Monday, March 31, 2014

Penny Blacks: “Gold Standards” (2011) CD Review

Gold Standards, the first EP from Penny Blacks, is quite a bit different from their most recent release, The Silver Screen EP. This one is more in the acoustic vein, and does not feature a full band. As with The Silver Screen EP, all tracks were written by Jason Ogden. But this release is closer to a Jason Ogden solo album.

The EP’s opening track, “Chop Yourself Into Little Pieces And Mail Yourself To New Brunswick, Canada For Immediate Reassembly,” has a nice, simple rhythm on acoustic guitar. And of course it also has the CD’s best song title. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Just you in a wet coat/Just eyeliner runs and no ones/But I never forgot your love/It’s alternately been an angel or devil sitting on my shoulder/Whispering ‘come back’ in my ear.” It’s an interesting mix of folk music sounds with a more rock approach to the vocals.

That’s followed by a wonderful country tune, “Your Wedding Ring,” which opens with the lines, “Where’s your wedding ring, darling/You used to wear it with such pride.” So I’m thinking that it’s the woman’s husband who is singing, that it’s one of those country tunes of lost love. Because Jason Ogden has just the right tone of nostalgia and wistfulness in his voice. But instead it’s the woman’s friend who is singing, a friend who loves her. “I won’t tell a soul, dear, there’s no need to be ashamed/That man took your smile, your ring, and your sunshine, and he is the one to blame.” There is a short, but absolutely delightful instrumental section. Dillon Anthony plays pedal steel on this track.

“Paperwork” is a lively pop tune done on acoustic guitar, with some punk vibes to keep things interesting, which fits with great lines like, “Rust is in the air” and “Your saliva was the colour of raspberry candies when you spit on me.” This is a very cool tune. Adam Mowery provides vocals on this track.

“Splinter Kiss” has an odd beginning, an electronic pulse slowing. The song then comes on as a slow acoustic tune. The first line begins, “My heart ain’t been right,” and there’s a pause, giving my brain time to guess the rest, something like, “Since you left.” So I’m happily surprised when he finishes the line with “since the day that we met.” Right then I know this is going to be an interesting song. This is a love song about a man who must have been used to pain and misery. That had become his norm, and so now it feels like something is wrong, because the norm has changed. “It don’t get all tight in my chest and it don’t get upset.” The mellow feel of the song is interesting, because you might expect him to sound happy rather than concerned. But change can be frightening, even if it’s good change, positive change. His voice does get brighter, with more energy, toward the end when he sings, “If a beat, it gets skipped, it’s from your tender lips/If it races minutes-to-miles, it’s because of your smile.”

The EP’s final track, “Socorro,” is, in part, about being a musician and traveling. “Fingers do their own thing/I just open my mouth and sing.” For me it gets more interesting when he sings, “You’re losing pieces of yourself every day/How long before that starts to show?” He then uses a description of a bird to illustrate the situation, or how he sees it, especially in relation to his possible future. “He’s a timid sort of creature, and I hear he’s not long for this world/He’s capable of flight, but as the years go by, his wings rarely unfurl.”

CD Track List

  1. Chop Yourself Into Little Pieces And Mail Yourself To New Brunswick, Canada For Immediate Reassembly
  2. Your Wedding Ring
  3. Paperwork
  4. Splinter Kiss
  5. Socorro 

Gold Standards was released on April 26, 2011.

Penny Blacks: “The Silver Screen EP” (2013) CD Review

The songs of Penny Blacks’ most recent CD, last year’s The Silver Screen EP, feature some of the joy and youthful excitement of mid-1960s pop. All four songs were written by Jason Ogden, and each of the tracks is really enjoyable and has some interesting lyrics.

The opening track, “Our Old Rooms,” is a fun, kind of sweet pop tune. It has such a positive vibe, with a catchy groove. And the violin gives the song a slightly more serious beauty. This is a song wrapped in the colors of memory and hope. “It’s the color of me and you/It’s the color of your phone beside my bed/Well, all you have to do is call me/Please do.” And then at the end he sings, “It’s the color of regret/Regret is red.”

There is something in the vocal approach at the beginning of “Gentlemen Marry Brunettes” that reminds me of the Ramones. It’s still a pop tune, but there is a bit of a snarl to the vocals at the beginning. There are some interesting changes in this song, like when he sings, “If I wake up without you/With your song in my head/Will I still smell your scent all over my bed.”  Some of the changes bring to mind The Grownup Noise, the way they use a change of tone to great effect in telling the story and creating an exciting sense of movement within a song.  

There are more fun positive pop vibes to begin “Wherever And Ever I Go.”  So the first line comes as such a surprise: “I’ll meet you at your father’s grave on Christmas Eve and I’ll say I’m sorry.” The first time I listened to this EP, this is the song that grabbed me the most. This song has moments when the vocals are allowed to be completely the focus, with the instruments nearly completely falling out. Like on the lines, “You won’t have to remind me how much I owe/I’ll stay up late on weeknights and move the furniture around with you/Whenever you need me to.” But the song also has a solid rock groove.

I dig that a song called “The Digital Age” has an early rock and roll feel and rhythm. This song too has plenty of interesting changes. I like that this group will take pop elements but then be willing to drop them or change them to suit what the song is saying at the moment. It’s like taking something familiar and giving us a new look at it.

CD Track List
  1. Our Old Rooms
  2. Gentlemen Marry Brunettes
  3. Wherever And Ever I Go
  4. The Digital Age

Penny Blacks are Jason Ogden on guitar and vocals, Chris Braydon on guitar, Adam Kierstead on bass and vocals, Clinton Charlton on drums and vocals, Dan Chamberlain on keys, and Ali Leonard on violin. Joining them on this release are Jessica Rhaye on vocals, Amy Stewart on vocals, Brad Dryer on trumpet, and Richard Kidd on trombone.

The Silver Screen EP was released on March 15, 2013.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sandra Rhodes: “Where’s Your Love Been” (1973/2014 re-issue) CD Review

Sandra Rhodes is known for providing backing vocals for Al Green and Conway Twitty (she also co-wrote Twitty’s hit “The Clown”), among others, and in 1973 released her own album on Fantasy. Titled Where’s Your Love Been, this album features lots of original material, some of it co-written by Sandra Rhodes and Charles Chalmers, who was then her husband, and some of it co-written by Sandra and her sister, Donna Rhodes. There are also some really good covers, including an excellent rendition of The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” The backing vocals on these tracks are by Sandra herself, along with Charles and Donna (together billed as The Joint Venture). As you might guess, the vocals are excellent. But the songwriting is also top-notch. Sandra Rhodes may be a little bit country, but she’s got a whole lot of soul. And you’ll hear it on track after track here.

I’m shocked this album hasn’t been released on CD until now. It’s an album that starts off really well, and then just gets better as it goes on (most of my favorite songs are on the second half). This CD issue includes seven bonus tracks, all previously unreleased. There are also new liner notes, written by Bill Dahl.

“No One Else Could Love You More”

Where’s Your Love Been opens with a pretty country tune, “No One Else Could Love You More,” which is at first led by acoustic guitar. It’s a sort of love song that acknowledges the bad times, opening with these lines: “Baby, with my head upon your shoulder/Don’t it make it hard for you to leave/The world outside’s a whole lot colder/Than all the bad times you ever had with me.” It’s an honest love song, perhaps a bit harsh when she says, “And when all the world has forgotten you were ever born/No one else could love you more.” “No One Else Could Love You More” was written by Sandra Rhodes and Charles Chalmers.

That’s followed by “I Think I Love You Again,” a country song with a good, mellow groove. This is another sort of love song, with lines like “Sometimes while smiling in the middle of the nighttime/As I taste a stranger’s kiss/Oh, I miss you baby/The feeling is coming back to me/And I think I love you again.” This song was written by Toni Wine and Irwin Levine.

“No Such Thing As Love”

“No Such Thing As Love” is a song with a sweet and pretty sound, the guitar reminding me a bit of The Byrds, or perhaps some of Michael Nesmith’s work with The Monkees. There is also some nice work on steel guitar. This song was written by Sandra Rhodes and Charles Chalmers, and is about a secret love. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “And I’ll hold you in my arms ‘til morning/Then I’ll softly take my leave without warning/But my heart is looking for the day/When I won’t have to go away/And we won’t hide the dreams we’re dreaming of/But today there can be no such thing as love.”

“Sho’ Is Rainin’”

The album begins to take on a bit of an R&B feel on “Sho’ Is Rainin’” – with backing vocals echoing, “Rainin’, rainin’” and some good work on organ.  I love the smooth beauty of Sandra’s vocals particularly on this track. “Sho’ Is Rainin’” was written by Sandra Rhodes and Charles Chalmers.

“Where’s Your Love Been”

“Where’s Your Love Been,” the album’s title track, is the only track I’d heard before. It has a great build and a very cool, sexy vibe. On this one, Sandra sings, “One day you left with the wind/Now here you are again/But this time before I let you in/Where’s your love been?” And we know precisely what she’s talking about. There’s a nice lead guitar part after she asks the question, almost like a response, or a sort of heated discussion about it, as that great, steady groove continues beneath it. “Where’s Your Love Been” was written by Sandra Rhodes and Donna Rhodes.

The Rolling Stones

Sandra Rhodes does a really good cover of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs. I particularly like the bass on this version. There is also some nice work on piano and harmonica. For me, there are shades of Lady Macbeth in the verse about “blood-stained hands.”

We then get deeper into R&B territory with the excellent tune “Never Grow Old,” complete with horns and delightful backing vocals. This tune has such an upbeat, positive vibe, I just love it. It was written by Sandra Rhodes and Donna Rhodes.

“The Best Thing You Ever Had”

Something in Sandra’s voice makes me not completely believe the opening line: “I hope you’re happy with your new love.” No, this is a woman with a bit of anger and resentment. And she’s so sure of herself, as she sings, “Time’s gonna prove I was the best thing you ever had.” And hell, I believe that line. I mean, just listen to her voice. Who could be better? And she has backing vocals to add to the strength of her statement. This one was written by George Jackson. 

Bonus Tracks Include Sonny & Cher Song

The CD issue of this excellent album includes seven bonus tracks, all previously unreleased. The first, “Double Dealing Woman,” begins with a funky groove, and accents on horn. Sandra then describes the woman of the song’s title: “She looks just like an angel with the devil in her eye/With intoxicating kisses, she sends you to the sky/But after you get up there, she’ll leave you high and dry.” And I really like these lines: “You tell her that it’s over, but she knows you’re not that strong/You can’t ever leave her, boy, you loved her much too long.”  “Double Dealing Woman” was written by Sandra Rhodes, Charles Chalmers and Morris Tarrant.

“Someday Sweet Baby” is a seriously cool track written by Sandra’s sister, Donna Rhodes. It has an insistent beat and a strong vocal performance, as well as some nice instrumental moments, all helping to make this a dance tune. Donna also co-wrote “Jingo,” a mellow, sweet tune which, according to the liner notes, was named after a dog the sisters had.

The bonus tracks also include a pair of tunes written by Sandra and Charles Chalmers: “I’d Rather Hurt You Now” and “Linda Was A Lady.”

The one cover included in the bonus tracks is “Baby Don’t Go,” written by Sonny Bono, and a hit for Sonny & Cher in 1965. Sandra’s version has a sweet feel, and opens with the first verse rather than a bit of the chorus as Sonny & Cher’s version did. The guitars remind me a bit of The Byrds. There is also some nice work on harmonica.  When I get to the city my tears will all be dry/My eyes will look so pretty, baby/No one’s gonna know I’ve cried/I’m going away/Maybe I’ll be back someday.”

The CD concludes with "I Don't Play The Game," a mostly mellow and pretty song written by Sandra Rhodes. “Look out, here comes fortune/Look out, here comes fame.”

CD Track List

  1. No One Else Could Love You More
  2. I Think I Love You Again
  3. No Such Thing As Love
  4. Sho’ Is Rainin’
  5. It’s Up To You
  6. Where’s Your Love Been
  7. You Can’t Always Get What You Want
  8. Never Grow Old
  9. The Best Thing You Ever Had
  10. Sowed Love And Reaped The Heartache
  11. Double Dealing Woman
  12. Someday Sweet Baby
  13. Baby Don’t Go
  14. I’d Rather Hurt You Now
  15. Linda Was A Lady
  16. Jingo
  17. I Don’t Play The Game 

This CD re-issue of Where’s Your Love Been was released on March 18, 2014 through Omnivore Recordings.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sid Selvidge: “The Cold Of The Morning” (1976/2014 re-issue) CD Review

Many folk albums of the mid-1970s feel overproduced to the point where they are closer to pop records than folk. One album that completely goes against that trend is Sid Selvidge’s absolutely excellent 1976 record, The Cold Of The Morning. It is basically just vocals and acoustic guitar on most tracks. There is even a song delivered a cappella, and some yodeling. There are a few originals, but mostly covers – though his takes on the covered material gives those songs an original feel. The Cold Of The Morning doesn’t feel like a 1970s album. I mean, it’s not dated at all. It speaks just as clearly now. It’s one of the best folk records I’ve heard, and it dips into blues and country as well.

The special re-issue contains six bonus tracks, which were previously unreleased. New long liner notes by Bob Mehr offer plenty of information and thoughts on this album.

“I’ve Got A Secret (Didn’t We Shake Sugaree)”

Sid Selvidge has a fantastic voice, full of beauty, emotion, wisdom and experience. And that voice makes this rendition of “I’ve Got A Secret (Didn’t We Shake Sugaree)” one of the best versions I’ve heard. “You know, I pawned my watch, and pawned my chain/I even tried to sell myself, but I got down so ashamed.” And then later he sings, “I’ve got a song to sing, not very long/I’m going to sing it right if it takes me all night long.” But no, it seems everything comes out exactly right on the first try. This record has a great off-the-cuff feel, like it was captured live. And in a way, it was. According to the liner notes, there were no overdubs.

“Frank’s Tune”

“Frank’s Tune” is one of the songs that Sid Selvidge wrote, and it’s one of my favorites on this record. It has such a sweet and gentle feel to it (and also a sadness). In some ways it feels like a traditional folk song. But then it surprises you. I really love the guitar on this track.

“The Outlaw”

“The Outlaw” is another original song that tackles a traditional folk subject. “There’s a smile on her face for the outlaw/Although their love can never be/Though his heart belongs to no other/The outlaw must always be free.” This track even includes some impressive yodeling. It has a wonderful, traditional feel, but then asserts itself as more modern with the mention of a helicopter.

Traditional Tunes

Sid Selvidge does tackle some traditional material on this album, delivering an excellent a cappella rendition of “Boll Weevil.” His voice is so strong, so appealing that he needs no other instrument to completely captivate the listener.

He also does “Danny Boy.” I’ve certainly heard more heartbreaking versions of this song. The guitar playing is light and nearly joyful. Sid’s voice, however, is beautiful and completely effective.

Mud Boy And The Neutrons

As I said, most of these tracks are just Sid on vocals and acoustic guitar. There are a couple of exceptions, which feature Mud Boy And The Neutrons. The first exception is “Wished I Had A Dime,” which is an original song. And like the rest of the tracks, this is not over-produced. Far from it. In fact, it has a very loose, immediate feel. Joining Sid on this track are Lee Baker on guitar, Jim Crosthwait on washboard, Jim Dickinson on piano and Jim Lancaster on tuba. Sid is clearly having some fun with this one.

There is an alternate take of “Wished I Had A Dime” in the bonus tracks, with some studio banter at the beginning. “Want to try another one? The tuba seems to have a stronger presence on this take.

The other exception is “I Get The Blues When It Rains,” which also features Mud Boy And The Neutrons. This too has a great loose vibe. Sid’s vocals take on an old-time feel, like it’s sung in an old dance hall. This is a wonderful track.

Lee Baker also plays on the haunting, bluesy “Lazrus.”

“Then I’d Be Satisfied With Life”

Why is it always funny when a folk singer expresses a desire for riches? There is something inherently funny about that. “Then I’d Be Satisfied With Life” opens with the line, “All I want is fifty million dollars.” He’s not asking for much. “And if Tuesday Weld would only be my wife/If I could only stay sixteen forever.” Then at the end of the song, Sid changes it to: “And if Raquel Welch would only be my wife/If I could only stay sixteen forever/Then I know that I’d be satisfied with life.” This song was written by George M. Cohan (the original lyric was “only had an heiress for a wife”), and was also recorded by Tiny Tim (who added the “Tuesday Weld” line).

“Miss The Mississippi And You”

Sid Selvidge turns more country in his wonderful, delightful cover of “Miss The Mississippi And You.” That voice of his is so strong, so expressive, so capable of making itself right at home in various musical genres. This is a song that has been done by Jimmie Rodgers, Arlo Guthrie, Emmylou Harris, Crystal Gale, Rosanne Cash, Steve Forbert, Merle Haggard, and Doc & Merle Watson (among others).

Bonus Tracks

This special re-issue includes six bonus tracks, which were previously unreleased. These bonus tracks include a Furry Lewis song, “East St. Louis Blues,” a really nice acoustic blues track. The main album includes the Furry Lewis song “Judge Boushé,” which is also an excellent acoustic blues tune with lines like “Arrested me for murder, I never hung a man/Arrested me for forgery, can’t even sign my name.” The bonus tracks include another strange and cool blues tune titled “Keep It Clean,” a song written by Charley Jordan.

There is some joyful, masterful guitar-playing on “Wild About My Lovin'.” There is great energy in the vocals as well. But perhaps my favorite of the bonus tracks is his version of “Atomic Power.” I’ve always appreciated this song. There is something both amusing and frightening about it. It was originally recorded in 1946 by The Buchanan Brothers. “Hiroshima, Nagasaki paid a great price for their sins/When scorched from the face of earth their battle could not win/But on that day of judgment when comes a greater power/We will not know the minute and we will not know the hour.”

The CD concludes with a wonderfully playful rendition of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business.”

CD Track List

  1. I’ve Got A Secret (Didn’t We Shake Sugaree)
  2. Frank’s Tune
  3. The Outlaw
  4. Boll Weevil
  5. Wished I Had A Dime
  6. Judge Boushé
  7. Then I’d Be Satisfied With Life
  8. Danny Boy
  9. Lazrus
  10. Many A Mile
  11. I Get The Blues When It Rains
  12. Miss The Mississippi And You
  13. East St. Louis Blues
  14. Wild About My Lovin’
  15. Keep It Clean
  16. Atomic Power
  17. Wished I Had A Dime (Alternate Take)
  18. Ain’t Nobody’s Business

This special re-issue of The Cold Of The Morning was released on March 11, 2014 through Omnivore Recordings.