Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Suzanne Lavine: “Crystal Clear” (2019) CD Review

Suzanne Lavine is a singer and songwriter based in Pennsylvania. Her new release, Crystal Clear, signals her return to music after quite a long absence. This EP contains all original material, written by Suzanne Lavine, who takes some inspiration from some of the 1960s folk-rock bands, and perhaps a bit from the paisley underground bands of the 1980s as well. She has a good group of musicians backing her on this release, including Marc Seligman (whom you might know from Fools On Sunday) on bass, Seth Baer (whom you might know from his work with The Original Sins and The Ben Vaughn Quintet) on drums, and Cliff Hillis (whom you might know from his own solo career) on guitar and keys. Cliff Hillis, Deena Shoshkes and Jon Fried provide backing vocals.

The EP opens with “Hangin’ Around,” a cool and interesting tune. There is a bit of a folk feel to it, but with a solid rock style, a good groove, and some nice touches on keys. And of course, the lyrics have a pop feel: “Just hangin’ around in the afternoon/It’s such a cold day, will you be here soon/Just hangin’ around in the afternoon/Waiting for your call, won’t you follow through.” There is a light, kind of breezy, fun vibe to this tune. That’s followed by “Hurry Up And Kiss Me,” which has something of a similar style, a cheerful folk-rock vibe with 1960s influences, a bit of a Byrds thing happening. It is a catchy and sweet tune. “You’re running all the time/I’m asleep by nine/So hurry up and kiss me/Please tell me that you’ll miss me.”

“Crystal Clear,” the EP’s title track, has some delicious, trippy touches. It might at first seem like a sweet-sounding pop song, but the lyrics have something of a bite, which I like. “Can’t explain what I mean/Is this real or just a silly dream/Seems crystal clear/I don’t want you near.” Ah, yup, the person she is addressing seems a bit daft, and at the end she has to repeat “It’s crystal clear/It’s crystal clear.” This is one of my favorite tracks. And it is followed by my other favorite, “Bridges.” I really dig this song’s groove, which is strong from the start. Later, the song returns to this opening bit, which sounds like it could fit into some 1970s detective show, a scene in an alley close to the show’s climax. You know? Anyway, it’s a totally enjoyable song, with some playful work on backing vocals. “Don’t get me wrong/How was I to know you might be gone/For so long.” Then “Comfortable Chair” is a slower pop tune, with a pretty vocal performance. “I often wonder/But it makes no sense/Because we are here/And we’re living in the present tense.” The EP then concludes with “Lucky Charm,” which is also a slower one, an unusual sort of love song. “My eyes are set on you/And the beautiful things you do/You fell into my arms/Now you’re my lucky charm.” It then starts to build, feeling like it might burst into another level, and features some oddly soothing backing vocals toward the end.

CD Track List
  1. Hangin’ Around
  2. Hurry Up And Kiss Me
  3. Crystal Clear
  4. Bridges
  5. Comfortable Chair
  6. Lucky Charm
Crystal Clear was released on May 4, 2019.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Paula Harris: “Speakeasy” (2019) CD Review

The blues can make us feel good, and though all conscious people in this country are currently suffering from some serious blues, this music can help lift us up a bit, particularly when delivered by a powerful female voice. Paula Harris is a vocalist of tremendous power and style, knowing just when to be smooth and when to let it rip. Her new album, Speakeasy, features a lot of original material, though it is full of classic vibes and sounds. Joining the vocalist on this release are Nate Ginsberg on piano, Rich Girard on acoustic bass, and Derrick “D’Mar” Martin on drums, as well as special guests on a few tracks. It is a thoroughly enjoyable album, and a perfect choice to help pull us all out of this country’s bleak and miserable mess, at least for a while.

The disc kicks off with “Nothing Good Happens After Midnight,” and right away this music establishes a wonderful groove. Paula Harris’ vocal approach is at first intimate, even conspiratorial, pulling us in before she then begins to belt out the lyrics. Oh yes, she has us in her hands straight away, and not a one of us wishes to escape. You can tell from her delivery that a whole lot of good stuff is going to happen after midnight. After, before, during, just so long as we stick with this woman. This song was written by Paula Harris and Nate Ginsberg, and features some wonderful stuff on piano by Nate. That’s followed by “I Wanna Hate Myself Tomorrow (For Raising Hell Tonight),” also written by Paula Harris and Nate Ginsberg. A funky, cool bass line gets this playful track off to a great start. “I’m gonna party with my friends/Like the world ain’t going to end/And act like there ain’t no sorrow/Because, baby, that can come tomorrow.”

Then Paula Harris delivers a gorgeous and moving song titled “Haunted,” another original number. And “haunted” is right; I am haunted by her vocal performance here. She is good. “And you’ll be haunted with thoughts of me/Haunted by my memories/Haunted, haunted, haunted/Wait and see.” Yeah, she is sure of herself here, and so she should be. Is there any question but that the man will be thinking of her? And when she sings that she can make it on her own, I have no doubt that that’s true. This is such a great song. “Soul-Sucking Man” is a fun, lively number. And when Paula sings “I know what’s good for me and baby it ain’t you,” I want to dedicate this song from the good people of America to Donald Trump and the entire Republican Party. “And I’m hip to your game/And I know temptation is your middle name.” Christopher “Kid” Anderson plays bongos on this one. “A Mind Of Her Own” is another fun tune, this one written by Scotty Wright. It features some cool stuff on keys. The line “You want to dislocate his head” made me laugh out loud the first time I listened to this album. And these lines strike a strong chord especially these days: “A woman is not a possession/She acts by her free will/And she knows just what to do/When she’s got a need to fill.” The line “Well, baby, those days are dead and gone” is not so certain anymore. This country is taking giant leaps into the terrible past with regards to women’s rights and equality.

There is something sexy and sly about “Something Wicked,” particularly that horn. That’s Bill Ortiz on trumpet. And of course Paula Harris’ vocals are fantastic, so seductive and wonderful. “Black hair and eyes of green/All my thoughts turned obscene.” This song’s title and title line are references to Macbeth, so I love this track even more. And suddenly in the middle, another vocalist comes in, Big Llou Johnson, delivering a strange poetry section that feels like something to be played at the sexiest of Halloween parties. And he ends that section with the line from Macbeth, “Something wicked this way comes.” Delicious! And that trumpet is so bloody cool. This is one of the album’s best tracks. I just completely love it. And they are clearly having a lot of fun with it. That’s followed by “Trouble Maker,” a track that rocks and sways. It comes on strong and doesn’t let up, the piano being the driving force. I love the way Paula delivers certain lines, like “You can’t fall in love without risking a heartbreak” and “Trouble maker, irresistible to me.” Then there is even a bit of scat. Yup, it’s a cool track from beginning to end.

“You Don’t Look A Day Over Fabulous” is a delightful and playful tune. The lines “You don’t look a day over fabulous/And you’ll be beautiful until the day you die” express just exactly the way I feel about my girlfriend. Somehow as she gets older she is becoming even more beautiful. I don’t know how she does it. This track features some delicious work on bass and some wonderful touches on keys. This is a song that makes me smile every time I hear it. “He thinks I’m perfect/I think he’s sweet.” Another delicious groove gets “Do Me Good” going. As bright and cheerful as the sound is, in this one she expresses doubts about her man, about her relationship. Well, based on the sound, which makes me feel optimistic, I think it’s all going to work out just fine. After all, how can things go wrong when you’re dancing and moving to this beat? There is a nice little jam toward the end. The instruments sound like they’re smiling, don’t they? I feel like that bass line is going to buy me a beer. And then Paula belts out some lines. Ah, so nice.

The rest of the tracks on this disc are listed as bonus tracks, apparently only available on the CD (so not digitally?). It still strikes me as odd to label a track a “bonus track” on an album’s initial release, but no matter. The first of these tracks is a cover of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.” Written by Al Kooper, this song appeared on Blood, Sweat & Tears’ 1968 LP Child Is Father To The Man. Paula Harris does an excellent job with it, and when she dips into her lower registers, I get shivers. Her voice rises to some spectacular heights on this track too. There is so much passion in her voice when she sings “I love you more than you’ll ever know,” leaving no doubt whatsoever that what she says is true. That is followed by “Forever And A Day,” with Bill Ortiz joining the group again on trumpet. Then “Scratches On Your Back” is a song about an infidelity that is obvious, but the man still offers denial after denial. I do, however, appreciate the man’s explanation for the unfamiliar panties wrapped up in the woman’s sheets. “You say it’s a secret that you keep/Because you get kinky all alone/And you put those panties on.” The disc concludes with a delicious cover of Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” featuring some wonderful stuff on piano.

CD Track List
  1. Nothing Good Happens After Midnight
  2. I Wanna Hate Myself Tomorrow (For Raising Hell Tonight)
  3. Haunted
  4. Good Morning Heartache
  5. Soul-Sucking Man
  6. This Love Is Gonna Do Me In
  7. A Mind Of Her Own
  8. Something Wicked
  9. Trouble Maker
  10. ‘Round Midnight
  11. You Don’t Look A Day Over Fabulous
  12. Do Me Good
  13. I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know
  14. Forever And A Day
  15. Scratches On Your Back
  16. Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby
Speakeasy was released on May 1, 2019.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Meghan Hayes: “Seen Enough Leavers” (2019) CD Review

Meghan Hayes is a talented and engaging singer and songwriter based in East Nashville, her music combining elements of folk, country and pop. Her new album, Seen Enough Leavers, is her third, following Snow On The Waves and Go And Give The Guard A Break. A lot of time has passed since the release of those first two albums, and during those intervening years Meghan Hayes clearly went through some stuff. This new album follows the end of a long marriage, and in some ways feels like a return to the world, or perhaps was itself the way back. The music here is passionate and sincere, and features some excellent lyrics. Joining Meghan on this album are Audley Freed on electric guitar and 12-string acoustic guitar; Goffrey Moore on acoustic guitar; Thayer Sarrano on pedal steel and piano; Dex Green on bass, guitar, piano, organ, mellotron and backing vocals; and Tommi Rautiainen on drums. There are also some guests on certain tracks.

Meghan opens her new album with “Georgette,” which begins as a simple and haunting folk song, and then starts to build from there, featuring some nice work on pedal steel. “One light bulb is enough to burn this lamp, Georgette/Start burning two or three, you’ll drown yourself in debt/You like to say we’re dying but we ain’t dead yet.” That last line grabs me every time I listen to this disc. It’s an arresting line, full of sadness and hope, characteristic of the style and poignancy of Meghan Hayes’ lyrics. That’s followed by the album’s title track, “Seen Enough Leavers,” which has a faster pace and a more lively sound, but still with a certain haunting aspect to the vocal performance. Something about her voice takes hold of me. And the older I get, the truer these lines become: “Time’s the fastest thing I know/It’s run away with everything I’ve had to show.”

“Burley” features another striking vocal performance, as well as more moving work on pedal steel. “Plenty of people want to call this suicide/But you can’t kill something that ain’t there.” That’s followed by “Potholes,” an interesting, unusual song. The line that stood out from this track the first time I listened to this disc was “The first fucking Noel fills my shopping cart.” That’s a great line. But again, her songs are filled with excellent lyrics. Take these, for example: “Year turns, I can’t learn/The simple equation to force your return/The half dozen reasons I made you squirm.”

“A Birthday In The Pawnshop (Morristown)” is one of my personal favorites. In fact, even before I first put this disc on, I was digging the track’s title.  Check out these lyrics, which open the song: “Lightning turned the leaves on the trees around/Every night that summer down in Morristown/Thunder shot curses across the sky/By morning not a single blade of grass was dry.” Those lines do such a great job of giving us a feel of the place, setting the tone. Here is another excellent line from this one: “And tried on lives we’d never see.” This song has a vibrant sound, though its story is told from the perspective of someone who is dead. Apparently, this song was released on a compilation back in 2006, The Other Side: Music From East Nashville, though on the track list for that disc it is titled simply “A Birthday In The Pawnshop.” Also, just so you know, a video for this song has been released.

Another track that stands out for me is “Next Time Around,” a song about a home that is no longer a home after the end of a relationship. “You swore we’d die in this place/I bet the people we bought it from/Once said exactly the same.” It’s a sad song, of course, but somewhere deep in there, there is still hope, “Maybe we all get more chances the next time around.” Yeah, it’s not much, but we have to cling to whatever scraps of hope we can get these days. Mando Saenz joins Meghan on vocals on this one. The album concludes with “Story Of My Life,” with Meghan on acoustic guitar, accompanied only by Derry DeBorja on accordion. “I’ve been offered nothing/Nothing will suffice.” The album ends with the line “That’s the story of my life,” and indeed, listening to this disc, it feels that we’ve been treated to a very personal experience.

CD Track List
  1. Georgette
  2. Seen Enough Leavers
  3. This Summer’s Sleeper
  4. Burley
  5. Potholes
  6. Cora
  7. A Birthday In The Pawnshop (Morristown)
  8. Second To Last Stand
  9. Next Time Around
  10. Story Of My Life
Seen Enough Leavers is scheduled to be released on CD on May 31, 2019.

Burning Manilow at Genghis Cohen, 5-18-19 Concert Review

Burning Manilow performing "I Can't Go"
I may have mentioned this once or twice before, but those nights at The Peak Show Compound back in 2003, 2004 were some of the most enjoyable nights of my life. The vibes were right, the people were good, and the music was fantastic. Since then, I’ve tried to keep up with all the projects the members of The Peak Show have been involved in. So far, none of them have steered me wrong. Guitarist Derock Goodwin is now a member of Burning Manilow, which up until last night somehow I had missed seeing perform. But they did a gig at Genghis Cohen, which ended up being a whole lot of fun, and was a serious family celebration. More on that in a moment.

I arrived a bit early (even after stupidly getting off the 101 at Highland and working through the bloody Hollywood Bowl traffic), and when I got there, a talented kid named Garrett Podgorski was playing some classical pieces on guitar, a nice surprise. He chose some gorgeous, famous pieces, and my anxiety over the state of the world was put on hold for the duration. He finished just after 8:15 p.m., and his crowd exited, and a different crowd entered – the Burning Manilow crowd. It had been a while since I’d been at this venue, and I’d forgotten just how tiny a room it is. What I like is that the benches are padded, and there is a little shelf in front of each bench where you can put your drinks (or recording equipment, as the case may be). Lena Embry took the stage at 8:36, and did a really nice set of original material. Her brother joined her on stand-up bass for a song. I mentioned this was a family affair. Well, Lena’s parents are both members of Burning Manilow, as is her brother. Her brother also plays drums with Lila Forde Group, who closed out the night. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Lila Forde joined Lena on harmony vocals for a song, while Lena switched from guitar to keys. By the way, this was Lena’s thirteenth birthday, and everyone sang happy birthday to her. It really was a family celebration. She finished her set at 9 p.m.

No time was wasted, and Burning Manilow was on stage and ready to play less than ten minutes later. They opened the show with “Old Shoes,” a tune with a nice groove, a good vocal performance from Laura Embry, and some wonderful touches on keys by Andrew Hindes. Then toward the end Derock let loose on guitar for a bit. Yeah, it was definitely a good start to the set. After just the slightest of pauses, they began their next song, Niko Embry establishing a good groove on drums to start it off, the crowd shouting out his name in encouragement. Then Darren Embry’s bass line got things pumping. But the main energy of this song came from Laura’s vocals. Afterward she said, “It’s hot in here.” She then added, “We warmed up the room.” Indeed!

One of my favorite tunes of their set was “Don’t Think.” Derock started this one on guitar, holding onto a note and creating a cool atmosphere. I dug the interaction between guitar and keys near the beginning. But it was when the song kicked in for the chorus that things got really good and funky. This one featured some great stuff on drums, as well as some delicious stuff on keys, and became a very cool jam. This was exactly what I went there for. The only shame was the lack of space to dance. Then Lena Embry and Lila Forde joined the group on backing vocals for “The Truth Inside,” a slower, pretty tune with kind of a 1970s vibe. There was even a wonderful section with just vocals and drums, the vocals having a good amount of soul. Afterward, they noticed that a microphone cord had knocked over Laura’s glass, and she sent her daughter out to the bar to replace her drink, which was only a soda anyway.

“Crawl” was a new song, a slow, groovy tune with an excellent, engaging atmosphere. Darren and Derock provided backing vocals. That was followed by another strong and soulful number, “Afraid.” “I don’t want to close my eyes/And I don’t want to be afraid of the truth.” Oh yes, this was one you could really sink your teeth into, and it built wonderfully toward the end. As it ended, Niko started to go directly into “Gimme A Chance” before realizing they had another song before that. The band then went into “I Can’t Go,” another of my personal favorites, a song with a very cool vibe. Darren and Derock again provided backing vocals. They closed out their set with “Gimme A Chance,” another highlight. The saxophonist from Lila Forde Group, Ben Lindenberg, joined them on this fun, funky jam, another tune you want to dance to. It was a perfect ending to their short, but excellent set.

Burning Manilow Set List
  1. Old Shoes
  2. Forever Project
  3. Don’t Think
  4. The Truth Inside
  5. Crawl
  6. Afraid
  7. I Can’t Go
  8. Gimme A Chance
The Lila Forde Group then closed out this family celebration. And what a talented group of young musicians this group turned out to be, delivering an absolutely delicious combination of jazz and funk, powered by Lila Forde’s fantastic voice. Their set was mostly original material, and totally enjoyable.

Here are a few photos from the night:

Lena Embry
"Old Shoes"
"The Truth Inside"
"The Truth Inside"
"The Truth Inside"
"The Truth Inside"
"Afraid" 
"Gimme A Chance"
Lila Forde Group

Genghis Cohen is located at 740 N. Fairfax Ave. in Los Angeles, California.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Rj Cowdery: “What If This Is All There Is” (2019) CD Review

Rj Cowdery is a singer and songwriter based in Columbus, Ohio. Her new album, What If This Is All There Is, is full of beautiful, moving, emotionally engaging songs that feel designed to help pull us through these unsettling times and our own personal troubles. She provides a sweet and friendly voice, like a hand reaching out to us in the darkness. Most of the songs here are originals, written by Rj Cowdery. Joining her on this release are Thomm Jutz on acoustic guitar and electric guitar; Mark Fain on upright bass; Lynn Williams on drums; Jen Gunderman on keys; and Justin Moses on banjo, fiddle and mandolin. Ingrid Graudins, Melissa Greener and Amy Speace provide backing vocals. Amy Speace also produced the album.

Rj opens this new disc with “Somewhere A Place,” and her voice immediately draws me in. This song is beautiful and engaging, with an earnest and honest vocal performance. Check out these lines: “Trouble seemed to follow you around/You took some beatings into the arms of another town/Disappearing without a sound/ Somewhere a place, somewhere in time/Two hearts embrace what was left behind.” This track also features some nice work on keys. That’s followed by the album’s the title track, “What If This Is All There Is,” one of my favorites, in large part because of the song’s lyrics. Here is a taste: “Gotta figure out where I’m going/Maybe I’m not going anywhere/Are these miles that I drive, lines that I ride/Just a hopeless love affair/Because what if this is all there is/What if this is all the love I’m ever gonna give/And the ladder that I’m on/Standing on the highest rung/I’m ever gonna stand/What if this is all there is.” We all ask ourselves these questions, don’t we? And Rj’s delivery is full of passion and truth and life. This is a gorgeous and moving song.

“Secrets Of My Dreams” has something of a sweet and gentle folk sound, and I like Justin Moses’ work on both mandolin and fiddle here. “In the morning when I cry, I think about all that I am given/I think about everything I had, all the good and all the bad.” Then suddenly we get a song that comes on with more volume, more energy, more attitude, titled “Broken Wheel.” Its lyrics of course are just as compelling as those of the previous tracks. Check out these lines: “Life goes on even though you’re stuck/Your feet won’t move and your mind won’t heal/Everything’s a wreck, you’re a broken wheel/You told yourself so many times/If it got this bad you’d end it by/Popping of a gun, pushing of a pill/Make a big splash rolling down that hill.” That’s followed by a more intimate-sounding song, “Don’t Give Up,” in which Rj sings “Don’t you give up on this love/Don’t go racing the wind/Because it will blow, oh, but we can mend/We’re not broken if we bend.” She gives us another beautiful vocal performance here.

How often do we find ourselves saying there is no time these days? And as we get older, and time moves more quickly, it feels more and more difficult to find the time to do things like see friends, relax, read a book, and just feel good. In “Is There Time,” Rj Cowdery addresses this topic, singing “And I just don’t know what happened/Life keeps flashing by/If I could only take this moment.” She reminds us to take those moments, that time is there for us to use: “There’s time for just about anything that you can think of/There’s time in the morning when the sun is on the rise.” That’s followed by “Shotgun Rider,” which features some nice work on banjo, and then “Girl In The War,” the only song on the album not written by Rj Cowdery. It was written by Josh Ritter, and is the opening track on his 2006 album, The Animal Years. Rj does an excellent job with it, delivering a moving vocal performance. “I got a girl in the war, Paul, the only thing I know to do/Is turn up the music and pray that she makes it through.”

“Get Out Of Here” is a pretty and intimate and gentle song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Maybe now is not the time to talk about the past/But I sure miss those days of wonder, I sure wish they would have lasted/Just a little bit longer, a few more years/Long enough to claim my innocence I hid behind the tears/I used to think I’d save the world with the words that I’d write down.” I also really like the work on acoustic guitar. This entire album is strong and engaging. It concludes with “Lost And Found,” which also has an intimate sound. I feel like Rj doesn’t hide anything; her voice, and her approach to a song make us feel that she opens herself. There is something so appealing about this song, in part because of lines like “And oh what a journey, such a hurry/Let’s slow this whole thing down” and “I think we’ve finally earned the time to sit back and exhale.” Here she again reminds us to take our time and enjoy our lives, for soon it will all be gone. This is another favorite of mine, and it features some beautiful stuff on fiddle.

CD Track List
  1. Somewhere A Place
  2. What If This Is All There Is
  3. Secrets Of My Dream
  4. Broken Wheel
  5. Don’t Give Up
  6. Is There Time
  7. Shotgun Rider
  8. Girl In The War
  9. Get Out Of Here
  10. Lost And Found
What If This Is All There Is was released on May 17, 2019.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Radical Face: “Therapy” (2019) CD Review

Therapy, the new release from Radical Face, is an interesting album. It’s an EP, sort of, except that it contains forty minutes of music. It’s just that it contains the same six songs twice, like two versions of the same EP. So call it an EP, call it an LP, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that these songs are good and compelling, somewhere in that realm between folk and pop. Radical Face is the project of Ben Cooper, who has been recording under that name for more than fifteen years. He basically does it all himself, and on Therapy, he wrote all the tracks, produced the music, and plays all the instruments, with the exception of the strings, played by Joshua Lee. As for the album’s title, is it suggesting the music here is therapy for the artist, or for us, or for both? I’m guessing the last, which is good, as we could probably all use a bit of therapy these days. And what works better than good music? The more I listen to this disc, the more I am struck by what an excellent songwriter Ben Cooper is.

The disc opens with “Doubt,” a pop song that has a gentle vibe, perhaps to help soothe us, perhaps to help him. Its opening lines grab me: “Staring into the sun/Always looking for an answer/When I know there isn’t one.” (Though the line about staring into the sun reminds me of that image of Donald Trump looking directly at the sun, one of his many moronic moments.) There is something oddly catchy about this song. “Drifting through another day/Can’t connect to what’s around me.” The second version of this song has a slightly rougher quality, which I like. I think I actually prefer this second version, though both are quite good. “I don’t know who to call my friends/I don’t know how to choose my sins/I don’t know how much more I can bend.” Yet there is a hint of optimism in this song, and perhaps a hint is all we can hope for, perhaps all we need. We’re all hanging in there, right?

“Doubt” is followed by “Hard Of Hearing,” which offers an intriguing combination of pop sounds and intimate, confessional vocals. The lyrics to this one are excellent. Here is a taste: “I memorize the ceiling with the fire at my feet/While I give myself advice that I can’t keep/I no longer ask myself what any of this means/I just want my mind to quit so I can finally fall asleep.” I think those are lines many folks will be able to relate to, and Ben’s voice is like a friend in the void. Songs like this one show just how good pop music can be. The second version begins more as folk, and has a sweet vibe. These are like songs from the edge, where so many people dwell these days. “I know I’m not well, but I’m all right.” “Personal Giants” is another captivating song, a song that seems to reach out to the listener. “When I was lost/You stood there, silent/And kept the light on inside me/And when I broke down/And all the world turned to grey/You told me time would be gentle.”  This is a gorgeous and engaging song, one of my personal favorites. The alternate version is a slightly more stripped down rendition, delivered on acoustic guitar, and is also beautiful. Then “Guilt” begins with drums, establishing a good, solid groove before his tender vocals come in. This one has a fuller pop sound, but still with a passion at its core. “And once you see what lies behind a mask/That mask will never look the same/And once a pattern shows itself/You can’t pretend that nothing’s changed.” The second version begins quite differently, on acoustic guitar, though it does develop a beat. This version is somewhat shorter.

Interestingly, it is the first version of “Better Days” that is delivered on acoustic guitar. “I know right now it feels like hell/And nothing’s going all that well/When it’s always raining in your head/And it’s hard to see beyond your bed/Just remind yourself/That it’s probably gonna take some time.” I love the intimate, honest vocal delivery, at moments his voice supported by just acoustic guitar, and then gorgeous swells of strings. Here he offers hope, telling us again to hang in there. “There are better days to find.” The second version is then delivered on piano and strings. Both versions are beautiful. Then “Dead Ends” begins with strings and guitar, and immediately addresses hope directly, as if personified: “Hello, hope, it’s been a while.” There is a beautifully sad tone to this, though not quite defeated. “I thought I was damned to watch life through my hands/No, I’m not in the place I thought I’d be/Makes looking back a whole lot simpler.” But then there is a positive spin, sort of, as he sings “Well, there’s no need to run when you’re traveling down the wrong road.” I love that line. Actually, this song has so many good lines, I could quote the entire thing. It’s probably best that you just pick up the CD and listen to it for yourself.

CD Track List
  1. Doubt
  2. Hard Of Hearing
  3. Personal Giants
  4. Guilt
  5. Better Days
  6. Dead End
  7. Doubt
  8. Hard Of Hearing
  9. Personal Giants
  10. Guilt
  11. Better Days
  12. Dead End
Therapy was released on April 26, 2019.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Prom Night: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2019) CD Review

My grandparents had a fairly large collection of movies on videocassettes, and when I was growing up, my brother and I would spend weekends at their house, watching movie after movie. One of the movies we watched over and over was Prom Night, which we both found scary at the time. One of the elements that stayed with me over the years was the film’s music, particularly that theme song, which gets in my head periodically. Now, after decades, we finally get an official CD release of the full soundtrack, score and songs, including some tracks that weren’t used in the final cut and were previously unreleased, even unofficially. It’s been a long time coming, but we finally have the soundtrack we’ve been wanting. And this release includes “Dance Till You Die: The Making And Scoring Of Prom Night,” a piece written by Gergely Hubai, along with a note from Silvio Barretta, who co-produced this album.

The tracks are divided into four groupings, the first being the score used in the film. The music was composed by Paul Zaza and Carl Zittrer, who also – together or separately – wrote the music for such movies as Murder By Decree, My Bloody Valentine, A Christmas Story and Porky’s. The pieces in this first section are arranged basically in the order they occur in the film, beginning with that great opening. That first scene creeped me out when I was a kid, especially the very beginning when you hear the children but don’t yet see them. Some of this music gives me the chills, and would be a perfect choice to play on Halloween if you are eager to frighten the neighborhood kids. I particularly love “Prom Night Suspense Theme,” with even those pauses being filled with dread and horror.

The second section of music is made up of pieces of the score that ended up not being used in the film. Most of these are very short, with only a few being more than a minute long. The most significant piece, at least in terms of length, is “Haunting Robin,” which has a fantastic tension and an eerie quality. “Calm Before The Storm” is another of this section’s best selections. And a piece titled “Eerie” touches upon some of the same themes as “Opening.” “Hunted” is a suspenseful piece making interesting use of percussion.

The third section is made up of the songs used in the film. Now this is back in the day when “original motion picture soundtrack” meant just that, that it contained original music. Sure, the reason behind the writing of these songs might have been financial, that the budget didn’t have room for the purchasing of rights to popular songs, but the results are original and memorable tracks. The first of these songs is “Dancin’ In The Moonlight,” obviously not to be confused with the King Harvest hit song from the 1970s. This is a pretty solid disco song, about dancing and having no cares, working in contrast to what we know is about to happen in the film. I like that kind of funky instrumental section toward the end. That’s followed by “Love Me Till I Die,” and of course I appreciate the delightfully morbid humor of this one. By the way, these songs are also presented in basically the order you hear them in the film.

The main song of this section is “Tonight Is Prom Night,” the most memorable of the tunes from the film, and the one that gets in my head to this day. Until now I had never heard it without also seeing the accompanying images on screen, and it’s interesting to find it really works on its own. I love the way it starts, with a little tease and then bursting in with that beat. “Prom night/Everything is all right.” Oh yes. Many of the lines have a humorous bent when taken in the context of the film – “Tell me you will love me forever” and “Tonight is the night for me and you” – but without that context, this song is a fun, upbeat, innocent, totally enjoyable number. That’s followed by “Changes,” a tune that itself has some interesting little changes and makes good use of horns. “Time To Turn Around” is a good title for a song in a horror film, right? Look behind you! There’s not all that much to this song, but I suppose that can be said about a whole lot of disco songs. That’s followed by “Fade To Black,” that moving song that plays as the closing credits begin. It’s probably the film’s best song, and is the last song of this section.

The disc’s final section is made up of songs that were not used in the movie, beginning with a disco song titled “Prom Night.” “Tonight Is Prom Night” is a better song, so it’s not difficult to see why this one wasn’t included. But I’m glad it’s included here, and I like that instrumental section with saxophone toward the end. That’s followed by “Disco Out The Back Door,” a simple but fun number, and then “You Can Be What You Want To Be,” probably the best of the previously unreleased songs. This one has a delicious groove and is certain to get you moving. “Another Disco Funk Track” is also fun, with a bit of a New Orleans vibe, which I like. “Funk Dat Disco” has, as you’d expect, a funky rhythm. The disc then concludes with “Burnin’ With Desire.” “I can’t fight it, I won’t even try/Go on burnin’, baby, ‘til the day I die/Ooh, the day that I die.”

CD Track List
  1. Opening
  2. Killer’s Call List
  3. Tearing Up Yearbook
  4. Beach Flashback
  5. Prom Night Cello Theme
  6. Killer Tension
  7. Prom Night Suspense Theme
  8. Piano Theme
  9. Hallway Chase
  10. Haunting Robin
  11. Calm Before The Storm
  12. Caught In The Web
  13. Eerie
  14. Escape
  15. Hunted
  16. Lurking
  17. Quivering
  18. Trapped
  19. Who’s There?
  20. Vertigo
  21. Waiting
  22. Mystery Build
  23. Dancin’ The Moonlight
  24. Love Me Till I Die
  25. Tonight Is Prom Night
  26. Changes
  27. Time To Turn Around
  28. Fade To Black
  29. Prom Night
  30. Disco Out The Back Door
  31. You Can Be What You Want To Be
  32. Another Disco Funk Track
  33. Funk Dat Disco
  34. Burnin’ With Desire
Prom Night: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is scheduled to be released on June 7, 2019.