on March 9, 2018.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Monkees at The Orpheum Theatre, 6-2-18 Concert Review

The Monkees performing "I'll Spend My Life With You"
The Monkees were my first favorite band. I was four years old when I fell in love with this group, and my appreciation for them has only grown in the intervening decades. I saw them in concert in 1986, and several times since then, and I’ve always had an excellent time. But last night’s show at the Orpheum might have been the best show I’ve seen them do (perhaps even better than the show in Lowell back in 2011). It was certainly the best concert I’ve attended this year. There were a lot of surprises, a lot of songs I’d never seen them do before, including one of my all-time favorites. And there was a great sense of fun about the whole thing. The tour is billed as “The Monkees Present: The Mike & Micky Show,” as Peter Tork is not part of it.

I had never been to the Orpheum before, and was pleased to discover it is a really nice venue, with a relaxed vibe and a friendly staff. I had purchased a ticket for a seat in the last row so that I could dance without bothering anyone. So glad I did. I danced the whole show, and had plenty of room. My seat was actually in the handicapped area. Good folks near me too, which helped make the experience even better. It’s great being with other knowledgeable fans. Before the show, the venue actually had Monkees music playing, including “All The King’s Horses,” “Salesman” and even “Me & Magdalena.” I was already really excited about the show because a few months ago Mike and Micky had indicated that they were going to play songs they didn’t usually perform.

At 8:04 p.m., the lights dimmed, and at 8:05 p.m., a screen came down at the back of the stage, which simply said “The Monkees Present The Mike & Micky Show.” They didn’t bother playing scenes from the television series, as they had at previous shows. And I certainly didn’t miss the visuals. This time it was all about the music. They kicked off the show with Michael Nesmith’s “Good Clean Fun,” a song from The Monkees Present. “I told you I’d come back and here I am!” Indeed! Micky was on acoustic guitar, and Mike played electric guitar. They followed that with “Last Train To Clarksville,” and man, there was a guy on banjo. After that song, someone shouted out, “I love you.” And Mike responded, “I love you too.” Micky then put down the guitar and picked up some maracas for “Sunny Girlfriend.” That song is always a lot of fun, and this was a good version.

After “Mary, Mary,” Mike joked, “Mary, Mary never answered.” They then played “You Told Me,” with Micky on tambourine, and followed that with “For Pete’s Sake.” Mike mentioned that song was written by Peter Tork, adding: “A big shout out to Peter Tork. Peter!” Peter has said that he wasn’t doing this tour because he’s focusing on other projects. Mike then also gave a shout out to Davy Jones, saying “This is for you, kiddo,” before getting into “The Door Into Summer.” Yes, Mike was pretty talkative at this show, which was great, even doing a running joke about missing a woman’s phone call. That running joke was not anything that was worked out beforehand, and Mike wasn’t sure just where he was going with it, and admitted as much.

Micky played acoustic guitar on “The Girl I Knew Somewhere.” After that, one of the band’s technicians brought out an acoustic guitar for Mike. Rather than just taking it, he made the guy stand there holding it for a bit while he joked that he’d give him eight dollars for it. He then played “You Just May Be The One.” Mike left the stage for “Steam Engine.” This was the first surprise of the night for me, and it was absolutely fantastic. This song is a whole lot of fun. I used to have a compilation cassette titled Monkee Business, and I’d to listen to this song over and over. Micky then jumped ahead in the set list, starting to introduce a song from Good Times! before being corrected. Instead, they played “Some Of Shelly’s Blues,” another delightful surprise. Mike sang the last line as “You settle down and stay with me,” as he has done when performing the song solo. After that, Mike mentioned Good Times!, and they played “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster.” I love that album, and “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster” was definitely cool, but it was the next song that really excited me. “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster” led directly into “St. Matthew,” which completely thrilled me. What a fantastic surprise. If memory serves me (and it often doesn’t), I first heard this song on a compilation titled Missing Links Volume Two. It’s an excellent song, and they did a great job on it last night.

Mike then left the stage while Micky sang “Porpoise Song.” The lights along the walls and the lights above me were going all weird, a nice touch that I didn’t expect. That was followed by another song from Head, “Circle Sky,” which completely kicked ass. Seriously, this tune was powerful last night, and it was followed by my favorite Monkees song, “As We Go Along,” also from Head. It was a beautiful rendition, featuring violin, and was followed by another gorgeous song to conclude the first set, “Me & Magdalena.” Seriously, this version was so beautiful that I started to cry. What a great finish to the first set. The first set ended at 9:06 p.m.

Micky said they’d be back in five minutes. The usher had told me it was going to be a twenty-minute break. Neither was correct. It was fourteen minutes. The first part of the second set was a nice, acoustic segment. And in fact, for the first song only two musicians joined Mike and Micky. That song was the always-appreciated “Papa Gene’s Blues.” Then bass and drums were added for an interesting, cool rendition of “Randy Scouse Git.” And that was followed by another wonderful surprise, “Nine Times Blue,” with some nice work on pedal steel. This is a song that was included on Missing Links. There was more nice work on pedal steel on “I’ll Spend My Life With You.” The backing vocalists returned for this one, and there was also mandolin on this sweet rendition. And by “Different Drum,” the whole band was back on stage, including keys. After that, Mike announced, “That’s the end of the acoustic set.”

Micky talked about the band’s first single, “Last Train To Clarksville.” The flip side was “Take A Giant Step,” except apparently in Hawaii. “In Hawaii, this was the song that was released as the single, because there are no trains in Hawaii,” Micky said. It looks like the French version of the single also had “Take A Giant Step” as the A side. The version last night featured some nice work on violin. As great as that was, it was the next song that made the night an absolute treasure for me. I am a big fan of The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees, in large part because of “Auntie’s Municipal Court.” It’s a song I never expected to see the band perform in concert. But last night they did it, and I could not have been happier. And they did it with a bit of that extended ending. In a night of highlights, this one had to be tops for me. It almost didn’t even matter what they did afterward.

After that completely magical song, someone in the audience shouted out a request for “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” and a lot of other people laughed in response. It seemed to me not only a stupid request (since the band was almost certainly going to play it), but an absolutely ridiculous thing to shout after being treated to such a rare gem as “Auntie’s Municipal Court.” It felt almost like that person didn’t appreciate the moment. I was glad to hear that the request was met by laughter by a lot of folks in the audience. Anyway, what they did choose to follow “Auntie’s Municipal Court” was a totally rocking rendition of “Sweet Young Thing.” How were other people not dancing? Actually, there were some people dancing near me, and some others down front, to the left of the stage from the audience’s perspective. At one point, a woman near me leaned in to say that the rest of the audience was demonstrating remarkable restraint. Ah, perfect!

“Sweet Young Thing” was followed by “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” and then another surprise, “Grand Ennui,” a song from Nevada Fighter, a  Michael Nesmith & The First National Band album. Micky sat this one out. This was a country rock song, with the emphasis on rock, and included a nice long jam. Then Micky came back for an unusual rendition of “Goin’ Down,” with no horns, but with violin. During this song, Micky introduced the band. Micky then sang lead on “Daydream Believer,” singing “how happy we can be” rather than “how happy I can be.” Toward the end, Micky indicated it was the audience’s turn to sing, and we were accompanied only by drums. That was followed by a wonderful version of “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?” and then “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

Everyone except Mike then left the stage, and Mike began “Listen To The Band” solo, on acoustic guitar, an interesting country rendition. It was very cool. It wasn’t long before the band rejoined him, and the song then exploded. Fantastic! The second set then concluded with “I’m A Believer,” during which the crowd finally got to its feet. There was no encore, but I suppose none was needed. The show ended at 10:26 p.m.

Set List

Set I
  1. Good Clean Fun
  2. Last Train To Clarksville
  3. Sunny Girlfriend
  4. Mary, Mary
  5. You Told Me
  6. For Pete’s Sake
  7. The Door Into Summer
  8. The Girl I Knew Somewhere
  9. You Just May Be The One
  10. Steam Engine
  11. Some Of Shelly’s Blues
  12. Birth Of An Accidental Hipster >
  13. St. Matthew
  14. Porpoise Song
  15. Circle Sky
  16. As We Go Along
  17. Me & Magdalena 
Set II
  1. Papa Gene’s Blues
  2. Randy Scouse Git
  3. Nine Times Blue
  4. I’ll Spend My Life With You
  5. Different Drum
  6. Take A Giant Step
  7. Auntie’s Municipal Court
  8. Sweet Young Thing
  9. (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone
  10. Grand Ennui
  11. Goin’ Down
  12. Daydream Believer
  13. What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?
  14. Pleasant Valley Sunday
  15. Listen To The Band
  16. I’m A Believer
Here are a few photos from the show:

Folks gathering before the doors were opened
"Sunny Girlfriend"
"As We Go Along"
"Papa Gene's Blues"
"I'll Spend My Life With You"
"Pleasant Valley Sunday"
The Orpheum Theatre is located at 842 S. Broadway in Los Angeles, California.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Shotgun Jimmie: “Field Of Trampolines” (2016) CD Review

If you’re in the mood for some good, fun rock and pop tunes, with some interesting topics and unusual lyrics, you should definitely check out Shotgun Jimmie’s Field Of Trampolines album. The music has a joyous, youthful vibe – youthful, that is, without being stupid. It’s more about the energy and the sense of excitement, the sense of play. Youthful in that way. This album features original material, and these songs have plenty of great lines, some that made me laugh aloud, like these from “Project 9”: “It’s no one’s fault/All right, it’s mine” (his delivery of “All right, it’s mine” is perfect). And nothing is too polished; there is something of a raw punk energy here, which I appreciate. The band is Shotgun Jimmie on guitar and vocals, Jory Hasselmann on guitar and vocals, Marie-France Hollier on bass and vocals, and Cole Woods on drums and vocals. Joel Plaskett, who produced the album, joins the band on guitar, vocals, tambourine, organ and piano.

A few moments into CD’s opening song, “Join The Band,” I just started smiling. The music overtook me. Here is some good rock music that has a sense of play, a sense of enjoyment, and encourages everyone to join in. “Join the band/Come on tour/Get in the van/What are you waiting for?” It’s a song that mentions various places, and is certainly a song you want on your playlist if you’re traveling around to see a band (as we’ve all done at one point or another). There is some delightful goofiness, like these lines about the soundcheck: “Line check, mike check, soundcheck, mindset/Checkity check before you wreckity wreck.” And at the end, this song simply rocks. That’s followed by “Georgia OK,” about Georgia O’Keeffe. I dig how the bass is used in this song. “I’m losing sleep over Georgia O’Keeffe/I can’t compete, no, I can’t compete.”

I love word games. I tend to play Boggle more often than Scrabble these days (mainly because of the time involved), but once belonged to a somewhat casual Scrabble league. So when I first glanced at this CD’s track list, “Triple Letter Score” stood out as something I was excited to hear. In this one, Shotgun Jimmie sings, “Triple letter score wasted on a vowel.” Ah, only three points. But the song is mainly about camping at the beach, and it’s getting me excited about my own trip to Cape Cod (we won’t be camping, but we’ll be spending a lot of time on the beach). It’s a fun tune, and features some good lyrics, like these: “Find someone to love/Fall in love and fall apart/Get distracted by another/Change your mind and break her heart/As the sparks from the fire rise into the sky/Watch everything you know disappear into the night.”

“Field Of Trampolines,” the album’s title track, has something of a 1960s pop vibe, combined with touches of punk. This is a great sound for summer. “Are you ready for green/Are you ready for blue/Could you actually ever be blue/Do you know what I mean/When I’m telling you/I could actually never be blue/In the fields of trampolines.” That’s followed by “Love Letter,” which has kind of a quirky sound, thanks in large part to the addition of organ, which I love. But that vibe is also because of the song’s lyrics. Here is a taste: “I didn’t want to fail ya/You took me to Australia/And everyone got sick/We went down to Florida/And everyone adored ya/It was so romantic.” This is one of my favorites.

“Song For Julie, Chris, Rick + Mark” is a fun tune to get you bopping around, coming at you at a good clip with a great punk vibe. “You seem so angry, and it completely breaks my heart/To know I could feel like that about anything/It’s probably not that smart.” It’s a punk length too, at like a minute and a half. The album then concludes with “Walkman Battery Bleed.” This one definitely takes me back to those days I spent at Cape Cod in the summer when I was a kid. “Back in the summer when we were younger/Pockets of sand that we brought home from the beach/I watched the waves move in slow motion/I let the Walkman drain its batteries.” And at one point there is a playful nod to “Heart And Soul” on piano. “Whatever makes you happy/Whatever gets you through the day.”

CD Track List
  1. Join The Band
  2. Georgia OK
  3. Solar Array
  4. Triple Letter Score
  5. Project 9
  6. Field Of Trampolines
  7. Love Letter
  8. Constantine Believer
  9. Song For Julie, Chris, Rick + Mark
  10. Walkman Battery Bleed
Field Of Trampolines was released on both CD and vinyl on March 18, 2016 on You’ve Changed Records.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Furious Seasons: “Now Residing Abroad” (2018) CD Review

As the world continues to spin in discouraging directions thanks to Donald Trump and all the racist morons who support him, we turn to music for solace, for cheer, for some honesty, for signs of life, for something good. The Furious Seasons provide all of that on their new album, Now Residing Abroad. Even the title is appealing to a lot of us these days. Honestly, who hasn’t entertained the idea of leaving the United States since that horrifying election in 2016? But no, this is not a political album, though it certainly contains some relevant ideas and situations. These songs have vivid descriptions, with some excellent lyrics, with both warmth and wit, delivered by three talented musicians. The Furious Seasons are a Los Angeles-based trio consisting of David Steinhart on acoustic guitar, vocals, and percussion; Jeff Steinhart on bass and keys; and P.A. Nelson on acoustic guitar, slide guitar, electric guitar and vocals.

You get a sense in the first track, “Expo Line,” of how good this band’s lyrics are. “And I just got old, I didn’t realize/I was ripe to be among the downsized/Feels like an elevator that just dropped a dozen flights/Now I’m invisible in the plain daylight.” Los Angeles always seems to be growing and expanding. Even in just my immediate neighborhood, several new buildings have gone up in the last year, changing the look and feel of the place. Sometimes it feels like it’s changing without me, trying to push me out.  Because these days there is no place that I need to be.” That’s followed by “So Sorry Adele,” which takes us to London to attend a concert there by a woman whose vocal cords snap. The line that always stands out for me is, “And a voice that could make you believe/In god or aliens.”

“Tethered” is one of my favorites. A lot of us can relate to this song’s opening lines, “The days of relative calm/Gave way to a season of storms/With less to fall back on/So much for our comfortable norms.” And I like this line: “Like you woke up in outer space.” The song is actually tender and loving. “I want to be your soft place to land.” Ah, yes. We all need that now, and I am thankful that I have it. Yes, the song turns out to be a love song, and it offers some comfort. “To be alive and be with you/The only thing I need be tethered to.” That’s followed by “The Loyal Canadians,” the song whose lyrics give us the album’s title. This one does mention the election, and so I suppose is the most overtly political, though, honestly, I don’t like to even use the word political, because what is happening these days extends far beyond politics into all aspects of our lives and of our nation’s personality. And the song is more about personal identity in a screwed up political climate than about the politicians themselves. “Before the election was set/The idle threats began/You’re all moving north/To become loyal Canadians/Though I’d never give over my land/For this idiot/Now residing abroad/I admit has a pretty nice ring to it.” And I love these lines: “It’s a been a long fall/All this anger, fear and doubt/And if they build that wall/It sure as hell won’t keep me out.” I particularly appreciate the double meaning of “fall.” This song also features some seriously nice work on guitar.

More wonderful work on guitar begins “Marathon.” And check out these lines: “Jet-lagged and windblown/You live by the light of your phone/More alone than when you were alone.” It’s interesting to me how the lines “The days fly away/And I know how badly you’re longing to stay” stand out, positioned as they are between two nice instrumental sections, giving them more prominence and weight. And toward the end, the lines “But if all goes as planned/I’ll be here when you land” remind me of a similar thought expressed in “Tethered,” and so those lines too are given a bit more stress than they perhaps otherwise would. And this is actually another good argument in favor of purchasing albums and listening to the songs in the order the artists chose, rather than just downloading specific tracks online. Sometimes ideas or lines or even words are repeated from one song to the next, developing themes over the course of an album. You lose that if you just download a few tracks. It depresses me when people in their twenties tell me they don’t own any albums.

“Status Quo” opens with the lines “The chaos subsides as the seasons change/And I will calm down enough to carry on.” Those lines hit me, because I wonder sometimes if carrying on is enough. I am torn these days between wanting to just carry on with my own life and wanting to get more involved with some sort of protest or revolution. You know? Bring those bastards down. That’s not really exactly what this song is about, but that’s where my thoughts went nonetheless. “I’m a machine that often needs a reset.” The album then concludes with “Come To LA,” in which they reach out to someone who needs a change. It’s a song that offers comfort, offers a hand. “You can stay with us for as long as you want.” And who could resist the call to “Come out west”?

CD Track List
  1. Expo Line
  2. So Sorry Adele
  3. Easy To Find
  4. Tethered
  5. The Loyal Canadians
  6. Whatnot
  7. Fort Knox
  8. Marathon
  9. Airtight
  10. Understood
  11. The Muse
  12. Status Quo
  13. Come To LA 
Now Residing Abroad is scheduled to be released on June 22, 2018 on Stonegarden Records.