Monday, August 8, 2022

Matty T. Wall: “Live Down Underground” (2022) CD Review

Blues rock singer and guitarist Matty T. Wall delivers the goods once again on his new release, Live Down Underground, a live album featuring mostly original material, all of the selections coming from his first two studio releases, Blue Skies and Sidewinder. The group is made up of Matty T. Wall on vocals and guitar, Ric Whittle on drums, and Leigh Miller on bass. These tracks were recorded at Lyric Underground, in Perth, Western Australia, and contain a whole lot of energy.

This disc opens with “Broken Heart Tattoo,” a song from his debut album, Blue Skies. As it begins, there is a strong force coiling up, ready to strike. Are there really only three musicians playing here? Interestingly, this intro sounds like it could also be the ending. But the song soon kicks in and develops a good groove. After a bit, it then mellows out. At that point, check out that cool work on bass, which struts about, and the guitar, which prowls, peeking into our windows. When the vocals come in, the lyrics are delivered as spoken word, which is perfect for the story this song tells. “I tell you, something bad happened that night.” I love the way he stresses the word “bad,” drawing it out for emphasis. Then he gets the audience laughing with the line, “And all of you out there with dirty, dirty, dirty, dirty minds, well, she wasn’t doing exactly what you are thinking.” And everything described here is what the narrator witnessed from his spot on the stage while playing a gig. A cool way to open this live album.

“Slideride” is a tune from Matty T. Wall’s 2018 album, Sidewinder, and is one that takes us on a ride. At the beginning, it is like we are in this crazy vehicle with the band as they begin to rev the engine. It feels like a rocket about to burst from the ground. And once we start flying, we own the entire road. Any competition disappears, and it is just us and the road. This totally delicious instrumental number moves along with speed and joy, and everything feels right with the world. The guitar is in control, powering not just the vehicle, but seeming to ignite the very air, and we find ourselves capable of breathing fire, and even this doesn’t surprise us. Just roll with it, right? And that sense leads us perfectly to the next tune, “Burnin’ Up Burnin’ Down,” where the musicians are casting off sparks with each note. Be mindful that this album comes with a gas can, but even the danger is enjoyable. And is there a sort of love song contained somewhere in there? “Every time you kiss my lips/Can’t hold myself back.” While there is a whole lot of great stuff on guitar, I also love that work on drums.

“Walk Out The Door” is a song dripping with attitude, a song that is taking no shit, a break-up song that offers no ambiguity, no room for question. “You’d better wa-wa-wa-wa-walk out the door, babe/‘Cause I don’t want you back no more.” Yup. “I’m tired of being played like a fool, tired of being your punching bag/There’s only so much that I can take, and I ain’t one to raise the white flag/You treated me like your doormat, you treated me like your slave/Now I’m changing my direction ‘cause you ain’t gonna change your ways.” Then “Scorcher” sounds just like its title promises, rushing in, grabbing us, and before we understand just what is happening, it is racing along with us in its claws, the wind blowing our thoughts into the past. Beneath that phenomenal work on guitar is some fantastic stuff on bass. You’ll want to surrender to this rhythm, which is fine, because you have little choice in the matter anyway. This is a terrific instrumental track.

Matty T. Wall mellows things out at the beginning of “This Is Real,” giving folks a chance to catch their breath. “I know that this ain’t fiction/I know this ain’t a dream/I ain’t going to be the fool no more/This is real.” But what I really love about this track is the instrumental section in the second half, especially that work on guitar. That’s followed by the album’s only cover, Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile.” These musicians dig into this song, stretching out on it, with Matty T. Wall in particular getting a chance to cut loose and demonstrate his ability on guitar. They turn in a version that is fourteen minutes long. The jam turns kind of funky in the track’s second half, with some great work on bass. And then ten minutes in, we get a good drum solo. That’s followed by “Sophia’s Strut,” a short instrumental track, and then “Smile,” a surprisingly gentle and pretty number to close out the album. This is also an instrumental tune, this piece originally included on Matty T. Wall’s debut studio release.

CD Track List

  1. Broken Heart Tattoo
  2. Slideride
  3. Burnin’ Up Burnin’ Down
  4. Walk Out The Door
  5. Scorcher
  6. This Is Real
  7. Voodoo Chile
  8. Sophia’s Strut
  9. Smile

Live Down Underground was released on June 10, 2022.

Friday, August 5, 2022

The Brian Kinler Band: “Made From Scratch” (2022) CD Review

Jazz pianist Brian Kinler is one of my favorite musicians and composers. He made Los Angeles his home for a couple of decades, and it is there he put together The Brian Kinler Band. The band did not perform nearly frequently enough for my tastes and needs, and then at his recent concert at Kulak’s Woodshed he announced he was moving. To Orlando, of all places. That’s good news for Floridians, who now finally have something positive to say about their state, but not such good news for those of us in California who wonder just when we’ll get a chance again to see him perform. Well, to tide us over until that time, Brian Kinler has a new album out, Made From Scratch. We were treated to a taste of the new material at that Kulak’s Woodshed show, where he played two of these tracks, pieces that came out of that crazy time at the beginning of the pandemic when everything was shut down. Those two tunes, excellent examples of the incredibly strong and moving music he has been creating, got the audience excited for this release.

Brian Kinler opens this album with a fun tune titled “Five O’ Clock Shadow,” which begins with the beat. This one was written during the lockdown in 2020, and I wish my experience of that time had contained even a small fraction of the joy of this music. Partway through, it takes on a funky vibe. This song has a groove that seems to say we can get through this, we can get through any bit of craziness that is tossed our way, just so long as we maintain a sense of who we are and keep our priorities straight and don’t take the less important things too seriously. That’s followed by “Made From Scratch,” the album’s title track, which has a seriously cool opening, featuring Steve Herrman on trumpet. He also performed on the title track to The Brian Kinler Band’s 2020 album, Bragging Rights. What is striking is the joy of this music, of the playing. Listening to this album, we get the sense that no troubles are insurmountable. So maybe we just need to keep this album on constantly. “Made From Scratch” is followed by “Icarus Drowning,” which has a different and surprising rhythm. In the album’s liner notes, Brian mentions this is one of his oldest compositions, but one he didn’t record until now. Well, it is right at home on this new album, in part because of its bright sound, with Brian’s keyboard producing a vibraphone sound at key moments. Steve Herrman delivers some more wonderful work on trumpet here, that instrument interestingly being the focus and driving force of this track at times.

The music changes gears with “The Napkin,” one of the tracks he played at that Kulak’s Woodshed show back in April, and, for me, one of the highlights of that show. It is an absolutely beautiful piece inspired by an equally beautiful moment in his relationship with Steven Parker. When they met, Brian wrote his name and phone number on a napkin. Steven called the next day. A decade later he learned that Steven had kept that napkin, and that was what led eventually to this song. Over the years, some of Brian Kinler’s best material has been inspired in one way or another by Steven, and “The Napkin” is certainly one of his most wonderful compositions. At times, it is gentle and sweet without ever becoming too mushy. It is a song that will remind you of the best moments in your own relationship, a song that will remind you how grateful you are for the love in your life. By the way, there is a picture of the napkin in the disc’s liner notes. Then Steve Herrman delivers some really nice work on flugelhorn on “Keep The Lights On.” It is seductive and sexy, the perfect way to set the tone for this track. I love the way this one builds and grows. Before we know it, we are completely caught up in it. Brian delivers some powerful work on keys. That’s followed by “Tunnel Vision,” which begins by establishing a rhythm. There is an excitement to this piece, and a positive vibe. It is one that might get you dancing. As it reaches its end, it winds down and comes to a gentle landing.

“The World Is A Big Place” is the other of this album’s two tracks played at the Kulak’s Woodshed concert. This piece was inspired by a specific moment near the beginning of the pandemic when Andrea Bocelli performed “Amazing Grace,” and the footage showed various cities of the world, the streets all empty. How the pandemic did not unite us as a people is something that still baffles me. But this composition carries with it a feeling that we are united in our common experiences, and in how we were overwhelmed by the news, the uncertainty, and the strange, persistent beauty of the world. It is an incredibly moving and effective track, and it features a gorgeous string arrangement by Andre Mayeux, who also mixed and mastered the album. It leads straight into “Come Home Soon,” also written during the pandemic when most of us were missing our families. I did not visit my family at all in 2020, making a bad time even more difficult. This song expresses the longing most of us felt, as well as the concern for our families, especially the more vulnerable members. Again, that is something that should have united us. Why didn’t it? The overwhelming feeling of this song is love.

Steve Herrman joins Brian again on trumpet for “Sleight Of Hand,” which has a cool, sexy vibe. There is something smooth about this one at times. Brian Kinler then wraps things up with a pretty piece titled “A Better Life.” A better life is something we all want, and listening to this track, it feels attainable. Or perhaps this music indicates that we already have it. I know my life has gotten exponentially better because of my sweetheart. She has become an important part of my family, and family is what this is all about. As Brian and Steven embark on the next part of their journey together in Florida, it seems that they have everything they need for a joyful and beautiful life. This track seems to not only express that, but to wish it for everyone.

CD Track List

  1. Five O’ Clock Shadow
  2. Made From Scratch
  3. Icarus Drowning
  4. The Napkin
  5. Keep The Lights On
  6. Tunnel Vision
  7. The World Is A Big Place
  8. Come Home Soon
  9. Sleight Of Hand
  10. A Better Life

Made From Scratch was released on July 29, 2022.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Damn Tall Buildings: “Sleeping Dogs” (2022) CD Review

It feels like a good time to turn to bluegrass music. With the deepening divisions between people, and the fires and droughts due to climate change, and women’s rights being systemically stripped, and the daily gun violence making a simple trip to the store something many now fear, well, things are looking grim. We need something to lift our spirits, to remind us of our better selves, to unite us at least to some degree. Fortunately, bluegrass is capable of all that. Sleeping Dogs, the new album from Damn Tall Buildings, features all original music, most of it written by Max Capistran. The band, which formed in Boston and is now based in Brooklyn, is made up of Avery Ballotta on violin, banjo and vocals; Max Capistran on guitar, banjo and vocals; and Sasha Dubyk on upright bass and vocals. Joining them on this release are Emily Gervaise Moran on guitar, Anh Phung on flute, Micah Cowher on drums, Lars Thorson on lap steel, Dylan McCarthy on mandolin, Garrett Eaton on trumpet, and Dan Cardinal on keyboard.

The album opens with “What A Nice Life” which starts with the line “Oh, what a nice life we once had.” Ah yes, there is that feeling among us that things once were good, whether that’s true or not. But this music brings those better times to the present, especially a cheerful number like this one, with its “doo doo doo” vocals, even if here they also sing “But there ain’t no time for fine times about as far as we can see.” There is even a bit of whistling toward the end. The cheerful vibes continue with “Dark Window Panes,” bluegrass with a delicious jazzy element. Garrett Eaton joins the group on trumpet on this wonderful song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Running ‘cause I’m feeling late, there’s no need to hesitate/All the good living’s at the end of the road/At the end of the road, at the end of the road/It’s the end of the road.” It comes to a sudden ending all too soon.

“Podcast” has a slower, delightful groove, touching upon one of those traditional bluegrass topics, podcasts. “Your podcast sucks and I think I hate you.” There is a wonderful humor to this track, and some powerful vocal work, but it’s that groove that makes the song so catchy. This one was written by all three band members. “I woke up early and I’m tired of it.” Then in “Cold Rain” they sing, “Sure is a hot one, so we’re sitting in the shade/But who are we fooling, burning up just the same.” Oh yes, I think basically wherever you are in the country you’re going to be able to relate to those lines. And that “woo-ooh” part is admittedly catchy. This track features some nice work on fiddle, and Dylan McCarthy joins them on mandolin, delivering some wonderful work. Micah Cowher plays drums on this one. That’s followed by “Lemons,” another catchy number. A good deal of its appeal is in the vocal rhythm, the lyrics coming at us quickly at the beginning, seeming to urge us to just jump in and enjoy ourselves. “Well, it’s a long life you’re living when you’re living out a long life/Sure it’s been a short time, but it’s so good to see ya/All the sad songs, bouncing off the roof tops/I’m sitting on the same block, but I swear that I can hear it.” Anh Phung joins the group on flute on this one, adding a beautiful element. And then when it seems the song is coming to an end, instead it picks up the pace for an absolutely wonderful instrumental section. This is one of my favorite tracks.

The band then slows things down a bit with “My Baby,” which features some pretty work on guitar and banjo. This one was written by Avery Ballotta. Check out these lines: “And eyes so far from lying, that they stand straight up and down/And up to the heavens, oh, where we might be found.” Such a sweet song, and containing some good vocals. Emily Gervaise Moran plays electric guitar on this track. “Patio” is another of the disc’s highlights. This track’s strong, bright harmonies feel capable of uniting the entire country. “Woke up, foggy window panes, sitting still staring at the pouring rain/All feels different but it looks the same, got up early and I’m tired again.” Then “Painter” is fun from its start. You might find yourself joining in on the song’s chorus: “But it’s just the cold you’re getting used to/And breathing’s just a way of getting by/Well it's all coming down, no use in staring/So I’m looking backwards, through the rearview, getting high.” Lars Thorson plays lap steel on this track.

“Quietly Heartbreaking” is a beautiful song, this one written by Sasha Dubyk. It features some lovely touches on violin. “Sit and wait for the roadside flowers/I’ll be sitting here for days, giving all my time away/Just so I can see you soon.” That’s followed by “Sweet Girl” which contains some catchy work on bass. The bass feels like this song’s heart, its power source. Micah Cowher joins the group on drums. “All while time keeps on moving, always moving away/Oh, I am not myself/I am everyone else.” This song has a great energy, and there is a playful element. Also, we are treated to more good work on violin. The album then closes with its title track, “Sleeping Dogs.” The opening lines of this one take me back to the cold winter mornings when I was living in Massachusetts and chipping ice off the windshield. Reminders like that make me happy once again that I am now in California. Dan Cardinal plays keyboards on this one. It is a totally enjoyable song, and I am especially fond of that fun section in the track’s second half.

CD Track List

  1. What A Nice Life
  2. Dark Window Panes
  3. Podcast
  4. Cold Rain
  5. Lemons
  6. My Baby
  7. Patio
  8. Painter
  9. Quietly Heartbreaking
  10. Sweet Girl
  11. Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs is scheduled to be released on September 9, 2022.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Cactus: “The Birth Of Cactus – 1970” (2022) CD Review

How often is a band’s very first live gig recorded, and then released? I’m not sure, but if that band shared the bill with the Grateful Dead, the chance of the set being recorded rises dramatically. Such is the case for Cactus, whose first show was performed on May 16, 1970 at Temple University in Philadelphia. In addition to Cactus, the bill included Jimi Hendrix, Steve Miller Band and the Grateful Dead. That’s a pretty good lineup, eh? Hendrix was the headliner. The show started in the afternoon, and tickets were $6.50. Cactus at that time was made up of Rusty Day on vocals and harmonica, Jim McCarty on guitar, Tim Bogert on bass and vocals, and Carmine Appice on drums and vocals. Rusty Day came from The Amboy Dukes, Jim McCarty from Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels, while both Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice came from Vanilla Fudge. The band rocked, playing mostly original material.

The set begins with “One Way…Or Another,” a hard rock tune that would later serve as the title track to an LP released in 1971. The band comes on strong here, delivering an instrumental rendition of the song, this performance featuring some strong work on guitar. Perhaps the lyrics hadn’t yet been written? This disc credits Appice and Bogert as the songwriters, while on the studio release all four are credited. The energy here is tremendous. Rusty Day then thanks the audience and introduces the band members before they launch into “Sweet Sixteen,” a song that would end up on another 1971 LP, Restrictions (and which here is identified as “Sweet Little Sixteen” by Rusty Day). It is a heavy blues rock number, featuring some great work on bass. The group cuts loose here, and that unrestrained energy is delicious. “Her head is always spinning/Sometimes she can’t see straight.”

“No Need To Worry” is a song that would be included on the group’s first LP, released in 1970. It has a classic blues rock rhythm, and features some excellent work on harmonica. Those first lines are delivered as almost a howl: “Yeah, it’s so hard to be lonely/Feeling everyone is down on you/It’s hard to be lonely/Feeling everyone is down on you.” We’ve all been there, right? And I suppose the lines “I said it’s hard to believe/The condition the world is in right now” are always relevant. But, really, who would have thought we’d be where we are now? It’s beyond difficult to fathom. I am digging Carmine Appice’s work on drums, and this track also features some wild work on guitar. They then go into “Let Me Swim,” also from that self-titled debut LP. This song is a delicious and driving rock number, again with some guitar work that flies and burns. It leads straight into “Big Mama Boogie,” which would be included on One Way…Or Another. A seriously fun tune, this one includes some good stuff on harmonica, then takes off in a higher gear. That eventually leads into “Oleo,” written by Sonny Rollins, one of only two covers on this release.

“Feel So Good” is another strong rock song, this one ending up as the final track on the group’s first LP. It features some excellent stuff on drums, including a cool solo that builds wonderfully, helping to make this track one of my favorites. The album then concludes with a cover of “Parchman Farm,” written by Mose Allison. Cactus also included this song on that debut LP. They totally rock this song, delivering some great stuff on both guitar and harmonica. Yes, this is one high-energy set of music. I imagine those folks who were at this show had one hell of a good time.

CD Track List

  1. One Way… Or Another
  2. Sweet Sixteen
  3. No Need To Worry
  4. Medley: Let Me Swim/Big Mama Boogie/Oleo
  5. Feel So Good
  6. Parchman Farm

The Birth Of Cactus – 1970 was released on January 21, 2022, on both CD and vinyl (and the vinyl is purple).

Music Memories: Charlie O’s

I am once again attempting to clean my apartment, though I know it’s a battle I am fated to lose. There are papers everywhere, and among one stack of such sheets I found this calendar from Charlie O’s, a jazz club in Van Nuys where I used to see live music. A friend turned me onto the venue soon after I moved to Los Angeles. It was a spot where you could catch good jazz artists in a relaxed atmosphere. The club sadly no longer exists.