Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Bobby Rush: “Rawer Than Raw” (2020) CD Review

Bobby Rush is now in his mid-eighties and still delivering some absolutely fantastic blues. His new album, Rawer Than Raw, is appropriately named, for the music on it has a great raw, stripped-down quality. An honest sound, a true sound, a classic sound. Plus, the title alludes to a previous acoustic album of his, Raw, released more than a decade ago, this new one being its sequel. The songs chosen for this album are a mix of original compositions and some classic blues material from folks like Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson. Bobby Rush provides some thoughts on the artists he covers here in the disc’s liner notes. If you’re looking for some good, raw blues, performed by one of music’s best, you’re going to love this disc.

Bobby Rush was born in Louisiana, and in 2013 released an album titled Down In Louisiana. But he now makes his home in Mississippi, and this album kicks off with an original number titled “Down In Mississippi,” featuring some damn good blues harmonica playing. This album, by the way, is a solo effort, just Bobby Rush’s voice, guitar, harmonica and his stomping feet. “Been down in Mississippi and I sure had a wonderful time,” he tells us here. Glad to hear it, glad to hear of anyone having a wonderful time these days, for it seems the entire country has got a serious case of the blues. This track ends with a harmonica solo, so you know everything is going to be just fine. Bobby Rush follows that with a seriously cool rendition of Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” here titled “Hard Times.” And talk about raw, this is it, this is what you’re looking for, including his foot stomping to keep time as the song moves along, in no hurry. “Hard time is here, wherever you go/It’s harder now than it ever been before.” I love his vocal delivery here, including that humming that is just perfect. There is a certain wisdom behind that humming, you know? Experience that doesn’t need to always be put into words. “Things are rough/Things are tough/Uh-huh.” You said it.

“Let Me In Your House” is an original number, but here sounding like it could have been written a century ago, so good, with more foot stomping to keep us grounded in the groove. This is a song that Bobby Rush included on his 2011 album Show You A Good Time, where it has quite a different vibe, with a funky edge. “I’m broke and disgusted/Lonely-hearted too/Lord, I’m broke and disgusted/Hey, lonely-hearted too.” Those opening lines could be sung by a large portion of our population, eh? Then he wants to be given access to a woman’s house, to have a talk with her. And if he can’t come in, he says, “Let me sit down here by your door.” Is he there for good or for ill? Depends on your perspective, I suppose. But this is a guy who is going after a married woman. “If I can’t sleep in your bed, let me sleep down here on your floor.” Then he adds, “If I walk in my sleep, you’re the only one would ever know.” What a great, sly line. And at the end when he whispers sensually “Bow wow,” man, it is seriously cool. You’d think it would be silly, but it works so well. He follows that with a cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning,” one of the blues songs that the Grateful Dead introduced me too in my early teens. There is some kind of wild need in his delivery at times, which I love, as he sings “Whoa, stop your train/Whoa, let a poor boy ride/Don’t you hear me crying?” This track features more good work on harmonica. Things get pretty cool when he recounts the conversation between him and his woman.

“Shake It For Me” is a whole hell of a lot of fun, featuring a playful vocal delivery, a delightful groove on the guitar, and more percussion with his feet. This song was written by Willie Dixon, and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf as “Shake For Me.” That’s followed by “Sometimes I Wonder,” an original number. This one eases in, establishing a cool mood. Then the first line makes me smile: “Sometimes I wonder what’s going to happen to me when I get too old.” I don’t think it’s going to happen. What’s too old when you have such command of the blues? But of course he’s singing about a relationship. This track has more good work on harmonica, and also makes great uses of pauses. Rawer than raw, indeed. Bobby Rush follows that with a cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me Talkin’,” a song about truth, and whether it’s what people really want to hear. “Don’t start me to talkin’/I’ll tell everything I know.” And, yes, this track includes more wonderful stuff on harmonica. Then we get a sexy original number, “Let’s Make Love Again.” Oh yes, and if the title wasn’t straightforward enough for you, the line “Turn your light down low” and those moans of “Uh-huh” and other sounds tell us just what is going on here. Same goes for that harmonica, which is either commenting on the action or taking part, you decide.

“Honey Bee, Sail On” is an interesting song, one that has been recorded by a variety of artists, in a variety of versions. Muddy Waters recorded it as “Honey Bee,” and Lightnin’ Hopkins recorded it as “Sail On.” Lead Belly recorded it as “Sail On, Little Girl, Sail On.” Bobby Rush seems to take inspiration from all these versions, and delivers an excellent rendition, featuring some excellent work on guitar. That’s followed by “Garbage Man,” an original song that Bobby Rush included on his 2000 album Hoochie Man. This new rendition is a whole lot different from that earlier album version, featuring just harmonica and vocals and foot stomps, and having more of a sense of humor. Here he asks us, “Have you ever been mistreated by someone you shouldn’t have loved?” instead of “Have you ever been mistreated by someone you loved so much?” Then it gets personal, with him confessing, “Out of all the men my woman could have left me for, she left me for the garbage man.” But she still commands his thoughts, his attention: “Every time I see a garbage can/I think about her and the garbage man.” Yeah, there is certainly a dose of humor to this version, and for me, this recording is much better than the original rendition. “And that’s the blues for ya,” he tells us at the end. The album then concludes with a cover of the Robert Johnson classic “Dust My Broom.” This one has a lot of energy. The line “I believe, I believe my time ain’t long” might stand out, as it is delivered by a guy in his eighties, but he’s singing about the worry that his woman is about to break up their home. From the energy and sound here, Bobby Rush is going to be around for a long time to come. Let’s hope so.

CD Track List
  1. Down In Mississippi
  2. Hard Times
  3. Let Me In Your House
  4. Smokestack Lightning
  5. Shake It For Me
  6. Sometimes I Wonder
  7. Don’t Start Me Talkin’
  8. Let’s Make Love Again
  9. Honey Bee, Sail On
  10. Garbage Man
  11. Dust My Broom
Rawer Than Raw is scheduled to be released on August 28, 2020 through Thirty Tigers and Deep Rush Records, and is going to be available on vinyl as well as CD.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Rick Cutler: “Women & Children” (2020) CD Review

Rick Cutler is a keyboardist, pianist, drummer and composer, based in New York. He has worked with an impressive roster of artists, including Liza Minelli, Herbie Hancock, Larry Coryell and Donna Summer. His new album, Women & Children, features mostly original material, and follows his 2017 release Daydreams (Probably). He plays keyboard or piano on most of these tunes, but gets behind the drum kit on a few tracks. So there are a few different configurations throughout the album as far as the band lineup, varying the styles and tones. Joining him on this release are Richard Boukas on guitar, Vinnie Zummo on guitar, David Katzenberg on bass, Ruben Rodriguez on bass, Billy Mintz on drums, Tony Cintron on drums, Lawrence Feldman on tenor saxophone and flute, Mark Soskin on piano, Bill Hayes on glass armonica, Dave Wechsler on wooden flute, Sarah Caswell on violin, and Charlotte Durkee on vocals.

The album opens with “The Blues Matters,” and as it begins with that bluesy groove, it is clear that the blues do in fact matter here. The track is a combination of jazz, blues and rock, and features some cool work on keys and guitar, all while that steady groove continues. Toward the end, there is some nice work by Lawrence Feldman on tenor saxophone, and he delivers a lead as the track fades out. I wish his playing would go on a bit longer. On this track, Rick Cutler is on electric piano and Billy Mintz is on drums. That’s followed by “Etude,” a solo piece by Rick Cutler on piano. As you might guess from the track’s title, there is a classical style to this one, and a light vibe to the piece. It has a pretty and pleasant sound. Then on “A Day’s Work,” Rick Cutler plays both piano and keyboards. This one eases in, and has an oddly magical tone at times near the beginning and again toward the end, though the piano has a more serious and somber sound, and it is that sound that ends up dominating.

On “One For Ed,” Rick plays drums, and Mark Soskin is on piano. There is something cheerful about this one, in its full and vibrant sound, and Rick delivers some excellent work on the drum kit. Mark Soskin is given a chance to really stretch out during his lead on piano, which is great. This piece is dedicated to Rick’s father-in-law. That’s followed by another solo piano piece, “Green,” this one having a beautiful and simple structure. It’s all about the mood it creates, and the connection to the listener, which is strong, helping to make this one of my personal favorites. This piece seems to tell me of a better world, a world almost within reach.

The album’s only cover is a pretty and sweet rendition of Tom Waits’ “Time,” featuring Charlotte Durkee on vocals. Tom Waits has written a large amount of phenomenal songs over the years, but this one – if not the very best – must be close to the top of the list of his best work. It was originally included on his fantastic Rain Dogs album, released in 1985. Charlotte Durkee does an absolutely wonderful job here, her vocals having a gentle feel in all the right places, supported by Rick Cutler’s beautiful work on piano. “And they all pretend they’re orphans, and their memories like a train/You can see them getting smaller as they pull away/And the things you can’t remember tell the things you can’t forget/That history puts a saint in every dream.” Charlotte sounds like an angel who has been spending a lot of time among the mortals in the city. Bill Hayes plays glass armonica on this track, adding another layer of beauty.

“Paris After Midnight” begins in a sweet and beautiful place, with Lawrence Feldman delivering some nice work on flute. Rick Cutler is behind the drum kit on this one, with Mark Soskin again on piano. After a minute or so, this piece takes on a different tone, developing a groove, and you get the sense of someone walking along the streets and enjoying himself tremendously, taking in the sights and the atmosphere. Though he may be walking alone, it is not a lonely street, nor a lonely sound. That’s followed by another solo piano piece, “Hymn #4,” a pretty and uplifting track. Then Dave Wechsler joins Rick Cutler on wooden flute for “Japanese Mist,” a more meditative piece, one that reminds us of the world’s beauty, the world’s charms, and suggests that we relax for a moment to appreciate them.

Things then get more lively again with “Dee Too,” a track that has the same lineup as “One For Ed,” featuring Rick on drums and Mark on piano, with Richard Boukas on guitar and David Katzenberg on bass. Richard delivers some really nice work on guitar. That’s followed by “Trance,” the final solo piano piece of the album. This one does have a somewhat haunting sound, a timeless quality, a space seemingly occupied by ghosts and memories. The album then concludes with its title track, “Women & Children,” featuring a different band from the previous tracks. Here Rick is joined by Vinnie Zummo on guitar, Ruben Rodriguez on bass, Tony Cintron on drums, and Sara Caswell on violin. This piece was originally written for and performed by the violinist Noel Pointer. Rick had played with him a while back, and Tony Cintron was also a member of that band, so this track is a reunion of sorts. It features a good groove, and some absolutely wonderful work by Sara Caswell.

CD Track List
  1. The Blues Matters
  2. Etude
  3. A Day’s Work
  4. One For Ed
  5. Green
  6. Time
  7. Paris After Midnight
  8. Hymn #4
  9. Japanese Mist
  10. Dee Too
  11. Trance
  12. Women & Children
Women & Children was released on July 24, 2020 on New Dude Records.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Brian Scarborough: “Sunflower Song” (2020) CD Review

Brian Scarborough is a trombonist and composer based in Kansas City, playing in such bands as Boulevard Big Band, The People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City and The Kansas-Nebraska Act. In addition to his work as bandleader and sideman, he has played in many musical theatre productions in the Kansas City area. His debut album as a leader, Sunflower Song, features all original compositions. Joining him on this release are Matt Otto on tenor saxophone, Adam Scholzman on guitar, Jeff Harshbarger on bass, and Brian Steever on drums.

The album opens with “This One’s For John,” which features a cool, somewhat relaxed groove at the start, that work on hi-hat at the beginning making me think briefly of The Pink Panther. There is quite a lot of good work on drums here. And perhaps it is partly due to Brian Scarborough’s work in the theatre, but this music seems to tell a story, and one that develops naturally, the trombone and the saxophone each taking on a specific character, or maybe different aspects of the same character, in addition to creating a sense of place and atmosphere. Brian’s lead on trombone is wonderful, and I love the way the drums and bass provide an exciting rhythm in support, making that section of the piece even more dramatic and fun. That’s followed by “OK, Here We Go,” which creates quite a different atmosphere and feel at the start, mostly through Adam Schlozman’s interesting and distinct work on guitar. Despite its title, this one is in no hurry, and works to establish a certain mood, which pulls us in. And once it has us, it then does start to move, and this is during Brian’s lead.

“City Lights” is one of my personal favorites. It has a playful sense about it right from the start, the horn immediately announcing something different. And that bass line reminds me some of those fun low-budget black and white films that would follow some guy as he made his way through the city night, meeting women and looking for mischief. This track also features some great work on guitar. Really, each instrument has a lot of character. There is a lot happening here, all of it delightful. The piece is even allowed to fall apart somewhat at one point so that Matt Otto’s unusual sax lead can emerge from the rubble. I love the place this track takes me. The sense of a city at night is certainly strong, but I also think of the City Lights book store, for this track has that hip sense about it. It’s fantastic from beginning to end. That’s followed by “Sunflower Song,” the album’s title track. Whenever I think of sunflowers, whenever I see sunflowers, I am reminded of my favorite film, Harold And Maude, and how Maude says: “I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They’re so tall and simple.” So I had a certain mood in mind before this track began, and whatever expectations I had were immediately dispelled, this piece beginning as it does with bass, establishing a somewhat darker mood than I would have thought, and moving at a slow pace. But then what happens is the trombone begins to rise above that, to stand tall like a sunflower. This track also features a good, though short lead on bass, and it, as well as that work on guitar, feels like it is in honor of the flower, or of the idea of growth in whatever sense of the word strikes you.

“The Owl” has a mellow, easygoing vibe, and again we get a sense of a character here, someone who is observing the world with a keen eye but is not worried. The energy begins to pick up, and there is more of a bustle, a busy sense, if not quite a sense of urgency. And before things can become too tense, the piece suddenly breathes, mellows again. Then “Tick Tock” also begins in a somewhat mellow place, but with the work on percussion calling to mind a series of clocks and thus making us aware of the passing of time. So you know the pace and energy will pick up. Must we hurry? Though there are schedules, and though things have to be done at certain times, this track seems to remind us of the need to breathe, to not let the schedules run our lives too much. It features some really nice work on guitar.

“I Tolerate You” is, probably not surprisingly, my favorite title of all the compositions that make up this album, and it is also one of my favorite tracks, in large part because of that excellent work on bass, but also because its overall vibe. Tolerating someone has never sounded so enjoyable. It is getting more and more difficult to tolerate certain people out there, and of course some folks (those who support a particular narcissistic racist currently occupying the White House) ought not to be tolerated at all. But music like this gives us a desired and much needed lighter sense to things, and I appreciate that. There is a joy and a lighthearted aspect to this piece. That’s followed by “Willard’s Blues,” which takes on a great groove, and has something of a sly vibe, and includes a couple of unexpected pauses and a delicious lead on bass. This is another of the disc’s highlights. The album then concludes with “Empty Bottles,” which begins with drums and moves at a good pace, feeling like a celebration, particularly Brian’s work on trombone. Though I suppose if the bottles are all empty, the celebration may be a thing of the past. Well, this music keeps it going, and for that I am grateful.

CD Track List
  1. This One’s For John
  2. OK, Here We Go
  3. City Lights
  4. Sunflower Song
  5. The Owl
  6. Tick Tock
  7. I Tolerate You
  8. Willard’s Blues
  9. Empty Bottles
Sunflower Song was released today, August 7, 2020.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Savoy Brown: “Aint’ Done Yet” (2020) CD Review

Savoy Brown is a band that has been dishing out some great blues rock for several decades. When they started out in the mid-1960s, as the Savoy Brown Blues Band, they were based in London, and for quite a long time now they’ve made upstate New York their home. The band has also gone through many lineup changes over the years, though always with Kim Simmonds leading the way on vocals and guitar. For more than a decade now the band’s other members have been Pat DeSalvo on bass and Garnet Grimm on drums. The band’s new album, Ain’t Done Yet, features all original material, written by Kim Simmonds.

The album opens with “All Gone Wrong.” How’s that for a title that speaks perfectly for our times? Seriously. Everything went wrong in 2016, and now the country is in the hands of a racist tyrant and his sycophantic bottom feeders, while their mercenaries are abducting citizens at gunpoint without warrants or even identification. Meanwhile, there is a pandemic killing hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, and the environment is being destroyed. All has definitely gone wrong. But this music will help us get through, the thumping beat of this heavy blues rock number feeling just exactly right. “The future is gone/Time’s moved on/It’s all gone wrong/It’s all gone wrong.” The song might be about one individual, and the way his life hasn’t gone quite the way he’d hoped, but it works so well for every aspect of our lives right now. “Most of the time I don’t answer the phone/There’s nothing here to make me smile/It’s been this way for too long a while.” And at the end, that guitar speaks just as eloquently as these lyrics. This is a great opening track. It is followed by “Devil’s Highway,” and right from the start it has the sound of being out on some dangerous, desolate road. You can almost taste the dirt blowing across the asphalt. There is a cool vocal approach to this one, a voice that is coming back to us from some point far down that highway, a voice with experience. “There’s no one here/That’s going to play nice/It’s a mean, dark alley/They’ve got loaded dice/If you want to take it easy/You’d better stay away/I’ve been running so fast/On the devil’s highway.” This track features more excellent guitar work, and it becomes a nice jam before the end.

“River On The Rise” has a more pleasant, cheerful groove, one that makes me smile. Of course, the lyrics are still about troubles, this one about rising waters threatening a flood. “Bad signs ahead/Tell me, what can I do?/There’s a leak in my roof/Rain falling in/I’ve got to find a preacher/Let my praying begin.” Kim Simmonds plays slide guitar on this track. “Better take the high ground,” he sings at one point. Ah, but is there any high ground left? It feels like we’re all submerged in fetid waters. “Tell me what can I do?/What can I do?” Looking around, and seeing so many people are gone, you can’t help but feel that maybe you’ll be next, that you’re living on borrowed time, and that’s what “Borrowed Time” is about. And it’s stated so plainly, so honestly, over a great groove. “I never thought to myself, I’d be around so long/When I looked, so many people gone.” And what do we do with what time we have? Toward the end he sings, “Just want to love you, baby/To ease my mind.” No better way to spend one’s time, I think, no matter how much or how little one might have.

“Ain’t Done Yet,” the album’s title track, has some positive vibes, with Kim Simmonds singing “I don’t want no regret/I ain’t done yet.” This track features a good, solid rhythm to keep us going, to help us move forward. We ain’t done yet, right? And the backing vocals echo the title line, offering more support, for we can use all the help we can get. This music is making me feel that we can still turn things around, that democracy ain’t done yet, that the world ain’t done yet. “The road can be a hard place/Many come and go/It’s so hard to leave/When it’s all you know/I ain’t done yet.” That’s followed by “Feel Like A Gypsy,” a track that makes me think of Santana at times. The lyrics of this one are delivered in a kind of mellow, low-key fashion. The guitar is the voice that really rises on this track. Then “Jaguar Car” comes along, ready to rock, ready to boogie, ready to burn up the road, that harmonica sounding so good. Kim Simmonds is on harmonica on this one. “Let me take you, baby, out on the road/‘Cause you don’t have to carry that heavy load.” No matter what car you might own, this is a good song to have with you on the road.

“Rocking In Louisiana” opens with a classic acoustic blues sound, then kicks in to become a fun number, one to get you swaying, get you dancing. It’s been years since I’ve visited Louisiana, but I still have good feelings about New Orleans. “I’m going to have some fun rocking in Louisiana.” Indeed. I love this song. It just feels so good, you know? There is something loose and raw about it, which works so well. That’s followed by “Soho Girl.” This one has a heavy vibe, making me wonder how tough this girl is even before hearing certain lines about her sleeping with a gun. And, hey, “She likes Muddy Waters/She cooks a mean Mexican meal.” Well, all right! The album concludes with its only instrumental number, “Crying Guitar,” its title giving you a pretty good idea of its tone and style.

CD Track List
  1. All Gone Wrong
  2. Devil’s Highway
  3. River On The Rise
  4. Borrowed Time
  5. Ain’t Done Yet
  6. Feel Like A Gypsy
  7. Jaguar Car
  8. Rocking In Louisiana
  9. Soho Girl
  10. Crying Guitar
Ain’t Done Yet is scheduled to be released on August 28, 2020.