Monday, August 12, 2019

Those Pretty Wrongs: “Zed For Zulu” (2019) CD Review

I have a passion for the works of William Shakespeare, and I find references to those works everywhere – in books, in films, in songs, and even in band names. Those Pretty Wrongs take their name from the first line of Sonnet 41: “Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits.”  Those Pretty Wrongs are the duo of Jody Stephens, whom you likely know as the drummer of Big Star, and Luther Russell, whom you probably know from his solo career (his latest album, Medium Cool, was released earlier this year). The duo put out their first album in 2016, a self-titled release. Their new album, Zed For Zulu, features all original music, written by Jody Stephens and Luther Russell. They also play most of the instruments on this album, though there are some special guests on a few tracks. The music is pop with strong folk elements and wonderful harmonies.

The album opens with “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight,” a sweet-sounding acoustic song. Its first line is “You’ve been down, down again,” and I can relate. Who can’t relate to that line these days? It seems we constantly bounce among despair, fury and disgust. Yet there is something so wonderfully hopeful about the track’s title line, “Tonight, tonight, tonight.” Ah yes, it offers the promise of something. And the way the line is delivered makes me feel that things are about to get really good. Or, hell, is it possible that they already are? The friendliness of the voice seems to indicate they are. “Close your eyes for a moment/You know you’re not alone.” By the way, this track features some special guest musicians, a gorgeous string section. Leah Peroutka is on violin, Aubrey Kessel is on viola, and Leah Gibson is on cello. The string arrangement is by Chris Stamey. “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” is followed by “Ain’t Nobody But Me,” which has more of a pop vibe from the start, a vibrant rhythm and a bit of a 1960s feel to the guitar. “A little help is all I need.” We are all reaching out, we are all in need of some help these days. I feel that some help is sent to us in the form of songs like this one. I am still confident that music will pull us through.

This album contains a lot of excellent lyrics. From “Time To Fly,” one of the lines that stood out for me the first time I put on this album was “Of happiness with no address.” It’s an intriguing phrase. Then in “The Carousel,” lines that grab my attention include “As I lay me down to sleep/I convince myself to keep moving on, moving on” and “There’s a world out there, and I can’t make sense of it.” It certainly is difficult to make sense of the world today, particularly when truth in large part has died, and so much meaning has been lost. We can piece things together ourselves, but what has happened to our shared reality? It seems gone. One of the most interesting tracks of the album is “Hurricane Of Love.” There is something of a 1960s sensibility here, right? Like some of Donovan’s more unusual and exciting material. Anyway, this one grabbed me immediately. “It’s uncertainty that rattles me, my love.” There is some surprising and wonderful work by Jim Spake on clarinet on this track.

When “You And Me” starts, it sounds like a folk song, but when it kicks in, it shows some delicious pop sensibilities, with a bit of a paisley underground influence. The song is actually a sweet love song, with them repeating, “I’ll be there with you.” “Undertow” is a fun tune, another of the disc’s highlights, with a timeless quality and a delightful style. I dig the piano and the vocal line. Danny De La Matyr provides some backing vocals on this track. “Hey, when the tale is told/We’ll give it a chance/And risk our broken hearts again.” The album then concludes with “It’s About Love,” a timely and needed song reminding us that “It’s about love and happiness.” Check out these lines: “It’s not about walls to separate/Ways we can humiliate/It’s not about views that isolate/Or hopes and fears that suffocate/It’s not about blame or pointing fingers/It’s not about shame or pettiness.”

CD Track List
  1. Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
  2. Ain’t Nobody But Me
  3. Time To Fly
  4. The Carousel
  5. Hurricane Of Love
  6. You And Me
  7. Life Below Zero
  8. A Day In The Park
  9. Undertow
  10. It’s About Love
Zed For Zulu is scheduled to be released on September 6, 2019 on Burger Records, and apparently will be available on CD, vinyl and cassette (really, cassette, is that right?).

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 31” (2019) CD Review

We recently celebrated what would have been Jerry Garcia’s 77th birthday, and then a couple of days ago marked the 24th anniversary of his passing. Early August is always a mixed bag for Grateful Dead fans old enough to have actually gone on tour (these days I meet a lot of younger fans who never once saw the band, which is cool and strange). The release of the new volume in the Dave’s Picks series is certainly something to be excited about, and will delight a lot of folks. It contains the complete show the band played at the Uptown Theatre in Chicago on December 3, 1979, when Brent Mydland was still relatively new to the group, bringing a fresh energy to the stage.

Disc 1

The first disc contains the first set. The band opens with “Alabama Getaway,” which was a new tune at the time, just a month old. When I was first getting into the Dead, around the age of 12 or 13, this was one of my favorites. It has a cheerful and pure rock and roll feel, so was easily accessible to me at that time. I still dig it now. It’s a good tune to start a show, to get things moving. And almost immediately Brent is making his presence felt on keys. “Alabama Getaway” would open Go To Heaven, which is one of the first Grateful Dead albums I purchased. It has some fantastic material, but probably the worst cover of any Grateful Dead record. What were they thinking with that photo? Anyway, “Alabama Getaway” leads straight into “Promised Land,” which works well, from one pure rock and roll tune to another. The band seems determined to get the crowd dancing and smiling right out of the gate. It’s certainly getting me dancing in my tiny apartment. Close my eyes, and I can sense several thousand others grooving all around me. This is a particularly good “Promised Land.” It’s followed by a good, cheerful rendition of “Brown-Eyed Women,” featuring some nice stuff on guitar. “El Paso” has something of a relaxed feel at first, but soon builds in energy, especially in the vocals. “Ramble On Rose” very quickly gets off the ground, basically the moment Jerry starts singing. His voice really drives this version. “The leader of a band,” indeed!

Then we get a really delicious version of “It’s All Over Now.” I love the way they handle it here, the strong groove having a cool vibe as it bops along. And the guys jam on it, with Brent in particular delivering some great stuff on organ. This isn’t one you’d expect to be a highlight of the set, but there you have it. A phenomenal rendition. Jerry then leads the band into a nice “Jack-A-Roe,” and Bob gives us “Lazy Lightning” into “Supplication,” which features the best jamming of the first set. That’s followed by “Althea,” which was relatively new at the time, another song that would end up on the follow year’s LP, Go To Heaven. This is a fairly mellow, but cool version. The band then wraps up the set with “The Music Never Stopped,” a fun tune to keep everyone pleased and energized through the set break.

Disc 2

Any set that begins with “Scarlet Begonias” is going to be good. That song never fails to excite the crowd, and you feel that excitement as the song kicks off the second set here. And this is a really good version. Jerry’s voice sounds a bit rough at times, but somehow that only adds to the track’s appeal. The band began the first set with a lot of energy, and they likewise get the second set off to an energetic start. Interestingly, the jam has a soft, low-key beginning, like creating a little space to breathe, to see where things will go. And this somewhat relaxed jam goes into some unusual places, a rather trippy “Scarlet” jam, which I love. And it of course eventually leads into “Fire On The Mountain.” Though it took me more than thirty shows before I saw my first “Scarlet”/”Fire,” the band paired these two rather frequently. The transition here is smooth and wonderful, and this “Fire” features plenty of good jamming. There is one moment where the sound gets weird, like it goes from soundboard to audience recording, and then back to soundboard. It’s jarring. But this is a seriously good “Fire On The Mountain.” It’s followed by “Samson And Delilah,” with its powerful thumping groove.

We then get into magical territory with “Terrapin Station,” which is gentle as it begins, taking us by the hand and leading us into another world, not wanting to scare us off. It is pretty, almost delicate, with some delightful moments where the guitars and keys are working together, reporting back from those outer realms, telling us everything is all right, not to worry. This song takes care to deliver us safely. It leads straight into “Playing In The Band,” a vibrant sunrise, firm ground, and joy all around. This one too then takes us up and out, and yet the farther out we go, the deeper we are inside ourselves. But there is nothing frightening here, within or without. The jam gets a bit odd toward the end, strange electronic voices from distant regions piping in. Then “Drums” takes over, and it is here we venture into some darker territory, though with some innocence and love bursting through. And that is where the second disc ends.

Disc 3

The third disc picks up with a short “Space,” which then leads directly into “Lost Sailor.” This is another song that would be included on Go To Heaven. It’s a good and mellow version, taking its time, not rushing anywhere, and is paired with “Saint Of Circumstance,” also from Go To Heaven. This version contains slightly different lyrics. At the beginning, Bob sings “Yes, this is heaven/A station on the line/You must be an angel/What else could be so fine.”  I’ve always loved this tune, the way it builds as well as its lyrics. One of the Grateful Dead T-shirts I wore often was a Calvin And Hobbes “Saint” T-shirt, which I bought in the parking lot before a show. “Saint” is followed by a moving and passionate rendition of “Wharf Rat,” an appropriate weariness to Jerry’s vocal delivery at times. There is something spiritual about this version, in the vocals and Brent’s organ. It’s unusual and gorgeous, and I love when the song bursts up to another level. “I’ll get up and fly away.” Oh yes, nothing can stop them. That leads straight into “Truckin’” and though this show hasn’t had a whole lot of exploration, it’s good to get this solid jam to pull everyone together at the end of the set, its tales of being on the road (figurative and literal) something all of us can relate to. And man, before it ends, the band offers a surprisingly wild bit of jamming. The encore is a classic rock and roll number, “Johnny B. Goode,” to send the crowd dancing out into the night.

The third disc contains some filler from the following night’s show, also at the Uptown Theatre. First we get a really nice version of “Estimated Prophet,” with a cool groove to the jam. Then “Franklin’s Tower” emerges from that, which is unexpected, as that song usually follows “Slipknot!” (though at my first show the band played “Franklin’s Tower” on its own in the first set). This song is always fun, and the version here is delightful. It leads to a totally enjoyable jam that is here presented as a separate track. As it fades out, you can hear that the “Drums” segment is about to begin.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Alabama Getaway >
  2. Promised Land
  3. Brown-Eyed Women
  4. El Paso
  5. Ramble On Rose
  6. It’s All Over Now
  7. Jack-A-Roe
  8. Lazy Lightning >
  9. Supplication
  10. Althea
  11. The Music Never Stopped 
Disc 2
  1. Scarlet Begonias >
  2. Fire On The Mountain
  3. Samson And Delilah
  4. Terrapin Station >
  5. Playing In The Band >
  6. Drums
Disc 3
  1. Space >
  2. Lost Sailor >
  3. Saint Of Circumstance >
  4. Wharf Rat >
  5. Truckin’
  6. Johnny B. Goode
  7. Estimated Prophet >
  8. Franklin’s Tower >
  9. Jam 
Dave’s Picks Volume 31 was released in late July 2019. My copy arrived on July 27th. It is a limited edition of 20,000 copies.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Ginger Cowgirl: “Ginger Cowgirl” (2019) CD Review

Ginger Cowgirl is a group based in Nashville that plays its own special brand of country music, taking inspiration from several other musical styles. The group recently released its self-titled debut EP. Interestingly, this disc features two distinct bands. The first three tracks have Bob Britt on guitar, Justin Schipper on pedal steel, Keio Stroud on drums, and Dave Roe on bass. The other three tracks feature Paul Sgroi on electric guitar, Danny Muhammad on pedal steel and acoustic guitar, Joe Reed on bass, and Toby Caldwell on drums. The one common element is vocalist Stacy Antonel on vocals, who also wrote most of the EP’s tracks.

The opening lines of “6 Weeks In Nashville,” the disc’s first track, are kind of delightful and playful, and also feel honest, personal: “Six weeks in Nashville/I ain’t got a gig yet/I’ve got folks on the west coast/Wondering if I’m big yet.” Of course the main line also has a playful and humorous quality: “It’s a drinking town with a music problem.” And how could I dislike a song that mentions Guinness? This track also boasts some nice work on guitar. The line “And every day I’m swinging between hope and desperation” is about trying to make it in the music business, but it could apply to basically whatever endeavor you’re attempting. That’s followed by “It Was Love,” which has a sweeter, pleasant country vibe with more nice work on pedal steel. There are also plenty of good lyrics, such as these lines: “One final round/Of the fight you knew you’d never win.” There is something so sad about the lines “It was love/It just wasn’t meant to last,” although they are delivered with acceptance, even fondness. “I’m Gone” is a truly pretty and yet powerful country number, the opening lines of which refer to being a musician: “I’m tired of writing songs about you/I’m tired of being wrong about you.” I love her vocal delivery. I laughed out loud the first time I listened to this disc when she sang “Mamas, don’t let your sons be assholes.” Good advice, really. That line caught me by surprise, which I appreciated. This track also features more wonderful work on pedal steel.

This Nashville group offers two songs on this disc with the city’s name in the titles. The first was the opening track. The second, “Nashville,” has a sweet, appealing sound, particularly in the vocal line, and features some nice percussion. “Nashville got me hooked on country music/It also got me over, it also got me over, it also got me over you.” That’s followed by the album’s only cover, which is actually two covers, both with the same song title, “Crazy.” First, we get a cool, jazzy rendition of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy,” with an absolutely wonderful vocal performance by Stacy Antonel. And then Ginger Cowgirl delivers a good version of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” with the group transitioning seamlessly from one to the other, going from admitting “I’m crazy for feeling so lonely” to asking “Does that make me crazy?” At the end, they return to the Willie Nelson song. It’s a cool idea combining two songs of the same title. I always thought it would be fun for a band to do a medley of songs titled “Let The Good Times Roll.” There are a lot of them. It could take up a whole set. The EP then concludes with “Douchebag Benny,” a fun, swinging number, featuring more delicious work on pedal steel and guitar. “He told me straight that he was looking for a real romance/But then he told me who he’d have if he got the chance/Well, he told me that his dream/Was a girl still in her teens.” Those lines make me think of at least a couple of real douchebags who have been in the news lately – Jeffrey Epstein and Donald Trump. By the way, I dig that bass line.
                             
CD Track List
  1. 6 Weeks In Nashville
  2. It Was Love
  3. I’m Gone
  4. Nashville
  5. Crazy
  6. Douchebag Benny
Ginger Cowgirl was released on June 7, 2019.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Beth Bombara: “Evergreen” (2019) CD Review

Beth Bombara is a singer and songwriter based in St. Louis, Missouri. She has been performing for more than a decade, and has released several CDs during that time. Her new album, Evergreen, features original music, most of it written by Beth Bombara and Kit Hamon. The music is combination of pop and rock, but with some folk and country elements, and a singer/songwriter’s sensibilities and attention to lyrical content. The band backing her includes Samuel Gregg on electric guitar and backing vocals; Mike Schurk on drums and percussion; John Calvin Abney on piano, organ and harmonica; and Kit Hamon on bass, backing vocals, percussion and synthesizers.

The album opens with “I Only Cry When I’m Alone,” a good pop song with shades of Aimee Mann in the vocal style. Check out these lines, which begin the song: “Been holding this inside/Try to keep my head high/Breaking down behind the door/When I can’t hide this anymore.” I have a feeling this song is going to speak to a lot of people. Despair and depression abound these days, and I feel one of the best instruments to battle these things is music. Perhaps I’m foolish, but I honestly think songs like this help a great deal. That’s followed by “Upside Down,” which features some nice work on electric guitar and a good bass line. Beth Bombara sings, “Leave behind your could’ve beens/And we’ll get going somewhere else.” It’s difficult, though, isn’t it? The past and the mythical present are always with us, and it’s hard to refrain from comparing our reality to what we believe our reality should be. “Upside Down” was written by Beth Bombara, Seth Porter and Kit Hamon.

One of my personal favorite tracks is “Anymore.” I bet we can all think of an occasion or two when we want to sing – or shout – these lines: “I didn’t choose your game/And I’m not gonna play anymore.” This song features a sweeter vocal performance, with a bit of country to the style at times. And check out these lines: “Blinded by the unseen/Am I losing my mind?/Watch an elusive dream/Disappearing on the horizon.” Then “Tenderhearted” has more of a country flavor to the music, and a more positive vibe. “It’s never gonna be perfect/But I’m still gonna try.” Also, I dig that harmonica. “Growing Wings” is another of my favorites. I like the work on bass and on keys, but Beth’s vocal performance is really what makes this track special. It’s a powerful performance, one that is beautiful and emotionally engaging. And she has plenty of excellent lyrics to sing, such as these lines: “Nothing lasts, and that’s okay” and “Try not to hold on too tightly/‘Cause the strain ain’t gonna do you no good” and “All this progress, but nothing new.” Man, that last line really feels dead-on, doesn’t it?

Another of the disc’s highlights is “Good News,” which has a rock feel and a really cool bass line. Lines that stood out for me the first time I listened to this album were “Wasn’t it enough to feed your ego/Without feeding my despair?” Her vocal performance here has something of an edge. “Why can’t it be good news?/I need some good news.” Yes, we all could use some good news. Every day I read the news to see what else has gone wrong, what new racist shit Donald Trump and his Republican hacks have uttered, what new environmental disaster has occurred, how many more have lost their lives to gun violence. It seems we are just completely fucked as a nation. We need some good news, and we need it immediately. “Good News” is followed by the album’s title track, “Evergreen.” Maybe I’m mad, but the vocal delivery of the first line reminds me of Olivia Newton-John’s “Xanadu.” But then there is something of a country thing to this track as well. “When the chaos is taking over/You said letting go is easy.”

“Criminal Tongue” is another powerful track, more of a rock tune with a bluesy edge at times. There is a play on one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines, with Beth singing “All the world’s a cage.”  The disc then concludes with “All Good Things,” which was written by Kit Hamon. The first lines are “Do you get the feeling/That everything is broken/And every word that’s spoken/Is lying through its teeth.” Yup, that’s about the size of it. This is yet another of my favorites, and is one I think basically everyone I know (and everyone I would want to know) is going to appreciate. It has more of a raw and immediate sound, her vocals supported by piano. This song directly addresses the horror occupying the White House in lines like “If this is great again/Then where did we begin?” This is such an excellent song, and it nearly has me in tears today. In the line “All good things must end” could she be referring to democracy, or to our country itself?

CD Track List
  1. I Only Cry When I’m Alone
  2. Upside Down
  3. Anymore
  4. Tenderhearted
  5. Growing Wings
  6. Does It Echo?
  7. Good News
  8. Evergreen
  9. Criminal Tongue
  10. All Good Things
Evergreen is scheduled to be released on August 9, 2019. By the way, in addition to CD, it will be released on yellow vinyl. I admit, I am a sucker for colored vinyl. Who is to say music can’t look cool as well as sound cool?

Potter’s Daughter & Annie Haslam: “Blood And Water” (2019) Vinyl Review

Potter’s Daughter is a group led by pianist and vocalist Dyanne Potter Voegtlin, with Amit Chatterjee on guitar, Randy Crafton on percussion, Ian C. Voegtlin on guitar and electronic wind instrument, and Walter Sitz on drums. Last year they released their debut full-length album, The Blind Side, an album combining jazz and rock elements to create an interesting and at times beautiful progressive pop sound, with several instrumental tracks. Now they are following that with a new single, “Blood And Water,” which finds them partnering with special guest vocalist Annie Haslam, whom you likely know from her work with Renaissance. The single, which is being released on both vinyl and CD, contains two versions of the song “Blood And Water,” written by Ian C. Voegtlin and Dyanne Potter Voegtlin. The label on the record contains no writing whatsoever, but rather the same cool artwork of a tree against a red sky on both sides. The CD, however, labels the tracks.

The first is “Blood And Water,” which has a strangely pleasant electronic sound to start, then soon kicks in. When the vocals begin, there is an otherworldly folk vibe to them, which is wonderful. “My heart’s made of blood and water/My bones are of sticks and of stones.” And check out these lines: “From you, I’ve learned how love’s meant to be/I’m spoken and broken and free.” Then, more than halfway through, there is a pretty vocal section, before the song goes into a more progressive rock direction led by guitar. The second track is titled “Blood And Water Revisited,” and this version begins on piano, which is the driving instrumental throughout the track. Both versions are good, but I think I actually prefer this second one, which has a glorious classical vibe.

Blood And Water is scheduled to be released on both vinyl and CD on August 8, 2019.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Grateful Dead Meet-Up At The Movies 2019

Today is Jerry Garcia’s birthday. He would have been, what, 77 years old. To mark the occasion, the annual Grateful Dead Meet-Up At The Movies is happening tonight. Every year, one concert is chosen to be shown in movie theaters across the country (and now in other parts of the world as well), and this year that concert is one I attended.

A friend and I drove from Massachusetts down to New Jersey to see the band play a two-night stand at Giants Stadium in June of 1991. The first show was the 16th, and my friend and I somehow got split up before the show started. No matter, I figured, you always make plenty of friends at Dead shows. But the band was just not on that night. The music felt tired and routine. There were no moments of magic. I actually went and sat down in a section sort of behind the stage, where nobody else was. Sitting down at a Dead show? Right, it was weird. Anyway, after the show, I met up with my friend at my van, and I didn’t want to say how disappointed I was, just in case he had a fantastic time. But soon it was clear he thought the show was terrible too. In fact, we considered giving away our tickets for the next night and just driving home. It was that bad. We wondered if this show signaled an end to the band.

Of course, we thought better of it. After all, we were already there, and neither of us was up for a long drive that night. The next night, June 17th, we got split up again. I decided I wanted to be on the floor, and so lowered myself over the wall at the back of the venue. Moments later a light rain began to fall, and the tarp on the floor became a slip-and-slide. A bunch of us were having a grand time sliding around, and then the band came out. And immediately there was magic in the air. We could feel it even before the band played its first note. And once they did play that first note, the place erupted in joy. They were opening the first set with “Eyes Of The World.” It seemed to me that the band was determined to make up for the previous night’s dull show. And they certainly did! This was one of the best concerts I ever attended. And this is the show that is being shown in theaters tonight. I am seriously excited to revisit this concert.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Soulsha: “Carry It On” (2019) CD Review

Soulsha is a band that seems to have come from everywhere at once, like it came rushing at us from various corners of the musical universe in order to raise our spirits and strengthen our resolve. The band’s music seems to say, “There is beauty everywhere, enjoy your life, but don’t become complacent.” In these dark days of gun violence and racism and treachery and an extremely divided nation, this band tells us not to give up, and to take great joy in not giving up. The music has Celtic and African elements. But where the band actually comes from is Boston. I’m always excited when folks from my home state of Massachusetts excel like this band does. The band, by the way, is made up of Elias Alexander on bagpipes, low whistle and vocals; Lamine TourĂ© on sabar drums and vocals; Neil Pearlman on piano, organ, accordion, mandolin, banjo and vocals; Conor Hearn on guitar and vocals; Dylan Sherry on saxophone and vocals; Jake Galloway on trumpet and vocals; Charles Berthoud on bass; and Chris Southiere on drums and vocals. Carry It On is the group’s debut full-length release. Alastair White joins the group on fiddle on this album.

The album opens with “Isle Of Skye Reel,” an excellent and exciting instrumental piece. This tune is a wild celebration, combining elements of Celtic music and funk and disco and whatever else seems to strike the musicians’ fancy, taking a traditional number and adding a whole lot to it. It’s like a folk band was dropped into a dance club and was able to adapt immediately and get everyone onto the dance floor, even drawing in people from outside who might otherwise have passed the club by. Then in the middle of everything, there is fun percussion section, which I love. This track is a delight, a fantastic way to get the album going. Then when “Carry It On,” the album’s title track, begins, it sounds like it might be a folk song. But very quickly it takes on a different vibe, a very positive sound, with friendly vocals offering hope and a way through the darkness. “I want to see people making music, being proud of who they are/Proud of where they come from/I want to see people shaking hands with each other/No judgment at all/I want to see people listen to each other, really listen.” And then that wonderful Celtic folk element comes in. The drum beat combines Celtic and African styles. If you need something to lift your spirits (and who doesn’t need just that these days?), you’re going to appreciate this track and this album. Let loose, forget any inhibitions, and just dance – with yourself, with each other. I love that section when the horn and bagpipes listen and respond to each other, a dance of their own. When I hear music like this, it strikes me as impossible that someone like Donald Trump can even exist. Wouldn’t the world of this song destroy him and those like him? Or at least change them? Like a bright ray of light passing through them and negating all their toxicity.

On this disc, there are several tracks labeled “Interlude,” which are short tracks, most of them instrumentals. The first, which follows “Carry It On” and is titled appropriately “Interlude I,” is a percussion piece. The second, “Interlude II,” is a sort of funky groove. The third, “Interlude III” (are you seeing the pattern?) is not an instrumental. It features spoken word over bagpipes. “Where are the voices that have carried us across the generations, across the seas?” “Interlude IV” comes straight out of “Beautiful Line,” and feels like a short extension of one of that track’s musical themes. The final of these short pieces, “Interlude V,” is a cool bass piece, with the sounds of nature in the background.

Things get nice and funky with “Come On Down,” offering more positive, joyous vibes even as it touches on some serious subjects in lines like: “And if a child want to grow right wild eyed, we’d got to give him peace/It’s hard to grow when the guns keep blazing every day in the land of the free/Come on down now, people just come on down/We’ve got work to do, ain’t no use lying around.” I love that this music helps to make us feel like we can be effective, that we can fix things, because often it feels so overwhelming, and we feel ineffectual and powerless. This track also features some delicious work on keys. “We’ve got work to do,” indeed! There is a lot to do, a lot to repair. “Rhythm’s In The Melody” should certainly get you dancing and grooving. My favorite part is that Celtic instrumental section. That kind of thing always makes me smile, pushes my cares away. The track then explodes to another realm to get you dancing harder. “Now let it move, let it move you.”  Just let this music envelope you, lift you up, to the point where you almost lose all sense of self, and become part of the whole flow of the sound.

“Standing In The Water” is a prettier instrumental number, soaring at the beginning, as if at the edge of a cliff as the heavens shine down upon the instruments. Then the tune takes on a greater force, its voice becomes louder, stronger, as if the light is now not shining on the instruments, but shining from them. This is a glorious and beautiful tune. Toward the end, it relaxes a bit for a sweet lead on horn, then rises again. I could do without the sounds of waves crashing at the end, of course, as they seem to detract rather than add anything to this track. The percussion is really what drives “A’Ghrian,” and halfway through, there is a drum solo, so yeah, I fucking love this track. The album concludes with “What A Day,” the horns blast in, announcing the track, lifting us from our seats, and that is just the beginning. Check out that insistent rhythm, the horn flying over it, which gives way to a funkier vibe. What a day, indeed! As this instrumental track continues, it seems to grow in joy.

CD Track List
  1. Isle Of Skye Reel
  2. Carry It On
  3. Interlude I
  4. Fetchal
  5. Come On Down
  6. Interlude II
  7. Rhythm’s In The Melody
  8. Interlude III
  9. Standing In The Water
  10. Beautiful Line
  11. Interlude IV
  12. A’Ghrian
  13. Interlude V
  14. What A Day
Carry It On was released on May 31, 2019.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Larry Wolf With Four Cats & A Canary: “Mood Swings” (2019) CD Review

There are some songs you can completely rely on. To lift you up, to connect you to the human race, to speak to whatever it is that we have in common, that which makes us human, that which keeps us breathing and trying even if we’re suffering. And Mood Swings, the new disc from Larry Wolf, is full of them. These songs are classics for a reason. They will continue to delight and move people for generations, perhaps forever (or until this planet becomes uninhabitable and humanity is extinct, which will be in like fifty years if the Republicans have their way). Larry Wolf offers wonderful, personal takes on songs like “Embraceable You,” “Goodnight Irene” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Joining him on this release are Adrianne Duncan on piano and vocals (Adrianne also produced the album); Jason Luckett on guitar, harmonica and vocals; John Tegmeyer on clarinet; Edwin Livingston on bass; and Dan Schnelle on drums.

Larry Wolf gets the album off to a delightful start with a fun rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies.” How can you fail to smile while listening to this track? There is a love for the song heard in every note, and this track features some wonderful stuff on clarinet. This song breathes and floats, and includes a cool bass solo. “Blue days/All of them gone/Nothing but blue skies/From now on.” The clarinet begins the following track “Laura,” sounding sweet and soft at moments, effectively pulling us in. Then that nice, rather laid back rhythm is established. Larry Wolf’s vocal performance is smoother here, with a romantic bent. And there is some more excellent work on bass, particularly in the second half of the track.

I may have mentioned this once or twice, but you can never go wrong with Gershwin. Larry Wolf chooses “Embraceable You,” his voice backed by guitar. His vocal delivery here has at times a relaxed quality that gives the impression he’s close to us, giving us a private performance, perhaps at a small dinner party. “I love all the many charms about you/Above all, I want my arms about you/Don’t be a naughty baby/Come to papa, do/My sweet embraceable you.” Things then take an interesting turn with his take on “Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor,” a classic and beloved bluesy gem. I love his playful approach to the lyrics, and I dig the clarinet. This track also boasts some wonderful guitar work during that instrumental section partway through, and some cool stuff on bass, moving along beneath that pretty clarinet lead. This is one of my favorite tracks on the disc. It is a total delight from beginning to end. “Mmm, I do not want no pork chops/Give me some cherry pie/Gonna love you, mama/‘Til we say goodbye.”

When I was growing up, Saturday Night Live did one of those fake commercials for Linda Ronstadt’s What’s New album, with a play on its title track, the line being “I sing old songs for you/Because I can’t do what’s new” (with Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Ronstadt). I’m not sure why that has stayed with me all these years, but it has, and it comes to mind whenever I hear this song. And so here it is again. Anyway, this version is done as a duet with Adrianne Duncan, and has a light, fanciful quality. That’s followed by “Good Night Irene,” a song I love. Larry Wolf offers a kind of cheerful rendition, his vocals supported by guitar. These lines always tickle me for some reason: “Sometimes I live in the country/Sometimes I live in town/Sometimes I get a great notion/To jump into the river and drown.”

There are several songs that I learned from the Grateful Dead or the Jerry Garcia Band. “That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day)” is one of them. I saw Jerry Garcia Band perform it in 1989 when I was still a teenager, and fell in love with the song. I really like the way Larry Wolf approaches this one. The track has a folk vibe, and his voice has a gentle and slightly weary quality, which works perfectly with the lyrics. Plus, that guitar instrumental section is absolutely wonderful. This is another of my favorite tracks. It’s followed by an interesting rendition of “Georgia On My Mind,” which is beautiful at times (I love that clarinet), and kind of playful too. And there is some sweet work on piano. Larry Wolf also offers a sweet version of “You Are My Sunshine,” featuring harmonica. Nancy Wolf provides additional vocals on this track. Another of this disc’s highlights is the moving rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You,” with its late-night vibe and nice work on piano. There is a bit of heartache, a bit of sorrow in his delivery, as well as love. “I’ll find you in the morning sun/And when the night is new/I’ll be looking at the moon/But I’ll be seeing you.”

CD Track List
  1. Blue Skies
  2. Laura
  3. Embraceable You
  4. Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor
  5. What’s New
  6. Good Night Irene
  7. I Won’t Cry Anymore
  8. Lucky Old Sun
  9. Georgia On My Mind
  10. Motherless Child
  11. You Are My Sunshine
  12. Autumn Leaves
  13. I’ll Be Seeing You
  14. Twinkle
Mood Swings is scheduled to be released on August 16, 2019.

Ross Osteen Band: “Williwaw” (2019) CD Review

Two thirds of the citizens of this country have the blues (the other third having apparently suffered irreparable brain damage from inbreeding and tainted water, resulting in racism and stupidity beyond measure). We are living in scary and incomprehensible times. So again and again we turn to music, and often it is the blues that speak strongly to us. Ross Osteen Band’s latest release, Williwaw, provides a good dose of blues for us to sink our teeth into. This is the band’s third album, following 2016’s Glenhead Station. The band, by the way, is made up of Ross Osteen on guitar and vocals, Patrick Gaynor on drums, and Jim Vint on bass.

The back of the CD case claims “All songs written and recorded by Ross Osteen Band,” but that just isn’t quite true, is it? For the album opens with a cover of Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy.”  And these days I am grateful to hear someone sing, “Everything, everything, everything gonna be all right this morning.” Well, okay! The guitar that follows that line seems to confirm the truth of the statement, and I am eager to believe. And then that familiar riff, that familiar rhythm comes in, and Ross Osteen belts out the lyrics in an honest, powerful way. No bullshit here, just some damn good blues. That’s followed by “Show Her,” electric blues with a bit of attitude in the playing. Guitarist Bill Altman joins the band on this track. Ross draws out certain words, certain syllables. “Well, the stars at night start blinking, there ain’t no one else you can call/My woman, she walks with her head held high/’Cause I show her.”

“Make It” has a more fun vibe, more of a rock flavor. It also has a positive message we can grab onto, in the line “I’m going to make it anyway.” We need to keep telling ourselves just that. Ross Osteen’s vocals at moments go into John Fogerty territory on this track. There is also plenty of delicious guitar work here, helping to make this one a thumping blues rock gem. “Ain’t nobody out there giving me a sign.” Then “Little Rooster” puts Ross Osteen firmly in the company of George Thorogood, particularly the way he delivers the song’s lyrics, the way he tells us the story. This solid blues jam rocks us, making me imagine this tune is a good part of the band’s live performances. That’s followed by “A No. 1,” which also features some cool work on guitar.

“Nighttime” is a loose, enjoyable tune with something of a Bo Diddley beat. It has an air of celebration and excitement at the possibilities, as night falls. “Come on now, we don’t need no car.” That’s followed by “Willie G,” blues with a southern rock flavor, a cool tune that moves along at a good clip with a beat you dance to. On this one too, Ross Osteen’s vocal delivery reminds me a bit of John Fogerty. “Broom” then features some delicious work on drums. “Yeah, they told me that we lost the way/Ain’t nothing like it used to be now.” That’s followed by “Road I’m On.” I’m struck by the energy of his vocals on the entire album, but on this track in particular. The power of his voice seems so natural, almost effortless. The album then concludes with “Jellyfish Jam,” the only instrumental track, a kind of slow jam with a cool bass line and more good work on guitar.

CD Track List
  1. Mannish Boy
  2. Show Her
  3. Make It
  4. Little Rooster
  5. A No. 1
  6. Nighttime
  7. Willie G
  8. Broom
  9. Road I’m On
  10. Jellyfish Jam
Williwaw was released on March 21, 2019.

Princess Frank and Sunset Junction Band at The Thirsty Crow, 7-28-19 Concert Review

Princess Frank
Yesterday was a day of excellent music. I started my day at The Federal Bar, where I saw Freedy Johnston and Amilia K. Spicer. Then I made my way down to Silver Lake, to The Thirsty Crow, where Princess Frank holds his residency. Sharing the bill with him was Sunset Junction Band, which features Leslie Knauer on lead vocals and guitar. Parking is always a bit challenging in that area, and I ended up farther away than usual. It was a scorcher of a day, so I was soaked with sweat by the time I arrived at the venue. As I walked in, I suddenly recalled that this place has no air conditioning. No matter. There were fans, including one box fan pointed at the band. No one there seemed to mind the heat. And there were misters just outside the door, so you could step out for a moment and cool off. I got a beer (friendly staff there, by the way), and said hello to some people I hadn’t seen in years. Clearly there was some kind of sale on hair dye somewhere nearby, with green and purple being the colors of choice. Wonderful! Those are my favorite colors.

You might know Leslie Knauer from her work in Precious Metal and Kanary. Kanary was how I got turned onto her music. That was the second band I saw after moving to Los Angeles (the first was Kelly’s Lot) more than twenty years ago (holy shit, time is flying). Sunset Junction Band, like Kanary, is a trio (though it wasn’t always). Guitar, bass, drums. The bass is stand-up acoustic, which made me happy. At 4:42 p.m., Leslie called out, “Yes, we’re ready.” She mentioned how the name of the band had changed (they used to be called Naked Hand Dance), but that she was a bit leery of the new name. “It sounds like it could be successful,” she explained. They kicked off their set with a cool cover of The Mavericks’ “Come Unto Me.” That was followed by a somewhat new song, a fun and playful tune that had something of a Bo Diddley rhythm, with drummer Dave Alvarado providing the beat. Sunset Junction Band also did a nice rendition of John Prine’s delightful “In Spite Of Ourselves,” a surprise, with bassist Al TeMan singing the second vocal part. The strangest choice of covers was Klaus Nomi’s “Total Eclipse,” which was a whole lot of fun. A good chunk of the set, however, was made up of songs from the Kanary days, including “Do You Swear,” which featured a powerful vocal performance. Would you expect anything less from Leslie Knauer? “Can’t Stop Crying” is one of my favorite songs from the Kanary days, and it was so good to hear it again. “Something Beautiful” is another of my favorite Kanary songs, one I put on a couple of mix CDs. The version they played yesterday was quite a bit different from those earlier versions, particularly on drums. But I was digging it. After that one, Leslie said: “I love my band. They follow me wherever I go.” They wrapped up their set with “Don’t Be Scared.” Their set ended at 5:28 p.m.

A break between bands gave me a moment to get another beer, and catch up a bit with folks. And then at 6:01 p.m., Princess Frank shouted “Happy Sunday!” Indeed, it was. If you live in Los Angeles, you’ve likely seen Princess Frank at some point. I first met him back in the days of Heartkour, Holland Greco’s project following the end of The Peak Show. For a while now, Princess Frank has been doing a one-man rock band gig. His set yesterday consisted of several original tunes, with a bluesy rock edge and some excellent and often wild vocal work. He also delivered some good covers, including a seriously cool version of “Helter Skelter” that felt at first like a deconstruction of the song, then a rebuilding of it, with only the necessary elements, delivered with passion, unleashed in an exciting way. He also covered The Beatles’ “Oh! Darling,” as well as The Doors’ “Love Me Two Times” and Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” He concluded his set with a cover of the Misfits’ “Where Eagles Dare,” getting some help on vocals from a guy sporting a Misfits T-shirt. Princess Frank joked a few times during his set that every Sunday he is there to harass people, so show up next week for the best harassment you’ll ever experience.

Here are a few photos from the show:

Sunset Junction Band performing "Come Unto Me"
"Forgive Me"
"Forgive Me"
"Don't Be Scared"
Princess Frank
Princess Frank
Princess Frank performing "Where Eagles Dare"

The Thirsty Crow is located at 2939 Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, California.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Freedy Johnston and Amilia K. Spicer at The Federal Bar, 7-28-19 Concert Review

Freedy Johnston
Today was a day of music, just exactly what I needed after a 70-hour work week and watching too many news programs (I keep telling myself to take a break from the horror show in our nation’s capital, but it is just impossible). I started the day at The Federal Bar, where Freedy Johnston and Amilia K. Spicer played as part of the ongoing Mimosa Music Series. It was a nice, mellow crowd. And after quickly drinking two mimosas, I was feeling rather mellow myself. This was my first time seeing Freedy Johnston, at least as far as I can recall (my memory is not as sharp as I would like it to be). He has a couple of new singles out – “20 Radios” and “Tryin’ To Move On.” Will a new album soon follow? I hope so.

Amilia K. Spicer was up first, and at 11:29 p.m., concert series host Gary Calamar came out to introduce her. “Welcome to Once Upon A Time In North Hollywood,” he joked, referring to the new Quentin Tarantino film (which I still need to see). Then, as she plugged in her acoustic guitar, Amilia told the crowd, “First time I’ve had a soundcheck at 9 o’ clock.” She kicked off her set with “Train Wreck,” which had a sweet, pleasant sound. I was especially digging the mandolin. The band backing her included electric guitar, electric bass, mandolin (sometimes violin), drums and backing vocals. Check out these lyrics: “Our love is like a train wreck, a train wreck/I saw it coming/Heard a big noise, and I started running/Now I’m looking back/It’s sliding off the track/Nothing left to see here/Nothing left to see/Of you and me.” “Shotgun” was kind of an intriguing tune, beginning with some moody atmospheric stuff on mandolin and electric guitar. “Shotgun, I’m riding shotgun/Because everybody’s got one/Around here.” One of my favorites from her set was a new song that I’m guessing is called “Radio,” this one featuring violin. Afterward she told the audience, “I usually talk a lot more, but not today, apparently.” She added, jokingly, “These have all been dance numbers.” The next song, however, did get some people dancing. It was a cool, jazzy number with the mandolin being a prominent element. But the most beautiful songs of her set came when she put down her guitar and switched to keyboard. I was particularly moved by “Down To The Bone.” Her set concluded at 12:16 p.m.

It was only eleven minutes before Gary Calamar was back on stage to introduce Freedy Johnston, mentioning his 1994 album This Perfect World, which is now available on vinyl. Gary quipped that the world isn’t perfect, but at least that song is. And that’s it, really, isn’t it? The world is a mess, with a racist authoritarian twit occupying the White House, and his followers eager to destroy everything that is good about this country. But for the length of a song, the world can be perfect. The world created by that song, that is. That’s why I just can’t get my fill of music these days. Anyway, when Freedy Johnston took the stage, he told the audience, “We’re probably going to be too loud for you here.” He then kicked off his set with “Don’t Fall In Love With A Lonely Girl,” a rockin’ tune from Rain On The City, just what I needed. After that song, Freedy joked that they were going to have a child ventriloquist come out, referring to a short microphone stand in the center of the stage, which he then moved to the side. As I mentioned, Freedy Johnston has a couple of new singles out, and he followed “Don’t Fall In Love With A Lonely Girl” with one of them, “Tryin’ To Move On.” It’s a fun rock number, and his drummer and bass player provided backing vocals, leading Freedy to say afterward, “Those boys can really sing, can’t they?

To celebrate the vinyl release of This Perfect World, he played a few songs from that album, including “Evie’s Tears” and the title track. Those were followed by Freedy’s other new song, “20 Radios.” He brought up the fact that the beat to that song has been used quite a bit, and that he is well aware of it. He also did a cover of Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” breaking for a moment when his voice – as he said – suddenly sounded like Grover. He added that he hoped someone got it on video. Did someone? I don’t know. Following that song, he thanked the audience and jokingly asked to be considered for their next corporate event. He then wrapped up the set with “Bad Reputation,” also from This Perfect World. Except that his set was not over then. He was about to leave when he remembered that he’d planned to do a song with Amilia K. Spicer. And so he invited her up, telling the crowd this song would be the encore. What they did together was a really sweet rendition of “Hickory Wind.” The show ended at 1:16 p.m.

Freedy Johnston Set List
  1. Don’t Fall In Love With A Lonely Girl
  2. Tryin’ To Move On
  3. The Lucky One
  4. Evie’s Tears
  5. This Perfect World
  6. 20 Radios
  7. Neon Repairman
  8. Wichita Lineman
  9. Bad Reputation
  10. Hickory Wind
Here are a few photos from the show:

Amilia K. Spicer performing "Train Wreck"
"Down To The Bone"
Amilia K. Spicer
Freedy Johnston performing "The Lucky One"
"Bad Reputation"
"Hickory Wind"

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

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Blue Moon Marquee: “Bare Knuckles & Brawn” (2019) CD Review

Every day, the racism of a certain segment of our nation’s population becomes less and less bearable. A third of this country, whether they admit it or not, whether they recognize it or not, are fascists. People are becoming uglier and uglier as they give voice to their most twisted thoughts, as they celebrate their worst qualities. The news is depressing. So we turn to music for a little escape, for a reminder of what humanity can be. Bare Knuckles & Brawn, the new release from Blue Moon Marquee, is a total fucking delight, offering us some swinging jazz and gypsy blues numbers, all original material. Blue Moon Marquee is the Canadian duo of A.W. Cardinal on vocals and guitar, and Jasmine Colette on upright bass and vocals. Joining them on this release are Darcy Phillips on piano and organ, Jerry Cook on saxophone and clarinet, Jimmy “Hollywood” Badger on drums, and Jack Garton on trumpet.

The album gets off to an excellent start with “Big Black Mamba,” featuring a great, rough vocal delivery and some delicious work on piano. “I asked for water/She brought me gasoline.” Those touches on horn have a classic sound and style, which I appreciate. All the elements of this track work to pull me out of the current hellish reality, and into some alternate world, where problems are not insurmountable, and everyone is kind of on our side, a world I want to spend more and more of my time. It’s a very cool song. Things then start swinging with “Smoke Rings For My Rider.” Oh man, the horns have a big band flavor right from the start, which is wonderful. And I dig that cheerful, delicious bass line. Then those vocals come at you straight from the coolest movie never made, you know? And that lead on horn is perfect. This is a great number to get you dancing, and is one of my favorite tracks. “Fever Flickering Flame” has another catchy rhythm, and some wonderful stuff on keys. There is some kind of joy to this music, and it seems to be inherent to the style, even as the songs touch on some serious subjects. It is in the very pulse of the music, and if you let it pull you in, you can’t help but feel some of that joy yourself. And I just love that little moment on bass toward the end.

“Hard Times Hit Parade” comes on all sly and sexy, emerging out of the smoke of a city street at night, some place where you might meet poverty or death. Jasmine takes lead vocals on this one, and there is something almost a seductive about her vocal performance. “Play the fool/Go on, spend all your time/Cursing out the other guy/Who laughs when it falls apart.” This track features some nice work on organ. Then A.W. Cardinal offers his own enticing vocal performance on “As I Lay Dying,” the song from which comes the album’s title. “She brings me flowers, fresh and wild/She lays them down by my side/She rests her hands onto mine/And tells me that the world will be just fine.” That’s followed by “High Noon,” which kicks off with the drums, sounding like they’re leading into a wild big band number. This track has a totally groovy and cool rhythm, and is a whole lot of fun. There is a wonderful lead on guitar. Then the horn comes in like from some western frontier saloon, and spirals around, moving the air and our bodies, controlling us like a snake charmer.

“The Red Devil Himself” offers lighter, delicious fare with some wonderful jazzy stuff on guitar. Paul Pigat joins the duo on guitar on this track. I think it would be incredibly difficult to listen to this song without smiling; try it, let me know how you do. “Well, I’m going away/Everything wrong going on around here/Well, I just can’t stay.” Those of us in the habit of using our brains in the United States often find ourselves asking, “Won’t someone tell me how long will this trouble last?” Well, it seems that great guitar work on this track will help push the troubles into the past. We’ll be dancing again! Things then take a bluesy turn with “Big Smoke,” which is about the fires and floods resulting from climate change. Check out these lyrics: “Well, there ain’t nobody here to save you now/I said, lord lord lord/Lord, I’m so tired/I said, Lord, lord, lord/Lord, I’m so tired/Well, the lord told me/Yeah, well so am I.” Oh yes, we’re all exhausted at this point. Sometimes it feels that optimism has died under the crushing weight of our current problems, but music continues to give me hope.

Jasmine sings lead on “52nd Street Strut,” and I’m not sure which is cooler, her voice or those horns. They work together to create another of this disc’s highlights. This tune has a ridiculously cool vibe, and it just gets better as it goes. “Hold my fur coat/While I beat ‘em both/New Orleans jazz/Backing drum track.” That instrumental section will make you a cooler person just from listening to it. You’ll know what I mean when you hear it. Oh, those horns! That’s followed by “Wayward,” another groovy number that takes you for a ride in its backseat. “Don’t you try and stop me/Don’t you fuss or fight.” Ah, I wouldn’t think of it! The disc then concludes with “Lost & Wild,” a late-night tune with some classic vibes and more enjoyable work on piano. “Lord knows I’ve got no answers/Not once have I heard reply/All I know for certain/There’s an angel in your eyes.”

CD Track List
  1. Big Black Mamba
  2. Smoke Rings For My Rider
  3. Fever Flickering Flame
  4. Hard Times Hit Parade
  5. As I Lay Dying
  6. High Noon
  7. The Red Devil Himself
  8. Big Smoke
  9. 52nd Street Strut
  10. Wayward
  11. Lost & Wild 
Bare Knuckles & Brawn was released on July 19, 2019 here in the United States (and on June 28 in Canada, because Canada is just a better place).