Friday, December 6, 2019

Grateful Dead: “Ready Or Not” (2019) CD Review

The Grateful Dead released their final studio album, Built To Last, in 1989. In the six years that followed, before Jerry Garcia’s death put an end to everything, the band continued to write and perform new material. We kept waiting for another studio release. But it never came. However, with the release of Ready Or Not, a live album featuring some of that material, we get an idea of what that release might have been like. It features live performances of nine songs from 1992 to 1995. Surprisingly, it contains no Phil Lesh songs, though he contributed several tunes to the band’s repertoire during that time, such as “Wave To The Wind,” “If The Shoe Fits” and “Childhood’s End.”

This album opens with the last song I ever saw the Grateful Dead perform, “Liberty.” It was the encore at the May 29, 1995 show in Portland, Oregon, where I saw Jerry Garcia for the final time. It was also the encore on October 14, 1994, the recording included here. The tune has such a fun groove, one to keep everyone dancing. Jerry’s voice sounds pretty damn good here, which was not always the case in 1994. “I’m gonna find my own way home” were the last words I ever heard Jerry sing, and he puts some power and emotion behind that line in this rendition. “Liberty” is followed by “Eternity,” a seriously cool, jazzy tune that Bob Weir wrote with Rob Wasserman and Willie Dixon (must have been one of the last things Dixon had a hand in writing). This was one of my favorites among the new songs at the time. It was so different from the rest of the band’s repertoire, and could be exciting and provide the space for the band to do some interesting exploring, as they do in the version included here from April 2, 1995. I dig Vince’s work on keys. And Jerry finds some unusual places to take us during the jam. It’s a wonderful rendition. But probably my favorite of all the new songs was “Lazy River Road,” and the version included here from March 25, 1993 has that sweet sad sound I loved so much, and still do love. Jerry’s voice sounds fantastic here. There is something so endearing, so timeless, so meaningful about this song, and it was more like a folk number than the other new material the band was introducing at the time. It was a song I loved immediately, a perfect song for Jerry to deliver. This track is certainly a highlight for me.

After Brent Mydland’s death in the summer of 1990, Vince Welnick took over on keys. He brought some interesting choices of covers for the band to perform, and two originals. Both originals are included on this album. The first is “Samba In The Rain” (the first on the album, that is, not the first he introduced). This was another unusual one for the band, not a favorite of mine, and lyrically a bit weak, but one that was certainly fun to dance to. And it was somehow even more fun when it actually was raining. The version here from March 30, 1995 features a seriously cool jam. The most beautiful and moving of the songs chosen for this release is “So Many Roads,” and this version from June 23, 1992 features some sweet stuff from Jerry both vocally and on guitar. The backing vocals likewise sound sweet and soulful. And the finale of this version is absolutely glorious, making this probably the disc’s best track. “So many roads I know/All I need is one to take me home.”

That’s followed by the first of the two songs that Vince introduced, “Way To Go Home.” I remember being excited the first time I saw the band perform this one, and fans took to it initially, but then it got a bit overplayed. Still, it is one I get in my head fairly often, especially when I am stuck in Los Angeles traffic trying to get home. “It’s a long, long, long, long way to go home.” This version is from June 28, 1992, and features some good vocal work. “Corrina” is one with such a delicious rhythm that we couldn’t help but get into it. We were dancing too wildly to pay much attention to the lyrics. However, the lyrics to this song do provide this collection with its title. “Fade on a downbeat/Ready or not, ready or not.” Interestingly, the version included here is from October 14, 1994, the same show that gives us “Liberty.” That is the only show to be represented twice in this collection. It’s a good long “Corrina,” with some fun jamming.

There are only two Grateful Dead songs that I actually didn’t like back in the day, and both are included here. The first of those is “Easy Answers,” which I remember thinking was lame the first time I saw the band perform it. I’ve seen Bob Weir perform it more recently, and felt a bit kinder toward it then. Listening to this version from September 13, 1993, I remember what I disliked about it. The backing vocals repeating “Easy answers” are awful. This collection then concludes with the song I least enjoyed of all the Grateful Dead’s material, “Days Between.” And, yes, I know I’m in the minority here, but this song always bothered me. Lyrically, it’s fine, I suppose. But musically I find it incredibly frustrating. It builds and builds and never gets anywhere. It feels unfinished. I expect it to break out to some higher plateau, but it just never does. This was particularly irritating when I was tripping. I wanted the song to get somewhere, needed it to. Coincidentally, this track is the only one from this disc that I actually saw the band perform. I attended those four shows in Oakland in December of 1994, and they were the only shows at which I managed to get backstage. Because I was there, I’m glad to have this song released officially. And it does have a passionate vocal performance by Jerry, plus some powerful moments, no question about it.

CD Track List
  1. Liberty
  2. Eternity
  3. Lazy River Road
  4. Samba In The Rain
  5. So Many Roads
  6. Way To Go Home
  7. Corrina
  8. Easy Answers
  9. Days Between 
Ready Or Not was released on November 22, 2019.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Rainbow Star: “Music From The Rainbow Sparkle Palace: Vol. II” (2019) CD Review

A year ago I was turned onto an artist named Rainbow Star when she released an album titled Music From The Rainbow Sparkle Palace: Volume 1, a title which seemed to promise at least one follow-up. Well, that follow-up has arrived. Titled appropriately enough Music From The Rainbow Sparkle Palace: Vol. II, this disc contains all original material written and performed by Rainbow Star. Like the previous album, this one is largely a solo effort, with Rainbow performing the vocals and playing guitar, ukulele, banjo dulcimer, mountain dulcimer and chimes. In fact, she is joined by only one other musician, and only on one track. And as on the previous album, Rainbow Star addresses some serious subjects. The music this time around has more of an edge, with some angrier tones, a raw mix of punk and folk that seems to reflect the way many of us are feeling these days, in reaction to the news and the ongoing disaster in the White House and beyond. Several of these songs have a strong feminist bent, something that seems more and more important in our current political and social realms.

The album opens with “Morning At The Palace/Slow,” which begins with some soft sounds of nature, easing into the day. Then, after forty-five seconds or so, Rainbow Star begins some strumming on acoustic guitar, going into “Slow,” a song that was also included on her live album, Live At Cowan Chapel. There is a decidedly lo-fi sound to the vocals, like we are in her bedroom as she gets up and plays us this song, even speaking one line, “And I don’t have health insurance.” And because of that intimate quality to the sound, it feels like she is laying herself bare for us as she sings, “It’s just me battling my ego, just/Afraid of who I am and who you might be/And who you might think that I am.” She follows that with “Sunflowers.” Of course, any mention of sunflowers makes me think of Harold And Maude, my favorite film. The opening line, however, “I don’t care for sunflowers anymore,” reminds me that someone recently cut down the gorgeous sunflowers growing alongside the road a block from my apartment. I loved looking at those flowers whenever I passed by, which was often. Anyway, the line “Fuck you,” and the way she delivers it, came as such a surprise the first time I listened to this disc that I burst out laughing. “All the lies and the lies and the lies.” All the tracks on this album have an honest and candid ring to them, and though the lyrics are serious, because they feel so true there is a humor to them as well. For example, check out the opening lines of “Dopamine”: “Dopamine, don’t be mean/You know I’ll never really have that boy.”

There is something sweet and endearing about the sound of “(Wo) Mansplain,” which works in wonderful contrast to the lyrics. It is certainly in part the use of ukulele, which has a friendly, almost cute sound sometimes. And, before you ask, yes, I hate non-words like “mansplain,” and tend to bristle whenever I hear someone utter one (“guesstimate” is another that drives me crazy), but Rainbow Star is clearly playing on the ridiculousness of it, and reacting to the idea of a man speaking condescendingly. Check out these lines: “I really like to/Interrupt a man/Every chance I can/It’s very satisfying/I really like to show ‘em who’s boss/Who brought you into the world/Who’ll take you out of it/Out of it/Faster than you can say/White supremacy/And patriarchy.” This is a very cool song. And then check out these lines from “Happy”: “Things might be different/If I could find a metaphor for/Our tragic love/But like a highly anticipated pregnancy/Dead on arrival.”

“Happy” is followed by “Letters.” I should mention here that the track list on the back of the CD case isn’t completely correct, with a few songs listed in the wrong order. Anyway, regarding “Letters,” I particularly love this one as it nears its conclusion. Some of the lyrics catch me by surprise, and it ends with a spoken word part that is really effective. It’s like her emotion carries her away to the point where she can’t contain it in song anymore and just flat-out says what she wanted to say, something you don’t often find on an album. Rainbow Star follows that with a pretty and serious song, “Didn’t Nobody Come,” which feels like a traditional folk song. She then turns to the subject of men again with “Patriarchy Song,” a powerful track. I love that she doesn’t hold back, though to my ears, there is humor to it as well. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “It must be nice to be a guy/All of your anger justified/Get to do whatever you want/Nobody callin' you a – /It must be nice to be a man.” And check out these lines: “You're such a feminist that you'd break your vow of celibacy/Because the gods told you to penetrate me/It's not sex, it's just Tantric healing/My womb chakra needs some clearing.” Rainbow Star plays banjo dulcimer on this track.

On “Tarot” Rainbow Star is joined by Katie Gardner on cello, an instrument I always appreciate hearing. I love what she adds to this song. There is a darker tone to this one. “I don’t need to read no tarot/To know/This is going nowhere.” Things then get a bit lighter again with “Texas Oil Rig,” because of the presence of ukulele. “I chained myself to a Texas oil rig/I thought I could save the world/With all the love in my heart/For something so destructive.” The lyrics of “Bottles” speak of dreaming, and the song itself has something of dark, haunted, dreamlike quality, with deep tones on her guitar and certain words stretched. That’s followed by “Fairy Tales,” which returns to the image of a tarot reading in its opening lines. “We read your tarot/And we got it fuckin’ backwards/Put your future in the past/So it looked like you were not to fall in love with me.” Again, I love the humor to lines like those. Rainbow Star plays mountain dulcimer on this track.

Rainbow returns to ukulele on “Rachelcat” and mentions the instrument in the lyrics: “She taught me how to play ukulele like this/But she didn’t wanna take credit.” This is a song about friendship, celebrating it really. The lines that stand out for me are these: “She’s the most stellar listener I’ve ever met/And I’m tellin’ you, that’s quite a skill these days.” It’s also the way she delivers those lines, the second one almost as an aside. And I appreciate these lines: “I’m grateful to have a true friend in this world/It’s really hard to find/And everyone knows I don’t really like that many people/‘Cause most of them are shitty.” Then the first lines of “Angels” seem to be a play on Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy. “To go or not to go/Is the question I ought to know.” She begins “Amigod” by asking “What happens when you give up and you don’t want to fight no more?” This song is full of questions and questioning. Even the song’s title is a question. Though written as “Amigod,” what she sings is “Am I God?” “I have to ask why, I have to ask why/I have to ask why when I see my brothers, sisters hurting/I have to ask why when I see my mother hurting/I have to ask why when I see my whole planet hurting.” Indeed. The album then concludes with “Evening At The Palace/Berea Reprise,” which begins with the sounds of evening, insects and so on. This goes on much longer than necessary; it is nearly five minutes before Rainbow’s voice comes in. I love this album but I would have cut this. Ten or fifteen seconds would have sufficed. What she sings here is the chorus of “Berea,” a song from Music From The Rainbow Sparkle Palace: Volume 1. It’s interesting that she chooses a reprise of a song from the earlier album, not this one. Then the sounds of night take over once again. This track should be one or two minutes, but is nearly thirteen (and apparently on the digital release, it’s even longer).

CD Track List
  1. Morning At The Palace/Slow
  2. Sunflowers
  3. Dopamine
  4. (Wo) Mansplain
  5. Happy
  6. Letters
  7. Didn’t Nobody Come
  8. Patriarchy Song
  9. Tarot
  10. Texas Oil Rig
  11. Bottles
  12. Fairy Tales
  13. Rachelcat
  14. Angels
  15. Amigod
  16. Evening At The Palace/Berea Reprise
Music From The Rainbow Sparkle Palace: Vol. II was released on September 27, 2019.

Rae Gordon Band: “Wrong Kind Of Love” (2019) CD Review

Wrong Kind Of Love, the new release from Rae Gordon Band, is full of good grooves, powerful and soulful vocal performances, and some bloody great work from the horn section. If you are looking for some blues-based music to make you rise from your seat and shout “Hell yeah,” you are going to want to pick up a copy of this album. It features original material, most of it written or co-written by keyboardist Pat McDougall. The band is made up of Rae Gordon on lead vocals, Pat McDougall on keys and vocals, Kivett Bednar on guitar and vocals (Bednar also produced the album), Joseph Conrad on bass, Ed Pierce on drums, Allan Kalik on trumpet, and Scott Franklin on saxophone.

The disc gets off to a great start with “Comin’ Back For More,” a tune with a delicious groove and a positive sound. And when Rae Gordon begins belting out the lines, the power of her voice is exciting, intoxicating. “I just want to get next to you/Nothing else will do/If you’re going to put me out/I swear I’m going to scream and shout/So don’t you lock that door/I’m only comin’ back for more.” And with the horns responding and adding their support, how could things be better? This is tremendous fun. The positive vibes continue with “Don’t Look Now,” and you will find yourself smiling even as she sings “Don’t look now/Your ship’s starting to sink.” This woman is here to kick ass and put you in your place. And oh man, I totally love those backing vocals, which came as a delightful surprise the first time I heard this track, echoing “Don’t” and then “Look now.” When Rae Gordon sings “Now don’t you worry about me,” well, I don’t think there is any danger of anyone doing that. This is a person who can certainly take care of herself. What a voice! And I really like that work on keys in the second half of the track. This band is grooving and moving.

Rae Gordon delivers a soulful vocal performance on “How You Gonna,” a gorgeous slower number. That moment when the horns come in to create a full sound is wonderful. “How you gonna tell me, tell me she’s better for you/How can you say it’s better for me too?” This track also features more good stuff on keys. “How you gonna tell me, tell me there ain’t no other way/How you gonna tell me, tell me that I’ll be okay/How you gonna tell me you won’t walk through my front door/Like you did a thousand times before.” Then “Might As Well Be You” comes on strong, like a party bursting into your home to show you a good time. “Just buy me one more drink and then it might as well be you.” Ah, a declaration of true love, that. There is some great energy to this tune.

“Sea Of Blue,” written by Rod Furlott, begins with a cool, slow groove, with delicious work on organ over it. Rae Gordon’s vocals come in after a minute or so. She addresses a love that is gone, asking “Baby, baby, baby, baby, why did you have to go/And leave me to drown in this deep dark sea of blue?” This person is so vivid to her, so clear, that we feel he is in the room with us. The electric guitar shares her lament in its lead section, calling out to this person too, to the point where an answer would not be entirely surprising. And perhaps that strange ending is some sort of answer, a wave drifting in. The next track, “Wrong Kind Of Love,” then begins with something similar to that ending, but soon tears open to become a lively number with some great stuff on horns and of course another strong vocal performance, the power behind that voice threatening to burst from our speakers and rip right into us.  And, you know, I doubt anyone would mind the ensuing carnage.

“How Much I Love You So” is a wonderful slow dance, a song to make you sway with your baby. An honest and sweet love song. “I wish I was a poet, baby/So I could tell you how I feel/How to write you a sonnet, maybe/Show you my love is real/I try to put it down on paper/But it sounds so insincere/How can I put into words/The way I feel when you are near.” That’s followed by “Got To Have You,” which has a more somber tone, those horns paving the way for Rae’s vocals. This is a darker love song, with Rae Gordon singing, “What is the use/Nothing I can do/To stop myself from loving you/I try to hold back/I try to be strong/One look from you and my will is gone.” I love that trumpet, which for me is the heart of this track.

“Last Call” is a fun, jaunty number about that special time of the night when the bars are ready to kick out their patrons, and she is likewise ready to end her relationship. “Well, I’d rather be alone/Than stuck with someone like you/So it’s last call for alcohol/And last call for you too.” She continues the metaphor with lines like “The taps have run dry” and “Turn off the ‘Open’ sign.” She gives us a delicious vocal performance, but for me the horns are really what make this track stand out. We are treated to wonderful leads on both saxophone and trumpet. Oh yes! Toward the end, Rae Gordon takes that familiar bartender line and applies it to her man: “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” This track was written by Rae Gordon and Pat McDougall. The album then concludes with “Get Right With The World.” There is more than a bit of rock to this tune, and it features a cool bass line and a great, driving drum beat. “If you feel a deep dissatisfaction/The time has come to take action/Don’t be afraid to turn the page.” I think a lot of people are feeling a deep dissatisfaction these days, and need a call to action. “Boys, make room for the girls.” Hell yes, it is time for some female energy, particularly in the White House, don’t you think? I love that spirited playing on keys.

CD Track List
  1. Comin’ Back For More
  2. Don’t Look Now
  3. How You Gonna
  4. Might As Well Be You
  5. Sea Of Blue
  6. Wrong Kind Of Love
  7. How Much I Love You So
  8. Got To Have You
  9. Last Call
  10. Get Right With The World
Wrong Kind Of Love was released on December 3, 2019.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Patsy Thompson: “I Think About You” (2019) Vinyl Single Review

Singer and songwriter Patsy Thompson has a new album in the works. Due out in February, it is titled Fabulous Day. In time for the holidays, however, she is releasing the first single from the album, “I Think About You.” Patsy Thompson is from Canada, but spent the last fifteen years in Texas, and her time there certainly influenced her sound. She recorded several albums there, including Live In Texas. She is now back in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her new single features two original songs that she co-wrote, both to be included on her upcoming full-length release.

If you are looking for a good new Christmas song to play this holiday season, you should certainly check out “I Think About You,” the single’s A side. It is a sweet song with a full, bright country sound, and it features some nice work on fiddle. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “When the snow’s falling outside my window/I think about you (I think about you)/I think about you/When that mistletoe is hanging in the doorway/I think about you (I think about you)/I think about you.” Yes, it is about missing someone during the holiday, but it has an upbeat, cheerful feel. Nothing to get you down. The single’s flip side, “Dreamin’,” is a good choice to pair with “I Think About You,” for it shares some thematic elements. “And when I think of you/Grey skies all turn blue.” This is an enjoyable and pretty love song, with an endearing vocal performance. “I’m dreamin’/You got me dreamin’/Sweet, crazy feeling.” A couple of lines toward the end are spoken in an intimate near-whisper, reminding me of some songs I heard in my youth, a nice surprise.

Record Track List

Side A
  1. I Think About You
Side B
  1. Dreamin’
I Think About You is available on both vinyl and CD.

Rebekah Meldrum: “Rebekah Meldrum” (2019) CD Review

Rebekah Meldrum is a vocalist and songwriter based in Indianapolis, living and breathing the blues, and giving us all a taste of her world, of her talent, on her excellent self-titled debut studio release. This album features all original music, written by Rebekah Meldrum and guitarist Paul Holdman. The band also includes David Murray on bass, Kevin Kouts on drums, P.J. Yinger on trumpet, Richard Dole on trombone, Patrick Long on harmonica, and Tad Robinson on harmonica and vocals. The CD artwork mimics a worn record sleeve, which is fitting, as this music does have something of a classic vibe to it. A few of these songs were also included on Live At The Slippery Noodle, a 2016 live album from Rebekah Meldrum & Paul Holdman.

The album opens with “Set Your Soul Free.” From the moment that blues harmonica begins to wail, like sixteen seconds into the track, I’m completely on board. That’s Tad Robinson on harmonica. And though this track uses that awful “self”/“shelf” rhyme, it’s a damn good tune, featuring a raw and powerful vocal performance to match that harmonica. Plus, it has a great, mean groove. “Take a good look inside/Find your purpose/Sit back, relax/And enjoy the ride.” Well, all right! Rebekah follows that with “Whiskey And Wine,” which has an easygoing groove with a bit of a cool jazzy vibe to it. “Some will say I’m upset/Some say that I’m a mess/Go on and place your bets.” Then that harmonica rises above the groove, blowing gloriously during that instrumental section. That is Tad Robinson again on harmonica. I also really dig the guitar work during the jam toward the end. “Mind your business/Mind your time/Mind your manners/Honey, I’ll try to mind mine/Mind your business/And you’ll see/This song ain’t about you/It’s about me.”

Possibly the best vocal performance on this album is on “Far Away,” a beautiful and moving track. It would be difficult to remain unaffected by the emotion and power behind her voice as she sings “Doesn’t matter which direction it came from/As long as it takes me far away/Away from the pain of this place.” This is a soulful performance. There is also more good work on harmonica, this time from Patrick Long. “Just give me that open road/So I can find myself/After all, isn’t that the meaning of life/In and of itself.” That’s followed by “Ain’t Thinking ‘Bout You,” which begins with a good groove. I love that bass line. This track is a lot of fun, and there is a glorious section of vocals and bass, with finger snaps. There is also plenty of delicious stuff on guitar, and a great beat. All that, plus – yes – more good work on harmonica (it’s Tad Robinson on this track). “I don’t take it back, I don’t apologize/I am who I am, you’d better recognize.” Amen.

“Gypsy” has a classic, timeless sound that is appealing. This is a song that was included on Live At The Slippery Noodle. “Her neighbors all think she’s gone crazy/Oh, but she’s doing just fine.” Then “Coat Tails” quickly establishes a fun, bright groove and vibe to get you moving. This one too was included on Live At The Slippery Noodle. “Her daddy always told her, don’t put a limit on your dreams.” That’s followed by “I’m Here,” a comforting, beautiful song that seems to reach out a hand to us. “Lay your burden down before you drown.” On this track, Rebekah is joined on vocals by Tad Robinson, who delivers a good, soulful performance. Then the horn section gives the track something of a New Orleans feel. Yup, this one just gets better and better, and is a wonderful way to conclude the album.

CD Track List
  1. Set Your Soul Free
  2. Whiskey And Wine
  3. Far Away
  4. Ain’t Thinking ‘Bout You
  5. Gypsy
  6. Coat Tails
  7. I’m Here 
Rebekah Meldrum was released on October 25, 2019, and is available both on CD and vinyl.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Laura Noejovich: “Laura Has New Standards” (2019) CD Review

I appreciate the playfulness of the title of jazz vocalist Laura Noejovich’s debut album, Laura Has New Standards. She does tackle classic standards on this album, including a couple of Gershwin songs, but many of the songs she chooses to cover are more recent numbers; thus, the “new” of New Standards. On this disc she is accompanied only by Takeshi Asai on piano, which shows the confidence she has in her voice. After all, there is no band backing her, taking some of the responsibility, some of the focus. And she is certainly right to be confident in her vocal talent. You can hear it right from the beginning of the album’s opening track, a sexy, seductive rendition of the blues tune “Why Don’t You Do Right,” which she starts a cappella. She has you in her grip before the piano even comes in. This is a seriously good version of this song, different from most versions I’ve heard, and features some really nice work on piano. That’s followed by “Misty,” a standard that has been recorded by a diverse group of artists over the years. Takeshi Asai begins this rendition on piano. Laura’s approach to this one has a wonderful youthful quality, and is quite pretty, with some impressive moments, as when she sings the lines “Can’t you see that you’re leading me on/And it’s just what I want you to do.”

There aren’t a whole lot of musicals that I truly love, but Chicago is certainly one of them, in large part because the songs are so damn good. On this album Laura Noejovich performs “Funny Honey,” and does an excellent job with it, getting into the character. (In the film version, it is sung by RenĂ©e Zellweger.) That’s followed by “The Fool On The Hill,” a song from Magical Mystery Tour. Could it be a new standard? It has been covered by a lot of artists (though not nearly as many as “Yesterday”). It was never one of my favorite Beatles songs, but Laura’s take on this song is kind of compelling. She follows that with “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” from The Wizard Of Oz. I’ve heard a lot of renditions of this song over the years, but Laura approaches it with a youthful energy that keeps it fresh.

I’ve said it many times, but it remains true: you can never go wrong with Gershwin. Laura chooses two Gershwin songs to cover on this album. The first is “Someone To Watch Over Me,” one of my personal favorites, and one that gets in my head quite often.  Laura’s voice is incredibly expressive and appealing, and there are moments here when her voice is simply gorgeous. On this track, she gives us something a bit different from the other tracks. The second Gershwin song included on this album is “Summertime,” another excellent choice. Takeshi Asai begins this track with some pretty work on piano. Asai then develops an interesting groove at one point, changing the tone, with Laura right in step with the change. The song takes on more power, more energy, more verve. Then we are treated to a fun, wonderful piano solo toward the end. Ah, so good.

One of the most interesting song choices on this album is Queen’s “Dreamer’s Ball,” written by Brian May and included on the band’s 1978 LP Jazz. Queen is a band that has never really lost its popularity, but these days seems to be in the public mind more than usual because of the film Bohemian Rhapsody. That movie is mediocre at best, but the music is great. Anyway, Laura Noejovich delivers a completely enjoyable rendition of “Dreamer’s Ball.” Wouldn’t it be great if that song became a standard? She also delivers a pretty rendition of “Somewhere Out There,” a song from the animated movie An American Tail (I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that one). Laura Noejovich concludes her debut release with “When You Wish Upon A Star,” her voice sounding beautiful and bright and friendly, everything you’d want from a performance of this song.

CD Track List
  1. Why Don’t You Do Right
  2. Misty
  3. Funny Honey
  4. The Fool On The Hill
  5. Somewhere Over The Rainbow
  6. Someone To Watch Over Me
  7. Dreamer’s Ball
  8. Once Upon A Dream
  9. On My Own
  10. Summertime
  11. Somewhere Out There
  12. I’m Not That Girl
  13. Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again
  14. When You Wish Upon A Star
Laura Has New Standards was released on November 2, 2019 on Enchanted Meadow Records.

Jimmy “Duck” Holmes: “Cypress Grove” (2019) CD Review

Do you have the blues these days? You are not alone. The entire country is gripped in some twisted nightmare, with the humorless scoundrels having taken hold of the reins and driven the nation into darkness. Perhaps for this reason the blues are speaking more strongly to us. Of course, whatever the circumstances, blues as good as that put out by Jimmy “Duck” Holmes would speak strongly to us. At the age of 72, this Mississippi blues man is still cooking. His new album, Cypress Grove, features a mix of original material and classic blues covers, with an excellent raw power. The album was produced by Dan Auerbach, the vocalist and guitarist for The Black Keys, and he also plays guitar on most of the tracks. The other musicians backing Jimmy “Duck” Holmes on this release include Eric Deaton on bass, and Sam Bacco on drums, along with a couple of special guests on certain tracks.

Jimmy “Duck” Holmes starts the album with a solo piece, “Hard Times,” a different take on “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” a tune written by Skip James It has a deliciously raw sound that is undeniably powerful. This is pure blues, just voice and guitar, a wonderful way to get things going, to pull us in and put us in the right frame of my mind. The rhythm section then comes in on “Cypress Grove,” the album’s title track, which was also written by Skip James. Eric Deaton and Sam Bacco set the groove for Jimmy, who then comes in to tell us, “I’d rather be dead/Dead in some old cypress grove/I’d rather be dead/Dead in some old cypress grove/Than to have a woman I can’t control.”

The first track to include Dan Auerbach is “Catfish Blues,” and on it he delivers some excellent stuff on electric guitar, including a cool lead section in the second half of the song that has just the right amount of fuzz. “I don’t want to be no crawfish/And I don’t want to be no, no bullfrog/If I can’t be a catfish/I don’t want to be no fish at all.” That’s followed by a good rendition of “Goin’ Away Baby” that has a cool, groovy vibe and something of a late 1960s blues feel. He sounds earnest, serious, as he sings “If you don’t want me, please don’t dog me around/If you don’t want me, woman, please don’t dog me around.” This track features more exciting work on electric guitar toward the end. We are then treated to a cover of Muddy Waters’ “Rock Me,” which has a steady rhythm that moves ahead, unimpeded. This track features three guitarists – Jimmy Holmes, Dan Auerbach and Marcus King – so you can be sure there is some delicious stuff on guitar.

Jimmy “Duck” Holmes delivers an interesting rendition of Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster.” It starts off loose, like the band is just warming up, getting started. I learned about a lot of great music through my passion for the Grateful Dead, and this is one of those songs. They played it fairly often. I love the use of saxophone on this rendition, and the way it leads the band into a cool jam at the end. That’s Leon Michels on sax. That’s followed by “Devil Got My Woman,” which has more of a raw, back porch vibe. This one is performed by the trio of Holmes, Deaton and Bacco. And Jimmy Holmes gives a seriously good vocal performance here. “I said come back baby, please come back baby/Try me one more time/I know it wasn’t nothing but the devil/Made you change your mind.” He also delivers some absolutely wonderful work on guitar. This song interestingly has the lines about trying to get some rest that I mostly associate with “I Know You Rider”: “Lay down last night/Yes, I lay down last night, lay down last night/Trying to get my rest/But you know my mind, my mind got to rambling/Like the wild geese from the west.”  And actually those are the last lines of this version.

“All Night Long” has something of an improvised feel, taking a moment to come together at the beginning. This is the first of the album’s original numbers, written by Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, and is a song he is revisiting, having used it as the title track to an earlier release as well as on the album Ain’t It Lonesome. Marcus King joins him on guitar on this track. “All Night Long” is followed by another of Jimmy’s original compositions, “Gonna Get Old Someday.” It’s interesting that he chose to put all the original numbers at the end rather than placing them throughout the album. “If you keep on living/Man, you’re going to get old/You’re going to get old someday.” And yeah, there is some humor to a man in his seventies singing about getting old someday, but this song is playful through and through. “Yes, I said I was going to stop drinking/And I was going to stop running around.” This is a song that Holmes had recorded earlier, using it as the title track to his 2008 LP. Is he speaking from experience when he sings “You’re gonna wake up one morning, one morning/And you can’t do the things you used to do”? I don’t know. Based on this music, he seems capable of whatever he wants to do.

“Train Train” is a song that has some things in common with “Mystery Train.” Jimmy Holmes had recorded this one earlier as well, including it on All Night Long. The album then concludes with “Two Women,” another original tune, this one about a man who has both a large woman and a tiny woman. “Yeah, they tell me, they tell me my woman been hanging around, hanging around, hanging around the county jail/Tell me she makes a whole lot of money going from cell to cell to cell.” Which woman is he referring to here, I wonder. Perhaps it’s the tiny woman, for Jimmy then sings that the big woman tells him, “What I’m gonna do for you, Jimmy Duck, I swear I wouldn’t do for nobody else.”

CD Track List
  1. Hard Times
  2. Cypress Grove
  3. Catfish Blues
  4. Goin’ Away Baby
  5. Rock Me
  6. Little Red Rooster
  7. Devil Got My Woman
  8. All Night Long
  9. Gonna Get Old Someday
  10. Train Train
  11. Two Women 
Cypress Grove was released on October 18, 2019 through Easy Eye Sound.