Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Carleton Stone: “Draws Blood” (2014) CD Review

Canadian songwriter Carleton Stone’s newest album, Draws Blood, features all original material. Carleton Stone finds inspiration and expression in several different musical genres, including pop, folk, country and rock. He seems to let each song’s content and meaning determine the genre and sound, which is great. He also definitely seems influenced by a lot of 1970s music. “Signs Of Life,” for example, reminds me a bit of Jackson Browne.

“Blood Is Thicker Than Water,” the album’s opening track, has kind of a cool 1970s groove. Carleton Stone then mixes that with a sort of sweet, easy country feel, and the result is a delightful and catchy tune. But really it’s his vocals that drive the song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Take a picture of your mother/Bury it in the yard/Just a delicate reminder/That she took it pretty hard.” And then halfway through, there is the surprising addition of horns.

There’s a certain 1970s influence heard on “Climbing Up The Walls” as well. It’s in the music, if not the vocals (think early Police, with a touch of Bowie). This one is more of an interesting rock tune, especially in the chorus, whose sound really fits the lyric of climbing up the walls – there is a bit of anxiety and contained craziness in the sound. It’s truly effective, and is part of what makes this track one of the CD’s highlights.

I love the way “Love Into The Light” begins, sneaking up, then bursting open like a flower suddenly blooming. This song has kind of an easy groove with some nice backing vocals. I love the feel of this one, and it features some good lyrics, like this line: “It only hurts you on the way out.” And the presence of horns helps make this track my personal favorite.

Carleton Stone dips more into the folk realm with “When You Come Home,” a pretty, late-night acoustic gem. In this one he sings, “And I know you’ll find just what you’re looking for/When you come back home.” Sweet, right? And then he ends the song with these lines: “There’ll be open arms waiting/When you come home/There’ll be open arms waiting/Come home.” This is another favorite of mine.

“What I Want” is unabashed pop with electronic dance elements. I like it once it gets going, but it’s initially a bit jarring coming as it does right after the sweet acoustic tune. I might have positioned this one differently on the disc.

"Draws Blood," the CD's title track, begins with an interesting combination of electronic and acoustic sounds. This is a powerful song, looking back at things that affect us still, things we wish we could have done differently, things we could have averted. "Would've sat a little longer on top of that hill/Held you there 'til I had my fill/Wouldn't have laughed so hard or ran so fast/If I knew how long this pain would last."

"The Darkness" really grabs me once it kicks in. It’s simple, but effective, and takes on a power and beauty that is surprising.

CD Track List

  1. Blood Is Thicker Than Water
  2. Climbing Up The Walls
  3. Signs Of Life
  4. Love Into The Light
  5. When You Come Home
  6. What I Want
  7. Draws Blood
  8. The Darkness
  9. Like A Knife
  10. Pick Me Up, Dust Me Off

Draws Blood was released on March 4, 2014 through GroundSwell Music.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Dramatics: “Greatest Slow Jams” (2014) CD Review

The new compilation from The Dramatics, Greatest Slow Jams, is an interesting collection of mellow tracks. Obviously it’s not a greatest hits album, for it doesn’t include the band’s biggest hit, “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get.” But there are some great tunes included here. And as the title promises, these are slow jams, mellow make-out tunes. This is a great album to listen to while curled up with your lover. All but one of these tracks were originally released between 1972 and 1977 (with the majority from 1972 and 1973). The one exception is “Tomorrow,” which was released in 1985, and not on available CD until now.

The Dramatics feature several distinct voices, with each taking the lead at different times. I love the way their several voices interact, particularly on a song like “Toast To The Fool.”

“Just Shopping (Not Buying Anything)”

This collection eases us in with “Just Shopping (Not Buying Anything),” a tune that feels like morning at its start. It feels to me like waking up with a lover when you’re too relaxed to say anything other than “Ooh, baby,” a line that opens the song, a line that is repeated many times before the actual lyrics start. And then later we’re treated to lines like, “You’re looking so good to me, all I can do is tremble.” This song was written by Michael Henderson, and was originally included on Drama V (1975).

“In The Rain”

“In The Rain” opens with rain sound effects. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I hate rain sound effects. Fortunately they stop before the song really begins (though they then return halfway through the song). Other than that, it’s a really good tune from Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get (1972), with smooth vocals. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I want to go outside in the rain/Because I think I’m gonna cry/And I don’t want you to see my cry.” This song reached #1 on the R&B chart, and #5 on the pop chart. It was written by Tony Hester.

“I Can’t Get Over You”

“I Can’t Get Over You” begins with a spoken word section, one side of a telephone conversation, in which he tells the woman, “You see, I know you’ve been going through some changes/But I’ve been going through some changes myself.” It’s told from the perspective of a man who has tried to get a woman out of his mind, out of his heart, but failed. “I can’t get over you/I’ve tried and I’ve tried.” This one features an impassioned lead vocal performance. This song was originally included on Joy Ride.

“I Dedicate My Life To You”

“I Dedicate My Life To You” is one of my favorites. It’s an unabashed love song that is sweet and sexy. Sure, some of the lyrics might seem a bit cheesy, like “You’re more precious than the breath of spring/And you’re my hopes and all of my dreams/For you I laugh and for you I cry.” But that is quite all right, because they’re still effective. And the song has a nice, slow groove. It was written by Robert Holmes and Roger Hatcher, and was originally included on Dramatically Yours.

“And I Panicked”

In "And I Panicked," he’s in trouble. He calls a woman three times in the morning, and when she doesn’t answer, he goes to her place. Romantic, or just sad? It’s up to you. But the way these guys sing it, you’ll probably think of this song as romantic. I love the anguish and passion in his voice when he admits, “And I cried and I…” He can’t finish the line and simply cries out, nearly howling in pain. It's a great touch.

“Tomorrow” CD Debut

This compilation marks the CD debut of “Tomorrow,” a track released by L.J. Reynolds on vinyl in 1985. The music certainly has 1980s cheesy pop touches, but the vocal performance is excellent and heartfelt. “You'd better give your love today/For tomorrow very well might be too late." And then at the end he sings, "Your tomorrow could very well begin today.”

This collection concludes with "Hey You, Get Off My Mountain," a song originally included on A Dramatic Experience (1973). The song’s second line is “Hey you, get off my cloud” (which must be a nod to the Rolling Stones song).

CD Track List

  1. Just Shopping (Not Buying Anything)
  2. In The Rain
  3. Toast To The Fool
  4. I Can’t Get Over You
  5. I Was The Life Of The Party
  6. I Dedicate My Life To You
  7. Thank You For Your Love
  8. And I Panicked
  9. Fall In Love, Lady Love
  10. I Made Myself Lonely
  11. Tomorrow
  12. Hey You, Get Off My Mountain

Greatest Slow Jams is scheduled to be released April 29, 2014 through Stax and Concord Music Group.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Okapi Sun at The Silverlake Lounge, 4-25-14 Concert Review

Okapi Sun performing "Judy Baby"
The women of Okapi Sun have said that the intention and aim of their music is to get people dancing, to make people move. And certainly it does that. But there is more going on here than just that. Okapi Sun creates songs that stay with you and that you can enjoy even when hanging out at home. And this band mixes actual instruments with pre-recorded stuff. In addition to keys and guitar, both women play drums – one with a floor tom, the other with a kick and tom. And that helps keep things a bit more grounded, a bit more real. And real drums are always better at getting people dancing anyway.

Friday night Okapi Sun performed at The Silverlake Lounge. They took the stage at 11:15 p.m. They were wearing matching furry vests, so I loved them immediately. (The floor tom and kick drum were also covered with some kind of furry material.) They started with their backs to the audience and wearing masks. They then turned to face the audience, playing their set’s introduction, “We Are Okapi Sun” (because we’re from another planet, it was explained to me after the show). They then removed the masks and launched into “Sidewalk.”

They have a CD coming out this Tuesday, titled Techno Prisoners, and the set was mostly material from that album. After “Sidewalk,” they went into “Johnny Kiss,” a song that was also included on the EP, and one of my personal favorites. They kept stage banter to a minimum, and kept the beats going. “Strange Love” ends with a really nice percussion section, which was another highlight for me. 

This band has a sense of humor, most prominent in the spoken word intro to “Judy Baby,” another really good tune. Probably my favorite song of the night was “Wasteland.” During their final song, “Tribe To The City,” they moved into the audience, something of a feat considering they weren’t using cordless microphones, and danced with the crowd while singing. It was a good, fun set, with lots of energy and positive vibes, and I'm excited to hear the album.

Set List
  1. We Are Okapi Sun
  2. Sidewalk
  3. Johnny Kiss
  4. Center Of The Earth
  5. Strange Love
  6. Turn The Lights Off
  7. Push Push In The Bush
  8. Desert Dreams
  9. Judy Baby
  10. Wasteland
  11. Techno
  12. Tribe To The City
Okapi Sun's next show is April 26th in San Francisco.

Okapi Sun performing "We Are Okapi Sun"
"Johnny Kiss"
"Center Of The Earth"
"Desert Dreams"

Friday, April 25, 2014

Patrolled By Radar at Three Clubs, 4-24-14 Concert Review

Patrolled By Radar performing "Fast Life Slow Death"

Patrolled By Radar had their CD release show at Three Clubs in Hollywood Thursday night, celebrating the release of their excellent new album, Cool Your Jets. For those who got their early, the album played over the speakers before the first band. And it was well received. Patrons actually applauded after each track, something I’ve never seen done before.

The American Professionals, a good band from San Francisco, then opened the night. (I may post some photos from their set in a separate blog entry later.) Jay Souza, the lead singer of Patrolled By Radar, introduced them.

Patrolled By Radar took the stage a little before 10:30 p.m, and opened with “Fast Life Slow Death,” a song from an earlier release, Be Happy. The sound is good at this venue, and it’s easy to hear and understand all the lyrics, something that is important to me. They did a couple more from Be Happy – “New Fight Song” and “Widow Next Door” – before getting into the new material.

The first song of the night from Cool Your Jets was “Lost Cause,” which is essentially the CD’s title track. Jay Souza introduced it by saying, “This is a hit in New Jersey right now.” It's a really good song, and though I haven't heard it too many times, I found myself singing along. After all, "Anybody can sing/Sing hallelujah." They followed that with a very cool rendition of The Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody,” turning it into a good jam before the end. And then they played a couple of others from the new album – “Died With Money” and “Rally.” “Rally” is one of my favorite Patrolled By Radar songs, and I’m always happy to hear it.

They played a new song, “This Is Not The Blues” (Jay said that’s the working title). I was definitely into it. There’s a really cool moment on organ that leads into a short instrumental section. They then went into a great, high-energy rendition of “Thirty Days.” I’ve heard a lot of bands cover that song over the years, but I think the two best versions I’ve ever heard are by The Evangenitals and Patrolled By Radar.

Before going into “El Norte,” another track from Cool Your Jets, Jay said: “I feel silly saying this. I feel silly in general.” He then mentioned getting close to 1,000 “Likes” on Facebook, and urged folks to click that button. The band then wrapped up the set with a cover of Randy Newman’s “Ghosts,” which is the closing track on Cool Your Jets.

Set List

  1. Fast Life Slow Death
  2. New Fight Song
  3. Widow Next Door
  4. Lost Cause
  5. To Love Somebody
  6. Died With Money
  7. Rally
  8. This Is Not The Blues
  9. Thirty Days
  10. El Norte
  11. Ghosts 

There was no encore, though the crowd clearly wanted one.

"Widow Next Door"

"Lost Cause"
"Lost Cause"
Patrolled By Radar performing "Rally"