Sunday, December 5, 2021

Buck Owens And His Buckaroos: “Tall Dark Stranger” (1969/2021) CD Review

The late 1960s were a busy time for Buck Owens. In 1968, he had six albums released (although one of them was a greatest hits compilation), and 1969 saw another four releases (including another compilation of hits). Also, in 1969 he began hosting the television program Hee Haw, which brought him more fame but also had something of an adverse effect on his image. But before that show hurt his reputation as a serious performer, Tall Dark Stranger was released. And it has now been re-issued, along with several other Buck Owens albums from that period. Tall Dark Stranger features almost all original material, written or co-written by Buck Owens. This re-issue features the songs in their original configuration, without any bonus tracks, but with new liner notes by Randy Poe, and mastered by Michael Graves at Osiris Studio in Los Angeles. The band backing him on this release includes Don Rich on guitar, Doyle Holly on guitar, Tom Brumley on steel guitar, Bob Morris on bass, and Jerry Wiggins on drums and tambourine, along with some guests on various tracks. And, as with the 1968 album I’ve Got You On My Mind Again, this album features a string section and backing vocals.

And, like I’ve Got You On My Mind Again, this album opens with its title track, “Tall Dark Stranger,” which was also released as a single and reached #1 on the country chart. This one has something of a different style than a lot of Buck Owens’ work, describing a dramatic character. The presence of backing vocals is particularly effective on a line like “And jump up on his pony and ride, ride, ride.” This track also features some good work on guitar. That is followed by “There’s Gotta Be Some Changes Made,” a slow country number that is much more in line with what we know and expect of Buck Owens, and featuring steel guitar. “Should I leave or stay/Am I just in your way.”

“White Satin Bed” is an excellent song about being poor and looking forward to death just to get some rest. It seems like it might be a playful song, but its delivery is serious and earnest. “I’ve got to work tomorrow/Just to pay for today/Well, I’ve worked all that I can stand/Now I long for the day/That I can sleep in my white satin bed/With a red velvet pillow for my head.” This great slow country song was written by Buck Owens and Gene Price, and is one of my favorites of this album. It’s followed by another of my favorites, “Darlin’, You Can Depend On Me,” a wonderful song with a delightful change in speed for the chorus. It’s a song about being there to help ease another’s pain and trouble, certainly a song that many folks can appreciate during these irksome times. Then we get “In The Middle Of A Teardrop.” While the title might be a bit maudlin, this song is still enjoyable, and it makes good use of the string section. I like these lines: “I’m on the brink of a misery/I’m at the edge of reality/That I’m about to be a memory.” It was written by Buck Owens, Don Rich and Doyle Holly.

In “Across This Town And Gone,” Buck Owens sings of a troubled relationship. “We couldn’t change the bad to good/The good lord knows we tried/And a one-way love just ain’t no good/And I can’t live a lie.” It soon becomes a song about hitting the road, about leaving. There is still hope in the song, for he still loves the woman, and his vocal delivery has a good amount of passion in it, helping make this one another of the disc’s highlights. The strings play a prominent role in this one too. It was written by Buck Owens and Gene Price. That’s followed by “Maybe If I Close My Eyes (It’ll Go Away),” a good, slow number. “If I pretend there never was a thing between you and me/But I can’t sleep and I can’t eat/It haunts me night and day/But maybe if I close my eyes, it will go away.” Buck Owens is so good at these songs about loving a woman who, for one reason or another, is no longer present, or who will soon be gone.

“I Would Do Anything For You” is a sweet and rather goofy song declaring one’s love. “If I were a kite, I would fly for you/If I were a ship, I would sail for you/If I were a heart, I would beat for you.” It even has a little “la la la” moment. “Sing me a song about heartache,” Buck Owens then sings at the beginning of “Sing That Kind Of Song,” which is interesting, because of course that is a type of song he is so skilled at delivering. But when we are down, we sometimes want our music to reflect or echo our feelings, to help us get it all out and feel less alone. “Leave out all of the happiness/But put in all of the loneliness/And sing me a song/About a love affair gone wrong/Make me cry.” And then, what does he do, but deliver a song of heartache, “Hurtin’ Like I’ve Never Hurt Before.” The first lines are “Yes, I’m hurting like I’ve never hurt before/Well, every place I look, I see a trail of broken hearts.” The album concludes with “But You Know I Love You,” the only song on it not written by Buck Owens. Mike Settle wrote this one, and it was a hit for First Edition. It’s another that makes good use of the backing vocalists. “How, I wish that love/Was all we’d need to live/Oh, what a life we’d have/Because I’ve got so much to give/And it seems so wrong/Deep inside my heart/That the dollar sign/Should be keeping us apart/But you know I love you.”

CD Track List

  1. Tall Dark Stranger
  2. There’s Gotta Be Some Changes Made
  3. White Satin Bed
  4. Darlin’, You Can Depend On Me
  5. In The Middle Of A Teardrop
  6. Across This Town And Gone
  7. Maybe If I Close My Eyes (It’ll Go Away)
  8. I Would Do Anything For You
  9. Sing That Kind Of Song
  10. Hurtin’ Like I’ve Never Hurt Before
  11. But You Know I Love You

This re-issue of Tall Dark Stranger was released on August 6, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings. That same date saw the release of re-issues of both Sweet Rose Jones and I’ve Got You On My Mind Again.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Buck Owens And His Buckaroos: “I’ve Got You On My Mind Again” (1968/2021) CD Review

This year Omnivore Recordings has been re-issuing a lot of Buck Owens’ work from the late 1960s and early 1970s, including 1968’s I’ve Got You On My Mind Again (which was one of six Buck Owens albums released that year). This one features almost all original material, written by Buck Owens. The band backing him includes Don Rich on guitar, Doyle Holly on guitar and bass, Tom Brumley on steel guitar and dobro, Bob Morris on bass, and Jerry Wiggins on drums and tambourine, with Buddy Alan on guitar, Jelly Sanders on guitar, Jimmy Bryant on guitar, Red Wooten on bass, Earle Poole Ball on piano, and Willie Cantu on drums and tambourine. There is also a string section and several backing vocalists. This re-issue has the tracks in the original configuration, without bonus tracks, but with new liner notes by Randy Poe, and mastered from the original analog tapes by Michael Graves at Osiris Studio in Los Angeles.

The album opens with its title track, “I’ve Got You On My Mind Again,” a wonderful and sweet song about being stuck on someone who is no longer there, about the pain and longing and loneliness brought by her absence. Country music is so good at tackling those feelings, and Buck Owens’ voice has the right amount of pain in it, helping to make this track one of the disc’s highlights. “But that same old hurt is back once more/It’s hurt since you walked out the door/And as the long day ends and the lonely night begins/I’ve got you on my mind again.” This track not only features some good work on steel guitar, but also piano. That’s followed by “Let The World Keep On A Turnin’,” a delightful song that features Buck Owens’ son on vocals and guitar, setting up a pattern of alternating between fast and slow songs on this album. This one was released as a single, and so also included on Buck ‘Em Volume Two: The Music Of Buck Owens (1967-1975). It was also included on the 2019 boxed set The Bakersfield Sound: Country Music Capital Of The West  1940 – 1974.

“Don’t Let True Love Slip Away” is a pretty song about love, and about not taking true love lightly, for it doesn’t come along every day. This track features another excellent vocal performance from Buck Owens. “Who’s going to hold you when you’re old and gray/Oh, don’t let true love slip away.” That’s followed by a more lively number, “I Wanna Be Wild And Free,” taking things in quite a different direction, with Buck singing “I don’t want no strings attached/Lord knows I’ve had enough of that.” But even though he sings “I don’t want to be tied down,” you get the sense he’s talking more about jobs and responsibilities than about love and relationships. He then returns to the great sad country sound with “Where Has Our Love Gone?” “What ever happened to tenderness/It just disappeared with gentleness/Or did they run away with togetherness/Oh, where has our love gone?” Here you get the sense of a man seated alone in his home, completely at a loss as to what went wrong.

“Sing A Happy Song” is another lively, cheerful tune, even as he sings lines like “Well, it’s a sad old world that we live in/A man told me yesterday/Well, he said I didn’t have any reason to care/Because tomorrow I’d be blown away” and “Well, today you need a program/To see who’s a-shooting who.” Those lines seem even more striking today, when gun violence is a daily occurrence. We just had yet another school shooting. But again, this is a happy-sounding song. It even has hand claps. “Be thankful to be living.” Yeah, because who the hell knows when some stupid trigger-happy lunatic will open fire? This is the only song on the album not written by Buck Owens. It was written by Bill Graham and Charlie Williams. Buck Owens follows that with “That’s All Right With Me (If It’s All Right With You).” I love the pretty guitar work on this track. “But me minus you adds up to nothing/And I was nothing ‘til you gave my life a start.”

Buck Owens’ son joins him again on “I’ll Love You Forever And Ever,” which moves at a good clip and features more good work on guitar. Buck Owens follows that with “Love Is Me,” another fast song, abandoning the pattern of alternating between fast and slow songs. And it’s a fun one. Sure, maybe it’s a bit cheesy, but that’s totally all right. “For the name of game is love/And love is me.” Then we get “Hurry, Come Running Back To Me,” a slower gem about an uncertain love. “I’ve done everything I could to make you happy/Yes, I’ve given everything that I could give/But the best I had to offer couldn’t hold you/You just couldn’t seem to live the way I live.” Those lines are similar to some in “The Heartaches Have Just Started,” in which Buck Owens sings “But the best I had to offer wasn’t good enough for you.” That’s followed by “Alabama, Louisiana, Or Maybe Tennessee,” a fun, rocking number about getting on a train after suffering some heartache, eager to leave, and not caring exactly where to. “Any place that I can find to lose your memory.” Check out that great lead on piano. Yeah, this is pretty close to a rock and roll song, and is one of my personal favorites of this album. “Well, I’m going to start all over/‘Cause I got a lot of living to do/And the sooner that I get started/The sooner I’ll forget about you.” The album concludes with “I Ain’t A Gonna Be Treated This A Way,” another lively tune. The title is also a line in Woody Guthrie’s “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad.” This one features more good work on piano, as well as on steel guitar. “If you don’t take on a big transition/You’re going to see a change in my disposition/‘Cause I ain’t a gonna be treated this a way.”

CD Track List

  1. I’ve Got You On My Mind Again
  2. Let The World Keep On A Turnin’
  3. Don’t Let True Love Slip Away
  4. I Wanna Be Wild And Free
  5. Where Has Our Love Gone?
  6. Sing A Happy Song
  7. That’s All Right With Me (If It’s All Right With You)
  8. I’ll Love You Forever And Ever
  9. Love Is Me
  10. Hurry, Come Running Back To Me
  11. Alabama, Louisiana, Or Maybe Tennessee
  12. I Ain’t A Gonna Be Treated This A Way

This re-issue of I’ve Got You On My Mind Again was released on August 6, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings. Also released on that date were Sweet Rosie Jones and Tall Dark Stranger.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Sugaray Rayford: “In Too Deep” (2022) CD Review

In the last several years, when watching or reading the news, how often have you said to yourself, “That guy has no soul” or “That woman has no soul”? It can be said of nearly the entire Republican Party, and now seems to be true of the Supreme Court. Well, here is one guy with enough soul to combat the whole lot, put things back in some balance. Sugaray Rayford is a singer working in the blues realm. His excellent 2019 release, Somebody Save Me, was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Like that album, his new release, In Too Deep, features all original material written by Eric Corne. The music is blues. It is soul. And its lyrics reach out to us in a time of uncertainty and ugliness, addressing this twisted reality we’re all experiencing, and doing so with passion and integrity, with humanity and even joy. Albums like this lead me to think that hatred, ignorance, dishonesty, and hypocrisy can be defeated by music. Several doses of funk are injected into the proceedings to make sure things move in just the right way. Because even as these songs address some serious issues, one message that comes across loud and clear is that we have to continue to enjoy life, to enjoy ourselves. Otherwise, what is the bloody point? And this music helps us do just that.

The album opens with “Invisible Soldier,” a song about a soldier suffering from PTSD, something I suspect happens a whole lot more often than most folks are aware. Sugaray Rayford himself was in the Marines for a decade, and the song comes from his own troubles with insomnia. It has a funky groove and some great work on horns. Plus, Sugaray delivers a lively, powerful vocal performance. At times, there is an urgency to his delivery. It’s like he is giving it his all at every moment because, hell, we never know which moment will be our last. There is that sense about his performance. “Am I awake or dreaming/Buried alive or walking dead/Flashbacks that I’m seeing/Leave me numb or seeing red.” That’s followed by “In Too Deep,” the album’s title track, one of many blues numbers that opens with the line “I woke up this morning” (someday I’m going to make a list). This song is about trying to solve one’s problems and finding the task too much to accomplish, in part because of fear. “See, I’ve never been devout/But I’m on my knees/You know, I had a few doubts/Do my eyes deceive/I never had my hand out/Gonna earn my keep/I keep trying to climb out/But I’m in too deep.” It’s a frightening situation, but this rocking blues number gives us some hope. I really like that guitar work in the second half. Eamon Ryland plays guitar on this track, and also on the one that follows it, “No Limit To My Love,” a cool love song with a delicious, slow funk sound.

“Under The Crescent Moon” is a seriously fun song with some catchy elements, taking place in New Orleans. And, hey, how can you dislike any song that refers to This Is Spinal Tap? In this song, he urges us to “Turn it up to eleven and watch it come alive.” Then “Miss Information” features a deliciously funky groove. Its title reminds me of Jim Infantino’s “Little Miss Communication.” This is certainly a song for our times, addressing the state of our nation, but doing so with a great beat. Monette Marino Keita joins the group on percussion for this track. “The soul of humanity/Facing calamity.” This is one of the disc’s best songs. “Intrigued by insanity/Hanging in galleries/Recharging my batteries/Don’t try to flatter me/Can’t put me on salary.” And check out these lines: “Love is the answer/She don’t have no master/Just add in some laughter/The world’s turning faster/Write in your chapters/Change or go backwards.” “Please Take My Hand” is another powerful track, its humming and hand claps calls to mind spirituals. While addressing a history of oppression, it also speaks of the ongoing struggle today. “Testify your truth, yeah/At the voting booth/I bear these scars/And I wear these stars/Ain’t that a man/Ain’t this my land/Please take my hand.”

“One” encourages us to come together to make this a better world. Its opening lines are: “No nations, no tribes/One world’s all we need/All colors, all creeds/Inside of me.” Yeah, it reminds me of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” particularly that first line. “The future is here/The choice is clear/Can you see it/What if mother nature took a stand/And the whole world shut down/Would you promise me the first dance/When they finally cue the band/I want to dance with you/On the day the world closed down.” Obviously the inspiration comes at least in part from the pandemic, and the way it shut down the world. But those lines about dancing seem to me to carry the message of this album, to not give up our joy even when things are bad. That’s followed by “Gonna Lift You Up,” which is fun right from the start, with that fantastic bass line and those horns. “The road ahead looks awful tough/Many miles to go, it may get rough/There will be times when you feel you had enough/There will be times when you want to give up.” Yes, it is a song urging us to continue, even in the face of some ugly odds. And this song does what its title promises. Eric Corne, who wrote the album’s lyrics, plays guitar on this track, along with Rick Holstrom.

On “Golden Lady Of The Canyon,” Sugaray Rayford gets wonderfully smooth and soulful. “Both my lover and companion/Always there to pull me through/Knowing just when to take the scenic route/I don’t know where I’d be or what I’d do/Without you/Here with me.” This track features some nice work on keys. Both Sasha Smith and Drake Munkihaid Shining plays keyboards on this one. “People everywhere, let’s have a good time,” Sugaray Rayford sings at the beginning of the album’s closing track, “United We Stand.” There is something so appealing about this track, about the message and the music. Can we all come together? I have my doubts, but this song makes it seem possible, and certainly desirable. I love Taras Prodaniuk’s work on bass. “All right, everybody, it’s time to get on the dance floor.”

CD Track List

  1. Invisible Soldier
  2. In Too Deep
  3. No Limit To My Love
  4. Under The Crescent Moon
  5. Miss Information
  6. Please Take My Hand
  7. One
  8. Gonna Lift You Up
  9. Golden Lady Of The Canyon
  10. United We Stand

In Too Deep is scheduled to be released on March 4, 2022 on Forty Below Records.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Nina Simone And Her Friends: “Nina Simone And Her Friends” (1960/2021) CD Review

This year Nina Simone fans have been treated to some special releases, including a two-disc live album titled The Montreux Years and a remastered edition of Little Girl Blue. Now we’re getting a special remastered edition of Nina Simone And Her Friends. The album title is somewhat misleading, for it makes it sound like Nina Simone gathered the other singers and they all recorded these songs together as a group, whereas actually it’s a compilation of recordings from three singers – Nina Simone, Chris Connor and Carmen McRae – who each contribute four songs, each backed by her own set of musicians. The album was originally released in 1959, but with different selections from Chris Connor (“A Cottage For Sale,” “Try A Little Tenderness,” “What Is There To Say” and “Goodbye”). It was then re-issued in 1960 with the songs as they are presented on this new re-issue. As was the case with the recent re-issue of Little Girl Blue, this album was mastered by Michael Graves at Osiris Studio in Los Angeles, and contains new liner notes by Daphne A Brooks.

The album opens with Nina Simone singing “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands,” backing herself on piano. It’s a slow, gorgeous rendition with a passionate vocal performance and a rather serious sound to her piano work. Oh yes, Nina Simone can sell even this song (one I never really thought all that much of). This track was recorded in the same sessions that yielded Little Girl Blue. Then we get the first of the Chris Connor tracks, “Someone To Watch Over Me.” I’ve said it often, but you can never go wrong with Gershwin. The intro to this version is interesting, but for me this track gets good as soon as Chris Connor’s voice comes in. What a beautiful and captivating performance. This track also features some wonderful stuff on piano, and is one of my favorites. The first track by Carmen McRae is a cool and fun version of “Old Devil Moon.” We need more songs that use the word “razzle-dazzle.” Here Carmen McRae is backed by the Mat Mathews Quartet.

Nina Simone then turns to the music of Gershwin with an excellent rendition of “I Loves You, Porgy,” a song that was also included on Little Girl Blue, her debut album. It is a fantastic and mesmerizing vocal performance, intimate and tender. This song was a hit for Nina Simone, and this recording is deservedly revered by music fans. Chris Connor gives us two Cole Porter songs on this release, the first being “I Concentrate On You.” Interestingly, this track has an instrumental intro that is more than a minute and a half long, nearly half the length of the track. This rendition gently swings, and features a smooth and pretty vocal performance. I also dig that bass line. That’s followed by “You Made Me Care” by Carmen McRae, backed by Tony Scott Quartet. I love that work on clarinet. This song and “Old Devil Moon” were included on her 1955 self-titled LP.

The third Nina Simone track is “For All We Know,” another song that was recorded during the sessions for Little Girl Blue but not included on that release. It was written by J. Fred Coots and Sam M. Lewis. The opening line of the song is “For all we know, we may never meet again,” and Nina’s delivery is arresting. She immediately has hold of the listener. “For all we know, this may only be a dream/We come and we go/Like the ripples, like the ripples in a stream.” It’s a song about living in the moment. Life is short, tomorrow is not promised. I think that message has been heard and learned by many folks over the course of the last couple of years. This is an incredibly moving track featuring some passionate work on piano as well. That’s followed by the second of the Cole Porter songs by Chris Connor, “From This Moment On” which moves at a good clip and contains a bright and strong vocal performance. Then we get “Too Much In Love To Care” from Carmen McRae. This might be the coolest track of the album. “Once our romance was a gay thing/Now I am only your plaything/I know it’s all unfair/But I’m too much in love to care/With every kiss you deceive me.”

“African Mailman” is another tune recorded for Little Girl Blue, but not included on that album. Written by Nina Simone, it begins with some work on piano. Soon the band joins her, creating a rhythm that might get you dancing. This is a fun and kind of wild instrumental track, the last of the Nina Simone tracks on this release. The album changes gears with the sweet, romantic, mellow number, “All This And Heaven Too” from Chris Connor, who delivers a gorgeous vocal performance. The album concludes with Carmen McRae’s “Last Time For Love,” which she also wrote. “The things we planned are all so meaningless now/But I’ll get along somehow.” This is an excellent song about being wrong in love and left with nothing. It is filled with deliciously sad lines, such as these: “Now that we’re through, I have nothing left to spare/You’ve taken everything and left me just this song.”

CD Track List

  1. He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands
  2. Someone To Watch Over Me
  3. Old Devil Moon
  4. I Loves You, Porgy
  5. I Concentrate On You
  6. You Made Me Care
  7. For All We Know
  8. From This Moment On
  9. Too Much In Love To Care
  10. African Mailman
  11. All This And Heaven Too
  12. Last Time For Love

This special re-issue of Nina Simone And Her Friends is scheduled to be released on December 3, 2021 through BMG.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 40” (2021) CD Review

In early July of 1990, six of us loaded into my ’86 Chevy G-10 van and headed out to Pittsburgh to begin a portion of the Grateful Dead’s summer tour. In addition to Pittsburgh, I caught shows in Raleigh, D.C., Foxboro and Buffalo. I didn’t have tickets for the last couple of stops of the tour, but after that great show in Buffalo, the urge was strong to just keep going. I wish I had, for two reasons. One, that tour turned out to be the last for keyboardist Brent Mydland, who died just three days after it ended. And two, word about that next show at Deer Creek reached us in Massachusetts almost immediately afterward (this was word of mouth, you understand). Supposedly, it was the best show of the tour. Well, for the fortieth volume of the Dave’s Picks concert series, David Lemieux has chosen both that show and the one from the following night, so we can all hear what the excitement was about. This four-disc set contains the complete show from July 18th, and nearly the complete show from July 19th (only the encore – “U.S. Blues” – is missing), both performed at Deer Creek in Noblesville, Indiana.

Disc 1

The first disc contains the entire first set from July 18th, along with the first part of the second set. The band kicks off the show with “Help On The Way,” and the moment they start it, the crowd erupts. Often in the 1980s, “Franklin’s Tower” was separated from “Help” and “Slipknot,” played on its own, but here the three songs are together. And the band is on, with “Slipknot!” being particularly good. Everything is tight and just exactly right. And then the energy in “Franklin’s Tower” is fantastic. It’s wonderful when the band is flying high right out of the gate, as the guys are here. Just listen to Jerry Garcia’s guitar dancing! There is a tremendous amount of joy here. This is the band at its best. This is what I was hoping for every time I bought a ticket, every time I walked through the gates, every time the band took the stage. This is what it was all about. And from the response at the end of “Franklin’s,” it is clear the crowd knew it. After a brief pause, Bob Weir leads the group into “New Minglewood Blues,” and they deliver here as well, moving with that groove, and Bob enjoying the reverb on his vocals. “A couple shots of whisky, women around here start looking good/A couple shots of whisky, these Hoosier fillies start looking good.” This is a fun, hopping rendition. Brent Mydland then delivers a pretty sweet rendition of “Easy To Love You.” It might feel a bit choppy at moments, but his vocal performance is really good, and that lead on keys is wonderful, and this version has a strong ending.

The band then eases into an excellent “Peggy-O,” a song that feels so good, particularly when Jerry’s voice has that kind of passion in it as it does here. Bob makes the perfect choice to follow it, Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” “Someday life will be sweet like a rhapsody.” Ah, it sure felt that way when we were at shows like this one, didn’t it? Bob really digs into this one, delivering an absolutely wonderful version. It seems the band can do no wrong at this show. Jerry follows that with the always-appreciated “Brown-Eyed Women,” another inspired choice, keeping with the mood. I love that gentle ending. The crowd then does one of those “We want Phil” chants that I remember being popular around that time. But Phil does not oblige. Instead, the band plays one of my personal favorites, “Cassidy.” And it’s a really good rendition, both powerful and beautiful, the jam building perfectly. It is everything I love about this song. The band then wraps up the first set with “Deal.” I don’t often get too excited about this one, but this version rocks. The boys obviously want to leave the crowd in a great place going into the set break.

The second set then opens with “China Cat Sunflower,” another song that never fails to make the audience happy. Pretty much everyone in the audience knows just exactly what Jerry is singing about here, and the jam develops a delicious groove before they segue smoothly into “I Know You Rider,” and it’s clear the band lost none of its energy during the break. This is a fun, cooking version of “Rider.” And that’s where the first disc ends.

Disc 2

The second disc contains the rest of the second set from July 18th and the encore, beginning with “Looks Like Rain.” It’s not the best version I’ve ever heard, but still it contains moments of beauty, particularly in Bob’s passionate vocal delivery. They then ease into “Terrapin Station.” “Let my inspiration flow.” Indeed. The band certainly seems inspired at this show, so why not tackle one of those great songs for exploration, see where it takes everyone? The jam immediately goes in some interesting directions, spiraling around the earth, until we return to the story. “Since the end is never told…” Ah, but here is the sense we might reach the conclusion of the tale, create it ourselves in the moment. And the music feels like pushing open a series of doors, getting closer and closer. Things get a little weird there at moments, like cautious or hesitant, but we hang on, and the band pulls us through. The opening leads to a cool jam, which is here presented as a separate track, with a groove that seems to send the message to whatever lifeforms might be out there that we are not there to harm, but just to enjoy the ride and to learn, and it carries with it an invitation to join the party.

“Drums” emerges naturally from that, and it isn’t long before they move on from that good beat and explore more interesting territory, a place of shadows within which lives a gentle beast, his large heart beating, drawing us to him. But things suddenly turn on us, leaving us in a place of mad clowns trapped in a metal box hurtling into “Space,” the ride turning sinister and harsh, and we wonder just who is in control here, for there seems to be some alarm, something that needs to be addressed. But, whether addressed or not, it passes, and now we are just tiny particles in a much larger realm, bits of light, and nothing can hurt or soothe, but just communicate, illuminate. And then there are hints of what is to come. Before we get there, things become gentle, pretty, a return to the warmth and wonder of infancy. And then we ease into “The Other One.” This is one reason I love this song so much. Each time they played it, the band approached it differently, making it one of the most exciting songs in the band’s repertoire. After a while, Phil Lesh’s bass leads to that explosion, signaling the band was completely going for it. And, boy, there are some haunting, disturbing dark patches here which are fantastic. Some different sounds, some interesting places. This is absolutely one of the highlights of the show, keeping in mind that basically this entire show is excellent. And where can we go from there? To the end of the world, of course. “Morning Dew” is often moving by its conclusion, and Jerry Garcia is already there at the start of this rendition. Holy moly! This is a stellar, powerful version, one of the best I’ve heard (and that is saying something). Jerry completely inhabits the song here, breathing it, giving it full expression and life. What a performance. And that’s how the second set ends. The encore is “The Weight,” a wonderful and gentle way of wishing everyone a good night.

Disc 3

The third disc contains the complete first set from the July 19th show, along with the first two songs of the second set. The band opens this show with “Jack Straw,” always a good choice to start things off. It sets a certain pace, and seems to make certain promises about the show ahead, about the journey the band and audience will take together. And this is a sweet rendition that shows its true strength during the jam and then in the vocal work following that. Jerry then begins “They Love Each Other,” and the flavor of the set is becoming clear. It’s always interesting how different two shows can be, while both still being excellent. Here we are getting into a cheerful, easygoing groove, and we can almost see the pleasant smiles of the crowd, particularly as the guys begin to jam. There is just a bit of tuning before Bob leads the group into Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” And right from the matter-of-fact delivery of “The circus is in town,” you get the sense this is going to be a special rendition. And indeed, the boys don’t let us down. I love Bob’s vocal performance. He knows when to hit a line, and when to let it go, taking on the role of storyteller here. I could do without that weird effect on his vocals during those couple of lines, but other than that this is a superb version. Jerry allows a short pause then before going into “Row Jimmy.” Yeah, it’s a fairly mellow first set, but really good, and Jerry’s guitar work here flows wonderfully. Brent’s work on keys has a similar feel, and everything is coming together so well. “Rock your baby to and fro/Not too fast, and not too slow.”

Bob then takes things in a somewhat different direction with “Picasso Moon,” the first song of the set with a harder edge, but also the first with a more playful sense about it at times. After that, Jerry takes things back to a more easygoing mood with “Althea,” the song that is essentially responsible for Dead & Company’s existence. And listening to this version, you’ll have no trouble seeing why this song moved John Mayer so much. It’s a great song, and this is an excellent rendition, particularly Jerry’s vocal performance. And there is some power to the jam near the end. After that, Bob leads the band into Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” the one real rock and roll song of the set, trying to leave things on an upbeat, energetic note as they take their break between sets.

The second set opens with “Victim Or The Crime,” a song I always had a bit of trouble getting into. There is something kind of ugly, kind of harsh about its sound, and in its lyrics, lines like “And even the purest of romantics compromise.” It’s a fairly dark song, and one I never wanted to hear when on acid. This version seems to fall apart deliberately toward the end, then builds again into something ready to explode and take us all with it. It’s a wild moment. Jerry leads us out of the darkness with “Foolish Heart,” an interesting pairing. “A foolish heart will call on you to toss your dreams away/Then turn around and blame you for the way you went astray.” And that’s where the third disc ends.

Disc 4

The fourth disc contains the rest of the second set from July 19th (but not the encore). It begins with an energetic “Playing In The Band,” one to get you bouncing around. As it settles into the jam, it mellows somewhat, but keeps a groove and doesn’t get too far out there. This isn’t one of those epic versions of “Playing,” it’s only ten minutes or so, but what we get is good, especially the work on guitar. They leave the song unfinished, never returning to the main theme, but rather going straight into “China Doll.” This is a gorgeous, haunting version of “China Doll,” one that will transport you to some other place. There is an ache in Jerry’s voice, and yet the song ends gently. They follow that with “Uncle John’s Band,” which is wonderful because it’s like we’ve emerged from a strange, troubled area into friendly, familiar territory. This song seems to welcome us, to tell us things are going to be okay, and even if they aren’t, we’ll be okay.

“Drums” follows, and it begins slowly, kind of easing in rather than immediately exploding into a frenzied pounding. But it soon gets going, finding a cool rhythm that feels like it comes in part from deep within a jungle, and part from a city street. After a few minutes, Billy and Mickey begin exploring less familiar territory, a landscape of dust and splashes of light, with strong winds and rumbles from beneath. Comets streak by overhead, sometimes a tad too close. But a rhythm is found to appease the celestial forces and those eager to erupt from below, and communication is established, though it quickly seems to become an entreaty to those forces. Then as we move into “Space,” it seems that something from those outer places has landed here, turning our ground into a strange land, and our footing is uncertain. Fumes and clouds push up in bursts from holes that weren’t there yesterday, and reality is in the hands of tricksters and extraterrestrial carnival barkers. Step right this way, two tokens, and enjoy the show, we’re not responsible for lost limbs or minds. See you on the other side. At some point the ride we are on begins to separate into its components and we are set adrift in a tunnel of sorts before new beings arrive to make repairs, not minding our presence or offering clues as to our part in all this. But they sure do become busy with their work, and they are fascinating to watch, their tools emerging from their skin, their bones. And then there is only one of them left, still hard at work. From there, the band goes into “All Along The Watchtower.” “There must be some way out of here,” indeed! I think the band has found it. That leads to “Black Peter.” Hey, I’m not convinced the guy really is dying, but I understand his desire to have a couple of close friends with him. Particularly these days. This is a good rendition of “Black Peter,” with some great vocal work, particularly when their voices blend in that section in the middle. They then wrap up the set with a rousing rendition of “Not Fade Away,” featuring a good amount of jamming, with the audience singing at the end.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. Help On The Way >
  2. Slipknot! >
  3. Franklin’s Tower
  4. New Minglewood Blues
  5. Easy To Love You
  6. Peggy-O
  7. When I Paint My Masterpiece
  8. Brown-Eyed Women
  9. Cassidy
  10. Deal
  11. China Cat Sunflower >
  12. I Know You Rider

Disc 2

  1. Looks Like Rain >
  2. Terrapin Station >
  3. Jam >
  4. Drums >
  5. Space >
  6. The Other One >
  7. Morning Dew
  8. The Weight

Disc 3

  1. Jack Straw
  2. They Love Each Other
  3. Desolation Row
  4. Row Jimmy
  5. Picasso Moon
  6. Althea
  7. Promised Land
  8. Victim Or The Crime >
  9. Foolish Heart

Disc 4

  1. Playing In The Band >
  2. China Doll >
  3. Uncle John’s Band >
  4. Drums >
  5. Space >
  6. All Along The Watchtower >
  7. Black Peter >
  8. Not Fade Away

Dave’s Picks Volume 40 was released in early November, 2021. My copy arrived on November 4th. This release is limited to 25,000 copies. Mine is number 24,601.

Sterre Weldring: “Lost Lights” (2021) CD Review

Sterre Weldring is a singer and songwriter based in Amsterdam. She has just put out her debut disc, an EP titled Lost Lights, which features all original material, some of which had been released earlier as singles. Her music mixes folk with a dreamy sort of pop vibe, and features some excellent lyrics. These are songs of relationships, of pain, and of feeling lost. Her delivery is heartfelt, making each song feel personal and poignant. Joining her on these tracks are Daan Van Zelm on electric guitar, Niels De Jonge on drums, Hugo Zuiker on bass, Machiel De Vries on keyboards, and Camille Beurret on cello.

The opening track, “Not With Me,” gives the disc its title in its first line, “Lost lights in the dark, I try to catch them.” Sterre Weldring gives us a beautiful, passionate and vulnerable vocal performance. Check out these lines: “Well, at some point, I started to not know the answer/My heart shifted from hopeful to bitter as hell/So give me one good reason why I should stay/One good reason not to go away.” Though her even asking for a reason leads me to believe there is still some hope within her heart. And the line “You were never with me, not really” is itself heartrending. This is one of the songs released as singles, and Sterre Weldring put out a video for it. That is followed by “Remedy,” which was also released as a single and is the song that initially got me excited about this release and this artist. Her voice is the focus of this track from the start, the first few words delivered a cappella. And, as with the first track, this song uses the word “lost” in its lyrics: “Then maybe all it was/Was just a remedy/For all the times that I/Got lost in irony.” But the lines that especially stand for me are these: “Where did it go wrong this time/I thought we were fine/I reached out, no reply/And if only I believed/That you were not meant for me/I’d save me the misery.” There is heartache in her voice, and yet also hope, though as with the first track it might be a misplaced hope: “But I thought maybe this time/Leave the past behind.” And toward the end the music swells to reach the emotional heights where her voice already dwells, a moving moment. The track then ends gently.

The beauty of “I’m Gone” is apparent from its opening moments. As it begins, it has a sort of melancholy folk vibe. “At least I acted on what I believed in/Now I will be healing.” Her vocal performance is intimate and passionate. It is a striking performance, leading this to be one of my personal favorites. “My cards were all on the table,” she sings here, and her music feels like that, particularly this song. She opens herself up to us. She then grabs us with the opening lines to “In A Strange Way”: “You say I should get out of my head/But I wonder how you got in instead/‘Cause every time someone gets close/It fills me with fear instead of hope.” Wow, those are excellent lyrics. She can craft a lyric that gets right to the heart of the matter, that feels both personal and universal. And I love the work on cello. “So if you ever need somebody, darling/I promise I will always try to get you through/So in a strange way I can be there for you.”

The word “lost” also plays an important part “Turn Around,” with lines like “These cold dark days are where I got stuck/Trying to find something I lost” and “I turn around and see what I lost.” This is a gorgeous and moving song, in large part because of Sterre Weldring’s vocal performance, but also because of the presence of cello. “These scars will fade away/But I hope you know/And always know/That I will love you more.” The EP then concludes with a second version of “In A Strange Way,” this one driven by the vocals and acoustic guitar. Both versions are excellent. This EP is a stunning debut. I am looking forward to hearing whatever this talented singer and songwriter does next.

CD Track List

  1. Not With Me
  2. Remedy
  3. I’m Gone
  4. In A Strange Way
  5. Turn Around
  6. In A Strange Way (Acoustic)

Lost Lights was released on November 5, 2021.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

June Bisantz: “7 Shades Of Snow” (2021) CD Review

Vocalist June Bisantz began her holiday EP 7 Shades Of Snow back in the winter of 2020, when everything was shut down because of the pandemic. Like many albums at that time, the music on this disc was recorded remotely. Interestingly, the musicians on this album are people June Bisantz never met. They include Jon Burr on bass, Mike Eckroth on piano, James Chirillo on guitar, Marc Pfaneuf on saxophone, Brandon Lee on trumpet, and Alvester Garnett on drums. Unlike most holiday releases, 7 Shades Of Snow features material written by just one songwriting team, Arnold Miller and Connie Pearce. All of these songs were originally recorded by June Christy, appearing on her 1961 holiday album This Time Of Year.

The EP opens with “The Merriest,” a song that sounds like its title. There is certainly a good dose of cheer here, particularly in June’s vocal performance. And I love that lead on trumpet. That’s followed by “Ring A Merry Bell,” which begins as a slower, warmer song. Its opening lines are: “Things I have lost, things I am learning/Make the world seem strange/Wanderers must have something to trust/Never let Christmas change.” Ah yes, it is important to have something we can count on. And why not let that be Christmas? When this song kicks in, it develops a cool vibe. “I am far from home/Sing a merry song at Christmas time/Please be jolly, tell familiar fables/For the folks who roam.” This one strikes a chord with me in part because of these lyrics about being far from home. It always feels strange to not be with family on the holiday. This track features a wonderful lead on bass, and at the end, June Bisantz sings that the highest, brightest star might guide her home.

“Hang Them On The Tree” is an interesting and unusual Christmas song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I'll take the sorrows of last November/Make them a part of Christmas Day/Color them shiny bright and gay/And hang them on the tree.” Taking all the troubles and turning them to something positive. I really like this song, and I don’t recall hearing it before. I particularly love June Bisantz’s vocal performance on this track, but there is also some really nice work on both piano and guitar. This is one that should definitely be on everyone’s holiday play list. That’s followed by “Seven Shades Of Snow,” the disc’s title track. I like that a line that is typical of the season, “Everyone I meet wears a smile,” is followed by the surprisingly honest line “Just for a little while.” Sometimes that’s all we can manage. And then this song is about the attempt to hold onto that glow, at least personally. It seems we always mean to do that, hope to do that, and always fail. This is a moving song.

“Sorry To See You Go” is a song that takes place on New Year’s Eve, and is addressed to the year that is coming to a close. I love the moment it kicks in and the lines she sings at that point: “Though your back is bent/And your beard is gray/You're a year well spent/And I'd like to say/You put on a first class show/And I'm sorry to see you go.” I am not sure anyone will be sad to see 2021 go (though it was a better year than 2020). Here is hoping that 2022 will be much better. Interestingly, in this song, June sings “There’s nothing left up your sleeve/But I’m sorry to see you leave,” and then the EP concludes with a song titled “Winter’s Got Spring Up Its Sleeve.” This is a beautiful and honest song about winter, opening with the line “So the season makes you sad and sentimental.” That line works regarding the holiday season and winter in general. Those long nights can wear on the sturdiest of us. This song tells us to hold on, because spring is coming. “A time to plan, a time to rest/Get ready to be at your best.” We can all use a hopeful song like this one.

CD Track List

  1. The Merriest
  2. Ring A Merry Bell
  3. Hang Them On The Tree
  4. Seven Shades Of Snow
  5. Sorry To See You Go
  6. Winter’s Got Spring Up Its Sleeve

7 Shades Of Snow was released on CD on October 1, 2021, at least according to the sheet I received. The labels website lists the release date as July 30th (though that could be the digital release date), and Amazon lists it as November 16th.