Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Leon Rosselson: "Harry's Gone Fishing" (2000) CD Review

Harry's Gone Fishing, Leon Rosselson's 2000 release, opens with the lines, "They ask me if I think that I can change things singing songs/Am I propagating messages, protesting against wrongs?"

Right away, this singer/songwriter is posing the question, Can music change things? Can it effect true change? And should it? Or is the song itself the goal as well as the process? And what is the purpose of the songwriter anyway? It may seem a bit of a heavy way to start an album. But this album is no trivial bit of fluff. It will get you thinking, and that's a good thing.

But of course any folk musician or writer who tackles social issues and such had better have a sense of humor. Because otherwise folk albums can be dreadfully dull and heavy-handed. Fortunately Leon Rosselson has a fantastic sense of humor, and it comes across in even the most serious of songs.

All but one song are originals.

"It's Just A Song"

The opening track, "It's Just A Song," is a strange mix of humor and gravity. It's funny and yet earnest, even beautiful. The keyboard and backing vocals add a beauty to it, greatly changing the tone during those sections. It's a self-aware song about writing songs, about what music can actually accomplish - a singer singing the purpose of singing. And yes, it could get self-indulgent, but manages to avoid that. And though it opens with the question about changing things through song, a few lines later he answers, "As for preaching and converting, that's not what songs should do."

"Harry's Gone Fishing"

"Harry's Gone Fishing," the album's title track, creates a great character and a strange longing. The setting of this song is a place that's gone wrong. And the folks there look to the past as a better place. And they look to Harry, a personified version of the can-do spirit, which is sadly in the past.

Leon sings, "And he said, Harry could have done it/Cos he could put right every wrong/He could turn sighs into silence/He could turn silence into song/He could turn frowns into laughter/He could turn lost into found." But it has a positive spin toward the end, at the line, "And the banners they were waving said Harry Lives On." And because Harry is of the past, and not adequately identified, the great character of this song is the present community rather than that person.


In the short introduction to this song in the CD's liner notes, Leon Rosselson says, "I don't know why mercenaries so often get a bad press. After all, they're only doing what everybody else is doing - selling their skills in the market place."

This song features the following lines: "Now they say that it's fine if you fight for your country/For right against wrong - well that's shite/War's war and it's nasty, my aim's to survive/At the end of the day, if I come back alive/That's how I'll know that I'm in the right." This is a pretty amazing song. What I love is it's not a song about Them - you know, those bastards we can all hate. It's about Us - you know, the bastards we're actually responsible for.

"Money Matters"

I love the title "Money Matters," for is "matters" a verb or noun? Yes. For the song is about money matters, and shows how money matters.

Here is a bit from the song's third verse: "Artist, anarchist and joker Pierre Manzoni thought it smart/To lay his well-formed turds in cans to show his scorn for bourgeois art/Now his turds are in demand and each can sells for twenty grand." Those lines are funny, but they raise one of those eternal questions about an artistic statement. As soon as it becomes known and popular, which is the goal (because you want to reach people), the original message is then lost and becomes simply another part of pop culture, and (even worse) goes from the hands of the people to the vaults of the rich. How can that be avoided?

By the way, Piero Manzoni (I'm not sure why he's referred to as Pierre rather than Piero in the song) made ninety of those cans in 1961. And recently one sold for $80,000.

This song can be horrible and yet funny simultaneously. You feel a bit gross laughing at lines like, "Healthy organs fetch a packet when it is a sellers' market." It's great how Leon Rosselson can do that.

"Bad Driver"

This one is truly played for comedy. What I find odd is that a song called "Bad Driver" is about a man, not a woman. But maybe I'm just kidding myself, because I can see myself in a couple of these lines ("And he's cursing all the cars that are holding him up cos they shouldn't be allowed on the road"). You'll probably recognize yourself too. Enjoy.

"Child Killers"

"Child Killers" isn't about adults who kill children; it's about children who are killers. Think Columbine. It's sung from the perspective of one of these children. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "They teased and taunted so they had to pay for it/They didn't know there was this other me/I held the gun the way they'd always taught me to/I was this other boy, the one they couldn't see/And this was something he just had to do." I love that he distances himself from his own act, suddenly retreating to the third person.

"You Noble Diggers All"

"You Noble Diggers All" is the album's only cover, written by Gerrard Winstanley. This recording is from the 1979 record, If I Knew Who The Enemy Was, an album put out by Roy Bailey and Leon Rosselson. (On that recording, it was titled "The Diggers' Song.")

The Diggers were a reform group started by Gerrard Winstanley in the mid-1600s in England. This group was an influence on the San Francisco Diggers of the 1960s.


Harry's Gone Fishing concludes with a humorous song, which is again (at least partially) about being a songwriter. It ends with these lines: "I've been writing songs for over 35 years but I don't seem to have got very far/I've never been nominated for a Nobel Prize and I can't say I'm a superstar/But thanks all the same for listening to me and my guitar/I'd've sung you all upbeat feel-good songs but you know how things are/You know how things are." And wonderfully, he laughs just before the last line. This song features Leon on guitar and vocals, with no other musicians.

CD Track List
  1. It's Just A Song
  2. Harry's Gone Fishing
  3. Mercenaries
  4. She Came From Out Of Nowhere
  5. Postcards From Cuba
  6. Money Matters
  7. Bad Driver
  8. Child Killers
  9. Sun
  10. You Noble Diggers All
  11. Encore


Musicians appearing on this album include Leon Rosselson on vocals and guitar, Martin Carthy on guitar and backing vocals, Robb Johnson on guitar, Fiz Shapur on keyboards, Mark Bassey on trombone, Paul Jayasinha on trumpet, Clare Lintott on French horn, Ruth Rosselson on flute and backing vocals, Liz Mansfield on backing vocals, Roy Bailey on vocals and Sue Harris on vocals.

Harry's Gone Fishing was released on September 12, 2000 on Gadfly Records.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Spongetones: "Odd Fellows" (2000) CD Review

The Spongetones are a pop band that formed in 1979 in North Carolina. They've been releasing power pop records since the early 1980s, and their music is clearly influenced by The Beatles. This band is best when doing a sort of 1960s pop thing, and weakest when straying slightly into harder rock (like on the album's last track). Odd Fellows followed five years after their previous studio release, Textural Drone Thing. Most of the songs on this release are originals, the one exception being "On The Wings Of A Nightingale," which was written by Paul McCartney and originally recorded by The Everly Brothers.

"You'll Come Runnin' Back"

Odd Fellows opens with "You'll Come Runnin' Back," which has something of a 1960s pop feel, but also with folk elements, most obviously the inclusion of harmonica. The best bit is that guitar part that follows the line, "You'll come running back." It's totally catchy, and breaks up the pop feel just long enough to be interesting without completely changing the tone of the song.

This is a good opening track. It was written by Jamie Hoover. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "A shiver crawls through me til I realize/This misery's part of an act/You've said it's over, but darlin' I know/You'll come runnin' back."

"Boy Meets Girl"

"Boy Meets Girl" also has a definite 1960s pop feel. It's fun, harmless music (and isn't that what pop does best). These lines caught me off guard, and made me chuckle: "Girl meets boy, happens all the time/Girl meets boy, I can make it rhyme." I love that it acknowledges the commonness of the song's theme, and yet simultaneously has a bit of silly boasting. I totally appreciate that levity.

Paul McCartney

As noted, "On The Wings Of A Nightingale," the album's sole cover song, was written by Paul McCartney. It's ridiculously positive and boppy. It features lines like, "And if you like, we'll fly together to the land of eternal sun/On the wings of a nightingale of love." This song was a minor hit for The Everly Brothers (it reached #50 on the U.S. chart, and #41 in the U.K.). It was included on their 1984 release, EB 84 (Paul McCartney recorded a demo of it, but did not officially release it.)

The following track, "Dark Brown Eyes," really sounds reminiscent of Paul McCartney, particularly in the vocal line. It sounds even more like McCartney than the song that Paul actually wrote. It has those pleasant, sweet tones that sound so innocent and young.

"March Of The Creaming Beezers"

"March Of The Creaming Beezers" is an instrumental track that begins with a march rhythm on the snare drum. The song fades in, and builds, with new parts being added to it (even a nice whistling). What's surprising is the track's beauty. Something in the repetition becomes soothing, even joyous. I found myself really loving this song; it might actually be my favorite track. That's Greg James on the snare drum. (By the way, "beezer" is British slang for "chap." It also means "nose.")

"Eyedoan Geddit"

"Eyedoan Geddit" is a weaker rock song that feels a bit messy at times. But what I dislike the most is its title. "Eyedoan Geddit" is not funny or clever.


Someday I'm going to make a mix CD containing only songs titled "Home." There are some really good ones, like those by The Evangenitals and Ellis Paul. The Spongetones also have a tune titled "Home." While it doesn't quite stack up against the Ellis Paul song, for example, there is a verse I particularly like: "Each day's another page written in ink/Another footnote appears in the link to a/Place I can go to fill in the blank/Each line is written inside of a novel called home." But this song also has the line, "It's a cliche, but there's no place like home." If you acknowledge a line as a cliche, does that make it okay to use it? I'm not sure.


"Nightsong" is one of the album's best tracks. I really like its rhythm, and the way the vocal line works in conjunction with it. But it's the instrumental sections that really make the song a highlight for me. "Nightsong" was written by Steve Stoeckel.

"Love Song To Mrs. Parker"

Okay, I really like this line: "Wearing her heart just like a stain/On a velvet gown." The song is worth listening to for that line alone.

"Much Too Slow"

"Much Too Slow" starts like a hard rock song. This band is weakest when straying into that territory. They can't quite make it work. There is a certain charm in their 1960s pop melodies, but they lose that when attempting straight rock.

CD Track List

  1. You'll Come Runnin' Back
  2. Boy Meets Girl
  3. On The Wings Of A Nightingale
  4. Dark Brown Eyes
  5. March Of The Creaming Beezers
  6. Eyedoan Geddit
  7. Too Much Talk
  8. Black & White (First Thoughts...)
  9. Home
  10. Nightsong
  11. Love Song To Mrs. Parker
  12. Much Too Slow


The Spongetones are Jamie Hoover on guitar, bass, vocals, drums and percussion; Steve Stoeckel on bass, guitars and vocals; Rob Thorne on drums and percussion; and Patrick Walters on guitar, keyboard and vocals.

Odd Fellows was released on June 20, 2000 through Gadfly Records.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Breakaway: "Hold With Hope" (2000) CD Review

Vermont-based bluegrass band Breakaway's 2000 release, Hold With Hope, is a good mix of covers and original tunes.

The album features excellent vocals. And these guys are damn good musicians who can draw you in with the slower songs and impress you with the obligatory displays of manic joy that are an inherent (and delicious) part of bluegrass music, mostly in the instrumentals.

"Pastures Of Plenty"

Breakaway opens this album with "Pastures Of Plenty," a Woody Guthrie tune. You can never go wrong opening with a Woody Guthrie cover. And yes, it's true that Woody Guthrie was a folk musician, not a bluegrass player, but there is nothing wrong with taking a song from another genre and playing the heck out of it bluegrass-style. (Think of the many songs that Yonder Mountain String Band has covered over the years, like Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train.")

I really like Breakaway's rendition of this song. Scott Hopkins stands out on banjo. And Paul Miller does a good job on vocals (of course, you have to keep Woody Guthrie's unique voice out of mind while listening to it). All in all, it's a good, energetic start to the album.

"Water's So Cold"

"Water's So Cold," written by Harlan Howard, is sweet, slow, beautiful. The vocals blend perfectly. I love it when the voice sounds so pretty while the words themselves are sad or even harsh; after all, this is a song about drowning, and the implication is that it's also a suicide. The vocals are beautiful on the line, "The water's so cold, as cold as your heart." But my favorite lines are these: "I offered my hand and I offered my name/She said you're a child, she put me to shame/If she saw me now she'd have to agree/No child could swim this far out to sea." Pete Riley sings lead on this one, and I really like his voice.


"Snowshoe" is an instrumental written by banjo player Scott Hopkins. And the banjo drives a good section of this song. But this is bluegrass, and no instrument is allowed to remain dominant for long, so the others get a chance at lead. This is definitely a tune to brighten one's spirits. It might not get you dancing, but it will certainly make you smile.

"Darkness, Darkness"

Breakaway does a beautiful instrumental rendition of The Youngbloods' "Darkness, Darkness." This song starts off nice and slow, to pull you in. Forget trying to accomplish some other task while this song is on. Just sit down and listen. When it has you, it picks up a bit in pace, and of course loses nothing of its beauty. Gene White, Jr.'s work on fiddle is wonderful, acting like an earnest human voice, toward the end sounding like a beautiful woman calling to you from a hilltop. This is one of my favorite tracks.

"Old, Old House"

"Old, Old House" is a wonderful, sad song written by George Jones and Hal Bynum. I love these lyrics: "They say he built the mansion because of a woman/And they planned to be married in the fall/But her love withered in the last days of summer/And the house stands empty after all."

"One Time, One Night"

Breakaway does a bluegrass version of "One Time, One Night," a Los Lobos song. And it totally works, not being too much of a stretch from the original version, which had a definite country feel. "One Time, One Night" was the opening track of their 1987 release, By The Light Of The Moon. Los Lobos are a phenomenal band, and Breakaway does a really good job with this song. Peter Riley, Paul Miller and Taylor Armerding take turns at lead vocals.

"Chenango County Blues"

"Chenango County Blues" is a fun instrumental written by Scott Hopkins. This is the kind of song that most people are thinking of when they think bluegrass. I love the fiddle section on this one.

"Hold With Hope"

Hold With Hope concludes with its title track, a song written by bass player Peter Riley. It's a positive song, marred for me only by its religious sentiment ("Trust in Him and you'll find the way").

CD Track List

  1. Pastures Of Plenty
  2. Water's So Cold
  3. Snowshoe
  4. Can't Stop A Train
  5. Darkness, Darkness
  6. Old, Old House
  7. One Time, One Night
  8. Chenango County Blues
  9. Long, Long Dream
  10. Faded Prints (Of Country Living)
  11. Sophronie
  12. Hold With Hope


Breakaway is Scott Hopkins on banjo and harmony vocals, Paul Miller on guitar and vocals, Peter Riley on bass and vocals, and Gene White Jr. on fiddle and mandolin. Joining them on this recording are Taylor Armerding on mandolin and vocals, and Junior Barber on resophonic guitar.

Hold With Hope was released July 25, 2000 through Gadfly Records.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Best Concerts Of 2011

Okay, it's the end of the year, and time for everyone to make his or her lists. Lists of best films, best records, best this and that. If you know me, you know I love to make lists. I even have a list of every book I've read since 1988. So of course I'm going to write a few lists of my own for the year. So here is my list of the five best concerts I attended this year. And yes, there still are a couple of weeks left, and there's a chance I could see some amazing band on New Year's Eve (that is, if I get a free ticket, or suddenly come into a ton of cash). But as it stands now, these are the best shows I saw in 2011. I tried to put them in the order of how much I enjoyed them, but I could not settle on such an order. Each of these shows was wonderful. So instead I've put them in chronological order.

1. The Monkees at Lowell Memorial Auditorium, June 15, 2011

My first favorite band was of course The Monkees. I was four years old, and couldn't get enough of them. And now I'm much older, and still can't get enough of them. I've seen them in concert a few times - the first time being in 1986. And I can say in all honesty that this year's show was the best I'd ever seen them do. The sound was off at the beginning of the show, but that was fixed after several songs, long before they went into their Head set. If I were forced to pick a favorite Monkees song, it would be "As We Go Along," from their 1968 film, Head. I always wanted to see them perform it in concert, but never expected to see them do it. After all, it was never a hit and wasn't featured on the television program. Well, they played it at this show, and it completely blew me away.

2. The Greencards at The Mint, July 5, 2011

Holy shit, do these guys put on a great show! Incredible energy, great songs, good vibes. And hell, they covered Cheap Trick's "I Want You To Want Me." My friend that night told me he'd never seen anyone play mandolin like that. Check this band out whenever you get the chance. You will not be disappointed.

3. The Grownup Noise at Silverlake Lounge, August 15, 2011

Often I'm the only one dancing at a concert. I don't mind that one bit. It takes a lot to get folks dancing in Los Angeles. I'm not sure what it is about this town. But when The Grownup Noise played the Silverlake Lounge - not a venue known for dancing - I was certainly not the only one moved by the music. I love that people are catching on to how great this band is, but I'm also worried that soon they'll be playing large venues and I won't be able to afford to get in. They played some new material at this show, and it's as good as anything these guys have done. And remember, they have a cello. So there.

4. Wagons at The Hotel Cafe, September 21, 2011

Yeah, it's true they didn't play my request - "Moon Into Sun" - but who cares? Wagons put on a kick-ass show. I love The Hotel Cafe because it's a small room, and yet doesn't have a claustrophic feel. The only problem is that the shows there are rigidly timed. I hope the next time Wagons come to town, they play a much longer show. Henry has a great rapport with the crowd. These guys are great musicians, and are also seriously funny.

5. The Brian Kinler Band at M Bar, October 8, 2011

Okay, this is definitely in part because they played "On The Dark Side." I watched Eddie And The Cruisers at least 75 times when I was a teenager. And I saw John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band twice in concert - once when I was a teenager (they were on the same bill as Roy Orbison and The Beach Boys) and once in my twenties (they played a bar in Springfield, Oregon). Anyway, at this Brian Kinler show Kelly Zirbes (from Kelly's Lot) was the guest singer, along with Perry Robertson on guitar. And they did an extended version of the song that totally kicked ass. But beside that song, the band did a really wonderful version of "Open All Night." And it was the original lineup for this show - Jon Weiner flew down for this concert, borrowed a drum kit, and was excellent. Band members were adding new touches to songs. Dave Welch did some great stuff on horn. Even "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" felt fresh.

There were a lot of other great concerts this year. Limiting my list to these few seems wrong somehow, because the list doesn't include Patrolled By Radar or Fur Dixon & Steve Werner or Ellis Paul or Stone Darling or The Evangenitals or The Nields. I saw The Nields perform a special show at The Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Massachusetts on June 11th, and it was a wonderful night. And I'm sure there are a lot of other concerts that I'm forgetting at the moment. But at any rate, these five shows were true stand-outs this year.

King Teddy: "A Very Teddy Christmas" (2011) EP Review

I've long had mixed thoughts about bands feeling some bizarre obligation to record and release Christmas songs. Are they all truly overcome with the spirit of the season and a genuine need to express it? Or, as my more cynical self thinks, is it a weird way to cash in? After all, this is the season to cash in. But then why shouldn't musicians get in on the act? Why should Wal-Mart and Toys R Us get all the action? The thing is that in the midst of so many holiday jingles, some good tunes find their way into existence. And so why knock the process? Sure, it's a pain to sift through all the horrible songs to find those few nuggets, those rare gems, but maybe it's worth it.

This year King Teddy has released an EP of Christmas songs. There are only three tunes, rather than an entire album, so the band seems more focused on putting out some good tracks instead of trying to fill an LP with holiday cheer. I dig King Teddy, with its mix of country swing, early rock and roll, and rockabilly. And clearly they're not taking themselves too seriously, as shown by their choice of title, A Very Teddy Christmas, bringing to mind The Brady Bunch. No, this is a band that's having a good time, and wishes to share it with you.

The first two tracks are originals.

"Could It Be Christmas?"

The EP opens with "Could It Be Christmas?" which is definitely cheesy in sentiment ("Could it be Christmas that I feel?"), but has a fun, positive vibe musically. It's one of those songs that will be perfect if you're in that holiday swing and feeling happy about it, but that might make you want to aim a rifle at reindeer if you're feeling stressed out or depressed about the season. It's all about being happy despite terrible weather and the frantic pace and the shopping and all. It begins, "There's snow in my hair, and overshoes on my feet/I'm making my way through yesterday's slush and sleet/And even despite the specter of freezing rain/I'm warm in a way the weather man can't explain." The bridge, approximately two minutes in, is by far the cheesiest section of the song.

"Christmas Eve Tonight"

I much prefer the EP's second track, the slower and sweeter "Christmas Eve Tonight." The piano has an early rock and roll feel, and there is a cool saxophone solo that refrains from straying to allusions to other Christmas songs. Hurrah for that! And the vocals sound great. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "Childhood wishes/Childhood memories speak from long ago/Crystal snowflakes softly falling/Footprints in the snow/All your troubles, let them be/Lay them out of sight/Let it snow on Christmas Eve/Christmas Eve tonight." Simple, but nice. This isn't one of those ridiculously overly happy Christmas songs. And I dig the bass line.

"Winter Wonderland"

The EP concludes with a cover of the classic "Winter Wonderland." And this is a great early rock and roll-style rendition, done as an instrumental, the saxophone doing what would be the lead vocal line. This is one of the best versions of this song I've ever heard. It's just pure fun, and is almost enough to put me in the holiday spirit. I love the section that is just drums and saxophone.

A Very Teddy Christmas is available as a download. Last year King Teddy released its debut CD, Stirred And Shaken.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Jerry Jams For Rex II (2011) CD Review

Last year saw the release of a wonderful compilation of Jerry Garcia tunes covered by a range of bands in the jam band scene. That disc, titled Jerry Jams For Rex, benefited the Rex Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization founded in 1983 by members of the Grateful Dead and their friends. Now, a little more than a year later, a second compilation has been released, suitably titled Jerry Jams For Rex II.

Some bands from the first compilation are also represented on this second volume, such as Railroad Earth, Widespread Panic, The String Cheese Incident and Yonder Mountain String Band. And this time they are joined by bands like Sound Tribe Sector 9 and Umphrey's McGee. All of the tracks are live concert recordings, many of them from this year.

Sound Tribe Sector 9

Jerry Jams For Rex II opens with Sound Tribe Sector 9's rendition of "Shakedown Street," recorded at a show the band did in June of this year. Sound Tribe Sector 9 is an instrumental band, so we're missing Robert Hunter's lyrics (though you can still hear the audience sing out the "Wooo" at the appropriate points).

Originally released by the Grateful Dead in 1978, this song is as close as the band got to disco. And Sound Tribe Sector 9 really plays up the disco elements, mixing those well with more contemporary electronica and trance elements. It works, but I do miss the lyrics. I saw Sound Tribe Sector 9 in concert only once, and after an hour or two I was eager to hear some vocals.

Railroad Earth

Railroad Earth appeared on the first Jerry Jams For Rex compilation, performing "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo." For the second volume they chose a nice long version of "The Wheel." The Grateful Dead often performed this song directly out of "Space," and the beginning of Railroad Earth's rendition has a bit of a spacey thing happening. The beginning is also prettier and mellower than the Grateful Dead performed it toward the end, being more reminiscent of versions of "The Wheel" from the 1970s.

One thing that is interesting about Railroad Earth's version is its length. This is a song that the Dead didn't often jam that long on. And it's a total treat to hear a good long take on it. This recording is from the band's New Year's Eve performance last year in Denver. I always loved this song, and Railroad Earth does an excellent job with it. I got completely caught up in the jam toward the end.

Widespread Panic

Widespread Panic's rendition of "Fire On The Mountain" is fairly faithful to the Grateful Dead's original. At least for the first two verses. And then it gets interesting. They sing the third and fourth verses (without a chorus in between), which Robert Hunter wrote but which the Grateful Dead never performed. And they do it in a rap style.

Back in the 1980s I heard a tape of a strange rap version of this song, sung by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart (who co-wrote the song with Robert Hunter), and that version actually predates the Shakedown Street version by a few years (my memory is that it was from 1974 or 1975, also making it a truly early rap song). Clearly, the guys of Widespread Panic heard that same tape. (If anyone has a recording of it, please send it my way.)

"Fire On The Mountain" is the only song on this compilation for which Jerry Garcia did not have a songwriting credit (apart from Bruce Hornsby's "Halcyon Days," that is).

New Monsoon

"Mission In The Rain," New Monsoon's contribution to this compilation, was performed by the Grateful Dead only five times, all in June of 1976. It's is a gorgeous song that originally appeared on Jerry Garcia's Reflections (1976). This version by New Monsoon with Steve Kimock and Tim Carbone was recorded at a show they did on May 13, 2006 in San Francisco. And so the line "There's some satisfaction in the San Francisco rain" gets a cheer from the audience.

Umphrey's McGee

Umphrey's McGee does a strange, stripped-down acoustic version of "Crazy Fingers." Actually, the strangest thing is that it is less than two minutes long. On a compilation of jam bands, a song that short is certainly an oddity. For there is no jamming whatsoever. This rendition was recorded in Boulder on September 1, 2008.

Yonder Mountain String Band

On the first volume of Jerry Jams For Rex, Yonder Mountain String Band did a beautiful cover of "Reuben And Cherise." For the second volume they chose another of Jerry's pretty tunes, this time "Althea," which was originally on the Grateful Dead's 1980 release, Go To Heaven. "Althea" is one of those songs that really struck a chord with Deadheads. I remember meeting several people who had named their pets and even their children after this song. And if you're a big Shakespeare fan, you'll be happy to know this song has references to Hamlet.

Yonder Mountain String Band does a wonderful job on this song, capturing its beauty and also giving it a vibrant energy toward the end. It's one of the compilation's best tracks. This recording is the most recent of the album, being from a show Yonder Mountain did in July of this year. This recording features Darol Anger on fiddle.

Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers

Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers kicked off the first Jerry Jams For Rex with a version of "Lady With A Fan." Bruce Hornsby's contribution this time around is an excellent, heartfelt rendition of "Standing On The Moon." "Standing On The Moon" was originally released on the Grateful Dead's final studio album, Built To Last, and was a song that Jerry often sang toward the end of the second set. I saw the Grateful Dead do an insanely beautiful version of it in Eugene, Oregon - it was one of those magical moments that Dead fans hope for.

And of course Bruce Hornsby was a member of the Grateful Dead in the early 1990s, following the death of Brent Mydland. So it's always a pleasure to hear him play these songs. He lets "Standing On The Moon" slowly build until it reaches these gorgeous heights that would certainly make Jerry smile.

"Standing On The Moon" then leads into "Halcyon Days," a song written by Bruce Hornsby. It's a good song, but it does seem a bit out of place on this compilation. This recording is from a show Bruce Hornsby did in Richmond, Virginia in November of 2009.

CD Track List

  1. Shakedown Street - Sound Tribe Sector 9
  2. The Wheel - Railroad Earth
  3. Brown-Eyed Women - Chris Robinson Brotherhood
  4. Fire On The Mountain - Widespread Panic
  5. Mission In The Rain - New Monsoon with Steve Kimock and Tim Carbone
  6. Crazy Fingers - Umphrey’s McGee
  7. Althea - Yonder Mountain String Band
  8. Deal - The String Cheese Incident
  9. Standing On The Moon > Halcyon Days - Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers
  10. St. Stephen - Dark Star Orchestra
  11. They Love Each Other - ALO

Jerry Jams For Rex II was made available for download on November 29, 2011 It is also available on CD; however, the CD does not contain the last track, "They Love Each Other." The first volume was released on August 10, 2010.

The Rex Foundation was named after Rex Jackson, a Grateful Dead roadie and later road manager who died in 1976.

Cameo Parkway Holiday Hits (2011) CD Review

As you're probably well aware, it's difficult to find good Christmas music. There are some good tunes ("Merry Christmas, Baby," "Christmas Wrapping," "Father Christmas" and of course "Fairytale Of New York"), but most of the songs associated with the holiday are just plain awful. So for those of us who wish to fill the day with music (that is, good music), it takes a bit of searching. This new compilation will add a few more songs to your holiday play list. Though oddly (or perhaps tellingly), the two best tracks are both versions of "Auld Lang Syne," which of course isn't a Christmas song at all. But those two tracks really make this a CD worth owning.

Of the other tracks, the original songs are the best, particularly "Merry Christmas" by The Cameos and "Donde Esta Santa Claus" by Toni Stante. Those are definitely going to be added to my holiday play list.

Half the songs on Cameo Parkway Holiday Hits are instrumentals, many of them done by Rudolph Statler Orchestra and International Pop Orchestra. And no, I hadn't heard of those groups either.

This CD was originally scheduled to be released last year through Collectors' Choice Music, and now is finally seeing a release through the new Real Gone Music.

Bobby Rydell and Chubby Checker

This compilation features two songs by Bobby Rydell and Chubby Checker. The first, "Jingle Bell Rock," is the opening track, and is one of those classic Christmas songs that's actually pretty cool. This version is from 1961, and actually reached #21 on the Billboard Hot 100. It's the saxophone part that really works, though the section right after it in which they trade off lyrics is a bit annoying. But pay attention, and you'll hear a reference to Chubby Checker's "Pony Time," which was also released in 1961.

Their second song, "Jingle Bells Imitations," is an odd tune, in which they do a series of impressions of their contemporaries doing "Jingle Bells." They imitate such folks as Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin and Fats Domino. The results are slightly amusing.

Rudolph Statler Orchestra

Rudolph Statler Orchestra contributes three tracks to this compilation, all instrumentals. The first, "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," is only a minute long, which is just about the right length. The second, "Winter Wonderland," is more fun, with a bit of a big band swing thing happening. Their version of "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" is playful and enjoyable.

International Pop Orchestra

The other orchestra, International Pop Orchestra, has four tracks on this CD, making it the most represented group on the album. This orchestra's contributions include a fairly nice version of "Joy To The World." I really like the string arrangement on that track. Their version of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" isn't that interesting. Nor are their renditions of "The First Noel" or "Deck The Halls," the latter feeling incredibly sluggish.

"Merry Christmas"

"Merry Christmas" is one of the compilation's best tracks. It's an original tune performed by The Cameos. It was recorded in 1957, and has that great 1950s rock vibe and fun backing vocals. This is a song for your Christmas sock hop. (And come on, you totally want to host one, don't you?)

The Cameos provide another of this CD's best tracks in "New Years Eve," which was also recorded in 1957. Again, it's the goofy backing vocals that really make this track work. And then it has an excellent sax solo. You can't go wrong with a sax solo in a 1950s rock and roll tune.

"Auld Lang Syne"

As I mentioned earlier, the two absolute best tracks on this CD are both versions of "Auld Lang Syne." The first, by Beethoven Ben, has an old-time parlour-type sound that is completely and utterly wonderful. I love this track. Every time I listen to it, I can't help but smile and think that life is pretty damn great. I'm guessing you'll have the same reaction. The perfect song to bring in the new year, just as it's intended to be.

But my favorite track on this disc is the second version of "Auld Lang Syne," done by Bob Johnson And The Lonesome Travelers. It's a wonderful bluegrass instrumental version that you just have to hear. Bob Johnson's banjo work is flawless and joyous. And Norman Blake is excellent on mandolin. This song was originally released on Twelve Shades Of Bluegrass in 1963, and feels like it hasn't aged at all. I love this song.

"White Christmas (3 O'Clock Weather Report)"

One of my favorite takes on a traditional Christmas song is Simon & Garfunkel's "7 O'Clock News/Silent Night," from their Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme record. In that song, they sing the main part of "Silent Night" over a simple and yet beautiful piano part. As they sing, a news report begins playing. And of course, as it was the mid 1960s, the news is about the Vietnam war, civil rights, and anti-war demonstrations. The juxtaposition of the news with the beauty of Simon and Garfunkel's voices is incredibly effective.

On Cameo Parkway Holiday Hits, there is a track titled "White Christmas (3 O'Clock Weather Report)," which is a sort of parody of the Simon & Garfunkel song, and the results are tacky and icky. But it's not just that. The song begins with some spoken word with a guy pretending to be Senator Robert Kennedy. He's trying to figure out how to reach the students. So the other guy suggests hiring "Bobby the Poet," who is of course Bob Dylan. Well, someone pretending to be Bob Dylan. So we get someone pretending to be Bob Dylan doing "White Christmas." Awful. But then over that the other two guys continue to talk, saying such garbage as "He talks funny" and "That's poetry?"

If that's not bad enough, then the weather report begins to play over the song, with a listing of temperatures of major cities of the U.S. (thus poking fun at the Simon & Garfunkel song). This is honestly one of the most obnoxious songs I've ever heard.

"I'll Stay Home (New Year's Eve)"

A much better tune is The Jaynells' "I'll Stay Home (New Year's Eve)." It's one of those sweet and slow early 1960s love songs. This tune was recorded in late 1963, and features Curtis Mayfield on piano.

"Twelve Days Of Christmas"

Who would record an instrumental version of "Twelve Days Of Christmas"? Apparently, the Mexicani Marimba Band would. It's such an odd song to do as an instrumental, because whatever charm this song might be said to possess is due entirely to the lyrics (and in trying to remember them all as you get toward the end of the song). As an instrumental, it's just so repetitive. And this is the longest track on the CD. It seems like they should have reached twelve long before they do. I think the cruelest form of torture would be to program someone's CD to endlessly repeat this track.

"Donde Esta Santa Claus"

Toni Stante's "Donde Esta Santa Claus" is a seriously fun and silly tune. This is one I had never heard before, and instantly loved. There is a section that is just completely wonderful, where she sings, "I hope he won't forget/To crack his castanets/And to his reindeer say/Oh Pancho, oh Vixen, oh Pedro, oh Blitzen, Ole, ole, ole." Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. This is a song to brighten everyone's holiday, and is one of my new favorite Christmas songs.

Bob Seger

This compilation concludes with a real rock and roll song done by Bob Seger And The Last Heard. Yes, long before The Silver Bullet Band (and even before The Bob Seger System), Bob Seger had a band called The Last Heard. And with that band he recorded a Christmas song titled "Sock It To Me Santa." This song freely borrows from James Brown's "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag," but it's a lot of fun and you get the feeling that James Brown wouldn't mind at all.

Plus, it has some silly lyrics like "Come on, Comet/Come on, Cupid/Don't just stand there, looking stupid" and "He lost a little weight but his jelly still rolls." Christmas should be a fun time, and this song will certainly help toward that goal.

CD Track List

  1. Jingle Bell Rock - Bobby Rydell and Chubby Checker
  2. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town - Rudolph Statler Orchestra
  3. Joy To The World - International Pop Orchestra
  4. Merry Christmas - The Cameos
  5. Auld Lang Syne - Beethoven Ben
  6. White Christmas (3 O'Clock Weather Report) - Bobby The Poet
  7. Winter Wonderland - Rudolph Statler Orchestra
  8. I'll Stay Home (New Year's Eve) - The Jaynells
  9. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing - International Pop Orchestra
  10. Jingle Bells Imitations - Bobby Rydell and Chubby Checker
  11. Twelve Days Of Christmas - Mexicani Marimba Band
  12. Donde Esta Santa Claus - Toni Stante
  13. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow - Rudolph Statler Orchestra
  14. The First Noel - International Pop Orchestra
  15. New Years Eve - The Cameos
  16. Auld Lang Syne - Bob Johnson And The Lonesome Travelers
  17. Deck The Halls - International Pop Orchestra
  18. Sock It To Me Santa - Bob Seger And The Last Heard

Cameo Parkway Holiday Hits was released on November 15, 2011.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Girls From Petticoat Junction: "Sixties Sounds" (2011) CD Review

Petticoat Junction was a popular television program that aired from 1963 to 1970. At the center of the show were three sisters: Betty Jo Bradley, Bobbie Jo Bradley and Billie Jo Bradley. Betty Jo was played by Linda Kaye Henning for the run of the series, but the roles of Bobbie Jo and Billie Jo were each played by more than one actor. Lori Saunders joined the cast as Bobbie Jo in 1965, and Meredith MacRae took over the role of Billie Jo in 1966. So it was these three actors who went into the recording studio in the spring of 1968. Two singles resulted from these sessions, and those songs (including the flip sides) are featured on Sixties Sounds.

The plan had been to record a full-length album, but the singles didn't boast enough sales, and those plans were scrapped. So the other tracks from those sessions weren't released. Until now. This CD includes four previously unreleased tracks. Rounding out this collection are the two sides of a single released by Meredith MacRae in 1967, as well as the Petticoat Junction theme song by Curt Massey.

This album feels very much a product of its time, and that's not a bad thing. It has that 1960s bubblegum pop feel, but of course with folk elements too. I have to admit I'm kind of a sucker for this stuff. Just to be clear, I love that song that goes "Yummy Yummy Yummy, I've got love in my tummy." I also dig Petula Clark. So there. I have to say I've never seen Petticoat Junction, so this music holds no personal nostalgic value for me. So I'm enjoying it on its own merits.

"If You Could Only Be Me"

The album opens with "If You Could Only Be Me," which is joyously cheesy 1960s pop. This is the kind of song that intellectually you want to disparage, but somehow on a more instinctual level you end up totally loving. It has a ridiculously happy vibe, with positive lyrics like, "Just to show the whole wide world how very proud I am of you/If you could only be me/For one brief moment you would see/Just how much I love you, baby/And how it feels to know that you love me." It even has some well-placed "la la las."

This song was the flip side of the first single from The Girls From Petticoat Junction, "I'm So Glad That You Found Me," which was released in August of 1968. "If You Could Only Be Me" was written by Roger Atkins and Carl D'Errico, and was performed in the episode "Singing Sweethearts," which aired on October 5th, 1968.

"Wheeling, West Virginia"

"Wheeling, West Virginia" is a song about a former small-town girl who is now an actor in Los Angeles. Of course it seems a natural song for a television program, and yet it was actually not featured on the show. Written by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, this song features lines like, "Racing my MG down to MGM/Sitting in makeup, trying to wake up/Got to be on the set at 8 a.m./It's one more day of make-believing/One more day of playing the star/One more day of endless pretending/Do you know who you are?" This is another song that you can't help but love. It has such a bright, boppy feel, and with lyrics that actually matter. Really. And their voices blend well on this track. This is my personal favorite of this CD.

"Wheeling, West Virginia" was the second single by The Girls From Petticoat Junction, this one released in January of 1969.


I'm not sure what to make of their cover of The Beatles' "Rain." "Rain" is a song I love, but this version is missing the bite of The Beatles' original. It's tame, sweeter, and feels more like a folk song. Sort of like a Byrds version of a Dylan song. It's nice, sure, but you feel like you're being denied something. Lori Saunders sings lead on this one. This is one of the tracks that was previously unreleased.

"I'm So Glad That You Found Me"

"I'm So Glad You Found Me" is the A-side of the group's first single. It's more positive pop, though to my ear slightly less effective than its flipside, "If You Could Only Be Me." This song was featured in the "Bye, Bye Doctor" episode, which aired on December 7th, 1968. "I'm So Glad That You Found Me" was written by Buzz Clifford.

"Up, Up & Away"

"Up, Up & Away" is a song written by Jimmy Webb in 1967, and famously recorded by The 5th Dimension. It seems the perfect song for this group to perform, with its insanely positive outlook and vibe. The rendition by The Girls From Petticoat Junction sounds quite similar to the other, more well kown version. This is one of the tracks that was previously unreleased. Linda Kaye Henning sings lead on this song.

"Get Together"

"Get Together" is a song most famously done by The Youngbloods in 1967, but was previously recorded by The Kingston Trio. This version by The Girls From Petticoat Junction takes a little getting used to, but it's grown on me. It has a really interesting arrangement, quite a bit different from the version everyone knows. It feels a bit more serious, which is actually a surprise, and it then has a nice harmonica section. But what I really like is the way they approach the vocals to this song. This track was previously unreleased.

"Petticoat Junction"

Sixties Sounds concludes with "Petticoat Junction," a song written by Paul Henning and Curt Massey. Recorded by Curt Massey, it was released as a single in 1964, and features the lines, "Lots of curves, you bet/And even more when you get/To the junction/Petticoat Junction." This is the full version, including the verse not heard on the television program. The three girls do not appear on this recording, which is why it's listed as a bonus track.

CD Track List

  1. If You Could Only Be Me
  2. Wheeling, West Virginia
  3. Goodbye Love
  4. There's Got To Be A Word
  5. Rain
  6. I'm So Glad That You Found Me
  7. Who Needs Memories Of Him
  8. Up, Up & Away
  9. Get Together
  10. Thirty Days Hath September
  11. Petticoat Junction

Sixties Sounds was released through Real Gone Music on November 8, 2011.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December 2011 Concert Calendar

Here is a list of concerts you might be interested in for the month of December. Most of these are bands that I've reviewed, though some are some bands that I haven't yet written about, but really like. If you can, try to check out at least a few of these shows. I will be adding listings throughout the month, so please check back again later.

December 1, 2011 (Thursday)
Marshall Chapman - Belcourt Theater, Nashville, TN - 7:30 p.m.
Kinky Friedman - Knuckleheads, Kansas City, MO
Ryan Montbleau Band - Port City Music Hall, Portland, ME
The String Cheese Incident - Tower Theatre, Upper Darby, PA
Dar Williams - Newton Theatre, Newton, NJ

December 2, 2011 (Friday)
Judy Collins - The Norton Center For The Arts, Danville, KY
Antje Duvekot - Club Passim, Cambridge, MA
Kinky Friedman - Off Broadway, St. Louis, MO
I See Hawks In L.A. - Cinema Bar, Culver City, CA - 9:30 p.m.
Ryan Montbleau Band - Pearl Street Nightclub, Northampton, MA - 9:00 p.m.
Tickets: $15 advance/$18 at door
Ellis Paul - Beacon Theater, 445 Main St., Beacon, NY
Martin Sexton - Sellersville Theater, Sellersville, PA
The String Cheese Incident - United Palace, New York, NY
Dar Williams - Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, MA

December 3, 2011 (Saturday)
Slaid Cleaves - Cactus Cafe, Austin, TX
Fur Dixon & Steve Werner - Warner Grand Annex, 434 W. 6th St., San Pedro, CA
(Susie Glaze opens the show; tickets: $15 advance/$20 at door)
Antje Duvekot - Common Grounds, Dobbs Ferry, NY
Dean Fields - IOTA Club & Cafe, 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA
Kinky Friedman - 400 Bar, Minneapolis, MN
Ellis Paul - Tin Angel, 20 South 2nd St., Philadelphia, PA - 7:30 p.m.
Martin Sexton - Club Helsinki, Hudson, NY
The String Cheese Incident - United Palace, New York, NY
Dar Williams - Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, MA

December 4, 2011 (Sunday)
Anita And The Yanks - Muldoon's Pub, 202 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach. CA - 2 pm.
Cake - Stubb's, Austin, TX
Slaid Cleaves - NB House Concerts, New Braunfels, TX - 5:00 p.m.
Judy Collins - The Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN
Kinky Friedman - The Blue Door, Oklahoma City, OK
Ellis Paul - University Cafe, Stony Brook, NY - 2:00 p.m.
The String Cheese Incident - Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA

December 5, 2011 (Monday)
Judy Collins - Lincoln Theatre, Columbus, OH
Stew & The Negro Problem - Mitchell Theatre, Madison, WI - 7:00 p.m.
Free show

December 6, 2011 (Tuesday)

December 7, 2011 (Wednesday)
Black Party Politics - Boardner's, Hollywood, CA - 10:00 p.m.
Judy Collins - The Temple, Philadelphia, PA

December 8, 2011 (Thursday)
Slaid Cleaves - The Mucky Duck, Houston, TX
Judy Collins - The Community Arts Center, Williamsport, PA

December 9, 2011 (Friday)
Cake - The Rialto Theater, Tucson, AZ
(KFMA Christmas Show)
Judy Collins - The Egg, Albany, NY
Mike Gordon - The Met Cafe, Pawtucket, RI
The Grownup Noise - The Iron Horse, Northampton, MA
Diana Jones - The Roots Cafe, Providence, RI - 8:00 p.m.
Ryan Montbleau Band - Stage One, Fairfield, CT - 7:30 p.m.
Ellis Paul - Cactus Cafe, Austin, TX - 8:30 p.m.
Martin Sexton - Pollak Theatre, West Long Branch, NJ
Dar Williams - The Colonial Theatre, Phoenixville, PA

December 10, 2011 (Saturday)
Cake - The Marquee Theater, Tempe, AZ
Judy Collins - Tarrytown Music Hall, Tarrytown, NY
Entrain - Firefly's, Marlboro, MA
Mike Gordon - Calvin Theatre, Northampton, MA
Diana Jones - Common Ground Folk Series at Lewisboro Library, South Salem, NY - 8:00 p.m.
Kelly's Lot - Cold Spring Tavern, Santa Barbara, CA
Aimee Mann - The Wiltern, Los Angeles, CA
(The Sixth Annual Aimee Mann Christmas Show)
Ellis Paul - Jefferson Freedom Cafe, Fort Worth, TX - 8:30 p.m.
Martin Sexton - Ridgefield Playhouse, Ridgefield, CT
Dar Williams - Schenectady, NY
Tickets: $28

December 11, 2011 (Sunday)
Judy Collins - Tilles Centre, Brookville, NY
Mike Gordon - The Egg, Albany, NY
The Nields - Paul & Elizabeth's, Northampton, MA
Ellis Paul - McGonigel's Mucky Duck, Houston, TX
Martin Sexton - Tupelo Music Hall, White River Junction, VT

December 12, 2011 (Monday)
The Grownup Noise - Zu Zu, Cambridge, MA

December 13, 2011 (Tuesday)
Cake - The Great Saltair, Salt Lake City, UT
Great American Taxi - PAC3, 520 South Third St., Carbondale, CO - 9:00 p.m.

December 14, 2011 (Wednesday)
Judy Collins - The King Center For The Performing Arts, Melbourne, FL
Great American Taxi - Agave, 1060 W. Beaver Creek Blvd., Avon, CO - 9:00 p.m.

December 15, 2011 (Thursday)
Judy Collins - Ruth Eckered Hall, Clearwater, FL
Entrain - Corning Museum Of Glass, Corning, NY
Great American Taxi - Three 20 South, 320 S. Main St., Breckenridge, CO - 9:00 p.m.
The Happy Hollows - Bootleg Theater, Los Angeles, CA
Dar Williams - Lyric Theatre, Stuart, FL - 7:00 p.m.
Tickets: $40

December 16, 2011 (Friday)
Slaid Cleaves - The Bugle Boy, 1051 N. Jefferson St., La Grange, TX
Entrain - Castaways, Ithaca, NY
Great American Taxi - Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder, CO - 8:00 p.m.
King Teddy - Dulles Hilton, Herndon, VA 9:00 p.m.
Cover: $15
Ellis Paul - private show
Dar Williams - Capitol Theatre, Clearwater, FL

December 17, 2011 (Saturday)
Slaid Cleaves - Third Coast Music, 502 East Ave. G, Port Aransas, TX
Great American Taxi - Hodi's Half Note, 167 North College Ave., Ft. Collins, CO - 9:00 p.m.
Kelly's Lot - Big Mama's Ribs, Pasadena, CA
Lori McKenna and Dean Fields - Club Passim, Cambridge, MA - 5:00 p.m.
Lori McKenna and Dean Fields - Club Passim, Cambridge, MA - 8:00 p.m.
Ellis Paul - AMSDconcerts, 4650 Mansfield St., San Diego, CA - 5:00 p.m.
Special family show
Ellis Paul - AMSDconcerts, 4650 Mansfield St., San Diego, CA - 7:30 p.m.

December 18, 2011 (Sunday)
Anita And The Yanks - Ireland's 32, 13721 Burbank Blvd., Van Nuys, CA - 4:00 p.m.
Lori McKenna and Dean Fields - Club Passim, Cambridge, MA - 5:00 p.m.
Lori McKenna and Dean Fields - Club Passim, Cambridge, MA - 8:00 p.m.
James McMurtry - Palmer Event Center, Austin, TX
Ellis Paul - Zoey's Cafe, 185 East Santa Clara St., Ventura, CA

December 19, 2011 (Monday)

December 20, 2011 (Tuesday)

December 21, 2011 (Wednesday)
Judy Collins - Ram's Head, Annapolis, MD

December 22, 2011 (Thursday)
Judy Collins - Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, MA

December 23, 2011 (Friday)
Slaid Cleaves - Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, Austin, TX - 8:00 p.m.
Judy Collins - The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, New York, NY

December 24, 2011 (Saturday)

December 25, 2011 (Sunday)

December 26, 2011 (Monday)

December 27, 2011 (Tuesday)
James McMurtry - McGonigel's Mucky Duck, Houston, TX
Yonder Mountain String Band - Boulder Theater, Boulder, CO

December 28, 2011 (Wednesday)
Phish - Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Yonder Mountain String Band - Boulder Theater, Boulder, CO

December 29, 2011 (Thursday)
Furthur - Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA - 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $55
Phish - Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Yonder Mountain String Band - Boulder Theater, Boulder, CO

December 30, 2011 (Friday)
7 Walkers - Sullivan Hall, New York, NY
Anita And The Yanks - Ireland's 32, Van Nuys, CA - 9:30 p.m.
Furthur - Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA - 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $55
Ellis Paul - Club Passim, 47 Palmer St., Cambridge, MA - 7:00 p.m.
Ellis Paul - Club Passim, 47 Palmer St., Cambridge, MA - 10:00 p.m.
Phish - Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Yonder Mountain String Band - Boulder Theater, Boulder, CO

December 31, 2011 (Saturday)
7 Walkers - The Silo, Reading, PA
Cake - The Fox Theater, Atlanta, GA
Entrain - Blue Ocean Music Hall, Salisbury, MA
Furthur - Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA - 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $75
King Teddy - First Night Alexandria, GW Masonic Memorial Theater, Alexandria, VA - 7:00 p.m.
Free show
The Nields - First Night Northampton, Northampton, MA - 4:00 p.m.
Family show
The Nields - First Night Northampton, Northampton, MA - 5:00 p.m.
Family show
The Nields - First Night Northampton, Northampton, MA - 7:00 p.m.
Patrolled By Radar - Knitting Factory, 416 South 9th St., Boise, ID
Ellis Paul - Hynes Convention Center, Boston, MA - 3:30 p.m.
Ellis Paul - Club Passim, 47 Palmer St., Cambridge, MA - 7:00 p.m.
Ellis Paul - Club Passim. 47 Palmer St., Cambridge, MA - 10:00 p.m.
Phish - Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Martin Sexton - Higher Ground, Burlington, VT
Yonder Mountain String Band - Boulder Theater, Boulder, CO

December 2011 Update

Howdy, everybody. At the beginning of each month, I'll include a link to the blog entry that lists all of my articles, arranged by subject, so that they're easy to find. That link is this:

List Of All My Music Articles

I add to that blog each time I post a new review.

It's been my intention with this blog to let people know about all the great music that's out there. So I tend to write about CDs and bands that I like. Sure, there might be an exception now and again. But I have no desire to tear apart some new band that's out there struggling to find a fan base. What I want to do is let people know about new bands they might not have heard of yet, and to remind them of some bands they might have forgotten. And to keep people up-to-date with all the great new releases, as well as concert listings. Basically, to share my love of music with anyone who cares to read this.

And for anyone who might be interested, I thought I'd let you know that my friend Jason and I started a greeting card company (yes, seriously), and a series of short films that are tied in with the characters from the greeting cards. And of course we have a blog. For anyone who'd like to check it out, the company is called Grandmother's Fanny Game. Our newest episode is a holiday episode, and for anyone who is interested, here is a link to it: Grandmother Winsome's Variety Minute Episode 7: A Holiday Message.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dean Fields: "Under A Searchlight Moon" (2011) CD Review

"A tongue like a hammer and a mouth full of nails." That's the opening line of Dean Fields' new CD. The first time I put it on, I had aimed to get some other things done in my apartment while listening. But that line grabbed me, and I set aside everything else to just listen. And then listened again. And again.

Though Dean Fields has been performing for ten years, this EP was my introduction to this singer/songwriter. And if these five songs are a true indication of his talent, then Dean Fields is definitely someone to pay attention to. Under A Searchlight Moon isn't a solo effort. There is a band, and unlike some folk albums with bands, the other instruments sound inherent to the songs, rather than forced or simply added in the studio. But it is the album's lyrics that really impressed me. All of the songs are originals, written by Dean Fields.

"Tongue Like A Hammer"

"Tongue Like A Hammer" opens with a short acoustic guitar intro before that line that grabbed me. With a line like that, I wasn't expecting the song to be sweet. But this song has an undeniable beauty, and some wonderful lyrics. Here is a taste: "So let me prove you wrong/All your ever-present doubt and your endless questions/Honey, let me love you like no one's ever done." (I also have to mention another phrase that made me smile: "A watchdog's bark and a cat o'nine tails.") This song also features some nice work by Trey Pollard. I really liked this song from the first listen, and each time I play this EP I like it more.

"Forever Never Knowing"

"Forever Never Knowing" immediately wins you over with its catchy folk rhythm. Its lyrics actually made me laugh out loud, catching me off guard, with its line about the hat ("I held onto you holding onto your hat/How about that?/I've never seen you wear one before") and these lines: "You get pretty/You just keep going/That's why we're late for everything we ever do/Still I'll spend forever never knowing/How I live life living without you." This song also has the EP's title in its lyrics: "So I'm holding onto you under a big wide searchlight moon." I love this song's mixture of beauty and humor - I think it's exactly that combination that makes this song feel true.

"Something's Gotta Give"

Sometimes a song will directly address exactly what you're feeling or experiencing in your life at the time you first hear it, and so it immediately feels important. That's how it was for me with "Something's Gotta Give." This is the song from this EP that really got to me. In this one, Dean sings, "Something's gotta give/If I ain't giving up/'Cause this ain't no way to live/Something's gotta give/If I ain't giving up/I ain't giving up." I love songs that are sad and positive at the same time, songs that are full of hope because hope is all there is left. "Something's Gotta Give" is one of my favorite songs of the year.

"Nowhere Fast"

"Nowhere Fast" is a more upbeat song, opening with a burst of energy that's a bit jarring after the previous song. But it doesn't take long for you to catch up and switch moods. This song even has a cool lead guitar section. And this warning: "If you're taking me, you'd better be taking heed." It ends with the phrase, "making the best of disaster," which is great.

"Could've Been"

Dean's vocals really come to the fore on the EP's final track, "Could've Been." This is a slower song, and once again features some good lyrics. It begins and ends with the line, "I'll be here tomorrow." The last lines are, "Show me all your reasons/Disappointments/Show me/Show me what could've been/I'll be here tomorrow."

CD Track List

  1. Tongue Like A Hammer
  2. Forever Never Knowing
  3. Something's Gotta Give
  4. Nowhere Fast
  5. Could've Been


Musicians appearing on this CD include Dean Fields on guitar and vocals, Curtis Fye on bass and vocals, Wells Hanley on drums and piano, Trey Pollard on guitar and pedal steel, and Erika Sato on violin.

Under A Searchlight Moon was released on March 15, 2011. For those in the Boston area, Dean Fields will be doing a series of concerts with Lori McKenna at Club Passim in Cambridge in December. Those should be some seriously good shows.

Grateful Dead: "Dick's Picks Volume 34" (2011 re-issue) CD Review

There are two years that really stand out as far as Grateful Dead concerts tapes are concerned: 1973 and 1977. Those years saw the band doing some incredible jams. And there was often a lot of beauty to those musical explorations. But they also weren't afraid of getting loud and even dissonant, of really going for it. In 1977, the band seemed to have a renewed energy. They had taken most of 1975 off, as well as the first half of 1976. But by 1977, they were going full-steam ahead. Song selections were good too. Some older material was getting a fresh spin. Songs like "New Minglewood Blues" and "Dancing In The Street" come to mind as examples. And their new material at that time was among the best the band ever wrote - "Terrapin Station" and "Estimated Prophet" being obvious stand-outs.

Dick's Picks Volume 34 actually contains two incredible versions of "Estimated Prophet," a song written by John Barlow and Bob Weir, and featured on the band's 1977 studio release, Terrapin Station. In later years this song would often be paired with "Eyes Of The World." But on these recordings it is paired with "St. Stephen" and "He's Gone."

Dick's Picks Volume 34 contains the complete show the Grateful Dead performed on November 5, 1977 at the Community War Memorial in Rochester, New York. It also contains a good chunk of the concert from November 2, 1977 (three songs from the first set, and four from the second set).

Disc One

The first disc contains the complete first set from November 5, 1977. They opened the show with "New Minglewood Blues," a song originally included on the band's very first studio release as "New New Minglewood Blues." It would also be included on 1978's Shakedown Street as "All New Minglewood Blues." But on concert tapes it was always labeled as "New Minglewood Blues." And the version here is pretty bloody awesome. I love what Keith Godchaux is doing on piano a few minutes into the song, and after that, the jam seriously rocks. And this is a song that doesn't always stand out as a highlight.

That's a good way to open the show, but it's the second song that really stands out on the first disc. I usually think of "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo" as a relatively mellow song. It's got this great easy groove, and a pretty ending section. But the version included on this disc has so much more. It has an excellent vibe, and tremendous energy. Jerry's guitar part during the jam soars. It's hard to believe that the concert had only just started - this is the kind of playing the band often had to work up to over the course of the night. This is absolutely one of the best versions of this song the band ever performed.

Drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart are more prominent than usual on "Looks Like Rain," which makes the song a little more vibrant than normal. This is not a mellow version, but it still retains its beauty.

After "Looks Like Rain," there is some stage banter about people being squashed up front, something that would sometimes happen at Dead shows. "The people up in front are getting smashed horribly again. If everybody on the floor could sorta try to move back, it would be helpful." "It's hard for us to get off seeing smashed human bodies up here, you know what I mean?" That leads into "Dire Wolf," with its refrain of "Please don't murder me" being comically apt.

The band then does a great pair of country covers: Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried" and Johnny Cash's "Big River." These are lively, fun versions, particularly "Big River," which should get you dancing. At the end, you can hear an audience member repeatedly screaming out a request for "Samson And Delilah." He's have to wait until the second set for that one, and besides it was Jerry's turn at lead vocals, so the band went into "Candyman," from the band's 1970 release American Beauty.

The first set is rounded out with the always-appreciated "Jack Straw" and a fun version of "Deal," a song that Jerry Garcia often played as a first set closer.

Disc Two

The second disc (and second set of 11-5-77) oddly starts with a solo on bass by Phil Lesh, with the drummers coming in partway through. And clearly the folks up in the front were still getting squashed, because the band did its "Take A Step Back" bit before actually going into its first song of the set.

The second set really starts with one of the band's best songs, "Eyes Of The World," originally included on its 1973 studio release, Wake Of The Flood. This is a song the band would often stretch out on, which is part of what made it a favorite. But also the lyrics really spoke to the Dead fans, especially lines like "Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world" and "Sometimes we live no particular way but our own/Sometimes we visit your country and live in your home/Sometimes we ride on your horses/Sometimes we walk alone/Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own." Beautiful.

That guy who was shouting earlier must have been excited when the band segued into "Samson And Delilah," led by Bill and Mickey. And he must have been even more excited as the song progressed, because Bob Weir's vocal performance is wonderfully intense and energetic. And Jerry's guitar is basically screaming with joy during the jam.

Jerry brings it down a bit with the pretty and sweet "It Must Have Been Roses."

The rest of the second disc is from November 2, 1977. The reason for this is to avoid breaking up the jam of the rest of the second set from November 5th, with one song flowing into the next. So as "filler," we get the last song from the first set of November 2nd, "Might As Well," and the last four songs from the second set of that night.

"Estimated Prophet" is another of the Dead's best tunes, and this version from November 2nd is really good. The jam is loose, but with that great groove that "Estimated" is known for. Jerry Garcia does some really interesting stuff on guitar, especially starting around eight and a half minutes in. That leads into one of the band's most beloved songs, "St. Stephen" (a song the band stopped playing in 1983). As was typical in those years, the last section of the song was cut, and the band went right into "Truckin'." "Lately it occurs to me what a strange long strange trip it's been."

As wild as this version of "Truckin'" is, it's the next tune, "Around And Around," that's really surprising. Generally, the Dead's Chuck Berry covers were fairly breezy. But this one clocks in at approximately eight and half minutes. It starts off really quietly, and slowly. Usually it was the songs that Jerry sang that would get slowed down during these years when heroin was a big factor. But this version of "Around And Around" feels slow. Was Bobby trying to push it, trying to drive it? It's hard to tell, but suddenly at around the four-minute mark the song speeds up tremendously. From heroin to amphetamine in a heartbeat. And Donna's presence in this song is wonderful.

CD Three

The third disc returns us to the main concert, November 5, 1977. And we get our second rendition of "Estimated Prophet." This jam is really different. It has almost a reggae feel, especially around the seven-minute mark, and is pretty mellow. It's interesting how one song can have two such different feels, only three days apart. But that's the Grateful Dead for you - you never knew quite what direction they'd take you. And perhaps because of its mellower mood, this song led easily into "He's Gone." I always love that beautiful vocal section at the end of the song. It got crazier in the days of Brent Mydland, but had a wonderful groove in these days of Keith and Donna.

"He's Gone" leads into "The Other One," which begins with a short drum solo (titled "Rhythm Devils" at the time, but later simply referred to as "Drums"). And actually, it's not even a drum solo, because Phil is present on bass. Really, this track should be combined with the following one, which is labeled "The Other One" because it is the intro to that song. "The Other One" is a truly interesting song. It's a segment of a much longer piece titled "That's It For The Other One," which was featured on the Grateful Dead's 1968 release, Anthem Of The Sun. On that release, this segment was titled "The Faster We Go, The Rounder We Get." But in concert it became simply "The Other One." There are some incredibly dark versions of this song, and some delicate versions. But this was another song that the band often stretched out on, finding all sorts of places to go. The lyrics have references to Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty in On The Road) and Furthur (Ken Kesey's bus). The most interesting section of the rendition included here starts approximately eight and a half minutes in.

"The Other One" leads into a moving rendition of "Black Peter" and then the second set closer, "Sugar Magnolia." This version of "Sugar Magnolia" has a nice long pause before the "Sunshine Daydream" section. And then, because November 2, 1977 was a Saturday, the encore was "One More Saturday Night."

The final two songs of the third disc are more "filler" from the first set of November 2, 1977: "Lazy Lightnin'" into "Supplication." Donna is gorgeous on this version of "Lazy Lightnin'."

CD Track List

CD One
  1. New Minglewood Blues
  2. Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
  3. Looks Like Rain
  4. Dire Wolf
  5. Mama Tried >
  6. Big River
  7. CandymanJack Straw
  8. Deal

CD Two
  1. Phil Solo >
  2. Take A Step Back >
  3. Eyes Of The World >
  4. Samson And Delilah
  5. It Must Have Been The Roses
  6. Might As Well
  7. Estimated Prophet >
  8. St. Stephen >
  9. Truckin' >
  10. Around And Around

CD Three
  1. Estimated Prophet >
  2. He's Gone >
  3. Rhythm Devils >
  4. The Other One >
  5. Black Peter >
  6. Sugar Magnolia
  7. One More Saturday Night
  8. Lazy Lightnin' >
  9. Supplication


The Grateful Dead at the time of this recording were Jerry Garcia on vocals and lead guitar, Bob Weir on vocals and rhythm guitar, Phil Lesh on bass and vocals, Keith Godchaux on keyboards, Donna Jean Godchaux on vocals, Bill Kreutzmann on drums, and Mickey Hart on drums.

This re-issue was originally scheduled to be released on November 15, 2011, but was actually released a week later on November 22nd. Also re-issued at the same time were Volume 35 and Volume 36.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stew & The Negro Problem: "Making It" (2012) CD Review

I first heard Stew & The Negro Problem several years ago on KPFK, here in Los Angeles. There is a program on that radio station called The Music Never Stops which, as you might guess, is largely a Grateful Dead show. But the program's host, Barry Smolin, uses the first section of the show to showcase newer recordings by jam bands. And it was during that opening section that The Negro Problem first caught my ear. They did not fit into the typical "jam band" category. There was something else going on here. Honestly, I didn't know quite what it was, but I knew I liked it.

A lot of jam band music works on an emotional, intuitive level, and The Negro Problem certainly can thrive on that level. But there is also something more intellectual about Stew & The Negro Problem, something more thoughtfully designed. Lyrically, they're often closer to the singer/songwriter genre. That is to say, the lyrics truly matter.

And the lyrics are often funny. Toward the end of "Therapy Only Works If You Tell The Truth," the therapist coldly repeats, "When did you first notice there was a problem in the relationship?" Until finally the answer comes, "Oh, when she left me." And that's how the song ends.

"Making It"

The album opens with its title track, a groovy rock instrumental with some delicious madness on drums, feeling almost like the end of an extended jam. It's just under two minutes long.


"Pretend" begins as a mellower, jazzy journey before the vocals come in. Sometimes when you're having trouble, it's not the complex, artsy tune that helps, but that familiar, innocuous song. In "Pretend," Stew sings, "I need a stupid song to pull me through/Like a childhood dog when you had the flu." But this song itself is not the stupid song he's seeking, not with lines like "Truth was more than you deserved." And I love these lyrics: "But stupid little songs always stay true/And when times get hard, they stay with you/And when times get tough, the song does too."

"Black Men Ski"

"Black Men Ski" is a humorous song that plays with stereotypes. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "Black men now are students of gay sensibility/Wear ironic T-shirts drenched in code unknown to thee/Get baptized in Walden Pond amongst a searing mob/The cleansing blood of Jesus could not do a thorough job/So black men ski." Yes, this song is funny. (And is it "thorough" or "Thoreau"?) But don't let your laughter keep you from hearing the song's message, which you might hear in lines like "Some kids I'll describe as friends say I am race-obsessed/The luxury of that opinion shows that you are blessed."


There are so many songs about relationships ending. But what others are so direct and yet so poetic at the same time? Check out these lyrics from "Curse": "And now you don't need a new girlfriend/What you need is a nurse/We won't flag you a taxi/We'll just hail you a hearse." And then there is the repeated line, "Ask her to lift the curse." Heidi then comes in and sings the opening lines.


"Speed" begins with some soft playing on guitar. In this tune about methamphetamine, Stew sings, "My body was so resilient/Everything I said was brilliant/And it seems to fulfill a sincere artistic need." There is something of a 1960s rock feel to parts of this song, particularly when it kicks in (that bit reminds me especially of a certain section of The Who's "A Quick One While He's Away"). This all leads to a joyous cacophony toward the end (like jazz eating rock, or possibly rock eating jazz).

"Tomorrow Gone"

"Tomorrow Gone" begins with an easy-going reggae beat - sort of like reggae out on the range. This song has a really sweet sound, with their vocals blending beautifully. The first time I listened to this album, this is one that really stood out. I immediately loved it. And this is one of the lines that caught me: "You ain't got to be ignorant to want some bliss." And then "Tomorrow Gone" eases into this delicious New Orleans-flavored horn section. This song itself is bliss.

"Leave Believe"

"Leave Believe is a sad acoustic songs that starts, "It took a little while for me to see/You stopped believing in me/I wasn't left with much to do/So I stopped believing in you." How's that for getting right to the heart of things? The song needs no other lyrics. First Stew sings the lines, then Heidi has her turn (as in "Curse"). And it's crushing - that they both feel the same way, and yet are so isolated. And then the song kicks in with a surprising force. This is one of my favorites.

"Treat Right"

The album ends with "Treat Right," which has something of a 1970s groove. This is a song about writing songs, and finding therapy in song (and songwriting). It seems a lot of songwriters try to work out their relationship problems in song. And as Stew sings, "And if it don't work, we'll write a song about that too." That's a good, positive spin, eh? I love these lines: "I tried to write a tune about you and me/To turn a mystery into melody."

CD Track List

  1. Making It
  2. Pretend
  3. Black Men Ski
  4. Curse
  5. Speed
  6. Love Is A Cult
  7. Suzy Wong
  8. Tomorrow Gone
  9. Leave Believe
  10. Therapy Only Works If You Tell The Truth
  11. Treat Right


Stew & The Negro Problem are Stew on noisy guitar and pillow talk (yes, that's how he's credited in the liner notes); Heidi Rodewald on vocals, bass, melodica and guitar; Marty Beller on drums and marimba; Mike McGinnis on reeds and winds; Joe McGinty on keyboards; Joe Spurney on guitar; Brian Drye on trombone; Jeff Hermanson on trumpet; Jacob Garchik on tuba; and Urbano Sanchez on percussion.

Making It is scheduled to be released on January 24, 2012.