Sunday, March 24, 2019

Scott Ramminger: “Rise Up” (2019) CD Review

Scott Ramminger is a singer, a songwriter and a tenor sax player, and on his new release, Rise Up, he delivers some delicious bluesy, jazzy, funky original tunes. All the tracks on the album were written by Scott Ramminger, who also produced the album. Joining him on this disc are Wes Lanich on keys, Shane Theriot on guitar, Paul Langosch on bass, and Emre Kartari on drums.

The album opens with “Thinking About You,” an enjoyable song with a good rhythm and a playful attitude. And its main line, “I spend a lot of time just thinking about you,” is just about exactly how it is with me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Scott also gives us some wonderful work on tenor saxophone. That’s followed by “88 Reasons,” which has a fun, classic rhythm and vibe, and features some truly nice stuff on keys. There is nothing too serious here, this music basically being a good time. “She gave me 88 reasons for telling me goodbye/Every time I think about it, it makes me want to cry.” The line that makes me smile every time I listen to this album is “She wrote them all down so I would not have to guess.” How thoughtful! The tune has a nice little jam in the middle, which I dig.

“Lemonade Blues” begins with some cool, sexy work on saxophone, accompanied by delicious touches on keys. And then, well, there is an important command: “Think about citrus.” Sure, that would be a strange thing to ask someone to do at the beginning of a song, except that this song is about lemonade. It has that old line about what to do if life gives you lemons, but then twists it a bit, combining it with that bluesy complaint of lack of sugar: “I got no sugar in my cupboard, so the stuff don’t taste that great.” This track utilizes that reliable blues rhythm, and features more great stuff on keys. That’s followed by the album’s title track, “Rise Up,” which has a good, funky rhythm. It’s fun, no question, but this song tackles some serious current subjects, such as gun violence, bigotry and poverty, its first line being, “Another school shooting and it barely makes the news.” And check out these lines: “Prejudice and bigotry are gaining every day/Too many folks just shrug it off and look the other way/We’ve got to stop this madness before it’s too late/Nothing will get better if we sit around and wait/Come on, people, enough is enough.” Amen.  Then this track becomes a cool jam. This is one of my favorite tracks. Without calling out that whiny baby in the White House by name, the song makes it clear to whom it refers in lines like “Tyranny is on the rise” and “We’ve gotten used to hearing lies from the leaders of our land/Integrity gets laughed at/It’s time to take a stand.” I’m not sure if this song is recommending actual revolution or not, but it’s something I’ve been thinking might turn out to be necessary. It’s kind of a frightening prospect, but someone has to bring a halt to this horrid wave of fascism and stupidity. Interestingly, Scott Ramminger follows that with a cute, harmless love song, “Daisy.” Yes, a switching of gears. “She’s been to hell, but she’s back again/Daisy, you’re driving me crazy.”

“The Feeling When I’m Falling” is another delightful and playful tune, with a cheerful vibe. I love these lines: “I know it’s just a matter of time before it all heads south/But I’m going to enjoy the ride until she figures me out.” I also dig the saxophone, and the way it works with the organ. It is an enjoyable song, and is followed by yet another of the album’s highlights, “Ice Cream.” This one is a joy, and has a classic, jazzy sound and vibe, with some good stuff on both bass and guitar, and featuring a cool vocal performance. “It’s hard to stay steamed, it’s hard to be blue/With a cone in your hand purchased just for you.” Could that be the answer? Could it be as simple as getting ice cream cones for everyone, including the fascist bastards? Sure, this song’s scope is smaller, but why couldn’t this idea be just as effective on a larger scale? “All Done” follows it so well, in part because of the great bass right at the start, but also because of the presence of the word “ice cream” in its first line, “I ain’t going to think about the ice cream, I ain’t gonna think about the cake.” This one has a cool sound. I especially love that sax. “Wishing and hoping ain’t got me nowhere.”

CD Track List
  1. Thinking About You
  2. 88 Reasons
  3. Lemonade Blues
  4. Rise Up
  5. Daisy
  6. The Feeling When I’m Falling
  7. Ice Cream
  8. All Done
Rise Up was released on March 4, 2019.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Chris Jones & The Night Drivers: “The Choosing Road” (2019) CD Review

Chris Jones & The Night Drivers are an excellent bluegrass band, delivering some warm and meaningful songs. Their new release, The Choosing Road, features mostly original material, most of that written or co-written by guitarist and lead vocalist Chris Jones. Beside Chris Jones, the band is composed of Mark Stoffel on mandolin and backing vocals, Gina Furtado on banjo and backing vocals, and Jon Weisberger on bass. Joining them on this release are Tony Creasman on drums, David Johnson on fiddle and pedal steel, Liz Carroll on fiddle, Megan Lynch Chowning on fiddle, and Tim Surrett on dobro.

I’m happy that bluegrass seems to be gaining popularity again, because this music raises my spirits, makes me feel that the world is a decent place, despite all evidence to the contrary. These instruments have a cheerful sound, and this album’s opening track, “Your Remarkable Return,” has an optimistic bent that I appreciate. “I’ll admit I dreamed about you/But I swore I wouldn’t dwell on things that couldn’t be/I thought time was a healer/And I believed that I was free.” “Your Remarkable Return” was written by Chris Jones and Jon Weisberger. It’s followed by “Letters To Brendan,” which has a more serious tone and subject, a tale told from the perspective of a young soldier, and features some nice harmonies. “I miss you more than you’d ever know/Not a sign this war is ending soon/I didn’t know Virginia nights could be so cold/More often now my thoughts have turned to home.” This one was written by Chris Jones, Thomm Jutz and Jon Weisberger.

“Looking For The Bridge” is an emotionally engaging song that moves at a good pace, and features some great playing. “And I’m finally giving in and admitting to the truth/Instead of just pretending that I’m not losing you.” Still, there is optimism here; I think that is inherent in these instruments. “And if I stare off in the distance, seeming kind of lost/Just know that I’m looking for the bridge.” Chris Jones begins “I Can’t Change The Rhyme” with some cool stuff on guitar. I dig his vocal performance here, particularly those moments when he dips low. The more I listen to this album, the more I enjoy this track in particular. The band really shines in that wonderful instrumental section at the end, a very cool little jam that hints at what this band must be like in concert.

The album’s only cover is Steve Winwood’s “Back In The High Life Again.” It’s an interesting and unexpected choice, though the original does include mandolin. David Johnson plays fiddle on this track. This rendition is giving me a fresh appreciation of this song. That’s followed by “Nyhan’s Regret.” My body and spirit have always responded to Irish music (for what are probably obvious reasons), and this wonderful instrumental tune lives and thrives in that common ground between bluegrass and Irish folk music. I absolutely love this track, which was composed by Mark Stoffel and Gina Furtado, and features Liz Carroll on fiddle. Then Megan Lynch Chowning joins the band on fiddle for “I’ll Watch Her Sail,” a song with more good harmonies. “And she’ll sail on an easterly wind/The same wind that blew her to me/And I know I can’t stand in her way/So I’ll just watch her sail out to sea.”

“Bend In The Road” is a cheerful-sounding tune to raise our spirits, its opening line reminding us “Sometimes a journey takes a little patience.” There is optimism, there is strength, there is a brighter tomorrow. We all need this now. That’s followed by “I Shouldn’t Even Be Here,” another tune that really works for me, perhaps because of these lines: “The board is clear, let’s start a brand new game/So pop the cork, make a toast/Drink in every drop of this new day/Everything from here on out/Is just another gift that came my way/I shouldn’t even be here.” Perhaps we can adopt that attitude without having to nearly lose everything. I try to refrain from taking things for granted, and am grateful for music like this that helps us through these dark times. There is a whole lot of good in this world, but we need to remind ourselves of that, for sometimes it’s not as apparent as it could be. You know?

“Who You Want Me To Be” has a kind of pretty, sweet vibe right from the start. And there is a humor to this one, its first line being “Somewhere in some other life I mastered almost everything I’ve tried.” I love the honesty of this song, and I love the work on banjo. “I can’t be who you want me to be/I can’t be who you want me to be.” This one was written by Gina Furtado and Chris Jones. Then “Own The Blues” has a kind of laid-back country vibe, with more nice harmonies. This is another of my personal favorites, in part because David Johnson adds some wonderful stuff on pedal steel on this track. And check out these lines: “I know too well those days are gone/In good time, I’ll move along/For now please just allow this dream to last.”  The disc concludes with “Glimpse Of The Kingdom,” which features Tim Surrett on dobro. “When I see someone reaching out to help a stranger/I get a glimpse of the kingdom.”

CD Track List
  1. Your Remarkable Return
  2. Letters To Brendan
  3. Looking For The Bridge
  4. I Can’t Change The Rhyme
  5. Back In The High Life Again
  6. Nyhan’s Regret
  7. I’ll Watch Her Sail
  8. Bend In The Road
  9. I Shouldn’t Even Be Here
  10. Who You Want Me To Be
  11. Own The Blues
  12. Glimpse Of The Kingdom
The Choosing Road is scheduled to be released on March 29, 2019 through Mountain Home Music Company.

Colin Linden & Luther Dickinson: “Amour” (2019) CD Review

Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson are two talented guitarists with impressive credits, and they’ve now teamed up for Amour, an excellent and totally enjoyable album of covers that focus on romance and love (as its title suggests). The band backing them, called The Tennessee Valentines, is made up of Dominic Davis on bass, Bryan Owings on drums, Fats Kaplin on violin and accordion, and Kevin McKendree on piano and organ. Plus, this album features several special guests, including vocalists Rachael Davis and Ruby Amanfu. This isn’t the first time Luther Dickinson has been involved in a project covering some classic material. Just a couple of years ago he was part of that wonderful tribute to Sun Records, Red Hot. In addition to guitar, Colin Linden plays electric dobro on this release, and produced the album. It’s clear that these guys took a lot of pleasure in this project, and I’m guessing I will be far from alone in taking great pleasure in listening to it.

The album opens with an interesting bluesy instrumental rendition of “Careless Love.” It begins with a sort of haunting atmosphere, creeping up on you like daylight in the desert, and halfway through develops into a strange and strangely pleasant back porch sound. Seriously, by the end it will probably make you happy, something you might not have expected when it began. That’s followed by a cool rendition of Jesse Stone’s “Don’t Let Go.” I first heard this song at a Jerry Garcia Band concert in 1989, and immediately loved it. The rendition these guys deliver has the right amount of rock, the right dose of blues, a great measure of soul, and a lot of pep. It’s fun and loose, turning into a good jam that has at least a couple of people laughing by the end. Rachael Davis and Ruby Amanfu provide vocals on this track.

Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson give us an absolutely wonderful rendition of Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do,” its appeal due in large part to Rachael Davis’ vocals, which have a timeless quality and rise beautifully over that steady blues rhythm. “Don’t you know that I love you/Honest I do/Oh, I’ve never placed no one above you/Please tell me you love me/Stop driving me mad.” And damn whoever it was that made her feel “so bad.” The album then returns to “Careless Love,” which is an unusual and interesting choice. This time it has a sweet and easy folk vibe right from the start, and features a gorgeous and moving vocal performance by Rachael Davis. This track is a total gem, with some wonderful stuff on both guitar and violin.

Then Sam Palladio joins them on vocals for a bluesy rendition of “Crazy Arms,” which retains a certain country charm and sweetness in this raw and delicious treatment. At the end, it seems to be going into another song, but then fades out. That’s followed by “For The Good Times,” a song written by Kris Kristofferson. This version establishes a beat before the guitars and bass come in. Then when Ruby Amanfu’s vocals come in, they have a powerful intimacy. She pulls us in as if without effort. “Let’s just be glad we had this time to spend together.” Indeed. Oh, she can melt your defenses, and move even the most soulless of men. This track is another of the disc’s highlights. Both “Crazy Arms” and “For The Good Times” were number one hits for Pay Price.

Things get hopping with a delightful rendition of “Lover Please,” a song that was a hit for Clyde McPhatter in 1962. It was written by Billy Swan, who joins Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson on vocals for this version. What a treat, and reason enough to add this CD to your collection! Rachael Davis provides backing vocals. Then Ruby Amanfu delivers another intimate and passionate vocal performance on “What Am I Living For,” a song written by Art Harris and Fred Jay, and originally recorded by Chuck Willis. This rendition has that classic sound, and features some absolutely wonderful stuff on guitar. That’s followed by a version of Bo Diddley’s “Dearest Darling” that has a great raw vibe, almost like a rehearsal or improvised number. I like music that feels immediate, real. Colin Linden provides vocals on this one. The album concludes with an interesting rendition of “I Forgot To Remember To Forget,” which was written by Stan Kesler and Charlie Feathers and recorded by Elvis Presley. This rendition has a strange, dreamlike quality, which perhaps works well with the idea of forgetting to remember to forget. It’s like a lullaby being sung to one’s self in a science fiction realm, perhaps just before machines put you to sleep permanently, a final and lasting memory. Jonathan Jackson provides the vocals on this one.

CD Track List
  1. Careless Love
  2. Don’t Let Go
  3. Honest I Do
  4. Careless Love
  5. Crazy Arms
  6. For The Good Times
  7. Lover Please
  8. What Am I Living For
  9. Dearest Darling
  10. I Forgot To Remember To Forget
Amour was released on February 8, 2019.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Cleverlys: “Blue” (2019) CD Review

Like the Ramones, the members of The Cleverlys have all taken the name of the band as their last name; and so we have Digger Cleverly on acoustic guitar and vocals; Ricky Lloyd Cleverly on upright bass, kick drum, vocoder and vocals; Sock Cleverly on fiddle and vocals; DVD Cleverly on banjo and vocals; and Cub Cleverly on mandolin and vocals (okay, I’m beginning to think their first names might be invented as well). Supposedly they’re based in Arkansas, but who knows? I mean, with these fake names, can we trust any of their biographical information? But none of that matters, for the music is totally enjoyable. It is bluegrass with a sense of humor, as the band delivers bluegrass versions of pop and rock tunes. Yeah, the songs are covers, but some of the material is new to me, as I haven’t heard the originals. So I could take those tracks sort of at face value. You know? Like the first track, for example.

The album opens with “Baby,” a song originally done by Justin Bieber. I have to admit, the first time I listened to this disc, I had no idea that this was a cover. While I had heard of Justin Bieber, I’d never actually listened to him (and no one has given me a convincing reason to change that). My guess is that his version couldn’t possibly be as cool and surprising as this bluegrass rendition by The Cleverlys. When all their voices join in, the song is lifted to a wonderful place, and then that “baby, baby, baby” part is sweet, almost gorgeous. Seriously. That’s followed by another song I hadn’t heard before, “Milkshake,” which was originally done by someone named Kelis Rogers. While writing this review, I attempted to get through the original version, but could stand only thirty or forty seconds of it. However, I am totally digging The Cleverlys’ take on it. They deliver a playful rendition, featuring some nice work on fiddle. I haven’t had a good milkshake in a while, and I am developing a craving.

I love the fun vocal play in their version of “Blue (Da Ba Dee),” the disc’s title track (and a song I feel I might have heard once before, as the chorus feels familiar). There is something delightfully silly about this, and it is certainly raising my spirits. I appreciate the joy and humor behind this cover, and behind this entire project. Plus, this song features some nice stuff on mandolin. “I have a girlfriend and she is so blue.” That’s followed by “She’s Not There,” the first song on this album that I actually already knew and loved. This was always one of my favorite Zombies songs, and these guys do a wonderful rendition of it. Then they give us a cover of “Wait A Minute,” a song by bluegrass band The Seldom Scene. Yeah, it’s the first song on the album that was originally bluegrass, though the disc’s liner notes strangely credit the song to the people who wrote that awful Pussycat Dolls song, also titled “Wait A Minute.” Anyway, there is something undeniably beautiful about this rendition, a slow country bluegrass song, particularly the work on fiddle.

“Party Rock Anthem” is another song I wasn’t at all familiar with. I’m guessing I would hate the original (it is by a group called LMFAO, a name I completely despise), but here it is kind of goofy and enjoyable, with a nod to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” That’s followed by Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable.” Yeah, it’s silly, and I can’t help but laugh as this song begins, but the thing is, these guys can play, these guys can sing. Now I wonder if they can write too. I’d love to hear some original material on their next release. Anyway, they follow “Irreplaceable” with a good rendition of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up,” a song I liked from the moment I first heard its original version back in college. That’s followed by another song that I love. The Proclaimers’ Sunshine On Leith is still one of my absolute favorite albums. The most famous (but not the best) track on it is “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” in part because of its use in Benny & Joon. Here The Cleverlys deliver a fun rendition. Sure, it takes me a moment to get used to the lack of that drum beat, but this version totally works and features some great stuff on fiddle.

Things then get really weird. They cover “Oh Death,” a traditional song most famously done by Ralph Stanley. But whereas the band gives us bluegrass renditions of pop songs, here they give us a strange pop rendition of a folk song. They stand the tune on its head, and give us some kind of electronic pop version, giving us a sound completely unlike everything else on the album. These guys clearly like surprising us. The disc then concludes with “The End Of The Record,” which is not a song at all. It is just the guys fucking around, imitating characters from various movies and television shows. It is totally pointless, and something I would have cut. I recommend taking the disc out before this track.

CD Track List
  1. Baby
  2. Milkshake
  3. Girl In The Sky
  4. Blue (Da Ba Dee)
  5. She’s Not There
  6. Wait A Minute
  7. Party Rock Anthem
  8. Irreplaceable
  9. What’s Up?
  10. I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)
  11. Oh Death
  12. The End Of The Record
Blue is scheduled to be released on March 22, 2019 through Mountain Home Music Company.

Mitch Woods: “A Tip Of The Hat To Fats” (2019) CD Review

If you love music, then you undoubtedly love Fats Domino. There’s just no way around it. The man possessed that special, magical, undefinable something, and there was a lot of joy to his music. On A Tip Of The Hat To Fats, pianist Mitch Woods celebrates The Fat Man’s music. However, the album doesn’t limit itself to Fats Domino tunes, and is a celebration of Domino’s home town, New Orleans, as well. In the disc’s liner notes, Mitch Woods talks about his love for that city. This is a live album, recorded at The New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival on April 29, 2018, six months after Fats Domino’s passing. In addition to songs done by Fats Domino, it includes original material like “Solid Gold Cadillac” and “Mojo Mambo.” The band on this album includes Amadee Castenell on tenor saxophone, Brian Cayolle on tenor saxophone, Roger Lewis on baritone saxophone, Cornell Williams on bass, John Fohl on guitar, and Terence Higgins on drums. By the way, the brief banter between songs is presented as separate tracks, so it’s possible to program your player to just play the music should you desire to do so, something I appreciate.

The album opens with “Solid Gold Cadillac,” which was the title track to a 1991 release by Mitch Woods And His Rocket 88’s. The tune is just a joy, with lots of energy and plenty of good playing, particularly on keys, as you’d expect. Hey, we could all use “a little leg room” and “a bar in the back.” You can hear the crowd getting excited. The Blues Tent must have been rocking. Things keep moving with a hopping rendition of “Down Boy Down,” a song written by Henry Glover and Fred Weismantel, and recorded by Wynonie Harris. This track features some great stuff on sax, and a playful vocal performance. Oh yes, this album should get you feeling good. Then we get “Mojo Mambo,” an original tune dedicated to Professor Longhair.  If you want to have a ball, you gotta go to New Orleans.” Yeah, it certainly does feel like a Mardi Gras celebration. Mitch Woods plays to the crowd a bit, calling out “Are you with me, New Orleans, Louisiana?” And clearly everyone was with him, as the music is a whole lot of fun. Both “Down Boy Down” and “Mojo Mambo” were included on the 1984 Mitch Woods And His Rocket 88’s release Steady Date. ‘Mojo Mambo” is followed by “Crawfishin’,” a tune that swings and grooves, with some wonderful work on guitar. It’s a party, to be sure. In my mind, the sound of this song is the constant sound of New Orleans, day or night. Maybe that’s because the only time I was ever in that city was for Mardi Gras, but I just have the sense that people there basically dance their way through their lives, a smile on their faces even when they’re mourning. The way life should be, you know?

Mitch Woods then gets into the Fats Domino material, first mentioning that the festival is dedicated to Fats, who had died the previous year. He also says that Fats Domino was an inspiration to him. “So we’re gonna do a whole bunch of Fats for you, You ready for that? Because he will live on forever.” They start with a delicious, faithful rendition of “Blue Monday,” the horns sounding just exactly right. Man, I just love this song, and today in particular this song is striking a chord with me because of its lines “I’ve got to get my rest/’Cause Monday is a mess.” Tomorrow is Monday, and I have to get up at 3 a.m. for work, on a show that attempted to shoot at this same location twice before with no results. Will Monday be a mess? Oh, you can count on it. The crowd appreciates Mitch Woods’ rendition, and so do I. The party continues with “Jambalaya,” a song I always associated with Fats Domino, as Mitch Woods clearly does, but was written by Hank Williams. Mitch Woods delivers an energetic version that pops and moves, and features more great work on saxophone. Yeah, it turns into a fun jam. Mitch adds some lines at the end: “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine/Baby, I’m so glad that you are mine/Two, four, six, eight, ten/Baby, please don’t leave me again.” “Walking To New Orleans” is another song that always makes me smile. I dig its casual yet totally catchy groove, and Mitch Woods does a wonderful job with it.

Mitch Woods delivers a rockin’ rendition of “Rocket 88,” a song written by Jackie Brenston and recorded by Ike Turner & His Kings Of Rhythm. This of course is a fitting choice of covers, as Mitch Woods’ band is called The Rocket 88s. This version features plenty of fun stuff on keys. Mitch Woods keep things jumping with “The House Of Blue Lights,” which wraps up the disc. “Everybody, let’s get up and dance,” Mitch shouts out at one point. Oh yes, that there is some advice I can gladly follow.

CD Track List
  1. Solid Gold Cadillac
  2. Spoken: Welcome
  3. Down Boy Down
  4. Spoken: Gonna Have A Ball
  5. Mojo Mambo
  6. Spoken: Thank You
  7. Crawfishin’
  8. Spoken: Fats Dedication
  9. Blue Monday
  10. Spoken: Band Introductions
  11. Jambalaya
  12. Spoken: More Band Introductions
  13. Walking To New Orleans
  14. Spoken: Intro To Rock 88
  15. Rocket 88
  16. Spoken: Intro To The House Of Blue Lights
  17. The House Of Blue Lights 
A Tip Of The Hat To Fats is scheduled to be released on April 19, 2019 on Blind Pig Records.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Luca Kiella: “Figure It Out” (2019) CD Review

Luca Kiella is a pianist based in Chicago, his music a combination of blues, soul and pop. Figure It Out, a five-track EP, is his debut release, and it contains some original material as well as a couple of covers. He plays piano and organ on these tracks, and provides the vocals. Joining the pianist on this EP are Dave Forte on bass, Rick King on drums, and Aaron Weistrop on guitar.

Figure It Out opens with “Ten O’ Clock Blues,” a delicious, lively, jumping instrumental number, driven by the piano. This is a tune that will put a smile on your face and might get you dancing too. It rocks and swings and moves, a tune to drive away your blues. That’s followed by a cover of Jon Cleary’s “Unnecessarily Mercenary,” a song that was also recorded by Bonnie Raitt. This one too has a good energy. The opening lines are “Well now, you’re just into looking after number one/Only thing you worry about is having your fun.” I’m not sure what to make of my tendency to relate anything negative to the man pretending to lead our country, but looking out for number one certainly applies to that cretin (though obviously he is not what the song is about). I can’t wait until that mendacious, incestuous traitor can be buried and forgotten. Anyway, my favorite part of this track is that lead on keys in the second half. Great stuff.

The EP’s title track, “Figure It Out,” has a delightfully cheerful sound, especially to the vocals. The lyrics have a bit of a nostalgic quality, to be sure, which probably has more appeal these days than ordinarily. I mean, don’t we all want to look back to a better time? Here is a taste of the lyrics: “No reason to worry/A smile on my face/Every day was happy/No trouble to chase.” The song also has a positive groove, and the instrumental section halfway through begins with a somewhat sweeter vibe that I dig, and builds from there toward a strong finish. That’s followed by the EP’s second cover, Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” a song made famous by Ray Charles and recorded by a whole lot of artists over the years. Luca Kiella delivers a groovy bluesy rendition. However, his voice sounds so positive that when he sings lines like “Those happy hours that we once knew/Though long ago, they still make me blue,” I don’t necessarily believe him. He needs a little more hurt in his voice. This track provides a chance for Aaron Weistrop to shine on guitar. There is also some fun stuff on organ. “I can’t stop loving you/I’ve made up my mind/To live in a memory of the lonesome times.”

The EP concludes with “So Many Questions.” This one has a different feel right from the start, in its more thoughtful, introspective sound. And that’s even before the vocals come in. Luca Kiella also gives us something different vocally in large sections of it, imbuing the song with a good deal of soul. “I crossed the ocean/Went far from where I’m from/Left my home, my love and my best friend.” It’s a blues song with something of a pop vibe, and it has personal truth and relevance, as Kiella moved from Italy to the United States. The band does not back him on this track; it is just vocals and piano, and is quite effective. “Things don’t change/I just don’t understand/Why this sadness just won’t go away.”

CD Track List
  1. Ten O’ Clock Blues
  2. Unnecessarily Mercenary
  3. Figure It Out
  4. I Can’t Stop Loving You
  5. So Many Questions 
Figure It Out is scheduled to be released on April 10, 2019.

Kenny Carr: “Departure” (2018) CD Review

Kenny Carr is a talented guitarist based in New York. You might know him from his work with Ray Charles (you can hear his playing on Just Between Us and see him on the DVD Live At Montreux 1997). Since Ray Charles’ death, Kenny Carr has been enjoying a solo career, featuring his own compositions. His most recent album, Departure, contains all original material, with Carr playing both guitar and guitar synthesizers. Joining the guitarist on this release are Donny McCaslin on saxophone, Hans Glawischnig on bass, and Kenny Wollesen on drums.

The CD opens with “Intervals,” creating this delicious alternate reality, where the entire world is a cool, exciting city, pulsing with music and desire and joy, with the saxophone flying around above us, and the bass inviting us to some specific magnetic establishment, where the guitar can then intoxicate us, so we reach that point where everyone else already seems to be, all the while the drums keeping us moving. What a wonderful track to get things going. It’s followed by “Time Change,” which has a slightly darker, more serious tone at the start. But there is still movement here, the world sliding beneath us, as the sax seems to tell us to climb above so that we can better see what’s happening on the ground. This is exciting music, keeping us on our toes, unsure what is around the corner; the pulse quickens, with the tune’s rhythm, and soon we are all situated on some new plateau, almost without being aware of the entire climb. And, hey, things are good up here.

“Tell Me I Can’t” begins with a strong, funky bass line that I love. It holds everything together, and keeps us propelling forward into some delightful realm. While the bass grooves, the guitar then dances above it. This is one to get your entire body moving. It is fun, with some wonderful stuff on saxophone. Toward the end, the guitar seems to rise like giant flowers bursting through concrete, changing the landscape. Things then mellow out a bit for “Warmth,” which has a more romantic bent at the beginning. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t going to be some interesting and exciting work on guitar. Plus, this track features a cool lead on bass. Yeah, the track may begin in a mellower place, but it certainly does not remain tame or restrained. As it approaches its climax, it gets wild, especially the saxophone. That’s followed by “D&P,” which has a delicious groove featuring more wonderful work on bass and some great stuff on drums. The saxophone seems to sing joyously above that great beat, moving and breathing, like some large, wondrous electric animal weaving its way among skyscrapers and dodging meteorites.

“Departure,” the album’s title track, is a mellower tune with something of a romantic feel. The guitar has a dreamlike quality at times, making you wish it could just carry you away into the night. When “Bear Call” begins, it has almost a progressive rock sound, in that brief moment before the sax comes in. The sax then takes it to a different level. I really dig the drums on this track. This one at times brings to mind a busy street, with the hustle and activity and energy. The disc then concludes with “Parallels,” which has kind of a light vibe at the start. It becomes a good jam, with plenty of nice stuff on guitar and a cool bass lead a little more than halfway through.

CD Track List
  1. Intervals
  2. Time Change
  3. Tell Me I Can’t
  4. Warmth
  5. D&P
  6. Evolutions
  7. Departure
  8. Waiting
  9. Bear Call
  10. Parallels
Departure was released on November 1, 2018.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Chocolate Watchband: “This Is My Voice” (2019) CD Review

Before I even removed the plastic wrap from the CD case, I was appreciating This Is My Voice, the new release from Chocolate Watchband. And that’s because of its cover, which includes that insane quote from monster Rudy Giuliani, “Truth is not truth!” (actually, he said, “Truth isn’t truth!”). That single line really sums up the entire Trump administration, doesn’t it? And right next to that line is a photo of a woman holding a sign that says “Me Too.” The CD cover’s artwork addresses several other important issues, including authoritarianism and climate change. And the music, though it often has something of a classic psychedelic vibe, also addresses this strange and disturbing reality we all find ourselves struggling against these days. The album features mostly original material, along with a few excellent choices of covers. It’s something of a feat that this band is still composing and recording worthy and relevant material. This is an album I’m going to be listening to a lot.

The album opens with “Secret Rendezvous,” which comes on strong, a solid rock song written by David Aguilar. The band, by the way, is David Aguilar on vocals, harmonica, synths, and guitar; Tim Abbott on vocals, guitar, synths, sitar and harmonica; Gary Andrijasevich on drums, percussion and vocals; Alec Palao on bass and acoustic guitar; and Derek See on guitar and vocals. “Secret Rendezvous” is kind of a fun rock tune. “See me when I’m back in town/See me when you’re done with that clown.” Things then get more interesting with “Judgement Day,” also written by David Aguilar. This is a raw, bluesy, mean tune with some cool, atmospheric work on harmonica. The vocals have a wonderfully angry and worn sound, singing about how things these days aren’t going well. “I need a miracle here today/I feel like I’m going to be swept away.” Ah, yes. Halfway through, the tune kicks things up a notch, becoming more powerful. Check out these lines: “Something in America just ain’t right/I feel like I got to punch someone tonight.” I know the feeling, and I hope I never run into anyone wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap, because those Nazis all deserve a severe beating, and I’m not sure I could hold back. And, man, I am so tired of being so angry. This song itself delivers a great pounding, a raw, thumping rhythm. It is a fantastic track.

“This Is My Voice,” the disc’s title track, has something of a classic psychedelic sound, mixed with a bit of a 1980s new wave vibe, but with lyrics that address our current ugly reality, with lines like “It’s easier to lie today/Facts don’t get in the way” and “It’s easier to hate today/Be invisible and troll away.” And yet there is optimism to this track, a positive bent that I really appreciate. This one was written by David Aguilar and Tim Abbott. It ends with percussion. We then get the album’s first cover, a cool rendition of Frank Zappa’s “Trouble Every Day” (here listed as “Trouble Everyday”), a song from the first Mothers Of Invention LP, Freak Out!  This song is certainly still pertinent, its opening lines being “Well, I'm about to get sick/From watchin' my TV/Checking out the news/Until my eyeballs fail to see.” Seriously, if you didn’t know, you’d think this was a new song. Well, some of the lyrics have been updated a bit. Check out the telling changes to the original lyrics in these lines: “And all the mass stupidity/That seems to grow more every day/Every time Fox News brays/Because the color of your skin/Don't appeal to them.” Daryl Hooper joins the band on keys, and Alby Cozzette plays electric guitar on this song.

“Take A Ride” has a Bo Diddley beat, which always works for me. Of course, I could do without the sound effect of the engine at the beginning, but no matter, as it’s a fun track. That’s followed by the album’s second cover, “Talk Talk,” a song by The Music Machine, and one I don’t recall hearing very many artists cover (other than Alice Cooper, anyway). I used to listen to the original rendition on one of those Baby Boomer Classics 1960s compilation cassettes. Chocolate Watchband does a good job with it, and I particularly like that brief instrumental section toward the end, with its delicious psychedelic edge. Then “Bed” is one I think a lot of folks are going to relate to, its first lines being “I’ve gotta get out of this bed/I’ve gotta get out of this bed/I’ve gotta get out of this bed/But I can’t do it, I can’t do it.” It’s difficult these days, isn’t it? It’s like we’re exhausted before we even begin. Another line that stands out each time I listen to this song is “My breath smells like I’m dead.” There is something catchy about this tune, and something kind of playful, though the snoring sounds at the end are unnecessary.

“Bombay Pipeline” is a cool, psychedelic instrumental tune (its title being a nod to that famous rock instrumental by The Chantays). This one was written by Tim Abbott. That’s followed a nice rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” a song I saw the Grateful Dead perform several times, and then a groovy cover of The Seeds’ “Can’t Seem To Make You Mine.” The album concludes with “‘Til The Daylight Comes” (which is erroneously printed as “Til’ The Daylight Comes” on the CD case).  This track opens with a bit of that frightening “Make America Great Again” song from one of Donald Trump’s twisted ego-driven celebrations of himself. Do you remember this? It was performed by a full choir at the official Independence Day celebration in 2017, honoring Trump rather than the nation or any of its ideals. My brain had done me the favor of temporarily forgetting I’d ever heard it, for it’s not only a terrible song, but a terrifying one. There is then a sound snippet from Trump, reminding people that what they are seeing and reading is not what’s really happening. Oh hell, if only that were true! Anyway, this is a seriously good song. There is something incredibly appealing about it, in large part because it is hopeful, which is a wonderful way to conclude the album. The daylight can’t get here soon enough.

CD Track List
  1. Secret Rendezvous
  2. Judgement Day
  3. This Is My Voice
  4. Trouble Everyday
  5. Take A Ride
  6. Talk Talk
  7. Bed
  8. Bombay Pipeline
  9. Desolation Row
  10. Can’t Seem To Make You Mine
  11. ‘Til The Daylight Comes 
The release date for This Is My Voice is different depending on the source you turn to. The press release I received lists the date as February 22, 2019. Bandcamp has the date as February 28th. Amazon claims it will be released on CD on April 26, 2019. And Discogs says it was released in 2018. At any rate, this album is or will be available on both CD and vinyl, and it follows the band’s 2015 release, I’m Not Like Everybody Else

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Lyn Stanley: “London Calling: A Toast To Julie London” (2019) CD Review

I was turned onto Lyn Stanley’s talent a few years ago when she released Interludes, her voice and style immediately impressing and delighting me. Then in 2017 she put out a couple of albums of standards and beloved tunes, The Moonlight Sessions Volume One and The Moonlight Sessions Volume Two. For her new album, she has chosen to explore the work of another singer, Julie London. London Calling: A Toast To Julie London features material that was recorded by Julie London, songs London recorded the first versions of, plus songs she covered. As I’ve come to expect from Lyn Stanley, this is a wonderful album. This music provides a welcome respite from the current horrors and tensions permeating our country.

The disc opens with a fun, playful, and sweet rendition of “Goody Goody,” just the sort of track to momentarily push away our cares. Julie London included this song on her 1958 LP Julie Is Her Name Volume Two. By then, several other artists had already released versions, including Frankie Lymon. I love how Lyn Stanley approaches this song, and the track features some nice work on bass and piano. It’s followed by “Call Me Irresponsible,” song that London included on The End Of The World. Lyn Stanley’s version interestingly opens with some cool, lively percussion, signaling this rendition is certainly not going to drag. By her delivery of lines like “Call me unpredictable/Tell me I’m impractical,” it is clear she takes some relish in being so, which is great. More wonderful work on piano also stands out on this track. Then we get an excellent take on “Bye Bye Blackbird.” I love the way this one is presented, with Lyn’s voice supported just by Chuck Berghofer’s wonderful work on bass. There is even a bass solo. But it is Lyn’s vocal performance that makes this track something seriously special. She gives some absolutely delightful and surprising readings of certain lines, such as “Singing low” and “So is he.” And just before the end, Berghofer delivers a little nod to “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” (he played bass on the original Nancy Sinatra track).

Lyn Stanley gives us an unusual take on “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” a song that has been recorded by many artists over the years, including Gladys Knight & The Pips, Marvin Gaye, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, but not by Julie London (Lyn indicates this by referring to it as a bonus track on the CD’s track list). I’ve never heard a version like this one before, with some prominent percussion and nice touches on piano, and an interesting vocal delivery. That’s followed by “Cry Me A River.”  The first version of “Cry Me A River” that I ever heard was that by Joe Cocker, and so I’ve compared all other renditions to that one, something I shouldn’t do, since there are no versions like that one by Cocker. The first version of this song that was released was that by Julie London. It was included on her debut LP, Julie Is Her Name, released in 1955. This version by Lyn Stanley has a rather sultry vocal delivery, backed by some good work on guitar, an approach similar to that taken by Julie London. Lyn Stanley then delivers one of the most popular songs of all time, “As Time Goes By.” While my favorite film is Harold And Maude, probably the best film ever made is Casablanca, which features this song. Julie London included “As Time Goes By” on her 1965 album Our Fair Lady. This new version by Lyn Stanley features some excellent work on guitar.

I’ve said it many times, you can never go wrong with Gershwin. Lyn Stanley proves that again here, with a phenomenal and completely engaging rendition of “Summertime,” which is cool right from its start. Lyn gives us an absolutely wonderful vocal performance. And check out that fantastic and expressive work on guitar. Plus, this track features some cool work on bass and piano. This is one of my personal favorites from this release. And guess what? We are treated to a second version of this song at the end of the album. That second version finds Lyn’s vocals supported by just Mike Garson on piano. Though quite different, this too is engaging, almost haunting.

I think it was Sha Na Na that turned me onto “Blue Moon.” And before you think to chastise me for that, keep in mind I was like five or six years old. Julie London included the song on her Julie Is Her Name Volume Two album. As you would expect, Lyn Stanley’s rendition is much closer to that by Julie London than to the version by Sha Na Na. This is a wonderful, beautiful rendition, featuring more good work on guitar. Lyn also presents an unusual rendition of “Light My Fire” on this album. Yes, Julie London covered The Doors’ “Light My Fire.” She included it on her Yummy, Yummy, Yummy album. Lyn Stanley gives the song an interesting spin, with that Latin flavor and rhythm. That’s followed by a gorgeous rendition of “Sway,” a song that Julie London included on Latin In A Satin Mood. Lyn gives us a slow, sexy and moving rendition. When she sings “Hold me close,” you’ll feel that this track is almost holding you. There is something so intimate about this recording, you’ll feel Lyn could suddenly brush your cheek if she so chose. What a vocal performance! Lyn then becomes more playful with “Go Slow,” which she combines with “Nice Girls Don’t Stay For Breakfast” (songs that appeared on two different Julie London albums, released a decade apart). This is a humorous and perfect combination of songs. “Nice girls don’t stay for breakfast/And I’m a nice girl/You know that I am.” Oh, the way she dips into her lower registers for “You know that I am” tells us just exactly what she really means there. I love that bass line. Plus, there is some nice stuff on keys. This one is over too soon.

CD Track List
  1. Goody Goody
  2. Call Me Irresponsible
  3. Bye Bye Blackbird
  4. Heard It Through The Grapevine
  5. How About Me?
  6. Cry Me A River
  7. As Time Goes By
  8. Summertime – Band Version
  9. It’s Impossible
  10. Blue Moon
  11. I’ve Got A Crush On You
  12. Light My Fire
  13. Sway
  14. Go Slow/Nice Girls Don’t Stay For Breakfast
  15. You The Night And The Music
  16. Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye
  17. Summertime – Piano Vocal
London Calling: A Toast To Julie London was released on February 15, 2019.

Zemog El Gallo Bueno: “YoYouMeTú Trilogy Vol. 3” (2018) CD Review

I like a lot of different music, and some of the music I like is really different. Such is the case with a group called Zemog El Gallo Bueno. The group’s latest release, YoYouMeTú Trilogy Vol. 3, is a delicious jazzy exploration of our various realities (our relationships and interactions with each other and with ourselves; our identity, both personal and worldly), with plenty of great grooves, and with lyrics sung in both Spanish and English. Some serious topics are addressed here, but they are explored with a certain amount of joy and warmth and humor, and by talented and undaunted musicians. Most of the album’s tracks were written by vocalist and guitarist Abraham Gomez-Delgado.

This disc opens with “Matteo El Limonero 2,” which feels like a dawn, the band waking up, warming up. There is a gentle beauty to this brief instrumental track, which was composed by Matthew Bauder. That’s followed by “Americae,” an intriguing tune. If you’re into jam band music, you are going to find a lot to enjoy here. And if you’re into artists like Frank Zappa, this will probably hold some appeal too. If you like your music to take you places, even challenge you a bit, you are going to love this album. Though the track features a good groove, the lyrics are delivered in a way that works in contrast to that, the vocalists deliberately dragging the words out, giving them a strange intonation. “We think this but feel that/Wish away our wishes/It’s in front of us/No, it’s not/The cycle is so vicious.”

“The Balance Imbalance Dance” is a delightful, jazzy track that then suddenly steps off into outer space for a moment, like a Mexican restaurant at the edge of the solar system. And it is a dance; hell, someone even cuts in at one point. That’s followed by “Chains,” which was written by Chris Stromquist and Abraham Gomez-Delgado. There is something deliciously twisted about this one, its sound, particularly in the vocals at certain parts. “I am gone, I am gone/Way inside, my only way to hide/I am gone, I am gone.” This track also features nice stuff on horns. I am totally into this.

“YoYouMeTu,” the album’s title track (and I suppose the title track of the entire trilogy of albums), delivers a combination of folk and jazz sounds with a strong percussive base. It establishes and develops the rhythm, the vocals not coming in for nearly two minutes. And if you were listening without having seen the track list, you might think they were singing, “Yo, you, me too.” It goes in an unexpected direction vocally toward the end. That’s followed by “Quiero Correr,” one of my personal favorite tracks. I love the quirky sound of this one from the start, like an alien had joined a jazz band, and is grooving at some delightful club where folks of all sorts mingle and dance. And I fucking love the horn on this one. Fantastic, and a whole lot of fun!

As its title seems to promise, there is something sexy about “Sexy Carnitas: A Telenova,” with a sadness to the vocal delivery. There is some excellent playing on this track. And that horn, the way it rises up, is wonderful. “Agua A Peso” establishes a beat, the percussion driving this track. The vocals have a raw, immediate feel, like this is all taking place on a street somewhere and three or four dozen people are dancing in the street. It has the sound and feel of a live track, though apparently was recorded in the studio. There is applause at the end, so…? The disc then concludes with “Pianola,” which has a kind of pleasant, cheerful folk vibe that I can’t help but enjoy, and a joy and passion to the vocal delivery.

CD Track List
  1. Matteo El Limonero 2
  2. Americae
  3. The Balance Imbalance Dance
  4. Chains
  5. Motivate
  6. YoYouMeTu
  7. Quiero Correr
  8. Parque
  9. Sexy Carnitas: A Telenovela
  10. Delgados Feliz
  11. Wedding Song
  12. Agua A Peso
  13. Pianola 
YoYouMeTú Trilogy Vol. 3 was released on November 9, 2018.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Grateful Dead: “Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 1: Big Rock Pow Wow ‘69” (2010/2018) CD Review

Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 1: Big Rock Pow Wow ’69 contains the complete sets the Grateful Dead played on May 23rd and May 24th, 1969 at the Seminole Reservation in Hollywood, Florida. However, the order of the tracks on this three-disc set is slightly rearranged, with two songs moved from their rightful place on the first disc to the third disc (so as not to break the flow of the bulk of that set).

Disc 1

The first disc contains most of the set from May 23, 1969. By the way, the reason these shows are short (just one set each night) is that the Grateful Dead was one of several bands on the bill, though was the headlining act both nights. There is a brief introduction – “the best group in the universe,” indeed! And the band kicks off the show with “Hard To Handle,” Pigpen on lead vocals. Good, raw, raucous Dead. Man, it must have been something to see them in the early days. This show was in that period when T.C. was also on keys, and you can hear his touches early on. (I should point out here that some set lists from this show indicate that two other songs preceded “Hard To Handle”: “Dancing In The Streets” and “Casey Jones,” but I have not heard any tapes with those two songs.) “Hard To Handle” is followed by the fourth song of the set (the second and third songs are on the third disc), a nearly nineteen-minute “Dark Star” that gets right into a good psychedelic jam. Wow, with only one set, the band doesn’t take long to get into some delicious weirdness (and actually, the second song of the set is “Morning Dew,” but more on that in a bit). But the band basically seemed to live in that strange realm at that time, so it makes some sense that they wouldn’t have to work their way to it. Probably 1969 was the best year for “Dark Star,” and this is a really good rendition. In these early versions, the band used space and silence really well. Things could get quiet at moments, and then explode in bursts of sound, so the highs were much higher. You know? And the song didn’t yet have the weight, the importance it would soon have among Deadheads, so it all feels really free. The band was seeing where they could go, where the song would take them. And here it takes them to some surprising, unusual places. And, man, as much as the band could use moments of silence, these guys could also get seriously loud, until the sound seems to be inside your head playing out rather than inward. And almost immediately after the second verse, the band shifts into “St. Stephen.” This song, too, would become a favorite of the fans, probably already was at this point. It’s a strange, complex, compelling and powerful number, with some fantastic lyrics by Robert Hunter. “Lady finger, dipped in moonlight/Writing ‘What for?’ across the morning sky/Sunlight splatters dawn with answers/Darkness shrugs and bids the day goodbye.” And this early version has the William Tell section, and T.C.’s work is prominent at moments there. “St. Stephen” leads straight into “The Eleven,” and it all flows and moves so well, as Jerry wanted it, music with no beginning, no end, no starts and stops, but rather a continuous ride into some extraordinary world, where we can let go of all superfluous trappings, of notions of what is supposed to be. The guys deliver some interesting stuff vocally here too. And then pound and hammer their way through any remaining walls. What a force this music is! Then suddenly that fun groove of “Lovelight” emerges. This thirty-minute rendition of “Turn On Your Lovelight” concludes the first disc and first show. Pigpen began the show, and he finishes it, the way only he could. The song feels like the greatest party ever. And, yeah, it has a bit of that hands-in-your-pockets rap, but also a whole lot of jamming. This is Pigpen’s vehicle, no question.

Disc 2

Interestingly, the following night the band opens with “Lovelight,” picking up where they left off, because the whole thing was one continuous party anyway, right? And here the band was letting everyone know just that (which perhaps was necessary after that weird introduction, which you need to hear). The band comes out of the gate strong and ready to jam, though this version is a bit shorter, only twenty-seven minutes. After a bit of tuning, the band goes into “Doin’ That Rag,” a song that would be included on Aoxomoxoa a little later that year. It’s kind of an odd, slightly messy version, but still enjoyable. “Tell me the name of the game that you play.” That’s followed by an interesting rendition of “He Was A Friend Of Mine,” a song that is actually titled “Just A Hand To Hold,” as indicated on the back of the CD case. This version begins with a bit of jamming before the vocals come in. But this song for me has always been about the vocals, and they do some nice blending of voices here on the chorus. Some of the work on keys and the groove seem to work in contrast to the lyrics. This version isn’t as sad or heartbreaking as some others I’ve heard. I had a version on tape that could just destroy you. I can’t remember what show that was from. The transition from “He Was A Friend Of Mine” to “China Cat Sunflower” is so smooth, seamless. And there is some impressive, wonderful stuff during this song. And while we are used to “China Cat” going into “I Know You Rider,” here the jam gets crazier, more intense, and the song then segues into “The Eleven.” An interesting journey, to be sure. The band then slides into “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” Where “He Was A Friend Of Mine” perhaps didn’t have the emotional power it could have, “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” definitely delivers on that level, with Jerry turning in an excellent and passionate vocal performance. And the music finds some great peaks as well. Ah, listen to the ache in Jerry’s voice. Fantastic.

Disc 3

The third disc takes us back to the May 23rd show for a bit, giving us the second and third songs of that set. Actually, it begins with some humorous complaints about the sound from the band (“It stinks, Bear”). Then “Morning Dew” bursts alive with its post-apocalyptic fury and despair. This is a good version, with some fiery peaks and desolate valleys. “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway.” Wild to have this kind of passion so early in the show. The band then goes in a different direction with “Me And My Uncle,” a song that has a slightly heavier sound here than it would later have. We then go back to May 24th for Bob’s famous yellow dog story, told while strings are being changed (the CD liner notes indicate this track is from May 23, but from other recordings I have listened to, that’s incorrect). If you don’t know the joke, well, it’s fitting that “Alligator” follows it. This is a fairly decent version of “Alligator,” and it leads into a drum solo. The solos by Bill and Mickey were always journeys in themselves, and this one interestingly includes some vocals at the end, just before the band moves into a rockin’ “St. Stephen.” This time the band does not do the William Tell part, and instead goes into “Feedback,” which is essentially the “Space” of its day, a strange, monstrous instrumental exploration, sometimes harsh, sometimes frightening. As it drifts off, “And We Bid You Goodnight” emerges beautifully, delivered basically a cappella, with just a touch of percussion. And that’s how the show wraps up.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Hard To Handle
  2. Dark Star >
  3. St. Stephen >
  4. The Eleven >
  5. Turn On Your Lovelight
Disc 2
  1. Introduction
  2. Turn On Your Lovelight
  3. Doin’ That Rag >
  4. He Was A Friend Of Mine (Just A Hand To Hold) >
  5. China Cat Sunflower >
  6. The Eleven >
  7. Death Don’t Have No Mercy 
Disc 3
  1. Morning Dew
  2. Me And My Uncle
  3. Yellow Dog Story
  4. Alligator >
  5. Drums >
  6. St. Stephen >
  7. Feedback >
  8. We Bid You Goodnight
Road Trips Vol. 4 No 1: Big Rock Pow Wow ’69 was re-released on CD on October 19, 2018 through Real Gone Music.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Monkees: “An Introduction To The Monkees Vol. 2” (2018) CD Review

It seems odd to me to have a second volume to an introduction. And it’s also fairly late in the game to offer an introduction to The Monkees. Nevertheless, the collector in me had to purchase the new compilation, An Introduction To The Monkees Vol. 2, which contains not only some old favorites, but also the band’s best recent song, “Me & Magdalena.” Plus, after Peter Tork’s passing, I just needed to hear some tracks from the first band I ever loved.

My personal favorite Monkees album is Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., and this compilation opens with a track from it, “Words.” I love this song. Okay, yes, I love nearly every Monkees song, but this one in particular has been one of my favorites since I was a kid, and it’s fun to shout along to it. I’ve always enjoyed the way Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork trade lines in the verses. That’s followed by “Mary, Mary,” a fun song from More Of The Monkees, which was the first record I ever got. Though Micky sings this one, Mike Nesmith wrote it.

In 1986, The Monkees reunited for a special concert tour. A compilation was released that year. Titled Then & Now… The Best Of The Monkees, it contained three new tracks, including “That Was Then, This Is Now,” which was also released as a single. Only two of The Monkees perform on this track: Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork. It’s a cheerful, kind of bouncy tune, with a sound that clearly indicates it as a product of the 1980s. It’s a song that I appreciate a whole lot more now than when it was first released. That’s followed by “The Girl I Knew Somewhere,” which was originally released as the flip side to “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.” While I love both of those songs, I think “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” is the better track, and am surprised it wasn’t the A side. It is another penned by Mike Nesmith. Also written by Mike Nesmith is “You Told Me,” which was the lead track from Headquarters, the first album to feature the band members playing nearly all the instruments.

The Monkees television show was on every day after school when I was a kid, and I watched it every day. One of the segments I just couldn’t get enough of was “Goin’ Down.” The song is just so fucking cool, and Micky’s vocal performance is impressive. Have you ever tried to sing this one? It’s not easy. The single version of this insanely fun song is included on this compilation. That’s followed by the single version of “Listen To The Band,” a tune that was included on The Monkees Present, and one that gets in my head almost daily. Mike Nesmith wrote this one, and it’s fantastic.

So after the success of both Then & Now… The Best Of The Monkees and the 1986 reunion tour, the band recorded a new studio album, the first in seventeen years. Titled Pool It! (one of the worst album titles ever), it featured the hit “Heart And Soul,” which is included here. This one has really grown on me over the years. That’s followed by a song I completely fell in love with the moment I first heard it, “Me & Magdalena,” a beautiful song from the band’s 2016 release, Good Times! The vocal performances by Mike and Micky are gorgeous and moving. This is one of the best songs the band ever recorded. The compilation then concludes with “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow),” a seriously catchy song written by Neil Diamond and included on More Of The Monkees.

CD Track List
  1. Words
  2. Mary, Mary
  3. That Was Then, This Is Now
  4. The Girl I Knew Somewhere
  5. You Told Me
  6. Goin’ Down (Single Version)
  7. Listen To The Band (Single Version)
  8. Heart And Soul
  9. Me & Magdalena
  10. Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)
An Introduction To The Monkees Vol. 2 was released on October 5, 2018 on Rhino Records.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Record Store Day 2019 Wish List

Record Store Day is coming up again. Have you made your wish list? There are plenty of releases to be excited about. I figured I’d point out a few worth checking out.
  • Culture: “The Nighthawk Recordings” – This record contains several unreleased tracks from 1983, with Culture backed by The Wailers. That is sufficient reason to own it. But apparently it is also going to be on color vinyl, which makes it even more attractive. By the way, the other three tracks are from a 1982 compilation, where the band is backed by Roots Radics. This release will also be available on CD the day before Record Store Day. I posted a review of the CD on this blog.
  • The Dream Syndicate: “The Days Of Wine And Roses” – This new vinyl edition is apparently expanded, with previously unreleased material, and also includes a bonus 7-inch. Very cool. This record is limited to only 500 copies, which is fucking crazy.
  • Grateful Dead: “Sage And Spirit” – I am a big Grateful Dead fan, so I want to own everything. Sage And Spirit is interesting primarily for the cool cover, for the music itself has all been previously released on other albums. Mostly we get studio tracks, including “High Time,” “Unbroken Chain” and “If I Had The World To Give.” The two live tracks are apparently from Europe ’72. I couldn’t find information on how many copies of this LP will be available. 
  • Grateful Dead: “The Warfield, San Francisco, CA 10/9/80 & 10/10/80” – In 1980, the Grateful Dead performed a series of concerts at the Warfield where they did three sets instead of the usual two. The first set each night was an acoustic set. This Record Store Day release includes two of those acoustic sets. My favorite song of all time is “Ripple,” and the Dead concluded both sets with that song, which is more than enough reason for me to need to own this release. It is going to be available on both CD and vinyl. I want both.
  • Woody Guthrie: “I Don’t Like The Way This World’s A-Treatin’ Me” – Apparently, this release marks the first time Woody Guthrie’s home recording of “I Don’t Like The Way This World’s A-Treatin’ Me” is being released on vinyl. This EP also includes another version of the song, with Jeff Tweedy playing on it. That’s totally cool, but the reason I want this record is that it also contains two new versions of a protest song about Fred Trump (Donald’s scummy daddy). This 10-inch EP is limited to 1,500 copies. 
  • John Lennon: “Imagine: Raw Studio Mixes” – Well, there is really no explanation needed. What is needed is a copy of this record in my collection. It’s a double album, and is limited to 5,500 copies.
  • The Minus 5: “Stroke Manor” – The story behind the release is incredible. The album was begun by Scott McCaughey after he suffered a stroke and while still in the ICU. A doctor told him he’d never play music again. He was like, fuck that, and made this record. It will be available on both vinyl and CD. The vinyl is limited to either 1,000 or 2,000 copies, depending on which website you’re looking at. The CD will have either 1,000 or 2,500 copies.
  • Monty Python: “Life Of Brian” – When I was in high school, I started a Monty Python club, where we just watched Monty Python. This was during school hours, mind you. Anyway, while a lot of folks hold The Holy Grail as their favorite Python film, my favorite is Life Of Brian. It’s bloody brilliant. This Record Store Day release is a double album picture disc. Picture discs are more for looking at than playing, but I feel a deep desire to own this. And apparently there is some archival material included.
  • The Police: “Message In A Bottle” – This is a re-issue of the band’s single, but in a special double-single release, if that makes any sense. Basically, there are two 7-inch records, the first of which is the original single and flip side. The second record features two versions of “Message In A Bottle” – the classic rock mix and an instrumental version. Both records are colored vinyl, and I am a sucker for colored vinyl. The colors, by the way, are green and blue, the bottle and the ocean.
Again, these are just a few of the records that will be available on Record Store Day. I’m sure that as I look at the list again, I will find more records that I’d like to add to my collection.

Culture: “The Nighthawk Recordings” (2019) CD Review

In these days of rampant racism and gun violence, when our country is run by a criminal, we are in need of the good grooves and social consciousness of reggae music. Culture is a Jamaican group that formed in the mid-1970s, and put out quite a few records. In 1982, a reggae compilation titled Calling Rastafari was released. The title track and two other tracks on that record were by Culture. Now the new release, The Nighthawk Recordings, collects those three tracks and four previously unreleased tracks, all of which were written by Joseph Hill. At the time of these recordings, Culture was made up of Joseph Hill, Albert Walker and Lloyd Dayes, and on this release they have two different (and incredible) bands backing them: Roots Radics on the first three tracks, and The Wailers on the other four tracks.

The disc opens with “Calling Rastafari,” and immediately its groove raises my spirits. The religious aspect of reggae music has never appealed to me, but has also never kept me from enjoying the tunes. After all, the music has such a positive vibe. “Many will be called, I say/Many will be called, ten thousand/Many will be called/But few shall be chosen/But few shall be chosen.” “Calling Rastafari” is followed by “Dem A Payaka,” which has an incredibly cheerful sound and vibe. I totally dig this song. “Rich man, move your hand and give the youth a chance/Give the poor man a chance to get some help.” The last of the three tracks from Calling Rastafari is “This Time,” and this one too has a vibrant sound, but with a sincere and serious edge. A different version of this song was actually the first to ever be released by Culture, on a 1976 single released in Jamaica. There are a lot of interesting differences between the two versions. For example, the earlier version has the line “No more blood in a Babylon,” whereas in this version the line is “Blood, blood, blood in a Babylon.” Likewise, the line here is “Fire, fire, fire in a Babylon” rather than “No more fire in a Babylon.” And these lines of course hold a lot of appeal: “This time, no other time/This time, we are not waiting any longer.”

The other four tracks on this disc were recorded in 1983, and until now were unreleased. The first of the previously unreleased tracks is “Can They Run,” which has a kind of exciting, cool vibe, and features a horn section, which I love. And lines like “They cheat and they lie to the people every day” are certainly relevant to our current government and the entire Republican Party. “Can they run?/Can they hide?/Can they ever step aside?” We’ll see.  Plus, this track features an interesting and wonderful instrumental section. This is my favorite track on the disc. How was it left unreleased for so long? It is followed by a mostly instrumental version of the same song, so obviously the focus is on the groove. And it is such a great groove. The vocals come in for the last minute or so of the track. Then “Mister Music” too has an incredibly bright, happy vibe, and features more nice work on horns, plus some wonderful touches on percussion. The disc concludes with a different, largely instrumental version of “Mister Music.”

CD Track List
  1. Calling Rastafari
  2. Dem A Payaka
  3. This Time
  4. Can They Run
  5. Can They Run Version
  6. Mister Music
  7. Mister Music Version
The Nighthawk Recordings is scheduled to be released on CD on April 12, 2019 through Omnivore Recordings. A limited edition vinyl release is going to be part of Record Store Day on April 13, 2019 (yeah, Record Store Day is earlier this year).

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Shake Your Hips: The Excello Records Story (2018) Book Review

In 2017, I was fortunate enough to catch a set by Lazy Lester at the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Festival. It was a treat to see that phenomenal blues player perform, his set being a highlight of that festival, as well as a highlight of my concert-going experiences that year. He was eighty-three years old. A little over a year later, Lazy Lester was gone. In the 1950s and 1960s, Lazy Lester released several singles on the Excello record label, that label being the subject of the second book in the RPM Series, Shake Your Hips: The Excello Records Story, written by Randy Fox. This volume follows World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story. Each volume of this series will explore the history of an important record label. This volume delves into the world of Excello, a blues label founded by Ernie Young in Nashville, as well as related labels such as Nashboro and Nasco.

Shake Your Hips gives us a bit of background on the music scene in Nashville in the first half of the twentieth century, as well as some biographical information on Ernie Young, before getting into the origins of Nashboro Record Company, Young’s first label, which focused on gospel. At the time, 1951, there wasn’t much competition in the gospel label realm, and Ernie Young recorded the discs in his record store, at first moving stacks of records and furniture out of the way, and then eventually constructing a permanent studio in the building. When he branched out into rhythm and blues, the Excello label was born. The book contains a lot of information on those early sessions and the artists who recorded for Excello, including Larry Birdsong, Arthur Gunter, Lightnin’ Slim and Lazy Lester. And of course, there is plenty about Slim Harpo, including some interesting details on the recording of “I’m A King Bee,” as well some great information behind his later cover of “Folsom Prison Blues.” Reading about it all makes me want to hunt down those singles (though I’m sure I couldn’t afford them). There are many fascinating stories here, of course, including that of The Marigolds, a group that formed in prison and went through lineup changes when members were paroled (a strange way to lose band members).

A good deal of Ernie Young’s business was done through the mail, with a particular interest coming from folks in the UK, including a young Keith Richards. Randy Fox writes: “Richards was not the only British fan entranced by the sound of swamp. A new generation of British music fans was hungry for American records with the right feel and energy. Hits didn’t matter; did the record move them? In addition to devouring both sides of forty-fives, labels were intensely studied, lists were made of writing and production credits, and the tiniest details were noted” (p. 83). I love the passion described here, that excitement. It’s like when we were kids and getting a new record really meant something. We did study them, poring over the liner notes, wanting to learn as much as possible. Do kids still experience that? I certainly hope so, but I worry that in these times of downloading music, something has been lost. They should read this book. That chapter on the British Invasion includes early examples of covers those bands recorded, such as The Rolling Stones’ version of “I’m A King Bee.” And it was The Kinks’ version of “I’m A Lover, Not A Fighter” that first turned me onto the song originally recorded by Lazy Lester.

The book follows the Excello story beyond the involvement of Ernie Young, with details on the folks who ran the company after his retirement. And there is information on the label’s end. It’s remarkable that a single radio station could affect sales of records so strongly, as was the case with WLAC. The story of the label’s end continues in the book’s epilogue, with information on AVI buying it and making changes that caused key personnel to leave. But also mentioned is the later surge of interest with important re-issues on CD, certainly a bright side, as this music is just too damn good to ever let go out of print. The book contains several pages of photographs, including a trade advertisement for Excello Records.

Shake Your Hips: The Excello Records Story was released on November 20, 2018  through BMG Books. By the way, the book’s title comes from one of Slim Harpo’s singles, “Shake Your Hips,” released in the mid-1960s.