Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Mr. Smolin & Double Naught Spy Car: “Heaven’s Not High” (2013) CD Review

Mr. Smolin teams up with Double Naught Spy Car for Heaven’s Not High, an album full of great grooves, and interesting (and intelligent) lyrics. I knew of Barry Smolin from his radio program, “The Music Never Stops,” which was the only radio show in Los Angeles I made a point of listening to every week (especially back when it ran four hours). Now he hosts “Head Room,” and I try to catch that one whenever I can. I’d heard he did his own music, but I had no idea it was this damn good. In fact, there is only one track on this CD that doesn’t quite work for me.

The opening track, “In The Hoosegow,” has sudden explosions like bursts of hard rock from the 1970s. It then kicks in, with a nice groove, and the lyrics come at you in a stream of consciousness-like style. There is a seriously groovy instrumental section, with the guitar rising above the surface. It sounds very cool.  The song then returns briefly back to that 1970s rock theme. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “They're gonna throw you in the hoosegow angel/In a dungeon tower/Where every second feels just like an hour/And in the hoosegow angel/Every hour feels like forever.” (Time gets like that sometimes.) And they do some fun stuff with the vocals right at the end

“It’s We Who Turn” eases in for thirty seconds or so, before taking on a kind of funky rhythm. The first lines are, “I woke up underneath a tree/I woke up outside history.” Oh yes, we've all had moments like that. This tune features some nice stuff on keys, and also some good accents on drums. I do love the playful delivery on certain lines, even certain words, like “ascended” and “rhyme.” The song goes off exploring for a bit around the six-minute mark, before returning to its funky base.

“Carnival” begins with a definite late 1950s rock and roll vibe – like the mid-tempo song in the high school dance scene from a movie. (Think Paul Anka’s “Diana” or maybe “Those Magic Changes” from Grease.) And the opening lines completely fit in with that theme: “I'll take you to the carnival/I'll win you a great big prize tonight/I'll take you to the carnival/You'll forget the other guys tonight.” These guys play with that theme, not feeling restrained by any sort of boundaries or expectations that go with it; however, the song retains a kind of beautiful innocence. And then Barry Smolin sings, “I’ll take you to the carnival/You are in for a surprise tonight.” And it ends with a surprising, delightful “cha cha cha cha.”

“One And The Same” feels kind of like a song from one of those great late 1960s, early 1970s counterculture films, you know where there is a lot of dancing and spinning lights, and they keep focusing on one long-haired girl in a mini-dress. Particularly in the chorus. It’s a sound that I totally dig. And of course these guys move out from there. Here is the chorus: “We are one and the same/We're a force with no name/We're a face in the flame of creation/We can all lay fair claim/To a stake in the game/We are one in the same situation."

“No Bit Of Difference” is a fun rock tune with a bright feel, and some lyrics that come at you rapidly. It contains references to Mary Poppins, Laurie Partridge and Tracy Ullman. I love these lines: “Remember this, my friend/You're insignificant/Nothing matters/Much less that you came and went.” But “Of a split infinity” is possibly my favorite phrase on the album (because I love plays on words, and I still try to refrain from splitting infinitives.)

There is a groovy gypsy-type vibe to “Don’t You Believe It,” with some wonderful backing vocals. Plus, I really dig these lyrics: “Don’t you believe it when they find the answer/Don’t you agree to heed the call.” And then, “Don't you agree to be in thrall/Don't you believe it when the final answer/Proclaims to save us all.” Very nice. I just love the feel of this tune. And it features some deliciously hypnotic work on guitar.

“Faery Lands Forlorn” is the only one that doesn’t work for me. It feels a bit monotonous, and has a repetitive bit on piano – one high note hit in series of threes.

“The Devil Isn’t Real” is an odd song, with its wonderfully joyous delivery of the chorus and its sweet piano part, and a section that feels like a children’s song. It has a very positive feel, which is totally infectious. I always thought the Devil was a very silly idea.

The album ends with an epic, twenty-one-minute track – the title track, “Heaven’s Not High.”  Like all of these tracks, certain lines jump out at me each time I listen. With this track, it’s “Afraid to admit what you do not know” and “Find a certain comfort in confusion.” As you might expect from a twenty-one-minute track, there is some seriously good jamming. This one definitely takes you on a wild journey, though it does kind of drift off at the very end.

CD Track List

  1. In The Hoosegow
  2. It’s We Who Turn
  3. Carnival
  4. One And The Same
  5. No Bit Of Difference
  6. Don’t You Believe It
  7. Faery Lands Forlorn
  8. The Devil Isn’t Real
  9. Heaven’s Not High


Musicians appearing on this album are Mr. Smolin on vocals, piano, organ and harpsichord; Paul Lacques on guitar; Marcus Watkins on guitar; Marc Doten on bass, synth and backing vocals; and Joe Berardi on drums and percussion. Joining them are Harvey Canter, Patria Jacobs, Gwendolyn Sanford and Seth Kurland on backing vocals.

Heaven’s Not High was released on July 2, 2013.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Greencards: “Sweetheart Of The Sun” (2013) CD Review

Sweetheart Of The Sun, the new CD by the Greencards, is a somewhat more mellow affair than their last release, The Brick Album. It might seem to lack the raw power of a track like that album’s “Make It Out West,” but this is in fact a more beautiful album in many ways. Check out the wonderful “Traveler’s Song,” for example, particularly at the end with the lines, “We’re all travelers/Hope we’ll meet again someday.” This album is really about the vocals, which are often gorgeous. At times, you just have to relax and let them carry you, like on “Love And Other Errors,” where their vocals are like a warm breeze.

This album sees the band moving even farther away from traditional bluegrass. Sweetheart Of The Sun takes you on an interesting journey, sometimes even within individual tracks, as a song will take a different direction toward the end (such as “Wide Eyed Immigrant”). A lot of the songs have imagery related to the ocean.

The album opens with “Once And Gone,” a folk tune with a very pretty and actually soothing instrumental section on acoustic guitar to begin the song. The vocals are particularly impressive on “Shine down on the ocean.” This is a short song, only two minutes. “Once And Gone” was written by Kai Welch, Kym Warner and Carol Young.

The first line of “Forever Mine” is, “I just want to climb inside the perfect melody.” It seems this band is certainly able to do that, or at least to create excellent melodies for us to climb inside. This song has a brighter, fuller sound than the opening track. It is full of positive vibes, with lines like, “Safe upon the golden shore/Maybe you’ll be waiting there for me/Where the losers get to win.”  And then: “You’re forever mine.” “Forever Mine” features David Beck and Paul Cauthen, from Sons Of Fathers, on vocals. This song has a strange ending, with echoes, like performed in a cave at the edge of the ocean.

“Black, Black Water” is very pretty, particularly due to the vocals. The song has some interesting imagery related to water, and also an interesting structure. If you allow it to, this song brings you down then lifts you up several times. This is one of my favorite tracks. It was written by Carol Young, Kym Warner and Kai Welch.

“Boxcar Boys” is a really interesting song because it has an old-time European vibe, but also at times an easy-going feel to the vocals. There are also well placed hand-claps.

“Fly” is also interesting, partly because of its structure. It has different sections, the first somewhat mellow, with the lines, “Once I had a dream that made me cry/Once I woke to find I could not fly.” The second section begins a minute and a half in, with more energy (and with a sort of Beatles feel to the vocals at moments - think, "If I Needed Someone"). Then there is a great instrumental section, leading to the repetition of the line, “I’ll chase the sun around the world.”  The song fades out at the four-minute mark, changing into a moody guitar instrumental piece. This is a really strong track, and is one I enjoy more and more each time I listen to it.


Though the focus of this album often seems to be the beautiful vocals and wonderful imagery, there are three instrumental tracks. The first, “Paddle The Torrens,” is a pretty, joyful tune. The song feels to me like the perfect day when time ceases to be a factor and you let go to a certain extent and allow yourself to be a part of the world.

The second instrumental, “Midnight Ferry,” is a short, darkly pretty track written by Kym Warner. The third, “Ride & Sway,” also composed by Kym Warner, is a sweet and uplifting tune with a nice lead guitar section. This song seems designed to make you feel good, make you smile. It also makes me want to go outside with friends and run in the sand and skip stones over the ocean. This is actually one of my favorite tracks.

CD Track List

  1. Once And Gone
  2. Forever Mine
  3. Black, Black Water
  4. Paddle The Torrens
  5. Ocean Floor
  6. Traveler’s Song
  7. Midnight Ferry
  8. Wide Eyed Immigrant
  9. Love And Other Errors
  10. Ride & Sway
  11. Boxcar Boys
  12. Fly


Musicians appearing on this album include Carol Young on vocals, bass and percussion; Kym Warner on mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, glockenspiel and percussion; Carl Miner on guitars, omnichord, keys, and percussion; Jedd Hughes on guitar, bouzouki, ukulele and vocals; Kai Welch on guitar, bass, accordion, keys, omnichord and vocals; David Beck on vocals and bass; Paul Cauthen on vocals; Eric Darken on percussion; Aoife O’Donovan on vocals; Jon Randall on vocals; Luke Reynolds on bass and pedal steel guitar; and Andrea Zonn on violin and viola.

Sweetheart Of The Sun is scheduled to be released on August 20, 2013 on Darling Street Records.

Chet Baker: “Plays The Best Of Lerner & Loewe” (2013 re-issue) CD Review

Concord Music Group, as part of its Original Jazz Classics Remasters series, is re-issuing Chet Baker Plays The Best Of Lerner & Loewe. This album includes selections from four musicals by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, and features some excellent musicians. The four musicals represented here are My Fair Lady (half of the tracks are from this one), Brigadoon, Gigi and Paint Your Wagon.

Let me admit right here that I’ve never attended performances of any of the musicals covered on this album, so I don’t know just how these tracks fit into the overall structure or plots, or how they tie in thematically. (My mom did buy me a DVD of the film version of Paint Your Wagon, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it yet, even though I’m a big fan of Lee Marvin – maybe because I’m a big fan of his.)

These aren’t the most exciting selections in the jazz realm, but there is some really good playing. Obviously Chet Baker does some wonderful work on trumpet, but this album also features Herbie Mann, Zoot Sims, Pepper Adams, Bob Corwin, Earl May and Clifford Jarvis. And Bill Evans is on piano for half the tracks, and it’s always a treat to hear him. These tracks were recorded in two days, July 21 and 22, 1959. They were remastered for this re-issue by Joe Tarantino. This re-issue includes new liner notes by James Rozzi, as well as the original liner notes by Orrin Keepnews.

My Fair Lady

This album includes four tunes from My Fair Lady, which played on Broadway in 1956. It opens with “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,” a sweet, slow, pretty tune, with the horns blowing gently over a nice rhythm. It has an easy-going pace. I particularly like toward the end when the horns are interacting.

Chet Baker gives us a fairly playful version of “I Could Have Danced All Night,” with a silly, rather odd intro. Herbie Mann plays piccolo on this track. Bill Evans is on piano, and has a nice lead section, which is my favorite part of this version.

“On The Street Where You Live” opens with a sort of call-and-response section, but these are simple themes, nothing challenging for anyone to follow. More interesting is Chet Baker’s lead section. This track also includes a lead by Bob Corwin on piano.

“Show Me” is a fast-paced, bright tune, giving Clifford Jarvis a few moments to stretch and loosen up on drums. And I love Herbie Mann’s flute lead on this one. Each of the leads offers some interesting stuff.


The CD includes two selections from Brigadoon, which opened on Broadway in 1947. The first is “The Heather On The Hill,” which starts with a curious bass line, and then eases in with a relaxed vibe. Herbie Mann plays alto flute on this track. The second, “Almost Like Being In Love,” is a more up-tempo song, and brings out some spirited playing from all the musicians. I totally dig Earl May’s bass line (he even gets a brief lead section). And Chet Baker’s trumpet lead is wonderful. Clifford Jarvis gets a chance to do some interesting work on drums.


There is a single selection from Gigi, that being “Thank Heaven For Little Girls.” This track’s intro features Bill Evans on piano, playing over the bass line briefly before the horns come in. This is another track where the bass line is so enjoyable. And I love the later section when Bill Evans takes the lead spot, with the spirited bass line going strong beneath him.

Paint Your Wagon

I only knew the Smother Brothers’ version of “I Talk To The Trees” from some comedy album of my youth. I always liked that routine, and I think it will always keep me from taking this song too seriously. “I Talk To The Trees” is the sole track from Paint Your Wagon (the musical ran on Broadway in 1951). It’s a slow, mellow tune. The horns are gorgeous, particularly when they blend, merging at moments that are striking. Herbie Mann has a lead section on alto flute, which leads to Bill Evans’ lead.

CD Track List

  1. I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face
  2. I Could Have Danced All Night
  3. The Heather On The Hill
  4. On The Street Where You Live
  5. Almost Like Being In Love
  6. Thank Heaven For Little Girls
  7. I Talk To The Trees
  8. Show Me

Plays The Best Of Lerner & Loewe was released on July 23, 2013 through Concord Music Group. Also released on that date were Bill Evans Trio: How My Heart Sings!, Cannonball Adderley With Milt Jackson: Things Are Getting Better, Thelonious Monk/Gerry Mulligan: Mulligan Meets Monk, and Wes Montgomery: So Much Guitar!

Also released earlier in this series was Chet Baker’s Sings - It Could Happen To You.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Grateful Dead: “View From The Vault IV” DVD Review

So 1987 was the year of the big hit for the Grateful Dead – “Touch Of Grey,” off of their first studio release in seven years, In The Dark. Things were going pretty well. View From The Vault IV contains portions of two concerts the band did that summer: July 24 in Oakland, and July 26 in Anaheim. The Dead actually did three sets those nights, the third sets and encores being with Bob Dylan. The DVD does not include any of the Dylan stuff. Other than that, all that is missing is three songs from the first set of the Oakland show.

Oakland Stadium, 7-24-87

First Set

There’s little “Funiculi Funicula” tuning to start the first set, and Jerry goofing around, smacking himself on the side of the head, before things get going with the wonderful “Jack Straw,” a fan favorite. It’s a really good show opener for many reasons, including the fact that both Bob and Jerry sing lead on different parts. This rendition has a lot of energy.

The band then goes right into “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo,” and this is a good version, particularly in that last section of the song, which they keep going for a while. “Across the Rio Grand-eo/Across the lazy river.” The folks in charge of the visuals get into some weird stuff with the footage early in this show, at the end of “Mississippi Half-Step.”

Then we get a couple from In The Dark, “My Brother Esau” (which was oddly left off of the CD version originally) and “When Push Comes To Shove.” (However, in the show these two songs were separated by three other songs, the three cut from this DVD – “Friend Of The Devil, “Me And My Uncle” and “Big River.”) Near the beginning of “My Brother Esau,” Bob messes up the lyrics and laughs at himself. Brent follows “When Push Comes To Shove” with “Far From Me,” a song from his first studio album with the band, Go To Heaven. It’s always great to hear Brent belt out a tune.

Bob then sings “Cassidy,” a beautiful song that works for me every time. The jam in this version gets pretty intense, and is one of the highlights of the first set. Jerry then wraps things up with “Deal.”

Second Set

The visual on screen to open the second set is “Space Your Face.” I had a Space Your Face T-shirt back in the day. It was my favorite T-shirt, and I gave it to a girl. I can only assume she still has it. Bob starts off the second set with an energetic rendition of “Hell In A Bucket.” I know not everyone liked this song, but I always enjoyed it. I fucking love the lines, “There may come a day I will dance on your grave/If unable to dance, I will crawl across it.” And then into “Scarlet Begonias,” one I love to dance to, one that never fails to make me smile. “I ain’t often right, but I’ve never been wrong.” And then, surprisingly, the band actually ends the song, rather than going into “Fire On The Mountain.”

And after a few second, they start “Playing In The Band.” And just as you might expect, this is when things get interesting, with on-screen visuals to go along with exploration in the jam. “Drums” gets pretty out there at one point, but “Space” is fairly tame. No matter, as it leads to “Uncle John’s Band.” “Well, the first days are the hardest days/Don’t you worry anymore.” A later lyric flub by Jerry makes Brent laugh. It’s delightful.

That leads to “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” with Brent on lead vocals. And holy moly, it’s fantastic. The second time around, Jerry and Brent sing it together. The band keeps the energy up with “I Need A Miracle” into a seriously rousing rendition of “Bertha,” and then they finish things with a pretty great version of “Sugar Magnolia.”

Anaheim Stadium, 7-26-87

First Set

The band gets things off to a great start with “Iko Iko,” and everyone is immediately dancing. And, oh boy, I had forgotten all about Bob Weir’s Madonna T-shirt. Well, enough said about that, right? Anyway, Bob goes into “New Minglewood Blues,” and, being in Anaheim, sings, “A couple shots of whiskey, these Disney Minnies start lookin’ good.”

They do a couple from In The Dark – Brent’s “Tons Of Steel” (a song he’d actually recorded solo several years earlier) and “West L.A. Fadeaway.” Check out that shot of Bill groovin’ to Jerry’s rhythm at the beginning of “West L.A. Fadeaway.” And it’s during that song that we get the first playful visuals. And then – interestingly – Bob chooses “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” Interestingly because the third set that night was with Bob Dylan, and I wonder if Dylan was back stage, crossing that song from his list. “Someday everything is gonna be different/When I paint my masterpiece.” That, strangely, leads to “Mexicali Blues.” Bob has a moment when he forgets which verse he’s on. The first real jam of the night comes during “Bird Song.” And they end the first set with Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land.”

Second Set

The second set starts just right with “Shakedown Street,” getting everybody dancing again. This is a really good version of “Shakedown,” with nice vocal play toward the end. “Just gotta poke around.” They jam and then actually return to the vocal section again, which is absolutely wonderful. They follow it with the sweet “Looks Like Rain,” and then “Terrapin Station.” Like basically every other Grateful Dead fan, I love “Terrapin,” and this is a good version.

“Drums” has a moment that blew me away (granted, I was seriously stoned by this point). And then the drummers begin playing with the audience for a bit, and it’s pretty great. “Space” quickly incorporates elements of “The Other One,” and the band eases into that song. It’s a powerful “Other One.” Jerry then sings one of my favorites, “Stella Blue.” They end the second set with “Throwin’ Stones” into “Not Fade Away.” And by the end the band is backing the audience on vocals.

View From The Vault IV is scheduled to be released on August 13, 2013 through Shout! Factory. Also scheduled for release that day is View From The Vault III.

(Note: I also posted this review on Pop Culture Beast.)