Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tommy Keene: "Behind The Parade" (2011) CD Review

Tommy Keene's new CD, Behind The Parade, is an album that demands some volume from your stereo. It isn't an album that works well at low volume. It loses something, loses some of its power. This is due to these songs being driven by guitars. On most of these pop rock tracks, the guitars really fill the space. But this album features some good lyrics as well, so don't let the guitars keep you from paying attention to the words. Tommy Keene wrote all of these songs, in addition to performing the vocals and playing the guitars and keyboards. He recorded these tracks at his home.

"Deep Six Saturday"

The album opens with "Deep Six Saturday," which bursts in with a bright-sounding bit of guitar before the rest of the instruments kick in. Something in Tommy Keene's voice might remind you of Tom Petty or possibly Elvis Costello. There is also a bit of 1960s pop feel to this tune. Then the horns come in as a welcome surprise. This is one of the CD's best tracks. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "Our fortified world is tumbling down/Ready for the night to turn around."

"Already Made Up Your Mind"

I really want to hear a stripped down acoustic version of "Already Made Up Your Mind." A stripped down version would give the vocals more strength, more emotional poignancy. And a raw edge that would serve the lyrics better, especially on lines like "Don't say please when you're down upon your knees/And don't you lie when you've already made up your mind."

"Behind The Parade"

"Behind The Parade," the album's title track, has more of an edge. If you don't pay close attention, it might sound like a straight-ahead pop rock tune. But there is more going on here, and there are some interesting changes. Tommy sings, "Everybody has a breaking heart/Everybody, everywhere you go/I was wondering where I fit in/If I ask, would you tell me so." There is great energy in the instrumental section toward the end. This is definitely one of the stronger tracks on this CD. It's one that I appreciated more the more I listened to it.

"Nowhere Drag"

"Nowhere Drag" begins with the guitar fading in, and it actually sounds pretty. Then the steady drum beat announces that this is rock, but it doesn't explode in like you might expect it to. This song features some good lyrics, like "Thank God for match and cigarette/With the only face that I could get."

"La Castana"

"La Castana" is completely different from the preceding tracks (and from everything that is to follow). It's a slow, moody electronic instrumental track. At times it sounds like sunlight bursting from water to shine on an amazed people. It's an interesting track, especially considering how out of its element it seems, but it does run on a bit longer than necessary.

"Running For Your Life"

In "Running For Your Life," guitars lead into a solid steady rock rhythm. And then the song stays true to that rhythm, not varying much. I love the line, "Where will you go when the high is gone, but still the night keeps going on?"

"His Mother's Son"

"His Mother's Son" begins with a rain sound effect, which I never appreciate. The song also ends with the sounds of rain and wind. But in between, there is some good stuff, particularly the instrumental section, which has a lot of heart.

"Lies In My Heart"

The album concludes with "Lies In My Heart," a fun tune mixing elements of early 1980s rock with 1960s pop sensibilities. It's a perfect summer rock tune, one I'd like to see him perform in concert, especially at an outdoor venue. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "A fortunate one who walks alone in dreams today/When people are talking all they hear is what they say."

The song ends with the repeated line, "will fade away," and true to his word, the song fades away.

CD Track List

  1. Deep Six Saturday
  2. Already Made Up Your Mind
  3. Behind The Parade
  4. Nowhere Drag
  5. La Castana
  6. Running For Your Life
  7. The Long Goodbye
  8. Factory Town
  9. His Mother's Son
  10. Lies In My Heart


Musicians appearing on this album are Tommy Keene on lead vocals, guitars, bass and keyboards; Brad Quinn on bass and harmony vocals; Rob Brill on drums; and Chris Bautista on horns.

Behind The Parade is scheduled to be released August 30, 2011 through Second Motion Records.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ella Fitzgerald And Joe Pass: "Easy Living" (1986/2011 re-issue) CD Review

Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass released their first album together, Take Love Easy, in 1973. They subsequently released two more records (Fitzgerald And Pass...Again and Speak Love) before the tracks for Easy Living were recorded. So they were very familiar with each other, and that shows in this collection of songs. The music seems to flow with ease from these two amazing performers. Easy Living features no other musicians. These songs are all vocals and guitar. And what more do you need?

This re-issue features two bonus tracks, both previously unreleased.

"My Ship"

Easy Living opens with "My Ship," a tune written by Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill for the musical Lady In The Dark. Loose, somewhat sparse playing by Joe Pass on guitar backs Ella's gorgeous voice. The guitar work seems improvised, even - or especially - during the sudden solo a couple of minutes in. The guitar is mellow, but never dull. Ella's voice is bright and lively, then sultry and sexy. She finds, or creates, wonderful modulations throughout. The song begins, "My ship has sails that are made of silk/The decks are trimmed with gold/And of jam and spice there's a paradise in the hold."

"Don't Be That Way"

I love Ella's voice, and I always expect excellent things from her. But "Don't Be That Way" still surprised me - what she does with this song is wonderful. This track is worth it just to hear the way Ella sings the lines, "Don't break my heart/Honey, please don't be that way." But then it leads into some wonderful scat. This is such a great track, one of the CD's best. There are moments when Ella sounds so young; other times she sounds wise with experience.

An alternate take of this song is included in the bonus tracks. Check out the odd and silly "Pop Goes The Weasel" bit in the scat section of that version.

"Days Of Wine And Roses"

Written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, "Days Of Wine And Roses" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1962. Ella and Joe do a wonderful job with it. Ella's voice finds incredible depths and still plays lightly at times. When she sings, "The days of wine and roses/Laugh and run away/Like a child at play," her voice seems to be at play. So beautiful.

"Easy Living"

Easy Living is a film I've long wanted to see. Jean Arthur in a sable coat? Yes, that's enough to get me interested. I wasn't aware of this song, but now I'm even more eager to see the film. Written by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger, this song - as sung by Ella - is pretty darn sexy. This version also features a nice guitar solo.

"(I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance With You"

Their version of "(I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance With You" is kind of a sweet, understated interpretation. Though Ella does belt it out now and again, more so as the song goes on. This version really won me over. It features an interesting guitar solo, with a bit of scat thrown in by Ella - probably my favorite part of this track.

"(I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance With You" was written by Bing Crosby, Ned Washington and Victor Young.

"Love For Sale"

Ella and Joe's version of "Love For Sale" begins with Ella doing a muffled bit of humming over Joe's guitar. Ella then sings, "Who will buy/Who would like to sample my supply/Who's prepared to pay the price/For a trip to paradise." Hearing Ella sing this is "a trip to paradise." This track is all Ella, with Joe Pass just playing a good groove beneath her. There are moments full of humor in Ella's delivery, like the second time she sings, "Old love, new love/Every love but true love/Love, love, love, love for sale." There is more muffled humming toward the end, like someone has a hand over her mouth.

"Love For Sale" was written by Cole Porter. An alternate take of this song is included in the bonus tracks.

"Why Don't You Do Right?"

"Why Don't You Do Right?" is a seriously cool song. Written by Joe McCoy and Lester Melrose, this song was famously recorded by Peggy Lee. Ella Fitzgerald sings this with power and authority. She puts you to shame when she sings, "You're sitting down wondering what it's all about/If you ain't got no money they will put you out/Why don't you do right/Like some other men do/Get out of here and get me some money too." It's enough to make me want to straighten out my own financial situation. And Joe Pass is perfect on guitar.

Kelly's Lot does a cool version of this song on their 2009 release Pastrami & Jam.

"I'm Making Believe"

Ella's voice is particularly beautiful on "I'm Making Believe." This song starts with more than a minute of Joe Pass doing a really pretty solo on guitar. Then Ella comes in, "I'm making believe that you're in my arms/Though I know you're so far away/Making believe I'm talking to you/Wish you could hear what I say." This is a beautiful rendition of "I'm Making Believe," which was written by Jimmy Monaco and Mack Gordon.

CD Track List

  1. My Ship
  2. Don't Be That Way
  3. My Man
  4. Don't Worry 'Bout Me
  5. Days Of Wine And Roses
  6. Easy Living
  7. (I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of Chance With You
  8. Love For Sale
  9. Moonlight In Vermont
  10. On Green Dolphin Street
  11. Why Don't You Do Right?
  12. By Myself
  13. I Want A Little Girl
  14. I'm Making Believe
  15. On A Slow Boat To China
  16. Don't Be That Way (Take 3, Alternate)
  17. Love For Sale (Take 1, Alternate)

This special re-issue of Easy Living was released on June 14, 2011 through Concord Music Group as part of their Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series. Five other CDs in that series were also released on that date: Cannonball Adderly with Bill Evans: Know What I Mean?, Chet Baker: In New York, Ornette Coleman: Something Else!!!!, Bill Evans Trio: Explorations, and Thelonious Monk: Thelonious Alone In San Francisco.

Joe Pass died in 1994. Ella Fitzgerald died in 1996.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Blasters: "Live 1986" (2011) CD Review

I've often said that 1986 was the year that pop music went horribly wrong. It's when it stopped being fun. Music became dull. It was the year the so-called hair bands really took over. We had to put up with Cinderella and Europe and Poison and Whitesnake and Stryper. And at the other end of the spectrum we had Whitney Houston and Billy Ocean putting out songs that were so boring you just wanted to drink some bleach or set your clothes on fire. Remember, 1986 was also the year that Aerosmith kicked drugs (except for drummer Joey Kramer, who'd hold out for another year or so), and they'd never be as good again. We also had the new, less interesting version of Van Halen, not-so-affectionately referred to as Van Hagar. Things had gone wrong.

It's no wonder that 1986 was the year that saw the return of The Monkees, The Grass Roots, The Union Gap and other 1960s bands. People turned to the old stuff, to music they could count on. Anything to escape the vast wasteland of 1986 radio. Sure, there was still some good stuff happening (like 'Til Tuesday and REM), but by and large pop music - and mainstream radio - had gone to hell. Even bands outside the mainstream were feeling the horrid effects of 1986. The Dead Kennedys broke up that year. So did Black Flag. And The Clash. And The Boomtown Rats. Hell, even the Grateful Dead were affected - Jerry Garcia escaped part of the year by going into a diabetic coma.

And 1986 was the year The Blasters played their final shows with their original lineup, before Dave Alvin left (though there would be some reunions later on). The Blasters put out pure fun rock and roll. It sounds like stuff from the 1950s and 1960s, and yet most of these tunes are originals. Written with the heart of roots rock and roll. And heart was hard to come by in 1986. Huey Lewis sang that the heart of rock and roll was still beating, but the year he sang that was 1983. By 1986 Huey was singing about going back in time.

And you could go back in time - sort of - by seeing The Blasters. Like early rock and roll 45s, these songs are pretty short. They breeze in, grab you, and end, the band moving onto the next tune. These songs were recorded at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on February 14, 1986.

"Rock And Roll Will Stand"

The album opens with "Rock And Roll Will Stand," a "Johnny B. Goode"-type tune from The Blasters' 1985 release Hard Line. It's a tune about making it in the music business, with lyrics like, "You're going to get a star on the walk of the fame/Soon you'll have the biggest record in the land/Everybody knows rock and roll will stand." It's not the clearest recording. It seems we're missing the guitars at times in the mix. But hey, things can't be too polished. This is rock and roll.

The guitars are more prominent in the mix by the second tune, "Trouble Bound," also from Hard Line. At times Phil's vocals remind me a bit of Buddy Holly on this one.

"Jubilee Train"

They introduce "Jubilee Train" by saying, "This goes out to all the homeless people." "Jubilee Train" has a great groove and great energy. This is timeless rock. The Blasters must have helped the crowd at The Coach House forget about 1986, and this CD will help you forget about 2011 (if that's your desire). This is earnest rock and roll recorded by good musicians. This is not a cheesy cover band rehashing the classics for an elderly crowd in a park. After all, this tune - one of the CD's best - is an original.

Here is a bit of the lyrics: "Billie Jean was a factory girl/Never had another job in her life/The factory closed down/She was out on the street/She heard about a jubilee train." And yeah, there is a bit of blues in there.

"Jubilee Train" was included on the band's 1983 release, Non Fiction.

"Mystery Train"

"Mystery Train" has always been a favorite of mine. It's been covered by... well, everybody. (I remember a great version by Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders on the Keystone records.)

This version by The Blasters features a steady quick driving beat like a train thundering down the track. It's what makes the song pulse and thrive, rather than the guitars which usually pull the song along. Not that there isn't some darned good stuff on guitar here - because there is, particularly toward the end. "Mystery Train" was written by Junior Parker.

"Just Another Sunday"

"Just Another Sunday" was written by Dave Alvin and John Doe. (For those who aren't familiar with John Doe, he founded the band X, which Dave Alvin joined in the 1980s). This one has a bit of an angrier edge, with its repeated "It's just another Sunday in hell." More rock, less roll on this one. I really dig Phil's vocals on this song.

"I Don't Want To"

"I Don't Want To" is a seriously fun song with a bit of a rebellious attitude, like all good rock and roll has. It starts, "They say I shouldn't waste my life anymore by running around/Well, I should find some nice white girl and settle down/They tell me that's what I should do/But I don't want to." The guitars are glorious, man. Dave Alvin wrote this, and his guitar just screams. This is one of the best tracks.

"Somebody Done Hoodooed The Hoodoo Man"

"Somebody Done Hoodooed The Hoodoo Man" is a great bluesy tune with some wonderful work on harmonica by Phil Alvin. This song features deliciously down and mean lines like, "I'm gonna fix my baby so she can't have no other man." This song is over way too soon. I wish they'd stretched out a bit more.

"I'm Shakin'" is such a cool tune, and these guys do a great job with it. Written by Rudy Toombs, "I'm Shakin'" was also covered by Little Willie John.

"Border Radio"

"Border Radio" is straight-forward, feel-good rock and roll, written by Dave Alvin and featured on the band's 1981 self-title record. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "She tries to remember the heat of his touch/While listening to the Border Radio/She calls toll-free and requests an old song/Something they used to know/She prays to herself that wherever he is/He's listening to the border radio."

"Off The Wall" is a short instrumental tune featuring Phil Alvin on harmonica. It's the album's only instrumental track.

"Long White Cadillac"

"Long White Cadillac" is a seriously fun rock tune that features a nod to "Pipeline" in its extended instrumental intro. At 5:37, this is by the far the longest track on the CD (and some of that is crowd noise after the song has ended). The band cuts loose on this one, and it's easy to picture the audience doing the same. The energy is palpable. Toward the end of the song, Phil sings, "The highway fades to black/It's my last ride/I'm never coming back/In a long white cadillac."

"Long White Cadillac" was included on Non Fiction (1983).

The album concludes with "Marie, Marie," a fast-paced fun number written by Dave Alvin. This song led off the band's 1981 release, and was also included on their 1980 release, American Music. It is also featured in the film Someone To Watch Over Me (1987).

CD Track List

  1. Rock And Roll Will Stand
  2. Trouble Bound
  3. Jubilee Train
  4. Mystery Train
  5. Just Another Sunday
  6. I Don't Want To
  7. Somebody Done Hoodooed The Hoodoo Man
  8. Help You Dream
  9. Crazy Baby
  10. I'm Shakin'
  11. Border Radio
  12. Dark Night
  13. Off The Wall
  14. Red Rose
  15. American Music
  16. Long White Cadillac
  17. Marie Marie


The Blasters are Phil Alvin on guitar, vocals and harmonica; Dave Alvin on lead guitar; John Bazz on bass; and Bill Bateman on drums.

Live 1986 was released on May 31, 2011 through Rock Beat Records.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cannonball Adderley With Bill Evans: "Know What I Mean?" (1961/2011 re-issue) CD Review

I admit that before popping this disc into my player I knew nothing about Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. But I was immediately drawn in and won over. Of course, I had Bill Evans as an access point. Besides playing on this album, it's one of his compositions that begins this release.

Cannonball Adderly played with Miles Davis in the late 1950s, appearing on Milestones (1958), Miles & Monk at Newport (1958), Jazz at the Plaza (1958), Porgy and Bess (1958) and Kind of Blue (1959). (Bill Evans also played on Kind Of Blue.)

"Waltz For Debby"

The album opens with a Bill Evans composition, "Waltz For Debby." This is one of my favorite Bill Evans tunes, and the version here is wonderful. It begins with just Bill Evans on piano - playing delicately, beautifully. It's more than a minute in before the rest of the band comes in, and Cannonball Adderley takes his lead on alto saxophone. And to match Bill's playing, Cannonball's sax is played with beauty and precision. But as the song goes on, Cannonball loosens up, starts blowing harder. It's interesting that after Bill's solo late in the song, when Cannonball comes back in, it's with a softer edge again.


"Goodbye" is a mellow tune, and it's Cannonball's song right from the start, with some wonderful, sustained notes. Bill plays softly, perfectly behind him, and when it's his turn at lead, he doesn't really change what he's doing at first. It's more like Cannonball got interested in what Bill was already doing and stopped playing so he could listen to him. I love Bill Evans' work on this song. It's actually quite a while before Cannonball comes back in.

"Goodbye" was written by Gordon Jenkins. Bill Evans included a version of this song on his 1962 release, Empathy.

"Who Cares?"

"Who Cares?" was written by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin for the 1931 musical Of Thee I Sing. There is a certain swing to the rhythm created by Percy Heath on bass and Connie Kay on drums. Cannonball takes the lead early, and his playing is so wonderful you don't want him to relinquish the lead, but to just go on and on. He is really singing with that sax.

A different take is included in the bonus tracks.


"Venice" starts off as a sly little number with Percy Heath setting the pace and tone on bass, with some work on cymbals by Connie Kay. Then Cannonball comes in, easing into the structure Percy created. It's not until Bill Evans comes in that the song takes on a bit of a brighter or lighter tone. But it doesn't change all that much. This is a totally cool tune.

"Venice" was written by John Lewis.


"Toy" comes on stronger from the start. This song has a catchy hook on saxophone, and interesting changes throughout. It also has a great quick rhythm. I love what Connie Kay does on this track. "Toy" is definitely one of the album's highlights. It was written by Clifford Jordan.

An alternate take of "Toy" is included in the bonus tracks - a take that was previously unreleased.


"Elsa" begins with Bill Evans. The bass and drums create a soft, pretty, easy rhythm. And Bill's playing is sweet. It isn't until nearly two minutes in that Cannonball comes in. He raises the energy level a bit, but it's mostly keeping within the perceived boundaries set by the rest of the band.

Interestingly, earlier that same month that this track was recorded, the Bill Evans Trio recorded this tune for inclusion on Explorations. Bill Evans would later record it again for Trio '65. "Elsa" was written by Earl Zindars.

"Nancy (With The Laughing Face)"

"Nancy (With The Laughing Face)" was written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Phil Silvers, and was famously recorded by Frank Sinatra. (It was also recorded by Tony Bennett and Ray Charles.) I love the delicate playing of Bill Evans on this album's version. And Cannonball's playing has an almost romantic feel, which then changes Bill's playing at the end. And listen to the bass.

"Know What I Mean?"

As it began, this album concludes with a Bill Evans composition. This one being the title track, "Know What I Mean?" Whereas Bill introduced "Waltz For Debby," Cannonball comes in fairly soon on this tune. It's a mellow tune, until the cool bass solo a minute and thirty-seven seconds in. Then the drums come in with more volume, and change the song. Bill's playing on this one is looser at times, before the song returns to its mellower theme.

An alternate take is included in the bonus tracks. This version is longer, with a significantly different beginning - particularly with what Connie Kay is doing on drums.

CD Track List
  1. Waltz For Debby
  2. Goodbye
  3. Who Cares? (Take 5)
  4. Venice
  5. Toy (Take 10)
  6. Elsa
  7. Nancy (With The Laughing Face)
  8. Know What I Mean? (Re-Take 7)
  9. Who Cares (Take 4)
  10. Toy (Take 8)
  11. Know What I Mean? (Take 12)


The musicians on this album are Julian "Cannonball" Adderley on alto saxophone, Bill Evans on piano, Percy Heath on bass, and Connie Kay on drums.

This special re-issue of Know What I Mean? was released on June 14, 2011 through Concord Music Group as part of the Original Jazz Classics Remasters series. Also released on that date were five other titles in that series: Bill Evans Trio: Explorations, Chet Baker: In New York, Ornette Coleman: Something Else!!!!, Thelonious Monk: Thelonious Alone In San Francisco, and Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass: Easy Living.

The new liner notes included with this release have little to do with Cannonball Adderly and Bill Evans, and are more about a jazz magazine and an attempt to interview Thelonious Monk. But the original liner notes are also included.

Julian Cannonball Adderley died in August of 1975.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bill Evans Trio: "Explorations" (1961/2011 re-issue) CD Review

Bill Evans fans have plenty to be happy about these days. Quite a lot of his material is being re-issued, often with bonus tracks - some previously unreleased. The last year has seen the re-issue of Bill Evans Trio's Waltz For Debby (on September 28, 2010), the release of the two-disc set The Definitive Bill Evans On Riverside And Fantasy (on April 5, 2011), the re-issue of the Cannonball Adderley With Bill Evans album Know What I Mean? (on June 14, 2011), and Tony Bennett's The Best Of The Improv Recordings (which includes several duets with Bill Evans, released on July 12, 2011). All of that, in addition to Explorations, means a whole lot of great music.

This special re-issue of Explorations includes four bonus tracks, two of which were previously unreleased.


The CD opens with "Israel." Its first thirty seconds sound disjointed, but not jarringly so. And that intro helps draw the listener in, so he or she is ready when the song really kicks in. This song's most interesting section is the bass solo by Scott LaFaro. It's a soft, almost delicate, and intricate bass solo, played over just the steady closing of the high-hat and a bit of work on the cymbals. Bill Evans comes in for a moment on piano, but the bass solo isn't quite over, and Bill goes silent again. Soon after he comes in again, there is a brief but very unusual drum solo by Paul Motian. His solo is not about rolls or speed. It's about briefly exploring a strange rhythm with the entire kit.

Paul Motian has played with a wide variety of musicians over the years including Thelonious Monk, Arlo Guthrie and Bill Frisell.

"Israel" was written by John Carisi.

"Beautiful Love"

"Beautiful Love" is a peppy tune. At first it's the rhythm by Paul Motian that catches my attention. But then Bill Evans comes to the fore. At times, Bill Evans seems to be playing two complete piano parts at once. There is something loose, yet precise about his playing that is intriguing. "Beautiful Love" was written by Haven Gillespie, Wayne King, Egbert Van Alstyne and Victor Young. It was introduced in 1931 by the Wayne King Orchestra.

A different, longer take of this tune is included in the bonus tracks. At moments, this other version seems gloriously less structured, with more energy.


"Nardis" was written by Miles Davis. It appeared on Cannonball Adderly's 1958 release, Portrait Of Cannonball, an album that features Bill Evans on piano. Bill Evans of course played with Miles Davis for a short period in the late 1950s, appearing 1958 Miles (1958) and Kind Of Blue (1959). "Nardis" is a fairly mellow tune. It feature nice work on bass by Scott LaFaro, though his time in the lead position might go on a tad long.

"How Deep Is The Ocean?"

"How Deep Is The Ocean?" was written by Irving Berlin in 1932. It has been covered by many artists, including Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and The Isley Brothers. Bill Evans' version has a good steady groove, with some wonderful work on piano.

A slightly longer take is included in the bonus tracks - one that was previously unreleased. Bill Evans' playing is more playful, fanciful at the beginning of this version, and I really like it. This version makes this re-issue worth owning.

"I Wish I Knew"

"I Wish I Knew" was written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. The version here is a slow, thoughtful rendition. A different take is included in the bonus tracks.

"Sweet And Lovely"

The original album concluded with "Sweet And Lovely," written by Gus Arnheim, Harry Tobias, and Jules Lemare. Lots of folks have covered this song over the years, including Thelonious Monk, Sonny Stitt, Blue Mitchell and Buddy Powell. But this rendition by Bill Evans is particularly interesting. It definitely has the feel of a loose jam. And Paul Motian often stops, then springs back into action - while Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro just cut loose and play. And then Paul has another bizarre solo toward the end. This is one of my favorite tracks on this release.

CD Track List
  1. Israel
  2. Haunted Heart
  3. Beautiful Love
  4. Elsa
  5. Nardis
  6. How Deep Is the Ocean?
  7. I Wish I Knew
  8. Sweet And Lovely
  9. The Boy Next Door
  10. Beautiful Love (Take 1)
  11. How Deep Is The Ocean? (Take 2)
  12. I Wish I Knew (Take 2)

The Bill Evans Trio is Bill Evans on piano, Scott LaFaro on bass, and Paul Motian on drums.

This special re-issue of Explorations was released on June 14th through Concord Music Group as part of the Original Jazz Classics Remasters series. Also released on that date were five other titles in that series: Cannonball Adderly with Bill Evans: Know What I Mean?, Chet Baker: In New York, Ornette Coleman: Something Else!!!!, Thelonious Monk: Thelonious Alone In San Francisco, and Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass: Easy Living.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Fur Dixon & Steve Werner: "Songs Of The Open Road Volume One" (2011) CD Review

Though the majority of songs they perform in concert are originals, Fur Dixon & Steve Werner have always chosen some wonderful tunes to cover. So it seemed only natural that they should eventually release an album of covers. And that is exactly what Songs Of The Open Road Volume One is. The album's title is no false promise. These are songs of the road, of the land, of travel.

As they generally do in concert and on their original CDs, they trade off lead vocals, track by track.


Fur Dixon & Steve Werner open Songs Of The Open Road Volume One with "Southbound," a wonderful tune written by Doc Watson and Merle Watson. This is a perfect song for this duo, as it's about being stuck in a city, listening to the sounds of trains. These are themes and images these two are drawn to again and again. Steve does the lead vocals on this one, and I absolutely love the way he sings it. Brantley Kearns plays fiddle on this track.

"I Like How I Feel"

"I Like How I Feel" is a sweet, slow love song written by Randall Lamb. I can't get enough of Fur singing the slower tunes. They're among my favorites of their original material, and Fur does an excellent job with this song. It starts, "My eyes are on the road/My hands are on the wheel/When I'm with you/I like the way that I feel." Again, these lyrics fulfill the promise of the album's title. Fur Dixon & Steve Werner often sing of traveling; in fact, their previous album was titled Travelers.

John McDuffie plays pedal steel on this one.

"Do Re Mi"

"Do Re Mi" is a song that Fur Dixon and Steve Werner often perform in concert. Steve has said it's his favorite Woody Guthrie tune. Those of us who live in California find these lyrics sadly still accurate and relevant: "California is the garden of Eden/A paradise to live in or see/But believe it or not/You won't find it so hot/If you ain't got the do re mi."

Otoño Lujan plays button accordion on this track. Tony Zamora plays guitarron. They give the song a happier, almost celebratory feel, which is a wonderful juxtaposition with the desperation and cynicism (read that as realism) of the lyrics. I also love what Steve does on guitar on this track.

"Dreary Black Hills"

"Dreary Black Hills" is a traditional folk song that is incredibly pretty. I know I've said it before, but Fur has such a great voice. And it's so well suited for traditional, timeless folk songs.

Steve Werner plays banjo on this track. Brantley Kearns plays fiddle.

"Waitin' For The Hard Times To Go"

"Waitin' For The Hard times To Go" is one of those great sad folk tunes full of yearning. Steve sings it with just the right emotion in his voice. It was written by Jim Ringer. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "I need someone to talk to/But I want you to know/I ain't putting you down/But I don't like your town/Just hanging around/Waiting for the hard times to go."

"Clay Pigeons"

"Clay Pigeons" is a wonderful song written by Blaze Foley. Fur's voice is so sweet, even on what could be a silly line like, "Go where the people say 'y'all'." This song really captures what Fur Dixon & Steve Werner are all about, especially in lines like "Singing songs for the people I meet" and "Singing songs with a friend." Music always seems the best way of communicating - because it's not just thoughts, but emotions that are conveyed. And people are more able to hear you if they can feel what you're saying. Perhaps that's why everyone who hears Fur Dixon and Steve Werner immediately thinks of them as friends.

"De Colores"

"De Colores" is a surprise. It's a traditional tune, sung completely in Spanish. Steve sings lead, and does a great job with it. There is an undeniable beauty to this song. Otoño Lujan plays accordion on this track.

"The Dealers" and "Prairie In The Sky"

The only songwriter to be represented twice on this album is Mary McCaslin. This is another surprise. Those who have seen Fur & Steve in concert might expect two Woody Guthrie songs, or two Johnny Cash songs to appear on this release. Mary McCaslin is known not only for her songwriting, but also for her interesting covers of folk, pop and rock tunes. She also performed and recorded with her husband, Jim Ringer (who wrote this album's "Waiting For The Hard Times To Go").

Fur Dixon sings lead on "The Dealers." Paul Cartwright plays fiddle on this track.

Steve Werner takes lead vocal duties on "Prairie In The Sky." John McDuffie plays pedal steel on this one. Tom Russell and Bill Staines have also covered this song.

"Prairie In The Sky" and "The Dealers" were both included on Mary McCaslin's 1975 release, Prairie In The Sky (which was re-issued in 1995).

"I Cannot Settle Down"

The album concludes with "I Cannot Settle Down," an excellent folk song written by Dan Janisch. Fur sings lead on this one. Steve joins her on the chorus: "But you see I cannot settle down/There's just so much that's left unfound/So I'll keep drifting like a cloud/On the wind, on the wind." A perfect ending to this collection of songs about the road. Paul Marshall plays auto-harp on this track. Steve Werner plays banjo.

CD Track List

  1. Southbound
  2. I Like How I Feel
  3. Do Re Mi
  4. Dreary Black Hills
  5. Waitin' For The Hard Times To Go
  6. Clay Pigeons
  7. De Colores
  8. The Dealers
  9. Prairie In The Sky
  10. I Cannot Settle Down


Musicians on this album include Fur Dixon on vocals, rhythm guitar and bells; Steve Werner on vocals, lead guitar and banjo; Paul Marshall on bass and auto-harp; John McDuffie on pedal steel guitar; Brantley Kearns on fiddle; Paul Cartwright on fiddle; Otoño Lujan on button accordion; and Tony Zamora on guitarron.

Fur and Steve show no signs of slowing down, and for that I'm grateful. The "Volume One" in the title implies more to come. Here are my requests for volume two: "I'll Fly Away," "I Got Stripes" and "This Land Is Your Land," all three being songs they cover in concert.

Fur Dixon and Steve Werner put on a wonderful show. They don't really tour much outside of the Los Angeles area (despite the majority of their material being about traveling), so you have to come out here. It would be worth the trip to see them - even if you did nothing else while you were here.

Songs Of The Open Road Volume One was released February 1, 2011 through Grass And Gravel Records.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fur Dixon & Steve Werner At McCabe's 7-15-11 Concert Review

Last night Fur Dixon & Steve Werner put on a phenomenal show at McCabe's in Santa Monica. The room was crowded even though the authorities had put the fear into people about driving during what they're calling "Carmageddon" - which is the time while the 405 highway is closed. The 405 was still open during the drive to the show, and though it was rush hour on a Friday (when traffic is usually at a standstill everywhere in L.A.), we got from North Hollywood to Santa Monica in fifteen minutes. Thanks, terrified people, for not being on the road.

Steve Werner joked right at the beginning of the concert about the whole traffic scare, "What are they going to show us that we haven't seen already?" He also said that they made it from the valley to Santa Monica quicker than ever before.

Fur Dixon & Steve Werner did two sets. The first set was basically their new album, Songs Of The Open Road Volume One. They played all of the tracks from it, though not in the same order as they're presented on the CD. Songs Of The Open Road is an album of covers - their first such recording, and it includes a lot of great tunes. Some of the songwriters that Fur & Steve covered on that album were in the audience, including Randall Lamb and Dan Janisch.

They opened with "Southbound," a tune written by Doc Watson and Merle Watson. This is also the song that opens the album, and it was a great choice to start the evening. After that tune Steve talked about how great it was to play at McCabe's, "where all my favorite people play. Now I can be one of my favorite people."

Fur Dixon introduced "Dreary Black Hills," a traditional tune, by saying it is "the way folk music, in my opinion, is supposed to be done."

After that song, they introduced the band. Brantley Kearns was on fiddle. Fur said that his presence gave them legitimacy. Brantley has played with David Bromberg, Dwight Yoakam and Rick Shea, among others. He also played fiddle in the Robert Altman film McCabe & Mrs. Miller (which of course qualifies him as one of the coolest people on the planet). John "Groover" McDuffie was on pedal steel. John has played with Rita Coolidge and The Psychedelic Cowboys, and is also a songwriter. Paul Marshall was on stand-up acoustic bass. Paul Marshall will be familiar to music fans as the bass player for I See Hawks In L.A. He also, back in the day, sang with The Strawberry Alarm Clock. Yes, that Paul Marshall. All of these musicians play on the new CD as well.

Otoño Lujan joined the band on accordion for "De Colores," and stayed for the rest of the first set. (He also plays on Songs Of The Open Road.) "De Colores" was played with an incredible amount of passion, and was the only song of the evening not sung in English.

During the intro to "Do Re Mi," Steve mentioned that his birthday had been the day before - July 14th - which is also Woody Guthrie's birthday. Of all the songs presented on the new CD, "Do Re Mi" is the one that Fur Dixon & Steve Werner have performed the most often, and they always do a great job with it. Steve has said before that it is his favorite Woody Guthrie tune.

They ended the first set with "I Cannot Settle Down," which Fur Dixon dedicated to her mother, who was in the audience. Fur credited her as being the source of her travel bug. After that song, a birthday cake was brought up on stage for Steve. He joked that there were twenty extra candles on it.

The band then took a set break, and invited the audience to partake of the cake. (It was delicious, by the way.)

They opened the second set with "Ventura County Line," one of my favorite songs from their first full-length CD, The Pearl And The Swine (2006).

Before "Homesick For The Highway Blues," Steve asked to hear everyone's yodel. He then generously judged the collective yodel "Excellent," which got a laugh from the crowd, who knew better. "Homesick For The Highway Blues" is from Fur & Steve's 2009 release, Travelers. They played several songs from that album during the second set, including the absolutely beautiful "Summer's Gone Again." Steve played harmonica at the beginning and end of that song.

In introducing "Scars," Steve joked, "This song is called 'Scars,' and it goes out to anyone who has it comin' to him." Steve also joked during his introduction to "Brother Tumbleweed," "This song goes out to every crusty old dude in here."

Throughout the night, but especially before (and during) "Journey To Another Side," there was a lot of sweet joking around between Fur and Steve. Fur said that a man cleaning around the house is sexy, but Steve said he wasn't going to fall for that. He thought instead of being sexy it was exhausting. And on the line "You and me and things that last the test of time," Fur gave Steve a playful kick. Fur sang "the ripe old age of 95" instead of "65." And on the line about "big underwear," Steve cheered, which got a laugh from the audience (and band members, for that matter). Otoño Lujan returned to the stage for "Journey To Another Side," and stayed for the rest of the second set and encore.

The audience sang along with "Backroads And Blues Skies," an old favorite from The Pearl And The Swine, and "Friends Around The Fire," a newer favorite from Travelers. (As a side note to Bob Dylan fans, Scarlet Rivera plays fiddle on the album version of "Backroads And Blue Skies.")

The encore was an excellent rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" - complete with all the verses, not just the ones deemed nice enough for radio back in the day. Steve Werner has said before that this song should be our national anthem, and I completely agree. I encourage folks to sing this song whenever the current national anthem is played. Sing it loudly.

Set List

Set I
  1. Southbound
  2. The Dealers
  3. Prairie In The Sky
  4. Dreary Black Hills
  5. Waiting For The Hard Times To Go
  6. I Like How I Feel
  7. De Colores
  8. Clay Pigeons
  9. Do Re Mi
  10. I Cannot Settle Down
Set II
  1. Ventura County Line
  2. Homesick For The Highway Blues
  3. Summer's Gone Again
  4. Scars
  5. Journey To Another Side
  6. Brother Tumbleweed
  7. Backroads And Blues Skies
  8. Friends Around The Fire
  1. This Land Is Your Land

After the show, Fur Dixon and Steve Werner signed copies of their CDs.

By the way, though the 405 wasn't supposed to close until midnight, we found it closed at 10:48 p.m. We ended up taking Santa Monica to Coldwater Canyon, and there was no traffic whatsoever. Thanks again, terrified people, for staying off the roads and out of our way. But you did miss a fantastic concert.

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

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wagons: "Rumble, Shake And Tumble" (2011) CD Review

The new album from Australian band Wagons is bursting with attitude and energy, but also passion. Obvious comparisons can be made to Nick Cave, particularly in the vocals. But there are many other influences heard in this material, including the more interesting and darker side of country.

Henry Wagons wrote all of this album's songs, except "Willie Nelson," which was written by Anto Mac, Dominic Bourke and Henry Wagons.


Rumble, Shake And Tumble opens with "Downlow," which starts with a steady rock beat like something from The Knack. But when the guitar kicks in, it sounds very similar to Tom Petty. This is a song about keeping a love secret, with lines like "Working at the bar don't pay too good/Black sheep of the neighbourhood/Find a little a place without the booze and the fights/Out of the gaze of those prying eyes." It's not a bad song, but it's probably my least favorite from this album. The rest of the album is so much better.

"I Blew It"

"I Blew It" has a incredibly fun rhythm and good energy. From this song comes the album's title (in the lines, "Got myself in trouble/Rumble, shake and tumble"). I love Henry Wagons' vocals on this one. Sure, he's admitting his mistakes, but his voice is not full of regret (though he sings the line, "One thing I regret it's true"). Its more matter-of-fact. In fact, his voice is almost boasting rather than lamenting. And the music is pretty upbeat. It ends with the lines, "One thing just between you and me/We always knew I'd blow it didn't we/One thing I'll regret it's true/I blew it when it came to you."

"Moon Into Sun"

"Moon Into Sun" is a country rock tune with kind of a sad feel and some good lyrics. Here is a taste: "Everybody tells me things will heal with time/But I have seen these hands spin a million miles/Please lift me from this downright funk/Douse my flames with a fire-truck." This track is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. Chris Altmann plays pedal steel on this track.

"Willie Nelson"

Willie Nelson is one of the world's best songwriters, and it's interesting how many other songwriters mention him in their own songs. Just last month, we heard Gary Nicholson sing "Listen To Willie," a song all about Willie Nelson (on Texas Songbook). As Henry Wagons sings, "Sometimes I listen to Elvis/Sometimes I listen to Cash/Sometimes I listen to Waylon/But it all goes back to the one and only/Willie, Willie, Willie, Willie/Willie Nelson." Amen.

Chris Altmann plays pedal steel on this track.

"Love Is Burning"

Right at the beginning of "Love Is Burning," I'm reminded of the Violent Femmes. This song sounds like it would be right at home on their New Times album. It has that raw, angry (yet still fun) drive. Though this song is more forceful than most of the material by the Violent Femmes (and has none of the whiny quality that characterizes some of their songs).

"My Daydreams"

"My Daydreams" is actually a really sweet acoustic tune. It reminds me a bit of Son Volt - something in the voice at times - a slight mumbling element that Jay Farrar has. Henry sings, "We've both been down this road before/Throwing our love across the sea/One day soon it'll just be you and me/And 'til that day I'll hold you in my/Daydreams." I just wish they'd cut the backing vocals that repeat lines toward the end - they add a cheesiness that has no place in this song. This song is much better than that.

Chris Altmann plays pedal steel on this track. Biddy Connor plays bowed saw. Peeps Wagon is credited as playing "collar shake," whatever that is.

"Save Me"

"Save Me" is my favorite track on this album. It's seriously catchy. You'll be singing along, and later when you're away from your CD player, this song will find its way into your head. I absolutely love this song, and welcome its intrusion into my thoughts any time. Check out these lyrics: "At the bottom of the ocean, the water's not blue/When you hit rock bottom, light don't seem to cut through/I feel like I'm drowning in the deep dark blue, but my heart's still beating and it beats for you." But it's the chorus you'll find yourself singing: "Save me, save me, I don't know what to do/I'm lost in the forest, can't find my way through/We're all lookin' for a path, some kinda clue, well my search is over, I'm following you."


The album concludes with "Marylou." Yes, it's about time that Marylou re-entered the world of song. That name used to grace many tunes. Then she disappeared for a while. And now she's back, and in great form. In fact, Henry sings, "And now you're back/Right in front of me."

CD Track List
  1. Downlow
  2. I Blew It
  3. Moon Into The Sun
  4. Willie Nelson
  5. Love Is Burning
  6. My Daydreams
  7. Save Me
  8. Follow The Leader
  9. Life's Too Short
  10. Marylou


Wagons are Henry Wagons on vocals, guitar, banjo, and keyboards; Mark Dawson on bass, drums, keyboards, guitar and backing vocals; Si Francis on drums, bass and cowbell; Matthew Hassett on keyboards and backing vocals; Richard Blaze on lead guitar; Steve Hassett on backing vocals; and Chad Mason on electric guitar.

Cornel Wilczek plays sitar on "Follow The Leader."

Rumble, Shake And Tumble is scheduled to be released August 16, 2011 on Spunk Records through Thirty Tigers. It was released in Australia on May 6, 2011.

Wagons released Trying To Get Home in 2006.

I'm hoping Wagons will tour the U.S. again soon, because this is a band I absolutely have to see in concert.

(For those who are interested, check out their video for "I Blew It." Enjoy.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Paul McCartney: "McCartney II" (1980/2011 re-issue) CD Review

Music was in a strange state in 1980. Hard rock was basically finished. Bon Scott died on February 19th, 1980. John Bonham died in September of 1980. Pure disco was ending, being combined with pop, but the great pop songs of the 1980s were still a couple of years away. Punk had been co-opted. Folk was dead (and wouldn't be revived for several years). And by the end of 1980, John Lennon was gone.

During this year, Paul McCartney released his second real solo album, McCartney II. In some ways, it's very different from his first solo album, McCartney, released a decade earlier. This one takes its inspiration and sound from all over - from pop and dance music, from rock and roll, from the ether. However, like McCartney, this album features some instrumental tracks. And like the earlier album, Paul McCartney plays all the instruments and does the vocals. Linda provides harmonies, as she did on McCartney.

This is the third release in the Paul McCartney Archive Collection.

"Coming Up"

McCartney II opens with a funky dance number, "Coming Up." This song was released as a single and reached #1 on the Billboard chart. It opens with the lines, "You want a love to last forever/One that will never fade away/I want to help you with your problem/Stick around, I say."

A live version of this song from 1979 is included on the second disc. The dance beat is not as pronounced in the live version, and there is a wonderful horn section. I could do without the silly video game-type sound effect partway through, however.

"Temporary Secretary"

"Temporary Secretary" opens with a synthesized rhythm, sounding very much like some of the 1980s pop - Paul was a bit ahead of the curve with this one. And then there is the wonderful juxtaposition of the acoustic guitar over it. And the vocals are seriously catchy, and pretty humorous too. Lines like "She can be a neurosurgeon/If she's doin' nothin' urgent" caused me to laugh out loud. I really dig this tune.

It was released as a single in the UK, but not the US.

"On The Way"

"On The Way" is one of the coolest songs on this album. It has a simple slow groove, and some nice work on guitar, some cool blues licks. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "Well you know I'll always love you/Everything will be ok/If I know you don't mind/The things I say/On the way."

"Nobody Knows"

"Nobody Knows" is more in the rock and roll vein, with a bit of a bluesy edge. It's sort of a throwback to the really early Beatles material (before they came to the U.S.), and as such it's a real treat. This is a fun song. Turn it up and enjoy.


There are two instrumental tracks on McCartney II. The first, "Front Parlour," sounds like a pleasant afternoon party thrown by electronic frogs.

The second, "Frozen Jap," sounds like a hospital to me - the thumping of machinery to keep people alive, but in a state that's not quite real, not quite living, yet with hints of optimism, sunlight streaming into the rooms, the busy routine of the staff.

"Bogey Music"

"Bogey Music" is a strange combination of 1950s rock and roll with contemporary pop and editing and effects. But it does capture that innocent sense of fun. And it has a good beat.

"Darkroom" reminds me a bit of 1980s Egyptian pop music. Its uneven pace, however, is jarring at times.

"One Of These Days"

The album concludes with a simple acoustic number titled "One Of These Days." This is perhaps closest to some of his earlier solo tracks. It's certainly the prettiest song on this album. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "One of these days/When we both are at our ease/When you've got time to please yourself."

Second Disc

The second disc begins with "Blue Sway," a pop song with orchestration by Richard Niles. I wish Paul's vocals were a little more prominent in the mix. There are moments when this song curiously reminds me of Wham.

"Check My Machine" begins with a series of pre-recorded voices: "Hi, George," "Morning, Terry." With dance and industrial elements, this song is a strange surprise. Clubs that have an '80s night should throw this song into the mix. Seriously. Sure, it's a bit repetitive, but it's a dance song. It's fun.

"Bogey Wobble" is another strange one. You would never guess that this is a Paul McCartney song. It's an electronic instrumental tune that sounds at times like it could belong on the soundtrack to a terrible 1980s film about a futuristic motorcycle driven by a robot who is loved by a woman with long curly brown hair.

"Secret Friend" was originally released as the flip side to the UK single of "Temporary Secretary." Paul is clearly having fun electronically altering his voice. This song has a good rhythm that sounds like something the Talking Heads might have recorded early in their career. There is a short section that is just the rhythm, which is cool. This is the full-length version, just over ten minutes.

"Mr. H Atom" starts with a voice saying "Shangri-Las versus The Village People." I have no idea who would win that battle. But this song is ridiculously catchy. It shouldn't be, but it is. It fades out after approximately two and a half minutes, and "You Know I'll Get You Baby" begins. I wonder why these weren't presented as two separate tracks. They're both repetitive, so I suppose they fit together. But while the first is catchy, the second becomes a bit annoying.

I never cared for "Wonderful Christmastime." There are so few enjoyable Christmas songs, and this just isn't one of them.

The bonus disc ends with "All You Horse Riders/Blue Sway." "All You Horse Riders" is, well, kind of awful. Paul is basically singing instructions on riding a horse. It's unbelievable. But once you do finally believe it, it becomes unbearable. Fortunately three and a half minutes in, it segues into "Blue Sway."

CD Track List

Disc 1:

  1. Coming Up
  2. Temporary Secretary
  3. On The Way
  4. Waterfalls
  5. Nobody Knows
  6. Front Parlour
  7. Summer's Day Song
  8. Frozen Jap
  9. Bogey Music
  10. Darkroom
  11. One Of These Days
Disc 2:

  1. Blue Sway
  2. Coming Up (Live At Glasgow, 1979)
  3. Check My Machine (Edit)
  4. Bogey Wobble
  5. Secret Friend
  6. Mr. H Atom/You Know I'll Get You Baby
  7. Wonderful Christmastime (Edited Version)
  8. All You Horse Riders/Blue Sway

As with the two-disc version of McCartney, the booklet for McCartney II includes lots of great photos and the lyrics to the songs from the first disc, but no real liner notes. For this Archive Collection release I was hoping for extensive notes, especially about the bonus tracks.

McCartney II was originally released in May of 1980. This special two-disc edition was released on June 14, 2011. There is also a four-disc edition available, the third disc being another CD and the fourth being a DVD. That version also includes a 128-page book, which has the information I sought in the booklet for the two-disc version. The two-disc version is also available on vinyl.

Released on that same day is the Paul McCartney Archive Collection edition of McCartney. The first CD in this series, Band On The Run, was released late last year. Future planned releases include Ram, Wings At The Speed Of Sound, Wings Over America, and Venus And Mars. I am looking forward to all of those.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Paul McCartney: "McCartney" (1970/2011 re-issue) CD Review

In 1970 when the Beatles were breaking up and Let It Be was about to be released, Paul McCartney released his first solo album, titled simply McCartney. And this is really a solo album. He plays all the instruments and does the vocals. Linda provides harmonies. And that's it.

McCartney has always been one of my favorite Paul McCartney albums - maybe my favorite, though there are times when I can't get enough of Band On The Run. Sure, the first song is a throwaway tune - a little love song to his wife - but it's sweet and it's over in less than a minute. And almost everything that follows is excellent.

This special edition of the album contains a second disc of bonus material, including two versions of "Maybe I'm Amazed." This is the second release in the the Paul McCartney Archive Collection (the first being last year's issue of Band On The Run).

"That Would Be Something"

"That Would Be Something" is such a damn cool song, one of the best from this album (and really, one of the best in McCartney's post-Beatles career). The lyrics are just, "That would be something/That really would be something/That would be something/To meet you in the falling rain, momma/Meet you in the falling rain." Simple, but effective.

The Grateful Dead covered this one a few times toward the end of their career. (I was lucky enough to be present at the concert when they first played it; that show was later released as Dick's Picks Volume Seventeen.)

"Every Night"

"Every Night" would have fit in with the Beatles later material. You could easily imagine this on the White Album or Abbey Road. It's a sweet love song with lines like, "Every morning brings a new day/And every night that day is through/But tonight I just want to stay in/And be with you... and be with you." A live version of this song from 1979 is included on the second disc.


"Junk" is another tune that sounds like it would fit perfectly on the White Album. And in fact it was recorded in 1968 for inclusion on that album. It didn't make the cut (though that album is a double LP). However, later that version was included on Anthology 3. This song is really pretty. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "'Buy, buy,' says the sign in the shop window/Why, why? says the junk in the yard."

"Singalong Junk" is an instrumental version of "Junk." The "Singalong" in the title implies that the listener should sing to the track. Does that make this an early karaoke track?

"Momma Miss America"

"Momma Miss America" is one of my favorite tunes from this album. It's a fantastic instrumental with a catchy groove. I'm surprised that Quentin Tarantino hasn't used this one in a film yet. Seriously, I think he'd be beside himself with excitement listening to this track. I've actually spent hours listening to this one over and over, back when it was originally released on CD. Hours well spent, honestly.

"Teddy Boy"

"Teddy Boy" is another song that was recorded for possible inclusion on a Beatles album - this one for Let It Be. It was later included on Anthology 3. The chorus is "Momma don't worry now/Teddy Boy's here/Taking good care of you/Momma don't worry your Teddy Boy's here/Teddy's gonna see you through."

"Maybe I'm Amazed"

I've always preferred this version of "Maybe I'm Amazed" to the full-band version released in 1976 on Wings Over America and in 1977 as a single. It's less polished. It has this great raw power and energy, particularly in his vocals. "Maybe I'm Amazed" is a fantastic song, one of the best Paul McCartney ever wrote. It starts, "Baby I'm amazed at the way you love me all the time/And maybe I'm afraid of the way I love you." Perfect. The most famous song from this release, "Maybe I'm Amazed" became a staple of McCartney's live performances. This original version fades out at the end.

Two other versions of "Maybe I'm Amazed" are included on the second disc. The first is from One Hand Clapping (a 1974 film directed by David Litchfield), with Paul on keyboard. The second is a concert performance from 1979. In the live version, Paul's voice sounds a bit strained and tired (almost like Rod Stewart at moments), but that element actually really works for this song.


The album concludes with "Kreen-Akrore." I always forget about this song. This meandering track (in which Paul seems to be learning how to play drums) never did anything for me, and is my least favorite from this album. It's an instrumental, sort of - there are vocals, but no lyrics.

(By the way, Kreen-Akrore was the name for an indigenous people in Amazon. They're now called the Panara.)

Second Disc

The second disc contains just over twenty-five minutes of music, and so it could have actually fit onto the first disc. But I'm glad they separated these bonus tracks from the originally released album.

The first song is a strange little number titled "Suicide." This song fades in, and features Paul on vocals and piano. It definitely has a strong sense of him goofing around, trying to feel his way through the song. It's a treat to listen to what seems essentially to be a rehearsal.

There are three songs from a concert in Glasgow from 1979: "Every Night," "Hot As Sun" and "Maybe I'm Amazed." "Hot As Sun" is a fun instrumental. On the original album it is paired with another instrumental track titled "Glasses." The live version features a horn section that is wonderful.

"Don't Cry Baby" is basically an instrumental version of "Oo You." At the beginning, Paul is telling a crying baby: "Don't cry, little baby/Don't cry/Daddy's going to play you a lullabye." He then counts off, and the song goes into the instrumental. And in some ways I actually prefer this instrumental version. It's seriously cool.

The final track is a demo of "Women Kind," which has Paul on vocals and piano. This song has almost a cabaret feel. The lyrics begin, "Women kind/They have a terrible time/From the age of ten/They're chased by men/Oh, what a crime." It even includes references to bra-burning. Paul does a silly voice partway through the tune, which is amusing. But this is certainly not among his best material. And he even makes fart noises at the end.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. The Lovely Linda
  2. That Would Be Something
  3. Valentine Day
  4. Every Night
  5. Hot As Sun/Glasses
  6. Junk
  7. Man We Was Lonely
  8. Oo You
  9. Momma Miss America
  10. Teddy Boy
  11. Singalong Junk
  12. Maybe I'm Amazed
  13. Kreen-Akrore

Disc 2

  1. Suicide (Out-take)
  2. Maybe I'm Amazed (from One Hand Clapping)
  3. Every Night (Live At Glasgow, 1979)
  4. Hot As Sun (Live At Glasgow, 1979)
  5. Maybe I'm Amazed (Live At Glasgow, 1979)
  6. Don't Cry Baby (Out-take)
  7. Women Kind (Demo)

The booklet includes lots of great photos and the lyrics to the songs from the first disc, but for this Archive Collection release I was hoping for some extensive liner notes, and there are none. For example, I would have loved some information about the bonus tracks.

This special two-disc edition of McCartney was released on June 14, 2011. There is also a three-disc edition available, the third disc being a DVD which includes some concert footage and two songs from MTV Unplugged. That version also includes a 128-page book, which has the information I sought in the booklet for the two-disc version. The two-disc version is also available on vinyl.

Released on that same day is the Paul McCartney Archive Collection edition of McCartney II. Released last year in this series was Band On The Run. Future planned releases include Ram, Wings At The Speed Of Sound, Wings Over America, and Venus And Mars. I'm really looking forward to all of those. I'm one of those people who would like to own every song that every member of The Beatles ever recorded. And I know I'm not alone in this.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tony Bennett: "The Best Of The Improv Recordings" (2011) CD Review

Tony Bennett has a great voice, and a great sense of romance. Those elements have kept fans coming back to his music for decades.

Improv is the name of the label that Tony Bennett and Bill Hassett created in the 1970s. This was after Columbia had treated Bennett poorly. Bennett had been eager to leave that label for years. But he finished out his contract with Columbia and then set about creating Improv. The problem with creating an independent label is distribution. Columbia wanted to act as distributor for Improv, but Hassett turned the label down. Improv lasted only a couple of years, but during that short time Tony Bennett made some of the best recordings of his career. This disc contains sixteen of those tracks.

Nearly half of the tracks are Rodgers and Hart songs. Tony Bennett put out two entire albums of such tunes: Tony Bennett Sings 10 Rodgers & Hart Songs (1973) and Tony Bennett Sings...More Great Rodgers & Hart (1973).

"This Can't Be Love"

The album opens with a Rodgers and Hart tune, "This Can't Be Love," which was originally written for The Boys From Syracuse (which was based on William Shakespeare's The Comedy Of Errors). And it's a great tune. It's easy to see why Tony Bennett recorded two entire albums of this material. And it's the band that really makes these tracks wonderful, particularly Ruby Braff on cornet on this tune. They have a great jazzy groove going on in this rendition. The band is Ruby Braff on cornet, George Barnes on guitar, Wayne Wright on guitar and John Giuffrida on bass.

Here is a taste of the lyrics: "This can't be love/I get no dizzy spell/My head is not in the sky."

"Isn't It Romantic?"

"Isn't It Romantic?" - another song written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart - features some great work on guitar, and a nice rhythm provided by John Giuffrida on bass. This song was introduced in the 1932 film Love Me Tonight. This beautiful version by Tony Bennett is from Tony Bennett Sings 10 Rodgers & Hart Songs.

"Blue Moon"

Okay, I have to admit I had no idea that Rodgers and Hart had written "Blue Moon." Nor did I know that the song was written in 1934. How many covers have you heard of this song over the years? Everyone from Sha Na Na to the Cowboy Junkies have recorded it. From Elvis Presley to Mel Torme.

Tony Bennett's version is seriously cool, and it has the first verse, which is often left out. In case you haven't heard it, here it is: "Once upon a time before I took up smiling I hated the moonlight/Shadows of the night that poets find beguiling seemed flat as the noon light/With no one to stay up for I went to sleep at ten/Life was a bitter cup for the saddest of all men."

"Thou Swell"

"Thou Swell" is a fun tune written by Rodgers and Hart. This one is from Tony Bennett Sings...More Great Rodgers & Hart, which features the same band as on the first record of Rodgers and Hart tunes. That is, Tony Bennett on vocals, Ruby Braff on cornet, George Barnes on guitar, Wayne Wright on guitar, and John Giuffrida on bass.

"You Don't Know What Love Is"

"You Don't Know What Love Is" is a bluesy number that features Bill Evans on piano. It's from an album titled Together Again, which was released in 1977. Four tracks from that record are included on this release.

Bill Evans has a really nice solo on "You Must Believe In Spring." And for those who can't get enough of Bill Evans, two other CDs were re-issued through Concord Music Group last month: Bill Evans Trio: Explorations and Cannonball Adderly With Bill Evans: Know What I Mean? (both of which have several bonus tracks).

"The Lady Is A Tramp"

"The Lady Is A Tramp" is a cool tune written by Rodgers and Hart, and driven by John Guiffrida's wonderful bass line. Tony Bennett has fun with this one. And there is some excellent work by Ruby Braff on cornet and George Barnes on guitar.

For those who might never have heard a version of this song (is there anyone who hasn't?), here is a bit of the lyrics: "She likes the theatre, but never comes late/She never bothers with people she hates/That's why the lady is a tramp."

"As Time Goes By"

"As Time Goes By" is one of the greatest songs ever written. I never get tired of this one. It's been covered by many artists over the years including Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Willie Nelson. It was famously used in what is possibly the best film ever made, Casablanca. There was even an excellent British television program named after this song - starring the amazing pair of Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer.

Tony Bennett's version is perfect, just perfect. This is from his 1975 release Life Is Beautiful. His band on this one was Torrie Zito on piano, John Giuffrida on bass and Chuck Higgins on drums. The orchestra was arranged and conducted by Torrie Zito.

And for the one person on the planet who isn't already familiar (and in love) with this song, here are some of the most famous lyrics ever penned: "You must remember this/A kiss is still a kiss/A sigh is just a sigh/The fundamental things apply/As time goes by." "As Time Goes By" was written by Herman Hupfeld.

Live Tracks

This collection concludes with two live tracks from Tony Bennett/The McPartlands And Friends Make Magnificent Music (1977). The first is "While We're Young," a song written by Alec Wilder, Bill Engvick and Morty Palitz. Marian McPartland plays piano on this track.

The second is very short but energetic rendition of "I Left My Heat In San Francisco" written by George Cory and Douglass Cross. This is a song that Tony Bennett has performed often in concert, and he really belts it out in this version. The band for this track is Tony Bennett on vocals, Marian McPartland on piano, Jimmy McPartland on cornet, Vic Dickenson on trombone, Spider Martin on saxophone, Buddy Tate on saxophone, Herb Hall on clarinet, Charlie Byrd on guitar, Brian Torff on bass and George Reed on drums.

CD Track List

  1. This Can't Be Love
  2. Make Someone Happy
  3. Isn't It Romantic?
  4. Life Is Beautiful
  5. Blue Moon
  6. Thou Swell
  7. You Don't Know What Love Is
  8. My Romance
  9. The Lady Is A Tramp
  10. You Must Believe In Spring
  11. Reflections
  12. I Could Write A Book
  13. Maybe September
  14. As Time Goes By
  15. While We're Young
  16. I Left My Heart In San Francisco

The Best Of The Improv Recordings is scheduled to be released July 12, 2011 through Concord Music Group. All of the tracks on this album are also available on a 4-CD box set titled The Complete Improv Recordings.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Thelonious Monk: "Thelonious Alone In San Francisco" (1959/2011 re-issue) CD Review

Recorded in October of 1959, Thelonious Alone In San Francisco was Thelonious Monk's second solo album (his first being Thelonious Himself, from 1957). There is something almost casual about these recordings. It's like he's playing in your parlor, maybe taking a few requests, or perhaps just playing whatever occurs to him. There is nothing ostentatious or showy about his playing. He's not trying to prove anything here. After all, by this point it was already acknowledged that he was an excellent musician. Having performed with The Coleman Hawkins Quartet and Miles Davis, and having released approximately a dozen albums of his own, Thelonious was already well known.

And though Thelonious Monk has played with some incredible musicians, you won't miss any of them when listening to this recording. This album feels intimate in a way that a lot of jazz doesn't. If you're not already familiar with Monk's music, this is a wonderful way to get to know this amazing musician's material. And if you are familiar with his work, you're going to really enjoy the renditions included here. Several of these tracks are definitely on the mellower side, adding to this album's intimate feel. This special re-issue includes a bonus track - an alternate take of "There's Danger In Your Eyes, Cherie."

"Blue Monk"

This album starts off with "Blue Monk," one of his coolest, most well known compositions. It was included on Monk's 1954 release Thelonious Monk Trio. Live versions were included on his 1958 record Thelonious In Action and on Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane At Carnegie Hall (2005). Another version was also included as a bonus track on The Thelonious Monk Orchestra At Town Hall (1959). From the very first notes, this song will be familiar to even the most casual of jazz fans.

"Ruby, My Dear"

"Ruby, My Dear" is one of Monk's prettiest tunes. A version of "Ruby, My Dear" was included on Monk's Music (1957), which was re-issued earlier this year through Concord Music Group. (That version features Coleman Hawkins on tenor saxophone.) It was also included on Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane (1957). The version included on Alone In San Francisco has a more immediate feel, and even a brighter tone at times.


Thelonious Monk includes four cover songs on Thelonious Alone In San Francisco.

The first is "Everything Happens To Me," a wonderful tune written by Matt Dennis and Tom Adair. A song Thelonious Monk played often in concert, and one he clearly has love for, this version is simultaneously beautiful and playful. It was also included on his 1965 release Solo Monk. The first recorded version of this song was by The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. It's also been covered by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole, among others.

Other covers on this release include "You Took The Words Right Out Of My Heart," written by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger, and "Remember," written by Irving Berlin. "Remember" has also been covered by Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.

"There's Danger In Your Eyes, Cherie" was written by Jack Meskell, Pete Wendling and Harry Richman. An alternate take of this song is included as a bonus track.


"Bluehawk" is a catchy, fun number. The joy in his playing is contagious. And maybe that is partly because this song was new at the time of this recording, and he had a lot of exploring still to do within its framework. This is the first album to feature this song.


The original album concluded with "Reflections," a song that was included on Sonny Rollins' 1957 record, Sonny Rollins, Vol. 2 (Thelonious Monk plays on that record, which includes a second Monk composition - "Misterioso"). This is another of his most beloved compositions, and the version here is a pure delight to listen to. There are moments on this track when Thelonious seems ready to burst into a higher energy realm, like he's ready for the band to rejoin him.

CD Track List

  1. Blue Monk
  2. Ruby, My Dear
  3. Round Lights
  4. Everything Happens To Me
  5. You Took The Words Right Out Of My Heart
  6. Bluehawk
  7. Pannonica
  8. Remember
  9. There's Danger In Your Eyes, Cherie (Take 2)
  10. Reflections
  11. There's Danger In Your Eyes, Cherie (Take 1)

Thelonious Alone In San Francisco was released on June 14, 2011 through Concord Music Group as part of their Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series. Five other CDs in that series were also released on that date: Chet Baker: In New York, Ornette Coleman: Something Else!!!!, Cannonball Adderly with Bill Evans: Know What I Mean?, Bill Evans Trio: Explorations, and Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass: Easy Living.

Thelonious Monk died in 1982.