Sunday, December 10, 2023

Carla Olson & Robert Rex Waller Jr. at McCabe’s, 12-9-23 Concert Review

Carla Olson & Robert Rex Waller Jr.
You likely know Carla Olson from her work in The Textones, and are familiar with Robert Rex Waller Jr.’s work in I See Hawks In L.A. Both have new solo albums out, and as each performs on the other’s release, it made perfect sense for the two to put on a special concert to celebrate the albums. Last night at McCabe’s in Santa Monica, Carla Olson and Rob Waller delivered a fantastic show. There were two sets, the first featuring music from Rob Waller’s new album See The Big Man Cry, the second featuring music from Carla Olson’s Have Harmony, Will Travel 3. Interestingly, both albums find the artists covering other people’s material, and both feature many of the same musicians, some of whom played at the show last night, including Paul Marshall, Skip Edwards and Ben LeCourt.

Just after 8 p.m., Robert Rex Waller Jr. was introduced, and then kicked off his set with “I’ll Never Dance Again,” a song written by Mike Anthony and Barry Mann. He was backed by two of his fellow I See Hawks In L.A. members – Paul Lacques on electric guitar and Paul Marshall on bass and backing vocals – along with Skip Edwards on keyboard and Ben LeCourt on drums and percussion. And he sported a jacket with his name printed on the back. “So that song was a hit for Bobby Rydell,” Rob Waller said afterward. He mentioned that when asking Paul Marshall about possibly covering that song on the album, Paul pulled out the 45, and that was what sold him on doing it. And it was Rob Waller’s father-in-law who suggested he cover “Reconsider Me,” which was the second song of the set last night. Paul Lacques delivered a really nice, though brief, lead on guitar, which elicited applause from the crowd. That was followed by the only original song of the set, “My Favorite Loneliness,” a beautiful number written by Rob Waller and Paul Marshall. “I couldn’t keep you but I held you for a time” is such a good line.

"I'll Never Dance Again"

Paul Lacques switched to lap steel for “Let Her Go Down,” a song written by Peter Knight. Afterward, Rob said they’ve been trying to figure out just what that song means. Like a lot of good songs, it can be taken at face value, I suppose, or can be interpreted in a variety of ways. I love when a song has a strong personal meaning that might not necessarily be shared by everyone else who hears it. He then introduced “See The Big Man Cry” as being about screwing up, “which I think we can all relate to.” Oh yes. Paul Lacques was back on electric guitar for this song, the title track of the album.

Carla Olson joined the group on backing vocals for the rest of the set, beginning with “A Woman’s Touch,” written by James Intveld and Gary Nicholson. On the album, that song is followed by “Amanda Ruth,” and last night it was as well. Rob mentioned that the first version he’d heard of this song was that by The Everly Brothers. That was the first version I heard as well, on the excellent Born Yesterday album released in the mid-1980s. This was some delicious rock and roll, and Paul Lacques got to show his prowess on electric guitar. They followed that with Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher Than The Rest,” with more nice work from Paul Lacques, and wrapped up the set with “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.” During the introduction Carla Olson said, “Now this song this big guy sings the crap out of.” Indeed, Carla was right. It was an absolutely fantastic rendition. The first set ended at 8:52 p.m.

"A Woman's Touch"

At 9:10 p.m., Carla Olson took the stage, backed by Paul Marshall on bass, Skip Edwards on keyboard, Ben LeCourt on drums and percussion, and Jonathan Lea on electric sitar. They opened with a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” getting right to the rock and roll. This song, which was included on Have Harmony, Will Travel 3, featured some good stuff on keys as well as some great work on electric sitar. That was followed by “Shackles & Chains,” which Carla Olson included on Have Harmony, Will Travel 2, released a few years ago. Jonathan Lea left the stage before this one. The song had a good energy, with Skip Edwards rocking the keyboard. It was a fun one, no question. Also from Have Harmony, Will Travel 2 came “A Child’s Claim To Fame,” the Buffalo Springfield song. Gary Myrick joined the group on steel guitar, which was a treat for me, particularly as, for one reason or another, I hadn’t seen him perform before. Gary Myrick also played steel guitar on “Lead Me,” a song written by Carla Olson’s Textones band mate Joe Read, and included on Have Harmony, Will Travel 3. Carla forgot the lyrics for a moment, but it was still a great version of the song. It was shaping up to be a seriously fun set.

"Street Fighting Man"

Carla Olson mentioned that she bought the single of “I Can See For Miles” when it came out. She delivered an excellent rendition of the Who song last night. The audience sang along toward the end, repeating the title line. And Carla was rocking it at the end. After that song, Gary Myrick left the stage, and Rob Waller joined the group on acoustic guitar and vocals. Carla Olson led the band into “Look What You’ve Done,” a song she included on the first Have Harmony, Will Travel album. That was followed by beautiful renditions of “‘Til The Rivers All Run Dry” and “Gypsy Rider.” Rob Waller mentioned that Carla had recorded “Gypsy Rider” with Gene Clark for So Rebellious A Lover, which was recently re-issued on blue vinyl, and Carla commented that Gene would do it differently each time he performed it. Rob Waller was on lead vocals for this song. Interestingly, “Gypsy Rider” appears not only on Have Harmony, Will Travel 3, but also on Rob Waller’s See The Big Man Cry. Paul Lacques then joined the group on electric guitar for the final song of the set, “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulet,” an I See Hawks In L.A. song. For this one Skip Edwards switched from keyboard to accordion. Paul Marshall said, “If there’s a gun on the table in Act One…,” joking about the presence of the accordion on stage all night, and now finally being used. Rob Waller was of course also on lead vocals for this one. It was a delightful conclusion to  the set, and to the show, for there wasn’t an encore. As Carla Olson said her goodbyes, Skip Edwards played a bit of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here” on keys. The show ended at 10:03 p.m.

"I Can See For Miles"

Set List

Set I

  1. I’ll Never Dance Again
  2. Reconsider Me
  3. My Favorite Loneliness
  4. Let Her Go Down
  5. See The Big Man Cry
  6. A Woman’s Touch
  7. Amanda Ruth
  8. Tougher Than The Rest
  9. The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore

Set II

  1. Street Fighting Man
  2. Shackles & Chains
  3. A Child’s Claim To Fame
  4. Lead Me
  5. I Can See For Miles
  6. Look What You’ve Done
  7. ‘Til The Rivers All Run Dry
  8. Gypsy Rider
  9. Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulet

Here are a few more photos from the show:

"I'll Never Dance Again"

"Reconsider Me"

"Tougher Than The Rest"

"Street Fighting Man" 

"A Child's Claim To Fame"

"Look What You've Done"

"Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulet"

McCabe’s is located at 3101 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica, California.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Michelle Malone And The Hot Toddies: “Toddie Time” (2023) CD Review

It’s that time of year when artists are legally obligated to release holiday albums in order to retain their music licenses. So for many artists, it’s a matter of going through the motions to fulfill this requirement. But some artists truly get into the spirit of the thing, and excellent albums result from their efforts. Such is the case with Michelle Malone, who created her own Christmas band, The Hot Toddies, a while back specifically to deliver some holiday cheer. A hot toddy is a drink, also known as a hot whiskey, so right away you know this band is going to be in the proper frame of mind for the holidays. The band is made up of Michelle Malone on vocals and guitar, Doug Kees on guitar, Tommy Dean on bass, Robby Handley on bass, and Gerry Hansen on drums. The Hot Toddies released two EPs, one in 2018 and one in 2019, and this album is basically those two EPs combined. The second EP contains two versions of “Up On The House Top” and two versions of “Silent Night,” while the new release contains just one of each. And this is actually not the first full length Christmas album from Michelle Malone And The Hot Toddies. Last year saw the release of Christmas With The Hot Toddies. If you wish to get into the holiday spirit, pour yourself and your loved ones a drink and let this album play. And when it’s over, play it again.

They open the album with a hopping, swinging rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” It features a fantastic vocal performance, and of course we expect nothing less from Michelle Malone. This track also features a totally delicious guitar lead with a classic sound, and some incredibly cool bass work. This is not one of my favorite holiday songs, but Michelle Malone And The Hot Toddies give us a rendition so good that I find myself loving this track. Things get even cooler with “Zat You, Santa Claus?,” with guitar work and a rhythm that will remind you of The Stray Cats. Michelle Malone is having such a good time, totally throwing herself into the music. “Who's there, who is it coming back for a visit?/Is that you, Santa Claus?/Are you bringing presents for me/Something pleasantly pleasant for me/Then it’s just what I’ve been waiting for/But would you mind slipping it under the door.” If all department stores and banks chose to play this album rather than the usual nonsense, then I might agree that this is the most wonderful time of the year. This song is certainly one to add to your holiday play list.

As “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” begins, that rhythm makes me wonder if this might be a more rocking rendition than we normally hear. It’s unclear for a moment which direction it will go, where that good bass line will lead us. But when Michelle’s vocals come in, the song takes on that sweet, warm, romantic sound and vibe.  This rendition has a really nice ending, with Michelle riffing a bit on the line “I’m going home.” Michelle Malone And The Hot Toddies stay in a mellow mood with “Count Your Blessings (Instead Of Sheep),” here simply titled “Count Your Blessings.” These lines certainly stand out for me this year, after months of a Hollywood strike depleted my bank account: “When my bankroll is getting small/I think of when I have none at all/I fall asleep, counting my blessings.” Ah, but among the blessings I can count is the great music I get to listen to, including this album. Here Michelle’s vocals are supported by guitar.

There is a wonderful jazzy edge to Michelle Malone’s rendition of “Blue Christmas.” And at times there is an edge to her voice as well, a bit of attitude, as when she sings “You’ll be doing all right/With your Christmas of white/But I’ll have a blue, blue Christmas.” That helps this rendition stand out. Plus, it features some strong work on guitar. That’s followed by “Jingle Bells.” This is another holiday song I generally could do without, but Michelle Malone puts her own delightful spin on the song, and there is enough joy in her performance to make  it truly enjoyable. She includes that “I love those J-I-N-G-L-E bells” part at the beginning, as Frank Sinatra did. Plus, she includes lyrics that are often cut, which also helps to make it feel fresh. And check out that great guitar work. At the end of the track, she exclaims, “Woo! She likewise puts her own touch on “Up On The House Top.” As it begins, it feels akin to something like “Tequila.” Here Michelle Malone begins to belt out some lines, her voice having that great raw energy. And then halfway through the track we are treated to some good stuff on harmonica. That’s followed by “Go Tell It On The Mountain.” This version slowly swings, and has an uplifting effect. There is a good dose of gospel to Michelle’s vocal performance, particularly in the second half. This is a rendition to make you feel good.

“Auld Lang Syne” has a different vibe from usual as it starts, with some cool guitar work. There is something of a Latin vibe here. I love how Michelle Malone puts her own mark on these classic numbers. Give a different spin to the New Year this time around, see what happens. With this music, it feels like it’s going to be a good one. For a moment or two we can set aside the struggles that this election year will undoubtedly bring and lift a glass to each other. Then, what is this, bass and finger snaps to start “Silent Night”? You bet! This is likely one of the coolest renditions you’ll hear. Seriously, how often does this song make you feel like dancing, while still having that soothing quality? I love what Michelle Malone and the band do with this song. It is one of my personal favorites. It’s followed by “We Three Kings,” another track that comes as a wonderful surprise. This is a version you can sway to, dance to, and it features a beautiful vocal performance. Michelle Malone wraps up this special holiday album with “Away In A Manger,” once again putting her own excellent spin on it and making the song cooler than it probably has any business being. This rendition contains some delicious guitar work, with a haunting western quality, and a gorgeous and strong vocal performance.

CD Track List

  1. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
  2. Zat You, Santa Claus?
  3. I’ll Be Home For Christmas
  4. Count Your Blessings
  5. Blue Christmas
  6. Jingle Bells
  7. Up On The House Top
  8. Go Tell It On The Mountain
  9. Auld Lang Syne
  10. Silent Night
  11. We Three Kings
  12. Away In A Manger

Toddie Time was released on October 27, 2023, and is available on both CD and vinyl. The vinyl is green, so I want to get a copy of the record (last year’s release was on red vinyl).

Monday, December 4, 2023

Another Great Night Of Music At The Mayan

Ben Vaughn
The new (three months old at this point) concert series at the Mayan Bar & Grill in Monrovia has become one of my favorites in the entire Los Angeles area. The venue, the atmosphere, the people, and, most importantly, the artists they book for the monthly series are fantastic. Last night we were treated to sets by Victoria Jacobs, Dan Janisch And The Sallys, and The Ben Vaughn Ensemble (and next month I hear Ted Russell Kamp will be part of the lineup). At the previous concerts in this series, the first band played outside in the courtyard, but it now being winter in Los Angeles, last night all three bands performed on the indoor stage. And no, for those outside L.A. who might be wondering, it was not all that cold, particularly as the show had an early start time.

Victoria Jacobs and Paul Lacques playing "Today"
At 6:10 p.m., series host Gwendolyn Sanford introduced Victoria Jacobs. I’d seen Victoria Jacobs many times in her role as drummer (and occasional vocalist) in the band I See Hawks In L.A., but last night was the first time I got to see her front and center, and on guitar. Accompanying her was fellow Hawk Paul Lacques on guitar, with Hawks front man Rob Waller joining them on a few songs. She opened her set with “Today,” and then mentioned how she and Paul Lacques had played together twenty-five years ago. “So we figured, what the hell, let’s do it again,” she joked. The first song Rob Waller joined her on was “Spinning,” a song included on the I See Hawks In L.A. 2018 album Live And Never Learn. As he took a seat on the throne-like chair, he offered to let folks come sit on his lap and tell him what they want for Christmas. A woman called out that she wanted his hat. One of my favorite songs of her set was a new one, about skipping stones. “This is a new song, so if I mess up, I mess up,” Victoria said as she started it. It was a fun number, with a bit of Bo Diddley thing happening, and Paul Lacques got a chance to really deliver on guitar. And there was no messing up, not that I could tell, anyway. Rob Waller returned for the last three songs of the set – “Open Door,” “Kensington Market” and “My Parka Saved Me.” Before that final number, both Victoria and Rob put on parkas. Rob Waller played guitar on that one, which freed Victoria to stand and really get into the sometimes playful nature of the lyrics. It was a delightful way to wrap up the set. Her set ended at 7:05 p.m.

Dan Janisch And The Sallys
At 7:15 p.m., while Dan Janisch was setting up, someone in the audience teased him, shouting “Let’s go!” And a moment later The Sallys started their set, opening with “Here She Comes.” A strong start. A line that stood out to me was, “But now I feel like I found a piece of me that I lost a long time ago.” They followed that with “Wild Fun,” one of my favorites. Things were rocking now! By the way, David Serby was sitting in on bass for this show, another treat. “Are you guys having fun?” Dan asked the crowd after that song. Oh, there was no question about it. The set also included “Sweet Mercy,” “Like You Best,” “Honey Bee,” “Where Your Demons Can’t Go” and “Ego Junkie,” that last featuring some nice work on harmonica and a funny spoken word section. “There’s a new upstart named Ben Vaughn after us,” Dan joked toward the end of the set. They finished with “Brother Damnation.” Their set ended at 8:07 p.m.

Ben Vaughn Ensemble
At 8:23 p.m., Gwendolyn introduced Ben Vaughn, and things were off to a hopping start, at least until Sister T experienced some bass amp problems partway through the first song. They soon seemed to be fixed, and she even did a brief lead on bass, but no, there was still trouble, and a team of technicians got right to work on it at the end of that first number. “Kevin, it’s just you and me,” Ben Vaughn said to his drummer, and the two of them began “Percy’s Blues,” a sweet song. Before the end of it, the bass was back in the mix, leading Ben to say, “The unsinkable Sister T.” They followed “Percy’s Blues” with “In My Own Reality” and “Too Sensitive For This World,” two songs I love, two that I connect to strongly. “It’s a wonder anyone survives,” Ben sings in the latter. I also love his sense of humor, which even at times comes across in his guitar playing, as it did last night in “Deep In The Weeds.” And of course his humor played a big part in “Miss Me When I’m Gone.” The crowd cheered as soon as he started that one. The audience then provided some finger snaps during “Blind Alley,” a song on which Ben delivered some wonderful stuff on harmonica but did not play guitar. The band’s set also included “Walkin’ My Way (Back To Your Heart),” “Hey Romeo,” “Heavy Machinery,” “New Jersey Rock ‘N’ Roll,” and “Asking For A Friend.” Before “Asking For A Friend,” Ben remarked on the ceiling fans all being connected. Sister T added, “And they’re powered by ghosts.” And after that one, some requests were called out, including one for “Two Mile Road,” which Ben Vaughn then played. “Thank you,” Ben said afterward. “We haven’t played that one in a long time.” The set wrapped up with “Here Comes Trouble,” which had a big finish on drums, Ben urging Kevin to keep going. The shows of this concert series are scheduled to end at 9 p.m., and though it was already after 9 at that point, everyone was having too good a time to let it end, and so Ben Vaughn Ensemble gave us an encore. They kept everyone dancing with “My First Band,” with multiple endings. Ben Vaughn kept starting it up again. Hey, who wanted this great night to come to a close? The show ended at 9:42 p.m.

Here are a few photos from the night:

Victoria Jacobs performing "Spinning"

Victoria Jacobs performing "Open Door"

Victoria Jacobs performing "My Parka Saved Me"

Dan Janisch

Dan Janisch performing "Ego Junkies"

Dan Janisch

Ben Vaughn Ensemble

Ben Vaughn Ensemble

Ben Vaughn Ensemble performing "Percy's Blues"
Ben Vaughn Ensemble

The Mayan Bar & Grill is located at 317 W. Foothill Blvd., in Monrovia, California. See you there on January 7th for Ted Russell Kamp.