Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Jess Jocoy: “Let There Be No Despair” (2022) CD Review

Jess Jocoy is a singer and songwriter originally from the state of Washington and now making her home in Nashville. Her second full-length studio album, Let There Be No Despair, contains all original material. The album’s title is striking, particularly in these dark days when many people often feel at the edge of despair. A look at the news on any day shows us mass shootings, racism, sexism and rampant stupidity, and there is no sign of any of that slowing down. In fact, it all seems to be getting worse. Life appears completely unhinged. And yet we have to find ways forward out of this mess. Giving in to despair is not the answer. Jess Jocoy, on this new album, offers a hopeful glimpse at life. These tracks acknowledge certain troubles, but in that very acknowledgement somehow make us feel better. Partly, it is the beauty of her voice. But it also the way in which she approaches her subjects, the way she chooses to address troubles, which gives us a sense that we are not alone. In addition to providing the vocals, Jess Jocoy plays acoustic guitar on this album. Joining her on this release are Ethan Ballinger on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, and banjo; Lydia Luce on violin and viola; Brian Allen on electric bass, bowed bass and cello; and Matt Alger on drums and percussion.

The album opens with “I Will Be Glad,” which begins with a steady, simple beat and some beautiful work on guitar setting the tone before Jess Jocoy’s voice comes in. Hers is a gorgeous voice that here is warm but with a touch of melancholy within, and there are moments when her voice soars, while still remaining grounded. Basically, it feels honest, real. “In the end when the sunshine turns to rust/And my body returns to the dust.” But it is these lines that I especially latch onto: “In the end when the wind is at our back/There’ll be no thought of what we lack/Only joy for days we’ve been given/There will be joy, there will be joy.” In addition, Lydia Luce provides some passionate work on strings. This is a beautiful opening number about loss and the strength of family. That’s followed by “The One I’m Living For.” This track eases in with some soft strumming on guitar, supporting Jess Jocoy’s vocals, which have an intimate quality at the start. There is something comforting in the connection she creates between herself and us, on this journey we are all on together. “It turns out I had been sleeping/Drifting like a ghost through my own dreams/Someone must have known what it was I was missing/‘Cause I woke up one day and you were there.”

From time to time I see something on the news about a town that is all but dead, its population having moved off, following jobs or dreams or who knows what. There is something inherently sad about these stories, and there are always a few people left behind to be interviewed about how everything has changed. I wonder about those last people, how long they’ll hold out, and how they’ll manage without support. In “Living In A Dying Town,” Jess Jocoy takes us into that situation, and we get the perspective of someone who remains, at least for now. “Found out I’m living in a dying down/It’s like watching the sun set on the long, long day/People that you grow up knowing, they ain’t around anymore/You come to find out time really does slip away.” And these lines will strike a chord with people, no matter where they live: “‘Cause everything’s changing/Yes, everything’s changing/Yes, everything keeps changing/And I’ve never been good with change.” The sound of this track is rather haunting, and her vocal performance is powerful, having an ethereal element, like the town itself slipping away. Yet you get the sense that the person in this song will manage somehow. Then “The Gardener” softly and gently pulls us in, featuring some wonderful work on strings. This one is a portrait of a lonely woman who is unable to have children. “I’m sure my neighbors think I’m crazy/Sometimes I catch myself talking to myself/When I’m out in the garden.” This track features nice work on mandolin.

“Jericho Walls” has a somewhat brighter sound from the start, with that work on violin, but with something sad beneath. And isn’t that how life feels? A little sadness in every smile, a little worry behind every joy, a little weariness in every step. Her voice captures that so well. “But I give up on love before it starts.” This song is about letting others inside, about taking down your defenses, and it leaves us with this thought: “‘Cause it won’t matter how many miles you run/If you don’t let yourself find that sweet someone.” Then “Let There Be No Despair,” the album’s title track, begins gently, easing in. Her voice is so gorgeous here, and she speaks for all of us as she asks, “How many ways can the world try and get you down?” Sometimes we need a good cry, a cry that actually keeps us from despair, and this song can certainly provide the place for such tears. Check out these lines: “Friends become strangers/No one says why/Your peace becomes anger/And your songs become scythes/You try to remember/All you forgot/But all you remember/Is all that you’ve lost.” And listen to that wonderful work on strings. Every song on this album is excellent, and yet this one still manages to stand out.

There is yet more beautiful work on strings at the beginning of “Always.” “Take what I have and I promise to stand and deliver/Because loving you, yeah darling, loving you/Is all that I want to do/Always.” Ah, so sweet. I hope everyone experiences a love like this, for it makes all the difference. Then when “Two Shoulders” begins, it feels like a ray of light entering, a touch of warmth. There is something otherworldly, heavenly about it. Then the strumming on guitar feels like an earthly response to that warmth. And soon Jess Jocoy’s voice comes in: “How much weight can two shoulders take/I’m tired, but not ready to sleep.” Isn’t that a question many of us are asking? Life feels heavy these days. But her voice is comforting and beautiful. And before the end, she concludes, “I guess I’ll find out just how much weight two shoulders can really take.” That’s a way of urging us all to hold on and do our best. We’ll see, eh? That song is followed by “Waiting To Exhale,” which has a darker, intriguing sound at the beginning.  The line “I’m getting paid to tell you you’ll be all right” is so interesting, for it is obviously quite different from actually assuring the person she’ll be all right. This is a powerful song. The album concludes with “Common Kindness,” one I think everyone will relate to. “Times are hard enough as it is/Maybe one day we’ll find a way to let go and forgive.” Maybe, maybe. I remain hopeful.

CD Track List

  1. I Will Be Glad
  2. The One I’m Living For
  3. Living In A Dying Town
  4. The Gardener
  5. Jericho Walls
  6. Let There Be No Despair
  7. Always
  8. Two Shoulders
  9. Waiting To Exhale
  10. Common Kindness

Let There Be No Despair is scheduled to be released on May 20, 2022. After really getting into this album, I want to pick up copies of her earlier releases (the other full-length album and a couple of EPs).

Monday, May 16, 2022

Linda Hoover: “I Mean To Shine” (2022) CD Review

Linda Hoover recorded what was supposed to be her debut album, I Mean To Shine, back in 1970, when she was nineteen years old. But it wasn’t released, because of a disagreement over publishing rights. Fortunately, she kept a copy of the tape for herself, and that tape was restored and is now finally getting a release. Steely Dan fans in particular are going to find this album exciting, because that band, though still nearly two years away from officially forming, backs her on these tracks. Yes, Walter Becker plays bass and electric guitar, Donald Fagen is on keyboards, Denny Dias is on acoustic guitar, and Jeff Baxter is on electric guitar and steel guitar. Becker and Fagen also wrote many of the tracks, and did the arrangements. Joining them are Eric Weissberg on acoustic guitar, John Discepolo on drums, and Jerome Richardson on saxophone, along with members of The Dick Cavett Orchestra on strings, brass and woodwinds. In addition to the Becker and Fagen compositions, this album features covers of songs by Stephen Stills and The Band, as well as three original songs by Linda Hoover. And though Linda Hoover continued to perform after this record was shelved, and released a good album in 2018 titled Another World, it’s difficult to keep from wondering how her career would have progressed had this album been released in 1970.

The album opens with its title track, “I Mean To Shine,” one of the tracks written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. The year after this track was recorded, Barbra Steisand released her own version on Barbra Joan Streisand, with Donald Fagen playing on that recording as well. It should come as no surprise that Linda Hoover’s version is much better. I prefer her vocal work, and I love the brass. “This day I realized/The time we shared is gone/New seasons come and change/The ground we stood upon.” That’s followed by “Turn My Friend Away,” a pretty song that has a more stripped down sound, her voice at first supported by acoustic guitar. It then builds from there, but maintains that soft, gentle base. I love the way her voice rises at certain moments.

“Roaring Of The Lamb” is a song that will be familiar to Steely Dan fans, for it turned up on some compilations of early material. This is an excellent rendition, featuring some nice work on strings. “And the roaring of the lamb/Then revealed its awesome powers/And the minutes turned to hours/No one's the same.” That’s followed by “Roll Back The Meaning,” a song that Fagen and Becker had recorded for the soundtrack to You’ve Got To Walk It Like You Talk It Or You’ll Lose That Beat. Linda Hoover’s rendition has a good country vibe, and features some nice work on electric guitar and a catchy bass line. She delivers a strong vocal performance here, and provides her own harmonies. Also, check out that work on drums toward the end. This, for me, is one of the disc’s highlights.

Then we get the first of three songs written by Linda Hoover. Titled “Autumn,” this track features an excellent vocal performance, and is another of my personal favorites. It has more of a folk vibe, and features some wonderful guitar work by Eric Weissberg. “Then your head on my knees/Your sleepy eyes will remind me too/Of my love for you/In autumn.” Then she gives us “Jones,” another song that was composed by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. This one was also recorded by Thomas Jefferson Kaye, who included it on his 1974 record First Grade. Linda Hoover delivers a sweet rendition. “Now the only words I hear/Say my dreams will disappear/Or turn to clay/And either way/The days of alms have passed/There’s no more rainbows to be had.” Then Linda Hoover gives us “In A Station,” a song written by Richard Manuel, and included on The Band’s debut LP, Music From Big Pink. Linda Hoover’s rendition is fairly faithful to the original and features a pretty vocal performance. “Isn’t everybody dreaming/Then the voice I hear is real/Out of all the idle scheming/Can’t we have something to feel?

The second of the album’s songs written by Linda Hoover is “Mama Tears,” one of the album’s most moving tracks. “Mama, I‘m sorry/For your sorrow/I know you cry/I hear you now and then.” Her powerful, passionate vocal performance is what really sells this song, but she is also clearly a talented songwriter. That’s followed by “City Mug,” which has a cheerful, light energy and features some good work on guitar. It has a different vibe from the rest of the album’s tracks, but it’s enjoyable. Linda Hoover then puts her own spin on “4 + 20,” a song written by Stephen Stills, and included on the CSNY album Déjà Vu. This has a somewhat lighter vibe than the original, not as somber, filling out the sound. I particularly like the work on keys. There are also horns. But for that powerful last line, most of the instruments disappear to give it more focus. The album concludes with its final Linda Hoover composition, “The Dove,” this one in the folk realm and featuring a beautiful vocal performance.

CD Track List

  1. I Mean To Shine
  2. Turn My Friend Away
  3. Roaring Of The Lamb
  4. Roll Back The Meaning
  5. Autumn
  6. Jones
  7. In A Station
  8. Mama Tears
  9. City Mug
  10. 4 + 20
  11. The Dove

I Mean To Shine is scheduled to be released on CD on June 24, 2022 through Omnivore Recordings. There will also be a special vinyl release on June 18th, as part of the year’s second Record Store Day.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Markus Burger: “The Vienna Sessions” (2022) CD Review

Markus Burger is a pianist and composer born in Germany and now residing in southern California. In addition to his solo work, he is part of the duo Spiritual Standards and the trio Accidental Tourists, and also teaches at Fullerton College and San Diego State University. His newest release, The Vienna Sessions, features original compositions inspired by that city. These tracks were recorded in Vienna back in 2019, and Markus Burger performs them solo, on a Bösendorfer grand piano.

The album opens with “Daybreak.” When this track begins, it has a sense of magic about it, of possibilities. A sense of hope streaming in with the light. Ah, if daybreak always sounded like that, we’d all be thrilled to start each day. The piece then settles a bit, feeling more relaxed. It is like those extraordinary mornings when you are able to stay in bed even after the light has begun coming through the window, when you’re awake, but easing into the day, when time doesn’t intrude, when you can continue to cuddle with your partner. This is a pretty track, and a wonderful start to this album, for it puts us in a better frame of mind, a better place. “Daybreak” is followed by “Morning Mist,” which has a more curious opening, like tentative steps into a perhaps delicate or uncertain land. Ripples spread out from each step, the echoes of movement coming back to us. Then in contrast to that piece, “A Knight’s Tale” begins with a fuller sound, with warmer, stronger tones. And as it progresses, there are moments of a youthful cheer or excitement.

“Along The Creek” has a sense of solitude as it starts, but then we feel nature begin to surround us, for the music grows in power, while still remaining a rather solitary experience. It then eases out at the end. This is a short piece, just under two minutes in length. It is followed by “Café Mozart,” named after an actual coffee house that has existed in Vienna for an exceptionally long time. There is a sense of ease here, of being relaxed amid beauty. But there is also a sense of activity happening around, activity we can watch without getting caught up in it. As the piece slows toward the end, it feels like we are slowing, aging, remaining in place, but smiling as the world fades from our view. There is a warm, peaceful feel to “Harmonic Stroll,” which follows it, and as this track continues, there is joy and feeling of ability, of movement. It then grows calmer again toward the end, the movement slowing. Then “Cibelle’s Lullaby” has a somewhat solemn tone as it begins. There is a beauty here, and it does get lighter, but I can’t shake a feeling of something lost beneath it.

“Doom And Gloom” is a perfect title for these troubled times, when there are mass shootings every day, and when nuts on the right are turning more gleefully authoritarian. And yes, this piece does have a darker vibe. There is a sense of being on the edge. But it is a very short piece, so that feeling does not last. The mood certainly changes with the next track, titled “O Great Love.” There is a sense of almost being awed by beauty, of trying to take it all in and express it, getting pieces at a time. It feels a spiritual thing. Then “Fall Days” has warm tones of golds and reds, as we walk and take in the wonder of the day. Then we feel that the warmth is coming from within, not without, and in fact there might even be a bit of a chill in the air. But as long as we’re together, that sense of warmth, of peace will continue. This is one of my personal favorites.

“An Afternoon In Vienna” begins tentatively, its sound lonesome but gentle. It soon grows into something more welcoming and beautiful. There is motion around, but not a rush, not a frenzy, and we remain calm within the pulse of the city. This track then settles toward the end. It is followed by “Dulcimer,” which startles us with its different sound. This is a short piece, less than two minutes, and is followed by another short track, “Silent Lament,” which has a mournful, pensive vibe. Then “Renaissance Romance” is an interesting piece that begins slowly and then nearly halfway through becomes more insistent, more intense before easing back again. That’s followed by “Merry Gathering Before Walking Home,” which has warmth and passion. The album concludes with a piece titled “Rejoicing,” its sound being exactly what you’d hope for. This is a track to raise our spirits, to leave us in a happier, though still thoughtful, state.

CD Track List

  1. Daybreak
  2. Morning Mist
  3. A Knight’s Tale
  4. Along The Creek
  5. Café Mozart
  6. Harmonic Stroll
  7. Cibelle’s Lullaby
  8. Doom And Gloom
  9. O Great Love
  10. Fall Days
  11. An Afternoon In Vienna
  12. Dulcimer
  13. Silent Lament
  14. Renaissance Romance
  15. Merry Gathering Before Walking Home
  16. Rejoicing

The Vienna Sessions was released on February 4, 2022 on Challenge Records.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks 2022 Bonus Disc” (2022) CD Review

Each year that you subscribe to the Dave’s Picks series of Grateful Dead concert recordings, you get a bonus disc. This year’s bonus disc arrived with Dave’s Picks Volume 42. That volume contains the complete show the Grateful Dead performed at Winterland on February 23, 1974. The bonus disc contains selections from the previous night’s show, also at Winterland. The disc contains six songs from the first set, three from the second, and the encore.

It begins with the first set opener, “U.S. Blues.” Always a fun number, this song, and this just happens to be the first time the band played it. In 1973, an earlier version of this song, titled “Wave That Flag,” was introduced. That had different lyrics. The energy here is absolutely fantastic. “Call this song those U.S. Blues,” Jerry Garcia sings here. The sound gets weird right at the end, like most of the instruments suddenly become low in the mix, but this is such a good version anyway. The band introduced two other songs at this show, and those are included on this disc as well. But up next is a pretty good version of “Brown-Eyed Women,” which was the third song of the night. Nothing outstanding, but a fairly solid rendition. We then get the second new song of the show, “It Must Have Been The Roses.” Interestingly, this song is a little faster than later versions, but is still pretty. This song would find its way onto the Jerry Garcia solo album Reflections. At the show, “Roses” was followed by “Black-Throated Wind,” and so it is on this disc too. This is a seriously strong version, with Bob Weir really digging into it vocally. That’s followed by “Loose Lucy.” I love early versions of “Loose Lucy,” with the “Woo!” and Donna Jean Godchaux echoing “Round and round, round and round.” This was always a cool tune, but in 1973 and 1974 it was particularly delicious, and this is a groovy rendition, a highlight of the disc. A real good time, indeed!

The disc then goes to the final song of the first set, “Playing In The Band.” And as you might guess, this is another highlight. The energy is high right from its start, and even if you hadn’t glanced at the length of the track on the CD case, you’d probably guess this one was going to be a good ride. Jerry’s guitar is flying off into the upper reaches of the atmosphere as soon as the jam begins, while the rhythm keeps cooking beneath. And we are right with the band, eager to travel wherever the music might take us. After a while the guitar begins poking holes in the dark sky, and moves into “Slipknot!” territory, though that tune, as its own thing, was still more than a year in the future. By this point, the entire cosmos is swinging, galaxies and gods brought under the sway of this band’s energy and curiosity. This is what it’s all about. This is why we went as often as we could, and why we still listen. Things calm down a bit at one point, to focus on the beacon the band has lit, its message traveling into other realms, and being heard by whatever sentient creatures might reside there, and we get the sense they’re being pulled toward us. Or, rather, they and we are being pulled toward some center, and at that moment the center takes on a familiar form, as the band returns to the main thrust of the song. Donna welcomes all with that shout. Ah, the triumphant joy, when we find we’re all back together. Fantastic.

From there, the disc moves us to the middle of the second set for “Ship Of Fools,” also a new song at the time. This is the band’s first live performance of the song. It would, later in the year, be included on From The Mars Hotel. “And all that could not sink or swim/Was just left there to float.” This is a good, passionate version. That’s followed by “China Cat Sunflower,” which the audience reacts to the moment the band starts it. This is an excellent version of “China Cat,” particularly Jerry’s guitar, which seems to flow and fly and know just where to go. There is a good amount of joyful jamming before the band segues into “I Know You Rider.” And “Rider” is everything we want it to be. The disc then takes us to the show’s encore, “Uncle John’s Band.” It’s a cheerful rendition, a song to keep us smiling even after the music ends.

CD Track List

  1. U.S. Blues
  2. Brown-Eyed Women
  3. It Must Have Been The Roses
  4. Black-Throated Wind
  5. Loose Lucy
  6. Playing In The Band
  7. Ship Of Fools
  8. China Cat Sunflower >
  9. I Know You Rider
  10. Uncle John’s Band

Dave’s Picks 2022 Bonus Disc was released in early May. My copy arrived on May 5, 2022.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 42” (2022) CD Review

The new volume in the Dave’s Picks series of Grateful Dead concert recordings contains the complete show the Grateful Dead played on February 23, 1974 at Winterland in San Francisco. It is a good show, with some stellar playing in both sets. Highlights include fantastic versions of “Here Comes Sunshine,” “Weather Report Suite” and “The Other One.” There is a slight reordering of songs. The final two songs of the night are placed at the end of the second disc, rather than the end of the third disc in order to keep the flow of the second half of the second set intact. This is the middle show of a three-night run at Winterland, and those who bought a year’s subscription to Dave’s Picks also receive a bonus disc with this release, containing selections from the previous night’s show.

Disc 1

The first disc contains the complete first set. The band kicks things off with Chuck Berry’s “Around And Around,” a song generally used as a set closer. It’s like they wanted to set everything into high gear immediately. Sure, the song might be just a bit messy at moments, but no worries, the band is only getting started. And just listen to Bob Weir tearing into those vocals near the end. They follow that with “Dire Wolf.” For the first couple of lines, Jerry Garcia’s voice is a bit low in the mix, but that is soon fixed. This version feels just a little show, but is still quite good. Bob then delivers a sweet rendition of “Me And Bobby McGee.” His vocal microphone seems to be having some trouble, but Jerry’s guitar sounds great. There are some odd vocal issues at the beginning of “Sugaree” too, but this song is where things start getting really good. Phil Lesh’s bass has a dominant presence at moments, and he is delivering some excellent stuff. I love how this version suddenly gets mellow, only so it has more room to build again, which it soon does. Oh yes, the magic is starting to happen.

Bob then leads the band into a peppy, popping rendition of “Mexicali Blues,” with some surprising touches on guitar. Everything is working now, and the band is cooking along. Who would expect “Mexicali” to be a first set highlight? But it is. And it’s followed by another fantastic performance, “Here Comes Sunshine.” The Dead stopped playing this song after this show, and wouldn’t play it again for more than eighteen years. Listening to this version, you have to wonder why. Did they think they couldn’t top it after this night’s performance and decided to just let it rest? Maybe, because everything is flowing so well here. That jam is excellent, showing this song’s great potential. If this isn’t the band’s best performance of this song, it is certainly among the top two or three.

Bob Weir gets things rocking with a fun version of “Beat It On Down The Line.” Is that eleven or twelve beats at the beginning? This is such a joyous rendition. And then listen to Jerry’s beautiful vocal delivery at the beginning of “Ship Of Fools.” His vocal performance helps to make this yet another highlight of the first set. It is a passionate and wonderful rendition. That’s followed by “Jack Straw,” a song that would often come at or near the beginning of the set. This is a largely gentle, pretty version. A fun “Deal” follows, featuring some nice work on keys. And then Bobby delivers the second Chuck Berry song of the set, an energetic “Promised Land.” You might think things would end there, but they go straight into “Bertha,” keeping the energy high. But even that isn’t the end of the set. From there, they go straight into “Greatest Story Ever Told,” and that song ends up being the set closer. Donna Jean Godchaux really cuts loose toward the end there, and there is a lot of good work on guitar. A pretty damn good first set.

Disc 2

The second disc contains the first half of the second set, plus the last two songs of the encore (yeah, a three-song encore that night). While they wrapped up the first set with several high-energy songs, they actually open the second set in a mellow place, beginning with “Row Jimmy.” “Gonna get there, I don’t know/Seems a common way to go.” Bob keeps things in a mellow mood as he eases into “Weather Report Suite.” By the time I was seeing the Dead, the band had dropped the first two parts of this piece, and was only performing “Let It Grow.” It’s so good to hear the entire thing here, especially that pretty instrumental “Prelude.” This is a really good rendition, and the “Let It Grow” section becomes powerful at just the right moments, and includes a strong jam, the guitar flowing like a jazzy rain aiming to refresh whatever it lands on. The band has reached that magical level where they seem most at home, and everything is moving at a good pace, dancing across the terrain. This track is certainly a highlight of the second disc, and it eases into one of my favorite songs, “Stella Blue.” “In the end, there’s just a song.” Ah yes, and the Dead can take us right up to that moment, give us a glimpse of the end and make us smile at it, and make it smile at us, so later, perhaps, we won’t be afraid, we’ll be ready. “There’s nothing you can hold for very long.” It ends gently.

After a pause, Bob gets things moving with a cover of “Big River.” I love when Keith Godchaux rocks that piano. They follow that with a good version of “Ramble On Rose” that finds Jerry in high spirits, particularly vocally. Then Bob leads the group into “Me And My Uncle.” We hear a bit of the beginning of “He’s Gone,” just a tease to let folks know the order of things. That soon fades out. Then the last two songs of the second disc are the final two songs of the night, beginning with “Johnny B. Goode.” Three Chuck Berry songs in one night? You Bet! And this version has a tremendous amount of energy. This disc concludes with “And We Bid You Goodnight.” A sweet ending to a great show.

Disc 3

The third disc contains the rest of the second set and the first song of the encore. It picks up with “He’s Gone,” and as you might guess, this is where things really start to take off. “Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.” The jam has an easygoing vibe and still totally shines, leading to “Going where the wind don’t blow so strange.” Ah, where is that place? For we’d all like to go there right about now. But it is that vocal jam that really stands out. Fantastic stuff. They then get into something that starts to get bluesy, but then explodes into “Truckin’.” And that groove carries us pretty far, up over the hills, through the mountains, with hardly a moment to reflect on what’s transpired. And I love that moment when it bursts up through the trees and clouds and light itself, cutting a path to another realm. And once there, it’s time to explore, of course. Moments into that, Bill Kreutzmann creates a path of his own on drums, giving ethereal spirits a corporeal form with which to dance. And suddenly “The Other One” winds its way up through the ground and smashes through, fire igniting in the cracks, and all those seeking its warmth engage in a tribal dance, man and monster and even myth, all coming to life, spinning, swirling, morphing into different versions of each other, and then relaxing, perhaps even sinking. But just before we slip beneath the surface ourselves, the music snatches our hand, pulls us up for the next step or phase, which soon turns out to be a more delicate place. Our steps our tentative, but then it is like we are not stepping at all. Instead, things are moving around us, patches of light, flying reptiles, mouths full of teeth, a sharp breeze. Phil’s bass comes barreling upon us, a force that pushes its way in, then pauses, as if to see where it’s drive has gotten it. And what pretty thing creeps in on the air? And are there hints of “Slipknot!” contained in this jam, or has my imagination taken over part of this experience? No matter, for things have moved back to the main body of the song, a great pounding creature of impressive dimensions. And once it is all there, we get the first verse of the song. 

Soon after that, the song drifts off, and “Eyes Of The World” emerges, with that groove that always makes me happy. This song feels like a vast field of electric flowers and warm light from a bright blue sky. A song to make us feel good, with a groove to get us dancing. The song itself seems to dance. And this is 1974, so “Eyes” has that extra section toward the end of the jam. After a moment, the band launches into “One More Saturday Night” to conclude the set. It was Saturday, after all.  It’s an energetic rendition. The third disc ends with the first song of the encore, a good version of “Casey Jones” that begins in a rather relaxed fashion, but builds and builds in energy toward the end.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. Around And Around
  2. Dire Wolf
  3. Me And Bobby McGee
  4. Sugaree
  5. Mexicali Blues
  6. Here Comes Sunshine
  7. Beat It On Down The Line
  8. Ship Of Fools
  9. Jack Straw
  10. Deal
  11. Promised Land >
  12. Bertha >
  13. Greatest Story Ever Told

Disc 2

  1. Row Jimmy
  2. Weather Report Suite >
  3. Stella Blue
  4. Big River
  5. Ramble On Rose
  6. Me And My Uncle
  7. Johnny B. Goode >
  8. And We Bid Goodnight

Disc 3

  1. He’s Gone >
  2. Truckin’ >
  3. Drums >
  4. The Other One >
  5. Eyes Of The World
  6. One More Saturday Night
  7. Casey Jones

Dave’s Picks Volume 42 was released in early May. My copy arrived on May 5, 2022. This release is limited to 25,000 copies. My copy is number 928.

Americana Railroad (2021/2022) CD Review

I used to love making mix tapes, and then mix CDs, sometimes organizing songs by subject. One subject that has inspired an incredible amount of excellent folk songs, as well as country and blues, is the railroad. I imagine anyone could list a good twenty or thirty train songs off the top of his or her head. Well, Americana Railroad is basically a fantastic mix CD of train songs, a compilation of both traditional and more modern material, performed by some of today’s best artists. Folks like Peter Case, Dave Alvin, John Fogerty, and Alice Howe perform on this disc. Many of these songs you undoubtedly know, but some might be new to you.

The album kicks off with “Here Comes That Train Again,” a lively number written by Stephen McCarthy, and performed by Stephen McCarthy and Carla Olson. You likely know Stephen McCarthy from his work in bands like The Long Ryders and The Jayhawks. Carla Olson has worked with a large number of artists, and also has a solo career. She also produced this album. There is a Byrds influence heard on this track. “But I hope to see/One day that train’s coming back to me.” Paul Marshall, from I See Hawks In L.A., plays bass on this track. And speaking of I See Hawks In L.A., the album’s second track is from Robert Rex Waller, Jr., that group’s lead vocalist. It’s a cover of Rank And File’s “The Conductor Wore Black,” which was written by Chip Kinman and Tony Kinman, and originally included on the band’s 1982 debut LP, Sundown. Chip Kinman plays guitar on this new version, and Paul Marshall is on bass. It’s another lively country song featuring some really nice work on guitar. And Rick Hemmert’s drum work toward the end feels like a train chugging along the tracks.

“Mystery Train” is a song that has been covered by a lot of artists over the years. I think the first version I heard was by Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders. I’ve heard it done as folk, country, blues, rock, and it just always work. There are two versions of “Mystery Train” on this album. The first is by Rocky Burnette, and it features some great stuff by Mickey Raphael on harmonica. And again, that rhythm seems to recreate the movement of a train. Rick Hemmert is on drums, and Paul Marshall is on bass. There is also some delicious work by Garry Goldberg on piano. It is a fun rendition. Then Peter Case, a fantastic songwriter himself, here covers the traditional gospel number, “This Train.” In addition to vocals and guitar, he delivers some good work on harmonica. Jesse DeNatale joins him on backing vocals. This is a really nice rendition.

John Fogerty covers “City Of New Orleans,” which is Steve Goodman’s most famous song, though most folks know it mainly because of Arlo Guthrie’s rendition. John Fogerty adds a playful introduction, saying “Well, good morning, America, how are ya?” This track is a family affair, with Shane Fogerty on vocals and guitar, Tyler Fogerty on bass and vocals, and Kelsey Fogerty on guitar. Mickey Raphael joins them on harmonica. This is an excellent, low-key rendition; John Fogerty doesn’t give it anything that isn’t needed. Dustbowl Revival then delivers a fun, cheerful rendition of “Marrakesh Express,” written by Graham Nash and originally included on the debut LP from CSN. I like that work from the horn section, which at one point near the end acts like a train whistle, which is just wonderful. Matt Rubin is on trumpet and Ulf Bjorlin is on trombone. And then just before the end, there is a cool percussion section.

Kai Clark gives us a great rendition of his father’s “Train Leaves Here This Mornin’,” this track featuring some good work by Byron Berline on fiddle and by Kevin Post on pedal steel. Kai’s wife, Amber Clark, provides some backing vocals. This track was originally included on Kai Clark’s Silver Raven, released in 2020. That’s followed by Gary Myrick’s rendition of “Train Kept A-Rollin’.” The first version I ever heard of this song was that by Aerosmith, a band I couldn’t get enough of when I was a kid. It was on the second Aerosmith cassette I ever bought, Get Your Wings (Greatest Hits was the first Aerosmith purchase I made). This version by Gary Myrick seriously rocks as well, and features some great stuff on guitar.

Bill Morrissey is someone I used to see and listen to quite frequently in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Massachusetts, and then I kind of lost track of him and somehow had no idea of his connection with Dave Alvin. Well, on this disc Dave Alvin plays “Southwest Chief,” a song credited to the two of them. It’s one of my favorite tracks. I just love to hear Dave Alvin sing. “Folks that I’ve known and loved keep crossing my mind/As the train keeps rolling, making up lost time/And I’m remembering my dear friend, Bill Morrissey/We were going to write a song, but it never came to be.” So, wait, did they write it together or not? Well, either way, it’s a great song. Johnny Lee Schell plays guitar, Paul Marshall plays bass, and Ben Lecourt is on drums. There is some beautiful playing on this track. That’s followed by Alice Howe’s rendition of “500 Miles.” This is a song I heard a lot growing up. My parents often played Peter, Paul & Mary records, and this song was on at least a few of them. Alice Howe delivers a gorgeous rendition. She is backed by some talented musicians, including Dave Pearlman on pedal steel, Daniel Friedberg (known as Freebo) on bass and acoustic guitar, Jeff Fielder on electric guitar, and John Molo on drums. That is a ridiculous amount of talent to fit onto a single track.

Deborah Poppink  delivers an interesting and unusual rendition of “People Get Ready.” I don’t think this song would have occurred to me when making a train compilation, but of course it fits. This version features some excellent vocal work, both by Deborah Poppink and Brad Jones. And is that a kalimba we hear halfway through? Why, yes, it is. Deborah Poppink plays kalimba, banjo and piano on this track. That’s followed by “Steel Pony Blues,” another of the disc’s highlights, with just guitar and harmonica supporting the vocals. And there is a nice extended instrumental section in the middle. This is an original song written by Dom Flemons, but sounding like a traditional number. A different version of this song was included on his 2018 album Black Cowboys. John York (who was briefly a member of The Byrds) covers John Stewart’s “Runaway Train,” this version featuring some nice work by Marty Rifkin on pedal steel. Then we get a delicious rendition of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Waiting For A Train,” a song about being poor and trying to hop a train to get home. This recording is by Paul Burch on vocals and guitar, and Fats Kaplin on dobro. I especially love that work on dobro.

No train compilation would be complete without Elizabeth Cotten’s “Freight Train.” Here we have a beautiful rendition by AJ Haynes, sounding almost like a lullaby and featuring some incredible vocal work. This is one of the album’s best tracks. You might know AJ Haynes from her work in the band Seratones. Fellow Seratones member Travis Stewart plays bass on this track, and Josiah Ramblin is on guitar. I heard the story of how Elizabeth wrote this song while still in her childhood from Fur Dixon & Steve Werner, when they used to cover it occasionally. By the way, in the liner notes, Elizabeth Cotten’s name is misspelled as “Cotton.” Then we get into a heavier blues rock sound with a cover of Procol Harum’s “Whisky Train” (here listed as “Whiskey Train”), a song written by Keith Reid and Robin Trower, and included on the band’s 1970 album Home. Here it is performed by Carla Olson & Brian Ray, and they deliver a strong, lively, and fairly faithful rendition.

The disc’s second rendition of “Mystery Train” is by James Intveld. The two versions show how different approaches to the song can succeed equally well. This one is a bit slower and features some good work by Barry Goldberg on organ (he plays piano on the first version). Paul Marshall plays bass on both versions, delivering a different bass line on each one, and Rick Hemmert plays drums on both versions, delivering a different beat. Interestingly, James Intveld plays guitar on both versions. So, essentially the same group delivers two very different versions, both of which are wonderful. Then we are treated to a second vocal performance by Hawks front man Robert Rex Waller Jr., this time on “Midnight Rail,” a song written by Steve Young. I’ve mentioned this before, but Rob Waller has one of the best voices in music, and this track really gives you a sense of where he’s coming from and what he’s capable of. It is yet another of this disc’s highlights. Fellow Hawks member Paul Marshall plays bass on this track, and Todd Wolfe is on slide guitar. Carla Olson plays guitar, and Rick Hemmert is on drums. This fantastic disc wraps up with “I Remember The Railroad,” the album’s second Gene Clark song, this one performed by Stephen McCarthy & Carla Olson. They opened the album, and they close it as well. This track has a sweet vibe, and includes some really nice work by Jesse Owen Wells on fiddle. I also love Stephen McCarthy’s work on mandolin.

CD Track List

  1. Here Comes That Train Again – Stephen McCarthy & Carla Olson
  2. The Conductor Wore Black – Robert Rex Waller Jr
  3. Mystery Train – Rocky Burnette
  4. This Train – Peter Case
  5. City Of New Orleans – John Forgerty
  6. Marrakesh Express – Dustbowl Revival
  7. Train Leaves Here This Mornin’ – Kai Clark
  8. Train Kept A-Rollin’ – Gary Myrick
  9. Southwest Chief – Dave Alvin
  10. 500 Miles – Alice Howe
  11. People Get Ready – Deborah Poppink
  12. Steel Pony Blues – Don Flemons
  13. Runaway Train – John York
  14. Waiting For A Train – Paul Burch & Fats Kaplin
  15. Freight Train – AJ Haynes
  16. Whiskey Train – Carla Olson & Brian Ray
  17. Mystery Train – James Intveld
  18. Midnight Rail – Robert Rex Waller, Jr.
  19. I Remember The Railroad – Stephen McCarthy & Carla Olson

Americana Railroad is scheduled to be released on CD on June 17, 2022. It was also released on vinyl as a limited edition double album on the Black Friday version of Record Store Day last year.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Michele Thomas: “The Assumption” (2022) CD Review

Since the 2016 election, this country has been quickly sliding backward into troubles we’d hoped were firmly in the past. Things are bad for anyone with a soul, but particularly for women, as was made perfectly clear this week when a terrible Supreme Court decision was leaked to the press. Are decades of progress going to be wiped out by a court deliberately stacked with right-wing nuts? It looks like it. And though most people are exhausted after four years of a racist regime and two years of a pandemic, we are going to have to enter the fray once more. It’s a good thing we have music on our side. Michele Thomas is a soulful jazz vocalist and songwriter based in Chicago. On her new album, The Assumption, she offers a good selection of covers, as well as some excellent original material that reaches out to us in these troubled times, dealing with racism and loss. The first line she sings on her new album sets the tone, “I ain’t gonna let nobody mess with my soul no more, no more.” A joyful defiance is just what is needed these days, and that is exactly what we hear in her voice. In addition to the vocals, Michele Thomas plays keyboards and percussion. Joining her on this release are Clark Summers on bass, Chris Mahieu on piano and organ, Neil Alger on guitar, and Darren Scorza on drums and keyboards, along with a few guests on various tracks.

The album opens with “No More,” which was written by Hubert Laws and Jon Hendricks, and included on Jon Hendricks’ Tell Me The Truth LP (it was also earlier released as a single). This track has a delicious groove, with some nice work from the brass section of Jeff Hedberg on trumpet and Chris Greene on saxophone. But perhaps most importantly, its lyrics feel empowering, which folks are going to need in the coming days and weeks: “I ain’t gonna be the kind that won’t make a scene no more, no more.” Michele Thomas delivers a passionate vocal performance. This track also features some good work on both keys and guitar. That’s followed by a cover of “Love Dance,” a more relaxed, romantic number written by Ivan Lins, Gilson Peranzzetta and Vitor Martins. I really like what Michele Thomas does with this song. There is a soulful presence guiding the track’s progress. I also like the loose feel on the drums. And there is a good lead on guitar followed by a wonderful piano lead. Both the guitar and piano leads have a sense of freedom, of being relaxed and letting the music flow naturally.

Then we get into the original material, beginning with “I Know Because You Told Me So,” which Michele Thomas wrote with Damian Espinosa. This one finds her in a more cheerful mood, which we hear in the scat at the beginning of the track. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Maybe I’m dumb and blind/Of the lines between the acts of true self-love or self-adulation/Too long on the other side of that wall/I’ve been in my chamber of self-depreciation.” It feels designed to raise our spirits. Her spirits too seem to have been raised, for she even laughs at one point toward the end. Jeff Hedberg and Chris Greene return on trumpet and saxophone respectively. That’s followed by “These Days,” another original composition. As this one begins, there is some chatter, like we’ve entered a room that is busy with activity. That soon fades as the song begins. Was that a memory? Are those people gone? “And realize these days are so much shorter/Since you’ve been gone/But I’m standing much taller/Than I had before/Who knew that your shoulders stayed beneath my feet all along.” It is a song of gentle perseverance.

“Plot And Stone” is another original song, this one also dealing with loss, but an older loss. It begins at a cemetery, then takes us back into memory. “I remember from the armchair of the living room/You bellowed your decree/The final act of a dying man/Letting go of what couldn’t be/Feeble, angry words filled the room from wall to wall.” And check out these lines: “Now I can’t find you here/It’s just a plot and stone/But even though you’ve gone away/You couldn’t leave me alone.” The idea of standing at a grave site and not being able to find the person is heartbreaking, but we also begin to wonder about the relationship and the pain of the past. It is a strong and moving vocal performance, and when it seems she needs to pause to collect herself, the guitar takes over, speaking for her, or perhaps to her. That’s followed by “Dark,” one of the strongest, most powerful tracks. It features a phenomenal vocal performance and excellent lyrics, addressing racism. “You don’t understand the dark/Because of your greed for the light/But you’re blind to the light/Because your heart is so cold.”  

Michele Thomas begins her rendition of “Spiral” with some scat. This is a tune written by John Coltrane, with lyrics added by Michele Thomas. This track provides a chance for the musicians to shine in that great instrumental section. There is even a good lead on bass. That’s followed by a gorgeous cover of “Autumn Nocturne,” taking us back to a different time, a more romantic time. “Still I’ll remember last September/You and I said goodbye/Whispering that we would be returning when/Autumn comes again.” There are some strikingly beautiful moments. Close your eyes and find yourself in a different time. Then “I Carry” is a song written by Damian Espinosa, adapted from a poem by E.E. Cummings. It features Chris Greene on saxophone and David Youngs on backing vocals.

Michele Thomas turns playful with a good rendition of “Nobody Else But Me” that gently swings. “I have my faults/He likes my faults.” Those lines always make me laugh. She delivers a bit of scat in the second half. This track also features an excellent lead on guitar. The album concludes with a cover of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” written by Steve Winwood. The first time I heard this song, back when I was a kid, I thought it was kind of funny, the idea of a guy who is so wasted that he can’t find his way home. But over the years, this song has become sadder and sadder to me, and I get the sense this person might never find his or her way home, that it’s more a permanent state than a temporary one, that in fact, that home may no longer be there for him anyway. This rendition has a lively rhythm and features some wonderful work on guitar.

CD Track List

  1. No More
  2. Love dance
  3. I Know Because You Told Me So
  4. These Days
  5. Plot And Stone
  6. Dark
  7. Spiral
  8. Autumn Nocturne
  9. I Carry
  10. Nobody Else But Me
  11. Can’t Find My Way Home

The Assumption was released on March 25, 2022.