Sunday, January 17, 2021

Nalani Rothrock: “The Rock House Sessions” (2021) CD Review

The pandemic has put a lot of plans on hold, with concerts and entire tours postponed or canceled. Vocalist and songwriter Nalani Rothrock had started recording what was intended to be a full-length album last March, just before everything went to hell. We are going to have to wait for that album, but Nalani and her musical partner, guitarist Joshua Lamkin, have decided to release the three songs that had been completed before the pandemic halted the recording process. And that is excellent news, for these tracks are pretty damn good. Titled The Rock House Sessions, because the music was recorded at Kevin McKendree’s Rock House studio in Tennessee, this EP contains all original material, written by Nalani Rothrock and Joshua Lamkin. Kevin McEndree, in addition to recording and producing this release, also plays keyboards on these tracks. Also joining Nalani Rothrock and Joshua Lamkin are Steve Mackey on bass, and Kenneth Blevins on drums. Nicole Boggs and Jonell Mosser provide backing vocals.

The first thing that strikes me about the opening track, “How Long,” is Nalani Rothrock’s voice. It is powerful and soulful, with a good amount of country in her delivery. This song also has a good groove, one that gets me smiling. There is something of a timeless vibe, all of the elements working so well together, including some delicious work on keys. But it is her voice that really drives this song into our hearts. “I’m wondering if I still drive you wild,” she sings at one point. Oh, no question about it. “How long, darling/We can’t keep living like this.” That’s followed by “Try.” The guitar work at the very beginning makes me think we’re about to drop into some heavy blues, but as the song kicks in, the drum work has the feel of a march, giving it a sort of New Orleans vibe. And there is a bright energy to this song. “I don’t care if the mountain’s too high/Baby, don’t you want to try.” Hell yes! That is exactly the attitude we all need to have as we get into 2021. While this song may be on a more personal level, about a relationship, it has the power and spirit to work on a larger scale as well. Hers is a voice that should inspire and motivate people to put in their best effort, regardless of what it is they’re working on. The EP concludes with “Every Time I Close My Eyes,” which has a completely delicious groove and a wonderful, soulful vocal performance. “Was there something else that I could have tried/I’m doing the best I can to keep my head up high/I keep searching for the reason why/Every time I close my eyes.” This track also features some cool work on keys, plus some excellent backing vocals.

CD Track List

  1. How Long
  2. Try
  3. Every Time I Close My Eyes

The Rock House Sessions is scheduled to be released on February 5, 2021. And a full-length album will follow at some point.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Last Year’s Man: “Brave The Storm” (2020) CD Review

I was curious about Last Year’s Man, in large part because there is an excellent Leonard Cohen song by that title, and any Leonard Cohen connection naturally gets me interested. Last Year’s Man is the project of singer and songwriter Tyler Fortier, who is based in Eugene, Oregon. Brave The Storm, the debut album from Last Year’s Man, features all original material written by Tyler Fortier. And, as you’d expect from someone brave enough to risk soliciting comparisons to Leonard Cohen, Tyler Fortier clearly has a talent for crafting compelling lyrics. In addition to the vocals, Tyler Fortier plays acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano and keyboard on this release. He is joined by several other musicians on various tracks.

The album opens with its title track, “Brave The Storm,” a pretty and pensive number, with a gentle approach, as if not wanting to disturb someone who has at long last found a peaceful moment. “Now there’s rain at your window/It’s waking you up at dawn/Louder than the trains at night/That rattle in your head.” And then when Tyler’s voice is joined by that of Anna Tivel, the song becomes even more beautiful, offering comfort to us. “We can brave the storm,” they tell us, and I believe them. Anna Tivel also adds some gorgeous work on violin. Milo Fultz is on bass, and Lex Price is on tenor guitar. Then Erin Flood Fortier joins Tyler Fortier on vocals for “No Eye On The Sparrow,” a cool song with a somewhat darker, more somber atmosphere and a sense of impending trouble, particularly with the lines “There’s a storm coming” and “And the hammer is coming down.” Toward the end, the song takes on a greater energy or force. Bart Budwig adds some work on trumpet, which is interesting, for the lyrics include these lines: “The watchmen and their trumpets/Are not making a sound.” Jeremy Burchett is on drums, and Peter Perdichizzi is on electric guitar. Then the steady drum beat gives “My Own Ghost Town” a more positive, confident vibe, seeming to promise a favorable outcome even for those who might be troubled and “Burdened by the truth.” This track also features some nice work by Philippe Bronchtrin on pedal steel. Anna Tivel offers more beautiful work here as well. “And I told you stories you believed/There’s no looking ahead/With yesterday’s eyes.”

Tyler Fortier then offers us a love song, “Guide You Back To Me” It may not be an overly cheerful one, but is a true love song. “And I know that time is not our friend anymore/And our hearts too heavy/I will try to find you through the miles and miles away from home/And when you’re lonely/I will guide you back to me.” Erin Flood Fortier provides some gentle and tender backing vocals. Ehren Ebbage is on drums on this track. Both Erin Flood Fortier and Christopher Porterfield provide backing vocals on “Wild, Wild Heart,” a song with some striking lyrics, such as “Where the moon hung worthless/Like a burned-out bulb” and “If time is my captor/And the night is a thief/The past is the past/And the arrow of time is a one way street.” I also love the pretty guitar work.

“The Dark End Of The Road” begins softly, but soon builds in power, like it is determined to rouse us, to pull us together, and help us see how things can be better. There is still hope, as long as are able to move, even if we are going the wrong way. “But it got us where we need to be/It took our heart, our home, and stole our pride/From the dark end of the road to the other side.” Jesse Terry provides backing vocals on this one. That’s followed by “Feet Of Clay,” a love song with a pretty and uplifting sound. The lyrics, of course, are not completely straightforward, keeping things interesting. “She’s like a wild river/Always promising the sea/She’s never where she’s going/And I’m not where I’m supposed to be.” There is some moving work on violin by Erik Berg Johansen. Kati Claborn and Luke Ydstie provide some good backing vocals. The album concludes with “The Valley Of Jehoshaphat,” which features a set of lyrics that will likely capture your attention, particularly if you’ve been following the crazy events in the news. “So grab your guns, your bullets, and your hats/Grab your whiskey and your bible.”  And I am reminded of another Leonard Cohen song in the lines, “The god that they pray to won’t rest your soul/These birds on the wire are from days of old.”

CD Track List

  1. Brave The Storm
  2. No Eye On The Sparrow
  3. My Own Ghost Town
  4. Guide You Back To Me
  5. Wild, Wild Heart
  6. The Dark End Of The Road
  7. Feet Of Clay
  8. The Valley Of Jehoshaphat

Brave The Storm was released on November 13, 2020.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Loz Speyer’s Time Zone: “Clave Sin Embargo” (2019) CD Review

Loz Speyer’s Time Zone is a London-based group that formed in 2003. They released a self-titled album the next year, and followed it with Crossing The Line in 2011. The group has gone through some personnel changes since then, and for the latest release, Clave Sin Embargo, is made up of Loz Speyer on trumpet and flugelhorn, Martin Hathaway on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, Stuart Hall on guitar, Dave Manington on double bass, Maurizio Ravalico on congas, and Andy Ball on drums. The music is jazz, with heavy Cuban influences, a focus on rhythm, and a vibrant sound led by some phenomenal work on trumpet. Clave Sin Embargo features all original material, composed by Loz Speyer.

The album opens with “Stratosphere,” which when it begins feels like it’s already in progress, in motion. It features a great groove and some fantastic work from the brass players. It is their work that lifts this track up to a more glorious level – yes, up to the stratosphere. Yet the percussion, the element keeping us more grounded, is what I find most appealing about this track. It makes me want to take dance lessons. I’m from the completely unschooled group of dancers, just letting the rhythm move my body however it wishes, but music like this makes me wish I could move my partner across the floor, and right up into the air. There is a wonderful sense of movement and freedom and excitement to the playing. That’s followed by “Mood Swings,” and from the moment it starts I am in love with this track. That opening section has a sexy style and a whole lot of character, and it is delivered over a good rhythm. This is a piece that was with this group from the beginning, appearing on the debut album, where it was played by mostly different musicians. As you might guess from the title, the piece goes through several sections. For a time it feels like each instrument has a different mood, something different to say, taking the others in a new direction when it gets a chance to lead. There is something almost theatrical about it. You can imagine each instrument as a different character on stage, and each lead like that character’s main monologue. I particularly like that guitar part. And then that percussion section is absolutely fantastic. And even though at ten minutes, this is the album’s longest track, it seems to be over all too soon.

“Lost At Sea” has a different vibe, yet also seems to tell a story. After a minute, it takes a turn, picking up the pace, and the excitement, almost like it hurries for a block or two, then slows again when reaching a certain spot. Or it could be heard as a conversation between two people of different constitutions, different gaits. It’s funny, because for me it conjures a city environment, not what I was expecting from its title. But of course, one can certainly feel lost at sea in the middle of a city. Loz Speyer and Martin Hathaway really drive this one forward. Interestingly, approximately halfway through, it seems to be reaching a conclusion. Then that lone horn sets a different tone, pulling us together, and soon we are moving again, figuring out our way, and throughout this section there is a bright energy, a sense of optimism. Then “Full Circle” creates a more romantic, relaxed atmosphere at the beginning, and soon develops a light, almost bouncy vibe. There is something rather playful about this one at times. The track features some wonderful work on saxophone, and a guitar lead that is several shades of cool, especially the way it partners with the bass to create a sound and atmosphere that get me smiling each time I listen. Then the guitar begins “Checkpoint Charlie,” leading everyone into a rather pleasant, enjoyable tune, with a good groove. Checkpoint Charlie is, of course, the name of the most famous crossing point at the Berlin Wall, a spot with a rather serious history, but this track has a bright, cheerful sound and vibe. After all, that wall is a thing of the past. I’m looking forward to the destruction of the little bit of wall that racist sociopath Donald Trump put up in our country. This track gives us the sense that all is possible, and that things are going to be all right, and toward the end when the horns back off, we get the sense of taking part in the removal of pieces from the wall itself. That is a great section with guitar, drums and bass. That is followed by “Guarapachangeuro.” Though the horns play a major part in setting the tone, and in establishing a sense of excitement, this one is all about the rhythm, which carries us through, shows us how to move through whatever space it is we occupy.

The second album by Loz Speyer’s Time Zone was, as I mentioned, titled Crossing The Line. While that release did not have a title track, it now gets one belatedly on this album. “Crossing The Line” begins with some interesting play between saxophone and guitar. Then after a minute or so, a rhythm is established, a slower, unusual groove. Loz Speyer’s trumpet rises above that groove. Nearly halfway through, things seem to fragment, and we enter a different section, each instrument finding its own way through, in little spurts and jumps. Then we ease into the next section, which is kind of beautiful, though that beauty is almost immediately played with, before a rhythm is established again. There is some excellent work on bass. This is probably the album’s most interesting composition. Then when the album’s final track, “Dalston Carnival,” begins, it sounds like a party, just the sort of thing we need to raise our spirits in these dark and twisted times. The tune is a good time in itself, with a good deal of cheer. The guitar lead is probably the most surprising element of this track, and then there is a percussion section, something that should get your entire body shaking and moving.

CD Track List

  1. Stratosphere
  2. Mood Swings
  3. Lost At Sea
  4. Full Circle
  5. Checkpoint Charlie
  6. Guarapachanguero
  7. Crossing The Line
  8. Dalston Carnival

Clave Sin Embargo was released on October 2, 2019 on Spherical Records.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Richard Hell And The Voidoids: “Destiny Street Complete” (2021) CD Review

Richard Hell And The Voidoids released two studio albums back in the day – 1977’s Blank Generation and 1982’s Destiny Street. Richard Hell (Richard Meyers), who was also a member of Television and Johnny Thunders And The Heartbreakers, was apparently never really satisfied with that original release of Destiny Street, and in 2009 released a different version of the album, called Destiny Street Repaired, with new vocals and guitar parts. That too did not quite meet his expectations or desires for this particular album, so when most of the original masters were found, Richard Hell went back to work on them, and we now have, as a result, Destiny Street Remixed. All three versions are included in the new two-disc set Destiny Street Complete, along with a bunch of demos and a booklet of liner notes. At the beginning of that booklet, Richard Hell writes: “I have to smile and roll my eyes when I think of this, this package, but I was determined to do it. Nobody made me, or even asked me. I take full responsibility for it. Three plus versions of the same album. It’s ridiculous, but I’m glad.” I’m glad too. And anyone who is a fan of punk music will likely share that feeling.

Disc 1

The first disc contains the original album and Destiny Street Repaired. The songs on both versions are in the same order. The album opens with “The Kid With The Replaceable Head,” an odd and totally enjoyable song that is somewhere between punk and pop, a song you can dance to even if you don’t pay attention to the lyrics. But if you do pay attention to the lyrics, you’ll enjoy it all the more. Check out these lines: “(Look out!)They say he's dead, he's my three best friends/(Look out!) He's so honest that the dishonest dread/Meeting the kid with the replaceable head.” What does it mean? I can’t say for sure. But it’s refreshing listening to something this goofy and fun, especially as it provides a needed escape from the present troubles. The version from Destiny Street Repaired might be clearer, but I’m not sure if it’s better. It features additional guitar work by Marc Ribot. That’s followed by the first of three covers on the album, The Kinks’ “I Gotta Move,” a song that was originally included on the All Day And All Of The Night EP. Richard Hell And The Voidoids do a good job with it, mixing that cool garage sound with punk, and this features some excellent rock and roll guitar work. The second cover is Bob Dylan’s “Going Going Gone,” a song from his Planet Waves album. This is a slower tune, and I like the way these guys approach it. “I don’t really care what happens next/I’m going, I’m going, I’m gone.” Bill Frisell plays guitar on the Destiny Street Repaired version.

“Lowest Common Dominator” is of course a song title that I completely love, a play on “lowest common denominator,” an expression I have found myself using more and more. During the 2016 election, it seemed to be in the air, right? But “Lowest common dominator” would have also been completely apt during that election, and since then. This is a fun song, as you’d probably guess, with a delicious beat. I love that bass line. And when it opens, it feels like a punk version of The Monkees’ “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” What I love about the version from Destiny Street Repaired is the backing vocal work by Ruby Meyers-McEnroe and Sheelagh Bevan. There is a very playful vibe about it, and because of it, I prefer this version. “Lowest Common Dominator” is followed by “Downtown At Dawn,” one of my personal favorites. I recommend listening to it with headphones, for there are lots of little touches and elements that kind of surround you, creating a fuller landscape. It’s sort of a pop song, and these guys kind of jam on it too. It’s nearly six minutes, pretty long for a punk record, but it never drags, never feels repetitive, and it’s over before you know it. And again, Richard Hell writes some unusual lyrics, such as these lines: “By indolence and insolence, the lovers realize/Yeah, only dropout dancehall offers love so undisguised/That you just get all de-civilized/And coalesce, you feel your best, and think about it less and less.”  The version on Destiny Street Repaired is actually like a minute and a half shorter. I prefer the original, longer version.

In the liner notes, Richard Hell includes some brief thoughts on each of the album’s tracks, and about “Time” he writes, “I was hoping Linda Ronstadt would pick it up.” That made me laugh out loud when I read it. But, you know, I thought about it for a moment, and she could totally have done this song justice. She would have nailed it. It’s another of the album’s best songs. Bill Frisell plays guitar on the Destiny Street Repaired version. “Time” is followed by “I Can Only Give You Everything,” the third and final cover of the album, this one originally recorded by Them. This is another cool song, and Richard Hell’s rendition retains a lot of that great garage rock sound. Plus, it has one of my favorite vocal performances of the album. I even love the way it falls apart at the end. Marc Ribot adds some guitar work to the version on Destiny Street Repaired. Then “Ignore That Door” comes on strong with a heavy pulse and a scream that get this one pumping and moving along. “And the only human warmth comes/From decomposing whores.” The scream at the beginning is dropped from the Destiny Street Repaired version. Ivan Julian adds some guitar work to this version.

There is a guitar intro to “Staring In Her Eyes,” and then the song kicks in with a good beat. There is something oddly sweet, even pretty, about this song. “No one could stand feeling that way for long/So I, I chose to regard all the world as the wrong/And to, and to make my own long assertions in song/I decided I just didn't care/That I'd look and I could see nothing there.” Plus, this song includes the line “And stare like a corpse in each’s eyes.” The guitar intro has a slightly different vibe in the version on Destiny Street Repaired, and the line “I chose to regard all the world as the wrong” becomes “I chose to regard the whole world as the wrong.” The final song of the album is its title track, “Destiny Street,” which has a certain funky flavor. The lyrics are delivered sort of as spoken word, which works well with the story he’s telling us. This is another of my favorite tracks. “Yes, I seduced myself/I took me home.” On Destiny Street Repaired, Richard Hell still presents the lyrics as spoken work. It’s interesting, the way those opening lines about age feel different as delivered in this version. This track is significantly longer than the original version, two and a half minutes longer, becoming a jam with lots of interesting guitar work toward the end.

Disc 2

The second disc contains the new remixed version of the album.  Before Destiny Street Repaired, Richard had wanted to remix the album, but discovered that the company had misplaced the original masters. But in 2019, those masters were found. Well, three of the four original tapes were found, anyway. And so Richard went back to work on the album, remixing it from those tapes. So this version of the album contains the original guitarists again, at least for the most part. For the three tracks contained on the one tape still missing, he used the Destiny Street Repaired versions, remixing those. Those songs are “Lowest Common Dominator” (so this version has those great backing vocals), “Downtown At Dawn” and “Staring In Her Eyes.” Anyway, the album sounds fantastic. Mission accomplished.

In addition to the songs from the original album, those tapes contained one previously unreleased track, “Don’t Die,” written by Richard Hell and Ivan Julian, and that track is included on this disc. It’s a seriously cool and strong song (another version of it had been released). The rest of the second disc is made up of demos and single versions, beginning with the single of “The Kid With The Replaceable Head,” in which Richard sings “They say he’s done” instead of “They say he’s dead.” This single was released in the late 1970s. The flip side, “I’m Your Man,” is also included here. This totally fun song was also included on Richard Hell’s 1984 compilation, R.I.P., as well as the 2002 compilation Time. That’s followed by demos of “Crack Of Dawn” and Bob Dylan’s “Going Going Gone.” I particularly like the demo of “Going Going Gone,” because of Richard Hell’s vocals. Oddly, this might be my favorite version contained in this two-disc set. The demos of “Funhunt” and “Smitten” were previously included as bonus tracks on Destiny Street Repaired.

Another highlight of this disc is the demo of “I Lived My Life,” the Fats Domino song. It has that familiar Fats Domino groove, and so has quite a different feel from the rest of the tracks in this two-disc set. This song was previously included on Richard Hell’s R.I.P. album. That’s followed by the demo of “Ignore That Door,” which features some really good work on guitar. Also included is the single version of “Time.” Hey, I’ll take as many versions of this song as I can get. That’s followed by the single version of “Don’t Die.” As much as I like the other version of “Don’t Die” included on this disc, this version is even better. I love those backing vocals by Kitty Summerall, as well as that guitar work. There is something seriously delicious about this track. This disc contains two more previously unreleased tracks – the demo of “Staring In Her Eyes” and a live version of “Time” recorded in 2004 at the memorial for guitarist Robert Quine.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. The Kid With The Replaceable Head
  2. I Gotta Move
  3. Going Going Gone
  4. Lowest Common Dominator
  5. Downtown At Dawn
  6. Time
  7. I Can Only Give You Everything
  8. Ignore That Door
  9. Staring In Her Eyes
  10. Destiny Street
  11. The Kid With The Replaceable Head
  12. I Gotta Move
  13. Going Going Gone
  14. Lowest Common Dominator
  15. Downtown At Dawn
  16. Time
  17. I Can Only Give You Everything
  18. Ignore That Door
  19. Staring In Her Eyes
  20. Destiny Street

Disc 2

  1. The Kid With The Replaceable Head
  2. I Gotta Move
  3. Going Going Gone
  4. Lowest Common Dominator
  5. Downtown At Dawn
  6. Time
  7. I Can Only Give You Everything
  8. Ignore That Door
  9. Staring In Her Eyes
  10. Destiny Street
  11. Don’t Die
  12. The Kid With The Replaceable Head (Radar single version)
  13. I’m Your Man (Radar single version)
  14. Crack Of Down (demo version)
  15. Going Going Gone (demo version)
  16. Funhunt (demo version)
  17. I Lived My Life (demo version)
  18. Ignore That Door (demo version)
  19. Smitten (demo version)
  20. Staring In Her Eyes (demo version)
  21. Time (Shake single version)
  22. Don’t Die (Shake single version)
  23. Time (live)

Destiny Street Complete is scheduled to be released on January 22, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Harry Dean Stanton With The Cheap Dates: “October 1993” (2021) CD Review

I am a big fan of Harry Dean Stanton’s acting work (especially in films like Paris, Texas and Alien and even Pretty In Pink), but I didn’t really become familiar with his music until several years ago when Partly Fiction was released, a soundtrack I love. The world lost Harry Dean Stanton in 2017, but now, thanks to Jamie James and Omnivore Recordings, we are getting a new CD release of his music. October 1993 contains two different sections, the first being studio recordings and the second being some live recordings from a gig at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. Harry Dean Stanton provides lead vocals, and plays acoustic guitar and harmonica on these tracks. The Cheap Dates include Jamie James on guitar and backing vocals, Slim Jim Phantom (from the Stray Cats) on drums, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (from The Doobie Brothers) on pedal steel, and Tony Sales (from Chequered Past and Tin Machine) on bass and backing vocals.

Studio Recordings

The album begins with four studio tracks, the first being a cover of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.” The first version I remember hearing was that by Rita Coolidge, which I still love. This version by Harry Dean Stanton With The Cheap Dates is more of a rocking country number. Harry Dean’s voice sounds so smooth, so good. I love the way these guys approach this song, particularly vocally. There are some interesting little surprises with the way they handle certain sections, especially on the lines “You won’t regret it/Take your shoes off, do not fear.” As on Dylan’s original recording, there is some nice work on pedal steel, which is prominent throughout the track. They follow that with a really good cover of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” a song that was also included on Partly Fiction. This version is different from the one on that album, this one being a full band country rock version. There is a whole lot of energy here. When they deliver the song’s final lines, and they do so with great gusto, the track is only a little more than halfway through. After that, the band jams and Harry Dean delivers some strong work on harmonica. Then they return to the last couple of stanzas to wrap it up.

This disc also features a wonderful rendition of William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Unlike Bell’s original recording, Harry Dean Stanton begins his version with the song’s title line, featuring some nice harmonizing. The acoustic guitar is more prominent on this one, and there is some beautiful work on harmonica. The final studio track is a cover of “Across The Borderline,” a song written by Ry Cooder, Jim Dickinson and John Hiatt. Harry Dean Stanton and The Cheap Dates deliver a pretty and moving rendition. “‘Cause when you reach that broken promise land/Every dream slips through your hand/And you know it’s too late to change your mind/‘Cause you paid the price to come so far/Just to wind up where you are.” Those lyrics still pack a punch, don’t they? They could have been written in the last four years. By the way, in 1993 Willie Nelson also covered this song, using it as the title track to an LP.

Live At The Troubadour

The live tracks begin with another Chuck Berry song, “You Never Can Tell,” sometimes referred to as “C’est La Vie” and here shorted to “Never Can Tell.” Harry Dean Stanton asks the crowd how they’re doing, then launches into the song, providing some great work on harmonica before getting into the lyrics. They have fun with this one, growing softer for a moment for the line “But when the sun went down, the rapid tempo of the music fell.” There are some other playful touches. That’s followed by “Spanish Harlem,” written by Phil Spector and Jerry Leiber, and originally recorded by Ben E. King. This version has a sweet, romantic vibe, and features some truly wonderful vocal work. The track ends with a little banter about the band’s name.

Jamie James takes over on lead vocals for Warren Smith’s “Miss Froggie,” a fun rock and roll song. This track boasts some great stuff on harmonica and of course some cool work on guitar. Jamie James cuts loose vocally too. By the way, you might know him from his work with The Kingbees, and Harry Dean Stanton mentions that at the end of the track. The group then gets into the blues with a cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City,” this version mixing blues and country elements. This song has of course been covered by country artists, most notably Sonny James. The album concludes with “Canción Mixteca,” and at the beginning of the track Harry Dean Stanton mentions that it was featured in Paris, Texas. By the way, if you are not familiar with that movie, you really should make an effort to see it. Harry Dean Stanton also sings this song on Partly Fiction. The version here is excellent, and rather beautiful.

CD Track List

  1. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
  2. Promised Land
  3. You Don’t Miss Your Water
  4. Across The Borderline
  5. Never Can Tell
  6. Spanish Harlem
  7. Miss Froggie
  8. Bright Lights, Big City
  9. Canción Mixteca

October 1993 is scheduled to be released on February 12, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Joyann Parker: “Out Of The Dark” (2021) CD Review

The album title Out Of The Dark carries an optimistic and positive message, one we can all appreciate, for we are all seeking a way out of the darkness that has enveloped the land, a darkness brought by both the pandemic and the existence of a cult of racist and violent imbeciles who have now attacked the U.S. Capitol. We can sense a light coming on January 20th, but that will be just a start. We have a lot of work ahead of us. Music will help us through. Music will be a companion on this crazy journey, and it will help us maintain at least a portion of our sanity. We need music like vocalist Joyann Parker’s new album, Out Of The Dark. This follows her 2018 release, Hard To Love, and like that album, this one contains all original material written by Joyann Parker and Mark Lamoine.  Lamoine also plays guitar on these tracks. Tim Wick once again joins her on piano and organ, and Brad Schaefer is on bass, and Bill Golden is on drum and percussion. The album also features several guest musicians.

The album opens with “Gone So Long,” which eases in with a beautiful vocal section, a soulful humming that pulls us in and unites us, reminding us of the power of the human voice, even apart from language. It is a wonderful way to start the album. This song is a blues tune about how trouble follows us around, and good things can turn bad as we sometimes lose our way. I think we’re all in touch with that feeling. This song, because of Joyann Parker’s vocal performance, has the power of a gospel number. Toward the end, there is a section where her vocals are supported by the kick drum, which is very cool. There is also some good work on guitar. “I’m gone so long/I can’t find my way back home.” It feels that in one way or another we are all trying to find our way back home, particularly these days. “Gone So Long” is followed by “Carry On.” There is a cool, funky edge to this one, but again the power is in the vocals, in the way she delivers a line. Plus, the song has an uplifting vibe in lines like “‘Cause there’s no mountain too high to conquer/No sea too wide to swim/No valley that can’t be forged through.” Hey, we could all use some support and encouragement these days, eh? And some companionship. This track includes some really good backing vocal work too, by Laycey Dreamz and Patricia Lacy. There is a beautiful section with just vocals toward the end.

In the last four years, we have seen the absolute worst this country has to offer, and it has brought out the worst versions of everyone. I had never been so full of hatred and anger as I have been during this administration. So right away I was ready to relate to a song titled “Bad Version Of Myself.” There is a strength in Joyann Parker’s voice even as she sings about maybe one day being strong, and as she delivers lines like “I don’t want to act this way/Feel like I have to change/Why should I care what you have to say.” Another thing I especially love about this track is that work on harmonica by Rory Hoffman. These lines also stand out, for reasons I assume are obvious to everyone by now: “But it’s hard to know what’s true/When my mind is clouded by lies/For now I just keep on this way/Hoping for the day/When I see you for who you really are/You twist reality/Manipulate what I see/So I believe I can only be/This bad version of myself.” Then “What Did You Expect” has a lighter, more fun vibe from the start, and so I’m surprised by the lyrics, such as “Did you think there was a chance I wouldn’t break your heart.” That’s followed by a mellower, prettier number titled “Either Way.” Oh, what a voice Joyann Parker has. There is a moment in this song where she summons more power to deliver the line “Do you need me, I asked,” and at that point I am completely swept up in the music. Isn’t it wonderful when an artist can have that effect? Paul Mayasich plays slide guitar on this track.

We enter a delicious, jazzy realm at the beginning of “Predator,” a song that provides a warning about a particular type of man. “He’s the evilest kind/Comes on so sweet/A devil with an angel’s face/And he’ll distract you with pretty words and a warm embrace.” Dave Foley provides some wonderful stuff on trumpet, contributing a lot to the flavor and style of the track. And in the second half, there is nice lead on keys. That’s followed by “Dirty Rotten Guy,” but this one isn’t a warning about another crummy man. In this totally fun number, she is actually looking for a rotten guy. Part of the fun of this one is Dave Budimir’s presence on trombone. That work on piano is also part of the track’s great appeal, but the song’s main strength is Joyann’s boisterous and spirited vocal performance. Check out these lines: “I’m going to find me a no-good, low-down, dirty rotten guy/He’ll buy me drinks ‘til I’ve had my fill/And he’ll dance with me all night/He’ll have all the good looks, but none of the class.” But by the end, she’s rethinking her desire for a rotten guy. Then “Come On Baby (Take Me Dancing)” has more of a classic rock and roll vibe, fitting for the subject of going out dancing, something I miss tremendously. I can’t wait for this damn pandemic to come to an end so we can go out dancing to live music. This track features a wonderful lead by Rich Manik on saxophone.

“Fool For You” has a good, strong groove. In this one, Joyann Parker sings “I’m a fool/And I made my own hell/By loving a man who’s got somebody else/I’m a fool, I’m a fool for you.” Ah, even someone with such a strong and powerful voice can make mistakes, I suppose. There is the question of whether we do actually learn from our own mistakes. “Don’t know if I like where you’re taking me/But I sure am enjoying the ride.” Those lines are a sort of variation on the Grateful Dead’s “I may be going to hell in a bucket/But at least I’m enjoying the ride.” That’s followed by “Hit Me Like A Train,” a tune that rocks, both in its groove and in that vocal delivery. It’s a whole lot of fun. “Hit me so hard, you knocked me off my track/Thought I knew what I was thinking, now I’m rethinking that/Things that used to make sense now I just don’t understand.” The disc then concludes with its title track, which begins with a more somber, introspective tone. “Trouble breathing/Air is getting thin/Back is breaking/Weight is too great to hold.” It is a song about trying to escape, about getting out from one’s own darkness. “So tired of feeling helpless/Sick of being weak.” This album has largely been a fun ride, but she leaves us with one to think about, one that we can connect to on both an emotional and intellectual level. She offers a positive message here: “Forgive yourself for your past/When you were too weak to stand/Let go of the anger/‘Cause there’s a bigger plan/You’re no longer beholden/To what once held you down/And you don’t have to be afraid anymore.”

CD Track List

  1. Gone So Long
  2. Carry On
  3. Bad Version Of Myself
  4. What Did You Expect
  5. Either Way
  6. Predator
  7. Dirty Rotten Guy
  8. Come On Baby (Take Me Dancing)
  9. Fool For You
  10. Hit Me Like A Train
  11. Out Of The Dark

Out Of The Dark is scheduled to be released on February 12, 2021.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Shakin’ Woods: “The Blues Groove Sessions #1” (2020) CD Review

Shakin’ Woods is a blues band based in Washington, D.C., a strange place to be these days (though I suppose every place is strange in these uncertain times). The band is made up of Rich Russman on vocals and guitar, Paul Dudley on drums, George Belton on bass, and Austin Day on keyboards and guitar. George Belton had played with Rich Russman before, performing on his 2015 solo album, First In Line. You might also know Rich Russman from his other bands, The Creaky Bones (formerly known as The Virginia Southpaws) and The Jones. The Blues Groove Sessions #1 is Shakin’ Woods’ debut release, a four-song EP featuring mostly original material. It is the first of three planned releases, all of the tracks for these three EPs apparently already recorded. The music on this first release is blues, but with funk elements.

The disc opens with “Like A Superman,” a groovy blues rock number featuring some good percussion, some exciting work on bass, and something of 1970s vibe. “You might think it’s a shakedown, but I’m hanging on.” In the second half of the track, the band delivers a short, but delicious jam. That’s followed by “The Place To Be,” which is still blues at its base, but with a funkier style. This one has a groove designed to get you moving, and everything is working just right. And I love that moment when it breaks down and we can focus on that great bass line, a seriously cool section. When this crazy pandemic is over, and concert venues re-open, I hope this band goes on the road, because this track is making me think they’d be fun to see. “You don’t know what’s right/Dropped the ball on life/Took the wrong hand/Thought the offer would stand/Thought you give and you get/It all came back to regret.”

Things get even funkier on the group’s cover of “Cayman Review,” the only cover on the disc. This song was written by Trey Anastasio and included on his 2002 self-titled album. Though I used to enjoy seeing Phish in concert, I basically got off that train in 1999 (after a particularly lackluster show down in Orange County), and so wasn’t familiar with this tune. But it is a totally enjoyable song, definitely a good one to dance to. Shakin’ Woods is into it, seeming committed to making folks dance, making folks smile. This track features good leads on guitar and keys. I particularly like that work on keys. The EP then concludes with “Still Alive,” a slower, more serious-sounding blues song. This one has a heavier sound, to be sure, driven by guitar. “You weren’t all there/Well, maybe I didn’t care/But living life without you/Is a pain I couldn’t bear.”

CD Track List

  1. Like A Superman
  2. The Place To Be
  3. Cayman Review
  4. Still Alive

The Blues Groove Sessions #1 was released on October 15, 2020.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Ghalia Volt: “One Woman Band” (2021) CD Review

The pandemic has basically shut down live music, and has kept friends and family apart for ten months now. Getting together with anyone outside your household presents a very real danger. But that certainly isn’t keeping Ghalia Vauthier (now going by the name Ghalia Volt) from producing some fun, lively music. One Woman Band is exactly what its title promises. Ghalia, in addition to providing the vocals, plays guitar, slide and drums on this release. She also wrote most of the material. Yes, she has two guests joining her on a few tracks, but she is a one woman band, and a musical force on her own. I was turned onto her music a few years ago when she released Let The Demons Out, an album that had me hooked within seconds. Her style of blues is raw and sexy and powerful, and this new release once again demonstrates her talent.

The album opens with “Last Minute Packer,” and immediately the great raw drive of the music strikes us. It is also gloriously loud, and that is the case no matter what volume you set your stereo on. It’s like your stereo will refuse to diminish the song’s inherent power. I’m into the feel of the music, and so it is a moment before I realize what Ghalia is even singing about. The song is about someone who is traveling from hotel to hotel, about getting up and packing. You get the sense it’s about a musician, but I don’t think that’s ever explicitly stated, and you could imagine a different sort of occupation, particularly as she sings “A one night stay, Wap Bam Boom.” Yeah, the drumming is rudimentary, but that’s all that’s called for here, and it works. “Pressure/Gives me pleasure/Yeah, I like to be under the gun/When packing is more fun.” I tend to pack at the last minute too, though that gives me anxiety, not pleasure, and I tend to forget at least one thing every time. This one was written by Ghalia Vauthier and Dean Zucchero. It is followed by “Espìritu Papàgo,” one of the tracks to feature a guest. Dean Zucchero plays bass on this track. But it is Ghalia’s vocal performance that really stands out on this track. There is something strangely seductive about it, like she is luring us out into the desert. To do what, we can only speculate. But we can’t fight the urge to join her. “My old Chevy broke down, and there’s nobody around/I wish there was a way to be found.”

In “Can’t Escape,” Ghalia sings “Can’t escape, can’t escape, can’t escape/From my mind.” Oh yes, that is trouble many of us share these days. Whose mind isn’t a whirlpool of anxiety, frustration, anger and despair?  We all at times wish we could shut off our brains so that we could relax. “I want to stop being my brain’s slave/Or you’ll find me in the grave.” Mike Welch joins Ghalia on guitar on “Evil Thoughts,” a groovy, cool, and catchy number. In this one, she sings “Loneliness, loneliness/I’m tired of feeling down and out.” Have any other two lines so perfectly expressed what we have been feeling this past year? And who hasn’t been plagued with evil thoughts? That’s followed by “Meet Me In My Dreams.” Dreams are one of the only places where it is safe to meet someone these days. This song, however, is not about dealing with the pandemic or with a world filled with violent racists, but about trying to exist after the death of a loved one. This song features some strong lyrics. Check out these lines, which open the track: “Old sweet love gone too soon/Reached out to the moon/Became another star in the sky/Standing way up high.” There is a great ache in her voice at times as she delivers this song, a song that digs and claws its way into your heart.

“Reap What You Sow” comes on strong, and has a classic blues vibe, as well as another really good vocal performance. Check out the way she delivers the lines “I’m heading down south, baby/Gonna have to let you go” and “Then here’s the house key” for examples. Then “Loving Me Is A Full Time Job” begins as a cool, slow blues number in which she makes her demands, and we acquiesce to them all, without question. “I want a morning kiss on my cheek/I want you by my side/When the sun hits the tide/And I want you around/When the sun goes down.” It soon kicks in to become a fun number, with the pace picking up considerably. That’s followed by one of only two covers on this album, “It Hurts Me Too.” Here she supports her voice with guitar, no drums, giving the song a rawer, more immediate sound. She changes one word, which does mess up the rhyme and alters the sense of the song. She sings “When things go wrong, go wrong with him/It hurts me too.” It seems unnecessary to change the line, but it’s still a good version.

“It Ain’t Bad” is a fun, playful tune. She is clearly having a good time with this one, and I’m having a good time listening to it, particularly the chorus, which is: “It ain’t good/It ain’t bad/And if it ain’t bad/That’s pretty good.” I also appreciate the lines “‘Cause who knows what tomorrow brings/So let’s live at full swing.” That’s followed by “Bad Apple,” a song about a son who is turning out to be a shit like his father. I can’t help but think of Donald Trump Jr. when listening to this one, but of course it makes sense to think of Donald Trump himself too, as his father was also racist scum. Three generations of assholes in that family. This song also touches on the gun issue. There are so many important, even crucial areas that need to be addressed by the Biden administration, one of them being serious gun control legislation. With many urgent issues facing us, this one might be put on the back burner, but shouldn’t be. In this song, Ghalia sings, “Billy’s favorite toy is a gun/Daddy taught him how to hit and run.” That guitar work in the second half commands your attention. The album concludes with its other cover, “Just One More Time,” which was written by Ralph Bass and Ike Turner, and recorded by Billy Gayles with Ike Turner’s Kings Of Rhythm. On this track, Mike Welch plays guitar, and Dean Zucchero is on bass. There is something delightful in the way Ghalia delivers this one, and I love that guitar work. This is a wonderful way to wrap up the album.

CD Track List

  1. Last Minute Packer
  2. Espìritu Papàgo
  3. Can’t Escape
  4. Evil Thoughts
  5. Meet Me In My Dreams
  6. Reap What You Sow
  7. Loving Me Is A Full Time Job
  8. It Hurts Me Too
  9. It Ain’t Bad
  10. Bad Apple
  11. Just One More Time

One Woman Band is scheduled to be released on January 29, 2021 on Ruf Records.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Judy Stuart: “The Apostolic Session” (2020) Vinyl Review

Judy Stuart recorded the two tracks on the new ten-inch record The Apostolic Session back in 1969, but they were left unreleased until now. There isn’t a whole lot of information on the artist, and sadly she died before the record was released, so we don’t get to hear her thoughts and memories regarding these tracks. However, a little biographical information is contained in the record’s liner notes, including the fact that she had a pet monkey named Alfie and the two of them threw some wild parties. She also wrote music for several plays, and did appear on some other recordings. The good news is that there are plans for the release of those recordings, so people will get a chance to hear more from this unusual and exciting vocalist. The musicians who back Judy Stuart on this release are Shelly Rusten on drums, Paul Nash on electric guitar, Monty Renov on bass, Burton Greene on piano, Tom Moore on flute, Calo Scott on cello, and Marc Levin on cornet and valve trombone. Steve Tintweiss is the music director and conductor on this record, and also provides some vocal work.

“Inspiration” begins with a good beat, and soon becomes a rather wild ride, taking place in a thrilling land where the jazz, rock and folk realms intersect, where someone like Frank Zappa holds court. Yeah, it gets chaotic at times, but that is certainly part of its appeal. It is like letting your imagination run free, and somehow ending up with a recording of the results. “Standing on the banks of inspiration,” Judy sings, but it feels like we are surrounded by inspiration, immersed in a free-form celebration of inspiration. And at times, the musicians settle for a moment, as if to collect themselves or their thoughts, and we are back to just the drum beat. But soon things build again from there, and I love those moments when the funky bass line joins the drums just before things grow to delirious peaks. There is a sense of joy in not having to hold back. That great abandon is so appealing, so engaging, particularly right now, when I suspect so many of us want to scream, to let loose, to thrash about. And when Judy shouts “Inspiration,” it is a voice that seems both unfettered and commanding. The track concludes as it began, with that beat.

The record’s flip side is “Nickel Bag Of Tears,” which was co-written by Judy Stuart and Dave Tamber. It has more of steady groove, established right at the start, yet still has that unbridled feeling of excitement. And Judy Stuart’s vocal performance has a good deal of delicious energy. While there might seem a stronger sense of form to this song, the musicians do get a chance to jam, and this track features some excellent work on guitar in particular. And I love the way the horn rises above rest at moments.  This track winds down as it reaches its conclusion, which is actually as surprising as everything else about this wonderful recording.

Vinyl Track List

Side A

  1. Inspiration

Side B

  1. Nickel Bag Of Tears

The Apostolic Session was released on December 15, 2020 through Inky Dot Media.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Amber Weekes: “My Romance – A Special Valentine” (2021) CD Single Review

Well, though we are now a week into 2021, it is terribly clear we are still in the horrible grip of 2020, a year so foul and disgusting that it eclipsed the completely awful year of 2016. Most of us are exhausted by everything that has transpired over the last four years, and can hardly process this new scene. It is hitting me like the death of someone I care about. The Republican Party has essentially killed democracy, killed the country. What do we do? Do we mourn? Do we arm ourselves and prepare to physically battle Trump’s cult of racist imbeciles? For now, I am turning to some good music just to help calm me down, to help remind me that there are good people still out there, that humanity and compassion and love still exist. Recently, jazz vocalist Amber Weekes released a holiday album, The Gathering, an album of warmth and joy, one that helped us celebrate and feel connected even though we were unable to visit our families for Christmas. Now she is releasing a single to help us enjoy the next big holiday, Valentine’s Day.

“My Romance” is a gorgeous song written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for the 1935 musical Jumbo. In the film version of that musical, the song was performed by Doris Day. A lot of other artists have covered it over the years, which is understandable, for it gives vocalists a chance to reveal their romantic and passionate sides, to really dive into that aspect of themselves. And who wouldn’t wish to do that, particularly now, when it would be such a wonderful escape. Amber Weekes’ version provides that escape for all of us. The way she delivers those opening lines, taking her time, gently pulls us in, and before the third line, we are completely immersed in the romantic, dreamlike setting she and the musicians have created. Eddy Olivieri is on piano, and the string part was arranged and conducted by Mark Cargill. By the way, Amber Weekes included a somewhat different rendition of this song on The Gathering, that version having a little nod to “Jingle Bells” at the beginning. I prefer this version without the “Jingle Bells” reference.

“My Romance” is followed by “The Way He Makes Me Feel,” a song written by Michel Legrand, Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman for the 1983 film Yentl, where it is performed by Barbra Streisand. Amber Weekes presents this song as a duet with Mon David, and it too has something of a magical quality. The two vocalists are supported by Ramon Stagnaro on guitar, Paul Baker on harp, Jeff Littleton on bass, Tony Campodonico on piano, Nathaniel Scott on drums, David Jackson on percussion, and Munyungo Jackson on percussion, with strings arranged and conducted by Mark Cargill. Making the song a duet gives it a different feel, creating a strong sense of relationship, highlighting the romance. The two vocalists even share lines, with one beginning a line and the other finishing it. For example, on the song’s first line, “There’s no chill, and yet I shiver,” Amber Weekes sings “There’s no chill” and Mon David sings “and yet I shiver.” And they deliver the last line to each other, changing the word “he” to “you,” as if they have finally come together.

CD Track List

  1. My Romance
  2. The Way He Makes Me Feel

My Romance – A Special Valentine is scheduled to be released on February 14, 2021.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Bobby Bare: “Bobby Bare Sings Shel Silverstein Plus” (2020) Boxed Set Review

When I was growing up, I knew Shel Silverstein from his book The Giving Tree, and from two books of totally delightful, humorous poetry and illustrations, Where The Sidewalk Ends and A Light In The Attic. I didn’t know he was a songwriter too until my early teens when I was listening to the Dr. Demento radio show, and in fact, I think the first track I heard was him singing one of the poems from Where The Sidewalk Ends, “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take The Garbage Out.” I know I had that track on a Dr. Demento compilation cassette. And “The Unicorn” was a song I had often heard performed by Irish bands in the area (and by my mom, when my brother and I couldn’t stop her). Of course, I soon learned about “A Boy Named Sue,” “25 Minutes To Go,” “The Cover Of ‘Rolling Stone’” and other great numbers he wrote. It was a while yet before I heard of Bobby Bare, a country music star who was known for songs like “Detroit City” and “500 Miles Away From Home.” Bobby Bare also recorded a lot of Shel Silverstein’s material. Several albums’ worth of material, in fact. And those tracks have been collected in a fantastic boxed set titled Bobby Bare Sings Shel Silverstein. This set includes eight discs, which feature quite a lot of previously unreleased bonus tracks in addition to several complete albums. There is also a hardcover book which contains an interview with Bobby Bare, a piece about Shel Silverstein, song lyrics and a lot of photos.

Disc 1: Lullabys, Legends And Lies

The first disc contains the complete double album Lullabys, Legends And Lies, which was released in 1973. Though it was recorded in the studio, it has the feel of a live album, in part because folks were invited in to laugh and applaud, in part because some crowd sounds were added in post-production, but also because of the way Bobby Bare delivers the lyrics, in a sort of relaxed, off-the-cuff manner, even including spoken introductions to some songs. This album opens with its title track, which was listed as “Lullabys, Legends And Lies” on its original release, but as “Lullabies, Legends And Lies” here. It’s a sweet-sounding country number with the wonderful opening lines, “Gather ‘round, fellows, I’ll tell you some tales/About murder and blueberry pies.” Yup, Shel Silverstein was a writer who knew the value of a strong opening line. And then toward the end, backing vocalists join in for the chorus. That’s followed by “Paul,” a song about Paul Bunyan that features some nice work on steel guitar, and then “Marie Laveau,” which was also released as a single and was a hit for Bobby Bare, going to number one on the country chart. If you haven’t heard it, you’re in for a treat; it’s a fun, playful tune, and apparently that’s Shel Silverstein doing the witch’s scream. It was co-written by Shel Silverstein and Baxter Taylor. That’s followed by “Daddy What If,” a touching number featuring his son Bobby Bare Jr. joining him on vocals. Though I mostly associate Shel Silverstein with humorous songs, he was adept at writing beautiful numbers too. Listen to “In The Hills Of Shiloh,” for another example. It’s a song about women during the Civil War. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “List’nin’ for the sound of guns/List’nin’ for the roll of drums/And a man who never comes/To the hills of Shiloh.” My favorite on this album, however, is one of the funnier tunes, “She’s My Ever Lovin’ Machine,” about a man who builds a mechanical woman. Check out these lines: “She never complains when I stay out all night/She never complains that I ain’t rich/And each time I want her just to cuddle me up tight/I just reach out and turn on her switch.” And of course these lines make me laugh: “She has no trouble making her mind up/‘Cause, friends, I did not give her a mind.” But, don’t you know it, she leaves him anyway. And of course “True Story” always tickles me, with its zombies, pirates, crocodiles and cannibals. That was included as a poem in Where The Sidewalk Ends. The album ends with another of its highlights, “Rosalie’s Good Eats Café,” a more serious tune (though still with some humor). Check out these lines: “There’s a tall skinny girl in the booth in the back/Wearing jeans and a second-hand fur/She’s been to the doctor, then called up a man/And now wonders just where she can turn.” And Bobby Bare’s delivery is honest, heartfelt and moving.

Disc 2: Hard Time Hungrys Plus

The second disc contains Bobby Bare’s complete 1975 LP Hard Time Hungrys, plus several previously unreleased bonus tracks. The concept for this album, as stated directly on the back of the original record jacket, was by Shel Silverstein, though he did not write all the material on it. The album was recorded during the recession, and Shel Silverstein had conducted a series of interviews with people on how the recession affected them. Bits of those interviews were included on the album, used as introductions or lead-ins to the songs. The album opens with its title track, which begins with an interview with an old man who recalls the Great Depression. The song then begins with the lines “There’s an old man sittin’ in a rented room/Sittin’ and watchin’ the wall/Tryin’ to remember the good old days.” This song will speak to folks strongly now, as food lines get longer during this pandemic. That’s followed by “(Taxes On) The Farmer Feeds Us All,” one of the songs not written by Shel Silverstein. It is a traditional song, arranged and recorded by Ry Cooder, and originally included on his 1972 LP Into The Purple Valley. More in the humorous vein is Shel Silverstein’s “Alimony,” with the lines “Alimony, alimony/Thought I bought steak and it was all baloney/Me oh my oh goodness sake/I’m paying for my mistake.” This song was also released as a single. The other song from this album that was released as a single is “Back Home In Huntsville Again,” also written by Shel Silverstein (though the single was titled “Back In Huntsville Again”). This is a song about a man returning to prison, and the person interviewed at the beginning of the track is none other than David Allan Coe. That’s followed by “Daddy’s Been Around The House Too Long,” a sweet song about an unemployed father, featuring the voices of Bobby Bare’s children, including Cari J. Bare, who died not long after this album’s release. One of my favorites is “Warm And Free,” these lines making me smile each time: “She ain’t Raquel, but what the hell/It’s warm and it’s free.” Hard Time Hungrys concludes with “The Unemployment Line,” a song in which we find just about everybody needing some help, folks of all sorts of vocations. Yup, it’s another that folks can relate to right now. “I raised my eyes and prayed to the lord/Please save this world of mine/Then I turned around and I saw God/Standin’ in the unemployment line.”

This disc includes six previously unreleased tracks, all written by Shel Silverstein and recorded for inclusion on the original album. They’ve all been newly mixed from the original session reels. None of them contain interviews at the beginning. The first is “Too Much Blues,” a delightful blues number in which Bobby Bare sings “Too much money and none of it mine/I’ve got the too much, not enough blues.” And I love this line: “Not enough shoes and too much feet.” That’s followed by “Things To Sell,” a rather moving song about selling one’s possessions in order to buy food, leading eventually to his sister selling herself. “You do a lot of thing when you’re hungry.” Then “Door To Door” is about a man who has hit hard times. That’s followed by “Poor Blues,” a short blues number with an opening line that people can certainly relate to: “I got the got me no job, the rent’s overdue.” “It’s Good To Know The Sun’s Still Shinin’ Somewhere” is one you could sing earnestly or sarcastically, for it is from the perspective of a man who is struggling to keep his family fed and clothed, addressing someone who has sent a postcard from Acapulco. Bobby Bare sings it earnestly, and it ends up being a pretty song. The disc then concludes with the beautiful “Lead Me Back Home,” a song about a man looking for help. “So Lord if you care and if you’re really there/Won’t you lead me back home.”

Disc 3: Singin’ In The Kitchen Plus

The third disc contains the complete 1974 album Singin’ In The Kitchen, as well as tracks from three other albums. Singin’ In The Kitchen, attributed to Bobby Bare And The Family, features material written or co-written by Shel Silverstein, though also includes two tracks written by other people. It is a children’s album, and features Bobby Bare’s wife and children, and has a loose vibe. It opens with its title track, “Singin’ In The Kitchen,” a sweet and silly song in which they sing “Bangin’ on the pots and pans,” something I did as a child (until my family finally bought me a small drum kit when I was thirteen). That’s followed by “The Monkey And The Elephant,” which was written by Shel Silverstein and Baxter Taylor III, and is a sing-along. Our part is easy: “a long time ago.” Then “Lovin’ You Anyway” is a love song. “I’ll be lovin’ you fat and sassy, long and lean, on your birthdays and in between/When your friends all up and gone I’m the one you can count on.” It ends with a little laughter. “Where’d I Come From” is one of the songs not composed by Shel Silverstein. It was written by Bill Rice and Jerry Foster, and features Bobby Bare Jr. on vocals. “Ricky Ticky Song” is a total delightful and silly song. “No, you can’t go wrong singin’ a ricky ticky song.” Words to live by.

As I mentioned, my introduction to Shel Silverstein was the children’s book The Giving Tree. We all read that book when we were kids. Though the story was sweet, I always found it kind of depressing. Well, the book became a song too, though shortened, and Bobby Bare delivers it here, and, yeah, it makes me sad in this form too, especially the way Bobby sings it. Bobby Bare also covers “The Unicorn” here. This was included as a poem in Where The Sidewalk Ends, and as a song it was covered by The Irish Rovers and a lot of other groups. I heard this one a lot while growing up, and I suspect I’m not alone in that. Bobby Bare gives us a good rendition, with his kids adding animal noises. As a side note, The Nields more recently covered this song, and the album it appears on is titled All Together Singing In The Kitchen. Not only is that a nod to this Bobby Bare album, but it contains a variation of Shel Silverstein’s “Singin’ In The Kitchen,” with lyrics about member of the Nields. My favorite song from Singin’ In The Kitchen is “She Thinks I Can,” which isn’t really a children’s song. It’s a pretty love song. “I may find a way to turn darkness to sunshine/I may find a rainbow behind the next hill/But with her beside me and heaven to guide me/Lord she thinks I can, so I will.” The album concludes with “See That Bluebird,” a sweet song in which his kids shout out “No, no , no,” and a reprise of “Singin’ In The Kitchen.”

This disc contains another dozen tracks, culled from a single and three other albums. The first is the single, “Sylvia’s Mother,” which was released in 1972, the same year that Dr. Hook And The Medicine Show released their version. Both versions became hits, Bobby Bare’s on the country chart. This was the first Shel Silverstein song that Bobby Bare recorded. That’s followed by “You Know Who,” a wonderfully sad song from Bobby Bare’s I Hate Goodbyes/Ride Me Down Easy album. That’s followed by a pretty duet, “Staying Here With Me,” and then “The Wheel,” an interesting song addressed to the person to whom his woman has gone, with lines like “I gave her love, I gave her everything I own/But not enough to keep her here at home/Then you came into our quiet world with all those magic things/Like pretty clothes and furs, and diamond rings, and money.” “Love And Flowers” has a bright sound, and is about how things don’t last. Those three tracks were previously unreleased. This disc contains two tracks from the 1975 LP Cowboys And Daddys, “The Stranger” and “Chester.” “The Stranger” is a totally delightful and unusual love song that plays on the meaning of stranger. It is certainly the most surprising track on this disc, and it makes me laugh out loud each time I listen to it. The last five tracks on this disc are from The Winner And Other Losers, released in 1976. Interestingly, there are actually seven songs on that album written or co-written by Shel Silverstein, but one of them – “The Winner” – was already included on an earlier album, and the other – “Vince” – is included on the fourth disc. “Bald-Headed Woman” is wonderful, though I imagine some of its lines will offend people today. Then the lines from “Baby Wants To Boogie” that make smile are “I’ve ruined my body and sold my soul/And baby’s yellin’ ‘Let the good times roll!’

Disc 4: Stray Bare Tracks

The fourth disc contains several tracks from Bobby Bare’s 1978 LP Bare, as well as one track from The Winner And Other Losers, one from a single, and a bunch of previously unreleased tracks. It opens with a couple of those previously unreleased tracks, “Sweet Larraine” and “Lemme Be Somethin’.” “Sweet Larraine” refers to the song “Sweet Lorraine” in its lyrics, and the boxed set’s book contains an explanatory note about the spelling. This track features some nice work by Tommy Williams on fiddle. “Lemme Be Somethin’” features playful lyrics, such as “If I can’t be your supermarket, let me be your five and tenner/If I can’t be your all-the-time, lemme be your now-and-thenner/And if I can’t be your now-and-thenner, lemme be you-tell-me-whenner” and “If I can’t be your Mr. Clean, lemme be your Mr. Dirty.” That is one of my personal favorites of this disc. It’s followed by “Vince,” a song from The Winner And Other Losers that was written by Larry D. Wilkerson and Shel Silverstein. “Make It Pretty For Me Baby” is another previously unreleased track, a gentle but honest number written by Shel Silverstein and Fred Koller. That’s followed by “Vegas,” a duet with Jeannie Bare that was released as a single in 1976, and then “It Ain’t Easy,” another previously unreleased track.

Then we get into the tracks from the Bare album, beginning with “February Snow,” a song that is actually on the second side of that record. I was wondering why the tracks from this album weren’t placed in order, and discovered that the order on this disc is, for the most part, the order in which the songs were recorded (that book contains a lot of interesting information). And so a few more previously unreleased tracks are positioned among the Bare tracks. “February Snow” is followed by “Sing For The Song,” a cool song about being a professional musician, and then “From The Jungle To The Zoo,” one of the previously unreleased numbers, a lively tune with some good lyrics. Check out these lines: “They’ll clip your claws, cut your hair/And make a pussy cat out of you/It’s one step from the jungle to the zoo.” “Greasy Grit Gravy” is a totally fun song, and it features Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Dennis Locorriere (of Dr. Hook And The Medicine Show), and Shel Silverstein joining Bobby Bare on vocals, and the presence of so many talented people helps give the song a party-like atmosphere. “They Held Me Down” is another of the previously unreleased tracks, and with that title and its opening line about being in jail, I expected its subject to be pretty serious and intense. But it’s actually about the police supposedly planting evidence on folks, forcing folks to drink and do drugs. Though the book contains a verse that Bobby didn’t include on the track, a verse that is slightly more in line with what I was expecting. The final previously unreleased track to be included on this disc is “There’s An 18-Wheeler In Front Of The Ritz Hotel,” a fun song with some silly and wonderful backing vocals, and lines like “They talk about marriage but he can’t stop truckin’ around.” This disc concludes with “Hattie Halle And Big Dupree,” a song that was listed as simply “Big Dupree” on Bare, where it was the lead track. Shel Silverstein provides some vocal work toward the end.

Disc 5: More Stray Bare Tracks

The fifth disc includes a couple more tunes from Bare, along with more previously unreleased tracks and songs from the 1982 album Ain’t Got Nothin’ To Lose and 1983’s Drinkin’ From The Bottle, Singin’ From The Heart. This disc opens with a previously unreleased track, “Nobody Wants To Go Home,” about a party that no one wishes to leave. It’s a fun number. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Crawlin’ in the corners, sprawlin’ on the floor/You got my girl and I got yours/You’re half loaded and I’m half stoned/And nobody wants to go home.” That’s followed by “Childhood Hero,” a song from the second side of Bare, one told from the perspective of a famous musician who spends a night with a fan. The lines that stand out for me are “While my picture on the wall looked down/And winked at me as if the bastard knew/And he listened as she whispered.” The other song from Bare included on this disc is “Yard Full Of Rusty Cars.” “A Week On The Town (Gone As A Goose)” is another previously unreleased track, but interestingly was not written by Shel Silverstein. I’m not sure why it’s included, though a note in the book indicates that the song was originally without a writing credit and was thought to have been written by Shel Silverstein before later being discovered to have been written by Gary Sefton. At any rate, it’s a good song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Wild Bill says there’s no rest for the wicked/Make room for the wounded, let the others all go/We can’t take time out while you cuss our corrals/And there’s no backstage passes for this kind of show.” The next previously unreleased track was written by Shel Silverstein. Titled “When She Cries,” it is a beautiful, passionate song. Check out these line: “And when she cries it makes you wanna run/And chase the sun and bring it back/To brighten up a corner of her dark and dreary skies… when she cries.” We then get two tracks from Ain’t Got Nothin’ To Lose – “Cold Day In Hell” and “So Good To So Bad.” “Cold Day In Hell” is a totally fun song in which he promises himself to never fall again like he fell for this particular woman. My favorite lines are “She took me by the hand, led me through the darkness/And she left me there.” Then “So Good To So Bad” is a mellow and excellent song about how relationships go wrong. “It started with words like forever/Went from always to sometime to never/From give me some lovin’/To give me some room.”

The rest of this disc, for the most part, is from Drinkin’ From The Bottle, Singin’ From The Heart. It begins with one of two versions of “The Diet Song.” Hey, how is your diet faring during the pandemic? This song mentions Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons, and includes these lines: “And each night I’m dreamin’ of chocolate ice cream and/I’m starvin’ to death when I wake.” That’s followed by a track that is not from the album, “When Hippies Get Older,” which was released on a single in 1979. This one was written by Bobby Bare, Fred Koller and Shel Silverstein. Hey, do Bobby Bare’s vocals remind you a bit of Rob Waller at the beginning of this track? Another of the tracks not from the album is the delightful “You Jumped Off The Gravy Train,” which was released as the flip side to “The Jogger,” where it was titled “The Gravy Train.” That’s followed by “It’s Time,” a song about aging and times changing, one that I find myself relating to more and more. It’s a pretty and positive song. I also like “Drinkin’ From The Bottle,” the title track, which includes these lines: “And some fell in and some fell out and some just fell apart/Drinkin’ from the bottle and singin’ from the heart.” One’s changing views regarding the music career is a recurring theme in this boxed set. “Stacy Brown Got Two” is a totally silly, but catchy and enjoyable song. Even more enjoyable, of course, is Bobby Bare’s rendition of “Three-Legged Man,” a song that Steve Goodman also covered that same year, including it on Artistic Hair. This disc concludes with the second version of “The Diet Song,” which was previously unreleased.

Disc 6: The Complete Great American Saturday Night

The sixth disc contains the album Great American Saturday Night, along with three previously unreleased bonus tracks. This album was recorded in 1977, but not released until 2020 (Bobby Bare talks a bit about it in the interview contained in this set’s book). All of its tracks were written or co-written by Shel Silverstein. Different versions of a few of these songs ended up on 1983’s Drinkin’ From The Bottle, Singin’ From The Heart, and one of its tracks was released as a single. The album has the feel of a live recording, but that sound was accomplished in the studio in much the same way as Lullabys, Legends And Lies. It opens with its title track, which includes a spirited and somewhat goofy introduction, as well as the lines “Drink a little more ‘til the world looks better to ya/Anybody here wanna fuck or fight.” And the second time around, those in the studio sing those lines loudly. That’s followed by “Red-Neck Hippie Romance,” the track that was released as a single in 1977. “So go and roll yourself another reefer/And I’ll go pour myself another beer.” We then get two of the previously unreleased bonus tracks – “Kids Today” and “Dirty Ol’ Me.” Those are followed by “The Diet Song.” There are two versions of that song on the fifth disc, and this version is different from both of them, including as it does a verse that the others don’t, which has the lines “And keep that dog out of the house or I swear/I’ll bite off a piece of his leg.” The last of the three previously unreleased tracks is “I Can’t Sleep,” a song about a soldier with a troubled conscience.

“The Living Legend” is another song about an aging musician, and it includes a bit of “Michael Row The Boat Ashore” at the end, a song I heard a lot when I was a child. That’s followed by “They Won’t Let Us Show It At The Beach,” a fun song about nudity not being allowed on the beaches. “No, they won’t let you show it at the beach/They think that we might grab it/If it gets within our reach.” The crowd that they gathered for the live atmosphere sings along with this one. Then “The Day All The Yes Men Said No” follows. Oh, if only all those yes men and women in the Senate had found their souls at some point in the last four years, we might not be in the fucking mess we’re in now. The crowd sounds work well on songs like that or “Whiplash Will,” but less well on something like “Time.” It is interesting how some of the names are different in this version of “Me And Jimmie Rodgers.” Tony Zale in the other version becomes Sugar Ray here, and Judy Garland becomes Betty Grable. This disc concludes with a reprise of its title track.

Disc 7: Down & Dirty

The seventh disc contains the complete 1980 LP Down & Dirty. Unlike the other discs, this one is presented in the exact order of the original release, including the tracks not written by Shel Silverstein, and without any bonus material. As with Lullabys, Legends And Lies and Great American Saturday Night, Down & Dirty has the vibe of a live album, but was recorded in the studio. It opens with “Good For Nothing Blues (Funky Water),” which was written by Kris Kristofferson, and is a delicious country romp, the crowd singing along. “I wash my face in funky water, pick my teeth with a rusty spoke/Hide your dishes and your daughters, anything that might get broke.” That’s followed by “Numbers,” which was written by Shel Silverstein. It’s a goofy song about rating women, with Bobby Bare singing, “Now on my scale there ain’t no tens, y’know/Nine is ‘bout as far as any chick can go.” But hen the woman turns the tables on him. “Some Days Are Diamonds” is a pretty song written by Dick Feller and featuring some nice work on harmonica. Then “Tequila Sheila” is a fun song that Shel Silverstein wrote with Mac Davis, who died in September, on the same day that took Helen Reddy from us (yeah, 2020 sucked). That’s followed by “Rock Star’s Lament,” another song addressing the aging of a musician, this one written by Fred Kohler and Shel Silverstein. The first side of the album concludes with “Crazy Again,” a song written by Robert Lee McDill. This one has a good energy and a funny opening line, “I don’t wanna rock ‘n’ roll but I can’t help it.”

The second side opens with a good cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Tecumseh Valley,” a song from his 1968 LP For The Sake Of The Song. That’s followed by “Blind Willie Harper,” an energetic number written by Shel Silverstein and Jim Casey, and then “Rough On The Living,” a wonderful song about how a musician who struggled during life is now praised after dying. “Nashville is rough on the livin’/But she really speaks well of the dead.” “Down To My Last Come And Get Me” is about a drunk man contemplating his situation, wondering if he is worth the trouble. But one of my favorites is “Quaaludes.” Check out these line: “She mumbles and stumbles/And falls down the stairs/Makes love to the leg of the dining room chair/She’s ready for animals, women or men/She’s doin’ Quaaludes again.” Ah, the days of Quaaludes. Heard so much about them, but by the time I was in my teens, they were gone. Probably just as well. That’s followed by “Goin’ Back To Texas,” its main line being “I’m goin’ back to Texas and be one more horse’s ass.” The album then concludes with “I Can’t Watch The Movie Anymore,” written by Jerry Foster and Bill Rice. “Everything in life is like a rerun/Who am I to orchestrate the score/I’ve seen enough and felt too much to see it all again/And I can’t watch the movie anymore.”

Disc 8: Drunk & Crazy

The eighth (and final) disc of this boxed set contains the complete album Drunk & Crazy, which, like Down & Dirty, was released in 1980 and contains some songs not written by Shel Silverstein. This one keeps the tracks in essentially the same order as on the original release, the only exception being the addition of a single bonus track, which is placed toward the end of the first side. The album opens with its title track, which has some delightfully silly lines such as “Way across the room I see a fancy fox/I got the key to open up her lock/I slide across the floor like a greasy eel/I say, ‘Hey, baby, tell me how do you feel?’” That’s followed by “Food Blues,” one that could go along with “The Diet Song.” In this one the waiter at a restaurant seems eager to keep him from ordering anything, which could be an effective diet as well. The waiter informs him, “Fish got mercury, red meat is poison/Salt’s gonna send your blood pressure risin’/Hot dogs and baloney got deadly red dyes/Vegetables and fruits are sprayed with pesticides.” “The World’s Last Truck Drivin’ Man” takes place far in the future, the year 2080, when trucks are nearly a thing of the past. The one bonus track on this disc is “This Much Rain,” a song written by Shel Silverstein and Dennis Morgan. It is about trouble in a relationship, and has a wonderfully sad vibe. “I know the sun can’t always shine and every love has cloudy times/But girl, I never dreamed of this much rain.” That’s followed by the last song of the first side of the album, “Song Of The South,” written by Robert Lee McDill.

The second side opens with another song not written by Shel Silverstein, “Appaloosa Rider,” which was written by George M. Jones. And it is followed by two other songs not written by Shel Silverstein – “Bathroom Tissue Paper Letter” and “Willie Jones,” the latter a Charlie Daniels Band song. Charlie Daniels joins Bobby Bare on vocals and guitar on this track. Charlie Daniels is another of the musicians we lost last year. Then we get back to the Shel Silverstein material, beginning with “Gotta Get Rid Of This Band,” a playful song that takes shots at each member of the band. After the verse about the piano player, we are treated to an excellent lead on piano. “We got a honey-talkin’ pretty boy there on that steel guitar/And the girls don’t realize that I’m the star/And when anybody interferes with my romantic plans/They’re gone! I gotta get rid of this band.” That’s followed by “Drinkin’ And Druggin’ And Watchin’ TV,” a fun sing-along. These are my favorite lines: “So you bring the chemicals, I bring the wine/I fiddle with yours and you diddle with mine/Then drunken and drugged we fall on our backs/Naturally performing unnatural acts.” This track is a lot of fun. “Your Credit Card Won’t Get You Into Heaven” is another one I appreciate, and is the final Shel Silverstein composition of the disc. The album concludes with “I’ve Never Gone To Bed With An Ugly Woman,” which was written by Royal C. Bannon, and Guy Clark’s “Desperados Waiting For A Train.”

Bobby Bare Sings Shel Silverstein Plus was released on October 2, 2020.