Friday, February 28, 2014

Bobby Rush With Blinddog Smokin’: “Decisions” (2014) CD/DVD Review

Bobby Rush pairs up with the band Blinddog Smokin’ for his new release, Decisions. This album is a serious amount of fun, with lots of power and great bluesy vibes, as well as some absolutely wonderful backing vocals. There is a lot of playfulness on this album too, particularly on tracks like “Funky Old Man” and “Skinny Little Women” (the latter a debate on the benefits of fat women versus skinny women, with Blinddog Smokin's Carl Gustafson singing lines like, “A big fat lady take up way too much of the bed/With my little skinny women, room for two instead”).

Perhaps the major highlight, however, is the presence of Dr. John on vocals and piano on the album’s opening track, “Another Murder In New Orleans.” Obviously Bobby Rush draws a lot of inspiration from the city of New Orleans. His previous album was titled Down In Louisiana, and featured a lot of great New Orleans vibes. Decisions is a two-disc set, the second disc being a DVD focused on “Another Murder In New Orleans.”

“Another Murder In New Orleans”

“Another Murder In New Orleans” starts with a wonderful bit of tinkering on the keys, just to get us ready, get us excited. Then the song comes on as a strong dose of blues. The opening lines are, “The city is old, the trouble is new/People are happy, but the feeling’s so blue.” The vocals on this track are something else. First, check out Bobby dipping low on “New Orleans.” And then there are some amazing backing vocals (“I walk out into the night, though it isn’t my fight”). To top it off, there is the presence of Dr. John, singing the second verse. I’ve long been a fan of Dr. John’s music. His voice is unmistakable, and he is of course forever linked with New Orleans, being a vital part of that city’s vibe. And so it’s perfect that he appears on this track. Though he and Bobby Rush have known each other for decades, this is the first time they recorded together. I love the work on piano during an instrumental section.


“Decisions,” the CD’s title track, opens with the line, “Making a decision sometimes sure can be hard.” So true. “And making a decision when you feeling good is different when your body is in pain/Oh Lordy, why don’t you help us make the right decisions.” This is a song full of compassion and concern, and contains an important argument. Bobby Rush wrote this one. At a certain point, it does start to feel a bit repetitive, and loses some of its power as a result, but the nice work on harmonica makes up for it.

“Bobby Rush’s Bus”

I’ve always found it odd when musicians put their own names in their songs, sometimes even singing about themselves in the third person. And lines like “When we hit your town you know it’s us/We’ll be on your street in Bobby Rush’s bus” remind me of the “(Theme From) The Monkees” (“You never know where’ll be found/So you better get ready/We may be coming to your town”). Yet “Bobby Rush’s Bus” has a funky charm. I dig the horns and harmonica. The song has some good-natured bragging: “If this bus could its tell stories, everyone would blush.” And then it has an announcer voice introducing the musicians before they solo, with the sound of an audience cheering in the background. 

Later in the album we get “Dr. Rush,” in which Bobby Rush is portrayed as a radio personality offering advice. This one is a weird sort of rap/rock tune, and is my least favorite on this album (though there are still some humorous moments, like “Get some gravy in the woman if you have to spoon-feed her”).

"If That's The Way You Like It I Like It"

“If That’s The Way You Like It I Like It” is a very cool, kind of sexy tune about a man eager to join a woman in her special activities, with lines like “I heard you last night walkin’ down the hall/I heard you tell him he can get it all/If that’s what you want to do/Let me do it too/If that’s the way you like it, I like it.” 

“Funky Old Man”

Things get really fun with “Funky Old Man.” As its title promises, this song has a funky vibe, with some cool work on guitars, horns, and those great backing vocals. This song is totally playful, with some silly lines toward the end: “I’m a funky old man, ain’t got no money/I got rheumatism and I walk kind of funny/I had a hip replacement and an angioplasty/I like young women, I’m kind of nasty/Get up in the morning about the break of dawn/Take me an hour and half to get my shoes on.” Bobby Rush is in his seventies, but he certainly doesn’t seem old, his age doesn’t seem to matter. There is something of the immortal about him, about his energy.

“Love Of A Woman” has a more standard blues feel, with typical blues lyrics about doing things for a woman, including buying her a diamond ring, cars, house and everything, yet somehow feels new. That just goes to show you the great ability and force of Bobby Rush. He wrote this one, and sings, “A man will do anything, anything you want him to do/When he loves a woman like I love you.”

“Too Much Weekend”

“Too Much Weekend” is a really cool blues song that begins as a wonderful acoustic gem, and then kicks in. I like the line, “You know I’m not drunk, but I sure been drinking.”

There is an eleventh track that is not listed, “Sittin’ Here Waitin’.” This tune has a really good vibe. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I’m sitting here waiting on my woman to come back/She been gone so long things just ain’t right.”


The second disc is a DVD that includes the music video for “Another Murder In New Orleans.” This video features footage of New Orleans as well as the band, and some surprising animated footage of the band.

The DVD also includes short interviews with Dr. John and Bobby Rush, where they talk about that song. Bobby Rush also plays harmonica and sings for a bit.

There is also a photo gallery of behind-the-scenes photos from the music video shoot. The photo gallery plays without you having to hit the arrow button, and is approximately nine and a half minutes. “Another Murder In New Orleans” plays along with the photos (the song plays twice due to the length of this feature).

CD Track List
  1. Another Murder In New Orleans
  2. Decisions
  3. Bobby Rush’s Bus
  4. If That’s The Way You Like It I Like It
  5. Funky Old Man
  6. Love Of A Woman
  7. Stand Back
  8. Skinny Little Women
  9. Dr. Rush
  10. Too Much Weekend
  11. Sittin’ Here Waitin’
Decisions is scheduled to be released on April 15, 2014 on Silver Talon Records.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Kim Harris: “Only The Mighty” (2014) CD Review

Kim Harris’ debut full-length album, Only The Mighty, showcases her enormous vocal talents as well as her ability on piano. The album also demonstrates her songwriting abilities, as these are all original tunes. This is an album that I enjoyed the first time I heard it, but which I appreciate more and more each time I listen. It’s an album you’re going to want to enjoy without distractions.

“In The Woods,” the first track, has a playful, catchy rhythm that I really like. Sure, the song’s opening line gives you the sense of a typical folk music theme, “In the woods, I find peace.” But it’s not a typical folk tune. This song goes in some surprising directions lyrically (“frozen letters under pine cones in ice”). And of course it’s all about her wonderful vocals.

“The Weight Of It All” is driven by piano and vocals, and creates an interesting and compelling character with lines like “I was born to a youngster as a nameless baby” and “When they woke me at 3 a.m. to tell me she was leaving/And I don’t remember anything, but the sounds of her breathing.” It is then that the drums come in forcefully, determinedly with a steady pounding. I sort of expect the song to burst into an even higher plateau at that point. It doesn’t really do that, but the drums do give the song a sort of urgency, actually working to draw us in further.  The drums fall out again a little later, the song relaxing a bit, the focus returning to the emotion of the vocals.

“Poet Hearts” is a beautiful song. I love the combination of piano and pedal steel. Of course, it is really the vocals that are at the center of the song’s beauty. “Hoping for a parachute to get down tonight/We’ve got all the time.” Her gorgeous vocals are powerful, yet intimate, a combination that really works on the listener’s emotions.

“If I So Desire” is another beautiful track driven by piano and vocals. It opens with these lines: “I thought I was an ocean/No one reaching me for miles/I thought I was a sundial/Only blocking out the light/I thought I had no answers.” I love the way Kim Harris plays with pauses in this song, each breath seeming deliberate and meaningful, letting a thought hang for a moment. Like after “I met you in the evening/The evening was the end.”

Kim Harris follows that emotional song with “Oh Lion,” a lighter tune with a more happy sound that I totally dig. Jay Needham provides a second set of vocals on this track, sometimes singing with her, sometimes echoing her. “Oh lion, I love you/Oh lion, stay bold/You rummaged through rubble looking for luck/But came up with handfuls of gold.” This is actually one of my favorite tracks.

“Feast For The Mighty” is a soft, pretty, sweet tune, the acoustic guitar and vocals both having a comforting effect. This is one of those songs that somehow tells you just by its sound that things are going to be okay. “Where they hold a feast for the mighty/And a seat for the joy.” This is one of my favorites.

The CD’s title comes from a line of its final track, “We Will Revel”: “When all else have fallen away, only the mighty remain.” The song begins with piano and vocals. Then a couple minutes into the song, drums and an electric guitar come in. I really like that brief section where the guitar takes the lead spot.

CD Track List

  1. In The Woods
  2. The Weight Of It All
  3. Poet Hearts
  4. Dust
  5. If I So Desire
  6. Oh Lion
  7. Parliaments
  8. Lost In The Wild
  9. Feast For The Mighty
  10. We Will Revel


Musicians appearing on this album include Kim Harris on vocals, piano and acoustic guitar; Dale Murray on electric guitar, acoustic guitar, pedal steel and bass; Brian Murray on drums; Margot Durling on backing vocals; and Stewart Legere on backing vocals. Dale Murray produced and mixed the album. Margot Durling provided the artwork.

Kim Harris is based in Halifax.

Only The Mighty was released on February 25, 2014. I am looking forward to hearing more from this singer/songwriter.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Young Dubliners: “Nine – 9 – Naoi” (2014) CD Review

I’ve long been a fan of the Young Dubliners. They always put on a great show, always get the crowd dancing. And that vibe fortunately translates well to their studio releases. There are plenty of tracks on their new release, Nine – 9 –  Naoi, to get you off your seat. There is a tremendous amount of energy on this CD. Though the main draw might be the energy, this album has some good lyrics, like these lines from “Up In The Air”: “When you’ve nothing left to say/But you’re talking anyway/When it all becomes a blur/You still remember her.” These are all original tunes, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t traditional sounds here. This album is the first to be released on the band’s own label, YD Records, and was made with funds contributed by fans.

Nine gets off to a great start with an upbeat fun rock tune, “We The Mighty.” The energy is seriously high. And of course there’s at least one reference to drinking: “Raise a glass to the future and the past.” They also sing, “There’ll be no shamrocks and there’ll be no four-leaf clovers/It’s just a party and we’re only getting started.” Indeed!

There are more bright sounds on the pop tune “Say Anything.” I particularly like the steady beat and the way the vocals play over it on lines like “Don’t wait around for anyone/You’re holding all the keys.” And “Yeah, you got a right” is punctuated with percussion, making that line stand out. And then like a 1980s pop song, there is a short section with just drums and vocals.

“Rain” is on the sweeter, prettier side, showing the band can tackle these types of songs just as well as they do the dance numbers. In fact, this is one of the album’s strongest tracks. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Can’t stay forever, you have to move on/Don’t say goodbye, just so long.”

For me, things really get going with “Seeds Of Sorrow.” It’s one of those great Irish dance songs, with vocals that sound like an anthem on the chorus – “Throw away the seeds of sorrow/Far away, sow no more/Gone today, and still tomorrow/Love will follow, cross my heart” – lyrics you can shout out from the floor or your bar stool, wherever you happen to be. I absolutely love this track. It’s one of my favorites.

I always feel an Irish album is lacking something essential if it doesn’t have at least one kick-ass instrumental tune. And on this album, that song is “Abhainn Mór.” This is another of my favorite tracks. And again it’s one to get you moving, get you smiling. Forget any and all troubles, and turn this one up.

The album ends with a surprisingly gorgeous song, “Only You & Me,” dominated by a sweet-sounding piano and vocals. This song has moments of powerful beauty. "And her eyes were almost shining/As I said to myself that life begins today."

CD Track List

  1. We The Mighty
  2. Say Anything
  3. Up In The Air
  4. Rain
  5. Seeds Of Sorrow
  6. Abhainn Mór
  7. The Deep
  8. Fall 
  9. One Touch
  10. Only You & Me 


Young Dubliners are Dave Ingraham on vocals, drums, and percussion; Bob Boulding on vocals, guitar, banjo, mandolin and lap steel guitar; Keith Roberts on vocals and acoustic guitar; Brendan Holmes on vocals and bass; and Chas Waltz on vocals, violin and piano. Joining them on this release is Eric Rigler on uilean pipes and whistles.

Nine – 9 –  Naoi is scheduled to be released on March 4, 2014, just in time for your St. Paddy’s Day celebrations.

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

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Jonny Two Bags: “Salvation Town” (2014) CD Review

Jonny Two Bags is the guitarist with Social Distortion, and has also played with Youth Brigade, U.S. Bombs and Cadillac Tramps. Salvation Town is his debut full-length solo album. On some of these tracks Jonny delves into American roots music, with some  folk and country vibes, though most of these tracks are more in a rock vein. 

There are a lot of excellent tracks on this release, with some great guest musicians (including Jackson Browne) and some really good lyrics.

With the title Salvation Town, it might come as no surprise to find lots of religious imagery in these songs, including a mention of that giant glowing cross over the 101 freeway in Los Angeles (in “Then You Stand Alone,” a song that also mentions “the light of God”). “One Foot In The Gutter” mentions “devils and angels,” “heaven,” and “eternal bliss.” The lyrics of “Avenues” include references to “salvation” and “demons.” “Forlorn Walls” mentions “Saint Peter” and “the heavens.” And of course the very title of “Wayward Cain” is a religious reference.

Jonny Two Bags’ real name is Jonny Wickersham. The “Two Bags” bit reminds me of the Monty Python skit, “The Ministry Of Silly Walks,” where there is a character named Mrs. Two Lumps. Mrs. Two Lumps then refers to John Cleese as Mr. Tea Bag. Obviously, Jonny's nickname has nothing whatsoever to do with this comedy routine, but that’s where my brain goes every time I hear it.

“One Foot In The Gutter”

The first track, “One Foot In The Gutter,” opens with a good rock groove. It’s a song about a man taking a look at his life and his choices, particularly with regards to drugs. The main line of the tune is “I’ve got one foot in the gutter/And one foot kicking in the door to heaven.” I love that image, because it’s not a description of a man torn between good and evil, because even the good half includes a violent act. It seems almost more a division between despair and action rather than good and evil. But it’s also a great description of the drug world. And yet the song has kind of a sweet pop vibe.


“Avenues” kicks in with some nice work by Joel Guzman on accordion, an instrument I didn’t expect to hear on this album.  This song creates a vivid landscape and characters, and, like “One Foot In The Gutter,” is related to drugs, with lines like, “And business is on the boom/With a mouthful of balloons/Another kid jumps into the family trade.” This song also has a good beat, and a great second set of vocals by Gaby Moreno in one section.

“Then You Stand Alone”

The opening lines of “Then You Stand Alone” are “The electric cross above 101/A glowing beacon in the night/Fills the evil heart with fright/Can you feel the judgment coming down?” But again, the sound is a fairly bright rock sound. “In the place that you call home” is an interesting phrase, because it subtly implies that this place is not quite home. Mentioning home usually give a song a sort of nostalgic, even warm feel, but the phrase works directly against that feel, which I love.

“Then You Stand Alone” also features some excellent guest musicians, including David Hidalgo and David Lindley. Bent Harding, Social Distortion’s bassist, plays bass on this track. Jackson Browne joins Jonny on vocals.

“Clay Wheels”

“Clay Wheels” is more in the folk and country realm. The opening lines set the tone: “Sometimes I wonder/If this is as good as it gets/With each passing year it seems/I add a few more regrets.” Joel Guzman plays accordion on this track. There are some really nice backing vocals too, provided by Julie Miller and Gaby Moreno.


“Ghost” is also more in the folk realm, with a great, serious, desperate sound. And I love when it kicks in, with almost a march beat on the snare for a moment. This song has a quiet power that is quite moving. Some well-placed backing vocals by Gaby Moreno add to this song’s beauty as well as to its grip on the listener. There is also a wonderful instrumental section led by David Lindley on fiddle. Yeah, I just completely love this track; it’s my personal favorite on this album. The song’s closing lines are: “There’s nothing you can say or do/To make me feel whole/But I will keep on moving/Closer to the edge/And that’s where you can find me/When I take my final breath.”

“Alone Tonight”

“Alone Tonight” is another of the CD’s highlights. It’s a nice slow country tune, with Greg Leisz on pedal steel.  And then at one point, Steve Berlin comes in on saxophone. “I’ll stay true to you/‘Til I turn out the light.”

“The Way It Goes”

Salvation Town concludes with “The Way It Goes.” I love these lines: “Baby, baby, you’re the girl of my dreams/I’m gonna rip your life apart at the seams.” I love that there’s no pause between the joy of meeting and the knowledge that things will go horribly wrong. It’s such a depressing thought, and yet its expression comes across as humorous. Brent Harding plays bass on this track.

CD Track List

  1. One Foot In The Gutter
  2. Avenues
  3. Then You Stand Alone
  4. Clay Wheels
  5. Forlorn Walls
  6. Wayward Cain
  7. Ghosts
  8. Hope Dies Hard
  9. Alone Tonight
  10. The Way It Goes

Salvation Town is scheduled to be released on April 1, 2014 on Isotone Records through Thirty Tigers.