Saturday, May 25, 2024

Avoid These Mistakes When Choosing A Band Name

I like creative band names. Really, I do. But I’ve come across some names, especially in recent years, that, while I’m sure the artists thought to be creative, are in actuality simply juvenile and moronic. So let me provide a few guidelines for those artists who are looking for a name for themselves.

  1. Don’t put a dollar sign in your name in place of the letter “S.” That might have been slightly creative by the first person who did it (I’m being generous here), but now makes you look like a greedy imbecile who cares more about money than music, and who has no original ideas.
  2. Whether it is a band name or a song title, please do not put the numeral 2 (or, dear lord, the Roman numeral II) in place of the word “To,” or the numeral 4 in place of the word “For.” I promise you, no one thinks you’re clever. In a related note, don’t put the numeral 5 in your name and tell me it’s pronounced like the letter “S.” It isn’t.
  3. Don’t string a bunch of consonants together and claim the name is pronounced as if there were vowels in there. Put in the vowels. Otherwise, your band name is just a meaningless list of letters. Or it could be taken as an abbreviation. Either way, it’s not pronounced like a word. For example, CSN (the abbreviation for Crosby, Stills & Nash) isn’t pronounced like “cousin” or something.

Following these few tips will help you avoid getting stuck with an embarrassingly stupid band name.

Jo Harrop: “The Path Of A Tear” (2024) CD Review

I got turned onto vocalist Jo Harrop a couple of years ago because a copy of Leonard Cohen’s Book Of Longing is visible in the photo on the cover of her album The Heart Wants. That’s what initially drew my interest to that disc. What held my interest was her incredible voice, along with her songwriting talent (I suppose one had better be a damn good songwriter to risk making listeners think of Leonard Cohen). Now on her new album, The Path Of A Tear, she covers a Leonard Cohen song, choosing one from You Want It Darker, which came out just a couple of weeks before Cohen’s death. It is one of three covers on the album. Most of the material, as was the case with The Heart Wants, is original, co-written by Jo Harrop. Joining the vocalist on this release are Anthony Wilson on guitar, Victor Indrizzo on drums and percussion, Jim Cox on piano and organ, and David Piltch on bass.

The album opens with an original number, “Beautiful Fools,” which Jo Harrop wrote with Ian Barter. Jo Harrop’s voice is smooth and deep at the start, putting us at ease immediately. I love how sweet she sounds as she sings, “To all the fools who rush in, never thinking/Of all of the consequences, still live in dreams on a ship that is sinking.” These lines also stand out to me: “Sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose/Living life every shade of the blues/Taking chances with half-broken hearts.” Oh yes, we have to keep going, even if life is dominated by the blues, by missteps and setbacks. Are we foolish to remain optimistic? Yes, probably. Well, here she toasts us, “Here’s to all the beautiful fools.” This track contains a really nice lead on guitar in the second half. Larry Klein plays bass on this track. That’s followed by “Whiskey Or The Truth.” I love the delicious soulful vibe of this song, which is established right away. This song has me from that opening moment on keys, and her vocal performance is so moving. There is both warmth and ache in her voice. Check out these first few lines: “Empty bottles and broken dreams/I’m trying to find the answers/But I don’t know what it means/When something so good and true/Will leave me black and blue.” This is one of my personal favorites, captivating and beautiful from beginning to end. It was written by Jo Harrop and Hannah V.

“A Love Like This” begins in a darker place, and in the first line she refers to William Congreve’s famous line, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned,” here singing “Hell hath no fury like a woman who believed/Only to find out her heart has been deceived.” She then tells us, “I am a woman who won’t go down without a fight.” And we believe her, mostly because she states it so plainly, not raising her voice here. But we’re unsure whether her fight will be successful, for though she sings of a love, there is a strong sense of loneliness to this song. And as the song goes on and she sings that she just can’t let go, we begin to wonder if it might be best to just let it go. It seems tears are going to come either way. It’s a beautiful performance. Then we get the first of the album’s covers, and it is the Leonard Cohen song, “Traveling Light” from that excellent You Want It Darker album. Jo Harrop does a really nice job with it. And perhaps because of its position following “A Love Like This,” the lines “I guess I’m just somebody who/Has given up on the me and you” stand out. When she sings “I know you’re right about the blues,” her voice sounds of the blues. Perfect. I also like the percussion here. Larry Klein plays bass on this one.

Jo Harrop returns to original material with “The Path Of A Tear (Le Chemin D’une Larme),” the album’s title track, which features some pretty guitar work. It’s a beautiful song of longing and melancholy, and yet also of resilience and hope, for she sings, “But I won’t cry/Something is born when something dies/The path of a tear leads me back to life.” This song was written by Jo Harrop and Greg Soussan. That’s followed by “You’ll Never Be Lonely In Soho.” The first several lines are delivered a cappella. “If I lived out in the countryside/I would surely lose my mind/For when I’m feeling low/There’s only one place I want to go/You’ll find me there.” There is a cool atmosphere as the musicians come in, the song having a delicious, relaxed late-night vibe. I love the feel of this one, and that piano lead is wonderful. This song was written by Jo Harrop and Paul Edis.

You’ll probably recall that 2016 was a horrible year, taking so many talented musicians from us. Less than a week after we lost Leonard Cohen we also lost Leon Russell. On this album Jo Harrop covers Russell’s “If It Wasn’t For Bad,” a song he recorded with Elton John for their 2010 album The Union (an album I need to add to my collection). Jo Harrop delivers a strong rendition. The original version features a lot of good piano work, and this rendition does too. But this rendition also includes some nice stuff on guitar, including a wonderful lead in the second half. Then “Too Close To The Sun” opens with the line “They say no one died of a broken heart.” Again I am reminded again of that awful year of 2016, for it seemed that Debbie Reynolds did die of a broken heart, just one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died in late December. Man, that year was just relentless. Not only did it take the lives of so many musicians and actors, but it left us with one of the worst people on the planet being elected as president. Anyway, this song has a pretty sound. “We flew too close to the sun/Like angels into ashes/Even angels make mistakes.” It was written by Jo Harrop and Paul Edis. That’s followed by “Hurt.” But even if we missed the song’s title, from the start the tone prepares us for lyrics of pain and sadness. “It hurts, it just hurts every time I find love/It hurts, yes, it hurts, ‘cause I can’t get close enough.” Yet, there is something positive here as she sings “When you believe and you give all your body and your soul.” Even if it turns out poorly, there is joy and power in giving yourself completely like that, and her delivery of that line reflects that. The next line is the result, however: “But love leaves you cold and broken down forevermore.” This is a captivating song, written by Jo Harrop and Geoff Gascoyne.

The final cover of the album is Steve Earle’s incredibly touching “Goodbye.” This song is from his Train A Comin’ album which came out in 1995. That same year Emmylou Harris released her own fantastic rendition of it (her Wrecking Ball album should be in every music lover’s collection). Jo Harrop delivers an excellent version herself. Whatever version I listen to, that line “One place I may never go in my life again” always hits me. I can’t help but think of all the moments that are gone, never to return. The places, the people. We just can’t hold onto moments, no matter much we’d like to. This is one of those songs that will find you reflecting on your own life and the people who have left it. Don’t be surprised if it leaves you in tears. This track is moving and beautiful. “Most Novembers I break down and cry/But I can’t remember if we said goodbye.” The disc then concludes with “Stay Here Tonight,” written by Jo Harrop and Ian Barter. “Do you think that you could fall in love with someone like me?” she asks at the beginning. There is more of a pop vibe to this track, and it features a nice, smooth delivery. “Let’s not overthink it/It is what it is/You can stay here tonight.”

CD Track List

  1. Beautiful Fools
  2. Whiskey Or The Truth
  3. A Love Like This
  4. Traveling Light
  5. The Path Of A Tear (Le Chemin D’une Larme)
  6. You’ll Never Be Lonely In Soho
  7. If It Wasn’t For Bad
  8. Too Close To The Sun
  9. Hurt
  10. Goodbye
  11. Stay Here Tonight

The Path Of A Tear is scheduled to be released on June 7, 2024.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Tina Schlieske: “The Good Life” (2024) CD Review

Tina Schlieske is a singer and songwriter originally from Minneapolis, where she is known for fronting the band Tina And The B-Sides. She also fronts the punk band Genital Panic (their “Pussygrabber” is one of the best anti-Trump songs I’ve heard, using that bastard’s own words against him). And she has released a few solo albums. Her new one, The Good Life, is a departure from what you might expect from this dynamic performer, as she digs into jazz standards, proving she is at home in any genre she chooses to tackle. Joining her on this release are Cody McKinney on bass, Pete Hennig on drums, Bryan Nichols on piano, Jake Baldwin on trumpet, and Brandon Wozniak on saxophone.

She opens the album with its title track, “The Good Life,” a song that Tony Bennett recorded in the early 1960s. Tina Schlieske’s rendition has a beautiful late-night vibe. When she sings “the sadness you feel,” we can feel it in her voice, that ache. I love her approach here. She delivers a gorgeous and moving vocal performance, seeming to live the song, not just present it. “Like the heartache/When you learn you must face them alone/Please remember I still want you.” This track features some really nice work on piano, maintaining that late-night tone. What a wonderful start to the album. The tone then gets lighter with “Witchcraft,” right from the beginning with that work on saxophone. This is a song that is mostly associated with Frank Sinatra. “What good would common sense for it do?” Tina asks. Ah, I can’t answer, and these days I’m not sure common sense is truly all that common anyway. There are moments when she belts out certain lines, demanding our attention, then brings it back to a more intimate feel. “‘Cause there’s no nicer witch than you.” Oh yes, we can hear the desire in her delivery. Kevin Gastonguay joins the group on organ for this one, delivering some good stuff.

Tina Schlieske goes back to a late-night feel with an excellent rendition of Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain,” with that warm piano work and the use of brushes on the snare. “I’m glad that you’re back/Don’t explain.” She sounds resigned to the reality, knowing but not wanting to hear certain things. “You know that I love you/And what love endures/All my thoughts are of you/I’m so completely yours.” So beautiful and so sad, and I love how she dips into her lower registers on the word “yours.” What a captivating and true vocal performance. This track also features a wonderful lead on trumpet. “Don’t you know you are my joy and you’re my pain.” That is really the key line in this rendition. We hear both those things in her delivery. Things then get fun with “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” that bass line telling us so right from the start. And I love those touches on trumpet. Perhaps because it follows that song of ache, we are even more ready for the fun vibe of this one. Maybe it takes us farther up than it might ordinarily do. At any rate, this is a delicious rendition, featuring a delightful and strong vocal performance.

She slows things down again with “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me,” and now we are on the opposite side of “Don’t Explain,” as she urges that special one not to pay attention to what he or she might hear. Just wait until she gets a chance to explain. “True, I’ve been seen with someone new/But does that mean that I’m untrue?” There is a warmth to this track, and a gentle touch, particularly on piano, which seems to confirm, or reaffirm, what she is saying. And I love the work on saxophone. The music then turns playful and joyful with “Them There Eyes,” a song largely associated with Billie Holiday. This track moves at a good clip. “Ooh ooh baby, them there eyes.” Oh yes! And check out the section where the trumpet and saxophone engage in a wonderful bit of conversation. This track even includes a short drum solo, so everything is right with the world. “You have a certain little cute way of flirting.”

Tina Schlieske returns to a late-night vibe for the romantic “You Go To My Head,” delivering a beautiful vocal performance. “Still I say to myself/Get a hold of yourself/Can’t you see that it never can be.” But we feel that she must be wrong. How could this other person not completely fall for her during this very song? Love is alive, clearly, and love must win every time. What else is there? The album concludes with “Lilac Wine,” which features a strong and captivating vocal performance. “I drink much more than I ought to drink/Because it brings me back you,” she sings in that opening section. Then the song settles into its rhythm, and features some nice work on saxophone. “Listen to me, I cannot see clearly.” Oh, we’re listening, all right. Tina Schlieske has us so easily in her grasp. Will there be more jazz standards coming from her? I certainly hope so.

CD Track List

  1. The Good Life
  2. Witchcraft
  3. Don’t Explain
  4. My Baby Just Cares For Me
  5. Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
  6. Them There Eyes
  7. You Go To My Head
  8. Lilac Wine

The Good Life was released on February 23, 2024, and is available on both CD and vinyl.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Owen Broder: “Hodges: Front And Center Vol. Two” (2024) CD Review

In 2022, saxophonist Owen Broder released Hodges: Front And Center, a tribute to sax player Johnny Hodges. Hodges, nicknamed Rabbit, is perhaps known more for his work with Duke Ellington than for his own recordings, and on that album Broder played pieces from both the Ellington recordings and Hodges’ albums. Now he has released Hodges: Front And Center Vol. Two, which continues that effort to highlight the work and talent of the saxophonist. This time Owen Broder focuses more on Hodges’ own compositions. As on the first volume, Broder is joined by Riley Mulherkar on trumpet, Carmen Staaf on piano, Barry Stephenson on bass, and Bryan Carter on drums.

The album opens with “Used To Be Duke,” a spirited number that was written after Hodges had left the Duke Ellington Band, though released after his return, used as the title track to a 1956 record. It is a seriously cool and chipper tune, featuring a delicious lead on piano. There is also a drum solo, which I appreciate. Isn’t it great when we are treated to a drum solo on an album’s opening track? But it is the saxophone which at the track’s heart, and I love when the sax and trumpet engage in some play toward the end. The sax and trumpet then are immediately responding to each other at the start of “Wabash Blues,” before Broder’s rather sweet and warm lead. This piece comes from Back To Back, an album that Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges released in 1959. Its snappy rhythm should have any listener engaged. The rhythm takes a turn toward the end, and there is a bit more back-and-forth on sax and trumpet. “Wabash Blues” was composed by Fred Meinken and Dave Ringle.

“Back Beat” has an easygoing vibe, the bass walking us down to a club where there is always some music playing, no matter the crowd or lack thereof. In fact, the musicians themselves might come and go, but the music itself is constant. The music is the thing. There are certainly some catchy elements to this tune. The highlight of this track is that lead on sax, which is several shades of cool and seems to know precisely what it’s doing. So good! “Back Beat” was composed by Johnny Hodges, and included on the 1960 album Gerry Mulligan Meets Johnny Hodges. This is such an enjoyable track, one of my personal favorites. The pace increases then on “Big Smack,” a tune that Johnny Hodges composed with Ben Webster. This is a fun one, and I am especially fond of the drumming here. There is even a great drum solo in the second half. Each of the musicians has moments to shine on this track, and Riley Mulherkar’s work on trumpet in particular stands out.

The piano is the focus at the beginning of Owen Broder’s wonderful rendition of “St. Louis Blues,” a track that also features a catchy bass line. This blues number swings at moments, then changes course, inviting us to a dance. This track is a delight from beginning to end, and I just want that trumpet to carry me off to some other plane. “St. Louis Blues” is a tune that Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges included on Back To Back. The group slows things down with “Shady Side,” which has a relaxed vibe, the musicians calm and in control, without a worry, or rather not acknowledging any worries. And that feeling transfers to those listening. This track features some beautiful work on sax. And the trumpet is ready to lift us up. Johnny Hodges wrote this piece, and it was included on Gerry Mulligan Meets Johnny Hodges.

The band gets a chance to cut loose on “Stompy Jones,” a tune that was composed by Duke Ellington and included on the Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges album Side By Side. The musicians are having fun here, and Owen Broder’s lead on saxophone sings. And the excitement builds during Riley Mulherkar’s lead on trumpet. The energy is high as the track nears its conclusion. They wrap up the album with “The Star-Crossed Lovers,” a song from Such Sweet Thunder, a Duke Ellington album I need in my collection because all the music on it was inspired by the work of William Shakespeare. My two biggest passions in life are music and Shakespeare, and sometimes these two overlap, most often in relation to Romeo And Juliet, as is the case with this track. Owen Broder’s saxophone work on this track is gorgeous and moving. This is a beautiful conclusion to a wonderful release.

CD Track List

  1. Used To Be Duke
  2. Wabash Blues
  3. Back Beat
  4. Big Smack
  5. St. Louis Blues
  6. Shady Side
  7. Stompy Jones
  8. The Star-Crossed Lovers

Hodges: Front And Center Vol. Two was released on April 19, 2024.

Music In Massachusetts, Spring Visit

Adam Ezra Group
For the first half of May, I visited my family back east, and, as always, made at least part of the trip about music. My brother, his wife, and I saw Adam Ezra Group at the Spire Center For The Performing Arts in Plymouth, Massachusetts on May 10th. It was a great show, and the opener, Joe Cirotti Trio, was really good too. Two members of that trio ended up sitting in with Adam Ezra Group at one point. It was a sold-out show, but those of us who wanted to dance had room in the back to do so. We missed the northern lights, which apparently were visible that night, but that’s okay. The music was even more uplifting and beautiful.

Air Traffic Controller
The next day was Porchfest in Somerville. It’s a cool event where folks host various bands at their houses throughout the city. It went from noon to 6 p.m., and one of my oldest and best friends came down from Maine to catch the music with us, making the day even more special. We caught three bands – Air Traffic Controller, Jim’s Big Ego, and The Nogs. Air Traffic Controller performed as a trio for this show on a stage in someone’s back yard, drawing a good crowd. Their fun set included “Hurry Hurry,” “If You Build It,” “Pick Me Up,” “The House,” and a new song titled “Going Going Gone.” They got a bit of a late start, and we had to leave before the final song to make it in time to catch the beginning of the Jim’s Big Ego set. Of the three bands we saw at Porchfest, this was the only one to actually perform on a porch. Jim’s Big Ego played for a solid two hours, with nearly every song they played being a request from folks in the audience. My personal requests were “Can’t Stop Foolin’ Around” and “Big Old Dark Green Car,” both of which they played. And I finally got a chance to purchase Jim Infantino’s new album, Utopia Revisited. And on vinyl! We then had a ten-minute walk to the house where The Nogs were performing. This was my first time seeing them. This is Josh Lederman’s new project, a tribute to The Pogues. They performed at the end of someone’s driveway, also taking requests from the crowd. My request was “Sally MacLennane,” and the band delivered a seriously fun rendition. We had a great time dancing. Six hours of music went by much too quickly.

Jim's Big Ego
I didn’t really take notes during these concerts, but I did jot down the Jim’s Big Ego set list. Here it is (and yes, “Down In It” is the Nine Inch Nails song, which I hadn’t seen Jim perform since 1991):

  1. Jumblies
  2. Stress
  3. Can’t Stop Foolin’ Around
  4. Another Thousand Years
  5. In My Cult
  6. Better Than You
  7. You’re Delicious
  8. She’s Dead
  9. They’re Everywhere
  10. Big Old Dark Green Car
  11. Cut Off Your Head
  12. Background Vocals
  13. Prince Charming
  14. We Got Nothing
  15. Napkin Poetry
  16. Los Angeles
  17. Down In It
  18. Meanies
  19. Hate Street
  20. Y2K
  21. On A Day Like This
  22. Free (And On Our Own)

The Nogs

There was more music during the trip. My niece had a good role in her high school’s production of Mamma Mia, so I heard quite a bit of Abba music. It’s a play I despise, but I saw it twice, and my niece was excellent in it (she played Tanya). That was on May 2nd and 3rd. Then on the 8th, she had her final concert with the high school orchestra, in which she plays violin, first chair. So all that was before the Adam Ezra Group concert and Porchfest. One final bit of live music was outside of Fenway before the game on May 14th. My brother, my mom, my niece and my nephew went into one of the souvenir shops to look for a specific jersey for my nephew. My sister-in-law and I meanwhile stayed outside and caught a couple of songs from The Fenway Brats, who were playing in the street before the game. I enjoyed what I heard. (For those who are wondering, the Red Sox won in the bottom of the twelfth.)

Joe Cirotti Trio

Adam Ezra Group with Joe Cirotti

Air Traffic Controller

Jim's Big Ego

The Nogs

Fenway Brats