Saturday, December 3, 2022

Getting Into The Holiday Spirit At Club Passim

Music plays a big part in the holiday season for most folks. By this point, we all likely have a fairly large collection of holiday CDs and records in our homes. But live performances really add that special touch of holiday magic and warmth to our evenings. Club Passim in Cambridge, Massachusetts offers several nights of music to help get you into a festive mood and celebrate this time of year. 

Tonight, banjo player Tony Trischka performs his annual holiday show, where he will be joined by Tim Eriksen, Sean Trischka, Hannah Read and Jared Engel. Tickets are $30 and $28 for members. 

Then on December 19th and 20th, Jennifer Kimball and Rose Polenzani lead a group of Boston musicians in a program of holiday music touching upon the sacred and the secular, with classical, folk, pop and traditional songs performed on a wide variety of instruments. Tickets are $28 and $26 for members.

Scottish Fish is a Boston band made up of Ava Montesi on fiddle, Caroline Dressler on fiddle, Giulia Haible on cello and piano, Julia Homa on fiddle and piano, and Maggie MacPhail on fiddle and piano. On December 22nd, the group will perform a holiday concert. Tickets are $20 and $18 for members.

On December 23rd, Irish vocalist and harpist Áine Minogue will perform some beautiful holiday music to transport the audience to that special place we all imagine during the holiday season. Tickets are $25 and $23 for members.

Club Passim is located at 47 Palmer St. in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Visit the venue's website for the complete concert schedule.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Davis Causey & Jay Smith: “Pickin’ On Christmas” (1998/2022) CD Review

The tracks on Pickin’ On Christmas were recorded back in the late 1990s, and originally only a hundred copies were made and given out as Christmas presents. Now those of us who weren’t on the musicians’ Christmas lists back in 1998 are able to enjoy this music. The tracks on this disc are instrumental renditions of some classic holiday songs, along with one original piece. I’ve said it before, but often the instrumental renditions are the most successful and the most effective, because a lot of the lyrics to Christmas songs are rather weak. And, really, it’s all about the feeling of the holiday, the emotions, the warmth, and all of that is conveyed by the instruments. Davis Causey plays electric guitar, acoustic guitar, 12-string guitar, resonator guitar, bass and percussion on this release; Jay Smith is on electric guitar, classical guitar and 12-string guitar. Joining them on this disc are Randall Bramblett on soprano saxophone, and Jeff Reilly on drums.

The album opens with one of my favorite Christmas songs, “Little Drummer Boy.” It begins with drums, though they never overpower the guitars, but rather supply that steady base, from which the guitars can rise and sing. This is a gentle, sweet, beautiful rendition. At times it seems we could just ride away into the ether on these guitars, an appealing notion, as the instruments seem engaged in a dance with the heavens. Then their rendition of “The Christmas Song” begins with guitar, that instrument given the time to establish the mood. It’s about a minute before the other musicians come in. Again, there is a warmth and a peaceful vibe to this music. The music is like a big hug in what sometimes feels like an increasingly cold world.

Davis Causey and Jay Smith place “Silver Bells” and “Silent Night” together. This track has a brighter, more cheerful vibe, with a steady drum beat and a nice country sound. They begin with “Silver Bells,” then soon move into “Silent Night.” It is when they get to “Silent Night” that the track picks up more energy, which is interesting. This piece is not as contemplative as some of the other tracks on this disc. And I love when the guitars move with a good sense of freedom and joy. They go back into “Silver Bells” just before the end. That’s followed by “Following A Star,” an original composition by Davis Causey. This is a slower, beautiful piece, with a sound that is somehow both solemn and joyful. For me, it is one of the disc’s highlights. The second of the album’s two medleys combines “We Three Kings” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” It has a cool vibe right from the start, and features lots of good work on guitar.

I love the way “Angels We Have Heard” sounds on guitar. That pretty and familiar theme always sounds just right on that instrument. There is a good amount of joy in the playing. This is a fairly short track, less than two minutes. It is followed by “What Child Is This?” Of course, instrumental renditions of “What Child Is This?” are really just “Greensleeves.” No matter, for this is a beautiful piece, and these guys deliver a really nice rendition. This is the most jazzy track on this disc, taking on a wonderful groove. And I love the work on saxophone in the second half, lifting the whole thing up to another level. Again, there is obvious joy in the playing. The disc then wraps up with “White Christmas,” this rendition beginning with some pretty riffing on the guitars before settling into that familiar theme. This one is performed by just the two guitarists.

CD Track List

  1. Little Drummer Boy
  2. The Christmas Song
  3. Silver Bells/Silent Night
  4. Following A Star
  5. We Three Kings/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  6. Angels We Have Heard
  7. What Child Is This?
  8. White Christmas

Pickin’ On Christmas was released on November 11, 2022 on Strolling Bones Records.

Janis Joplin & Jorma Kaukonen: “The Legendary Typewriter Tape: 6/25/64 Jorma’s House” (2022) CD Review

Before Big Brother & The Holding Company, and before Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, Janis Joplin and Jorma Kaukonen played together, performing acoustic blues and folk music in the San Francisco area. This was in that brief time before rock and roll took over the scene. In fact, just a year after the recordings on this CD were made, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Grateful Dead (well, the Warlocks, at first) would all form. But in 1964, acoustic music was what was happening. And one of the rehearsals at Jorma Kaukonen’s home in Santa Clara was recorded. Later, bootleg tapes of the rehearsal began circulating. The bootleg was given the title “The Typewriter Tape” because the sound of Margareta Kaukonen typing a letter can be heard. And now this recording is getting an official release. It is being released on vinyl for Black Friday’s Record Store Day (in a limited edition of only 3,500 copies), and on CD a week later. The tracks were restored and mastered by Michael Graves at Osiris Studio in Los Angeles, and this release includes liner notes written by Jorma Kaukonen.

The disc opens with a bit of banter between Janis Joplin and Jorma Kaukonen, while Jorma tunes his guitar. Janis urges Margareta to type in rhythm. That leads straight into “Trouble In Mind,” and that’s when we really begin hearing the typewriter, which at times does feel like it is being played like a musical instrument, the rhythm working with the song. But the focus of course is on the vocals. Janis is delivering the goods even in this rehearsal setting. What a voice, a voice made for the blues. “I never had so much trouble in my whole life ever before.” There is a bit of banter at the beginning of the next track, as Jorma says, “Give me a moment here,” before they go into “Long Black Train,” another blues gem. “Here comes that long black train/Right by my back door again/That’s the same old train that took my two best friends.” Jorma delivers a good guitar solo in the middle of this track.

There is a false start to “Kansas City Blues,” a song credited to Janis Joplin. This song has also been listed as “Leaving This Morning.” This track is a great deal of fun, Janis clearly having a good time with it. And Jorma’s guitar work has a cheerful sense about it. At the end of the track, Jorma playfully acknowledges the typewriter. “All right, everybody ready on the typewriter?” Things get a bit mellower at the beginning of “Hesitation Blues,” and we can hear Janis comment on the typewriter. Her voice, of course, is not mellow. She has such great power even on the quieter numbers. This track features some excellent work on guitar. The typewriter disappears for a time, but returns before too long (perhaps she was inserting a new sheet of paper?). Anyway, both Janis and Jorma are happy with this one, and just before the end of the track they agree that it sounds good. An understatement, I think you’ll agree.

I love the way they handle the Jimmie Cox number “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out,” a song that Bessie Smith recorded. Bessie Smith had a great influence on Janis Joplin, and you can certainly hear it on this track. There is a delicious freedom to the style. Toward the end of the track, there is a bit of banter, as they discuss the way they want to deliver the song’s conclusion, a cool moment to have captured on tape. That’s followed by a track of banter, beginning with Jorma joking, “And now Miss Janis Joplin.” And Janis adds to the joke, saying “With unknown accompanist.” There is also some tuning. The disc then concludes with a Janis Joplin original, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.” A live recording of her performing this song in Austin was included on the 1975 release Janis. Jorma delivers some really cool work on guitar, and we can hear Janis digging it too. And the typing seems to be finished. It sounds like Janis says, “Yeah, that’s all right,” at the end. But it’s so much better than that. This disc is such a treat.

CD Track List

  1. Are We Taping Now?”
  2. Trouble In Mind
  3. Long Black Train
  4. Kansas City Blues
  5. Hesitation Blues
  6. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out
  7. How ‘Bout This?”
  8. Daddy, Daddy, Daddy

The Legendary Typewriter Tape: 6/25/64 Jorma’s House is scheduled to be released on vinyl on November 25, 2022, and on CD on December 2, 2022 through Omnivore Recordings.

Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers: “Jonathan Sings!” (1983/2022) CD Review

This is a good time for Jonathan Richman fans, for many of his albums are finally getting re-issued, some of them on vinyl. The 1983 album Jonathan Sings! is going to be released on vinyl as part of the Black Friday Record Store Day (in a limited edition of 3,000 copies), and on CD a week later. The lineup of the Modern Lovers changed over the years, and at the point of this record’s initial release included Ken Forfia on keyboards, Michael Guardabascio on drums, and Greg Keranen on bass, with Beth Harrington and Ellie Marshall on backing vocals. And now is a time when we need Jonathan Richman and the innocence and joy that his music often conveys. One thing I’ve always loved about his music is that there is a sense of humor about it, and yet it is delivered in earnest. There is no one else who delivers a lyric quite like Jonathan Richman does. All of the songs on this album were written by Jonathan Richman. 

The album opens with “That Summer Feeling,” and, indeed, this song has a warm vibe with that relaxed sense of summer. Interestingly, the backing vocalists get this one going, unusual for a Jonathan Richman album. They repeat the song’s title a few times before Jonathan comes in. “When you run for love/Not because you oughta/When you trust your friends/With no reason, nada/This joy I have named/Shall not be tamed.” But maybe the most unusual line is the song’s main line, “That summer feeling is gonna haunt you the rest of your life.” An interesting choice of words there, “haunt,” which generally carries a negative or disturbing connotation. This is an excellent song. It is followed by “This Kind Of Music.” Jonathan Richman begins this one a cappella, with the backing vocalists soon joining him to echo “Shake ‘em,” a delightful moment. Seconds later, the band kicks in. This track is a lot of fun. “This kind of music is the kind I like.” Oh yes. This track has plenty of lines that will make you smile, if not laugh, such as “That saxophone is worse than the last one he had.”

The backing vocalists are really integral to the music on this album, and “The Neighbors” is delivered as a duet, with female vocals coming in first, and Jonathan then responding. “I don’t want to let the neighbors run my life.” This track has a good, delicious groove. Then in “Somebody To Hold Me,” the backing vocalists respond and comment on Jonathan’s lines. If you’ve heard some of Jonathan Richman’s music before, then you know he sometimes mentions his own name in his lyrics. Well, in this song, it is the backing vocalists who do, and there is something totally adorable about their delivery of that line, “Jonathan, what’s happening?” Soon this one kicks in, like a classic rock and roll number for a section. This song is sweet and wonderful, about how having someone to hold him has brought a great change to his life. “She holds me and it feels real good/I got somebody to hold me/Well, she holds me and it’s warm and all/I got somebody to hold me/Well, I still get sad, but it ain’t like before.”

If you get the album on vinyl, the first side concludes with “Those Conga Drums.” With a title like that, you might expect a strong rhythm, and you won’t be disappointed. This one has a 1960s vibe, in the rhythm and that guitar work. It is another delightful number. The line “At first that sound seemed kinda dumb” caught me off guard and made me laugh out loud, but soon Jonathan is on board with the sound: “That’s when the conga drums spoke to me/(Those conga drums)/I was kinda poor, I didn’t have much choice/It was just those drums and the human voice.” I am having flashbacks to drum circles. We’ve all taken part in those, haven’t we? On the beach, in the park, and of course in the parking lot before a concert. I love this track. Well, let’s face it, I love all these tracks.

Somehow “Stop This Car” is even more fun. Something magical happens whenever Jonathan sings about a car or driving. Think “Roadrunner.” Think “Dodge Veg-O-Matic.” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I’m not going to wait until we land in the brook/And have all the little fishies swim by and take a look/Now they’re all laughing at us with the little brook trout/Stop this car, I’m getting out.” The backing vocalists are hilarious on this track. And it is over all too soon. That’s followed by “Not Yet Three,” a mellower number. This unusual and wonderful song is from a baby’s perspective. I love that Jonathan Richman uses the word “yonder,” like every baby does. Check out these lines:  Well, yonder the sun has turned the town bright yellow/I love twilight more than you do, hello/You don’t love twilight as much as me/Why don’t you take the nap and let the baby be.”

Usually Jonathan Richman sings about places in New England, but in “Give Paris One More Chance” he sings the praises of Paris. “But if you don’t think Paris was made for love/Maybe your heart needs a telegram from up above.” Then “You’re The One For Me” is a strangely sweet and adorable song in which he tells the woman, “I’m saying, you never should have been born/Because now you’re the one for me/And if you didn’t want me following you around/You never should have showed up around my town.” And yes, I understand that in our current climate certain people will see this as creepy and dangerous, but those folks should please relax and just enjoy the song in the spirit it is offered. The album concludes with “When I’m Walking,” which has a spoken word introduction, and then features some wonderful guitar work. There is something loose about this song, like much of his material. He does that better than anyone, making a song feel like it was made up on the spot, in the moment. “And I do not walk for exercise/Nor to live among the wise/And I don’t want automotive help/Thanks, I’ll walk fine by myself.”

CD Track List

  1. That Summer Feeling
  2. This Kind Of Music
  3. The Neighbors
  4. Somebody To Hold Me
  5. Those Conga Drums
  6. Stop This Car
  7. Not Yet Three
  8. Give Paris One More Chance
  9. You’re The One For Me
  10. When I’m Walking

This re-issue of Jonathan Sings! is scheduled to be released on vinyl on November 25, 2022, and on CD on December 2, 2022, through Omnivore Recordings.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Cathy Segal-Garcia & Phillip Strange: “Live In Japan” (2022) CD Review

Last year, jazz vocalist Cathy Segal-Garcia released an album of songs addressing social issues, including covers of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and Marvin Gaye’s “Save The Children.” Her new album, Live In Japan, reaches a bit farther back for its material, covering some of the great standards. This is a duo album, with Cathy Segal-Garcia’s voice supported by Phillip Strange on piano. The two toured Japan and some of Europe for a time in the 1990s, and the recordings on this two-disc set come from shows performed in Osaka in December of 1992. Based on the sounds of the room, these songs were performed at an intimate venue. This two-disc set contains well over two hours of music.

Disc 1

The album opens with introductions, which are done in Japanese, followed by some stage banter. They then begin with a warm and rather spirited rendition of “I’m In The Mood For Love,” written by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields. There is a good deal of joy in Cathy Segal-Garcia’s delivery, which has a natural flow. And I love when she lets go and cuts loose, as when she dips into “Moody’s Mood For Love,” singing, “There I go, there I go, there I go, there I go/Pretty baby, you are the type that stops my control/Well, it’s a funny thing, but every time I’m near you I never can behave.” What a delight. She even lets out a little laugh at the end of that section, before Phillip Strange delivers a cool piano solo. That’s followed by “You’ve Changed.” At the beginning of this track, Cathy Segal-Garcia talks about an album they had recorded but which at that time had yet to be released. This is one of the songs they’d recorded for that album, their arrangement being in the bossa nova style. By the way, from what I can tell, this song did not make it onto the album when it was finally released. They then turn romantic with an excellent cover of “More Than You Know,” featuring an absolutely delightful piano solo in the middle.

These recordings were made during the holiday season, and so a few Christmas songs are included. The first is “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” There is a good energy to this rendition. I particularly like Phillip Strange’s piano work, which lends more excitement to the piece than it usually has. Then “Day By Day” begins with piano. And when Cathy Segal-Garcia comes in, she starts with a bit of scat, and the two get playful. After a bit, they start to settle into the song, but certainly put their own spin on it, getting somewhat loose with it, keeping things bright, hopping and cheerful. After all, this is a love song about one’s dreams coming true. “The Nearness Of You” also begins with some solo piano work, but in a much mellower place. This is a beautiful rendition, Cathy Segal-Garcia turning in a heartfelt, warm and moving performance. Light a candle, turn off your phones, and hold that special person close while listening to this one. There are some gorgeous, intimate moments.

The only original composition on this two-disc set is “The Story,” written by Cathy Segal-Garcia. It was included on the duo’s Song Of The Heart album, which was recorded in September 1992. This one opens with some energetic work on piano. Her vocal performance likewise has a good energy. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “All around us stars and planets/Zip through the milky way/Life exists in many forms/Beyond our view there’s life enough anyway/Looking at the world today/It’s hard to know, hard to say/That life is growing better even day by day.” Indeed. And what is our part in the great story? Cathy Segal-Garcia delivers a bit of scat too, which seems fitting. Sometimes that is the best way to express a feeling. And then Phillip Strange takes off on the keys. This is an optimistic, positive song. They follow that with “Alice In Wonderland.” Cathy Segal-Garcia introduces it by talking about reading Through The Looking-Glass when she was a kid. “And I thought for a long time that you could go through the mirror. But I didn’t know how. But I decided I would figure it out someday. So this song is very sentimental for me.” She gets into this, and when she asks the question, “How do you get to Wonderland?” it seems that she really would like an answer. And perhaps Phillip Strange’s piano work will help us get there, or at least to some magical place of our own making, our own dreams. Then in the second half of the track, Cathy Segal-Garcia delivers some scat, but with much warmer tones, riffing in a wonderfully dreamy way. This song was written by Bob Hilliard and Sammy Fain.

Things then get hopping again with their rendition of “Honeysuckle Rose.” This track is a total delight. And you can bet there is some playful scat on this one. In fact, there is an extended section where she just lets it rip, receiving appreciative cheers and applause from the audience. And Phillip Strange’s solo is completely delicious. This is one of my personal favorite tracks on this disc. It is followed by the album’s second Christmas song, Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” This is a warm, slow rendition, the focus being on the lyrics, with gentle piano work supporting Cathy Segal-Garcia’s voice. In the middle, when Phillip Strange takes his solo, he allows it to grow from that gentle place, not straying far, but rather maintaining that warm tone. It’s a really nice rendition. The first disc then concludes with “I Got Rhythm” (here listed as “I’ve Got Rhythm,” which of course is the grammatically correct version). I’ve said it many times, but you can never go wrong with Gershwin. This duo has a good time with this song. And it sounds like the crowd is snapping along to Phillip Strange’s spirited solo.

Disc 2

As the first disc began, so does the second disc, with an introduction given in Japanese. “This is actually about a love that is so good that you can’t believe it,” Cathy Segal-Garcia says as they begin “This Can’t Be Love,” written by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers. This song comes from The Boys From Syracuse, one of the few Shakespeare adaptations that I haven’t yet seen. Cathy Segal-Garcia and Phillip Strange deliver a cheerful, snappy rendition. I love that piano solo, and after it, there is a wonderful moment when Cathy Segal-Garcia sings, accompanied only by the audience clapping along. Very cool. They keep the energy pretty high with their rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Desafinado.” It is interesting that the second song on each disc is a bossa nova number (well, in the case of the first disc, a song done in that style). I love that moment in the second half when she sings the line about the song being slightly out of tune, and then laughs at her own delivery. This is a completely enjoyable version.

They slow things down a bit then with a beautiful rendition of “When You Wish Upon A Star.” When Cathy Segal-Garcia sings, “When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true,” it seems like the truth, like a promise. How can you help but trust this voice? This track also features some gorgeous work on piano. That’s followed by “Taking A Chance On Love.” There is a bit of stage banter at the beginning of this track, about how love is the same in any language. This is a cheerful, romantic number, her voice carrying the excitement of falling in love. And yes, she delivers some sweet scat on this one, the audience applauding her performance. Then Phillip Strange’s piano solo seems to be dancing in the air, while also remaining partially grounded. And again, isn’t that the feeling of new love?  The duo then delivers a good rendition of “How Long Has This Been Going On.” Again, you can never go wrong with Gershwin. Cathy Segal-Garcia’s vocals take on a power at certain moments, and the track also features a cool piano solo. That is followed by “Misty.” There is an intimate quality to Cathy Segal-Garcia’s vocal delivery, helping to make this another highlight of the disc. Plus, Phillip Strange gives us a really warm piano solo. And I love that pretty ending.

One of the best tracks on this disc is the duo’s rendition of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child.” Right from the start, it’s clear they are going to dig into this one and really go for it. Cathy Segal-Garcia delivers a moving and powerful vocal performance, soulful and earnest. She is completely captivating here. I love that brief, dramatic pause the second time she delivers the line, “Well, the rich relations may give you a crust of a bread and such.” Phillip Strange gives us an equally soulful piano solo. This is the album’s longest track, the song clocking in at more than eleven minutes. That’s followed by a good rendition of Cole Porter’s “Night And Day,” which features another strong and varied vocal performance. Then they give us a cool, popping rendition of “Sentimental Journey” that begins with some energetic playing on piano. Yes, their take has more verve than many versions I’ve heard, and I love it. That piano solo is excellent. The disc then concludes with a holiday classic, “The Christmas Song,” which begins with Phillip Strange setting the tone on piano. There is such a warm, cozy feel to this track, just what we need for this holiday season.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. Introductions
  2. I’m In The Mood For Love
  3. You’ve Changed
  4. More Than You Know
  5. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
  6. Day By Day
  7. The Nearness Of You
  8. The Story
  9. Alice In Wonderland
  10. Honeysuckle Rose
  11. White Christmas
  12. I’ve Got Rhythm

Disc 2

  1. Introductions
  2. This Can’t Be Love
  3. Desafinado
  4. When You Wish Upon A Star
  5. Taking A Chance On Love
  6. How Long Has This Been Going On
  7. Misty
  8. God Bless The Child
  9. Night And Day
  10. Sentimental Journey
  11. The Christmas Song

Live In Japan was released on May 20, 2022 on Origin Records.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Laura Benitez And The Heartache: “California Centuries” (2022) CD Review

Laura Benitez And The Heartache released their debut album, Heartless Woman, back in the fall of 2014, and followed that with 2018’s With All Its Thorns. Now they’ve put out their third album, California Centuries. As with the first two albums, the focus is on original material, showcasing the songwriting talent of Laura Benitez. In these songs, she touches upon several serious topics, but does so with hope and heart in her voice. And as on the first two releases, the band features Bob Spector on guitar and Ian Sutton on steel guitar and dobro. And as on With All Its Thorns, Steve Pearson is on drums. Joining them on this one are Russell Kiel on electric bass, Dave Zirbel on steel guitar, and Amy Scher on fiddle. Bryan Kilgore and Sarah Schweppe provide backing vocals.

California Centuries opens with “Bad Things,” a song that speaks to us in these strange times when we seem to be constantly reading of terrible things, feeling less and less secure that these things will only affect others. Check out these lyrics: “Bad things happen somewhere else/Bad things happen to other people/Bad things happen to other names/In another time and place/We didn’t think it would get this bad/But it’s not my sister, it’s not my dad/So we sit at home and hoard our supplies/And hope death’s angel will pass us by.” This track features some nice work on pedal steel, as well as a really good lead on electric guitar. Dave Zirbel is on steel guitar on this track. That is followed by “I’m The One,” a song about finding one’s own power and no longer needing approval. Sometimes it might seem like our strength can only be found in someone else, or in relation to someone else. But here she discovers that it is within, singing “I’m not waiting for your love anymore/‘Cause I’m the one I’ve been waiting for.” It is told from a musician’s perspective, and the song’s final verse displays a bit more attitude: “So you can watch me now from down below/‘Cause I’ve taken some Alice in Wonderland pills, now watch me grow/I’m not sorry you're stuck down there on the floor.” This track also features a good lead on electric guitar.

Things get a bit lighter then with “Are You Using Your Heart,” a good country bar tune in which she anticipates an odd but ultimately honest pickup line: “I know he’s going to sidle up to me and say/’Excuse me, are you using your heart/Thought I might take it with me, treat it bad and tear it all apart/I promise we can have some fun before the hurting starts.’” I wasn’t expecting that serious turn after the guy’s initially cheesy opening line. I love when a song can surprise me like that. Do all relationships eventually lead to pain? Here she sees the truth in what he says, and that seems to keep her from taking him up on his proposition. Then “Let The Chips Fall” has something of a rock vibe in its rhythm. Its first line mentions trouble: “Bad news hits you like a big rig going 99.” I suppose that is the mood in these strange days. Who hasn’t heard bad news in recent times? But you can’t let that keep you from being involved, from taking risks, from living. And that seems to be the thrust of this song. This is a seriously cool track, with some delicious work on guitar. Check out these powerful lines: “And I gotta move now while there’s a part of me that’s left to save/And I know that failing ain’t worse than doing nothing at all/So let the dice roll and let the chips fall.” This is one of my favorite tracks.

“A Love Like Yours” has a great country feel and a particularly strong vocal performance. Its opening line is incredibly appealing: “Shoved that computer off the desk” (of course, I realize I’m typing this on my computer, but you understand the idea). The song is about freedom and taking risks. This song gives the album its title in the lines, “Started racing demons on your bike/Hundred miles at a time, you learned to fly/As those California centuries roll by/You know that no one owes you anything.” I also love the guitar work on this track. “Plaid Shirt” also features some really nice work on guitar, and another strong vocal performance. That’s followed by another of my favorites, “Gaslight (We Shouldn’t Talk About It).” In its first verse, this song addresses the gun violence problem that has gotten ridiculously out of hand in this country. There is a solution to it, of course, but people are too enamored of their weapons and the damn Second Amendment to actually enact it. Check out these lines: “And we shouldn’t talk about it/We should just pray instead/Though I’m not sure God is listening with so many people dead/So, load another magazine before we hit the firing range/‘Cause if we talk about it, I might have to change.” The second verse then addresses the systemic racism and resulting violence among the police force, certainly not your usual country music topic (and that is part of the point). And the song’s third verse deals with crimes against women by those with clout and money, and how women are not often believed (take, for example, the fact that both Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh have seats on the Supreme Court). The song is really about how people don’t want to face these issues because doing so might force them to take a closer look at their own actions.

“All Songs” has a pleasant, easygoing rhythm and vibe, and touches on the subject of how all things pass. Children grow up, relationships change. Check out these lines: “So I’ll hold you close and kiss your root beer lips/And we’ll sing our way through this apocalypse/We know it well, though we like to pretend/But all songs must come to an end.” Bryan Kilgore provides backing vocals on this track. That’s followed by “The Shot” the music of this one having a hopeful sound. Later, what will we tell people about this crazy time of the pandemic? What lessons will we be able to relate to the next generations? “I don’t know what I’ll tell them/My grandchildren/Maybe nothing/I’m not sure sad old stories/Count as wisdom.” I love the intelligence of Laura Benitez’s writing. And then “God Willing And The Creek Don’t Rise” opens with the line, “These days, if it’s not one thing, it’s another.” That’s a timely line, but I suppose it would always be a timely line. I once believed we were making progress as a species, but now I take hope wherever I can find it, and this song has exactly that feeling. It’s basically saying things are bad, and our efforts may come to naught, but, hell, we’re still making the attempt, we’re not giving up. “Well we’ve sure seen a lot since we were younger/The world’s still full of violence, fear and hunger/We keep climbing up the same old hill, and rolling right back down/The fact that we keep climbing up, it proves we’re still around.” Again, Laura Benitez can write a good lyric. Plus, this track features some wonderful work on fiddle.

“Invisible” is a song about standing up, not taking any crap, about being who one is. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Whether you like what you see, you’re gonna see it/Whether you like what I am, I’m gonna be it/It’s my life, and I will not live small/I’d rather die than be invisible.” Sarah Schweppe provides the harmony vocals on this one. This track also features some nice work on both fiddle and pedal steel. The album then concludes with “I’m With The Band,” a song about being a working musician. Sure, she mentions showing up at a club and having to explain who she is, and there is the hint of annoyance at having to do that, but there is also joy in being there, and in what is coming, in performing. That’s what this is all about, the joy of playing music. And I especially dig the guitar work on this song.

CD Track List

  1. Bad Things
  2. I’m The One
  3. Are You Using Your Heart
  4. Let The Chips Fall
  5. A Love Like Yours
  6. Plaid Shirt
  7. Gaslight (We Shouldn’t Talk About It)
  8. All Songs
  9. The Shot
  10. God Willing And The Creek Don’t Rise
  11. Invisible
  12. I’m With The Band

California Centuries was released on September 9, 2022 on Copperhead Records.