Saturday, March 25, 2023

Kris Gruen: “Welcome Farewell” (2021) CD Review

Kris Gruen is a singer and songwriter based in Vermont. His 2021 release, Welcome Farewell, features mostly original material, songs that reflect the spirit of his surroundings, with a laid-back vibe. Some of the songs on this album deal with memory, including the album’s sole cover. Joining Kris Gruen on this release are Rob Morse on upright bass, Randy Schrager on drums and percussion, Paul Casanova on electric guitar, Charles Newman on piano and keyboards, Jack McLoughlin on pedal steel and lap steel, Probyn Gregory on French horn and trumpet, Butch Norton on percussion, and Charlie Rauh on acoustic guitar, along with a few guests on certain tracks.

The album opens with “Water Into Wine” which has a gentle and sweet folk vibe, and features some nice touches on steel guitar. This track has a positive bent, with lines like “You’ve opened up, yeah, you’ve climbed on out/From the frightened introversion and self-doubt/Feelin’ stronger now inside your skin.” I like Kris Gruen’s friendly, compassionate vocal delivery. Then “When She Says” begins with vocals and acoustic guitar, the other musicians coming in on the first chorus. This one has a positive feel to it as well. The line that stands out to me is “We’re makin’ it through, takin’ it day by day,” something we need to keep in mind in these tough and strange days. Sometimes it can be easy to be overwhelmed by everything that is demanded of us, and everything that wants to crowd in on us from the outside. Toward the end of the track, Kris Gruen repeats, “Takin’ it day by day,” seeming to remind himself as well as us.

He then takes a different vocal approach to “Nothing In The World.” This one has a much stronger sense of rhythm, in the music and also in his vocal line. “I’ve been waiting my whole life, my whole life/To live a daydream for free now, live a daydream for free/Freedom comes at a high price, high price/Nothing in the world for free, baby, no, nothing in the world for free.” The energy increases toward the end, and he belts out some of the lines. There is then a sweeter vocal delivery to “Skyline Drive,” a pretty song with a gentle folk sound, a song of memory. Check out these lines: “I called your old phone number just to hear you one last time/Then I hung up on that old machine like an addiction hot line/Tomorrow it’s just a detour, so today I’m looking back.” This line is also interesting: “It’s time I trade my worry in for faith.” Sometimes worry can be all-encompassing, and if you can replace it with confidence, you are well on your way to a better place, I suppose.

“When I’m Down” has a more intimate feel when it begins, his vocals supported by bass. It is interesting that after he sings, “it’s going to be okay now,” the song takes on a sadder tone, with that steel guitar. Gerald Menke plays pedal steel on this one. This is a song of pain and hope, and it is one of my personal favorites, in part because of his passionate delivery. “God bless the terrible things we do” is another line that stands out. There is something beautiful about this song. That’s followed by “Pictures Of.” The energy of the guitar as this song starts reminds me a bit of Cat Stevens. There is joy and hope here, and perhaps even pride. “And take a picture of your childhood/And the ones you love from the neighborhood/Then rise above, ‘cause you know you should/I think we’ve done the very best we could.”

“Apple Tree” is a sweet song that seems to want to rock you gently in its arms. And it features banjo, adding to its cheerful aspect, even though this too is a song of memory, of someone who is now gone. “She said/Lay me in the ground just like a seed/I’ll shelter over family/In the leaves of your apple tree.” This song allowed me a good cry. “They say death/Is just a door through which we leave/The chapters of our reverie/As a hero in a daydream.” JR Linaberry plays banjo on this one, and JJ Beck is on piano. That’s followed by “The Painter,” which features some nice percussion. And Colin McCaffrey plays mandolin on this track. I also love that gorgeous work on horn. The album concludes with its only cover, a rendition of Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory.” This rendition is gentler, more intimate, and sadder, and works incredibly well. Michael Flynn joins him on piano and backing vocals.

CD Track List

  1. Water Into Wine
  2. When She Says
  3. Nothing In The World
  4. Skyline Drive
  5. When I’m Down
  6. Pictures Of
  7. Apple Tree
  8. The Painter
  9. You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory

Welcome Farewell was released on September 24, 2021.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Davis Causey: “New Things From Old Strings” (2023) CD Review

The last twelve months have seemed rather cold if not downright cruel, every day seeming to bring word of someone’s death. On February 19th, the world lost Davis Causey, less than a month after the release of his new album, New Things From Old Strings. Davis Causey had a wild career in music, playing with Marvin Gaye, Gregg Allman and Derek Trucks, among others. He played guitar in the band Sea Level in the 1970s with Randall Bramblett, and then later played in The Randall Bramblett Band. And on this album, Randall Bramblett joins him on several tracks. Chuck Leavell, who was also a member of Sea Level (what a crazy amount of talent there was in that band), joins him on one track. Other musicians on this album include Michael Steele on bass, Tim White on organ, and Carlton Owens on drums, along with several other guests on various tracks. All tracks on this album were written or co-written by Davis Causey.

The album opens with “Nothin’ Much,” which has a cool, bluesy vibe and features some wonderful, expressive work on guitar, creating a strong sense of atmosphere. This track also contains some great stuff on keys. Nothin’ much? I don’t know about that, for this is just what I need. That’s followed by “Circadian Swing (Pt. 2),” a rather pretty piece with a natural flow and vibe. This is the track on which Chuck Leavell plays piano, delivering some really nice work. This one was written by Chris Connelly, Greg Jarvis and Davis Causey. And if you’re wondering if there is a “Circadian Swing (Pt. 1),” the answer is Yes. “Circadian Swing” was recorded by Chris Connelly, in which he sings, “All my life I’ve been waiting for a change/Still in my little world I am the same.” It was included on Paradigm.

The phrase “Time out of mind” comes from William Shakespeare. In the Queen Mab speech from Romeo And Juliet, Mercutio says, “Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut/Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,/Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.” So there is something dreamlike behind the phrase, and Davis Causey’s “Time Out Of Mind” certainly has a something of that feel, like it is coming from some long ago time, or is speaking of that time, or to that time. While listening to this track, you feel like you can drift out of your own time, a wonderful feeling. Steve Dancz plays keyboards on this track. That is followed by “Got Bach?” which is the first of the tracks to feature Randall Bramblett on saxophone. And Tom Ryan is on baritone saxophone, and J.R. Beckwith is on trumpet. Jim Gibson is on keyboards. There is a delightful joy to this track, and a good amount of soul.

“Thanks M’Nelle” is a beautiful, somewhat contemplative piece that includes a string section. Andy Carlson is on violin and viola, and Karen Bergmann plays cello. The track feels like a peaceful dawn, or like a flower garden coming to life before your eyes, opening and blooming, like seeing the entire life of the garden in a short span of time. Davis Causey plays bass on this track. Then “Dreamtime” is one of the most interesting tracks. As it begins, it feels like it emerges from the mists, and we are transported to some other place. And then this funky groove begins to emerge from that, coming as a surprise. But of course dreams are like that, aren’t they, suddenly moving from one thing to another, without needing logic, but finding their own flow and progression.

“Mr. Tuesday” moves at a nice, slow pace, featuring some really good work on guitar. Regarding the title, you get the sense of Tuesdays when you want to pace yourself because there is still a good deal of the week ahead of you. This track also features some wonderful work on organ. The disc’s liner notes say that the horn section plays on this track, but I don’t hear them. I hear them on the next track, “Slide On Brother.” So either I’m insane or there is a mistake in the liner notes (either is possible). Anyway, “Slide On Brother” begins with some good work on organ, and then kicks in to become a kind of southern blues rock gem. There is great stuff on that organ throughout the track, and of course plenty of delicious work on guitar. And I’m digging those horns (assuming I’m not crazy). That’s followed by “Blue Spring,” a pretty track, the guitar being the focus, but also with some sweet work on keys. Then “Single Malt” has a pleasant, easygoing vibe. There is something soothing about this music, which I appreciate. Marty Kearns plays piano on this one.

“Late At Night” begins with some gentle, thoughtful work on guitar, certainly giving us that late-night vibe. Then Randall Bramblett comes in on saxophone, the two instruments working together over a nice rhythm. Gerry Hansen plays drums on this track, and Jim Gibson is on keyboards. This is another of my favorite tracks. That is followed by “Rio Maya,” which begins with the rhythm and builds from there. Listen to this one on headphones, for there is a great depth to the sound, making you feel immersed in it, the sounds occupying a physical space. It was written by Randall Bramblett, Davis Causey and Steve Dancz. Steve Dancz plays keyboards on this track. Randall Bramblett then plays piano on “Lari’s Lullaby,” a song that he composed with Davis Causey, one that has its own beauty. The album concludes with “Oh Kay,” a short and interesting piece that features Karen Bergmann on cello. Pat Strawser plays piano on this one.

CD Track List

  1. Nothin’ Much
  2. Circadian Swing (Pt. 2)
  3. Time Out Of Mind
  4. Got Bach?
  5. Thanks M’Nelle
  6. Dreamtime
  7. Mr. Tuesday
  8. Slide On Brother
  9. Blue Spring
  10. Single Malt
  11. Late At Night
  12. Rio Maya
  13. Lari’s Lullaby
  14. Oh Kay

New Things From Old Strings was released on January 27, 2023 on Strolling Bones Records.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Hardwicke Circus: “At Her Majesty’s Pleasure” (2022) CD Review

Hardwicke Circus released its first studio album, The Borderland, in 2021. The band’s follow-up, At Her Majesty’s Pleasure, released in 2022, is certainly not a typical second album. It is a live album, recorded at prison chapels, featuring many of the same songs that were on the debut album. It’s kind of a ballsy move. The album does feature some original material not included on that first release, as well as some good choices of covers, songs by Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. There were a couple of changes in the band between the first and second releases, with Joe Hurst now on bass and vocals, and Louis Crosland on guitar and vocals. The band toured several prisons, playing to relatively small crowds due to pandemic restrictions, and the tracks on this disc are from two of those concerts, the one at HMP Standford Hill and the one at HMP Elmley, both prisons located on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. This project was made possible with public funding by Arts Council England.

The band opens this one with “Walking On Broken Glass,” a song from The Borderland. And the energy is excellent here, particularly in the guitar work and in that short lead on saxophone toward the end. And the sound is quite good. That is followed by “Nowhere Left To Run,” which is also from The Borderland. There is a brief introduction to the song: “We’re Hardwicke Circus from Carlisle. This is called ‘Nowhere Left To Run.’” There are some differences in the guitar part from the first version, and some good work on saxophone. There is a brief introduction to “A Reason To Believe” as well: “Well, thanks so much for coming out tonight. It’s good to see so many faces. It gives us a reason to believe.” There is a bit of humor in thanking folks for coming out, as the concert took place in a prison, and I imagine the audience wasn’t given a lot of options as to their plans for the evening. Anyway, this is a strong rendition, and is another song that was included on The Borderland.

The first cover of the album is Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” the title track from his 1965 album. They deliver a really good rendition, featuring some excellent work on both keys and guitar, and some high energy. There are elements of country and punk in their delivery, and it all works quite well. This track features special guest Officer Jamie Childs on lead guitar. The band jams on this one a bit, especially rocking the keys. They change the lines slightly, singing “He found an officer who fell to the floor/He said he ain’t engaged in anything like this before” instead of “He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor/He said, ‘I never engaged in this kind of thing before.’” They then go back to The Borderland material, with “My Sweet Love,” a song with more of a pop vibe and featuring more good work on saxophone.

“Let’s Make New Mistakes” is one of my favorite tracks on this album. It’s a song I really liked on the studio release, with that great driving beat, but this live version is even better. The band’s energy is fantastic here. These guys really deliver. It feels like a set closer. Just before the end, when Jonny says, “Let’s make new mistakes,” I can’t help but wonder just what that might have meant for that particular audience. Certainly the line hit them differently than it would an audience at a more mainstream venue. Then we get “Love’s Lockdown,” another of this disc’s highlights. This song is also from The Borderland, though its title has changed slightly. On the earlier release it was called simply “Lockdown.” But whatever its title, it is a great song. And again, it must have a somewhat different significance for an audience that is basically constantly in lockdown.

Any rappers in the room today?” Jonny asks the crowd. “We got some people thinking about it,” he observes. He invites people to join them on stage for “When The Chips Are Down.” I wonder how that would go over at a prison show here in the U.S. By the way, this introduction is actually included at the end of the previous track. The song, which is an original song that was not included on the first album, has a bluesy edge and includes a really good guitar solo. It is after that solo that Jonny then asks, “All right, any takers?” And someone does join the band, an inmate named Nazim Uddin, who performs a rap. It’s a cool moment. This track is another of the disc’s highlights. That is followed by a cover of Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole,” here listed as “Down In The Hole.” This is another seriously cool track, their rendition featuring a fun rhythm and some good vocal work, as well as some wonderful blues guitar. Again, the energy is phenomenal.

They then return to material from The Borderland with “Ballad Of The Gypsy King,” yet another highlight of the album. I love that bass. And the band engages the audience, having them sing along with them. That’s followed by another fun track, a cover of “Go” by Ben Mullins, a song from his Troubles Plaything album. Hardwicke Circus delivers it with a delicious energy. At the end of the track, Jonny tells the crowd, “So we’re coming towards the end of our prison tour.” They then play “Man Of The Town,” a good, solid rock song with a playful element. This is an original composition, and one not included on that first album. It features some good work on guitar. The album wraps up with a cover of The Band’s “The Weight,” one of my favorite songs. They do a wonderful job with it, delivering a fairly faithful rendition, with a good amount of heart. In the second half of the song, there are band introductions.

CD Track List

  1. Walking On Broken Glass
  2. Nowhere Left To Run
  3. A Reason To Believe
  4. Highway 61 Revisited
  5. My Sweet Love
  6. Let’s Make New Mistakes
  7. Love’s Lockdown
  8. When The Chips Are Down
  9. Down In The Hole
  10. Ballad Of The Gypsy King
  11. Go
  12. Man Of The Town
  13. The Weight

At Her Majesty’s Pleasure was released on May 27, 2022 on Alternative Facts Records.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Hardwicke Circus: “The Borderland” (2021) CD Review

Hardwicke Circus is a relatively new band based in Carlisle, a city in northern England. They put out their first album in 2021. Titled The Borderland, in part because, hey, their city is near the Scottish border, this album features all original music. The guys talk a bit about their hometown in the liner notes booklet, giving us a sense of where they’re coming from, both in the geographic sense and with regards to their music. It is interesting that in the liner notes they also mention alternative facts (and in fact that is the name of the band’s record label). Was that twisted lizard Kellyanne “Bowling Green Massacre” Conway exported to England, or is it just that whatever illness ails us in the states automatically spreads to other corners of the world? The band is made up of Johnny Foster on lead vocals, rhythm guitar and acoustic guitar; Tom Foster on drums, percussion and vocals; Ben Wilde on bass and vocals; Zack McDade on lead guitar, electric 12-string guitar, mandolin and vocals; Lewis Bewley-Taylor on piano, organ, synthesizers, harmonium, banjo and vocals; and Andy Sax on tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, flute and vocals.

The album opens with “Guiding Light,” a song that has a bit of a 1980s flavor to some of the vocal work and the tone. There is something undeniably catchy about this song. “So what I dread/Time spent in my head/I feel cold/Like an empty cemetery.” And near the end there is a cool lead on saxophone. And with that bright energy and talk of a new day, it is the perfect way to start the band’s first album, to announce this band’s presence. And then something about the vocal delivery at the beginning of “No Surrender” reminds me a bit of Billy Bragg. “Listen, respect, take heed/Soon a trial may come/Never would I have felt at home/If the storm had never won.”  That is followed by “Lockown.” A whole lot of good music came as a result of, and in response to, the pandemic. “Lockdown” obviously addresses that time in 2020 when venues were closed, and we were all told to stay at home. It was a time of confusion, of fear, when the news was never good. This is a good rock song that begins with drums. “Who’s that knocking at my door?/It’s like we live in 1984.” References to that George Orwell novel abounded here in the states after that illiterate conman bullied and lied his way into office, telling people not to believe what they saw or heard. There is also some fun backing vocal work at certain moments (reminding me of some of the more playful moments from J. Geils Band). “Lockdown, lockdown/Don’t want no virus from you/Lockdown, lockdown/Yeah, you know it’s the truth/Lockdown, lockdown/Oh, baby, don’t you change/Somebody get me out of this place.” This track is a whole lot of fun, one of my personal favorites.

Another of the disc’s highlights is “Walking On Broken Glass.” It opens with these lines: “There’s no two ways about it, there’s no easy way out/Don’t keep it in your head, don’t keep it silent, spit it out/So you tell me your living is easy/You’ve got something to live for.” In the liner notes, the band mentions that the song came as an emotional response to a traumatic incident at Dixon’s Chimney in October of 2019 when a man was left hanging by his ankle after slipping, and ended up dying of hypothermia. Apparently there is a strong sense of community in Carlisle for this to have such an effect on the population. I’m a bit envious of it from my spot in Los Angeles where something like this might not even make the news. Anyway, it is a really good song with a strong hook, feeling like a hit, and was released as a single. I particularly like the work on keys. And the saxophone is an integral element of the song, rather than an additional layer. That is followed by “Carry The Torch,” a slower number, a song of heartache, a song of a breakup. “Baby, baby, wish I knew what went wrong/Wish I knew what went wrong.” I think we’ve all been in that spot at one point or another, and Jonny Foster delivers a passionate vocal performance that drives the song. And of course a good saxophone lead in needed in a song like this, and we get one.

“My Sweet Love” is a sweeter song, with some good work on saxophone. I mentioned hearing a Billy Bragg influence earlier in this album, but in the liner notes regarding this track, Billy Bragg is actually mentioned. And, yes, there is something of him in this song. “So excuse me if I’m out of touch/The clock’s ticking, I see the morning bus/And I got blisters on my feet too.” That’s followed by “Hands Up Don’t Shoot.” Systemic racism and police violence are big problems in this country, and this band addresses them in this song. The song is a reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown, and the protests and investigation which followed. “Hands up, don’t shoot” became a slogan of the protestors, as it became known that Michael Brown had his hands up when he was shot several times. That shooting was back in 2014, and it was far from the last time such a thing happened. “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” is a good rock song with a punk edge, featuring some excellent work on guitar. That’s followed by “Nowhere Left To Run,” a good and lively rock tune with some catchy elements, particularly that “ooh ooh ooh” vocal part. Then “Ballad Of The Gypsy King” is one of the album’s coolest, strongest tracks. It grabs you right from the start, and has a delicious rhythm. It’s about a boxer named Tyson Fury. I know nothing about this guy, care nothing about boxing, but the song is compelling and completely enjoyable anyway.

“Let’s Make New Mistakes” has my favorite title of the album. The song features a driving beat and synthesizers. “Let’s make it last, let’s make it last/I might not be everything you want me to be/Open up your eyes, you will see/Come tomorrow, it’s a brand new day/Let’s go, honey, let’s make new mistakes.” Indeed! It’s a strange brand of optimism, isn’t it? And it works for me. That’s followed by “A Reason To Believe,” which features another driving beat, music that says keep going, onward, onward, onward. The album then concludes with “The Debatable Land,” the closest thing to a title track on this album, a song about the land where the band is from, a place that is in between. “Am I allowed to love you with an honest face/For the world that you come from is just a wall away.”

CD Track List

  1. Guiding Light
  2. No Surrender
  3. Lockdown
  4. Walking On Broken Glass
  5. Carry The Torch
  6. My Sweet Love
  7. Hands Up Don’t Shoot
  8. Nowhere Left To Run
  9. Ballad Of The Gypsy King
  10. Let’s Make New Mistakes
  11. A Reason To Believe
  12. The Debatable Land

The Borderland was released on July 23, 2021 on Alternative Facts Records.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Ellis Paul: “55” (2023) CD Review

If you’ve been watching Ellis Paul’s online concerts the last few years, or have actually gotten out of your home to see some live performances (which is always preferable), you’ve been treated to some excellent new material. In fact, there were so many new songs that at one point there was talk of a double album in the works. Well, the new album has arrived, and Ellis Paul narrowed the choices down to fit onto a single disc. And that means the songs included are those he considers the very best of the many he had to pick from. The album is titled 55, after a song he wrote about turning that age (move over, Adele). It features all original music, written or co-written by Ellis Paul. And the liner notes booklet features artwork by Ellis Paul for each of the tracks. Joining him on this album are Mark Dann on bass and electric guitar, Radoslav Lorkovic on piano and keyboards, and Eric Parker on drums, along with a few special guests on various tracks.

The album opens with “Cosmos,” a song with a gentle, rather sweet sound and vibe. On this song he sings, “I’m one of the flock/Riding this rock/Across the cosmos,” lines that remind us that we are all in the same boat, or on the same rock, that we are all facing essentially the same things. And the music seems to invite us to take part in the same dance, to see the divine in those who are around us. “I’ve seen the divine/You are divine/I’ve seen the divine in you.” That’s followed by “Who You Are,” which features Abbie Gardner (of Red Molly) on both dobro and backing vocals. Their voices blend together wonderfully. “Throw the maps out/Break the compass/Chase your own star/Find direction/In the darkness/To remember who you are.” It does seem easy to get lost these days, doesn’t it? There is so much distracting us, demanding our attention, and so sometimes we need reminders. Sometimes we need to close our eyes, to turn inward, to remember who we are. This is a beautiful song. It was co-written by Abbie Gardner.

“The Gift” is one that Ellis Paul has been playing for a while. It is about a gift he received from fellow singer and songwriter Patty Griffin at a time when he was feeling low, a box filled with ordinary objects endowed with special meaning and significance. In a larger sense, it’s a song about friendship, about perspective, and about how simple gestures can help us get through the tough times. “But that’s the place where my life broke down/I didn’t know when the trouble would end/Or if the light would begin.” People who contributed to the making of this album will receive their own gift from Ellis Paul, a box containing items similar to those he received from Patty Griffin. Then In “Be The Fire,” Ellis Paul sings, “When it’s time to love, love your strongest/With the kind of strength that comes from being honest/Life is short/Life is long/We get it right/We get it wrong.” This is a song about finding the best within yourself even in the most difficult of times. The last several years have been difficult for many of us, but even in these sorts of times, we might find that we provide our own greatest obstacles. So we must have the power to overcome them, right? “And if the darkness comes to take you/Be the fire.” This song was co-written by Kristian Bush.

My personal favorite of the new songs is “Holy.” It is such a beautiful song. And it is so hopeful, though as we listen and realize what he is planning, we discover that the character of this song is likely doomed. And yet even then we feel that hope, that optimism, that great capacity for life, and we feel that he is making the right choices, no matter what they may result in. There is such joy, such life in this character, and in Ellis Paul’s delivery, that I find myself in tears whenever I listen to this song. Yes, it’s that good. In fact, I believe it to be one of the best songs he’s ever recorded. “He says, ‘It’s holy/The sound of it’s holy/Holy to me.’” That’s followed by “Gold In California.” Though Ellis Paul has never resided in California, he has often been inspired by the state, and has written several songs about it. In this song, he mentions as much, opening the song with these lines: “I love it like it’s my home town/But I wasn’t born here.” There is a good deal of cheer to this song. Big Sur has certainly been a source of inspiration, and he mentions that town here. Might he eventually move to this state? He ends the song with these lines: “If I ever lay roots down/This is my sacred ground.” Seth Glier provides those great backing vocals on this track. “Gold In California” was co-written by Kristian Bush.

The album’s title track, “55,” is another of my personal favorites. I am now in my fifties, and wondering how that could be. In this song, Ellis Paul sings, “And me, I’m 55/Just trying to figure out/How I’m still alive.” The song mentions many things that were prominent at one point during our lives and are now largely gone, including 8-track tapes, fax machines, and Sears and Roebuck catalogues. And yet we are still here. This song came out of the pandemic, and there is a verse about how it shut everything down. That is probably the song’s most powerful verse, in part because in it he mentions one of his idols, John Prine, who did not survive the pandemic: “They’ve cancelled every show through Fall/Turn the bus ‘round, boys, it’s over/This virus don’t care/If you’ve got mouths to feed/Or about songs you’re singing/While the whole world’s bleeding/But you get to stay and John Prine’s leaving/Who’s in charge of the order?” These lines also strike me each time I listen to this song: “You fall in love/You fall in lust/Fall to pieces/Fall to dust/The only thing I’ve come to trust/Is the sun’s gonna shine come morning.” Mark Easley joins Ellis Paul on acoustic guitar on this one, and Laurie MacAllister provides some excellent backing vocals. Laurie MacAllister also provides wonderful vocal work on “Everyone Knows It Now,” a song that begins with some pretty work on guitar. This is a song that feels designed to make you feel good. It is gentle and loving and soothing. “Oh youth/You always chase the sun/If we fly too close on the run/We can start again from the ashes.”

“Tattoo Lady” is a character song, this one told from the perspective of the tattooed lady in a carnival. The song describes some of the tattoos, and those bits of art help to tell her story, or perhaps they are her story. “There is a serpent/Drawn with the current/Wrapping around my calf, my thigh.” Then in the middle of the song, we hear briefly from the barker, introducing her. Laurie MacAllister again adds another layer to this song with her vocal work. “Tattoo Lady” is followed by “Sometimes Trouble Is Good.” There is a great energy to this song. Here he sings, “You gotta believe/Change is coming your way/Just like it should/Sometimes trouble is good,” lines that of course call to mind the spirit of John Lewis. This nation is still in great need of meaningful change, and on a personal level, many of us are also in need of meaningful change. Seth Glier provides more excellent backing vocal work on this track. “Sometimes Trouble Is Good” was co-written by Will Chapman.

“When Angels Fall” is a slightly older song that was written when Ellis Paul was working on The Storyteller’s Suitcase. The song did not make it onto that album, and apparently it was originally not going to be on this one either, but I am so glad that he decided to include it. It is a powerful and moving song, another of the album’s best. It addresses one of the biggest problems facing the nation now, that of gun violence, particularly shootings at schools. It is a song that asks, “Are you gonna fight?/Fight for your guns?/Or fight for your children?/Your children?” That is the choice, honestly. I personally would like to see an end to the Second Amendment, since no one seems to know what it means anyway, but for now we need at least some serious legislation to make it as difficult as possible for people to attain such weapons. “When angels fall/Does anybody hear them at all?” The album concludes with “A Song To Say Goodbye,” which was co-written by Clarence Easterday. A fitting final track, eh? This is a more intimate song, one about two people and the music that is left. And that’s what it always comes down to, doesn’t it? “A fiddle cries/Collides with the night/And I can almost touch you/If I could only make this right.”

CD Track List

  1. Cosmos
  2. Who You Are
  3. The Gift
  4. Be The Fire
  5. Holy
  6. Gold In California
  7. 55
  8. Everyone Knows It Now
  9. Tattoo Lady
  10. Sometimes Trouble Is Good
  11. When Angels Fall
  12. A Song To Say Goodbye

55 is scheduled to be released on June 9, 2023, but was made available early to those who have joined Ellis Paul’s Patreon page (my copy arrived on March 16th). By the way, there was also talk of a vinyl release at some point, and I hope that happens.

Kerrville Folk Festival Features Impressive Lineup

One of these years I will get to the Kerrville Folk Festival. And having seen the lineup, I wish I could go this year. It is the 51st year of the festival, which itself is impressive. The festival has been around as long as I have, the first one being held just a few months after I was born. Anyway, the festival is eighteen days of music, beginning on May 25th, and going through June 11th, and the lineup includes John Fullbright, Pat Byrne, Darrell Scott, Anais Mitchell, Mary Gauthier, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Steve Poltz, The Brother Brothers, Bill Ward, Rebecca Folsom, Trout Fishing In America, Chris Pierce, Sam Robbins, and John Doe Folk Trio, among many others. In addition to all these incredible artists, the festival includes guitar workshops, ukulele workshops, harmonica workshops, a songwriter’s school, family concerts, canoe trips, nature walks and yoga. In addition, there is the Grassy Hill Kerrville New Folk Award Winners Concert, which will be held on June 3rd. The whole thing sound fantastic. Various tickets and passes are available. Visit the Kerrville Folk Festival official website for the full lineup and details on tickets. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

Music is there for us as we face our struggles, personal and universal, during these strange times. Here are notes on a few new jazz albums you might want to check out.

Towner Galaher Organ Trio: “Live” – Towner Galaher is a drummer, composer and bandleader. Live is his first album as leader in more than a decade, following Uptown!, which was released in 2012. It was recorded at Daddy Jack’s in New London, Connecticut in the summer of 2020, when everything was shut down. So it is not exactly a concert recording. The show was a private event for a few close friends and family members, so there is not a lot of applause, nor are there the other crowd noises you’d normally associate with a live album. And it is clear from the opening track, “One For McGriff,” that these guys wanted to take a break from the stress of the pandemic and just jam and groove. The trio is made up of Towner Galaher on drums, Lonnie Gasperini on organ, and Marvin Horne on guitar. That first track was composed by Gasperini, and it is a cheerful, swinging number featuring some delicious playing from all three musicians. It has a strong groove, one to make your body happy, and in the second half there is a cool drum solo. And speaking of strong grooves, they follow that with a cover of “Fever,” the guitar at first taking on what would be the vocal line. This is such a cool song, and these guys get into it, the guitar soon cutting loose. Then “Willow Weep For Me” begins with drums, immediately letting us know that their take on this song is going to be outside the ordinary approach. And, yeah, it features another delicious groove. There is some good work on both organ and guitar, but the drums are what really make this rendition something special. Things get even more fun with the trio’s rendition of “Hot Barbecue,” a track that will likely get you moving. From there, the trio goes straight into “Norleans,” keeping the groove going and the joy high. How can you not be affected by that great New Orleans rhythm? This is one of my personal favorite tracks. Then I love the guitar work on “Lover Man.” “Keep Talkin’” is another fun number, this one written by Lonnie Gasperini. Though Towner Galaher is a composer, none of the tracks on this album were written by him. Lonnie Gasperini’s work, on the other hand, is featured throughout the album. “Lonnie’s Funk” has that classic rhythm and blues vibe, which I love. And his “Little Bit Of This, Little Bit Of That” is a delightful and cool funk number. The trio’s cover of “Mellow Mood” features some wonderful stuff on organ. The album ends where it began, with a second version of “One For McGriff.” This album is scheduled to be released on April 7, 2023.

Maria Jacobs: “Back At The Bop Stop” – Vocalist Maria Jacobs’ new release is a live album (well, mostly live; the final two tracks are studio cuts), recorded in January 2022 at the Bop Stop in Cleveland. The music is a mix of standards and original compositions. The band backing her at this show includes Rock Wehrmann on piano, Bryan Thomas on bass, and Jamey Haddad on drums. The album opens with “Up Jumped Spring,” on which Maria Jacobs not only gives a strong and varied vocal performance, but also plays flute, delivering a good lead. This track also features some wonderful work by Rock Wehrmann on piano. Then her version of “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” begins with a cool section of just vocals and bass, which has a sultry and intimate feel. The track develops from there, and includes some delightful scat, certainly a highlight of the album. And I love the playful aspect of her rendition of “‘Deed I Do.” This track is a delight, and includes some scat and a fun lead on bass. And before the end, this track even gives us a drum solo. She then puts her own mark on “Stand By Me,” giving the song a fresh arrangement that works quite well. That is followed by an original number, “Infatuation,” which features a vocal performance driven by a great sensuality. “Infatuation takes hold of you/Your mind is racing and you don’t know what to do.” This track contains one of the album’s most compelling and arresting vocal performances. Then “If You Could See Me Now” has an intimate feel. That’s followed by “Pour Me A Cup Of Yesterday,” an original composition that Maria Jacobs previously included on her Free As A Dove, Chasing Dreams, Lucky Girl, Hold On Your Heart and Bootleggin’ At The Bop Stop albums, so clearly it is a favorite of hers. She stretches out a bit on this rendition, and includes some scat. Maria Jacobs also delivers a really good rendition of Cole Porter’s “Easy To Love” that features excellent leads on both piano and bass, and a sweet version of “Moody’s Mood For Love.” The live portion of the album concludes with “Never Will I Marry.” The first of two studio track is a slow, gorgeous rendition of “Blue Moon,” which features Maria Jacobs on piano as well as vocals, with Bobby Selvaggio on alto saxophone. The second is an original composition, “Pale Moon, Blue Sky,” which features layered vocals, a change in pace partway through, and a horn section. This album was released on March 1, 2023.

Chris Keefe: “Opening” – Chris Keefe’s debut album as leader contains a mix of covers and original material. Joining the pianist on this release are Harvie S on bass and Adam Nussbaum on drums. Harvie S also produced the album. The disc kicks off with “Got A Chick?” which Nussbaum begins on drums, establishing a cool rhythm. When the piano and bass enter a moment later, they work together. There is a playful angle to this piece, and the track features some fantastic playing by all three musicians. And though the track is only a little more than four minutes in length, it contains a good drum solo. What an excellent start to the album! That original number is followed by another original composition, “Modern,” which contains a memorable theme on piano. The track becomes lively at times, due in large part to the bass and drums, though it is the piano which is the focus. Harvie S takes a short lead in the second half, and that is followed by a brief drum solo. I would be surprised if these first two tracks are not soon covered by other artists. The album’s first cover is Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty,” this version beginning with some good work on bass before Chis Keefe plays that familiar theme on piano. There is a certain warmth to his playing here, which gives the recording a timeless flavor. This one fades out at the end. That’s followed by a cover of “I Fall I Love Too Easily,” which Chris Keefe begins alone on piano. It has an almost spiritual air about it at first, which is interesting, before taking on a hint of melancholy. It is then that Harvie S and Adam Nussbaum come in (approximately a minute and a half into the track), and that feeling actually increases. There is a sense of solitude, of late-night contemplation. That’s followed by another song co-written by Jule Styne, “Just In Time,” Chris Keefe putting his own spin on it, giving it a somewhat loose feel for the first section. Then the rhythm begins to encourage the song to move forward, and soon there is a cool section of drums and bass. The final of the original pieces, “Chobim,” eases in and has a Brazilian flavor. It features a wonderful lead on bass in the first half. Chris Keefe then wraps things up with a sweet cover of Johnny Mercer’s “Dream.” This album was released on February 18, 2023.

Alyse Korn & Robert Kyle: “Tuesday’s Child” – This album contains all original material, composed by pianist and vocalist Alyse Korne and saxophone player and flutist Robert Kyle. Joining them is Kevin Winard on drums and percussion. And there are guests on a few tracks. The album opens with “Gratitude,” written by Alyse Korn, a track that immediately transports us with her ethereal vocal work. There is a soothing vibe to this track as it begins, like feeling at peace with both nature and self. It contains a sense of introspection, with any communication being with the earth itself rather than other people. Though of course they are communicating this feeling with all who listen. “What If” was written by Robert Kyle, and on this track he delivers some beautiful work on flute, the instrument seeming to reach outward with both questions and answers. When the heavens refuse to respond, we offer our own answers, and it sounds like that is what his flute is doing here. Robert Kyle also plays surdo on this track, and there are moments when there is something of a Brazilian flavor to the rhythm of the piece. “Your Light,” also composed by Robert Kyle, is a beautiful and romantic piece featuring some gorgeous playing on saxophone. This track seems to urge us to slow down for a moment and hold the ones we love, to find those tender moments. For that’s what life is all about, isn’t it? “Distance Between Us” is also about love, about being apart from those who are important to us, while remaining close in spirit, and not allowing that distance to harm the relationships. This one was composed by Alyse Korn, and there is warmth to her playing. There is also warmth to “Tuesday’s Child,” the disc’s title track. The title comes from the fact that both Alyse Korn and Robert Kyle were born on Tuesdays (hey, so was I). There is an air of melancholy as “Winter” begins. This is a contemplative piece, with hope rising from the darkness. That’s followed by “Blue Jack,” which has a cool, mellow vibe. Ahmet Turkmenoglu plays bass on this track, and Howard and Phyllis Silverstein provide the finger snaps. Then Hussain Jiffrey plays bass on “Vivian’s Danzรณn,” a track with a good, Cuban rhythm. I also love the piano on this track. Leonice Shinneman plays tabla on “Ruby’s Dream,” the disc’s final track, and another one with the ability to transport us. This album is scheduled to be released on March 24, 2023.

David Larsen: “The Peplowski Project” – On his new album, saxophonist David Larsen is joined by Ken Peplowski on clarinet and tenor saxophone, and Jake Svendsen on piano, Josh Skinner on bass, and Brendan McMurphy on drums. They deliver standards as well as a few original compositions, the music in line with, and inspired by, some of the great straight-ahead jazz of the 1950s. The album opens with a delightful rendition of “All The Things You Are,” written by Jerome Kern. It has a light and somewhat cheerful feel, while the rhythm section keeps things moving forward. And toward the end, Larsen and Peplowski come together again, returning to the main theme, but now feeling like they are engaged in a wonderful dance. Things become more playful in their rendition of Johnny Mandel’s “Black Nightgown,” a piece featured in the Susan Hayward film I Want To Live! and that begins with a cool bass line. So put on your sexiest lingerie and dance around to this delicious number. I love that section with clarinet and bass approximately halfway through, and this track only grows more enjoyable from there. Then, with “Doodle Oodle,” these musicians pick up the pace and get things hopping. On this one, both Larsen and Peplowski are on saxophone, and in the second half they trade off licks. This track is a lot of fun. That is followed by “He Who Getz The Last Laugh,” the first of the album’s compositions written by David Larsen, and one he also included on his 2021 album Deviate From Standards.  (Josh Skinner and Brendan McMurphy both played on that earlier version too.) There is a good lead on bass on this track. Larsen and Peplowski then mellow things a bit at the beginning of their sweet and beautiful rendition of Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood,” a track I want to just drift away upon. “Into The Mild” is the second of the three David Larsen compositions, and it is another that he previously included on Deviate From Standards. It features some really nice work on piano. Plus, I love those brief drum solos in the second half. “Jazz Line Blues” also contains some good stuff on piano. This album also contains a wonderful rendition of “Love Me Or Leave Me” that swings, and a delightful version of “On The Sunny Side Of The Street.” The final original composition is “Tenor For Dinner,” and as you might guess, it contains plenty of enjoyable work on saxophone. That is followed by Al Cohn’s “Two Funky People” to close out the disc. And this is yet another complete delight, featuring excellent work on both clarinet and saxophone. This album is scheduled to be released on May 19, 2023.