Thursday, February 28, 2019

Deborah Shulman: “The Shakespeare Project” (2019) CD Review

William Shakespeare is incontestably the greatest writer in the history of the English language. His impact on our culture is incalculable, not just in literature and theatre, but in our very speech and the phrases we use. There are numerous references to his work in novels, comic books, movies (I’m compiling a list of references in films for a future book), television shows and music. Several singers and songwriters have turned to Shakespeare’s works for inspiration, covering many of the songs included in his plays. In 2016, Paul Kelly released Seven Sonnets & A Song, an album of Shakespeare’s sonnets set to music. Now jazz vocalist Deborah Shulman gives us The Shakespeare Project, in which she sets not only some of the sonnets to music, but also some of the famous speeches. Plenty has been written about the rhythm and musicality of Shakespeare’s writing, so it is certainly not a stretch to turn these speeches to lyrics. Many of the tracks on this release were inspired by Shakespeare And All That Jazz, an album that was Cleo Laine released in 1964, with music composed by John Dankworth and Arthur Young. The arrangements for The Shakespeare Project are by Jeff Colella, who also plays piano. Also joining Deborah Shulman on this disc are Larry Koonse on guitar; Abraham Laboriel on bass; Chris Colangelo on bass; Joe La Barbera on drums; Kendall Kay on drums; Bob Sheppard on flute, saxophone and clarinet; and Bob McChesney on trombone.

Deborah Shulman opens the album with “All The World’s A Stage,” a track that sets part of Jaques’ famous speech from As You Like It to music. The first four lines are delivered, stopping before the seven ages of man. This is a thoughtful, rather mellow tune, featuring some nice work on keys. Then partway through, the music changes, becoming more peppy, and Deborah segues into the opening speech from Twelfth Night: “If music be the food of love, play on.” Unlike Jaques’ speech, Orsino’s entire opening speech is set to music here. The music changes again toward the end, returning to “All The World’s A Stage.” I like the guitar work at this point in the track. That’s followed by “Blow Blow Thou Winter Wind,” a song from As You Like It, sung by Amiens in Act II Scene vii. This track features some nice work by Kendall Kay on drums.

“Dunsinane Blues” is my favorite track on this album, turning Macbeth’s troubles into a totally delightful and kind of sexy jazz number. It opens with lines from the Third Apparition, promising Macbeth that he shall never be vanquished until Great Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane. Hey, we’ve seen sexy versions of the three witches before, so there is some precedent for this. This song doesn’t just include the apparitions’ lines, but also those of the messenger who tells Macbeth he thought he saw the woods moving (and that coming just after Macbeth learned of his wife’s death – not a good time for him). Deborah gives an absolutely fantastic, joyful and playful vocal performance here, a big part of my love for this track. I also seriously dig the groove. And how cool is that section with just vocals and bass toward the end? This is one of the compositions performed on that 1964 album (someone needs to re-issue that Cleo Laine record).

We then get the first of the sonnets that Deborah performs on this album, Sonnet 18, here titled “Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day.” This is probably the most famous of all of the sonnets, and Deborah gives us a passionate reading of it. This track also features more excellent work on guitar that has an intimate, gentle sound. Deborah Shulman then turns to The Two Gentlemen Of Verona for the song “Who Is Silvia” from Act IV Scene ii. For some reason the track is titled “Who Is Sylvia,” though the lyrics in the liner notes give the correct spelling of Silvia.  Anyway, this one is delivered in a fairly straightforward manner, and is not expanded upon; it is the shortest track of the album. What I especially like about this track is that Deborah Shulman’s vocals are accompanied only by Abraham Laboriel on bass, giving it a cool vibe. From A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Deborah gives us “You Spotted Snakes,” a song the fairies sing in Act II scene ii. This is another mellow number, the music working well with the lyrics, which are essentially a lullaby to Titania. Bob Sheppard adds some nice work on both saxophone and clarinet.

The second sonnet presented on this wonderful album is Sonnet 30, “When To The Sessions Of Sweet Silent Thought,” this time Deborah’s voice supported by just piano. By the way, this is the sonnet that contains that great phrase, “death’s dateless night,” which was used as the title to Paul Kelly and Charlie Owen’s 2016 release. “Sigh No More Ladies” is a song from Much Ado About Nothing. Mumford & Sons used a couple of lines from it in their own song titled “Sigh No More.” In the play, Balthasar sings it. Here Deborah Shulman delivers a good, lively rendition, which moves along at a nice pace and features Bob McChesney on trombone. That’s followed by “O Mistress Mine,” a song from Twelfth Night that has been covered quite a bit. I really like the way Deborah Shulman approaches it, and this rendition features good work on piano and trombone. “Youth’s a stuff will not endure.” Ah, don’t we know it?

Deborah Shulman delivers two more sonnets, first Sonnet 147, “My Love Is As A Fever.” The music here has a more somber tone. That’s followed by Sonnet 40, “Take All My Loves.” Interestingly, she gives us a playful, fun, excited take on it. I really dig that instrumental section. The bass line is delicious, and I love the way the keys dance over it. Toward the end, there is a cool section of just drums and bass, where the bass is allowed to get a bit wild. Wonderful stuff. Deborah concludes the album, appropriately, with “Our Revels Now Are Ended,” from Prospero’s famous speech from The Tempest. This track has a pretty sound from the start, in large part because of Bob Sheppard’s work on flute. This song seems to tap into the magic of the play, even as Prospero is telling Ferdinand that it’s over, revealing it was all an illusion, and that life is fleeting. “We are such stuff/As dreams are made on, and our little life/Is rounded with a sleep.” But, ah, the magic continues, even as the song drifts off, as if to that sleep, and fades out.

CD Track List
  1. All the Word’s A Stage/If Music Be The Food Of Love
  2. Blow Blow Thou Winter Wind
  3. Dunsinane Blues
  4. Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day
  5. Who Is Sylvia?
  6. You Spotted Snakes
  7. When To The Sessions Of Sweet Silent Thought
  8. Sigh No More Ladies
  9. Oh Mistress Mine
  10. My Love Is As A Fever
  11. Take All My Loves
  12. Our Revels Now Are Ended
The Shakespeare Project was released on February 22, 2019 on Summit Records.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Tylor & The Train Robbers: “Best Of The Worst Kind” (2019) CD Review

Tylor & The Train Robbers are a band based in Boise, Idaho, offering some delicious music in the folk and country rock vein. I love this band’s sound, but the lyrics really make the band’s new release, Best Of The Worst Kind, stand out. The album features all original material, written or co-written by lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Tylor Ketchum. The band also includes Jason Bushman on bass and backing vocals, Johnny Pisano on lead guitar and mandolin, and Flip Perkins on drums and percussion. The album also features a few guest musicians on certain tracks. Best Of The Worst Kind follows the group’s 2017 release, Gravel.

The album opens with “Lost And Lonely Miles,” a cool country tune that I should add to my road trip play list, with lines like “Looking out over the crack in the windshield/As the fog covers up the white line” and “The road I travel is bound to wind/And the road less traveled is hard to find.” As I mentioned, this album boasts some good lyrics. I also really like Tylor Ketchum’s voice, which is in the same general realm as that of folks like Steve Owen and Jay Souza. Brian Davies joins the group on pedal steel on this track, delivering some nice work, particularly toward the end. Then “Before It’s Too Late” starts more in the folk realm. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “We’ve got to go before it’s too late/We can ditch this town or stick around/Stay content or take a break.” There is something friendly and uplifting about the sound of this music, which I appreciate. These days it seems we’re all looking for things to raise our spirits and remind us that most people are still human.

The first line of “Good At Bad News” caught me by surprise and made me laugh: “I’ll take a lottery ticket and a lighter please.” This is a fun country tune, a song to get you and your partner on your feel, kicking up your heels and so on. I love these lines: “Me and my baby can handle the blues/She deserves to win, but I’ve been known to lose/Me and my baby are good at bad news.” Yeah, the song has a strange sort of optimism. Jennifer Pisano provides vocals on this track, and there is some nice work on guitar too. That’s followed by “Storyteller,” which has a mellower, sweeter vibe, the lyrics delivered in a style that is almost spoken word at first. “Worn out flannels and pocket shirts/Forget the directions, try the wrong way first/These are just a few things that I remember.” This is a really engaging song. Brian Davies joins the group again on pedal steel for this one. Then there is something kind of pretty about “Still Getting High,” a song that should speak strongly to people. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “What I’d like more is to care less/Forget, forgive, peace, love and rock and roll/Well, I wish our world forgiveness so damn oblivious/To what our future has to hold.” And the thought this song leaves us with is this: “If we could all get along a little more/We might be okay.”

Tom “Black Jack” Ketchum was a cowboy and criminal who was hanged in 1901. He’s a distant relative of Tylor Ketchum, and is the inspiration behind the band’s name. Knowing all that makes the opening line of “The Ballad Of Black Jack Ketchum” rather humorous: “Well, my daddy always said you’re only as good as who you’re hanging with.” The song’s second line provides the album with its title: “So I was hanging with the best of the worst kind.” Yeah, it’s sung from the perspective of Tom Ketchum, which is interesting, and tells a wild tale. “Fumblin’ For Rhymes” is a song about being a traveling musician, about chasing one’s dreams. Sure, there are a lot of songs on this subject, but this is a good tune. “Ticking like a train rolling down these tracks/Fumblin’ for rhymes to write a song that will last.”

“Few And Far Between” is a wonderful folk song, one of my personal favorites of this album. It’s a bittersweet love song, delivered as a duet, Jennifer Pisano providing the beautiful female vocals. “It’s hard I know/Being by my side/Is few and far between/All that you mean to me/Well, if so, maybe we’re better off at it alone.” I also really like the mandolin on this track. “Leave the leaving up to me/And I’ll bear the shame.” Then in “Construction,” the lines that stand out for me are “Slowing down at the yellow light until it turns to red/Well, I think I could have made it/But I questioned myself instead” and “It seems everywhere I go I am in somebody else’s way.” Yet the song has a bright, fun vibe. The album ends with another excellent folk song, “Place Like This,” this one featuring cello, an instrument I always appreciate. Both Melissa Wilson and Bernie Reilly play cello on this track. “I think we choose who we want to be/Some look to God to set them free/This here bottle does that for me/But what’s that to you.

CD Track List
  1. Lost And Lonely Miles
  2. Before It’s Too Late
  3. Good At Bad News
  4. Storyteller
  5. Still Getting High
  6. The Ballad Of Back Jack Ketchum
  7. Pave Your Way
  8. Fumblin’ For Rhymes
  9. Few And Far Between
  10. Hide Your Goat
  11. Construction
  12. Place Like This
Best Of The Worst Kind is scheduled to be released on April 26, 2019, the anniversary of the execution of Tom “Black Jack” Ketchum.

The Ebony Hillbillies “5 Miles From Town” (2019) CD Review

On their new album, 5 Miles From Town, The Ebony Hillbillies deliver some fantastic music that encompasses elements of folk, bluegrass, blues, jazz, pop and country, presented with great abandon and joy and honesty. The group is based in New York, and certainly some of that city sensibility finds its way into music that otherwise could be expected to have originated on a porch in some southern town. The group has a good range of influences, and features both male and female lead vocalists. The band consists of Henrique Prince on violin and vocals; Norris Washington Bennett on banjo, mountain dulcimer, guitar and vocals; Gloria Thomas Gassaway on percussion and vocals; William Salter on acoustic bass; Allanah Salter on percussion and vocals; Newman Taylor Baker on washboard; and Ali Rahman on percussion.

The album gets off to an excellent start with “Hog Eyed Man,” and I’m on board as soon as it begins. Their rendition of this tradition instrumental tune has some delicious bluegrass vibes, and features some fantastic playing, particularly on fiddle. There is nothing sluggish about this rendition; it cooks along. It’s followed by a seriously cool rendition of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle.” This is a song I learned as a result of being a Grateful Dead fan. I’ve heard a whole lot of other bands cover this song since those days, but I’m not sure I ever heard a rendition quite like this one. It’s glorious and raw and fun and wonderful, and it has that sense of a party that Dixon always intended. The percussion certainly contributes to that air. I love it. The group then delivers a nice take on the old folk song “Darling Corey,” with some loose percussion, which I totally dig. But it is the vocal performance that makes this one of my favorite tracks.

The Ebony Hillbillies then go in a different direction with a gentle, engaging rendition of “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” a song written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin, and recorded by Bonnie Raitt. The track contains a bit of goofiness at the end (the “ZYX” part of the track). That’s followed by “Carroll County Blues,” a fun instrumental number. This version is a total delight, with a bit of banter and laughter in the background, giving it the atmosphere of a party on the porch. Things then go in yet another direction with an unusual cover of Prince’s “Cream,” done as a folk tune, the banjo being prominent. Since Prince’s death, I’ve heard several folk versions of “Kiss,” but none of this particular song before. There is something undeniably playful about this track, yet there is also an odd power to this one. As the Prince song ends, we get an a cappella delivery of “I’m On My Way To Brooklyn (Yes Indeed),” a strange segue to be sure. The track finishes with the sound effect of a gun being fired, which is jarring, but which leads directly into a rendition of “Another Man Done Gone,” here titled “Another Man Done Gone (Hands Up Don’t Shoot).” In this powerful version, the man in question isn’t chained or lynched; he gets shot in his car. It’s about police violence, and the track features an understandably angry delivery and a great raw folk sound, with a bit of a gospel feel as well. “He said he couldn’t breathe/He said he couldn’t breathe/He said he couldn’t breathe/He didn’t have a gun/He didn’t have a gun/He didn’t have a gun.”

Then “I’d Rather Be A Nigga Than A Po’ White Man” will raise you up, get you on your feet, as this instrumental track opens with some great fiddling. Their cover of The Miracles’ “Fork In The Road” also begins with fiddle, but has a very different feel, a pretty sound. Then the tune kicks in, and has a wonderful classic rhythm and blues vibe. That’s followed by “Oh What A Time!” with lyrics addressing our nation’s recent history, with a verse about the 2008 election: “Everyone thought we had it all/It seemed our dreams had all come true/The whole wide world, they thought it too.” This one is delivered a cappella, but with an odd background sound, like it was recorded using some amateur equipment or under less than ideal conditions. We then go into gospel territory with “Where He Leads Me (I Will Follow),” presented as a combination of folk and gospel. “I can hear my savior calling/I’ll go with him, with him all the way.” This rendition has a gentle, comforting feel. The disc concludes with its title track, “Five Miles From Town,” a fun, toe-tapping, knee-slapping, partner-swinging song. This hoedown number has a cool percussion section at the end.

CD Track List
  1. Hog Eyed Man
  2. Wang Dang Doodle
  3. Darling Corey
  4. I Can’t Make You Love Me/ZYX
  5. Carroll County Blues
  6. Cream/I’m On My Way To Brooklyn (Yes Indeed)
  7. Another Man Done Gone (Hands Up Don’t Shoot)
  8. I’d Rather Be A Nigga Than A Po’ White Man
  9. Fork In The Road
  10. Oh What A Time!
  11. Where He Leads Me (I Will Follow)
  12. Five Miles From Town
5 Miles From Town was released on CD on January 4, 2019.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Peter Holsapple & Chris Stamey at The Federal Bar, 2-24-19 Concert Review

"Early In The Morning"
Just before the doors opened for today’s concert at The Federal Bar, The Kinks’ “Lola” began playing in the house. This is because a lot of people attending the concert, as well as those performing, had been at last night’s celebration of The Kinks which was put on by the Wild Honey Orchestra. In fact, when introducing opener Millie McGuire, concert series host Gary Calamar referred to today’s show as the after party to last night’s celebration. I have a feeling as I hear more about it, I’m going to kick myself for not attending. But today I was lucky enough to experience another incredible day of music. Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey of The dB’s did an absolutely fantastic acoustic set as part of the Mimosa Music Series.

At 12:24 p.m., Gary introduced Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey by creating a silly rhyme: “I’m a little nervous, and who can blame me, when I’m introducing Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey.” They opened the set with “The Company Of Light,” a song from Chris Stamey’s Fireworks album. Peter and Chris both played acoustic guitars, and had no other musicians backing them for this show, which was wonderful. It was a real treat to see them perform their material this way. At the end of “The Company Of Light,” Chris requested more of his vocals in his monitor, and after the briefest of checks, they went right into “She Was The One,” from Mavericks. Their voices sounded so bloody good together. They followed that with another tune from Mavericks, “Taken.” They delivered a sweet, pretty rendition of this love song. I wish my girlfriend had been there to enjoy this with me, to hear lines like “Everyone should be as lucky as I am/Everyone should be as happy as I am,” for that is exactly how I feel.

Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey then reached back to the earliest days of The dB’s, performing “Cycles Per Second,” which was on their first LP, Stands For Decibels. This tune worked surprisingly well in the acoustic setting. There was a moment where it sounded like Chris was asking Peter what the last verse was, and Peter responded, “I don’t know.” But they figured it out immediately. It was a really good rendition. They followed it with another tune from that album, “Big Brown Eyes,” which got a big cheer the moment they started it. “You give me something to think about/I’ll give you something to live without.” They then returned to Mavericks for “Geometry” and “The Child In You.” Peter introduced the latter as a song “written as a birth present.” It’s kind of an adorable song, with plenty of good advice, and Peter whistled during a part of it.

After a bit of tuning, Peter thanked the audience for its patience. They then did a cover of “Darlin’ Be Home Soon,” my favorite Lovin’ Spoonful song. Sure, they needed to glance at the lyrics occasionally, but this was a great version of the song. They followed that with an absolutely wonderful rendition of “From A Window To A Screen,” from Repercussion. Then Peter joked that he had wished the next song would have been used by a coffee company, and they began “Early In The Morning,” a fun, completely delightful song from Here And Now.  Following that, there was a bit of confusion regarding which song they were doing next. Chris told the audience, “It’s a sing-along,” to which Peter responded, “It is?” No, it wasn’t. The song they did was “Inventory,” one of my favorite tracks from Peter’s recent solo album, Game Day. Peter then said, “Now we’ll do that song of Chris’.” Chris joked, “No introduction needed.” And they played “Van Dyke Parks,” and, yes, the audience did sing along. The crowd was totally into it, laughing through most of the song.

The album from which they pulled the most material at the show today was Mavericks, and near the end of their set they played “Here Without You” from that one.  They followed that with “Storm Warning,” a song from Repercussion. I love this song, and the line “If this is hell, you’re well-rehearsed” made me laugh. Peter did some more whistling during this one. They went back to Mavericks one more time, delivering a good rendition of “Angels.” They wrapped up the set with a cover of The Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me,” showcasing their incredible vocal talent. Seriously, their voices were gorgeous on this tune. What a way to finish the show! Their set ended at 1:30 p.m.

Set List
  1. The Company Of Light
  2. She Was The One
  3. Taken
  4. Cycles Per Second
  5. Big Brown Eyes
  6. Geometry
  7. The Child In You
  8. Darlin’ Be Home Soon
  9. From A Window To A Screen
  10. Early In The Morning
  11. Inventory
  12. Van Dyke Parks
  13. Here Without You
  14. Storm Warning
  15. Angels
  16. Let It Be Me
By the way, I took a photo of the set list while they were setting up, and Peter Holsapple said to me, “Don’t post that until after the show.” He then told me that at another show someone had actually taken the set list off the stage before the show even began. That must have made things a bit difficult. Not cool. The written set list included two songs they ended up not performing: “Hollywood Waltz” and “Close Your Eyes.”

Anyway, here are a few photos from their set:

"The Company Of Light"
"The Company Of Light"
"She Was The One"
"Cycles Per Second"
"Geometry" 
"Early In The Morning"
"Let It Be Me"

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

Millie McGuire at The Federal Bar, 2-24-19 Concert Review

"There's Not A Cloud In The Sky"
Sunday has become my favorite day of the week, for the day often means drinking mimosas and enjoying some excellent music at The Federal Bar. The Mimosa Music Series continued today with Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey of The dB’s playing a phenomenal acoustic set. Starting the show was Millie McGuire, a talented young vocalist. Her set focused on material from her new album, Yours, Millie McGuire, an album that was produced by Chris Stamey. And Chris accompanied her on guitar. She also was backed by Willie Aron on piano and Ellie Athayde on bass, as well as Kaitlin Wolfberg on violin for many of the songs.

At 11:31 a.m., Millie McGuire and her band took the stage. Concert series host Gary Calamar welcomed the crowd, “Good morning… North Hollywood,” then joked, “I forgot where we were for a moment.” Millie then said, “Thanks for having me this early morning.” And, yes, 11:30 is early morning, particularly for today’s crowd, most of whom had been at the Wild Honey Orchestra’s Kinks tribute last night, including Millie herself. Millie McGuire opened her set with “There’s Not A Cloud In The Sky,” a jazzy tune featuring a wonderful vocal performance. Kaitlin Wolfberg was on violin for this one. Chris Stamey then mentioned that while the songs we were hearing might sound familiar, like standards, they were brand new. And indeed, most of the songs of Millie’s set were written by Chris, including that one and the following selection, “I Fall In Love So Easily.”

I’m going to slow it down,” Millie told the audience, and she began “Your Last Forever After,” a pretty song with some wonderful lyrics. “I am your last forever after/I am your first glimpse of the moon/I am the memory you’ve forgotten.” After that song, Millie said, “Okay, this next one’s more of a groove, half by me, half by Chris.” Chris responded, “The groovy part’s yours.” And they played “One More Moment.” In introducing “Here’s How We Start Again,” Millie mentioned that she’s going to school in Nashville, and is going to turn things toward country for a bit. “Here’s How We Start Again” was one of the highlights of the set for me.  Check out these lyrics: “Here’s how we start again/You tell me lie/I say I’ll believe in you/Until the day I die/Though I know I can’t win/I can at least pretend/Here’s how we start again.” Kaitlin Wolfberg returned on violin for this one, and for the next few songs as well. And the next song, “There’s A Place,” written by Millie McGuire, was another of my favorites. “This place in my mind, I call it home.”

“I Am Yours” is a pretty, slower tune, and was yet another highlight of the set. Then Nelson Bragg joined Millie on vocals for “Two,” a song written by Dan Wilson. For this song, there was also a drum machine on a cell phone. Millie then concluded her set with a cover of Lake Street Dive’s “What I’m Doing Here,” playing piano on this one and turning in perhaps the set’s most powerful vocal performance. Her set ended at 12:10 p.m.

Set List
  1. There’s Not A Cloud In The Sky
  2. I Fall In Love So Easily
  3. Your Last Forever After
  4. One More Moment
  5. Here’s How We Start Again
  6. There’s A Place
  7. I Am Yours
  8. Two
  9. What I’m Doing Here 
Here are a few photos from her set:

"I Fall In Love So Easily"
"Here's How We Start Again"
"I Am Yours"
"Two" 
"What I'm Doing Here"

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

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Michael McArthur: “Ever Green, Ever Rain” (2019) CD Review

Michael McArthur is a singer and songwriter based in Lakeland, Florida. He has released a few EPs and singles, and his new disc, Ever Green, Ever Rain, is his debut full-length album. This CD demonstrates his talent both lyrically and vocally. The music is somewhere between folk and rock, and also has a lot of soul, particularly in his delivery. This is music that will move you, sometimes possibly to tears, sometimes to joy. The music is certain to have some effect on you, and it will also surprise you at times. And in these dark days when a significant portion of the population has unmasked itself, revealing its ugly and twisted racist visage, we need music that can hold us together and speak to the most human element within ourselves. Maybe that part of us can rise to the surface, and this nation can soon begin to heal and find itself again. I firmly believe that good music can help us achieve this. Listening to this album leaves me little doubt.

The album opens with “Earth And Space,” a gorgeous and powerful instrumental track, like rising over a beautiful, exciting land without fear. And away we go. It leads directly into the second track, “We Live & We Die,” and immediately there is a different sound, a different vibe, the prominent instrument being acoustic guitar. Michael McArthur’s voice has an intimate and slightly haunted quality. “I can hear the church bells singing from our house/Might as well be a fire alarm/There’s nothing in this life will save us now.” This song builds into something beautiful and potent. It’s an excellent track, one of my personal favorites. “Prisoner” has more of a pop and straight rock sound, which comes as something of a surprise after the first few tracks.

That’s followed by “Elaine,” which begins with a sweet, delicate sound on acoustic guitar. This song has an intimate feel, and then Michael’s vocals soon rise up to beautiful heights, like a prayer sent to a land beyond what we can grasp. “Maybe love is all I need/I’ve been low, below my knees/Close my eyes, so I can see/I’ve grown tired of the same old thing.” I love this sad, gorgeous song. Check out these wonderful lyrics: “You’re not your body/You’re not your skin/Beauty ain’t the bones/You’ve been hidden in/So where do we go, love/When the body dies?/And what do you see now/When you close your eyes?” And then the lines from “Simple Kindness” that stand out are “Learned exactly who I didn’t want to be/From someone I barely know” and “You call it love, I call it fear.”

“I’ve Been Wrong” is another engaging track, this one featuring some nice, prominent percussion. Michael McArthur has a way of pulling you in, then taking you to some incredible peaks as well as some sorrowful valleys. “But you use both lips/To stop me from breathing.” The repetition of the song’s title line, “I’ve been wrong,” at the end is striking and moving. The opening lines of “Rest’s Unknown” grab me immediately: “No, I wasn’t ready/For a life so heavy/For my fears were taught/And I try to let them go.” This one begins on acoustic guitar, then grows into something beautiful and ethereal. “I remember a place/Where innocence fades/Where we learned to run.” And these lines kind of destroy me: “I hope that my body goes/Before my mind does, remember me as I was/Seems like the days/Are getting harder to take.” Yes, this is another of the album’s strongest tracks.

Then a cool, somewhat funky bass line gets “Save Me From The Fire” going, taking us in a different direction. “See, a man is just a man without someone to know/And there ain’t no use for these hands without someone to hold.”  The clapping section comes as a surprise. That’s followed by “A Conversation Before Bed,” a song that rings so very true. Also, I love its title, which sort of sets its tone before the track even starts. The way he delivers the opening lines, “I’m sorry that I raised my voice/Said a whole lot more about me than you,” reminds me a bit of Martin Sexton. This is an emotionally engaging, beautiful song. The album then concludes with its title track, “Ever Green, Ever Rain,” which features some memorable lines like “We’re not alone/But we’re on our own” and “Life is a movie/With no director.”

CD Track List
  1. Earth And Space
  2. We Live & We Die
  3. Wild In The Blood
  4. Prisoner
  5. Elaine
  6. Simple Kindness
  7. I’ve Been Wrong
  8. Warmer Months
  9. Rest’s Unknown
  10. Save Me From The Fire
  11. A Conversation Before Bed
  12. Ever Green, Ever Rain
Ever Green, Ever Rain was released on January 25, 2019 on Dark River Records. It is available on both CD and vinyl.

Gary Wilson: “The King Of Endicott” (2019) CD Review

Gary Wilson’s new album, The King Of Endicott, features several tracks with Endicott in their titles, such as “Midnight In Endicott,” “A Perfect Day In Endicott” and of course “The King Of Endicott.” So where is Endicott anyway? It’s a small city in New York, named after a man who started a shoe company, and is known as the place where IBM was created (you know IBM, that U.S. company that worked closely with Hitler’s Nazis to make the Holocaust run more efficiently). Some famous folks hail from Endicott, including Rod Serling, Amy Sedaris and – most importantly for our immediate concerns – Gary Wilson. Gary Wilson, that wonderful and talented do-it-yourself weirdo, released his most famous album, You Think You Really Know Me, in 1977 (it has been re-issued a few times since then). After that album, many years passed before Gary Wilson put out any new music. But since his return, he has been quite active, releasing several albums. The latest, The King Of Endicott, features all original material, written and performed by Gary Wilson. The music here is an odd brand of pop, with enough quirks and joy and originality to make even the most jaded of music listeners smile.

The album opens with “The King Of Endicott (Intro),” a short introduction to the strange world of Endicott, the strange world of Gary Wilson. “Don’t be afraid,” he tells us, then explains that Endicott is a magical land. (The town’s nickname is Magic City.) This track features Frank Roma on saxophone. “It’s going to be a special night tonight,” he promises. And I believe him. That’s followed by “The Town Of A Thousand Lights,” a goofy and bright pop tune, probably unlike anything else you have in your music collection (unless of course you have some of Gary Wilson’s other albums). Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Listen to the wind/It wants to be my friend/We already made a date/I promise you I won’t be late.” This song also mentions The Twilight Zone, a little nod to another of Endicott’s famous sons. Then we get “The Lonely Park,” in which he repeats his earlier message, “Don’t be afraid,” which of course worries me. What’s going to happen to us if we go with this guy into the lonely park? I don’t know, but I can’t turn down his invitation. “Let’s take a walk into the lonely park.”

“I Think I’m Falling In Love” is a total delight. Love in this song sounds like a carnival ride for wayward children, like having a mirror above your bed, but making it a funhouse mirror (okay, that actually sounds kind of cool). “You looked into my mirror/Your eyes were filled with tears/I think it’s ‘cause I’m falling in love/I just want to dream with you tonight.” That’s followed by the album’s title track, “The King Of Endicott,” in which he sings that he’s going to take us to his magical land. Man, this entire album feels like it’s already there in that land, like everything is taking place there. This music is like a neighborhood made of candy. I want to take a bite here, take a bite there, while running around and playing.

“I Dream Of My Secret Girl” is kind of jazzy, but with an artificial feel, like a lounge singer broke into Hunter S. Thompson’s medicine cabinet. It is quirky and catchy. “Late at night I dream of my secret girl/Where birds can sing and trees can swing/It’s a perfect world.” That’s followed by “Midnight In Endicott,” another track that is just a delight, and takes me back to my own childhood, growing up in a small town and starting a band with friends and so on. “When I’m walking through the woods, it’s so much fun/I can feel the rain, it’s falling from the sky/Let me tell you something, baby, I won’t lie/I don’t want to be alone tonight.” This is a playful, wonderful tune. We go from midnight to day with “A Perfect Day In Endicott,” a peppy, fun number. “I don’t have to be alone/I bought a new telephone.”

At the beginning of “Mary Walked Away,” Gary sings, “play that organ.” Is he speaking to himself? It’s my understanding that Gary plays all instruments on this release (apart from the saxophone on the first track). I occasionally talk to myself, so I’m not judging. Then he says, “Sounds so good,” giving himself some encouragement. I do the same thing. Well, when I’m not berating myself, that is. “Oh, that sounds so nice.” Ah, when you’re right, you’re right. This song also mentions Endicott: “You’ll be the queen of Endicott, and I’ll be the king.” Well, if things weren’t odd enough for you so far, Gary then gives us “Another Dimension.” Another dimension, indeed! This one might be a bit frightening for those of you on acid, but if you’ve been smoking pot, it should be just fine. This album ends with “Hail To The King,” a song in which he is celebrating himself, I suppose; after all, he is the king, right? It concludes with a spoken word section: “Gather the gentle people of Endicott/We’re going to take a walk/Near the Northside Park tonight/And I’ll tell you all about the rain and the woods and the river and the wind/Come gather, my good friends/I have something to tell you tonight.”

CD Track List
  1. The King Of Endicott (Intro)
  2. The Town Of A Thousand Lights
  3. The Lonely Park
  4. Walking In The Rain Tonight
  5. I Think I’m Falling In Love
  6. The King Of Endicott
  7. I Don’t Want To Be Alone
  8. Lugene Lived In Johnson City
  9. I Dream Of My Secret Girl
  10. Midnight In Endicott
  11. A Perfect Day In Endicott
  12. Mary Walked Away
  13. Another Dimension
  14. It’s Summer Time
  15. Hail To The King 
The King Of Endicott was released on February 8, 2019 on Cleopatra Records.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Leo Bud Welch: “The Angels In Heaven Done Signed My Name” (2019) CD Review

Leo Bud Welch’s story is certainly interesting. The man released his debut album, Sabougla Voices, at the age of eighty-one. The following year he put out another studio album, I Don’t Prefer No Blues, and soon released a live album, Live At The Iridium, before passing in late 2017. Clearly, his story was all but shouting out for a documentary film, and last year we got that film, Late Blossom Blues: The Journey Of Leo “Bud” Welch. Now we are getting one last CD from him, a posthumous release featuring that great combination of blues and gospel that he became known for.  Joining him on this release are Dan Auerbach on electric guitar, bass, piano, drums and backing vocals; Russ Pahl on guitar; Leon Michels on organ and piano; Ray Jacildo on piano, organ, harpsichord, synthesizer and percussion; Dave Roe on bass; Richard Swift on drums and backing vocals. Leisa Hans, Vencie Varnado and Shelton Feazell provide backing vocals.

The disc opens with “I Know I Been Changed,” a tune with a cool, slow blues groove, Leo’s voice deep, honest and true. This is the song that gives the album its title, “Oh, I know I’ve been changed/The angels in heaven done signed my name.” I really like Leon Michels’ work on organ on this track. That’s followed by “Jesus Is On The Mainline,” this version having a great full band sound that threatens to get rowdy, like a party exploding up into the sky, and features some nice work on guitar. Then “Don’t Let The Devil Ride” has more of a blues rock sound, in the same general realm as a band like Cream, and becomes a good jam.

“I Come To Praise His Name” is the song that I most strongly associate with Leo Bud Welch. He used it as the lead track for his first release, Sabougla Voices. It was also the first track on his live album. On both of those releases, it was titled “Praise His Name.” On this new release, he delivers a version with a fuller, slightly more polished sound, but still with that great raw power that I love. That’s followed by “Walk With Me Lord,” a track with a very cool vibe, and a kind of trippy, haunting sound. This is one of my personal favorites. Then there is a more playful approach to “Right On Time,” which has a bit of a country vibe. It’s a fun tune. There is a bit of banter at the end of the track which leads right into the next track, “I Want To Be At The Meeting.” It’s interesting, because it seems like he’s kind of testing the waters on this one, finding his footing, and so there is a loose, gorgeously raw and immediate sound. It’s like we’re present at a rehearsal where everything comes together perfectly.

Leo Welch delivers a good rendition of “I Wanna Die Easy.” It’s always a bit eerie and strange to listen to someone who has died singing about his own death, but of course this song has a positive, uplifting bent, and is not morbid at all. “I want to go to heaven when I die.” Who knows what, if anything, waits for us upon our death? But if there is some sort of heaven, some sort of afterlife, I have to imagine that Leo Bud Welch is there singing some glorious blues and making the angels smile and sing backup for him.

I’ve always loved “This Little Light Of Mine.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad version of this song. Leo Welch’s rendition, titled “Let It Shine,” is a cool, groovy bluesy adaptation. “Up and down the road, I’m gonna let it shine/Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” The disc then ends with “Sweet Home,” a short number featuring Leo’s voice accompanied by just his own guitar and by Dan Auerbach on slide guitar. It seems like a good choice for a final track to his final release. “Before this time another year/I may be dead and gone/But I’ll let you know before I go.”

CD Track List
  1. I Know I Been Changed
  2. Jesus Is On The Mainline
  3. Don’t Let The Devil Ride
  4. I Come To Praise His Name
  5. Walk With Me Lord
  6. Right On Time
  7. I Want To Be At The Meeting
  8. I Wanna Die Easy
  9. Let It Shine
  10. Sweet Home
The Angels In Heaven Done Signed My Name is scheduled to be released on March 8, 2019 through Easy Eye Sound.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Motherhood: “Dear Bongo,” (2019) CD Review

There is so much fantastic music coming out of Canada these days, and Dear Bongo, the new album from Motherhood, is among the best I’ve heard. Motherhood is the trio of Brydon Crain on guitar and vocals; Penelope Stevens on bass, keys and vocals; and Adam Sipkema on drums. They are based in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and have been playing together for the better part of a decade. The music on the new release has a wide range of styles and vibes, sometimes even within a single track. It is often surprising and always enjoyable. With one exception, all tracks were written by the band.

The album opens with “Bird Chirp,” and I’m into it right away, as that cool, mean groove is established, rock with a bit of a bluesy edge. And when the vocals come in, they have an unusual pop feel. I love it when music can surprise me, and the vocal line to this song certainly did. And the lyrics are unusual. Here is a taste: “I'm a country bumpkin slumping drunk and bumping into something/Like a little kid or something, guess I gotta live for something/I used to live for nothing/Kicking up a fit for nothing.” This song becomes catchy as well, and has delightful moments of humor, like that “wah-wah” part halfway through. I just fucking love this tune; it is such an unusual combination of elements, with a playfulness that I can’t help but be taken with. Then suddenly at the end, it goes into “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” sounding like a separate recording of the song playing on the radio or something there at the studio. Certainly another surprise. And that is how this fantastic track ends.

Then “Way Down” begins with a completely different vibe and atmosphere. Sounds of children playing in the background are given a rather ominous feel by the haunting guitar that accompanies them. Then the song kicks in and becomes a cool tune. If you are into bands like Cake, you’re likely going to dig this. This one too goes in some interesting directions, with changes that keep you engaged. These guys can rock too. I love that rock and roll section, which even has a bit of a Beach Boys vibe, particularly the vocal work. And there is also a punk vibe to the vocals during part of that, mixing sweet and raw sounds so well. Holy moly, this band is so fucking good. This track ends with a scream. That’s followed by “#224,” an instrumental track that features another cool groove, with something of a classic rock sound at times, and elements of surf and punk. Once you are on this ride, you just aren’t getting off until the conductor says it’s okay.

“Nuns” is a mellower number at the start, with a vocal approach that reminds me a bit of Syd Barrett. This tune has a groovy, psychedelic quality that I love. I also really like the way the different voices interact in that section halfway through. This one builds steadily toward the end. Then “Costanza” comes on strong, with an almost-angry, wild tone. This is the one song that wasn’t written just by the band. It is based on Charlie Feathers’ “Can’t Hardly Stand It,” but with some different lyrics. “You've got me all fucked up/I'm not letting it slide in the back of the truck/If you're hiccupping drunk and you're getting it stuck/In the muck and the mire in the thick of the brush/As if it's not vicious and wicked enough.” There is a heavy feel to the jam in the second half of the track. That’s followed by “Sweet Kid,” the album’s second instrumental track, which has a bit of a progressive rock sound and a cute ending.

With “Pick Of The Pugs,” a kind of goofy, delightful vibe is established immediately. This is an absolutely wonderful tune, another of my favorites (with an odd reference to The Beatles). And when the backing vocals echo the lead lines, I like the song even more. There is something totally adorable about this track. “It hit me like a brick in the guts/Stinking like a fifth on the bus/Oh my, mighty fine to be alive.”  That’s followed by another excellent track, “Hallway,” a twisted carnival ride of destruction and joy, featuring some great (and sometimes humorous) vocal work. This one has a few surprises up its sleeve as well. “Then it sunk in, you were gone too/And I’d have to fix it without you.” The album then concludes with “Reprise,” which is a reprise of “Bird Chirp,” but this time with a fun folk feel. “I’ll be fine/I’ll be fine by and by.”

CD Track List
  1. Bird Chirp
  2. Way Down
  3. #224
  4. Nuns
  5. Costanza
  6. Sweet Kid
  7. Pick Of The Pugs
  8. Hallway
  9. Reprise 
Dear Bongo, is scheduled to be released on March 15, 2019. It is going to be available on record, CD and cassette (yes, that’s what I’m told). And the record release is going to be on yellow vinyl. I’m a sucker for colored vinyl, so I’m going to need to get a copy of that. I also need to pick up every other release this band has ever put out. Yes, these guys are that good. By the way, Motherhood will be touring the United States in March and April, so keep an eye out for them.

Peter Tork (1942 – 2019)

Peter Tork in Lowell, MA
Today we lost another musician, and one who has meant a lot to me in my life. I’ve mentioned this many times here and elsewhere, but The Monkees were my first favorite band, and remain one of my favorites to this day. I started listening to them in 1976, when I was four years old and Channel 56 in Massachusetts began rerunning the television series. I loved the show, but it was the music that really made it something special. Apart from a greatest hits compilation, the albums were hard to find at that time. My mom bought More Of The Monkees for me at a used record shop in Worcester, and it wasn’t cheap. That was my first record. In 1986, all the albums were re-released, and the band reunited for a tour, supported by Herman’s Hermits, The Grass Roots, and Gary Puckett & The Union Gap. Mike Nesmith wasn’t part of the tour, but getting to see Micky, Davy and Peter was a thrill for me. I saw them several more times over the years, and got backstage once in the late 1990s at the Universal Amphitheatre. But it was at a screening of the fantastic film Head that I met Peter Tork. This was at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles in 2008, and Peter happened to be seated directly behind me (Davy Jones was six seats to my left). I spoke with him briefly before the film started, and got a photo with him afterward. It was an incredible night. Peter Tork is going to be missed.

Davy Jones and Peter Tork at the Egyptian Theatre
me with Peter Tork (yes, I am ridiculously happy there)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 29” (2019) CD Review

I had a friend who did not like the Grateful Dead and who firmly believed a song shouldn’t be longer than three or four minutes. Then I played for him the studio version of “Terrapin Station,” which is sixteen minutes. He loved it. “Terrapin Station” is one of those magical songs that transports us and lifts us up. One word in the song is able to raise us on its own: “Inspiration.” When Jerry Garcia would sing that single word, the entire audience was carried to some higher plane. And it worked every time. The new volume in the Dave’s Picks series contains the complete show the Grateful Dead performed on February 26, 1977 at Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino, California. This show features the debut performance of “Terrapin Station.” For that alone, it’s an important show in the history of the Grateful Dead. But this concert also saw the debut of “Estimated Prophet,” another of the band’s greatest songs. Most of us had this show in our tape collection, and it’s fantastic to finally have an official release of this one.

Disc 1

The first disc contains the first set. And the band wastes no time. They open the show with “Terrapin Station.” It has a slightly tentative start, but the moment it kicks in, you know it’s something special. What must those in attendance have thought at hearing this song for the first time? Perhaps the same thing my friend thought upon hearing it some fifteen years later. We always went into a Dead show hoping for a little magic. This crowd got it from the moment the band began to play. “A rare and different tune,” indeed! And the sound is so good. They might not have been certain yet how to end the song, but no matter. Bob Weir then announces they’re experiencing technical difficulties. Ah, yes. That was often a part of the experience. Bob then leads the band into “New Minglewood Blues,” a straighter rockin’ number to get everyone grooving. This version moves with a delicious ferocity, and features some great stuff on guitar. “The doctor called me crazy/Sometimes I am, sometimes I ain’t.” The band follows that with a sweet rendition of “They Love Each Other” that becomes a nice jam. They then introduce their fans to another gem, “Estimated Prophet,” a song that would end up on the Terrapin Station LP a few months later. This is a song that Bob would often really sink his teeth into, and he clearly wanted to introduce it that way, as a powerful song, for this is a damn good and exciting version. So interesting to hear this song in the first set. Then we get an excellent “Sugaree,” with some glorious peaks. Yes, the band is definitely on.

“Mama Tried” is in the Country Bob slot, and it’s a fun, kind of bouncy rendition. It’s not paired with anything this time, as it often was, and soon Jerry leads the band into an energetic “Deal.” Then we get into some serious jamming to end the first set. Bob keeps the energy level high as the band launches into “Playing In The Band.” This version rocks, but the moment it goes into the jam, things begin to get interesting, as they move over the landscape, exploring the contours, dipping into greens and yellows, yet constantly moving forward, gathering folks along the way, propelling them along their own journey ahead. Forward, forward, but not too far out. No need to stray, as everything is immediate. Everything is right here. As things begin to relax just a bit, as we take stock of what we have, what we’ve learned, and what is still ahead, the band slides into “The Wheel.” Fucking perfect. “A little bit harder, just a little bit more/A little bit further than you’ve gone before.” Oh yes! And then we’re back in “Playing In The Band,” easing into it and then exploding into sunlight. And, holy moly, this is just the first set.

Disc 2

The second disc contains the first hour or so of the second set. After a bit of tuning, including some fun on keys, they come roaring out of the set break with a thumping rendition of “Samson And Delilah,” another tune that would end up on Terrapin Station. Keith provides some nice work on piano again while the band tunes, and then they go into a pretty good version of “Tennessee Jed” and follow it with “The Music Never Stopped,” a tune that always gets me dancing, even if I’m alone in my apartment listening to it on CD. It’s unusual to hear this one in the middle of a set. The band is rocking along at this show, no real slow songs, which is also unusual. “Help On The Way” has an interesting start, and a jazzy vibe. “Without love in the dream, it’ll never come true.” Must keep that in mind these days. The song segues into “Slipknot!” Man, I love lying on the floor and letting Phil’s bass vibrate in my chest and head. This “Slipknot!” gets kind of wild, an unhinged beast claiming all the surrounding land as its own, its large arms striking out at the hills. Then it finds its own balance, its happiness, and begins grooving as the band goes into “Franklin’s Tower.” This is a really good rendition, with plenty of fun, bright jamming. The second disc then concludes with a good dose of rock and roll, “Promised Land.” There is a bit of a “St. Stephen” tease on guitar before the disc ends (they would play “St. Stephen” the following night).

Disc 3

The third disc gets off to a fantastic start with “Eyes Of The World,” a song that never fails to raise my spirits. That delicious groove seems like it could heal us of all wounds. This is a wonderful version, with Phil’s bass prominent in the jam after the final verse. That jam leads directly into “Dancing In The Street” with a beat to keep everyone moving. It’s a whole lot of fun, and it goes straight into “Around And Around” to wrap up the second set. This version has a slower groove at the start, then suddenly picks up toward the end, becoming some serious rock and roll. The encore is “U.S. Blues,” a perfect song to listen to these days. And that’s how the Grateful Dead’s first concert of 1977 ended. The year was off to a phenomenal start, and would end up being one of the band’s best years.

The third disc contains some filler, the last few songs from the following night’s show in Santa Barbara. It starts with the very end of “Terrapin Station,” which quickly goes into a powerful “Morning Dew” that builds gloriously. That’s followed by a good version of “Sugar Magnolia” to finish the second set. We then get one last burst of rock and roll to round out the third disc, “Johnny B. Goode,” which was the encore that night.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Terrapin Station
  2. New Minglewood Blues
  3. They Love Each Other
  4. Estimated Prophet
  5. Sugaree
  6. Mama Tried
  7. Deal
  8. Playing In The Band >
  9. The Wheel >
  10. Playing In The Band
Disc 2
  1. Samson And Delilah
  2. Tennessee Jed
  3. The Music Never Stopped
  4. Help On The Way >
  5. Slipknot! >
  6. Franklin’s Tower
  7. Promised Land
Disc 3
  1. Eyes Of The World >
  2. Dancing In The Street >
  3. Around And Around
  4. U.S. Blues
  5. Morning Dew
  6. Sugar Magnolia
  7. U.S. Blues 
Dave’s Picks Volume 29 was released in early February, 2019. My copy arrived on February 2nd. Though the Dave’s Picks series continues to be released in limited editions, the number of copies available has increased to 20,000 with this volume (2,000 more than the previous volume).

RJ Chesney: “Amateur Revolution” (2019) CD Review

RJ Chesney is a singer and songwriter who is currently based in Los Angeles, though grew up in Georgia and Mississippi. He has been recording for nearly a decade now, and his new album, Amateur Revolution, is collaboration with HP Gundersen (making me wonder if they clicked because of their use of two initials in place of a first name). Interestingly, the album was recorded in Norway and here in Los Angeles, using musicians from both places. The release features all original material, written by RJ Chesney and HP Gundersen (with one track written by just RJ Chesney), and both songwriters play guitar on the album. Gundersen also plays pedal steel. The material is some good solid country and folk music, and RJ Chesney has some talented musicians joining him, including Henrik Paulsen on electric guitar, Jason Hiller on bass (Hiller also co-produced the album), Maesa Pullman on drums, and Chris Joyner on keys and accordion. Most of the musicians also provide backing vocals, as does Heidi Torsvik. There are also some guest musicians on certain tracks.

The album opens with a sweet and fun country love song, “Splendors Of This Earth,” though its opening lines are “You are not my lover/Lovers we were never meant to be.” Yeah, it’s a different kind of love that’s being expressed here, in lines like “Because of you, in the morning I rise” and “I see the world through a baby’s eyes because of you.” How are those for compliments? This track features some nice backing vocals, as well as some wonderful work on pedal steel by Marty Rifkin. This song is dedicated to Abbey Lincoln. “If only you could see how much you mean to me.” That’s followed by another fun and lively country tune, “Pull Down The Moon.” I can’t help but smile while listening to this, even if it tells of the end of a relationship. “Pull down the moon along with you/For I no longer need the view.” This track has a delicious groove and some wonderful stuff on keys.

“A Place Just For Me” is a mellower, pretty tune, featuring some really nice, intimate vocal work. “Sometimes I go to a place/A place that is just for me/A place that only I inhabit/It’s a world built from my dreams.” This song becomes more beautiful as the female vocals are added. This is one of my favorite songs of the album. “But when this life becomes too much/That is when I walk away.” I think this song is going to speak to a lot of us, particularly these days. That’s followed by “Amateur Revolution,” the disc’s title track. It’s a lively, positive, optimistic tune with a full sound, using the word amateur in its original and true sense. “There’s magic, it’s in the air/And a chance of beauty is blooming everywhere.” Then “Do You Remember Me?” has a sweet, gentle, loving sound. I love Marty Rifkin’s work on pedal steel. “Do you remember/How we looked in each other’s eyes/Spoke not a word, not a single word.”

“No Reason Left To Stay” is a delightful, sweet, kind of adorable tune, even if its lyrics describe a sad state: “Alone I walk the streets we walked together/You were right beside me, now you are not there at all/It’s the first burst of summer, but it feels like the last light of fall.” And I appreciate the play with language in the line “Yet another morning has broken my heart, but I won’t show it.” “Death, An Old Widows Peek” has a bit of word play as well, obvious in its title, where the word peek is substituted for its homonym, peak. “At least let an old widow take a peek.” This is a darker, bluesy number. That’s followed by “Baby, You’re Not Dead,” a fun, energetic tune, with a rhythm that chugs along. It’s a song about being haunted by someone who isn’t dead. “I could have stood strong over your grave/With a handful of dirt, a final wave/I could have broken down, cried endless tears/And I wouldn’t be expected to recover for years/But baby, baby, you’re not dead.” “Never Give Up On Love” is a pretty song, with some nice vocal work. Does this song remind you a bit of Paul Kelly? “And I know it feels like you lost everything/Your angels shout, they give you a yell/They say never give up on love.” I can’t help but love this song. Jack Pullman plays jaw harp on this one. By the way, this is the one song that was written by RJ Chesney without HP Gundersen. The album then concludes with another positive number, “Rise Up And Sing.” “Sing to the birds/Sing to the flowers/Sing in the sunshine/And sing in the shower.”

CD Track List
  1. Splendors Of This Earth
  2. Pull Down The Moon
  3. A Place Just For Me
  4. Amateur Revolution
  5. Do You Remember Me?
  6. Proud Of You Child
  7. No Reason Left To Stay
  8. Da Mayor Is On The Scene
  9. Death, An Old Widows Peek
  10. Baby You’re Not Dead
  11. Never Give Up On Love
  12. Rise Up And Sing
Amateur Revolution is scheduled to be released on April 5, 2019.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Colin James: “Miles To Go” (2018) CD Review

In 2016, singer and guitarist Colin James released Blue Highways, an album where he covered some excellent blues tunes. Now he has followed that with Miles To Go, which also contains mostly covers, but some original tunes as well. There are some really good choices as far as the cover material goes, with Colin delivering renditions of tunes by Muddy Waters and Blind Willie Johnson. Joining Colin James on this release are Geoff Hicks on drums and percussion, Steve Pelletier on bass, Jesse O’Brien on keys, Simon Kendall on organ, Chris Gestrin on piano, Chris Caddell on rhythm guitar, Steve Marriner on harmonica, Steve Hilliam on tenor saxophone, Jerry Cook on baritone saxophone, Rod Murray on trombone, and Colin Nairne on synthesizer. The Sojourners and Colleen Rennison provide backing vocals.

Colin James opens this album with a lively and groovy rendition of “One More Mile,” a Muddy Waters tune. The horns and harmonica together sound so damn good, and that sound contributes a large part to my enjoyment of this track. It becomes a good jam, with plenty of nice work on guitar and keys. Colin James follows that with another Muddy Waters song, “Still A Fool.” This one begins with vocals and guitar, establishing a cool style. Then the band kicks in, and the song takes on a heavy blues rock vibe. “Dig Myself A Hole” has more of fun vibe from the start, with a strong rhythm and some good work on horns. Yet, the lyrics provide a warning about the dire state of the world. This song was written by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, and included on his 1962 LP, Mean Ole Frisco. Though the song is several decades old, it is so fitting for these days when things have gone so wrong. Could they get even worse? It’s certainly possible, the longer Donald Trump and his fellow fascists are allowed to remain in power. Someone needs to pay a visit to those demented racists, put an end to this horror show. “Well, the whole world’s in an uproar/People all sing the same song/If we don’t stop messing up, you know we sure won’t be here long/I’m going to dig myself a hole, move my baby down in the ground/And when I come up, there ain’t gonna be no one around.”

“I Will Remain” is one of the album’s original songs written by Colin James. It is a somewhat mellow blues tune, featuring some good work on guitar. It also offers some comfort, something we all need these days. “When all seems lost and you don’t know where to turn/And all the white lines on the highway blur/Just call my name and let me ease the pain/I will remain.” I love those gospel backing vocals. That’s followed by another original tune, “40 Light Years,” this one written by Colin James, Tom Wilson and Jesse O’Brien. This one has something of a playful feel, and is kind of catchy. “I’d like to get to know you/But you’re forty light years away.” It features more strong work on harmonica. “Ooh Baby Hold Me” is another fun one, a totally catchy Howlin’ Wolf tune featuring a delightful jam. Then “Black Night” gets off to a great start on keys. This is a mellower, late-night blues number about regretting that another day has passed in loneliness. “Nobody cares about me/I ain’t even got a friend/Baby’s gone and left me/When will my troubles end?/Black night is falling/Gee, how I hate to be alone.” It features a really nice vocal performance, as well as some good work on guitar. “Black Night” was written by Jessie Mae Robinson, and was a hit for Charles Brown in the early 1950s.

“Soul Of A Man” opens with a bit of harmonica, then establishes a delicious groove. This is a seriously good rendition of the classic Blind Willie Johnson song, certainly one of the disc’s highlights. I like the use of backing vocals here. This track ends as it began, with harmonica. That’s followed by “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” a Blind Lemon Jefferson song that is sometimes listed as “One Kind Favor.” This one has been covered by a lot of artists over the years, including Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Canned Heat and the Grateful Dead. This rendition by Colin James opens with some good work on guitar, and has a great, dark acoustic feel. We then go back to an electric blues sound for a cool cover of Little Willie John’s “I Need Your Love So Bad,” featuring nice stuff on keys. Then Colin James’ rendition of “Tears Came Rolling Down” has a harder blues sound. The album began with Muddy Waters’ “One More Mile,” and it concludes with a different version of that same song. This second version is a cool, stripped down acoustic rendition, with good work on guitar and some wonderful backing vocals.

CD Track List
  1. One More Mile
  2. Still A Fool
  3. Dig Myself A Hole
  4. I Will Remain
  5. 40 Light Years
  6. Ooh Baby Hold Me
  7. Black Night
  8. Soul Of A Man
  9. See That My Grave Is Kept Clean
  10. I Need Your Love So Bad
  11. Tears Came Rolling Down
  12. One More Mile (Acoustic)
Miles To Go was released on September 21, 2018 on True North Records.