Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Band Vs. Brand DVD Review

Band Vs. Brand is a documentary about the music industry in the digital age, particularly regarding how the brand of a band might now be more important than the actual members of the band. A somewhat depressing idea, but an intriguing film. Narration at the beginning mentions that the idea of branding is rather recent, that music companies in the sixties and seventies didn’t imagine a long-term future for their artists. “Little did they know that rock and roll icons such as Elvis, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin would outlive their active careers and their brands would become more profitable than ever before.”

Interestingly, record company executive David Tedds says that this question of branding is not new, that big bands continued long after their leaders died because of the brand, the name recognition. He also makes a point about doo-wop bands that would continue with only one original member, or even no original members. (I went to see one of those bands several years ago – I believe it was The Platters – and was shocked and infuriated to find no original members. I left after two songs.) Other music executives are interviewed in this film, as well as band managers and publicists. But most of the people interviewed are musicians. Though doo-wop and big band music are mentioned at the beginning, this documentary focuses on hard rock. Those interviewed include Nadir D’Priest (of London), David Ellefson (of Megadeth), David Lombardo (of Slayer), Marc Ferrari (of Keel) and Jack Russell (of Great White).

I think the argument can be made that the brand is more important than the band,” says Marc Ferrari. Bands make more money merchandising their name than selling their records, and apparently the profit margin is greater on the sale of a T-shirt than a record. The documentary includes a segment on band logos, showing plenty of examples, most of which you’ll recognize even if you aren’t familiar with the music. The narrator says, “It is vital to own the trademark, and to establish an eye-catching logo to imprint on everything from T-shirts, baseball caps and stickers to alcoholic beverages, tattoos and condoms.” And yes, there are examples of all. “KISS Kondoms: Tongue Lubricated.” Really? Bloody hell. I have never been a fan of KISS, and this little bit of information certainly did not endear the band to me. The narrator goes on to say, “No artist in the history of music has capitalized on the business of branding more than KISS.” True.

Several of those interviewed also talk about classic rock bands now re-uniting without all the original members. They use Queen and Journey as examples of bands whose bodies of work are popular enough that they can tour without their famous lead singers. A connection is drawn to bands who changed singers rather early in the careers, such as Black Sabbath and AC/DC. But of course it’s not the same thing, since those bands didn’t actually break up. Journey and Queen got back together without key members to tour, seemingly to capitalize on nostalgia and on the popularity of the music. At what point does a band become a tribute to itself? Someone once said to me that the Rolling Stones have become the world’s best Rolling Stones cover band. And that rang true to me, that the Stones had long ago ceased being a creative entity and are simply cashing in on the love people have for what they once were. This documentary does delve into the question of tribute bands. I’ve never cared for tribute bands, because there is nothing remotely artistic or creative about what they do. It’s interesting to me that someone in this film indicates that occasionally tribute bands make more money than surviving members of the bands they’re covering.

The documentary is divided into different sections, and there is a section on how the internet has changed the music industry. Mike Varney (of Shrapnel Records) says, “When you do away with the labels, you do away with a lot of the quality control.” It is mentioned how the internet is allowing bands to exist without them having to put in the time on the road to learn, to establish themselves, to develop creatively. So the market is flooded with a lot of garbage. That is true. But there is a lot of really good music out there as well, from artists the big labels probably would not have risked taking on. The film also includes a section on touring. What is interesting is that it helps to keep any version of the band on the road, because that generates income even for the original members or their estates, as keeping the brand name in front of the people does lead to sales of albums and T-shirts and so on. Toward the end, something is mentioned that I had been happily been unaware of: bands performing with holograms of dead singers. That is completely insane.

Though a good deal of this documentary’s topic I found rather depressing, I was still completely engaged. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Band Vs. Brand was directed by Bob Nalbandian, and was released on DVD on February 12, 2018 through Cleopatra Entertainment and MVD Visual. The DVD includes two different trailers for the movie, as well trailers for a few other music documentaries.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Marley’s Ghost: “Travelin’ Shoes” (2019) CD Review

I’ve been enjoying Marley’s Ghost for a decade (the group has been around for more than thirty years), and am always excited when they put out a new album. Travelin’ Shoes, the group’s latest offering, is an excellent album of gospel tunes. Yes, it’s that wonderful country and folk variety of gospel. When I hear music like this, I almost wish I were a believer. Yeah, it’s that good. Of course, for me this music is about spirit and humanity and not religion, and so we can all take part in it, we can all appreciate it. There is a lot of joy to the music on this disc, and some excellent vocal work. The album was produced by Larry Campbell, who also produced the band’s 2016 release, The Woodstock Sessions, which also featured a bit of gospel.

This album gets off to a fantastic start with its title track, “Travelin’ Shoes.” I completely love this song, even before it kicks in. This version opens with the line “Death comes knocking on the hypocrite’s door,” rather than “the sinner’s door” or “my mother’s door,” and I can’t help but think of all those so-called religious people who support Donald Trump. Hypocrisy is a way of life for them now. And when the song kicks in, it becomes an absolute gem, a sort of bluegrass gospel tune. Then, when you think it can’t get any better, it goes into this glorious vocal section with strong gospel tones. And who is it I think of when they sing “Death comes knocking on the liar’s door”? They follow that with a cover of “Hear Jerusalem Moan,” the first lines delivered a cappella. It then becomes a groovy, joyful bluegrass number. Wonderful stuff! This album is a lot of fun. This track features more great vocal work, and I love that fiddle. There is also some nice stuff on keys. “You Can’t Stand Up Alone” begins a cappella too, and kicks in to become a joyful, wonderful, upbeat number.

As I mentioned, Larry Campbell produced this album. He also provides a composition, “Someday,” a song that was recorded by The Dixie Hummingbirds and included on that gospel group’s 2003 release, Diamond Jubilation. It’s a catchy, delightful song, and Marley’s Ghost does a really good job with it. That’s followed by a cover of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs’ “So Happy I’ll Be.” The vocals are so bloody good, and this tune makes me happy. This is music that reminds us of how good life actually is, how incredible it is to be here at all. I mean, seriously, it’s kind of crazy when you think about it, the odds of existing at all. It kind of makes it even less understandable that people can be such shits sometimes. We then get a cool rendition of “Shadrack,” featuring more impressive vocal work. The bass is at the heart of this one. They then give “Run Come See Jerusalem” a distinct island vibe, which works surprisingly well.

The album’s only original composition, “Judgment Day,” written by Dan Wheetman, begins a cappella. When it kicks in, it takes on a more rocking country sound and is a powerful number. “Take pity on a wounded heart/Forgive me if you can/And pray that when I leave this world/I will find my heart again.” That’s followed by “When Trouble’s In My Home,” which has more of a bluesy folk sound at the start. And when it kicks in, you might find yourself singing along. “Sometimes I have to cry when trouble’s in my home.” And like the blues, by singing out about our troubles, this song makes us feel a whole lot better about them. Seriously, this should lift you straight out of the current gloom. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I think Donald Trump and his racist cronies can be defeated by music. There is no way their soullessness could stand up to music like this. I feel that their skin would crack and their horrid bodies would dry up completely and blow away at the sound of this music.

“Standing By The Bedside Of A Neighbor” has a delightful classic country and western sound, a jazzy feel, and features some wonderful playing, particularly during the instrumental section. That’s followed by “A Beautiful Life.” “Life’s evening sun/Is sinking low/A few more days/And I must go.” Has an imminent death ever sounded so good? I mean, if death is like this, with this music playing, none of us will fear or despair our passing. The album then concludes with “Sweet Hour Of Prayer,” a mellower, slower tune, with yet more excellent vocal work. “In seasons of distress and grief/My soul has often found relief.” Amen.

CD Track List
  1. Travelin’ Shoes
  2. Hear Jerusalem Moan
  3. You Can’t Stand Up Alone
  4. Someday
  5. So Happy I’ll Be
  6. Shadrack
  7. Run Come See Jerusalem
  8. Judgment Day
  9. When Trouble’s In My Home
  10. Standing By The Bedside Of A Neighbor
  11. A Beautiful Life
  12. Sweet Hour Of Prayer
Travelin’ Shoes was released on February 8, 2019.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Permanent Green Light at The Federal Bar, 2-10-19 Concert Review

Permanent Green Light performing "Ballad Of Paul K."
I’ve seen some seriously good shows at The Federal Bar in the last few years. Gary Calamar hosts a concert series there, Mimosa Music Series, and he’s managed to get some fantastic artists to perform. Today the bill consisted of Chris Price and Permanent Green Light. If you are familiar with Permanent Green Light, you know their show today was a true rarity. As Gary mentioned in his introduction, “This band only plays once every twenty-five years.” I’m not sure if that is even an exaggeration. The band broke up in the mid-1990s after only one LP, an EP and some singles. But in October of 2018, a compilation of their music was released. Titled Hallucinations, it features music from their earlier releases as well as some previously unreleased tracks. It’s a wonderful collection of music. The band, by the way, for those who don’t know, is made up of Michael Quercio on bass and vocals, Matt Devine on guitar and vocals, and Chris Bruckner on drums. And today they delivered a totally fun set of power pop.

Gary Calamar introduced them at 12:17 p.m., and helped establish the afternoon’s playful tone by holding up a single shoe that had been found and asking if anyone would claim it. I’m not sure if that shoe was reunited with its owner or not, but soon the band’s set was underway and everyone was having a good time. Permanent Green Light focused on material that was included on Hallucinations. In introducing “We Could Just Die,” Michael Quercio said, “All right, rock and roll.” And indeed, that song rocked. Apparently, the band rehearsed for this gig, and they sounded great. Sure, it might have been just a tad loud for the room, but was so much fun. “We Could Just Die” was followed by “The Goddess Bunny.” Then Michael took off his jacket, mentioning “I bought this jacket at Target.” He joked that he goes to that store because it’s convenient and he’s lazy.

Before “Street Love,” Michael introduced Matt: “On guitar, the wonder that is Matt Devine.” Matt sang lead on that song. That was followed by “Ballad Of Paul K.,” which Michael introduced as “a song about one of our old friends.” He then asked, “Is he here?” After “Lovely To Love Me,” Michael mentioned that the next song kind of boogies. “It doesn’t go on long enough to be a proper one,” he said. The song was “Wintertime’s A-Comin’, Martha Raye.” Michael then told the crowd, “We’d like to leave you with a message.” And the band went into “(You & I Are The) Summertime,” which totally delighted the audience. This song featured some great stuff on drums, and turned into a good jam. It was certainly a highlight of the set. They came out for an encore, and as Michael tuned, Matt told the crowd: “I tuned backstage. I’ve got a system worked out.” The encore was “All For You.” The show ended at 1 p.m. And it was clear that everyone present knew they had witnessed something special.

Set List
  1. (I forgot to write down the first song – sorry, folks)
  2. We Could Just Die
  3. The Goddess Bunny
  4. Honestly
  5. Street Love
  6. Ballad Of Paul K.
  7. Lovely To Love Me
  8. Wintertime’s A-Comin’, Martha Raye
  9. (You & I Are The) Summertime 
Encore
  1. All For You
 Here are a few photos from their set:

"We Could Just Die"
"We Could Just Die"
"Wintertime's A-Comin', Martha Raye"
"(You & I Are The) Summertime"
"(You & I Are The) Summertime"
"(You & I Are The) Summertime"

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

Chris Price at The Federal Bar, 2-10-19 Concert Review

Chris Price performing "Roller Coaster"
One of the best ways to start my Sunday is with some live music and mimosas at The Federal Bar, even if it means standing in the drizzle for an hour or so. (I can’t honestly call it rain, though others in line did.) Today the Mimosa Music Series continued with a fantastic double bill – Chris Price and Permanent Green Light. People began lining up more than an hour before doors opened for this special show, braving what for Los Angeles is considered bad weather. The doors opened at 11, and within fifteen minutes the place was packed. Today is also the day of the Grammys, and at 11:30 a.m. concert series host Gary Calamar introduced Chris Price as an artist who will one day be at the Grammys, if that’s what he wants.

I had seen Chris Price perform at the Mimosa Music Series before, nearly a year ago. At that show, he had a full band. Today he performed solo, giving his extraordinary vocal and songwriting talents more of the focus. He played material from all three of his solo albums, plus some new tunes. He opened his set with “Man Down,” a song from his 2017 release Stop Talking. For this song he played keyboard, and then switched to guitar for “That’s Your Boyfriend,” a totally enjoyable song from his first album, Homesick. He followed that with “Roller Coaster,” from his 2018 album Dalmatian, and then “Algebra In The Sky,” seriously rocking the acoustic guitar. One of the highlights of the set for me was “Stop Talking.” It’s such a damn good song, and it was great to hear a solo acoustic rendition.

That was followed by another highlight, a new song titled “Running In Place,” for which Chris switched back to keyboard. It’s a seriously cool song, sort of in the same realm as early material from Randy Newman or Harry Nilsson. “I always run in place/When there’s so much to do.” Chris then showed off how his keyboard has been through a lot, and went into “The Angels Of Buena Vista,” from Dalmatian. He followed that with another new song, “Past Is Present,” which he played on guitar. “I wish it was all in the past/But the past is always present.” “Running In Place” and “Past Is Present” are an indication that Chris Price’s next album might be his best so far. I’m certainly looking forward to it.

“Spam” is a song about people who try to swindle folks out of their savings by promising large amounts of money if they’d only give them their bank account and social security numbers. How people fall for that, I’ll never understand, but it’s a good song. Chris broke a string while playing it, and so switched back to keyboard for the final song of his set, a beautiful cover of The Band’s “Whispering Pines.” It was a fairly short set, finishing at 12:04 p.m.

Set List
  1. Man Down
  2. That’s Your Boyfriend
  3. Roller Coaster
  4. Algebra In The Sky
  5. Stop Talking
  6. Running In Place
  7. The Angels Of Buena Vista
  8. Past Is Present
  9. Spam
  10. Whispering Pines
Here are a few photo from Chris Price’s set:

"Man Down"
"Man Down"
"That's Your Boyfriend"
"Roller Coaster"
"Running In Place"

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

Saturday, February 9, 2019

James Fernando: “The Lonely Sailor” (2019) CD Review

I’ve been drawn to the sound of piano my entire life, perhaps in part because my grandfather was a pianist and taught me a few things on that instrument when I was young. I love how gorgeous and moving the instrument can sound in a classical setting, and how fun it can be in a honky tonk or rock and roll setting. And sometimes what I need is just some solo piano work. Jazz pianist James Fernando has been playing the instrument since he was a child. Last year he released his first album, Extended Layover, with vocalist Mingjia Chen. And now he has released his first solo album, The Lonely Sailor, featuring all original compositions. There is a passion to his playing, and a beauty to these tracks that a lot of people should find compelling.

The disc opens with its title track, “The Lonely Sailor,” which is gorgeous, moving and even haunting at moments. It is perhaps especially effective when listened to alone at night, when you can get swept up in the piece’s emotion. It feels like an intimate voice in a much larger and darker expanse, and then rises to fill that space, as if to gain control of the landscape. And then it ends gently, softly, quietly. This is, for me, one of the album’s best tracks. It is followed by “Untold,” which takes its own interesting journey, beginning in a place that feels of melancholy and anguish, yet is pretty. This track takes some unexpected turns, speaking with power at moments, pulling me in to its world. Then “The Journey Within” seems to begin in a darker space. If it is a look within, as its title suggests, perhaps at first we are unsure we’ll appreciate what we find there. But then our steps become lighter, less tentative, as we grow more comfortable, more interested in what we discover. There is magic there after all, and it turns out not to be a lonesome place.

“Ancient Lullaby” begins in a delicate, gentle place, as winds sweep across the landscape. It then opens up into an enchanting world, as if we stepped through a shimmering doorway into a dream. Then “Troubled Waters” has a somewhat unsettling and tense opening, and it’s hard to find one’s footing. Things then calm for a moment. Are we safe, or are we drowning, looking up at the sunlight from beneath the surface? It builds from there, growing in power, in volume, to its conclusion. And then we are through to the other side, right into “The Other Side Of The Storm,” a strange dreamlike place of wonder and without pain. Its beauty soon surrounds us, envelops us, heals us. There is something pretty about “The Last Sunset At Sea” right from the start. And it feels that all these pieces are connected, taking us on an oddly personal journey into an unfamiliar world. The disc and the journey then conclude with “Where The Grass Is Greener,” which begins with delicate steps, as across a reflective pool, the ripples sent out and meeting themselves on their way back from the edge. There is no danger here, but something perhaps gently guiding us as we pass through the dream.

CD Track List
  1. The Lonely Sailor
  2. Untold
  3. The Journey Within
  4. Ancient Lullaby
  5. Troubled Waters
  6. The Other Side Of The Storm
  7. The Last Sunset At Sea
  8. Where The Grass Is Greener
The Lonely Sailor was released on February 8, 2019.

Humble Pie: “Joint Effort” (2019) CD Review

Humble Pie was formed when vocalist and guitarist Steve Marriott left Small Faces. The original lineup of the group included Peter Frampton, but by 1971 he was replaced by Dave Clempson. The band also included Greg Ridley on bass and Jerry Shirley on drums. In 1974-1975, they recorded Joint Effort, at the same time they were recording Street Rats. Street Rats was released in 1975; Joint Effort was released yesterday. Interestingly, a couple of songs ended up on both albums – covers of “Rain” and “Let Me Be Your Lovemaker.” Liner notes by Dave Thompson tell the story of how this album came about. The band broke up not long after both albums were recorded, though reunited four years later for a brief period. The tracks on this release will certainly be cherished by Humble Pie fans. But even for those with only a slight interest in the band, there is some good material here, tunes worth checking out.

The album opens with a cover of “Think,” a song written by Lowman Pauling and made famous by James Brown (the liner notes erroneously credit Brown as the writer). The song was originally recorded by The “5” Royales, but it is the James Brown version that provides the inspiration for this Humble Pie rendition. This is a delightful, funky number with an edge, particularly to the vocal delivery. This track has a raw, loose power, and is a lot of fun. It should get you on your feet. “Think” is followed by “This Ol’ World,” a song with a good deal of soul. I love that guitar. This one too has something of a raw, unpolished sound. It was written by Steve Marriott and Greg Ridley. “This ol’ world can’t last too long/The way some people carry on.” Yup. And I love these lines: “Stand and be counted, y’all, as a people and not a nation/We’ve got the power, but not a one of us has got the inclination.” This is one of my favorite tracks. “Midnight Of My Life” is another of the album’s strongest tracks. It too has soul and a great vibe, as well as powerful and passionate vocals. It’s a song you can sink your teeth into.

The two tracks that would be included on both Street Rats and Joint Effort are “Let Me Be Your Lovemaker” and “Rain,” and on this album the two are presented one after the other. “Let Me Your Lovemaker” is a song that was a hit for Betty Wright in 1973. Humble Pie’s rendition has a heavier sound, more of a rock tune. Then the band’s cover of The Beatles’ “Rain” has a full and raw 1970s rock sound. That’s followed by “Snakes & Ladders,” a thumping, heavy tune written by Steve Marriott. “A Minute Of Your Time” is a slower, soulful number, and another of the disc’s highlights. That’s followed by “Charlene,” a very cool, kind of funky rock tune with an opening line that surprised me: “Let me tell you, when I was rich I was a son of a bitch.” The album ends the way it began, with a cover of “Think,” titled “Think 2.” It fades in like it’s a reprise, but it’s nearly as long as the disc’s opening track. This is a fun, funky jam, a great way to wrap things up.

CD Track List
  1. Think
  2. This Ol’ World
  3. Midnight Of My Life
  4. Let Me Be Your Lovemaker
  5. Rain
  6. Snakes & Ladders
  7. Good Thing
  8. A Minute Of Your Time
  9. Charlene
  10. Think 2
Joint Effort was released on February 8, 2019 through Deadline Music, a division of Cleopatra Records. It is available on both CD and vinyl (I want to get a copy of this one on purple vinyl).

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Good Old Boys: “Live” (2018) CD Review

During the Grateful Dead’s break, from the end of October 1974 to the beginning of June 1976, Jerry Garcia was busy. In addition to a new Grateful Dead studio album (Blues For Allah) and a solo studio album (Reflections), he continued to perform with various folks, including a group called Good Old Boys, which featured David Nelson on guitar. Garcia had, as you likely know, previously played with Nelson in New Riders Of The Purple Sage. The group also included Frank Wakefield on mandolin, Brantley Kearns on fiddle and Pat Campbell on bass. Jerry Garcia played banjo, as he did a couple of years earlier with Old & In The Way. Now a live recording of this group has surfaced, and has been released as a two-disc set. The recordings are from February 20th and 21st, 1975, at a place called Margarita’s Cantina in Santa Cruz, California. And the sound is really good. That’s because it was recorded by John Cutler using Bear’s equipment.

The first disc opens with a brief introduction: “We’re the Good Old Boys, and we’re going to lay some genuine bluegrass on you here tonight.” And then they go right into “Ashes Of Love,” which was the lead-off track on the band’s studio release Pistol Packin’ Mama. It is a pleasant bluegrass tune with plenty of good playing. “Your every wish was my command/My heart tells me I must forget/I loved you then, I love you yet.” That’s followed by a song that will be familiar to Grateful Dead fans, “Deep Elem Blues.” Interestingly, this rendition features Frank Wakefield on lead vocals, not Jerry Garcia. But there is a lot of good banjo playing on it. There is also some wonderful work on fiddle by Brantley Kearns. I’ve been fortunate enough to see Brantley perform several times here in Los Angeles with a variety of folks. He is one hell of a good fiddler. There are band introductions following “Deep Elem Blues.” Jerry Garcia is introduced thus: “And this fellah behind me on the banjo, he’s created a lot of different styles, and he’s doing, uh, he does jazz music on the guitar and he plays awful good bluegrass banjo.”

“Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” (here simply titled “Dim Lights”) is one of my favorite tracks on the first disc. It features some wonderful blending of voices and great stuff on mandolin. That’s followed by “Toy Heart,” a totally enjoyable song with some more nice stuff on banjo. All of these first four songs were included on Pistol Packin’ Mama. They follow that with a tune that was not included on that studio album, “Fireball Mail.” It’s introduced as “a banjo tune where everybody get to do a little picking,” and somebody there shouts out for Garcia. This is a fun instrumental number, and yes, everyone gets a chance to shine on it. Another highlight of the first disc is “I’ll Never Make You Blue,” in large part because of the vocals. But it also has a cool vibe.

“All The Good Times” comes on fast, the way we often want our bluegrass tunes to, and the crowd is immediately into it. The one is a total delight, and it features Jerry Garcia on vocals, so, yes, it is one of my favorite tracks. Things continue moving with “She’s No Angel,” a playful number. “You’d like to meet her/Your conscience says no/Obey your conscience/Turn around, boy, and go.” That’s followed by a nice rendition of “Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail,” a song Jerry Garcia would revisit later (it would be included on the Almost Acoustic album). We then get another instrumental number, “Wildwood Flower,” which has a cheerful tone. It gets me smiling, and gets the audience clapping along. I love Dave Nelson’s work on guitar. The first disc concludes with “Teardrops In My Eyes.” “I found out what they say is true/I hope someday that you’ll be blue.”

The second disc opens with “Lonesome Road Blues,” which seems to already be in progress. The lyrics to this one are basically the same as “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad.” And in fact at the end of the song, they tell the crowd, “We’re feeling pretty good, but that was ‘Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad.’” That’s followed by “Long Gone” and then “Leave Well Enough Alone,” two tunes that were included on Pistol Packin’ Mama. We then get a song called “White House Blues,” a title that seems rather timely. But this is an old song about William McKinley, and particularly about his assassination. (Oh, I can’t help but wish that part were timely as well.) “The doc came a-running, pulled off his specs/He said to McKinley, ‘Better cash in your checks/You’re bound to die, you’re bound to die.’

When Deadheads hear the phrase “T for Texas,” they generally think of the song “New Minglewood Blues,” where the line is “It's T for Texas, yes, and it's T for Timbuctoo.” But on this release the Good Old Boys cover a song titled “T For Texas,” with the lines “Now T for Texas, T for Tennessee/Now T for Thelma, made a wreck of me.” Interestingly, this song also has the line “I'd rather drink muddy water, sleep in a hollow log,” which also finds its way into “I Know You Rider” (early versions of that song by the Grateful Dead include the verse with that line, though the band later dropped it from the tune). This track features some cool work by Pat Campbell on bass. “T For Texas” is followed by “Jesus Loves His Mandolin Player,” an instrumental track, a mandolin solo. Then, after “First Whippoorwill,” we get another instrumental track, “New Camptown Races,” a fairly fast-paced and fun tune.

Before “Pistol Packin’ Mama” (here titled “Pistol Packing Mama”), they mention the studio album which apparently they had just recorded. “Garcia produced it, and it was really fun.” Well, the song is a whole lot of fun, a total delight with a lot of energy, one of my favorite tracks from the second disc. That’s followed by another instrumental, “Rawhide,” which is also a high-energy tune. We then drift into bluegrass gospel territory with “Jerusalem Moan” (which is also known as “Don’t You Hear Jerusalem Moan” and “Hear Jerusalem Moan”). That’s followed by “Drink Up & Go Home,” which features Jerry Garcia on lead vocals. I love his passionate delivery here. This is a song that Jerry also performed with David Grisman. The second disc then concludes with “Orange Blossom Special,” featuring some fantastic work by Brantley Kearns on fiddle. This is a rowdy, wonderful rendition, with some playful touches. By the way, on the back of the CD case, it indicates that this is an instrumental track, but that just isn’t so.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Ashes Of Love
  2. Deep Elem Blues
  3. Dim Lights
  4. Toy Heart
  5. Fireball Mail
  6. I’ll Never Make You Blue
  7. All The Good Times
  8. She’s No Angel
  9. Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail
  10. Wildwood Flower
  11. Teardrops In My Eyes
Disc Two
  1. Lonesome Road Blues
  2. Long Gone
  3. Leave Well Enough Alone
  4. White House Blues
  5. T For Texas
  6. Jesus Loves His Mandolin Player
  7. First Whippoorwill
  8. New Camptown Races
  9. Pistol Packing Mama
  10. Rawhide
  11. Jerusalem Moan
  12. Drink Up & Go Home
  13. Orange Blossom Special 
Live was released on December 18, 2018 on Rock Beat Records.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Like Totally Festival Celebrates 1980s Pop Music

My first junior high dance was in the mid-1980s. I skipped a Neil Diamond concert to attend it (yeah, it may not have been the right decision, but I was eager to hit the dance floor). If my memory is correct (and it often isn’t), the DJ played basically the entire Thriller album, along with other pop gems of the day. I had a good time, and it was the first of many dances. I still love dancing to 1980s music. It was the last great decade for pop music.

Now several of the artists who became big during that time are coming together for the fourth annual Like Totally Festival in Huntington Beach, California. The lineup includes Kim Wilde, ABC, The Romantics, Animotion, Greg Kihn Band, Public Image Ltd. and B Movie. Not a bad lineup, eh? I am excited to see Kim Wilde. Her “Kids In America” is a staple of 1980s nights at clubs and parties, and I’m guessing she puts on a good show. One song I could just not get enough of during my early teens was “Obsession” by Animotion. I had the single (still do have it, actually), and listened to that record over and over. Eventually I picked up the band’s self-titled LP and ended up playing that a whole lot as well. But perhaps the band I am most excited to see is Greg Kihn Band. Greg Kihn came along in the 1970s, but it was in the 1980s that he hit it big with songs like “The Breakup Song” and “Jeopardy.” It was also in the 1980s that he started giving his albums goofy titles that were all plays on his name, such as RocKihnRoll, Kihnspiracy and Kihntageous. Ah, the 1980s.

The Like Totally Festival will be held on Saturday, May 11, 2019 at Huntington State Beach, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.  Folks are encouraged to wear their wildest 1980s fashions (there will be a costume contest), so I’m expecting to see a lot of people dressed like Madonna around the time of Like A Virgin, Cyndi Lauper from her “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” video, and Boy George from the “Karma Chameleon” music video, and will be disappointed if I don’t. I don’t, however, need to ever see giant shoulder pads, parachute pants or leg warmers again. By the way, this is an all-ages event (though there will be a bar, thank heavens), and – as I understand it – children age 10 and younger get in for free. This should be a fun day of dancing for everybody.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Eric Brace, Peter Cooper & Thomm Jutz: “Riverland” (2019) CD Review

Even a glance at the track list of “Riverland,” the new release from Eric Brace, Peter Cooper & Thomm Jutz, gives you an idea that there is a theme running through this album. With titles like “River City,” “Down Along The River,” “In The Presence Of The River” and “To Be A Steamboat Man,” you know that the Mississippi River plays a key role in this material. The album features original material, and the sound is a combination of folk, country and bluegrass elements. Joining the three vocalists and guitarists are Mark Frin on upright bass, Lynn Williams on drums, Mike Compton on mandolin, Tammy Rogers on fiddle, Terry Brucom on banjo, and Justin Moses on banjo.

The album opens with “River City,” which has a sweet, gentle folk sound, a comforting, friendly sound. There are characters who come and go, but the constant character here is the river itself. “Some people put their roots down by the river/Where ties that bind will hold but do not tether.” It was written by Peter Cooper, Thomm Jutz and John Hadley. It’s followed by “King Of The Keelboat Men,” written by Thomm Jutz and Eric Brace. This one has a more cheerful and cool vibe, and features some good blending of voices on the chorus. There is something truly catchy about this track. “I didn’t take orders from anyone/I was cursing the current and cussing the sun/There ain’t no honor in shoveling coal/I covered the distance pushing a pole.” There is certainly something appealing, something romantic about those old boats, and about the folks that powered them. And that appeal is in this music.

“Drowned And Washed Away” is a wonderful bluesy number about the flood of 1927. Other songs have been written about this flood, of course, including “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues,” “Southern Flood Blues” and Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927.” Something about this event has led to some excellent songs, and “Drowned And Washed Away” is no exception. This is a strong track written by Eric Brace and Thomm Jutz. “No one expected the river to rise/At least not as much as it’s done/But the rain kept on coming/It keeps coming still/So many days we’ve forgotten the sun.” Justin Moses plays banjo on this track. We then get “Tom T. And Brother Will,” a pleasant bluegrass tune about Tom T. Hall and Will D. Campbell, written by Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz. That is followed by a song written by Will D. Campbell, “Mississippi Magic,” the album’s only cover. This track features a spoken-word introduction about James Meredith, the first black student at the University of Mississippi.There is more spoken word throughout the song. “That Mississippi magic/Is Mississippi madness now.” It is a song about racism, which is again a frightening and depressing problem. It seemed for a time that we had made some progress; but then Donald Trump’s administration and his horrible supporters showed the world that racism hadn’t really gone anywhere.

“In The Presence Of The River” is a pretty folk song that has a reverence for the river. “It draws me in, it pulls me under/It makes me weep, it makes me wonder/Don’t know about you, but I quake and shiver/In the presence of the river.” That’s followed by “Southern Mule,” a cheerful, jazzy number written by Peter Cooper, Thomm Jutz and John Hadley. This tune has a playful vibe, and some wonderful blending of voices on the chorus. “I’ve seen ‘em come, I’ve seen ‘em go/Me, I just walk another row/I’m just a tired old southern mule/Wise as you, you common fool.” I particularly like that last line, “Wise as you, you common fool,” a strange line that is boasting, but isn’t. You know? “To Be A Steamboat Man” also features some nice vocal work.

“It Might Be Hollywood” is rather amusing to me, living as I do in Los Angeles, where – by the way – I often walk. The song touches upon that famous meeting of Mississippi author William Faulkner and Clark Gable, where Clark asked Faulkner, “Do you write, Mr. Faulkner?” and Faulkner replied, “Yes, Mr. Gable, what do you do?” I love the work on fiddle on this track. “Now anyone can find you and that’s a crying shame/Solitude and paper is all that I desire/They ask about my creed and then say that I’m a liar.” “Fort Defiance,” written by Eric Brace, paints a vivid picture of a retired couple watching boats on the river. Seems like a good way to pass the time. Terry Brucom plays banjo on this track. The disc then concludes with “Mississippi, Rest My Soul,” a sweet and pretty tune written by Thomm Jutz and Tammy Rogers that features some beautiful work on fiddle and some really nice vocal work. Justin Moses plays banjo on this one. “Lay me down deep when my day’s done/Dust to dust I’ll soon become/That’s what I want and who I am/A part of this old land.”

CD Track List
  1. River City
  2. King Of The Keelboat Men
  3. Down Along The River
  4. Drowned And Washed Away
  5. Tom T. And Brother Will
  6. Mississippi Magic
  7. In The Presence Of The River
  8. Southern Mule
  9. To Be A Steamboat Man
  10. As Far As I Can See
  11. It Might Be Hollywood
  12. Uneasy Does It
  13. Fort Defiance
  14. Mississippi, Rest My Soul
Riverland was released on February 1, 2019 on Red Beet Records.

Peter Rogan: “Still Tryin’ To Believe” (2019) CD Review

Peter Rogan is a singer, guitarist and songwriter based in Reading, Pennsylvania. He is releasing his debut full-length album, Still Tryin’ To Believe, which contains all original material, written or co-written by Peter Rogan. Joining him on this release are some musicians you are likely familiar with, including Will Kimbrough on guitar and dobro; Phil Madeira on guitar, organ, piano and lap steel; Chris Donohue on bass; and Dennis Holt on drums and percussion (Madeira, Donohue and Holt all played on Pete Kronowitt’s A Lone Voice). There are also several additional guest musicians and vocalists on various tracks.

The album gets off to a great start with its title track, “Still Tryin’ To Believe.” This is a funky, bluesy folk gem that at one point becomes a fun jam. I particularly like the work on keys. It also features some good lyrics, such as these lines: “My car flew down those back roads like a chariot in the night/The rain blew down like silver soldiers marching to a fight.” Yeah, this song has it all, including some nice backing vocals by Emma Brooke and Cliff Starkey. That’s followed by “The Only One,” which is delivered as a duet with Allison Dietz. It’s a country folk song with a pleasant vibe, featuring Rickie Simpkins on fiddle. “Flying too close to the sun/I tell her she’s the only one.”

“Kickin’ The Can” establishes a good groove and quickly becomes a fun number, the lyrics delivered almost as spoken word at times. This one gets me moving, and is one of my favorite tracks. Plus, it has some damn good lyrics. Check out these line: “Well, we're going to hell in a hand basket/Takin' a joy ride in a gilded casket/And all you get for buyin' in the system/Is deeper in debt and a bleak existence.” Craig Kastelnik joins the band on organ for this one. Dawn Blandford, Charlene Holloway and Jacqui Thompson provide backing vocals. “The Rolling Mill Blues” has a heavier blues rock sound, with a bit of a Mick Jagger sound to the vocals, and some wonderful stuff on keys. Then there is a bit of a Lou Reed sound to the vocal line of “Mercy.” The song’s opening line is compelling and pulled me in immediately: “I never knew him, but he left me this razor.” This is a strong track and features some good work on guitar.

A good groove is established at the beginning of “Sweet Baby Blues,” a song about how love can blind us to clues that all might not be right in a relationship. “There was magic in them sweet baby blues/I swear I ran the light to heaven right then/When she smiled so sweet I was born again.” I like the way the percussion remains a prominent and dominant force on this track. Hector Rosado joins the group on percussion on this one. This tune has a bluesy edge, particularly in some of the work on guitar. We then get a sweeter, mellower sound in “Beautiful Honey,” a love song. Peter Rogan goes in a different direction with “Song For Keith,” a mellow jazz piece that is the album’s only instrumental track. A different band was assembled to back Peter Rogan’s guitar on this track, including Bob Meashey on flugelhorn, Steve Varner on bass, John Riley on drums, and Ron Stabinsky on piano. The disc then concludes with “Reprise,” a brief reprise of the album’s title track. It fades in, like it’s in the middle of a jam, sort of picking up near the end of the first track.

CD Track List
  1. Still Tryin’ To Believe
  2. The Only One
  3. Kickin’ The Can
  4. River Man
  5. The Rolling Mill Blues
  6. Mercy
  7. The Start Of Something Easy
  8. Sweet Baby Blues
  9. Beautiful Honey
  10. Big Green Rambler
  11. Song For Keith
  12. Reprise
Still Tryin’ To Believe is scheduled to be released on March 1, 2019.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Anthony W. Rogers: “One Day (A Journal)” (2018) Record Review

If you are looking for an unusual voice in independent music and can get your hands on a copy of the limited edition vinyl release of One Day (A Journal), the latest album from Anthony W. Rogers, I think you are going to be delighted. The music is raw, quirky, at times psychedelic, and with plenty to say. And it comes in an unusual package. It is an album and a half of material, with the first four songs on a 7-inch and the rest on an LP. Anthony W. Rogers plays most of the instruments, but joining him on this release are Audrey Rogers, Joe Rogers, Bart Lay and John Harman. (Joe Rogers also provides the album’s cover art.)

The music begins on the single, with two songs on each side. The first track, “Mash,” opens with a playful taunting and teasing sound, “Na na na-na na-na,” and the first line is “Morons in Charlottesville.” So, hell yes, I’m on board straight away. I needed this song. There are days when the fact that Trump is in the White House is too much to bear, and I want to lash out at some asshole in a red cap. Perhaps it’s better that I just enjoy this album. That’s followed by “I’ll Take The Blame,” which has something like a 1960’s garage sound and also a lively pop vibe, with some cool vocal work. The second side of the 7-inch opens with “Half The Picture,” which has a dreamy kind of vibe. “Way back when we were young/We could do just what we liked/Slip away for the day/Might last the rest of your life.” The 7-inch ends with “House On The Hill.” “Once had a love, but I failed to treat her right/I drank, pushed, and chipped at her dignity ‘til/One morning she walked out on me.” There is some blues to this one, in the vocal delivery. And some of the guitar work has a mesmerizing quality. “I’m dying here alone, god have pity on me.”

The first side of the LP opens with “Into The See,” a strange, slightly trippy number, made even odder by the way the children’s voices back Anthony’s vocals. “I’m lying in my quiet space/No stars fall out/Shining without you/They’re reckless or paralyzed/How could I pretend there’s nothing lighting me?” Then the first line of “Roman Candle” holds a lot of appeal, partly because I am a person who makes lists: “I’m making a list of all the things I will regret.” That’s a damn good line. This song has kind of a loose vibe, with a sound that has something of a 1960s psychedelic element, but also a 1970s pop feel. “It’s hard to put anything/In perspective in your mind/When you don’t know what you’ve got/And don’t know what you want.” “Fly Away” has a darker sound at the start, and becomes a kind of trippy number too. This is music you feel you should just let scoop you up and take you where it will. This track features some really nice vocal work. “And in the words I say/Just float right by right away/Until they spill out your mouth/Four months down the line.” “In The Water” is a cool, odd tune that begins with some jazzy elements, and has a kind of sly sound at moments, with the lines delivered almost like beat poetry. It has something of that vibe, you know?

The second side of the LP opens with “Ploom MFs,” a song that begins quietly, almost like it is hesitating. And then bam, it kicks in, and becomes a funky, strange tune with a strong beat. “Well, your church now/Ain’t gonna save ya/From the clamping down/In the small, small towns/And hate is rolling round and round/And murder in your…/Devil in your…/Murder in your heart.” This is excellent, and is one of my personal favorites. That’s followed by “Range Rover,” which is also, at least in part, about the beat. “What are we gonna do about you now?/The sun went down, let’s raise some hell now/Someone told me you like guns…wow/What are we gonna do about you now?” By the way, this song is dedicated to the spirit of Oscar Zeta Acosta, a person I became aware of because of his association with Hunter S. Thompson. The song kind of drifts off at the end, and then “And When They Ask You” fades in. This one is a mellow tune with some lines that stand out, like “When he shook the fog” and “When every thought you have/Every word a bust to the face.” The LP concludes with “Mash (Reprise)/Cocks In The Field,” a return to the first track from the 7-inch, but with some changes. It is an unusual, fantastic tune, like pop turned inside out and spread onto a slice of human toast. And it gets weirder from there, feeling delightfully twisted, the perfect song for us these days.

Record Track List

Side 1 (7-inch)
  1. Mash
  2. I’ll Take The Blame
Side 2 (7-inch)
  1. Half The Picture
  2. House On The Hill
Side 3 (LP)
  1. Into The See
  2. Roman Candle
  3. Fly Away
  4. In The Water
Side 4 (LP)
  1. Ploom MFs
  2. Range Rover
  3. And When They Ask You
  4. Mash (Reprise)/Cocks In The Field
One Day (A Journal) was released on September 7, 2018 on Wildflow Records in a limited run of only 250 copies.