Monday, July 30, 2012

Alvin Lee: "Still On The Road To Freedom" (2012) CD Review

You probably know Alvin Lee from his work with Ten Years After.  That band will be forever famous for its wild set at Woodstock, immortalized in the documentary film (that version of "I'm Going Home" is one of the film's highlights), as well as for the song "I'd Love To Change The World" which reached #40 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In some ways, Alvin Lee's new album, Still On The Road To Freedom, feels like a reaching back, a looking back to the late '60s. But this is not a nostalgia record. It is not an attempt to recapture an earlier success, but seems more like a way to show the connection between the past and the present (and to explore both), something acknowledged in the album's title.  And there is a freedom this album takes to move along the musical time line and use whatever seems right. The album definitely has a heavy blues edge. (One of its tracks, "Blues Got Me So Bad," has these wonderful lines: "I said I'd die for you, babe/She said, that's what I want you to do.") But this is not strictly a blues album. There is a lot more going on here.  There is rock and rockabilly and folk, and it all comes together well. (By the way, "Nice & Easy" sounds like T. Rex meets Dire Straits.)

All of the album's songs were written by Alvin Lee. As for the idea of going back, there is a track called "Back In 69," (but it is more about the present than its title might suggest), and the final track is a remake of a tune from Ten Years After's 1970 album Cricklewood Green.  Some of these tunes are pretty short. Tracks 2, 7, 8, 11, and 12 are all under two and a half minutes. There is a hidden song which starts at 5:33 on track 13 (it's a very short acoustic instrumental tune).

"Still On The Road To Freedom"

Still On The Road To Freedom opens with its title track, which finds Alvin Lee journeying "for a distant land where it all began." And yes, Alvin Lee's guitar still has that great late '60s, early '70s sound. It has that drive, that reach for new territory, an interest in exploration and expression that characterized a lot of the best music of the time. And the guitar is given the freedom to stretch out here, in the song's best section toward the end.  The only thing I could do without is the echoes of "freedom.

"Listen To Your Radio Station"

"Listen To Your Radio Station" is a bluesy tune that is nearly an instrumental.  The opening vocal section, which begins "Listen to your radio station/Coolest music across the nation," ends with "Let's play some blues on this guitar" a little more than a minute in. The rest is instrumental.  This song is an interesting mix of blues with a bit of a techno feel.

"Save My Stuff"

"Save My Stuff" is straight blues with that fantastic, powerful harmonica. Like a lot of the best blues, it features simple, straightforward lyrics, in this case about riding the train home to the woman he loves. And then, "I'm gonna save my stuff for the woman I love."  There is nothing complicated here, but this is a song you can immediately get into.  You're on that train too, itching to get back to some woman, and enjoying the journey.  A very cool blues tune.

"I'm A Lucky Man"

Perhaps the most surprising song on the album is "I'm A Lucky Man," a fun rockabilly tune with a definite 1950s style, particularly in the guitar, but also in the vocals. This song is a total joy. And while clearly revisiting an earlier form, the song feels like Now, more in its ability to change our perception of the Now than in trying to update the music to fit some idea of what's going on currently. I'm really just trying to say it's real, authentic, true. And that of course is timeless.  And there is some great stuff on guitar.

"Walk On, Walk Tall"

Alvin Lee follows the rockabilly tune with a pretty acoustic song titled "Walk On, Walk Tall."  This one too has very simple lyrics. It begins, "Walk on, walk tall/Be strong, don't fall/Walk on to the end/Be my friend." Simple, and wonderful. I really love the guitar in this one too. It's what makes this track one of my favorites.


This CD features three instrumental tunes.  The first, "Song Of The Red Rock Mountain" is a really nice acoustic instrumental. It somehow manages to feel simultaneously intimate and cinematic, creating a vivid landscape, taking me out of my normal surroundings (which is appreciated). This is one of the CD's short tracks (at just over two minutes), and it feels like it ends a bit too abruptly.

The album's second instrumental, "Down Line Rock," features a country rock rhythm mixed with blues, and then a seriously groovy short drum solo, with a bit of funky bass. Very nice.

The third instrumental is the hidden track, a sweet acoustic number that ends too soon.

CD Track List
  1. Still On The Road To Freedom
  2. Listen To Your Radio Station
  3. Midnight Creeper
  4. Save My Stuff
  5. I'm A Lucky Man
  6. Walk On, Walk tall
  7. Blues Got Me So Bad
  8. Song Of The Red Rock Mountain
  9. Nice & Easy
  10. Back In 69
  11. Down Line Rock
  12. Rock You
  13. Love Like A Man 2

Musicians on this album include Alvin Lee on vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, harmonica, bass, keyboards and drums; Richard Newman on drums; Pete Pritchard on bass; Tim Hinkley on keyboards; Alvar Brune on backing vocals; Alexander Wolfe on keyboards; Trevor Morais on drums; and Ian Wallace on drums.

Still On The Road To Freedom is scheduled to be released on August 28, 2012.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Whispering Pines: "Whispering Pines" (2012) CD Review

The second album from Los Angeles band Whispering Pines is a self-titled release, featuring all original songs. Of the band's five members, four are songwriters. They tackle a variety of genres, and are pretty successful in each of them. There are elements of country, blues and folk, but the overall feel is one of 1970s rock (listen especially to tracks like "Love Is Free" and "Fine Time"). There are some good vocals, but sometimes it's the instrumental sections that really do it for me. These guys can seriously play. I haven't seen them in concert yet, but if this record is any indication, I'm guessing their live shows are pretty awesome.

And yes, it's surprising to learn this band is based in Los Angeles, as their music seems to come from the heart of the country. Could it be that L.A. is the heart of America after all?

"Move On"

This albums opens with "Move On." Its intro is some great low-down blues. It then kicks in like glorious good ol' rock - just listen to that harmonica. That's when the song really begins for me, with that harmonica. And then the vocals take the song up another notch - and man, I'm sold. Like the best bar band in a roadhouse somewhere you never heard of just blasting away in the night. This is great fun. "Move On" ends with the line, "You know this ain't the first time/I know this ain't the last time."

"Move On" was written by David Burden.

"Come & Play"

The band slows the pace a bit for "Come & Play," a country tune with an easy groove. Though it's slower, there is nothing timid or too tame here. And the song is not totally country. I really dig the instrumental section that begins with great simple lines from bass and drums, with a bit of organ over them, that then grows into something bigger before returning to that easy goove. It's a really nice section. 

It then leads to these lines, "I took you out riding but you weren't impressed with my car/But then I played my family guitar/I knew we were going to go far/When you told me that's fun/When you're done just roll another one and bring it on home."  I really love this song.

"Come & Play" was written by Joe Bourdet.

"One More Second Chance"

"One More Second Chance" has a Lovin' Spoonful-type '60s pop feel. It has that same sort of good, positive vibe.  Here is a taste of the lyrics: "Give me one more second chance/To try and prove my love/And though it may seem foolish to try/I think it's worth a shot."  "One More Second Chance" was written by Brian Filosa.

"GA Highway"

"GA Highway" has a folky country-rock feel which I love. It's a good driving song, and at moments it might remind you of The Band. (The album is dedicated to Levon Helm, who died in April.) This is one of my favorite tracks, and it features nice work on guitar. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "Not sure where this road's gonna take me/I'm just looking for a place to settle down/See the foothills glowing in the distance/It's getting harder to make the lines out on the ground/And the rain is the only sound."

"GA Highway" was written by David Burden.

"Sunrise To Sunset"

"Sunrise To Sunset" is a nice positive country rock tune about music and traveling. It has a sweet vibe, with lines like "We've been on the outside/We've been through the best of times/It's just the beginning of our time to shine."  "Sunrise To Sunset" was written by Brian Filosa and Joe Bourdet.

"Fine Time"

Oh yeah, "Fine Time" is some pure rock and roll. This is the one that sounds the most like '70s rock and roll.  I've never been to a wet T-shirt contest, but if I ever hold one, I'll make sure this song is playing. "We're going to have a fine time."  And again that instrumental section toward the end is one of my favorite parts, mostly as I love that harmonica. 

"Fine Time" was written by David Baine.

CD Track List
  1. Move On
  2. Come & Play
  3. One More Second Chance
  4. Purest Dreams
  5. GA Highway
  6. Wolfmoon
  7. Love Is Free
  8. Sunrise To Sunset
  9. Fine Time
  10. Broken Spoke

Whispering Pines are David Baine on guitar, organ, mandolin, piano and vocals; Joe Bourdet on guitar, slide, organ and vocals; David Burden on harmonica and vocals; Brian Filosa on bass and vocals; and Joe Zabielski on drums and percussion.  David Burden also did the album's artwork.  Amy Blaschke provides additional vocals on this CD.

Whispering Pines is scheduled to be released on September 18, 2012.

Fur Dixon & Steve Werner at McCabe's, July 21, 2012

There are some things that I can always count on to lift my spirits. One of those is the music of Fur Dixon & Steve Werner.  I try to see this wonderful duo whenever I can.  And on Saturday, July 21st, they played at McCabe's in Santa Monica to celebrate the release of their new CD, San Pedro Session.  Joining them for this special show was Paul Marshall on bass (you know him from I See Hawks In L.A.), John McDuffie on pedal steel, and Brantley Kearns on fiddle.  They did two excellent sets.

Steve Werner played banjo on the first two songs - "Ventura County Line" and "Brother Tumbleweed" - and harmonica on the third, the beautiful "Summer's Gone Again."  In his introduction to "Homesick For The Highway Blues, " Steve joked, "Fun's fun, but now it's time to yodel."  And indeed he got the audience giving their best yodel. Before "Where Are We Going," Fur talked a bit about her punk rock phase. Apparently some photos from that time have recently resurfaced online. And of course it's mentioned in the song's lyrics, "Hollywood, the 1980s/Stoned-out punk rockers in your station wagon." They ended the first set with "Southbound" a song written by Doc Watson and Merle Watson. (Doc Watson died in May.)

Before the second set, Ric Taylor did two songs (truly interesting songs, lyrically and structurally). And then Randall Lamb did two songs. For the second of the two, "Can The Rich Get To Heaven," Fur and Steve joined him on backing vocals.

The second set opened with "Reputation Of A Rambler," a song they used to play at the end of their concerts. In his introduction to "When My Face Is Covered Over," Steve said, "It's a song about life cleverly disguised as a song about death." One of the highlights of the second set was Fur Dixon's new song, "This Broken River," which she co-wrote with Ric Taylor.  Steve played banjo on that one.  And the entire audience sang along to the last two songs, "Friends Around The Fire" and "Backroads And Blue Skies."

The encore was Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."

Set List

Set I
  1. Ventura County Line
  2. Brother Tumbleweed
  3. Summer's Gone Again
  4. Homesick For The Highway Blues
  5. Where Are We Going?
  6. Everyday A Different Journey
  7. I Like How I Feel
  8. The Pearl And The Swine
  9. Journey To Another Side
  10. Southbound
Set II
  1. Reputation Of A Rambler
  2. My Blue Yodel
  3. When My Face Is Covered Over
  4. City Of New Orleans
  5. Scars
  6. This Broken River
  7. Friends Around The Fire
  8. Backroads And Blue Skies
  1. This Land Is Your Land

The new CD, San Pedro Session, is available now on Grass & Gravel Records. It was recorded live at Alvas Showroom on September 18, 2011.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Stephane Wrembel at The Coffee Gallery Backstage, Altadena, 7-18-12 Concert Review

I've seen some really good shows this year, but on Wednesday I saw what was probably the best concert of the year so far - Stephane Wrembel at The Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena.

The Coffee Gallery Backstage is an intimate and strange venue. When you enter, you actually pass right by another stage, which is a bit awkward when someone is performing. Then you head to the back where there is a sign that says "Backstage." It's pretty warm in the hallway there, but fortunately the room was actually cooler (important in Los Angeles in the summer). There are large model planes hanging from the ceiling, and the wall behind the stage is painted to look like a feed store, or grain storage. There is certainly a casual atmosphere, which I appreciate. I also appreciated that all the chairs had cushions.  The place seems to seat fewer than a hundred people, and it was mostly an older crowd. Before the show, Stephane told me that the sound is pretty good in this venue, and he wasn't kidding. It sounded perfect.

The band took the stage promptly at eight o'clock (actually, they were on stage at 7:59).  "We're here to take you on a journey," Stephane Wrembel told the crowd before launching into the first tune of the night, "The Voice From The Desert," the opening track from his new release, Origins.  And indeed, he took the crowd on many journeys.  Each song had its own path, and sometimes within a song there were many different locations or destinations.  The band then went right into "Momentum."  This song featured a wild, wonderful jam with some incredible energy and fantastic drumming by Nick Anderson.  And it was the first time of the night that I became completely mesmerized by Stephane Wrembel's playing.

After "Momentum," Stephane talked a bit about the road, about the tour. By the way, he spoke without a microphone, which was one more thing that added to the casual and intimate atmosphere.

"The Edge" was another highlight of the first set. It's a fast-paced, wonderful tune with some cool stuff on percussion and some absolutely wonderful work by Dave Speranza on bass. And of course Stephane Wrembel was glorious on guitar.

The band ended the first set with an excellent version of "Prometheus." The song began with a nice long guitar solo by Stephane Wrembel. Then there was some amazing stuff on drums by Nick Anderson. And Roy Williams, the other guitarist, did a lead section, which was seriously impressive. And David Langlois did some amazing work on percussion.  Just an all-round wonderful rendition.

The first set was just under an hour.

After a fifteen-minute break, the band started the second set with a short piece called "Back To The Light." Stephane played the 12-string on that one. That led into "A Child's Dream."  Both of those songs are from Terre Des Hommes. And then they played "Bistro Fada," that wonderful tune that Stephane composed for Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris.  This version featured a nice section with the bass as the lead instrument.

The second set also featured an absolutely amazing rendition of "Water Is Life," as well as "The Selfish Gene"  (a song inspired by the book by Richard Dawkins) which was a lot of fun, particularly the section where the percussionist and Stephane Wrembel went wild.

"Voyager (For Carl Sagan)" featured some phenomenal drumming by Nick Anderson. 

But the song which featured a serious drum solo was "Train D'enfer" (which Stephane Wrembel said means "frantic pace" before they started). This song started with some crazy percussion, and then was almost wonderfully chaotic at moments. This was the song where each member of the band was really given a chance to shine. There was a section with just the bass player and drummer (Nick using his hands rather than sticks or brushes), and then a section with just the two guitarists and bass player. And then Stephane Wrembel did a wonderful guitar solo. The song didn't end there, however. It was after that that we got the fantastic drum solo.

"Train D'enfer" led right into "Carbon 14" to close out the night. Stephane Wrembel did band introductions during this song.

There was no encore. The show ended around 10:25 p.m.

Set List

Set I
  1. The Voice From The Desert
  2. Momentum
  3. The Edge
  4. Tsunami
  5. Minuit Aux Batignolles
  6. Prometheus
Set II
  1. Back To The Light
  2. A Child's Dream
  3. Bistro Fada
  4. Water Is Life
  5. The Selfish Gene
  6. Voyager (For Carl Sagan)
  7. Train D'enfer
  8. Carbon 14
The band is Stephane Wrembel on acoustic guitar and 12-string guitar, Roy Williams on rhythm guitar, Dave Speranza on acoustic bass, David Langlois on percussion, and Nick Anderson on drums.

If you get the chance to see this band perform, don't pass it up. They have several more dates in California and then Oregon before heading east to Massachusetts.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Jon Dee Graham: "Garage Sale" (2012) CD Review

Jon Dee Graham is known for his work with The Skunks and The True Believers, and most recently with The Hobart Brothers And Lil' Sis Hobart.  He's also played with John Doe, Patty Griffin, James McMurtry, Michelle Shocked and John Hiatt (among others). In addition to all of that, he's released several solo albums.

Jon Dee Graham's new release, Garage Sale, has a great indie acoustic rough sound. Of course it's his wonderfully gruff voice that really drives the tunes and creates the atmosphere. And it's an atmosphere with some positive vibes, with often uplifting lyrics, like "If you need some help, some help to see you through/Then stand next to me, and I'll stand next to you/Well, it could be all right/It can be all right/I will be your brother for tonight" in "The Orphan's Song."

There are obvious comparisons to Tom Waits - not just in his voice, but in his fearless determination to let each song develop in its own natural way, without imposing a structure that wouldn't fit (listen to "Bobby Dunbar," for example; or "Collapse").  Also, the songs on this album feature some great lyrics, creating vivid images, emotions and worlds.

All of the songs on Garage Sale were written by Jon Dee Graham. (By the way, I'm not sure quite what to make of the album's last track, but I dig it.)


Garage Sale opens with "Unafraid," which starts with organ, giving the impression of being in church. And there is a simple, steady drum beat.  Then that great rough voice comes in to deliver a strange sort of personal sermon, with lines like "I've pulled the thorn from the paw of the lion" and "I put myself beyond human aid/I have been placed in a position of neutrality/And now I, I am unafraid."  This song has a wonderful, slow build, as other voices join in.  The song does have a sort of garage feel, as it is delightfully unpolished, like a makeshift church for revealing personal truth.

"Yes Yes"

"Yes Yes" is a strangely sweet tune with a quasi-ethereal quality, like a song half in light, half earthbound. It feels like memories. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "The swimsuit girls, they look away/And everything holds its breath/Yes, yes."  I love the simple, repeated bit on piano.

"Yes Yes" at one point takes me back to my late teens when I'd go see musicians in Harvard Square in Cambridge.

"O Dearest One"

"O Dearest One" is a sweet duet with Erin Ivey. (A different version of "O Dearest One" was included on Jon Dee Graham's 2006 release, Full.)  This song is vocals and acoustic guitar. And the guitar work is mostly simple strumming, nothing showy or ostentatious, but perfectly effective. The focus is on the vocals.

Erin's voice is a wonderful contrast to Graham's - hers is a light, clear, pretty voice. The two together create this wonderfully honest and true feel of a relationship, of real people, real emotions. It begins, "O dearest one/The dark is on us now/The day is done/And far beyond us now/Just this once let's pretend that we won/Let's feel lucky/Dearest one." This is a wonderful song.

"Just Like That"

"Just Like That" is probably my favorite track on this album, partly because of its strong emotional impact. This song really just got to me, and I can't shake it (not that I necessarily want to). These lyrics are excellent: "It's just a little piece broken off from my memory/A little piece held tenderly/Tenderly and tight/Well, you think you know, but you'd be wrong/How the time will go, and how you blink, it's gone/And when it's gone, it don't come back/Yeah, when it goes, it goes just like that/Like that." This song is beautiful (and yes, sad).

"Perfect moments, they come and go/Like days and weeks and months, you know/Even if you hold on tight."


The song's sole instrumental track, "#19," is a cool tune with a sort of Hawaiian feel and a jazzy vibe. It really dig it. It's a nice little surprise (on an album full of surprises).

CD Track List
  1. Unafraid
  2. Yes Yes
  3. The Orphan's Song
  4. O Dearest One
  5. Bobby Dunbar
  6. Just Like That
  7. Codeine/Codine
  8. #19
  9. Collapse
  10. Where Were Yr Friends?
  11. Radio Uxtmal (Venceremos)
Garage Sale is scheduled to be released on July 17, 2012 through Freedom Records.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Jimmy Cliff: "Rebirth" (2012) CD Review

Jimmy Cliff's music is as relevant as ever, though I'm not sure if that says good things about him, or bad things about the state of the world. All I know is this music is absolutely needed.

Reggae has always had a strong social conscience, and often addresses important issues while simultaneously bringing joy to its listeners.  It's never too heavy. It mentions problems, but makes them feel solvable. This music makes it seem that it's in our power to do something about the world's troubles and injustices. The music is never cynical or defeatist. And maybe it's worth having all these troubles if it means Jimmy Cliff keeps writing great songs.

His new album, Rebirth, is a wonderful collection of mostly original songs. There are only two that he didn't write or co-write (both are songs by punk bands, including a wonderfully fun rendition "Ruby Soho," a tune originally done by Rancid). This CD features some strong vocal performances by Jimmy Cliff. And the vibes are all positive. I've been feeling down lately, and this album really raised my spirits. There is an inherent optimism in reggae music that really affects us.

"World Upside Down"

Rebirth opens with "World Upside Down," which has a fun party-type beat and vibe. Jimmy Cliff sings, "So much war and poverty/While few enjoy prosperity." The refrain is "They say the world is spinning around/I say the world is upside down." This song reminds us of all our problems, and yet makes us feel good. It's pretty amazing how it's able to do that. I think it's at least partly because reggae brings people together, and creates the feeling of community. It's the you're-not-alone message we all need to hear.

This song also has a Shakespeare reference. Jimmy Cliff sings, "Looking at the world, I agree/Oh what fools we mortals be," a reference to Puck's line in Act III Scene ii of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Co-written by Joe Higgs, "World Upside Down" is an excellent opening track.

"One More"

"One More" has kind of an intense vibe. This one demands volume. I love the horn section. In this one, Jimmy Cliff sings, "I've got one more story to tell/Mystery, my story/I've got on more story to tell/True story, my glory."  I really like these lines: "I've got one more shot at the goal/Straight from my soul/And I'm in control."

A second version of this song is included as the last track of the disc. This version has even a funkier rhythm. It's more of a dance song.  Though of course the first version will have you dancing too.

"Cry No More"

What Jimmy Cliff does vocally on "Cry No More" is different from what I've heard from Jimmy Cliff in the past. Different sections make different vocal demands on him. His voice is so sweet and clear in the opening section. And then there is the strange weariness on the line "Cry no more." 

"Cry No More" is such a sweet and positive tune, with lines like "We'll live for each other, doing our best/Nothing can ever keep us apart/With love in the heart, everything is all right/Cry no more."  Jimmy Cliff co-wrote this one with Tim Armstrong, who also produced the album.  (Tim Armstrong will be familiar to folks as the front man of Rancid.)


Another great vocal performance is in "Bang," one of the CD's strongest tracks. This song also features some wild and decidedly non-reggae electric guitar work.

"Guns Of Brixton"

One of the two tracks on this album that Jimmy Cliff didn't write is "Guns Of Brixton," a song by The Clash (from the 1979 album London Calling).  It's a really interesting cover, but of course a reggae version of a Clash song totally makes sense, particularly this song, which has a strong reggae influence (and a reference to "The Harder They Come"). This rendition features a horn section.

For those who don't know the song, here is a bit of the lyrics: "When they kick out your front door/How you gonna come/With your hands on your head/Or on the trigger of your gun/When the law breaks in/How you gonna go?"

"Guns Of Brixton" was also included on Jimmy Cliff's Sacred Fire EP.

"Reggae Music"

Reggae music often mentions itself in songs. So it was no surprise to find a song called "Reggae Music" on the track list. But it's a song in which Jimmy Cliff looks back at his own career in music, even mentioning "The Harder They Come." And some of the things he does vocally makes me laugh; the song is truly delightful. And of course he brings it to the present with the lines, "Now 2012, reggae music is still here/Have the voice of the people everywhere/Whenever there is injustice and tyranny, reggae music is there/Standing up for the rights." 

"Reggae music gonna make me feel good."  Indeed.


"Outsider" comes as sweet a surprise, being a mid-1960s R&B soul type of tune that will have you twisting. It's a seriously fun song, with fantastic energy (even with hand-claps and spelling out the song's title).  This song features a horn section, and groovy backing vocals. Plus it celebrates being an outsider - pridefully, joyfully. Jimmy Cliff co-wrote this one with Tim Armstrong. "Making music keeps us alive/Life without music I just can't survive." 

CD Track List
  1. World Upside Down
  2. One More
  3. Cry No More
  4. Children's Bread
  5. Bang
  6. Guns Of Brixton
  7. Reggae Music
  8. Outsider
  9. Rebel Rebel
  10. Ruby Soho
  11. Blessed Love
  12. Ship Is Sailing
  13. One More

Joining Jimmy Cliff on this album are Tim Armstrong on lead guitar and rhythm guitar, J. Bonner on bass, Scott Abels on drums, Kevin Bivona on piano and guitar, and Dan Boer on organ. Tim Armstrong also produced the album.

Additional musicians include Michael Bolger on trumpet and trombone; James King on baritone sax, tenor sax, and flute; David Moyer on saxophone; Liam Philpot on saxophone; and Jordan Katz on trumpet and trombone. Backing vocalists include Jean McClain, Ashli Haynes, Dash Hutton, Aimee Allen, Nicki Bonner, Jordis Unga and Tim Hutton.

Rebirth is scheduled to be released on July 17, 2012.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Trishas: "High, Wide & Handsome" (2012) CD Review

The Trishas are four female singer/songwriters with gorgeous voices and tremendous songwriting ability. In 2010, they released an EP titled They Call Us The Trishas, and now they are putting out their first full-length CD. Titled High, Wide & Handsome, this album is a good mix of folk, bluegrass and country, with each song having its own well defined sound. They're adept at marrying a sound with a lyric, so that they could get their intent across even if you somehow chose to ignore the lines. Individually, these singers have great, distinct and interesting voices; and then the real magic happens with they harmonize.

"Mother Of Invention"

High, Wide & Handsome opens with "Mother Of Invention," which is folk with a very positive vibe. It has the feel of old-time folk, in its sound and theme, and even with that loose back porch-type fiddle.  This song is sort of the title track, as the album title is in the lyrics: "High, wide and handsome/Taking pennies from the jar/In interesting conditions, you discover who you really are/who you really are." 

"Mother Of Invention" was written by Jamie Wilson and Natalie Hemby.


"Strangers" is a beautiful sad song with lyrics like "I miss the me I used to be/I miss the you that I once knew" and "Who are these strangers in our bed?"

The couple in this song have been friends, lovers, and married. We know this because of the image of the wedding photos on top of the television set. What a great way of revealing the most intimate of relationships - with a commonplace item from the past rather than directly with an emotionally charged line. So much sadder and distant, and in a way more poignant. You believe them when they sing, "There's nothing stranger/Than being strangers."

"Strangers" was written by Kelley Mickwee, Jamie Wilson and John Eddie. Savannah Welch sings lead on this one.

"Little Sweet Cigars"

"Little Sweet Cigars" has that great energy that reminds me of Laura Love. The way it's sung, and with that drumbeat, the song has a certain urgency. The chorus is, "And I could have told you, darlin', it would end up like this/When you're kissed by a fool, then you're fooled by a kiss/And I believed you, baby, and your silver, lying tongue/You were handsome and older, I was foolish and young."  And those "ahs" are gorgeous - they're so simple, but they really make the song.

"Little Sweet Cigars" was written by Jamie Wilson and Evan Felker.

"Looking At Me"

The first time I listened to this CD, "Looking At Me" is the song that really made me fall for them. It's a beautiful tune. Their voices make me feel like bursting (with a longing that is tangible, that is seated here next to me). And the lyrics are wonderful. Here is a taste: "Well, a fire burns slow if you know how to build it/The heat travels up from the ground toward the trees/And when the winds change, I know smoke follows beauty/I follow it up till it's you that I see/Oh, it's a shame, it's a shame/The last one to know is the first to complain/Oh, beware of the dark/For all of your secrets are shared with a spark."

And I love these lines: "And no matter the song, it's the blues that you sing/And sometimes I wish they were all about me."  This song also has an excellent moment where it builds and builds until the line "You can't hold me that tight," and there is a slight pause, before the mandolin comes in softly, and the vocals come back. It's beautiful. I just completely love this tune.

"Looking At Me" was written by Jamie Wilson, who also sings lead.

"One Down"

"One Down" is an interesting song, with a different, slightly darker feel than most of the songs before it on this album. This one really pulled me in and got under my skin.  It's due largely to their vocals, which really are impressive. There is a great (though short) section where their voices act as instruments, full of emotion without needing lyrics to express them. But then the lyrics too are interesting, like these lines: "If there's nothing left to lose/If there's nothing left to use/If there's nothing left to burn/Set yourself on fire." 

"One Down" was written by Kelley Mickwee and Brandy Zdan.  Kelley Mickwee sings lead.

"Cold Blooded Love"

"Cold Blooded Love" naturally follows the previous track, in its feel and because its first line is "With every gleam of light there comes a burning flame." This song has a sexy edge - it teases and taunts, with lines like "I may be satiated, but I still hunger for the taste/I quiver at your slightest touch, tremble like a child." And there is some wonderful work on fiddle. It's just an all-round great song. And I love the echo of "cold" - absolutely delicious. Their voices will seduce you.

Written by Liz Foster and Dustin Welch, "Cold Blooded Love" is one of the album's best tracks. Liz Foster sings lead on this one.

"Rainin' Inside"

The first line of "Rainin' Inside" is "Billie Holiday is killing me." A great opening line. This is a slower, bluesier tune, written by Kelley Mickwee and Kevin Welch.  (Kevin is Savannah's father.)

"John Wayne Cowboy"

"John Wayne Cowboy" is a seriously cool song with kind of a mean edge in that great repeated rhythmic guitar section. It then becomes more of a country tune.  This is another that has already claimed some space in my brain, and pops up throughout the day.  It was written by Jamie Wilson and Owen Temple.  Russ Pahl plays jaw harp on this track.

CD Track List
  1. Mother Of Invention
  2. Strangers
  3. Little Sweet Cigars
  4. Liars & Fools
  5. Cheater's Game
  6. Looking At Me
  7. Why
  8. Over Forgiving You
  9. One Down
  10. Cold Blooded Love
  11. Rainin' Inside
  12. The Fool
  13. John Wayne Cowboy
  14. Gold & Silver
Note: There is download card included in the packaging, to get access to a bonus track, "A Far Cry From You."


The Trishas are Jamie Wilson on vocals, acoustic guitar and banjo; Kelly Mickwee on vocals, mandolin and acoustic guitar; Liz Foster on vocals and harmonica; and Savannah Welch on vocals.

Joining them on this album are Kenny Vaughan on electric guitar and acoustic guitar; Harry Stinson on drums and percussion; Victor Krauss on electric bass and upright bass; Tammy Rogers on fiddle, mandolin and guitar; Russ Pahl on banjo, pedal steel, electric guitar, dobro and jaw harp; and Mike Poole on percussion.

High, Wide & Handsome is scheduled to be released on August 7, 2012.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Billy Joe Shaver: "Live At Billy Bob's Texas" (2012) CD/DVD Review

Billy Joe Shaver is releasing a new 2-disc live album (the second disc is a DVD of the performance). The songs are often in the honky tonk country rock vein, but the album also features some tunes closer to folk, and those are my favorites.  Particularly "Live Forever," "Old Five And Dimers" and "I Couldn't Be Me Without You."  I also really like "Old Chunk Of Coal," about a chunk of coal that aims to be a diamond some day. It's got a great feel about it.  I could, however, do without the overt, direct religious references in other songs.

This album was recorded at Billy Bob's Texas on September 17, 2011. All the songs are originals. Billy Joe Shaver throws in a good dose of humor; like in "Honky Tonk Heroes," there are the lines, "There's one in every crowd/For crying out loud, why was it always turning out to be me?" Some of the humor is less effective, like in "That's What She Said Last Night" (one of my least favorite tunes from this collection).  And how serious is he during "Good Old USA" when he says the United States is the best place on Earth and so on? He seems serious.

He plays songs from throughout his long career.  The DVD has the same songs (except the two bonus tracks), but includes song introductions not on the CD, as well as short bits of interviews with Willie Nelson and Pat Green, sprinkled throughout the disc.  Also, you can tell on the DVD that either the order of the songs has been changed, or that tunes have been cut from this release. Because after "Old Chunk Of Coal," Billy Joe Shaver picks up his guitar. But then after we come back from Pat Green's interview, he doesn't have it.

"Heart Of Texas"

Billy Joe Shaver opens the show with "Heart Of Texas," which is basically a fun song, though there is only so much I can take of that Texas pride stuff (lines like "I'm proud to say the Lone Star state's where I'm coming from" don't do much for me). And there are some of the dumb country trappings, shouts of "yee haw" and the line "Remember the Alamo" (the audience cheers that line).

But he makes up for that with some good lyrics. I particularly like the verse about an old girlfriend, when he sings, "And when my sweetheart listened to the songs I played/She said, I love you honey, but there ain't much money in a serenade/I need a man with a real job/Now she's back here where I left her/God knows I still think about her now and then." That section leads into a nice lead guitar bit.   The song has good energy, and I was surprised to see on the DVD that the audience is seated.

"Georgia On A Fast Train"

More fun is the album's second track, "Georgia On A Fast Train," a tune from his 1973 debut, Old Five And Dimers Like Me. (On that album the song is called "I Been To Georgia On A Fast Train" - for some reason, some of the song titles have been shortened on the track list for this new release). I assume he's poking fun at the dumb redneck stereotype with the lines, "Had a good Christian raisin'/And an eighth grade education." It reminds me a bit of Merle Haggard.

"Wacko From Waco"

One of my favorites is "Wacko From Waco," a new tune co-written by Willie Nelson. This is a silly tune with a good mean groove. And of course as it's about Waco, someone is going to get hurt, and it doesn't take long. The song opens, "I'm a wacko from Waco/Ain't no doubt about it/Shot a man there in the head/But can't talk much about it."  And then, "Living down in Waco made a wacko out of me."  The thing is, this song is about an actual incident from the spring of 2007, when Billy Joe Shaver was arrested for shooting a man outside a tavern. On the one hand, it's great that he's able to poke a bit of fun at his situation. On the other hand, he's a guy who took a gun to a tavern.

On the DVD, he talks about the shooting before the song, about how the guy shot at him twice before he shot back. Is that the truth?  Who knows? There are conflicting reports.

There is another version of "Wacko From Waco" included as a bonus track - a studio version, with some nice work on harmonica, and a bit of fiddle. And that's Willie Nelson on vocals near the end. I actually prefer this version.  By the way, after the closing credits on the DVD, Willie Nelson says a few words about this song.

"Star In My Heart"

"Star In My Heart" is performed a cappella on this album. It's an insanely short rendition. On the DVD Billy Joe Shaver gives a long intro to it, in which he talks about how his son Eddy died of a drug overdose. He also talks about his own earlier drug problem, and says, "I got out of it with the help of the lord Jesus Christ," to which people in the audience cheer.  And the end of the song he says, "I love you, folks. I love you, Eddy."

"Live Forever"

The absolute best song in this collection is "Live Forever." This is a softer tune, closer to folk. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "You're gonna want to hold me/Just like I always told you/You're gonna miss me when I'm gone/Nobody here will ever find me/But I will always be around/Just like the songs I leave behind me." It's a truly beautiful and sweet song  This song was co-written by his son Eddy Shaver, and was included in the film Crazy Heart. I love this song. The crowd clearly loves this song too.


"Thunderbird" is an excellent tune that keeps reminding me of "In the Year 2525" for some reason. It features some nice work on guitar by Jeremy Lynn Woodall. However, there is an annoyingly protracted ending.  In this one, Billy Joe Shaver sings, "Society is just slavery/And security is killing me/I worked hard for it, but I'd give it all away/If I could go back to yesterday/When the word was Thunderbird."

On the DVD, after this song, Willie Nelson talks about Shaver as a songwriter, and about covering his material. 

"I Couldn't Be Me With You"

"I Couldn't Be Me Without You" is closer to folk. I definitely prefer these acoustic tunes. His delivery on this song is so honest, even vulnerable, in lines like "I realize now after all those hard times/And lord knows we've had us a few/Together forever wherever we are/I couldn't be me without you." Unfortunately, it's so short - only a minute and a half. I wish he'd stretch this one out a bit more, instead of stuff like "Hottest Thing In Town" (which is pretty dull and goes on too long).

"The Git Go"

"The Git Go" is another new tune, co-written by Gary Nicholson. It has a darker, acoustic feel, which I totally dig. I love these lines: "Now high rollers crap out every time/Rolling soldiers' bones like loaded dice/War is the beast that makes every mother cry."  I love the negative, pessimistic (read as realistic) feel, though I could personally do without the religious angle (there's an early verse about Adam and Eve, which is fine because that is obviously just a story that no one takes literally, but then there's a later verse of the crucifixion). I like the verse about politicians, with these lines: "It's the same old lesson they never learn/They're too busy working on their next term/Politicians keep making fools out of you and me/It's been that way since the git go."

Oddly, in the introduction to this song on the DVD he says, "You gotta know that I'm still writing great songs." You rarely hear a songwriter toot his horn like that. There is a second version of this tune included as a bonus track.

"Old Five And Dimers"

"Old Five And Dimers" is another of the best tracks, presented with such wonderful honesty. There is just his vocals and acoustic guitar to begin it (it's one of the rare moments when Billy Joe Shaver plays guitar on this disc). I love the sadness in his voice on this one. The song ends with these lines: "All that I do or say is all I ever will be/Too much ain't enough for old five and dimers like me/Too far, too high and too deep ain't too much to be."

"Old Five And Dimers" is the title track from his first album, released in 1973.

"You Can't Beat Jesus Christ"

When people say "my lord and savior Jesus Christ," my instinct is to get far away. Billy Joe Shaver says it in his introduction to "You Can't Beat Jesus Christ," a song in which he sings about how he's been saved - "Praise the lord." It's such a turn-off, and it's the final song of the live portion of the album. This is what he wants to leave us with. 

Singing about Jesus at the end of your concert is like if a pitcher came out in the ninth inning and tried to sell you a used car or a set of knives. You'd be like, What happened to the game?  It's a shame, because as I said, there are some fantastic songs on here, but you're left with the image of a religious nut (and don't forget, he also has a gun).

It's weird, but if you put any other name after the phrase "my lord and savior" people would think you were nuts. My lord and savior Melanie Zabrinski. I encourage singers to try this.

CD Track List
  1. Heart Of Texas
  2. Georgia On A Fast Train
  3. Honky Tonk Heroes
  4. That's What She Said Last Night
  5. Black Rose
  6. Wacko From Waco
  7. Old Chunk Of Coal
  8. Star In My Heart
  9. Live Forever
  10. Hottest Thing In Town
  11. Thunderbird
  12. Good Old USA
  13. Ride Me Down Easy
  14. Love Is So Sweet
  15. I Couldn't Be Me Without You
  16. The Git Go
  17. Old Five And Dimers
  18. You Asked Me To
  19. Try And Try Again
  20. You Can't Beat Jesus Christ
  21. Wacko From Waco (Bonus Track)
  22. The Git Go (Bonus Track)

The musicians on this CD include Billy Joe Shaver on vocals and guitar, Jeremy Lynn Woodall on guitar and vocals, Matt Davis on bass, and Jason McKenzie on drums.

Live At Billy Bob's Texas is scheduled to be released on July 17, 2012 through Smith Music Group.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Real Gone Music Re-releases Cameo Parkway Albums

Real Gone Music has been putting out a lot of great albums that for one reason or another had gone out-of-print, like the Germs' (GI), and other albums that hadn't been released on CD at all, like the Durocs self-titled 1979 album.

In May 2012 Real Gone Music also released CDs by Chubby Checker, The Orlons and Terry Knight And The Pack, as well as the compilation Remember Me Baby: Cameo Parkway Vocal Groups Vol. 1. It seems just a couple of years ago that these albums were released on CD.  That's because they were. Chubby Checker's It's Pony Time/Let's Twist Again, The Orlons' The Wah-Watusi/South Street, Terry Knight And The Pack's Terry Knight And The Pack/Reflections, and Remember Me Baby were all released on June 22, 2010 through Collectors' Choice Music.  Then they were all re-released on May 22, 2012 through Real Gone Music.

So what happened in the meantime? The Collectors' Choice Music label ceased, and that labels' Gordon Anderson formed the Real Gone Music label with Gabby Castellana. Launched in 2011, Real Gone Music picked up where Collectors' Choice Music left off.  So a big thank you to Real Gone Music for keeping this albums in print.

Chet Baker: "The Very Best Of Chet Baker" (2012) CD Review

The Very Best Of Chet Baker is a collection of recordings from 1952 to 1965 (focusing mostly on his output from 1958). These tracks are presented nearly in the order in which they were recorded.  Most of them are instrumentals, with Chet Baker letting his trumpet do the singing (like on the slow, enchanting "If You Could See Me Now"). But also featured in this collection are a few songs in which Chet Baker sings, including two tunes by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.

"My Funny Valentine"

This collection opens with "My Funny Valentine." It starts off so sweet, so mellow, and so simple, with Chet Baker on trumpet and with Carson Smith on bass. It's perfect; you almost don't need anyone else on this recording. But when the rest of the band comes in, no one overpowers the simple design. This is one of the best renditions of this famous song written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. This recording is from Gerry Mulligan Quartet.

"Do It The Hard Way"

This collection features two Rodgers and Hart compositions from Chet Baker's Sings - It Could Happen To You (1958), an album Concord Music Group re-issued in 2010 with several bonus tracks.  On these  songs, as the album's title suggests, we hear Chet Baker sing. In the first, "Do It The Hard Way," he gives us his version of scat, which is so particular to him. It's soft and sweet, easy-going, not forceful at all. It's kind and gentle, like he's vocalizing what would be his trumpet line. This song also features nice work on piano from Kenny Drew.

"My Heart Stood Still"

The second Rodgers and Hart song from Sings - It Could Happen To You is "My Heart Stood Still."  I prefer Chet Baker's playing to his singing on this track. In addition to wonderful stuff by Kenny Drew on piano, there is some good work by Philly Joe Jones on drums (he was also the drummer in The Miles Davis Quintet).

"Fair Weather"

"Fair Weather" is one of my favorite tracks from this collection, because of the joy in the playing. Chet Baker's lead is wonderful, and it segues into a great section where Paul Chambers does a lead on bass, with touches of Al Haig's piano beneath him, and a steady playing on the cymbals (and a bit of the snare) by Philly Joe Jones. It's a seriously cool section, and then Johnny Griffin comes blasting in beautifully on tenor saxophone. That leads to Al Haig's lead. This track is just full of great vibes. This was originally included on In New York.

"How High The Moon"

This collection features an interesting and sweet rendition of "How High The Moon" from the album Chet. The group assembled for that album includes Pepper Adams on baritone sax, Herbie Mann on flute, Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Connie Kay on drums.  Adams, Mann and Evans all have nice short sections on lead. "How High The Moon" was written by Nancy Hamilton and William Lewis.

"The Song Is You"

Chet Baker sings on "The Song Is You," a song written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II for the musical Music In The Air.  This track features a string orchestra, giving it quite a different feel from the rest of the songs in this collection.

"When You're Gone"

The Very Best Of Chet Baker concludes with "When You're Gone," a mellow tune from the 1965 album Comin' On With The Chet Baker Quintet. I particularly like Kirk Lightsey's work on piano on this track. Wonderful stuff. Chet Baker plays flugelhorn on this one.

CD Track List
  1. My Funny Valentine
  2. Moonlight In Vermont
  3. Do It The Hard Way
  4. My Heart Stood Still
  5. Old Devil Moon
  6. Fair Weather
  7. If You Could See Me Now
  8. How High The Moon
  9. Look For The Silver Lining
  10. The Song Is You
  11. Almost Like Being In Love
  12. I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face
  13. Have You Met Miss Jones?
  14. When You're Gone
The Very Best Of Chet Baker was released on June 12, 2012 through Concord Music Group. Also released on that day were The Very Best Of The Miles Davis Quintet, The Very Best Of Sonny Rollins, The Very Best Of Wes Montgomery, and The Very Best Of John Coltrane: The Prestige Era.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

David Bowie: "The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars" 40th Anniversary Edition (2012) CD Review

I'm not sure what I'd pick if forced to choose my favorite David Bowie album. But certainly The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars would be in the running, along with The Man Who Sold The World, Aladdin Sane and possibly LodgerZiggy Stardust was my first Bowie album, and so it certainly has a special place in my world. And listening to it now still has that same effect it did on my first listen, which is astonishing in itself. It still somehow feels new and important, like a voice from a parallel universe that is at any moment going to collide with ours and take over (and you secretly want it to).  On this album, as on several others, David Bowie doesn't feel like a musician or singer - he feels like an emissary from some more intense and wise (and possibly depraved, in the best sense) people.

This record came out the year I was born, and that may be part of why I feel connected to it. And now it's been forty years (holy moly), and it still has a power over me. It transports me.  The album has been remastered for its fortieth anniversary edition.  As noted on the back of the album, it's "To be played at maximum volume" (a message my mom didn't appreciate during my teen years).

"Five Years" - The opening track fades in with a simple drum beat, and then slowly, but surely builds. With Bowie's urgent vocal delivery, until the suddenly quieter delivery of "I never thought I'd need so many people" (making that line feel so bloody honest). And then it builds again, before ending with a return to just the drums fading out.

"Soul Love" - I always love the moment in this song when the guitar really comes in in force.

"Moonage Daydream" - This is one of my favorite Bowie tunes. It's glorious. "I'll be a rock 'n' roll bitch for you" - amen. But my favorite part is right around the two-minute mark, that instrumental section. I could listen to that all day. And then the end is phenomenal. If you turn it up loud enough, your brain will melt into brilliantly colored candy, and the neighborhood children will feast on you.

"Starman" - This, of all of Bowie's songs, gets in my head the most often. I'm not sure why that is, but I often myself singing it. "I had to phone someone so I picked on you." I love that groove with the acoustic guitar.

"It Ain't Easy" - Now matter how ready I am for it, the moment when this song kicks in always jolts me. "It ain't easy!" Such force. It's great.

"Lady Stardust" - I've always found this song sexy and sad. It feels so fragile and vulnerable, and yet somehow invincible. The song really sounds like the character Bowie sings of.

"Star" - "Star" is a rock and roll tune with a certain urgency. "I could fall asleep at night as a rock and roll star." Oh yes, things certainly would be easier...

"Hang On To Yourself" - This is the most fun tune on the album, a fast-paced little gem that always makes me dance around, wherever I am. "Come on, come on, we've really got a good thing going." Plus, it has the phrase, "tigers on vaseline" - how do you beat that?

"Ziggy Stardust" - I've never gotten tired of this song; it makes me happy every time I hear it. There are lines I love: "jiving us that we were voodoo," "making love with his ego" and "like a leper messiah."  Bowie creates such vivid images.

"Suffragette City" - This one seemed to be played the most in my childhood. I won't tell you just how I misheard the line "This mellow-thighed chick just put my spine out of place." This is my least favorite from this record, but of course it's still a darn good tune.

"Rock 'N' Roll Suicide" - This, in some ways, is the most interesting song on this record. It's so original, but also has an old rock 'n' roll element to it, and that combination works so perfectly as a climax toward which everything else has been building.  I absolutely love this song. And what a relief to hear, "Oh no love, you're not alone/No matter what or who you've been." I think, as a teenager, this was the song that made me keep playing the record. It would end here, and I'd feel a need to start it again.

The special 40th Anniversary Edition of The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars was released on Jun 5, 2012.  On that date, the album was also released on vinyl, with a special DVD included (the DVD has bonus tracks, including an instrumental version of "Moonage Daydream").

Sonny Rollins: "The Very Best Of Sonny Rollins" (2012) CD Review

The Very Best Of Sonny Rollins contains ten tracks recorded between 1953 and 1958.  The playing is spirited, as you'd expect, and sometimes sexy (listen to "You Don't Know What Love Is"). And there is the stunningly, ridiculously fun "I've Found A New Baby" (that track should not be nearly as wonderful as it is). If you haven't listened to Sonny Rollins before, this collection provides the perfect introduction.

While most of the jazz greats from those years have since left us, Sonny Rollins is still around, and still touring. And hurrah for that.  Sonny Rollins will be 82 in September.

"St. Thomas"

The Very Best Of Sonny Rollins opens with "St. Thomas," an original composition, and possibly his most famous song. From the deceptively simple moments at the beginning of his solo, to some surprising lower notes later, this performance is completely delightful. And then there is a truly interesting and impressive drum solo by Max Roach, as well as some nice work on piano by Tommy Flanagan. This track originally appeared on Saxophone Colossus (1956).

"Pent-Up House"

"Pent-Up House" is also an original composition. This one features Clifford Brown on trumpet, providing some great, bright energy. When Sonny Rollins begins his solo, it has a certain sexiness, backed by George Morrow's great groove on bass. There are some moments in Richie Powell's lead on piano that made me laugh for joy. And there is another cool drum solo by Max Roach toward the end of the tune.

This track is from the 1956 album Plus 4.

"In A Sentimental Mood"

The earliest track in this collection, recorded in October of 1953, is a gorgeous rendition of Duke Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood." This track is from Sonny Rollins With The Modern Jazz Quartet, and features a short lead section by Milton Jackson on vibes. But it is Sonny's playing that really drives this track.

"I'm An Old Cowhand"

"I'm An Old Cowhand" is a strange tune written by Johnny Mercer for the film Rhythm On The Range (in which Bing Crosby sings it).  I actually really dig this tune, one I hadn't heard before. It's from Sonny's Way Out West album (1957), and there is a western feel to Shelly Manne's drumming, particularly at the beginning and end of the tune, like a horse trotting on the range. There is something deliciously playful in Sonny's lead, especially in the moments just before Ray Brown's bass solo. That leads into a drum solo by Shelly Manne.

"There's No Business Like Show Business"

This collection features a swingin', even rollicking, rendition of the Irving Berlin tune "There's No Business Like Show Business."  Check out that fast-paced lead by Ray Bryant on piano. This rendition has certainly given me a new appreciation for this song. I love Max Roach's playing on this one.

"There's No Business Like Show Business" was originally written for the musical Annie Get Your Gun.  This track was originally included on Work Time.

"Tenor Madness"

"Tenor Madness" is the title track from a 1956 release. This song's title is totally apt, as it features John Coltrane on tenor sax. So you have two giants on that instrument. Yet the tune sticks within its fun groove, not going off into any truly insane territory - though their interaction in the second half of the song is fantastic, and helps to make this one of the collection's best tracks.  This is the third original composition by Sonny Rollins in this collection, and is the CD's longest track. This track also features nice leads by Red Garland on piano and Paul Chambers on bass, as well as some great work by Philly Joe Jones on drums.

CD Track List
  1. St. Thomas
  2. Pent-Up House
  3. In A Sentimental Mood
  4. I'm An Old Cowhand
  5. Someday I'll Find You
  6. There's No Business Like Show Business
  7. You Don't Know What Love Is
  8. Tenor Madness
  9. The Last Time I Saw Paris
  10. I've Found A New Baby
The Very Best Of Sonny Rollins was released on June 12, 2012 through Concord Music Group. Also released on that day were The Very Best Of The Miles Davis Quintet, The Very Best Chet Baker, The Very Best Of Wes Montgomery, and The Very Best Of John Coltrane: The Prestige Era.

Good Music For The Fourth Of July

There is a lot of bad music associated with the 4th of July. But there are some great songs too. For those making a holiday mix, here are some good choices.

While most music that has become associated with Independence Day is mindless patriotic drivel (such as the awful "God Bless The USA" by Lee Greenwood), there are some good tunes out there for the July 4th holiday. Here are a few of them:

Aimee Mann's "4th Of July"

Aimee Mann wrote a beautiful song titled "4th of July." The lyrics start off, "Today's the fourth of July/Another June has gone by/And when they light up our town I just think/What a waste of gunpowder and sky." Yes, Aimee Mann can be depressing. But she writes such great songs. This song was included on her 1993 release, Whatever. It's one of the best songs on an album full of great material.

U2's "4th Of July"

U2 also has a song titled "4th Of July." It's a short, mellow instrumental that sounds a bit like dolphins. It's from The Unforgettable Fire, the last truly great U2 album.

X's "4th Of July"

This song is included on X's Beyond And Back: The X Anthology. Here's a bit of the lyrics: "Whatever happened I apologize/So dry your tears and baby/Walk outside, it's the Fourth of July." Dave Alvin also recorded a solo version of this song, which was included on his album King Of California (1994). Robert Earl Keen also recorded a version of this song, which he included on his 1997 album Picnic.

"Independence Day" by Ellis Paul

Ellis Paul's "Independence Day" is another great song related to July 4th. The lyrics begin, "I'll shed some light on the mystery/Of why I kicked her out on Independence Day/With the fireworks burning I found myself learning/Couldn't lay in my bed the same way."

"Independence Day" was originally called "Stand By Me," when Ellis first started performing it live. It's featured on his 2001 release, Sweet Mistakes.

"Independence Day" by Ani Difranco

Ani Difranco also recorded a song titled "Independence Day." Hers begins, "We drove the car to the top of the parking ramp/on the 4th of july/we sat out on the hood with a couple of warm beers and watched the fireworks/explode in the sky." This song was included on Ani's 1998 release, Little Plastic Castle.

"This Land Is Your Land"

Steve Werner (of Fur Dixon & Steve Werner) has often said that "This Land Is Your Land" should be this country's national anthem. And he is absolutely correct. This is one of Woody Guthrie's best songs. For anyone who still considers this song cheesy, listen to the lyrics - all of the lyrics. Often artists who cover this song choose only two or three verses. They leave out some of the best stuff. Here is one of the verses that's not often heard: "As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there/And that sign said, no trespassin'/But on the other side it didn't say nothin'/Now that side was made for you and me."

"On The Fourth Of July" by James Taylor

James Taylor's "On The Fourth Of July" is a love song that takes place on July 4th. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "Oh the smell of the smoke as we lay on the land/And the feeling of finding my heart in my hand/With the tiny tin voice of the radio band /Singing 'love must stand'/Love forever and ever must stand."

"U.S. Blues"

"U.S. Blues" is a fun tune by the Grateful Dead. This was a song the Grateful Dead played during several 4th of July concerts. And why not? The lyrics start off, "Red and white, blue suede shoes/I'm Uncle Sam, how do you do/Gimme five, still alive/Ain't no luck, I learned to duck." Perfect. (An earlier version of this song was titled, "Wave That Flag.")

Other Possibilities For A Different Sort Of Mix

For those who have a bit of a sense of humor about the whole July 4th holiday, these songs might be ones to include on an Independence Day mix.

"I'm So Bored With The U.S.A." by The Clash. Here's a taste of the lyrics: "Never mind the stars and stripes/Let's print the Watergate Tapes/I'll salute the New Wave/And I hope nobody escapes/I'm so bored with the USA /I'm so bored with the USA /But what can I do?"

There is, of course, "Born In The U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen, which is not a patriotic song, no matter how many politicians foolishly use it in their campaigns. For those who are unsure, here are some of the lyrics: "I got in a little hometown jam/And so they put a rifle in my hands/Sent me off to Vietnam/To go and kill the yellow man."

Greg Brown's "America Will Eat You" is a wonderful song about consumerism consuming the citizens. The lyrics include this: "There's only so many times you can sit and watch tv/Stay detached and think it's stupid/And that you're somehow free/America will eat you." This was included on his 1989 album One Big Town. It's one of his best songs.

"Everybody Gets The Blues" by End Construction is another excellent song. This song contains bits of "American Pie," "America," "Pink Houses" and "Born In The U.S.A." It was written by Jim Infantino and included on the CD, Resume Speed.

These songs should provide a start for anyone wishing to make a mix CD for the July 4th holiday while avoiding overly patriotic tunes.

(Note: The article was originally posted on June 26, 2010 on another site.)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Songs Of The Sarah Silverman Program (Soundtrack) CD Review

One of my favorite aspects of The Sarah Silverman Program is the songs. The musical numbers lifted the show into an even higher realm of the absurd. Plus, they were damn funny. And, yes, several are about poop, including "Doody Song" and the wonderful "Poop Song" (in which Sarah joyously sings, with her new daughter, "we pooped at the mall today").  Well, they're all collected on the CD Songs Of The Sarah Silverman Program.

This CD contains ninety-nine tracks, and this isn't like that Cracker album where most of them are blank (just so "Eurotrash Girl" could be track #69 - sheesh). But of course not all of them are songs. Many are bits of dialogue from the show. I'm glad the dialogue is on separate tracks from the songs (I can't listen to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack anymore).

The tracks are presented basically in the order of the episodes, except for the "Goodnight" segments, which are all presented together at the end. Those are the funny morals that ended most episodes, with Sarah telling her dog what she learned during the course of the show. Some of these are completely hilarious, especially when Sarah tells her dog, "Good night, Dougie, I hope you die in your sleep tonight. I'm just kidding. But if it had to be one of us, I hope it's you."

Some of my favorite bits of dialogue are on here, like "Auschwitz? You'll be saying Wowschwitz" (on the "You're Gonna Wish The Holocaust Never Happened" track). And probably my favorite excerpt on this CD is "Abortion Speech," and includes this: "About ten years ago I got pregnant and everyone around me wanted me to give up and have the baby. And for about eight and a half months I listened to them."

A few bits, like "Lochness Animation" and "Charge Of The Nerds," don't quite work, because they're primarily visual jokes. But the rest of the excerpts do totally work.

But of course it's the songs that really make the album.  Here are a few of my favorites:

"That's What I Wish" - I love the serious, beautiful feel of this song, juxtaposed with the lyrics about how Sarah wishes she hadn't pooped. The track before this is the lead-in to the song, in which Sarah tries to fart, but poops instead.  By the way, I love the line, "I wish the retarded were re-smarted." This is the song that made even God stand up and take notice.

"Humanitarian Song" - Sarah sings about how she is such a good person for taking in a homeless man. When he starts to sing, she says, "Sshh, this isn't a duet."

"Le Blanc Doodie" - This is a pretty song asking that important question, "Whatever happened to that white dog poop from the seventies?" Remember that?  I do, and I don't know why.

"Believe In Dreams"  -  There are two tracks dedicated to the wonderful children's song "Believe In Dreams" (a song that puts The Little Mermaid to shame).  The second begins with dialogue from the show (one of the only times a song track has dialogue), and then goes into a short refrain of the song.

"Glad You Hurt Your Hand" - This is the dance classic sung by Steve Agee ("I'm glad you hurt you hand/I'm singing in this band/Because you hurt your hand"), with bits from Brian Posehn ("My hand really hurts"). And of course there is the response, "Glad I Hurt My Hand," sung by Brian Posehn. It begins as folk, then goes hardcore.

"Pancakes Please"  -  Hurrah for a fun country hoedown about pancakes!

"Baby Penis In Your Mind" - This is a gorgeous and moving duet sung by Sarah Silverman and Laura Silverman. "The baby penis in your mind/Gives you the courage to be what you need to be."

Songs Of The Sarah Silverman Program was released in March, 2010 on Comedy Central Records. The Sarah Silverman Program: The Complete Series DVD Box Set was released on June 19, 2012.

John Coltrane: "The Very Best Of John Coltrane: The Prestige Era" (2012) CD Review

The Very Best Of John Coltrane: The Prestige Era features recordings from fairly early in John Coltrane's career, from 1956 through 1958. Of course, he was already known as a member of The Miles Davis Quintet, and had recorded with that group. The tracks in this collection show him emerging as a leader himself. You can hear the excitement in his playing on a track like Cole Porter's "I Love You," the way he's able to clearly express those wild emotions. And the incredible mastery of Coltrane and Donald Byrd (on trumpet) is captured on "Lover Come Back To Me." The work on that song is seriously impressive, the kind of thing to just make you sit back and say, "Hot damn!" (That tune also features an excellent drum solo by Art Taylor.)  And then there is the beautiful rendition of "Theme For Ernie."  So, yes, this is an excellent collection of songs.

"I Hear A Rhapsody"

The Very Best Of John Coltrane: The Prestige Era opens with "I Hear A Rhapsody," a great upbeat tune written by George Fragos, Jack Baker and Dick Gasparre. It's not far into the tune before John Coltrane is taking control, and playing like mad. Well, it's more like this cool groove, where suddenly delicious spurts of madness explode at you from within. It's something of a jolt when he stops and lets Red Garland take lead on piano. Nothing against Garland, of course, but the energy level drops significantly at that point. And that's Paul Chambers on bass.  "I Hear A Rhapsody" is from the album Lush Life.


"Nutty" is a Thelonious Monk tune, taken from the record Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane (1957). I love Coltrane on this one, with these beautiful manic moments over the steady rhythm provided by Wilbur Ware on bass and Shadow Wilson on drums. There is a real freedom in his playing on this track, these short delicious and delirious flights. It's interesting when he finishes his solo, because the song is left to somehow manage on its own briefly, and there is a moment when you wonder if it should. Of course, Thelonious Monk's piano work is excellent, and he quickly takes the song in his own wonderful direction.


"Soultrane" is the earliest track in this collection, recorded in November of 1956. It's from Tadd Dameron With John Coltrane's Mating Call, and is written by Tadd Dameron. It's a sweet, pretty tune, which picks up just a bit a couple of minutes in. The simple, understated work on drums is by Philly Joe Jones, drummer for The Miles Davis Quintet.

"Traneing In"

"Traneing In" is this collection's sole composition by John Coltrane. It's also the CD's longest track, clocking in at just over twelve and a half minutes. This tune has a great groove, with a wonderful piano lead by Red Garland to start it off. There are some surprising moments in that section.  And John Coltraine's lead has fantastic energy, a great vibe, with perfect accents by Arthur Taylor on drums. And as he gets deeper in, Coltrane really lets it go, just playing with joyous abandon. Which leads to a nice long bass solo by Paul Chambers. (Am I mad, or does Chambers include a bit of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"? Check him out at the seven-minute mark.)  

"Traneing In" is the title track from an album John Coltrane did with The Red Garland Trio in 1957. 


"Bahia" is one of the CD's coolest tracks, with a tense repeated section on bass and piano. Paul Chambers continues it on bass while Red Garland takes his lead spot on piano. And then Paul Chambers does some fantastic stuff on bass while Red Garland continues that other theme on piano. I absolutely love this track.  This is the title track from a record John Coltrane released in 1958.

CD Track List
  1. I Hear A Rhapsody
  2. Nutty
  3. Soultrane
  4. I Love You
  5. Lover Come Back To Me
  6. Good Bait
  7. Traneing In
  8. Freight Trane
  9. Theme For Ernie
  10. Bahia
The Very Best Of John Coltrane: The Prestige Era was released on June 12, 2012 through Concord Music Group. Also released on that day were The Very Best Of The Miles Davis Quintet, The Very Best Of Chet Baker, The Very Best Of Sonny Rollins, and The Very Best Of Wes Montgomery.