Saturday, July 21, 2018

Yvette Landry & The Jukes: “Louisiana Lovin’” (2018) CD Review

If you need some escape from the troubles of the present, from the god-awful sounds coming from your television whenever Russia’s puppet opens his fetid and foul hole, from that shifty-eyed garble-mouthed monster who lies to the White House press corps every day, from the anger and the depression that have settled over our nation like a heavy dung-stained Confederate flag… Well, Yvette Landry & The Jukes have the perfect album for you. Louisiana Lovin’ is a delightful trip back to some early country, rock and roll and blues music, an album of covers, focusing on material written by folks who were born in Louisiana. Songs you know, songs you love, and delivered with a joy and an energy that make them breathe and dance anew. The band for this for this release was put together by Yvette Landry and Roddie Romero, both of whom play guitar and sing on the album. Jermaine Prejean is on drums, Eric Adcock is keys, Josef Butts is on bass, and Derek Huston is on saxophone. Joining them are special guests Beau Thomas on fiddle and Richard Comeaux on pedal steel. This is a disc that will give us at least a momentary respite from the madness and stupidity that have enveloped our country.

Yvette Landry kicks off the album with “I Need Somebody Bad,” a song written by Ben Peters, a song that was a hit for Jack Greene. I think this new rendition is better. It has that classic country sound, in her vocal approach and in the music, but there is also a fun early rock and roll element, making this a livelier take. Hell, we even get the sax coming in halfway through. Is there anything better than this kind of music? “Yeah, Lord, I need somebody bad tonight/It’s hurting more than I believed it would/Yeah, Lord, I need somebody bad tonight/’Cause I just lost somebody good.” That’s followed by “Homesick Blues,” written by Robert Charles Guidry (Bobby Charles), and performed here as a gorgeous bluesy duet. I love the use of fiddle here, an instrument that expresses sadness so well. “Monday morning I get up and go to work/Guess what’s on my mind.

“Daddy Daddy” is a fun tune written by Rudy Toombs, and recorded by Ruth Brown. It’s a song that provides opportunity from some vocal play, and Yvette Landry does an absolutely wonderful job with it. This version features some delicious work on keys. Roddie Romero then takes lead vocal duties on a really good rendition of “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.” “Today I saw you, you were kissing my best friend/Now you can kiss tomorrow goodbye.” I know in those lines he is saying that their wedding is off, but it always seems to me that maybe he is going to kill her, that she has no tomorrow at all. Halfway through, Yvette Landry then takes over on vocals, which is interesting. “Of all the loves I’ve ever known/Baby, I loved you best,” she sings. Getting the woman’s perspective certainly changes the feel of the song. I like this rendition a lot. But the track that follows it I absolutely love. “I Almost Lost My Mind” was written by Ivory Joe Hunter, who was not born in Louisiana. But it was recorded by both Fats Domino and Cookie And The Cupcakes, so there you have it. This version by Yvette Landry & The Jukes is just perfect, with excellent vocals, some cool work on keys and wonderful touches on saxophone.

“Three Chords And The Truth” was written by Sara Evans, Ron Harbin and Aimee Mayo, and originally recorded by Sara Evans. Evans is not from Louisiana, but it doesn’t really matter, as this track is absolutely gorgeous, and features a fantastic and moving vocal performance by Yvette Landry. That’s followed by “My Last Date With You,” a pretty song with some nice work on keys. We then get to some more Bobby Charles songs, starting with “Grow Too Old,” which he co-wrote with Fats Domino. Roddie Romero sings lead on this one, and it’s a wonderful and enjoyable rendition. That’s followed by “Yea Yea Baby,” which is ridiculously fun. Roddie and Yvette take turns singing lead, the other delivering some adorable backing vocals. Roddie Romero sings lead on “Forbidden Love,” a song written by David Egan, and featuring some nice work on guitar. “I see you look away/Afraid of where your heart may lead.” The album then concludes with another Bobby Charles song, “Take It Easy Greasy,” a fun, fast-paced rock and roll gem to get you off your seat and make you think the world is a gas. And maybe it is.

CD Track List
  1. I Need Somebody Bad
  2. Homesick Blues
  3. Daddy Daddy
  4. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye
  5. I Almost Lost My Mind
  6. Three Chords And The Truth
  7. My Last Date With You
  8. Grow Too Old
  9. Yea Yeah Baby
  10. Forbidden Love
  11. Take It Easy Greasy 
Louisiana Lovin’ is scheduled to be released on July 27, 2018.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Appalatin: “Vida” (2018) CD Review

As the country continues to sink farther into the mire and people become desperate for this ugliness to end, a lot of us look to music to bring us together, to give us a sense of community and lift our spirits. And that is exactly what Appalatin does on the group’s new release, Vida. In fact, the band seems designed to do just that, as it mixes Latin sounds and Appalachian folk sounds, and in such a way to get folks on their feet. The album contains mostly original material, sung in both Spanish and English, as well as a couple of covers. The band is based in Louisville, and is made up of Yani Vozos on guitar, mandolin and vocals; Marlon Obando Solano on guitar and vocals; Fernando Moya on flute and charango; Luis De León on harmonica and percussion; José Oreta on bass; and Steve Sizemore on percussion. Joining them on this release are Carla Gover on vocals and banjo, Gregory Acker on flute, Thiago Wojtowicz on saxophone, Arebo Bey on trumpet, Michael Cleveland on fiddle, and Aaron Bibelhauser on banjo.

Appalatin kicks things off with “Primavera,” a song with a cheerful, upbeat vibe. You can feel it right away, as there are even hand claps at the beginning of the track. This is a song of celebration, of rebirth, something we can certainly use now. “La gente dice que ha llegado la primavera.” There is some nice percussion, as well as pretty work on flute. The good vibes continue with “Reina De Mi Corazón,” featuring some wonderful work on flute and horns. That moment when the horn rises to take the lead is fantastic. This track also features an excellent vocal performance, and is my personal favorite on this album. Also, the lyrics make me think of my girlfriend. “Voy soñando, voy soñando con las estrellas/Entre ellas, eres la mas bella/Ven bailamos, ven bailamos con toda inspiración/Ven cantemos, ven cantemos con toda el corazón.”

They then mellow things out a bit with the pretty “Vida,” the album’s title track, which feels like light dancing across a field. And the lyrics seem to accept the bad with the good from life, even to love it all. “Vida, vida/Vida, vida/Me abrazas, me hieres, me curas las heridas/Y me arrastras por allí, me haces bien, me haces sufrir.”  This song then develops a nice rhythm, and invites us to join in this great dance. That’s followed by “Pituco,” a wonderful instrumental number, a traditional tune. This music is making me happy, lifting an oppressive weight from around me, even if only for a moment. I love that work on flute, flying over that delicious percussion. The album’s other instrumental track, “Echo,” is a fun, cheerful tune with lots of great work on guitar, charango and harmonica. This is another of my favorites.

“Flow Like A River” is the first of the CD’s tracks to be sung in English. This one is catchy in its own way, though the lyrics might be a bit too direct, the song’s message seeming to drive the song. But still, it is a positive message, and we can’t seem to get enough of that these days. Also, it features more good work on flute. “Sweet Song Of My Soul” is also sung in English and has a sweet vibe, which I appreciate. This feels like a late afternoon song, as you take your loved one’s hand in yours and her eyes sparkle as she turns to you, and there is the promise of another day in those eyes and in the warmth of her touch. It has a beautiful, comforting groove. “Sweet, sweet love of my heart/Dance with me and play your part.” The album concludes with a wonderful bluegrass rendition of “Guantanamera.” I first heard this song during my teens; the Sandpipers’ version was included on a compilation cassette of 1960s folk recordings. This version by Appalatin moves at a good clip, and features some great work on fiddle and banjo, a perfect ending to an excellent album.

CD Track List
  1. Primavera
  2. Reina De Mi Corazón
  3. Vida
  4. Pituco
  5. Flow Like A River
  6. Vos Me Das
  7. Sweet Song Of My Soul
  8. Echo
  9. Moliendo Café
  10. Guantanamera
Vida is scheduled to be released on July 20, 2018.

George St. Clair: “Ballads Of Captivity And Freedom” (2018) CD Review

Though currently based in the UK, singer and songwriter George St. Clair grew up in Texas, and his recent album, Ballads Of Captivity And Freedom, is American through and through, with some tracks taking a look at the United States’ history, particularly its relations with Native Americans. The album was recorded and mixed in California, and that certainly contributes to its flavor. The music is a good mix of folk and country, with some excellent lyrics. Joining George St. Clair on this release are Ben Bernstein on bass, Mike Stevens on drums, Dan Lebowitz on pedal steel and electric guitar, David Cuetter on pedal steel, Amy Scher on fiddle, and Kirby Hammel on piano and organ. Maya Abramson and Mark Estall provide backing vocals.

The album opens with one of its best songs, “Tularosa.” This is a wonderful folk-country song with some fantastic lyrics. I was pulled in on the first line, “Listen to me quick now before I tell you some lies.” And check out these lines: “And I learned all the right ways to get it wrong/And taking my time took too long/When I see who gets ahead, I’m glad I fell behind/Now I may be getting nowhere, but I’m starting not to mind.” In a way, those are some depressing lines; yet, this music is making me feel better about the world. And we all certainly need that today. I love the work on fiddle. Plus, George St. Clair’s voice has a friendly vibe, which I appreciate. It seems like everything here is working to tell us, as he sings, “everything is just fine.” That’s followed by another of the disc’s highlights, “The Places Where They Prayed,” an excellent folk song with some nice work on pedal steel. But again, it is the song’s lyrics that really grab me, lines like “People used to love the land/In ways we’ll never understand” and “And how many forgotten ways of dreaming/Are buried under all that asphalt steaming.” This is a song most of us can connect to, or at least a song that most of will want to connect to. This is really a song of our country, a song that our land itself would be singing. It’s interesting, because it has a pleasant sound, when it could have easily taken on an angry tone. “Liberty, she turned away from those who could have used her help.” There is a spoken word section at the end.

“Autumn 1889” tells a captivating story about Native Americans, and the colliding of worlds and ways and beliefs. “They started chanting and swaying all through the night/They were calling for the spirits of every Indian that died/Through the tears that they offered up every night/And they’d been run out from the dens where they’d fought to hold back the tide/Of our numbers and our unyielding desire.” And toward the end there is some beautiful blending of voices. “And now they’re dreaming of a morning/When they can open their eyes/And the plains and the mountains/Will show no trace of our kind.” “Good Times” has a delightful, good-time country groove, getting you tapping your toes and so on. Then its first line is “I don’t know how you can keep on having good times,” which almost for a moment seems directed us for having a good time with this very song. An interesting effect, and it pulled me in. This is a really good song, featuring some nice work on piano. And, like every other song on this album, it includes some good lines. “You keep on having good times though you don’t seem to see/That you’re only feeling better since you’re better off than me/You think that those good times came to you for free/Or they didn’t get that good until you got the best of me. 

“Lie To Them” has a light, pleasant country sound and more nice work on backing vocals. “Deny what you have to do to save your skin/Now go and sharpen up your knives/That’s the only way that they’ll grow in/Let them do the bleeding.” And here is an interesting line, which is repeated: “They’re lying to you/Lie to them.” In this, the sixty-third year of Donald Trump’s presidency, it is sometimes difficult to remember what honesty is like. We have grown used to being lied to because we are lied to by our so-called leaders all day, every day. Republicans are dirty, mendacious cretins who care nothing about their hypocrisy or about this country or about anything other than money. Sad, but true. Also sad but true is that Democrats are going to need to start fighting dirty too. “They’re lying to you/Lie to them.” “New Mexico” is another really good track. I love the line that the border “Divides Spanish and English billboard signs.” It shows that difference in language is fairly unimportant, using the depressing imagery of billboards and the fact that we have them in common. The CD concludes with “Talkin’ Mesquite,” a traditional-sounding folk song delivered as basically spoken word, in the loose, talking blues folk style. “They don’t need your love and they don’t need your care/Just a couple drops of rain a couple times a year/They don't mind oil fumes or car exhaust/Or the bottles or beer cans that drunk drives toss.

CD Track List
  1. Tularosa
  2. The Places Where They Prayed
  3. Autumn 1889
  4. Corridors
  5. Good Times
  6. Cynthia
  7. Up To Fail
  8. Lie To Them
  9. Cimarrones
  10. New Mexico
  11. Pedro Paramo
  12. Talkin’ Mesquite
Ballads Of Captivity And Freedom was released on March 2, 2018.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Laura Meade: “Remedium” (2018) CD Review

Perhaps most known for her work with the progressive rock band IZZ, vocalist Laura Meade also fronts her own band. She recently released her first full-length studio album, Remedium, which showcases not only her tremendous vocal talents, but also her songwriting skills. With one exception, all of the tracks on this album were written or co-written by Laura Meade. She creates intriguing and detailed landscapes in this music and pulls us in. Though it is a solo album, she does get support from some of her IZZ band mates, mainly from John Galgano, who plays on nearly every track, co-wrote some of the songs, and produced the album.

Laura Meade opens the album with “Sunflowers At Chernobyl,” which certainly has my favorite title of any song on this release, referring to the fields of sunflowers that were planted at the site to absorb nuclear radiation from the soil. When the song begins, the world is in a strange electronic coil. Then Laura Meade’s voice rises through the smoke. Check out these lyrics: “Was it a secret or did we just forget?/My heart is blind/But my mind still can see/Relish in the pain of it/The pain of it.” Randy McStine plays electric guitar on this track. “Sunflowers At Chernobyl” was written by Laura Meade and John Galgano, and is followed by “Conquer The World,” which is the song that really grabbed my interest and made me pay more attention to the album the first time I put it on. There is something delightful and even light about its sound, a surprise after the first track. This comes from the song’s use of ukulele, and also from Laura Meade’s vocal approach, and even from Brian Coralian’s work on drums. And its first lines are “Some days I wanna conquer the world/Most days I can’t get dressed,” which are humorous, but are also lines a lot of us can relate to. The whole song is like that, and is my personal favorite on the album. “One day I’m going to conquer the world/But I’ll take my time.”

At first there is something theatrical about Laura’s vocal delivery on “What I See From Here.” That is, it feels like a song from a musical. “What I see from here/This dizzying height/Mistakes made so long ago/And wishing this were different doesn’t make it so.” From there, the song goes in some interesting directions, soon developing a good groove. And that electric guitar part by Greg Meade gives the track a different feel, a passionate bluesy entreaty. “The Old Chapel At Dusk” is intriguing right from its opening, and captivates us with pauses as much as with the music. This instrumental track builds, developing a sense of foreboding, danger. Laura Meade performs this one solo on piano and chimes. It leads directly into “Dragons,” which begins as a kind of sweet song, sounding like a lullaby, with beautiful vocal work from Laura Meade. “Don’t listen to the voices that speak at 3 a.m./They’re going to lie to you anyway/It’s time to slay the dragons in your head.” There are also brief musical references back to “The Old Chapel At Dusk.” Then abruptly the song takes a turn, a harsh thumping, a strange electronic pulse down a wet street at night, hazy neon lights guiding us, and hands reaching out to us from behind barred windows. From there, this track takes us on further journeys, though eerie night clubs and dreams. “Dragons” was written by Laura Meade and John Galgano. John Galgano plays bass, keys, drums and guitar on this one.

“Your Way” has a kind of dark folk vibe, with some pretty vocal work. Check out these lines, which begin the song: “It’s your way or it’s no way/And there’s no way you’ll compromise/No one can ever win with you/So no one even tries.” I also really like that lead section on acoustic guitar toward the end. Then Laura Meade delivers an astounding vocal performance in “Every Step.” The album concludes with “Irradiation,” the only track not written or co-written by Laura Meade. This one was written by John Galgano. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Refocus on this life/Recharge the powerless/Recast all the violence/With understanding and with openness.”

CD Track List
  1. Sunflowers At Chernobyl
  2. Conquer The World
  3. What I See From Here
  4. Never Remember
  5. The Old Chapel At Dusk
  6. Dragons
  7. Home Movies
  8. Your Way
  9. Every Step
  10. Irradiation
Remedium was released on May 18, 2018 on Doone Records.

Speedbuggy USA: “Kick Out The Twang” (2018) CD Review

Speedbuggy USA, after several years without any new releases, gave us South Of Bakersfield in 2016. And now they’ve followed that gem with another excellent album, Kick Out The Twang. This album features mostly original material, but also a couple of good covers. And in fact, one of those covers kicks off the album. The first band I ever fell in love with was The Monkees, and Speedbuggy USA gets things going here with a good country rendition of The Monkees’ “Last Train To Clarksville,” here titled “Take The Last Train To Clarksville.” And it totally works as country. Of course, The Monkees had a lot of country elements to their music, thanks to Michael Nesmith. Anyway, this is a fun rendition. They don’t bother with the “didda-didda-didda” part. A great start to the CD. It’s followed by “Get Around,” a good solid rock song with a rough and rowdy edge, like a song playing at the devil’s favorite whiskey joint. There’s even a bit of howling. There are moments when it sounds to me like what would have happened if Bon Scott had decided to tackle country music. “I get around, I get around/I don’t give a damn if I sink or I drown/I fall down, hit the ground/I get around.”

“Shaky Town” is a somewhat mellower country tune that has that rhythm like a horse trotting across the range. And, hey, it addresses one of those great country music topics – driving a big truck. This is one I’m going to add to my road trip play list, especially because I love the line “I ain’t lost, and I won’t be found.” Oh yes, I’m eager to get on the road, to be going, doesn’t matter where. It’s the leaving and not the arriving that is appealing, you know. This is a song I enjoy more and more each time I listen to this album. It’s followed by another of the disc’s highlights, “Hold My Head Up High,” with that potent combination of punk and country. “What should I do/I still need you/You were untrue/What should I do.” There is some really good vocal work here. Then “Southbound” begins with the sound of a train whistle, and takes on the rhythm of a train speeding along, a song in motion.

“Sorry” is a gorgeous, slow, sad tune. “I’m sorry I watched you cry.” This song is just so bloody good, and completely effective. The band then raises the energy again with “Wood, Screws And Nails,” a fast-paced and fun country punk tune. Dance around like an elated maniac with amphetamine pumping through his veins. “This heart is strong and it will not fail/I built this heart with wood, screws and nails/And why don’t you love me/Darling, tell me true/Why don’t you need me/Darling, I’m your fool.” And, yes, there is a Mr. T reference, if you needed any further reason to adore this song. That’s followed by the album’s second and final cover, “Unchain My Heart,” their version sounding truly haunted and pained, and lines like “I’m under your spell, like a man in a trance/But you know damn well I don’t stand a chance” ring true. We are in dark country territory here.

The band moves more into the folk realm with “Long Gone.” “I’m long gone/I finally let go.” I like this song a lot, but my absolute favorite track on this album is “Honky Tonk Singer,” which follows it. This is a fantastic song; it is serious, moving, engaging, and features perhaps the best vocal performance on the album. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I’m at the end of a trail/I can’t hold on much longer/It’s a hard road to travel/When love lets you down.” This song digs right into you, you know? Then “Rodeo Star” is the song that gives the album its title in the lines, “If I was a rodeo star/Life would be so beautiful for me/Why, I’d come out with a bang/Hell, I’d kick out the twang.” The album concludes with “Darlin’ I’m Comin’ Home,” a lively song about being on road, another good choice for a road trip mix. “Truck stop girl, won’t you treat me right.”

CD Track List
  1. Last Train To Clarksville
  2. Get Around
  3. Shaky Town
  4. Hold My Head Up High
  5. South Bound
  6. Sorry
  7. Wood, Screws And Nails
  8. Unchain My Heart
  9. Long Gone
  10. Honky Tonk Singer
  11. Rodeo Star
  12. The Devil With Me
  13. Darlin’ I’m Comin’ Home
Kick Out The Twang was released on July 6, 2018.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Vanessa Collier: “Honey Up” (2018) CD Review

Vanessa Collier is an incredibly talented singer and songwriter and saxophonist, and on her new album, Honey Up, she delivers some uplifting and exciting blues and soul music. The album, her third, features mostly original material (with just one exception). Joining her on this release are Nick Stevens on drums, Nick Trautmann on bass, Sparky Parker on guitar, Laura Chavez on guitar, William Gorman on keys, Quinn Carson on trombone, and Doug Woolverton on trumpet.

The album gets off to a great start with “Sweatin’ Like  Pig, Singin’ Like An Angel.” This is exactly what I need, a song that feels like a party with some strong female vocals leading the festivities. This track is some blues, some gospel, and a lot of soul. And with this ongoing heat, a song about sweating is just perfect. Plus, I love that contrast in the line, “Sweatin’ like a pig, singin’ like an angel.” Oh yes, let’s not let this heat hold us down. This track, in addition to a lively vocal performance, features nice work on keys and guitar. And then the horns take turns at lead, giving us some wonderful stuff, particularly when they seem to be dancing, tangled together, finishing each other’s sentences. Now the entire band sounds like a group of angels, and my apartment (where I’m listening) has become a church. The fun then continues with “Don’t Nobody Got Time To Waste.” “If you’re early, then you’re on time/If you’re on time, then you’re late/Oh yes, you’re late/And if you’re late, well, then you’re fired/’Cause don’t nobody got no time to waste.” This song sounds like a celebration. You can raise some roofs with this music, and that would certainly not be a waste of time.

“Honey Up,” the title track, comes on like a glorious burst of funk, and those horns are absolutely delicious. This one has a great, fun groove. “Yeah, you want me to honey up/And kiss your behind/You want me to honey up/This is where I draw the line.” I dig this tune’s jam. I bet Vanessa Collier puts on an excellent concert. She has a pretty serious touring schedule, so maybe I’ll get the chance to check her out at some point. I certainly hope so, especially after listening to a track like “Honey Up,” one of the album’s best. It’s followed by “Percolatin’,” a seriously cool instrumental track with a funky heart of its own and room for several musicians to shine. Vanessa Collier then changes things up with “Icarus,” a sweet and beautiful tune, with something of a light folk vibe mixed with soul. It comes as a delightful surprise, and is another of the CD’s highlights. There is plenty of excellent vocal work on this track, with Vanessa providing her own backing vocals. Vanessa also plays acoustic guitar on this one.

She then goes to a thumping, loud energetic number titled “The Fault Line,” one I found myself singing along to. “We’re standing at the fault line/We don’t even know the reason why.” This one is rock, with some good work on guitar and more great stuff on horns. That’s followed by “Bless Your Heart,” which is more firmly situated in the blues. Then “You’re A Pill” is a fun number with delightful work from the horn section and more wonderful vocal work. I particularly love the jam at end. “You Get What You Get” is also fun, with a good, positive attitude. “Now I’m not saying that you should just accept everything/But sometimes you’ve got to decide when to step in the ring/But don’t make life hell for those you are around/Just change it or accept it, and stop making that awful sound/’Cause you get, you get what you get.” The album concludes with its only cover, a version of Chris Smither’s “Love You Like A Man,” here titled “Love Me Like A Man” (as it was when Bonnie Raitt covered it). Here Vanessa Collier is getting more heavily into the blues, slowing the song down and stretching it out, really exploring it and jamming on it. There is some fantastic work on saxophone here. “I need, yes yes yes, I need, I need someone to love me/Just don’t, don’t put yourself above me/And love me like a man.”  

CD Track List
  1. Sweatin’ Like A Pig, Singin’ Like An Angel
  2. Don’t Nobody Got Time To Waste
  3. Honey Up
  4. Percolatin’
  5. Icarus
  6. The Fault Line
  7. Bless Your Heart
  8. You’re A Pill
  9. You Get What You Get
  10. Love Me Like A Man
Honey Up was released on July 6, 2018.

Dave Rudolf: “British Re-Invasion” (2018) CD Review

Dave Rudolf is a singer and songwriter who has released more than thirty albums, covering a lot of musical ground. I first listened to him a couple of years ago when he released a folk album titled Let It Roll. His new release (well, new as of a few months ago; it is possible that he’s released another four or five discs in the meantime), titled British Re-Invasion, is an album of covers of songs from British artists, songs he listened to in his youth. So this is music that means a lot to him, music that inspired him, music he has a passion for. Joining him on this release are Marc Adrian on guitar, Jim Widlowski on drums, John Chorney on keys, Rick Ariail on keys, Wally Hustin on bass, John Lawler on harmonica, Al Joseph on violin, and Marsha Lynne Smith on backing vocals.

Not surprisingly, Dave Rudolf begins this album of homage to the British Invasion with a Beatles song. Makes sense, right? The song he chooses is “Rain,” which was originally released as the flip side to “Paperback Writer.” This is a song that the Grateful Dead used to cover occasionally in the 1990s (I saw a really good version in Eugene, 1994), but is certainly not one of The Beatles’ most covered tunes. This version from Dave Rudolf is a decent, respectful cover, with some nice work on both bass and guitar. He extends it a bit at end, which I appreciate. “Rain” is followed by a somewhat goofy rendition of The Hollies’ “Carrie Anne,” with an island or reggae feel. Then again, this song was always a bit silly, and it’s cool that Dave Rudolf does something a bit different with it. This one is extended a little too.

Dave Rudolph lets his vocals get rough for his rendition of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” a song that was not originally part of the British Invasion. But it was covered by The Animals, who had a hit with it, and the song became associated with them. I like the backing vocals, which give it a different feel. There is also a cool section on harmonica. That’s followed by another song that was not originally part of the British movement, but became associated with a British group. “Tobacco Road” was written and originally recorded by John D. Loudermilk, but the version everyone knows is that by The Nashville Teens, an English band. It has since been covered by a lot of artists. This song is one of the album’s most fun tracks. It is a good, energetic, rockin’ version, with more good work on harmonica as well as some delicious stuff on keys.

The second of three Beatles covers on this album is “Hey Bulldog,” another interesting choice. This one features Ryan Rudolf joining him on backing vocals. I’ve always really dug this song, perhaps in part because it was on the very first Beatles cassette I ever owned, Rock ‘N’ Roll Music Volume 2. This is a really good rendition, with some nice work on guitar. Dave doesn’t bother with the barking and spoken word part at the end. The third and final Beatles song is “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” featuring some good work on keys. And of course an album of British Invasion songs has to have at least one Rolling Stones tune. For that slot, Dave Rudolf chooses “Beast Of Burden,” a somewhat surprising choice, since it is from the late 1970s, long after the initial British Invasion. He follows that with a Who song, “The Kids Are Alright,” which for some reason on the back of the CD case is listed as “The Kids Are Allright.” It’s probably just a typographical error, for the next song too contains a typo. Anyway, on “The Kids Are Alright,” he goes for that raw power and energy of the original, but falls a bit short, partly because it feels like an attempt at recreation. Still, it’s an enjoyable rendition.

Dave Rudolf, to some extent on certain tracks, attempts to sound like the singers who originally recorded these songs. And on Cat Stevens’ “Tuesday’s Dead” (on the CD case listed as “Tuesdays Dead”), it comes across as a bit weird, a bit false. “Tuesday’s Dead” is from Teaser And The Firecat, one of my favorite Cat Stevens albums (second only to Tea For The Tillerman), and is a fantastic song, one of his most energetic tunes. Dave Rudolf does capture the bright energy of the song. After the small errors in the titles of both “The Kids Are Alright” and “Tuesday’s Dead,” there is one title on the CD case that is really off. Whenever folks would ask me, “Beatles or Stones,” I would always answer, “Kinks.” The Kinks put out more good music than either The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. On this disc, Dave Rudolf covers “Tired Of Waiting For You,” and for some reason on the case it’s listed as “So Tired.” It’s an interesting rendition, feeling just a bit slower than the original, almost like he really is tired. Also, he sounds genuinely thoughtful and loving on the line “It’s your life and you can do what you want.” It’s a wonderful delivery. Another artist I absolutely love is Donovan, and Dave Rudolf covers “Jennifer Juniper,” a song that comes up every time I talk with my friend Jennifer Byrd. This rendition features some sweet work on violin.

One of the strangest choices for this release is “Unchain My Heart.” Obviously, it’s not a part of the British Invasion. Not at all. It was done by Joe Cocker, but more than twenty years later, on his 1987 release which was also titled Unchain My Heart. In the liner notes, Dave admits this song choice “is a bit of a stretch here.” (Actually, there is another typo, and it reads “a bit if a stretch here” – please proofread, people!) Dave delivers a good rendition, with some nice backing vocals. Scott Ashley joins Dave Rudolf on guitar on this track. The other strange choice is “Hey Joe,” which concludes the album. The song is not British, and the artist that most people associate with this song (though he did not do the original version) is Jimi Hendrix, who is also not British. However, his band at this time was British, and the band was based in London. So that’s how it fits in. And the version here is similar to that by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Ryan Rudolf plays bass on this track.

CD Track List
  1. Rain
  2. Carrie Anne
  3. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
  4. Tobacco Road
  5. For Your Love
  6. The Game Of Love
  7. Hey Bulldog
  8. Beast Of Burden
  9. The Kids Are Alright
  10. Tuesday’s Dead
  11. Time Of The Season
  12. Tired Of Waiting For You
  13. Unchain My Heart
  14. Jennifer Juniper
  15. Heart Full Of Soul
  16. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  17. Hey Joe
British Re-Invasion was released on February 9, 2018 on Moneytree Records.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Rebecca Angel: “What We Had” (2018) CD Review

I first heard vocalist Rebecca Angel a few years ago when she released a holiday single written by her father, “My Favorite Time Of The Year.” She followed that a year later with “Jet Samba,” the first time that song had been recorded with vocals. Now she has released a new CD that includes a mix of original material and covers, including two versions of “Jet Samba.” Her voice often has a light, airy quality, which works to raise our spirits and make the world seem a bit better than it is.

This CD opens with an unusual cover of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Winter Moon,” featuring some nice work on percussion by Mino Cinelu. And I really like what Hailey Niswanger is doing on soprano saxophone, giving the track both an easygoing vibe and moments of excitement. But of course the focus here is Rebecca Angel’s vocals, her voice smooth and enchanting, leading us into a dreamlike world. That’s followed by the CD’s title track, “What We Had.” This is an original song, written by Dennis Angel and Rebecca Angel, and it is my personal favorite on this disc. Something about this one makes me smile the moment it begins, with that cool groove. And Rebecca’s voice has a cheerful quality at times, wistful at other times as she looks back. “I see the leaves falling down/And darker days coming round/I close my eyes and see you.  And I love that section near the end with the different layers to the vocals, sounds so good. There is also some nice work on guitar by Christian Ver Halen. “Days without you/I just don’t know what to do.”

Then “Agora Sim” has even more of a playful, light quality, Rebecca Angel’s voice working as a pretty, delightful instrument. Ricardo Silveira and Jonah Miles Prendergast play guitar on this track, and Sebastian Stoger is on cello. This song feels perfect for summer. Then “Feel Alive” begins the same way; that is, with vocals but no lyrics. This one, however, does have lyrics. This is another original track, written by Dennis Angel and Rebecca Angel, but isn’t quite as good as “What We Had.” This one is a bit cheesy. Still, it has a good groove, with Brian Dunne on drums and Cyro Baptista on percussion.

Rebecca Angel delivers two versions of “Stand By Me,” the Ben E. King hit written by King, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The first is a radio mix. While it doesn’t have as organic a feel as the original, it does feature a good and honest vocal performance by Rebecca, and some nice touches on guitar by Jonah Miles Prendergast. Her take on it includes some vocal play in the second half, which is pretty. The second version is the electro remix, and – as you’d expect – the track’s less real elements are stressed. It is interesting to hear the contrast between her youthful, light vocals and the electronic sounds supporting that voice. I prefer the first version. This disc also includes two versions of “Jet Samba,” the song that was released as a single in 2016. The first version, the radio mix, is fun and bright and energetic. It’s a track that should bring a smile to your face, and perhaps some movement to your feet. Then the Ipanema remix is more of a dance version, the percussion more prominent and full. This version has a cool section halfway through in which she calls out names, such as Marcos Valle and Sergio Mendes. Both versions are totally enjoyable.

CD Track List
  1. Winter Moon
  2. What We Had
  3. Agora Sim
  4. Feel Alive
  5. Stand By Me (Radio Mix)
  6. Jet Samba (Radio Mix)
  7. Stand By Me (Electro Remix)
  8. Jet Samba (Ipanema Remix)
What We Had was released on June 1, 2018 on Timeless Grooves Records.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Vinyl Hampdin: “Red” (2018) CD Review

Vinyl Hampdin is a great loud funky beast of a band, led by trombonist and songwriter Steve Wiest, and featuring a horn section and some dynamic vocals. The band’s debut album, Red, is an odd and exciting mix of original material and covers, with even the covers, to a large extent, feeling like originals. The band is made up of Lisa Dodd on vocals, Ryan Davidson on guitar, Eric Gunnison on keys, Stockton Helbing on drums, Gerald Stockton on bass, Art Bouton on baritone saxophone and flute, Frank David Greene on trumpet, Ray Herrmann on tenor saxophone and flute, and Steve Wiest on trombone. These guys seem to draw inspiration from many different musical areas, including jazz, rock, progressive rock, funk and soul.

The band kicks things off with a fun, funky, jazzy rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” the horns having a prominent role, at least equal to that of the vocals. Then the song finds a somewhat mellower place to dwell for a bit, with some nice work on keys. But soon things get wild again. Yes, this group takes the song in some interesting and unexpected directions. And listen to Lisa Dodd belting out the lyrics toward the end. They follow that with an original tune titled “Gottaluvit,” a funky rock song with more nice work on horns, plus some catchy vocals on the title line. And check out these lyrics: “Think you so slick with what you say/The bigger the lie, the bigger the pay/Don’t matter what’s right, don’t matter what’s wrong/Get enough votes and sing a new song.” “Gottaluvit” was written by Steve Wiest.

“One Song,” also written by Steve Wiest, is a strange combination of jazz and progressive rock. We’ve stepped into some other realm now, and it feels like we’ve left everything else far behind. Can we even remember the funk? There is something theatrical here, particularly in the vocals. I’m not as fond of this one as I am of the first two tracks, but there is certainly something intriguing about it. You want to find out where it’s going. The electric guitar turns to hard rock toward the end, and the horns sound like Chicago if that band had something to prove and was heavily armed. (By the way, Ray Herrmann is also a member of that band.) We return to funkier ground with a cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “The Road’s My Middle Name.” Yeah, it’s still bluesy, particularly in Lisa Dodd’s vocal delivery, but those horns take things in a different direction from the original.

Vinyl Hampdin also delivers a very strange rendition of “Flowers On The Wall,” the Statler Brothers song. It’s nearly unrecognizable, except for the lyrics. Gone is the lighthearted sense of the original version, and in its place is someone who is perhaps a bit unhinged and a bit on edge. There is an eerie, even frightening, aspect to this version at moments. It’s different, obviously, but it makes sense, as I always thought the song was about someone in a mental hospital. That’s followed by an original tune, “Billions,” a song that urges us to choose love, something that is incredibly difficult to do these days. “Don’t fear the dark, open your heart instead/How many people are lost?/There are billions, billions.”

This band covers Rare Earth’s “I Just Want To Celebrate,” which seems a perfect choice to follow “Billions,” and a perfect choice for this band. I love this song, and these guys do a great job with it, giving it a fiery, positive energy. They then give us an original song about baseball, “Diamonds.” As you’ll recall, 2016 was a completely foul year. The only good thing from that year was the Cubs winning the World Series. I’m not even a Cubs fan (go Red Sox!), but that Game 7 was fantastic. “Diamonds” refers to the Cubs’ curse in the line, “No goats, my heart can’t take the strain.” That’s followed by a cover of Paul McCartney’s “My Love,” never one of my favorite Paul McCartney songs (but still much better than “Silly Love Songs”) Still, Vinyl Hampdin does a decent job with it. The album then ends with an interesting and powerful rendition of Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” featuring more great stuff on horns, as well as some nice work on guitar. “When you love me, I can’t get enough/And I want to spread the news/That if it feels this good being used/You just keep on using me/Until you use me up.”

CD Track List
  1. Superstition
  2. Gottaluvit
  3. One Song
  4. The Road’s My Middle Name
  5. Pay For It
  6. Flowers On The Wall
  7. Billions
  8. I Just Want To Celebrate
  9. Diamonds
  10. My Love
  11. Use Me 
Red is scheduled to be released on October 5, 2018 on Armored Records.

Maxwell James: “Maxwell James” (2018) CD Review

Maxwell James is a singer and songwriter based in Nashville, his music a delicious blend of folk, rock, pop and blues, any sort of musical boundaries ignored in the name of pursuing something better. And he gets there. On his self-titled debut EP, he is joined by Jason Cheek on drums and percussion, Chris Croce on bass, David Dorn on organ and electric piano, and Scotty Murray on electric lap steel. All the songs are originals, written by Maxwell James.

The EP opens with “Roll Down Your Window Slowly,” a catchy tune with a steady beat, a song I dig right the start. It’s rock and pop, with a bit of a bluesy edge, a good song for summer. “Roll down your window slowly/Going to get to know me.” There is some playful vocal work toward the end, giving it a kind of relaxed groove, followed by a false ending. The blues edge is stronger, more pronounced, at the beginning of the next song, “Feed My Evolution.” This one too has a steady, and somewhat slow, rhythm, with an almost menacing quality. I particularly like the part on keys in the second half of the song. “Be my absolution from evil/Bite your tongue and don’t make a sound.”

My favorite track is “The More You Say, The Less I Know,” a wonderful mix of folk and blues with some damn good lyrics. “I’m on my way to feeling low/Sometimes I pray I just let go/What can I say when I know that I’ll be wrong.” There is something catchy about this song, and there is a good chance you’ll be singing along before it is over. That’s followed by another of this disc’s highlights, “Blatantly,” which begins with acoustic guitar and some seriously nice vocal work. There is something absolutely delightful about this song, about its sound. It has me smiling every time I listen to it. And check out these lyrics: “I don’t want to be untied/I just want to be on your side/When all of your friends/Have left you again/I don’t want to be inside/I just want to be on your mind/When all of your sins/Catch up in the end.” I love this song. The EP then concludes with “When It’s Real,” a slower folk-pop song, with more nice vocal work and a sweet, kind of sad vibe, which I love. “Right or wrong, I want to feel it/There’s a hope when it’s real/In my heart, I want to hear it/Like a song in my ear/And I know I can’t pretend/There’s a life without trouble/So I go and try to live/When I can.”

CD Track List
  1. Roll Down Your Window Slowly
  2. Feed My Evolution
  3. The More You Say, The Less I know
  4. Blatantly
  5. When It’s Real 
Maxwell James was released on March 22, 2018. I am definitely looking forward to hearing more from this singer/songwriter.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

M.D. Dunn: “The River Lately” (2018) CD Review

It’s a bit unnerving to suddenly find ourselves living in horrible times, among horrible people, and to not be able to predict when those times (and people) will come to an end. I honestly thought we were better than this, that we had progressed in some way. I was wrong. Being angry about it only seems to hurt me, but not being angry about it makes me feel guilty. And so I’ve been turning to music to help me through, and to remind me that, although a significant portion of the country has gone irreparably sideways, there are still lots of decent folks out there who are struggling with the same problems, the same anger, the same depression. Music tells us we are not alone. Music reminds us of what is truly important. I was turned on to M.D. Dunn’s music a couple of years ago, just before everything went wrong. His 2016 release Solace impressed me, and I was excited to hear more from him. His new album, The River Lately, features all original material, largely in the folk realm, but certainly not limited to that. This album contains some seriously excellent lyrics. But, perhaps more importantly, it is music to help us as we try to make sense of a world that lost its balance.

M.D. Dunn opens the new album with “The River Lately,” the title track. It eases in with a sweet folk sound on the guitar, and seems to kick in gradually, in stages, first taking on a cool, mellow 1970s vibe, like some of CSN’s mid-1970s work. Then the horn comes in, which is kind of a delightful surprise. I love the sound of this song, and the way it builds. But the lyrics are what really grab me. Check out these lines: “Have you been to the river lately?/You should see how high the water is now/Last time you couldn’t drown here if you’d been trying.” And these: “There are no shortcuts where we’re going/We’re going to have to play it through.” And these: “You probably have it all figured out anyway/Don’t let that keep you from trying.” How’s that for some good advice? The sax comes back in after this, and the song has kind of a nice little jam, which I dig. By the way, that’s Josh Norling, who plays both trumpet and saxophone on this album. “Hold on, hold on/With all those thoughts making noise all the time/Stick around for the punchline.” Yes.

“War In Me” feels like folk for the first few seconds, then comes in with a force, with an edge, which seems fitting for the song’s content. After all, turmoil within is going to affect what comes out. “You’re the sound I make when I dream/Another soul who is more than you seem.” What a line, eh? “You’re the sound I make when I dream.” This album is full of astute, intriguing lines like that. “War In Me” is followed by “The Story Begins,” which has a lighter, more playful vibe, in strong contrast to what we’ve just experienced. This track features more good work on saxophone. “When you arrive, the story begins.”

“Barn Swallow’s Dance” is the album’s first instrumental track. It’s strange, but sometimes when I listen to it, I feel it should have lyrics. I’m surprised when his voice doesn’t come in at some point. That being said, this tune has an uplifting vibe which I appreciate. The other instrumental track is “Dragonfly,” a pretty guitar piece that has a positive feel to it.

One of the album’s most important and timely songs is “The Cowardice Of Kings.” It is no secret that Donald Trump fancies himself a king, and that he has strange love affairs with dictators. He is a dangerous and doltish enemy of democracy, and thus an enemy of the United States, and he should be treated as such. Donald Trump is not mentioned by name in this song. But see if these lyrics don’t apply: “The cowardice of kings brings cruelty to the weakest/Go on and call him on it and you become his new enemy” and “The cowardice of kings makes everyone a traitor/Sees refugees as enemies and immigrants as invaders/Public dissent becomes a treasonable crime.” And this: “The cowardice of kings brings out the tyrant.” This song reminds us to “stick around” for “the weather will change.” Yes, but please hurry.

The first line of “Only In Summer” caught me by surprise: “All he said was she was pretty enough to be a stripper.” Before I could catch myself, I laughed aloud. M.D. Dunn follows that with these lines: “They used to say that back home/It never was a problem/He thought it was a compliment.”  And there is a really good line about thinking about what you say before saying it: “Every scene you’re in needs editing/Before it goes to air.”  This is a good country song, delivered with a passion, his voice once or twice reminding me of Brian Doser. The album closes with “We Need Everyone,” in which M.D. Dunn sings “We need you now/We need everyone/You have always, always been loved.”

CD Track List
  1. The River Lately
  2. War In Me
  3. The Story Begins
  4. Ghost Water
  5. Barn Swallow’s Dance
  6. The Cowardice Of Kings
  7. When I Fall Away
  8. Only In Summer
  9. Dragonfly
  10. We Need Everyone
The River Lately was released on April 29, 2018.

Adam Ezra at Kiva House Concerts, 6-10-18 Concert Review

Adam Ezra performing "Yellow Brick Road"
I do not enjoy looking for things. If I can’t find something quickly, I figure the hell with it, it will turn up or it won’t. That’s what happened with my notes from the Adam Ezra concert I saw a month ago in Massachusetts. When I went to write my review, the notes were not where I expected them to be, and I figured they could have come loose from my clipboard anywhere between Massachusetts and Los Angeles. Someone in the Dallas airport might be reading them, assuming of course that anyone can read my handwriting. Well, last night the notes turned up. They were in an envelope with a CD I had been listening to. How did they get in there? No idea. But the concert was so good that I figured I’d write something now, using the small portions of the notes that I myself can make out (though mostly what I wrote was simply the set list, because I was enjoying the show too much to take copious notes) and my memory (those who know me well might be questioning the wisdom in trusting my memory, but hey, sometimes a slightly fictional account of a show can be just as enjoyable). Okay, enough of this rambling introduction.

My brother runs the Kiva House Concerts in Billerica, Massachusetts (just a bit outside of Boston). And he tries to book a show whenever I’m in town. This past trip, Adam Ezra did a solo show, and the weather was nice enough that the show was held outside in the back yard (rather than in the basement). And it was a phenomenal concert, with lots of positive vibes. It was a Sunday, and it also happened to be our parents’ wedding anniversary, but more on that in a bit. When Adam began the show, at 3:34 p.m., he mentioned he had no plans for the set list, and that people could shout out ideas. And indeed, they did. They were not shy about it. Several songs in the first set were requests, including “OK By You,” “Yellow Brick Road” and “Lonely Mile.” Also early in the first set, Adam played “The Toast,” and this he dedicated to our parents for their fifty-first anniversary. In the song, he urges, “Raise up your glasses/Let us drink to the wind at our backs.” It was an incredibly sweet moment. But really, the entire show was like that. It was intimate and friendly and wonderful. Not that every song was sweet, of course. He played “Something To Break,” mentioning that it’s an angry song, and that he just has to play it all the time these days. I think we all can understand that. “I wish I had something to break.” He played harmonica on “A Boy’s Song” and “Switching To Whiskey.” “Switching To Whiskey” is a somewhat new song that I love. The first set closed with a cover of “Sweet Baby James.” The first set ended at 4:36 p.m.

After a 35-minute break, he started the second set with “You Dance With Me,” which then led straight into “Corn Song.” The second set included some favorites like “Basement Song” and “Let Your Hair Down,” as well as a new song, “It Don’t Land.” He also did a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I’ve heard a lot of artists cover this one over the past decade or so, and I’m always curious which verses they’ll do, and in what order. Leonard Cohen himself performed different verses on different tours over the years. Adam Ezra did five verses, starting with the “secret chord” verse and then the “kitchen chair” verse, the first two verses from the studio version heard on Various Positions (my personal favorite Leonard Cohen album). The other three verses he did were more recent ones, beginning with the “I’ve walked this floor” verse and following it with the “what’s really going on below” verse and finishing with the “maybe there’s a god above” verse. So basically, he performed all but one of the verses that Leonard Cohen did on that final tour (and in a slightly different order). And he did a really nice job with it. It was one of the highlights of the second set. He followed that with “Katie,” on which he played harmonica. He ended the second set with a cover of “Let It Be,” performing it unmiked in the middle of the audience. He broke a string and said, “Oh man, I really fucked this thing up,” and yet it was still a wonderful ending to the set. The second set ended at 6:20 p.m.

At that point, he told the crowd that he would do another set for anyone who wanted to stick around. This entire set, which started at 6:38 p.m., was performed unmiked and in the audience. It had a casual, intimate vibe. Hell, the whole show was intimate, but this set was particularly relaxed and fun. He opened it with “Flyin’” and at one point forgot some of the lyrics. The audience reminded him, and he responded, “You know this shit better than I do.” That was followed by “Shine” and then by a new song, which had a false start. He mentioned that it’s not quite out of the incubation stage yet. I don’t know the name of this song. My brother thinks it’s probably titled “When My Work Is Done.” The only lines I wrote down were “When I’ve come to meet my maker/When my work is done,” so that seems a fairly safe bet. Adam followed that with the crowd favorite “Sprig,” and then “She’s Just A Girl.” There was some audience participation on “Come On Over,” which wrapped up the third set. The show ended at 7:20 p.m. I’ve seen Adam Ezra only a few times, but this was absolutely the best of those shows. Apparently folks that have seen him a lot also remarked this was one of his best concerts.

Set List

Set I
  1. You Paint Me
  2. OK By You
  3. Yellow Brick Road
  4. The Toast
  5. All I Am
  6. Lonely Mile
  7. Rescue
  8. Something To Break
  9. A Boy’s Song
  10. Switching To Whiskey
  11. Sweet Baby James 
Set II
  1. You Dance With Me >
  2. Corn Song
  3. Kill Like This
  4. Glory Song
  5. Like An Angel
  6. It Don’t Land
  7. Basement Song
  8. Let Your Hair Down
  9. Hallelujah
  10. Katie
  11. I Believe
  12. Let It Be
  1. Flyin’
  2. Shine
  3. When My Work Is Done (title?)
  4. Sprig
  5. She’s Just A Girl
  6. Naïve Little Me
  7. Devil’s Side
  8. Come On Over
Here are a few photos from the show:

"A Boy's Song"
"Kill Like This"
"Basement Song"
"Let It Be"

And if you are interested in attending one of the Kiva House Concerts, here is the link to the site.

Chalwa: “Concentration Time” (2018) CD Review

I like to smoke pot on occasion, but I am apparently not up on the lingo because I had no idea what “chalwa” meant. For anyone else who might be wondering, it is a kind of pipe for smoking marijuana. Chalwa is also the name of a reggae band based in Asheville, North Carolina. The band’s new album, Concentration Time, features all original music. This album has its own sound, its own feel, and isn’t your typical reggae release. This music really grew on me. The band, by the way, is made up of Dennis Berndt on lead vocals and guitar, Dustin Brown on bass, Bernard Carmen on keys and vocals, Tim Marsh on guitar and vocals, Nethali Percival on percussion and melodica, Joshua Lyn on drums, and Evan Ackerman on guitar. Joining them on this release are JP Furnas on trombone, Greg Hollowell on saxophone, Aaron “Woody” Wood on guitar, Mike Rhodes on drums, and Nik Hope on drums.

The album gets off to a good start with “The Journey,” a somewhat mellow, easygoing reggae tune. That steady reggae beat is present, but it’s not as prominent as it often is. And there is some nice work on horns. I really like this song’s vibe; it is having a relaxing effect on me. Like I could just let go and ride upon the soothing river of this song. “Even though it’s cold and dreary/Inside there’s burning a candle bright enough to light up the city.” That’s followed by “Roots,” which surprised me the first time I listened to it, as it has something of a 1950s or early 1960s sound mixed with reggae. This is a delightful, intriguing and seriously cool song, one of my personal favorites. I love what the group does vocally here. “A peace of mind without a piece of land/So take the roots in your heart and your hand/The roots will bring you back home.” Then “Concentration Time,” the album’s title track, has a very different vibe. I am really impressed by the variety of moods and sounds on this album. Sometimes reggae can feel a bit stale, when all the tracks have a similar sound. That is not the case here at all.  Inspiration, dedication, putting out your life creation/Your life creation/But anxiety is on the rise/Please don’t let these tears get in your eyes/Get in your eyes/Worries come and worries go/Let your heart just beat in full control.”

“Fire” begins with the sound effects of a storm, which I – as always – would rather do without. But this song, once it gets going, is quirky and fun and totally enjoyable, and it develops into a good jam. “We need some rain to put out this here fire/We need more love in this here hour.” (By the way, my copy of this CD contains an error on the back of the sleeve, with “Fire” listed as the fifth track, and “Life Goes On” as the sixth, when the two songs are actually in the reverse order.) “Fire” is followed by “Staring At The Sun,” the title of which reminds me of that moment when Donald Trump looked directly at the solar eclipse. What a fucking moron. Not only that, but the dipshit actually pointed at the sun, in case anyone wasn’t sure where it was. It would be funny if it all weren’t so depressing and frightening that this idiot is in a position of power. Anyway, the song has a really good groove. “Beating Of The Drums” is a fun, positive song that makes me smile. “Listen closely, here it comes/It’s the beating of the drums.” Yes, this album should help raise your spirits. And we can all use a bit of that these days, eh? The album concludes with “BassBalls,” a song that incorporates the sound of a baseball announcer, which calls to mind that section from “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.” I’m a big baseball fan, but this is my least favorite track on the album.

CD Track List
  1. The Journey
  2. Roots
  3. Concentration Time
  4. Can You See
  5. Life Goes On
  6. Fire
  7. Staring At The Sun
  8. Sisters Of The Moon
  9. Beating Of The Drum
  10. BassBalls
Concentration Time was released on CD on June 20, 2018.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Marty Elkins: “Fat Daddy” (2018) CD Review

Marty Elkins is an extremely talented jazz vocalist based in New York. Her voice fits with the best of the classic jazz singers, those women you turn to again and again. On her new release, Fat Daddy, Marty Elkins delivers excellent, heartfelt, and totally enjoyable renditions of some classic songs. Though the songs chosen for this release are all many decades old, they are not the well-worn numbers we’ve heard too many times. The band backing her includes Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet; James Chirillo on guitar; Joel Diamond on piano, organ and alto saxophone; Steve Ash on piano; Lee Hudson on bass; Taro Okamoto on drums and tambourine; and Leopoldo Fleming on conga and claves.

Marty Elkins opens the album with “You Turned The Tables On Me,” her beautiful voice backed by just bass at the start. There is something amusing about this song, particularly in lines like “I always thought when you bought/The lovely presents you bought/Why hadn’t you bought me more.” This track develops into a fun, sweet version, and includes just a bit of scat at one point. That’s followed by “On Revival Day,” a song written by Andy Razaf, and recorded by Bessie Smith. The first time I listened to this disc, the moment this track began, I found myself with a goofy grin on my face. This one is an absolute delight, a bit of blues, a bit of gospel, a bit of New Orleans jazz, and a whole lot of joy. This song rhymes “hallelujah” and “peculiar,” so there. I love the work on trumpet. This song feels like a spiritual celebration, and is bound to lift your spirits.

Things then turn mellow for “How Can You Face Me,” a song about the end of a romance, written by Fats Waller and Andy Razaf. But after a moment, it kicks in with a nice steady rhythm, like she has decided she should not have to suffer. After all, it’s the guy’s fault, he was the one being dishonest, and she’s not going to remain down. “After you broke each vow/How can you face me now?” she asks, perhaps even challenges, him. There is more wonderful stuff on horn, and also guitar. Then on “That’s All There Is To That” Marty Elkins’ vocal performance has me entranced. It is smooth and sexy, and contains more than a dash of humor.

The trumpet gets “It’s Too Hot For Words” going, like a call to open our windows, to come out into the streets. This is one of my favorite tracks, and it certainly feels like the perfect song right now. “It’s too hot for words/There’s nothing like relaxation/Can’t endure this temperature/But if you want to make love, okay!” Amen! I love the excitement and joy in her delivery of “Okay!” Her humor shines through on this track.  There is more lovely work on horn. Actually, each of the musicians gets a chance to shine here, and I particularly love Taro Okamoto’s drumming. The fun continues with “Cow Cow Boogie,” with that cool rhythm on piano and some delicious stuff on horn and keys. There is a nice little jam here, and a certain playfulness to Marty’s vocal performance.

“Fat Daddy,” the album’s title track, is another fun and delightful tune to get you moving and shaking.  I’ve got men who are younger, handsome too/They just don’t move me like you do.” This track features some nice work on guitar, but it’s the horn that really makes this one so enjoyable. There is a bit of a New Orleans flavor here, which I love. “These Foolish Things” is a romantic number that, like most romantic songs these days, makes me think of my girlfriend (“Don’t get mushy,” she reminds me, too late). “Those stumbling words that told you what my heart meant/A fairground’s painted swings/These foolish things remind me of you.”  The album then concludes with “Trav’lin’ All Alone,” a groovy and catchy number with a prominent bass line.

CD Track List
  1. You Turned The Tables On Me
  2. On Revival Day
  3. How Can You Face Me
  4. That’s All There Is To That
  5. It’s Too Hot For Words
  6. Cow Cow Boogie
  7. I Cover The Waterfront
  8. It’s A Pity To Say Goodnight
  9. My Old Flame
  10. Fat Daddy
  11. I Can’t Face The Music
  12. Sugar
  13. These Foolish Things
  14. Trav’lin’ All Alone
Fat Daddy was released on July 6, 2018 on Nagel Heyer Records.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

My New Grateful Dead Shirt

Yesterday my friend Jon and I caught a really good show by Dead And Company. We ended up parking fairly close to Shakedown Street, so after the show we walked through, checking out all the wares. The last thing I needed was another T-shirt, but I saw one that I couldn’t resist purchasing. It was exactly right for me and for our current landscape. On the front it says, “Making America Grateful Again,” obviously a play on the slogan of that racist moron currently pretending to be president (a slogan he stole from Ronald Reagan, by the way). But also it touches upon the way a lot of us in this country feel, grateful that these musicians are touring again, spreading the good times. The picture on the front of the shirt is close to that which was on the back of the very first Grateful Dead T-shirt I ever owned, a “Twenty Years So Far” shirt from 1985. Below the picture is a line from “Uncle John’s Band”: “No time to hate.” (Well, the full line in the song is “Ain’t no time to hate, barely time to wait.”) A good reminder to myself when I read the news or when some fool comments on something I’ve posted.

The back of the shirt makes use of lines from “Throwing Stones,” a song that feels more relevant than ever. It reads, “While the politicians are throwing stones, the kids they dance and shake their bones,” a slight change from the song’s lines “And the politicians throwing stones/So the kids they dance and shake their bones.” (Those lines are toward the end; earlier in the song, the two lines are reversed.) The artwork reminds us that Donald Trump and his like are not representative of what this county is supposed to be about. There is still good out there.

So, yeah, it’s easy to see why I needed to buy this shirt. Anyway, I just thought I’d share that with you.

Dead And Company at Dodgers Stadium, 7-7-18 Concert Review

Dead And Company performing "Ramble On Rose"
This past week, record temperatures were noted all over the world. I was in Santa Clarita, where the temperature hit 114 degrees on Friday. It felt like the planet was dying. According to the weather folks, it was supposed to cool off to 100 degrees or so in Los Angeles for Saturday’s Dead And Company concert at Dodgers Stadium. I had seen the Grateful Dead on some pretty hot days – Foxboro in the summer of ’89, Raleigh in the summer of ’90. But, as my friend Jon Rosenberg pointed out, we were a lot younger then. Shit didn’t bother us like it does now. And my car’s air conditioning wasn’t cooperating, forcing hot air into my car, regardless of how I adjusted the dial. Fortunately, Jon offered to drive to the concert, mainly because he was worried we might actually die in my oven-on-wheels on the short ride there.

Shockingly, there was no traffic on the way in, and we parked in Lot 1, where Shakedown Street was. It cost us $35 to park. That’s insane. What exactly does the facility fee on our tickets pay for then? We pondered that for a few moments, then headed into the venue. Our seats were on the floor. That is, in the outfield. I was able to walk over to third base and stand there for a bit, which I admit was kind of a thrill for me. In addition to being a big Grateful Dead fan, I am a big baseball fan (go Red Sox!). Standing there, seeing the field from that new perspective, I felt that it wasn’t all that far to home plate. Give me just the slightest of leads, and I will steal home. No problem.

The tickets indicated the show would start at 7 p.m., but a little after 7, the place was still slowly filling up. Very slowly. The line at the security checkpoint wasn’t all that long when we went through, but it moved incredibly slowly. I asked one of the guys there, “How long will it take to get everyone in?”  He said: “We should get everyone in by eight. What time does the show start?” “Seven,” I told him. “Oh,” he said. The temperature on the floor was significantly cooler than I’d expected, and cooler even than up by the concession stands. My friend Jon and I had kind of braced ourselves for horrible conditions, and so we were pleasantly surprised.

At 7:31 p.m., the band came out, and kicked off the first set with “Playing In The Band.” And they got right into it, no sort of introductory jam. Of course, the song turned into a jam, and it was good. Nothing spectacular, but the night was just beginning. That led straight into “Bertha.” I still can’t get used to John Mayer’s voice, but this song is always a fun choice. It seemed to pick up some energy as it went, and the jam was totally enjoyable. However, they ended it oddly, fading out on the repeated “Anymore” at the end rather than getting louder. An interesting choice, but not nearly as good a choice as a strong ending. “Jack Straw” followed, though for a moment I thought it was going to be “Looks Like Rain.” So did the guy next to me. “Sun so hot.” No kidding. And John Mayer definitely stressed that line. But you know, a light breeze came through right after that, and I was feeling pretty good. “Jack Straw” had a great ending. Things were really coming together now. There was a hardly a pause before the band went into “Big Railroad Blues,” and this song rocked. That was followed by “Peggy-O,” and it struck me how damn good Bob Weir’s voice sounded.

But things really started popping for me on “Ramble On Rose,” which featured some phenomenal work by Jeff Chimenti on keys. The “leader of the band” line didn’t get as big a cheer as it did in the Jerry days, but still got a reaction. This was the first real highlight of the show, and for a moment it seemed like things were going to be derailed right there. Bob said something was fucked up, that there was some difficulty with the power on stage, so they were going to take a break. But before they could leave the stage, someone told him it would take just a few seconds to repair. So Bob took the time to tell that duck joke he’s so fond of. Mickey Hart shoot his head at him when Bob began it. Bob has told this joke a few times, but still sort of messed up the punchline. John Mayer then joked that he was going to take that time to perform “Your Body Is A Wonderland.” The guy to my right explained to me that that is a real song. I’d never heard it. Fortunately, things were fixed – at least enough that they could continue with the set – and the band played “Cumberland Blues.” This was an absolutely fantastic rendition, with Jeff really rocking on the keys. This song had a ton of energy. The band was really cooking now. They then chose to close the first set with “Deal,” not one of my favorite Dead songs. This was a fairly mellow “Deal,” though it did pick up some energy toward the end. But then, like “Bertha,” they ended the song very quietly instead of with energy. Strange. Bob said they were going to take a break and test some equipment. The first set ended at 8:48 p.m.

During the set break, a message was on the screen at the back of stage letting us know we could “Relive The Show Free” by scanning our tickets online. Cool! I definitely want to hear that “Ramble On Rose” and that “Cumberland Blues” again.

At 9:26 p.m., the house lights suddenly went out and the band came back for the second set. They kicked it off with “Sugar Magnolia,” a good start. They followed that with “Scarlet Begonias,” a song which is always a lot of fun and gets folks smiling. They repeated the phrase “look at it right” a few times. Bob switched guitars during the jam. There was some really nice jamming, by the way. And the transition to “Fire On The Mountain” was smooth. Oteil Burbridge sang lead on this one, which was nice. I like Oteil’s voice, and I wish that he would take lead vocal duties more often (and that John would take them perhaps a little less frequently). Bob switched guitars again after “Fire On The Mountain,” and the band went into “Althea.” Wow, John really loves this song. Didn’t they just play it at Shoreline, only two shows ago? Well, it’s okay, as I love that song too. And this was a really good version. They jammed on it, and that jam had a lot of energy and some very cool work on bass. “Althea” led directly to “Eyes Of The World,” one of my favorites. And this too was a good version. At one point the song began to slow down, as if it were coming to a close, and I wondered if they’d forgotten the final verse. Or perhaps I had forgotten that they’d already done it; sometimes that happens. But no, the song kicked into gear again. Bob sang, “Sometimes the song that we sing are just songs of our own” rather than “Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own.”

An unusual and cool jam led to “Drums,” which had a fun electronic dance pulse. “Space” meandered a bit, as it sometimes will. And the guessing began as to what the band would choose for the post-“Space” slot. Jon said, “Maybe ‘I Need A Miracle.’” I told him, “No, they played that last night.” Then I asked him, “Are they doing ‘The Wheel’ at all?” But soon the band eased from “Space” into “Stella Blue.” This was a nice rendition. It led directly into “Sunshine Daydream,” which surprised me. I expected at least one more song before the end of the second set. But no, there were only one and a half songs after “Space.” The second set ended at 10:49 p.m. But the band made it up to us in the encore, playing two songs, neither of which was “One More Saturday Night.” How about that for a pleasant surprise? Instead of the song I fully expected to hear, it being Saturday and all, the band delivered a sweet “Brokedown Palace” and followed that with a fun “Not Fade Away.” And it wasn’t a short “Not Fade Away.” The band jammed on it, as you’d hope they would. They certainly sent us out into the warm night with smiles on our faces. The show ended at 11:07 p.m.

Set List

Set I
  1. Playing In The Band >
  2. Bertha
  3. Jack Straw
  4. Big Railroad Blues
  5. Peggy-O
  6. Ramble On Rose
  7. Cumberland Blues
  8. Deal
Set II
  1. Sugar Magnolia >
  2. Scarlet Begonias >
  3. Fire On The Mountain
  4. Althea >
  5. Eyes Of The World >
  6. Drums >
  7. Space >
  8. Stella Blue >
  9. Sunshine Daydream
  1. Brokedown Palace
  2. Not Fade Away
Here are a few photos:

Before the show. Check out the Dead baseball card on screen.

Dodgers Stadium is located at 1000 Vin Scully Dr. in Los Angeles, California.