Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rosemary Clooney: “Sings Songs From Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ (Expanded Edition)” (2014) CD Review

As you’re probably well aware, Christmas is eager to push Halloween out of the way, give a slight nod to Thanksgiving and then get on with its merry, holly jolly business. One thing that means is a whole lot of Christmas albums, most of which will be awful. There are exceptions, of course. Rosemary Clooney’s Sings Songs From Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” is an obvious exception, and the new expanded edition includes seven bonus tracks. Interestingly, it’s the bonus tracks that make this a Christmas album. Of the original eight tracks, only two are really Christmas songs: the title track and “Snow.” All of the original tunes were written by Irving Berlin.

In addition to the bonus tracks, most of which were previously unreleased, this expanded edition has extensive liner notes explaining why there was no proper soundtrack to White Christmas, and giving some background on Rosemary Clooney’s career. The liner notes also include some photos.

The album opens with the title track, and Rosemary Clooney’s rendition of this classic song is gorgeous. It features the addition of sleigh bells coming in just before the lyrics mentions them. This version also has strings. When that swell occurs in the instrumental section, the song takes on another level of beauty.

Rosemary Clooney clearly has some fun with “Mandy,” turning in a joyful, playful version. Her version has more of a 1940s band feel to it than does Bing Crosby’s rendition, which has kind of a groovy jazz feel. She also does a lively version of “Gee, I Wish I Was Back In The Army.” In the film version, there are four vocalists, two men and two women, and when the women come in, it’s a surprise. Obviously here that’s not the case. She does have a male vocal group backing her, and they come in later. This version embraces the song’s inherent silliness, and gives a direct nod to Crosby himself in the line, “Crosby, Hope and Jolson all for free” (instead of the original “Jolson, Hope and Benny all for free”).

But one of the real highlights is “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” a song Rosemary Clooney performed in the film. It has a sexy jazzy base, then a beautiful string arrangement over it, which never becomes overpowering, for it is Rosemary’s voice that is the star here. What a vocal performance she delivers on this track. Listen to the way she holds onto “wrong” toward the end in the lines “As they say in the song/You done me wrong.” This is a wonderful recording.

Another highlight is the duet “Sisters,” because unlike the film version, this one Rosemary actually performs with her sister, Betty Clooney. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Those who've seen us/Know that not a thing can come between us/Many men have tried to split us up, but no one can/Lord help the mister who comes between me and my sister/And lord help the sister who comes between me and my man.” And those lines are followed by a very cool instrumental section, much livelier than that in the film version.

Bonus Tracks

As I mentioned, it is the bonus tracks that make this really a Christmas album. Her choices are mostly good ones (apart from “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”). These tracks are from the Bing Crosby archives, and most of them were previously unissued on CD or vinyl.

The first, “Happy Christmas, Little Friend,” was recorded in 1953, and features The John Scott Trotter Orchestra. It’s a sweet and gentle recording. “Home For The Holidays,” “Jingle Bells,” “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” were all recorded in December of 1955, with Buddy Cole & His Trio backing Rosemary. The best of this bunch is her bright, jazzy rendition of “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm,” written by Irving Berlin. She also does a nice rendition of Mel Tormé’s “The Christmas Song.”

The album concludes with Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby’s duet of “Silver Bells” from 1952. This is a somewhat playful version.

CD Track List

  1. White Christmas
  2. Mandy
  3. Snow
  4. Gee, I Wish I Was Back In The Army
  5. Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me
  6. Sisters
  7. The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing
  8. Count Your Blessings Instead Of Sheep
  9. Happy Christmas, Little Friend
  10. Home For The Holidays
  11. Jingle Bells
  12. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
  13. The Christmas Song
  14. I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm
  15. Silver Bells

This special expanded edition of Sings Songs From Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” is scheduled to be released on November 4, 2014 through Real Gone Music.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hilary Scott: “Freight Train Love” (2014) CD Review

In December of last year, Hilary Scott released a four-song EP on vinyl. Titled Flowers On Mars, this record gained her an award from the Rural Roots Music Commission of the National Traditional Country Music Association. Three of those songs appear on her new full-length CD release, Freight Train Love. On this album, Hilary Scott combines country, rock, folk and pop to create a wonderful and diverse collection of songs. This singer/songwriter has a voice rich with emotion and power. This CD also showcases her songwriting ability, for she wrote or co-wrote the majority of the tracks. There are just three covers, two of which were written by Kevin Fisher, including “If You Don’t Love Me,” a country duet he performs with her.

Hilary Scott has gathered a seriously good group of musicians for this release, including Mike Finnigan on piano and organ. If his name isn’t familiar to you, you’ll certainly recognize the names of some of the people he’s played with over the years: Jimi Hendrix, Peter Frampton, Joe Cocker, for example. And Bob Glaub is on bass. He’s played with Leonard Cohen (he did that bass intro to “Closing Time”), Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan and Neil Diamond, among others.

The title track, “Freight Train Love,” opens with a good groove, with a slight reggae thing happening. I love it, but it’s the song’s first lines, “I’ve got a head full of nothing/Since I’ve got a heart full of you,” that grab me. What a perfect description of an intense, consuming passion. It’s an excellent song about being under someone else’s power, and has a sweet vibe. And I love the lead part on keys by Mike Finnigan.

“Help” is one of the songs that was included on her 2013 vinyl release, though a different version from that which is included here. It features some good lyrics, like these lines: “When you look at me like I am a stranger/You should know I feel the same about myself.” There are some pop elements to this song, and her vocals remind me of Dar Williams at moments.

My favorite track is “Diamonds,” which Hilary Scott co-wrote with Michael ONeill. It’s beautiful and moving. It opens with a sweet and kind of quiet intensity, with these lines: “Sometimes we don’t really want to be known/All these mistakes we collect as we go/Misdirection’s taken me too far/That’s who we’ve been, it is not who we are.” It then builds a bit, but retains that gorgeous groove. This is the song that really made me fall for this album, and for this singer/songwriter.

“Whiskey Bottle Dry” is another favorite of mine, partly due to this line: “You’ve been messin’ around more than I’ve been drinking.” I love these beautiful, sad songs about relationships in trouble. “How am I going to sleep when the whiskey bottle’s dry/What I’m going to see if I close my eyes.” The song builds in intensity, as if the power of her voice might save things, might make everything better. And for a moment I believe it will.

Hilary Scott does a cover of “Lotta Love,” a song written by Neil Young that was a hit for Nicolette Larson in 1978. Hilary's version is good; her vocals are so smooth, over that simple beat.

Freight Train Love ends with “Didn't Make It Alive,” a kick-ass country rock tune with some surprising lyrics about a man heading for trouble, and the woman seeming to want it to happen. After all, she sings, “Don't want to see your name in lights/Just on a cross by the side of the road.” Wow. And it’s delivered with a sense of humor. This is an unusual song wrapped in the clothing of a typical country rock bar song. “There was a time I thought I loved you/But I was drinking then.” How’s that for a great country rock line?

CD Track List

  1. Freight Train Love
  2. Help
  3. Get Your Love
  4. Diamonds
  5. Losing You
  6. Flowers On Mars
  7. Whiskey Bottle Dry
  8. If You Don’t Love Me
  9. Lotta Love
  10. Didn’t Make It Alive

Freight Train Love is scheduled to be released on November 4, 2014 on Belltown Records.

The Kingston Trio: “The Last Month Of The Year” (1960/2014) CD Review

It’s just about that time of year again, when Christmas will do its best to impose itself on every waking moment of our lives. One unescapable element of the season is Christmas music, so each year I’m on the lookout for good holiday songs, because so much of it is just awful. Well, one album I’ll be adding to my play list this year is The Kingston Trio’s The Last Month Of The Year. It was originally released in 1960, when the group still had all its original members, and is getting a nice re-issue through Real Gone Music, complete with new, extensive liner notes by Tom Pickles.

This album of course features those wonderful voices, but another thing I appreciate is that it includes only one typical Christmas song – “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” (this version featuring the frightening line, “Why can’t we have Christmas the whole year around” – oh, dear god, no!). The rest are much more interesting, a mix of European sounds, spirituals and traditional folk. Not your typical Christmas fare, and for that I am thankful.

The Last Month Of The Year opens with a pretty, though serious song, “Bye, Bye Thou Tiny Little Child,” about the Massacre of the Innocents, a story from The Bible in which King Herod calls for the death of all male children in the area. Their voices sound absolutely perfect, and they follow it with another gorgeous and somewhat haunting song, “The White Snows Of Winter,” in which a man searches for his love. “It soon will be Christmas/Bells will be ringing/Bring us another round/But here in the white of a cold winter night/My love cannot be found.” There is something delicate about the music, which works so well with the story of this song, as it keeps us wondering how things will turn out.

“All Through The Night” is a sweet and beautiful lullaby. Their voices sound particularly wonderful on this track, with even an a cappella moment: “Children’s dreams cannot be broken/Life is but a lovely token.” Just beautiful. “While the weary world is sleeping all through the night/Through your dreams, you’re swiftly stealing visions of delight revealing/Christmas time is so appealing all through the night.” This is one of the CD’s best tracks. It’s followed with a more lively lullaby, “Goodnight My Baby,” a fun and catchy song in which the parents wish their baby boy a good night. This one is truly delightful, another of my favorites.

“Go Where I Send Thee” is a spiritual, and this version by The Kingston Trio is a really good and interesting mix of gospel and folk, and is another highlight of the CD. This one really shows the power of their vocals, not just their beauty.

“Mary Mild” is kind of an odd tale in which Jesus wants to play ball with other kids. But they won’t let him play with them due to their elitist hatred for the poor. So Jesus uses his heavenly powers for revenge. And it all has an eerily sweet and innocent tone. It’s kind of an amazing track, certainly unusual, especially for what is purportedly a Christmas album. The original song, titled “The Bitter Withy,” features a few more verses, in which Mary beats Jesus after the other children are drowned.

The Last Month Of The Year ends with its title track, an interesting gospel tune which, according to the disc’s liner notes, “originated among the slaves of the American South, who supposedly used it as a way of teaching their children the order of the months of the year.”

CD Track List

  1. Bye, Bye Thou Tiny Little Child
  2. The White Snows Of Winter
  3. We Wish You A Merry Christmas
  4. All Through The Night
  5. Goodnight My Baby
  6. Go Where I Send Thee
  7. Follow Now, Oh Shepherds
  8. Somerset Gloucestershire Wassail
  9. Mary Mild
  10. A Round About Christmas
  11. Sing We Noel
  12. The Last Month Of The Year (What Month Was Jesus Born In)

This special re-issue of The Last Month Of The Year is scheduled to be released on November 4, 2014 through Real Gone Music.

Ellis Paul at McCabe’s, 10-25-14 Concert Review

Ellis Paul and Radoslav Lorkovic during soundcheck
It might sometimes seem like there isn’t that much you can count on in life. But one thing I’ve learned to count on is an Ellis Paul concert, which is guaranteed to raise my spirits. Ellis Paul always puts on a good show, and always makes a genuine connection with his audience. Saturday night he performed at McCabe’s in Santa Monica, doing many of the tracks from his wonderful new album, Chasing Beauty.

He kicked off the set with the album’s title track, first talking about how the song was inspired by his first road trip. And his story brought me back to my first road trip when I was in my teens (like nearly all of my road trips, it was music-related), and made me want to hit the road again. Sure, it won’t be the same, but I think the road still holds some magic (especially if there's a concert at the end of it). He followed that with “Drive-In Movie,” also from the new CD.  It’s interesting that the first two songs of his set had a nostalgic feel, a look back while also an optimistic look forward.

Radoslav Lorkovic then joined him on piano, and they played “Maria’s Beautiful Mess,” still one of my personal favorites. This is a song that always works for me, and this rendition was beautiful. When one of the folks at McCabe’s put a foam cover over Ellis’ vocal microphone after that song, Ellis joked that they’re worried about Ebola.

Rebecca Loebe then joined Ellis on backing vocals for most of the rest of the set. By the way, she did a really sweet opening set. I had seen her perform a couple of years ago in Massachusetts, and it was a treat to see her again. She also provides backing vocals on Ellis Paul’s new album, on the track “Love Is A Curious Thing.” The first song they performed together last night was “Kick Out The Lights,” which of course was complete with the audience participation part. This was a fantastic rendition, with some wonderful stuff on piano by Radoslav.

Ellis followed that with “Rose Tattoo.” Before the song he talked about how it was a metaphor. “I’m telling you that because people come up to me after shows to show me their rose tattoos.” This is such a beautiful song, and Rebecca’s vocals blended so well with Ellis’ voice. Ellis also played harmonica on this one, and ended the song with the line “Like a metaphorical rose,” which got a laugh.

Ellis Paul has improvised several songs at McCabe’s over the years, and last night he revisited one about the store itself, which is titled “This Is Where All Good Trees Go” (which he originally performed in 2011). That led to “Hurricane Angel” and a nice cover of “If I Had A Hammer,” both with Ellis on piano and Radoslav on accordion. Rebecca Loebe took the second verse of “If I Had A Hammer.” Ellis also did a sweet cover of Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game.”

In addition to Chasing Beauty, Ellis Paul has a new children’s book out. It’s titled The Hero In You, and includes a CD. Last night he read Thomas Edison, accompanied by Radoslav on piano, which was really cool. He first borrowed a pair of reading glasses from an audience member. By the way, he also mentioned that Chasing Beauty is going to be released on vinyl. (I seriously need to get my turntable fixed – or replaced.)

Ellis ended the set with “Take All The Sky You Need,” another personal favorite. The encore was “Home,” with Ellis on piano and Radoslav on accordion. I think this is one of Ellis Paul's most moving songs. A gorgeous ending to a great night.

Set List

  1. Chasing Beauty
  2. Drive-In Movie
  3. Maria’s Beautiful Mess
  4. Kick Out The Lights
  5. Rose Tattoo
  6. Alice’s Champagne Palace
  7. This Is Where All Good Trees Go
  8. Hurricane Angel
  9. If I Had A Hammer
  10. Love Is A Curious Thing
  11. The Circle Game
  12. Wasted
  13. Thomas Edison
  14. Never Want To Lose You
  15. Take All The Sky You Need


  1. Home
Ellis Paul's set was approximately an hour and forty-five minutes.

"Maria's Beautiful Mess"
borrowing reading glasses
"Thomas Edison"

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jack Bruce (1943 - 2014)

When I was in seventh grade, my science teacher made a Cream reference, and my friend Dan and I were the only ones who got it. From then on, in that teacher’s eyes we could do no wrong. Then in high school I went to see The Moody Blues at the Centrum in Worcester, Massachusetts. Before their show, there came an announcement over the sound system: “Please welcome special surprise opening act, Jack Bruce!” And I leapt out of my seat. Jack Bruce! I couldn’t believe it. I also couldn’t believe the people around me, who asked me, “Who is that?” I remember he did “Theme For An Imaginary Western” and “White Room” that night. The Moody Blues were great, but a bit anti-climactic for me after getting to see Jack Bruce. That was October 26, 1988. Quite a while ago, sure, but it’s a show I think about somewhat regularly, and even then I recognized it as something special. Today the world lost Jack Bruce, and I am more thankful than ever that I got to see him perform.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Lloyd Cole: “Standards” (2013/2014) CD Review

Lloyd Cole is known for leading the band The Commotions in the 1980s, and since then for an excellent solo career. His newest album, Standards, was released in Europe in 2013 and now has gotten a U.S. release, thanks to Omnivore Recordings. All but one are originals, and this album features some extraordinary songwriting. If you appreciate good songwriting and creative approaches to music, you’ll dig this album. It mixes rock, pop and folk to really good effect. Plus, Lloyd Cole is joined by some talented musicians, like Matthew Sweet, Fred Maher, Blair Cowan and Joan Wasser.

Lloyd Cole kicks off Standards with the album’s only cover, a rock rendition of John Hartford’s “California Earthquake.”  It’s interesting that someone who is known these days for his acoustic performances would start an album with a rock version of what is essentially a folk song. But it’s a really good rendition of a song about the fault line in California. “Atlantis will rise/Sunset Boulevard will fall/Where the beach used to be there will be nothing at all.” I really love Lloyd Cole’s vocals. His voice is not a typical rock voice, and so it really grabs you over that steady rock rhythm. “They tell me the fault line runs right through here/So that maybe, that maybe what’s going to happen is going to happen to me/That’s the way it appears.”

He follows that with “Women’s Studies,” one of my favorites. It reminds me a bit of Lou Reed, in the vocal rhythm of the verses, plus the odd humor of lines like “Drinking tea and taking unpaid leave from my women’s studies.” The chorus has the bright feel of the best of classic pop, the backing vocals adding to that feel. But the lyrics are anything but usual (“To complete my education I had to wake up in your bathtub”).

“Myrtle And Rose” is my personal favorite track. It’s sweeter, mellower, with a passionate feel. It’s gorgeous and sad, a product of seriously good songwriting. It feels like a short story, the situation and characters so vividly portrayed. Check out these lines: “And I would come to you but you'd be nowhere to be found/So I would turn to her for she was always, always there/Lost will be the souls of the wanton and the weak/And in the morning she'd be lying next to me/And I would want for more/And she would give me more.” And I love this line: “The longer you were gone, the less the longing” – a line that bears repeating, and so he does repeat it. This is such a fantastic and moving song, one of the best I’ve heard this year.

“No Truck” is another highlight, feeling more like a country folk tune of the sixties or seventies. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I have seen the high road and the low/I found no satisfaction/I have seen the mountains sweep down to the sea/I heard the music/It's not moving me.” I also really like the guitar part during the brief instrumental section.

“Opposites Day” is a fun rock/pop tune that has a playful sense, with lines like “I know you look a lot like me/We are/We really are a sight to see.” Then after the lines, “Fall in love with me/Fall in love with you,” he adds “Okay,” and it’s that “Okay” that makes me love this tune. And then the second time around, after those lines, it sounds like he adds “Uh-oh.”

“Silver Lake” is a delicious, mellow song with some excellent lyrics. Lloyd Cole can really create a vivid portrait of a moment in a relationship. The song opens, “Put on some make up and dry your eyes/We'll go to the racetrack and drink some wine/No, I don't love you the way that I should/Baby, I can't leave you like this.” But the two lines that really strike me are “I don’t have a second heart to break” and “I can't stay/But I can't leave you like this.” The songwriting on this album is truly remarkable. These are songs that are going to stay with me, particularly this track and “Myrtle And Rose.”

CD Track List

  1. California Earthquake
  2. Women’s Studies
  3. Period Piece
  4. Myrtle And Rose
  5. No Truck
  6. Blue Like Mars
  7. Opposites Day
  8. Silver Lake
  9. It’s Late
  10. Kids Today
  11. Diminished Ex 

Standards was released on October 14, 2014 through Omnivore Recordings.

Ellis Paul: “Chasing Beauty” (2014) CD Review

Ellis Paul has long been one of my favorite singers and favorite songwriters, ever since I first saw him perform in the late 1980s. I would put his songwriting up there with that of Aimee Mann, Elvis Costello and Kris Kristofferson. He’s that good. And he proves it over and over, with each new album. His newest release, Chasing Beauty, is a great collection of songs, with a lot of energy.

There has always been a pop influence to his approach, and that influence is really apparent on this album. Listen, for example, to “Wasted,” particularly the way the banjo works with the keyboard. And this CD has a full sound. That being said, there are also a couple of tracks that are just Ellis on vocals and acoustic guitar. And what a voice. There is no one else who sings quite the way he does, and that voice is definitely part of his draw.

On this new album he’s joined on vocals by the group Red Molly for several tracks. This CD contains a booklet with the lyrics and with some wonderful original artwork by Ellis Paul. He also did the art for the CD’s cover.

Chasing Beauty opens with “Never Want To Lose You,” an energetic and bright song featuring some really nice vocal work from Ellis (and from the women of Red Molly, who back him on this track). Kristian Bush adds quite a lot to this track as well, playing mandolin, banjo and electric guitar. But I also love the moment toward the end when the song breaks down to focus on Ellis Paul’s voice as he sings, “I don’t want to lose you.” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “You don’t even know me/If you think I give up easily/I don’t want to lose you/I never want to lose you/Though I’ve been doing my damnedest/To make you think/I’m no good at this.” And the image that really stood out the first time I saw him perform this song is “a one man clown car.”

Kristian Bush’s banjo is much more prominent on “Wasted,” giving this song a delightful and unusual sound, and making it one of the stand-out tracks. And I like the double-use of the word “lie” in these lines: “Was I lied to?/Was I lying to myself?/Now I’m lying wide awake/I wanted to run to you/So my eyes could see your face/Someone’s lying in my place.”

Johnny Cash is a big influence on Ellis, and Ellis has referred to the Man in Black in a few songs over the years. “Kick Out The Lights” is one he’s been performing in concert for a while now, one with audience participation, and here it finally gets an official release. This is a lively rendition, and I love it. The electric guitar might surprise some folks, but it totally works. Red Molly does the “Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash” part in this version.

“Waiting On A Break” is an incredible and very moving song about a musician, co-written by Adam Ezra. “When I come off the stage/They’ll have to carry me away/On a fanfare parade/Till the dream is over.” This song is so beautiful, his voice so strong, so vibrant, so full of emotion.

I am a huge Red Sox fan, so it was inevitable I’d love “UK Girl (Boston Calling),” a fantastic tune about the greatest team in the greatest sport. Ellis lived in Boston for a long time, and he’s sung the National Anthem at Fenway Park, so his ties to the team are strong. “UK Girl (Boston Calling)” opens with these lines: “Pick up London/Boston’s calling/I’m crossing the Charles/The Citgo’s shining/Passing by Fenway.” For those poor souls who have never been to Fenway Park, I should note that there is a Citgo sign visible from inside the park. It’s so strongly associated with the park that it remains long after the original gas station left. “UK Girl (Boston Calling)” was written by Ellis Paul, Kristian Bush and Radoslav Lorkovic.  “And no, we are not all Yankees/We are the Red Sox/It’s called baseball.”

Ellis really has fun with “Love Is A Curious Thing.” Listen to the way he sings “a fool” in the line “makes a fool just sing.” Plus, there are horns. Rebecca Loebe supplies some nice additional vocals on this track. And there is some good work on keys by Brandon Bush. This song in some ways feels like new territory for Ellis Paul, and it’s wonderful.

He follows that with one which will have a much more familiar feel to Ellis Paul fans, a song titled “Hold Me, Scold Me.” This is one of the tracks where he performs solo – vocals and acoustic guitar. It’s a sweet song, and yet another highlight for me. “I’ll never stop time/But you’ll always be mine.”

“Chasing Beauty,” the CD’s title track, is one that Ellis Paul has been performing in concert for a while. Molly Venter, Abbie Gardner and Laurie MacAllister (of Red Molly) perform vocals on this track, and yes, it’s a beautiful song. Check out these lines: “You said,/‘Every dream/that could cross our lips/lies just beyond/our fingertips’/I caught some/Some I let slip/right through my fingers.”

“Rose In A Cage” is a lively song with a Romeo And Juliet story, where “Juliet” is rhymed with “Corvette” in the lines “Kiss me kill me/Sweet Juliet/A runaway bride/In a red corvette.” “Rose In A Cage” was co-written by Kristian Bush, who plays electric guitar, and who also co-produced the album.

The album concludes with a solo acoustic tune, “One Kiss Could Do Me In,” which was co-written by Laurie McAllister of Red Molly. It opens with a bit of spoken word, which takes me way back to the very early “Just The Jester Fool.” You’ll know what I mean when you hear this. This has kind of an intimate and immediate feel, like he’s playing directly to you in your room. I love these lines: “You step/From the shadow to the light/And I surrender Friday night/My lips are drunk/And can't be trusted.”

CD Track List

  1. Never Want To Lose You
  2. Wasted
  3. Kick Out The Lights (Johnny Cash)
  4. Drive-In Movie
  5. Waiting On A Break
  6. UK Girl (Boston Calling)
  7. Jimmie Angel’s Flying Circus
  8. Love Is A Curious Thing
  9. Hold Me, Scold Me
  10. Empire State
  11. Chasing Beauty
  12. Plastic Soldiers
  13. Rose In A Cage
  14. One Kiss Could Do Me In

Chasing Beauty is one of my favorite albums of the year. It was released on Black Wolf Records.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Palaye Royale: “Get Higher” (2013) CD Review

In March of this year I went to see Dreaming Bull at Lexington Social House in Hollywood. I was also treated to a set of music by a band called Palaye Royale. A young band with a young and eager audience. Their single, “Get Higher,” was the tune that really got their fans dancing that night. I got a copy of it on CD, listened to it a few times, then set it aside (not because it wasn’t good, but because of the large number of CDs that I have here). But today I felt a need to play it again.

“Get Higher” is a fairly straight-ahead rock song, with a good driving beat, some effective guitar work, and a ton of energy. It’s not what I normally listen to, but when I put it on, I can’t help but want to turn this one up and dance around my apartment. “I’m getting higher/I’m going to set this house on fire.” It has that special youthful force that has always been associated with rock and roll.

It’s followed by “White,” and I actually think this is a better song. It’s certainly a more interesting tune, with a good lyrics like, “Lost in your eyes, your big blue eyes/They can paint a sky/Don’t be so scared to be yourself.” There is something really catchy about the vocal line to this tune, and it's the vocals that pull me in.

CD Track List
  1. Get Higher
  2. White
Palaye Royale is Remington Leith, Sebastian Danzig and Emerson Barrett. They are based in Las Vegas.

Get Higher was released on May 22, 2013.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ray Charles: “Genius Loves Company: 10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition” (2014) CD Review

If you like music, you like Ray Charles. There’s just no way around that. In June of 2004, this world lost one of its greatest singers and musicians. That summer also saw the release of his final studio album, Genius Loves Company, a CD of duets with some of music’s great talents. Now, to mark the tenth anniversary of that release, we are treated to a deluxe edition of the album, with a couple of bonus tracks, expanded liner notes and a DVD.

Norah Jones

Norah Jones’ voice begins this CD, as she takes the first verse of “Here We Go Again.” This song was released as a single and earned a much-deserved Grammy Award for Record Of The Year. It’s a wonderful duet, and a great rendition of a fantastic song, one which Ray Charles first recorded in 1967. Both Norah and Ray play keys on this track, and Billy Preston joins them on Hammond B3. I love the playful quality in Ray’s voice on the line “I’ve been there before, you know what, I’ll try it again.” And then they sound gorgeous together at the end.

James Taylor

It might seem like an odd combination – Ray Charles and James Taylor – but they do a surprisingly delightful take on Taylor’s own “Sweet Potato Pie.” This song has such a cheerful sound, and there is a horn section.

Diana Krall

One of my favorites is “You Don’t Know Me,” a gorgeous gem. Ray Charles has always owned this song, and here he does a sweet version with Diana Krall. Ray’s vocal performance here is absolutely perfect, and Diana’s voice works so well with Ray’s, making this track one of the CD’s highlights.

Natalie Cole

“Fever” is a song I always dig (except for Madonna’s awful version), and of course Ray Charles does it right. Natalie Cole is a great choice to join him on this tune. She has some fun responding to him late in the song (“Oh, it’s your story?” and “I'm listening”). And listen to the way Ray Charles sings “What a lovely way to burn” toward the end. Perfect! And the band backing them really grooves.

Willie Nelson

I’m a big fan of Willie Nelson’s work and his voice, but one of the odder duets is Ray and Willie Nelson’s take on “It Was A Very Good Year.” There are great orchestral swells, which seem strange with Willie Nelson’s vocal style. But it's a track that has definitely grown on me. Willie Nelson also appears on Friendship, Ray Charles’ 1984 album of duets (they do “Seven Spanish Angels”).

B.B. King

One of the highlights of this CD is the blues tracks, “Sinner’s Prayer,” which finds Ray Charles working with B.B. King. Billy Preston also appears on this track, playing the Hammond B3. This is some delicious and glorious blues, with some very cool playing by Ray Charles.

Van Morrison

The original album concludes with the only live track, a nice rendition of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love,” sung with Van Morrison. This track was recorded on June 12, 2003 in New York.

Bonus Tracks

This 10th anniversary edition CD includes two bonus tracks. The first is “Mary Ann,” the only track actually written by Ray Charles to appear on this CD. On this version he performs with Poncho Sanchez on percussion. Dale Spalding provides some nice work on harmonica, helping to make this a really fun track.

The second is a version of “Unchain My Heart” performed by Take 6, an a cappella group. Ray Charles is actually not on this track.


The DVD contains the documentary The Making Of Genius Loves Company, which is just under an hour in length and includes interviews with many of the people involved in the project. It opens with Ray Charles saying, “If you can sing what’s in your heart and keep time, that’s it.” It includes some still photographs, but also lots of great footage of the production of the album. Each track is discussed, with a focus on certain songs (like “It Was A Very Good Year,” “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” and “Here We Go Again”). Norah Jones mentions that she chose “Here We Go Again,” and that she added her piano part after the rest of the instruments had been recorded. There is also some footage of Ray Charles talking about Norah Jones.

In addition to Norah Jones, there are interviews with Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Mathis, Willie Nelson, Michael McDonald, Elton John and Poncho Sanchez. There is some very cool footage of “Sinner’s Prayer” being recorded, and some footage of the performance of “Crazy Love” with Van Morrison. There are also interviews with John Burk (producer), Joe Adams (Ray Charles’ manager), Victor Vanacore (arranger, conductor), Phil Ramone (recording producer, engineer) and Al Schmitt (recording engineer). And there is a bit of footage from the Grammy Award ceremony.

CD Track List

  1. Here We Go Again
  2. Sweet Potato Pie
  3. You Don’t Know Me
  4. Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
  5. Fever
  6. Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?
  7. It Was A Very Good Year
  8. Hey Girl
  9. Sinner’s Prayer
  10. Heaven Help Us All
  11. Over The Rainbow
  12. Crazy Love
  13. Mary Ann
  14. Unchain My Heart

Genius Loves Company: 10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition was released on September 30, 2014 through Concord  Music Group and Hear Music.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Madeleine Peyroux: “Keep Me In Your Heart For A While: The Best Of Madeleine Peyroux” (2014) CD Review

Madeleine Peyroux has such a distinct voice. Comparisons have been made to Billie Holiday, and those comparisons are apt, and are also interesting in relation to some of what is revealed in the liner notes to the new compilation of her work, Keep Me In Your Heart For A While: The Best Of Madeleine Peyroux. Yves Beauvais, who produced her first album, writes about how early on she was given a cassette of Billie Holiday material and asked to learn the songs. And learn them she did.

There is something relaxed and comfortable about her delivery, giving an intimate feel, like she doesn’t have to stretch to reach your ear, to reach you. Most of the tracks on Keep Me In Your Heart For A While are covers, including songs by Leonard Cohen, Warren Zevon, Bob Dylan and Randy Newman. The disc features one previously unreleased song, which gives this collection its title.

The CD opens with one of her original songs, a happy-sounding jazzy tune title “Don’t Wait Too Long,” co-written with Jesse Harris and Larry Klein. This is from her 2004 release, Careless Love. It’s a song about seizing moments and taking chances. And there is something so bright, so pleasant in the sound of this song, that you get the feeling everything will work out well if you do seize whatever opportunities come your way. “When your morning turns to night/Who’ll be loving you by candlelight/If you think that time will change your ways/Don’t wait too long.”

Bob Dylan

Madeleine Peyroux covers “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs. There are two lines in this song that always make me smile: “I could stay with you forever and never realize the time” and “You’re going to make me give myself a good talking to.” There is something a little odd about a serious, jazz vocal delivery of those lines, and the song in general. It certainly gives the song a very different feel. I’m not sure if it quite works as well as the original, but I enjoy this rendition nonetheless.

She does an excellent rendition of Elliott Smith’s “Between The Bars,” sounding almost like a strange sort of adult lullaby. There is a delicious, late-night haunting quality to this track. It’s followed by “(Getting Some) Fun Out Of Life,” a playful, delightful track with an absolutely excellent lead spot by Cyrus Chestnut on piano. I also really like Steve Kirby’s work on bass. This is a song that was recorded by Billie Holiday, written by Joe Burke and Edgar Leslie. There is a joy in Madeleine’s vocals, and in the overall sound of this track.

Leonard Cohen

Madeleine Peyroux covers “Dance Me To The End Of Love,” the song that Leonard Cohen opens his concerts with, a fantastic song from Various Positions (one of my two favorite records). Madeleine gives it a cool, European vibe. And there is a brief instrumental section that conjures images of a gorgeous couple moving across a smoky dance floor, the rest of the world falling away.

She also covers “Half The Perfect World,” a song written by Leonard Cohen and Anjani Thomas. Her rendition features a really nice lead spot by Gary Foster on alto saxophone. She does change the perspective of the song, singing “Every night he’d come to me/I’d cook for him, I’d pour his tea/I was in my thirties then” instead of the original “Every night she’d come to me/I’d cook for her, I’d pour her tea/She was in her thirties then.” (The original version of this song is on Anjani’s Blue Alert.)

“Smile” is one of my favorite tracks. It has a relaxed groove, with ukulele and trumpet. And Madeleine’s delivery is comforting, like a sweet gift to the listener. “That’s the time you must keep on trying/Smile, what’s the use of crying/You’ll find that life is still worthwhile/If you’d just smile.” “Smile” was written by Charlie Chaplin and Geoff Parsons.

Warren Zevon

Madeleine does a couple of Warren Zevon tunes, including a gorgeous, slow rendition of “Desperadoes Under The Eaves,” complete with strings as in the original. This is the extended version, which was originally included on the deluxe edition of The Blue Room. The lines of this song that strike me every time I listen are “And if California slides into the ocean/Like the mystics and statistics say it will/I predict this motel will be standing ‘til I pay my bill.”

The second Warren Zevon song is “Keep Me In Your Heart,” which Zevon co-wrote with Jorge Calderon. This CD, which takes its title from this song, marks the first time this recording has been issued. It was used in the film Union Square. It’s a really sweet, pretty recording of one of Zevon's best and saddest songs.

“The Kind You Can’t Afford” is a song Madeleine Peyroux co-wrote with Bill Wyman. It has a kind of sly, bluesy edge right from the start, which comes as a surprise, and there are nice, kind of comical touches on electric guitar. Meshell Ndegeocello plays bass on this track. “You got art collections/I got comic books/You use plastic surgery/I stay the way I look.”

CD Track List

  1. Don’t Wait Too Long
  2. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
  3. Between The Bars
  4. (Getting Some) Fun Out Of Life
  5. Dance Me To The End Of Love
  6. Smile
  7. La Vie En Rose
  8. Half The Perfect World
  9. Guilty
  10. I’m All Right
  11. Desperadoes Under The Eaves (Extended Version)
  12. The Kind You Can’t Afford
  13. Instead
  14. Keep Me In Your Heart
  15. This Is Heaven To Me 

Keep Me In Your Heart For A While: The Best Of Madeleine Peyroux was released on October 14, 2014 through Rounder and Concord Music Group.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Barbara Lynn: “The Complete Atlantic Recordings” (2014) CD Review

Barbara Lynn’s The Complete Atlantic Recordings is an excellent collection of soul tracks from the late 1960s and early 1970s. In addition to having a damn good voice, Barbara Lynn Ozen is an accomplished songwriter, and there are several original tracks here. There are also some nice choices of covers, like an excellent rendition of Clarence Carter’s “She Ain’t Gonna Do Right,” here titled “He Ain’t Gonna Do Right.” And several songs were written by Cliff Thomas, Bob McRee and Ed Thomas, who arranged her album. To my ear, most of the best tracks are the ones Barbara Lynn wrote herself. But basically all the songs here are really good (the exception for me being “Mix It Up, Baby,” which is one of those songs that lists all the popular dances, with lines like “Do the skate/And do the funky Broadway” and so on).

The Complete Atlantic Recordings opens with “This Is The Thanks I Get,” a groovy original composition that begins quietly, almost sweetly, with the line “I heard that you’re going to leave me.” But then what she’s saying really hits her, and the power behind her vocals increases as she makes her case: “I worked my fingers down to the bone/To try to make you a happy home/So now you’re leaving me/This is the thanks I get, baby.” She can no longer keep her emotions in check. It was released as a single, reaching #39 on the R&B chart.

The flip side to the single is an oddly intense track titled “Ring Telephone Ring.” There is a kind of sexy heartache in her voice, which strangely at a couple of key moments reminds me of Janis Joplin (not so much in the actual voice, but in the emotion, in the feelings behind the voice), like on the lines “Why won’t he call/He could be out having a ball.”

“You’ll Lose A Good Thing” was a big hit for Barbara Lynn in 1962. She recorded this newer version for inclusion on her sole LP for Atlantic. It’s a wonderful tune, with that classic R&B vibe. Her vocals are so bloody good on this song, which she wrote. By the way, the original version was included on the soundtrack for John Waters’ film Hairspray.

There is something absolutely delightful about “Only You Know How To Love Me.” I think mainly it’s those little touches on horn, but this song also has a nice rhythm and some sweet backing vocals. This one was written by Cliff Thomas, Bob McRee and Ed Thomas.

“Until Then, I’ll Suffer” is such a great slower number, with gorgeous vocals. And I believe her when she repeats, “Until then I’ll suffer.” I believe everything she sings, as there is something so honest, so genuine in her delivery. “But one thing I can say, I’ve been good woman/I’ve done everything for you.” Barbara Lynn wrote this one. It was included on her 1968 record, and then released as a single in 1971, reaching #31 on the R&B chart. This is one of my favorite tracks.

Another of my favorites is “Sufferin’ City.” It has a great vibe, and a strong vocal performance by Barbara Lynn. “Can you find it in your heart to show a little pity/And help me get away from this sufferin’ city/I’m tired of being stepped on, pushed round and scorned/My heart is broken and my pride is torn.”

“Unloved, Unwanted Me” is another strong track in which she opens her heart to a man who doesn’t love her in return. She hopes one day to be over it: “So I’ll just go on my way/And tell my heart I tried/And baby, maybe someday/I can take it all in stride/Tears roll down my face/ I can hear my poor heart say/Unloved, unwanted by you.”

“You’re Gonna See A Lot More (Of My Leaving)” is a highlight of this collection. I love her vocal performance, as she tells her man, “And your good times, your good time days are numbered/And it’s shaky ground you’re standing on/You’re gonna see a lot more of me leaving/And a whole lot less of me coming back home.” She does so much with this song, and all of it rings so true. This is a delicious recording, with a really nice ending.

The collection’s previously unreleased track is a cover of “Soul Deep,” a song that was a hit for The Box Tops in 1969. Actually, it’s possible – as this disc’s liner notes point out – that Barbara Lynn’s recording is the original version of this song, which was written by Wayne Thompson. Either way, it’s a really good rendition.

“You Better Quit It” is a seriously cool tune with a good energy and the right amount of attitude. Oh yes, this is not a woman who will be pushed around. “You can’t love me and other girls too/That kind of arrangement just won’t do/You better quit it, baby, before you push me too far.” This song was written by Cliff Thomas, Bob McRee and Ed Thomas.

“You Make Me So Hot” is a very groovy, sexy song, with some nice work on horns. It was written by Barbara Lynn, and released as a single in 1973. “There's a her for every sir/And a sister for every mister/There's a he for every she/And baby, you're for me.”

CD Track List

  1. This Is The Thanks I Get
  2. Ring Telephone Ring
  3. You’ll Lose A Good Thing
  4. Take Your Love And Run
  5. Maybe We Can Slip Away
  6. Sure Is Worth It
  7. Only You Know How To Love Me
  8. Until Then, I’ll Suffer
  9. You’re Losing Me
  10. Sufferin’ City
  11. Multiplying Pain
  12. Why Can’t You Love Me
  13. Mix It Up Baby
  14. He Ain’t Gonna Do Right
  15. Love Ain’t Never Hurt Nobody
  16. People Like Me
  17. Unloved, Unwanted Me
  18. You’re Gonna See A Lot More (Of My Leaving)
  19. Soul Deep
  20. You Better Quit It
  21. Nice And Easy
  22. I’m A One Man Woman
  23. (Daddy Hot Stuff) You’re Too Hot To Hold
  24. You Make Me So Hot
  25. It Ain’t Good To Be Too Good 

The Complete Atlantic Recordings was released on September 30, 2014 through Real Gone Music.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Stories: “Stories Untold: The Very Best Of Stories” (2014) CD Review

Stories Untold: The Very Best Of Stories is the first compilation of music by Stories, and is an interesting mix of rock, pop and prog rock (like “Please, Please,” for example, which reminds me a good deal of Rush at times). This is an unusual compilation, for not all the tracks here are attributed to the band in question. In fact, the first couple of tracks are really Left Banke songs, though released under singer Steve Martin’s name. And the final several are from Ian Lloyd solo albums. It really shows the evolution of these songwriters and musicians over a specific and relatively short period of time, and so isn’t simply a “best of” compilation. But of course it contains the band’s big hit, “Brother Louie.”

Stories Untold opens with “Love Songs In The Night,” one side of a single released in 1971 by members of The Left Banke. It’s kind of a catchy tune with an interesting vocal delivery by singer Steve Martin. “Two By Two (I’m Losing You),” the other side of that single, is a good song that seems to owe something to the late 1960s folk groups in the way the vocals are tackled in the verses. But it is the sound of the chorus that I particularly like in this track.

There is a light, breezy feel to “I’m Coming Home,” the first song of the compilation actually attributed to Stories. I love the totally delightful sound of the keys on this track. And there is clearly a Beatles influence in the vocal approach (particularly Paul McCartney). Released as a single in 1972, the band’s first single, this song reached #42 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Another very playful and fun tune is the fast-paced instrumental “Circles,” composed by Michael Brown and released under his name, not as a Stories single. This is actually one of my favorite tracks, and it makes me smile every time I listen to this CD. “Darling” is also a really good tune. The version presented here is the single version, released in 1973. It didn’t do all that well, but is a catchy song written by Michael Brown and Ian Lloyd.

“Brother Louie” is the song the band is really known for. It’s their big hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Interestingly, it’s the first song of the compilation not written by Michael Brown or Ian Lloyd. It’s a cover, written by Errol Brown and Tony Wilson, and originally recorded by Hot Chocolate. The song has a nice dance rhythm, a good message, and memorable vocals.

“Stories Untold,” the song that gives this compilation its title, is an interesting tune written by Ian Lloyd. I particularly like its instrumental section.

A song I can’t help but love is the happy, cheerful “If It Feels Good, Do It.” It has a simple, but positive message about following one’s own counsel, one’s own feelings. “Let your senses be your guide/Forget about the rules/If it feels good, do it/Do it if it’s what you feel.” Plus, it’s a fun song, reminding me a bit of Sweet.

Interestingly, that is followed by a song about a bisexual man confessing to his girl that he’s got another lover. Titled “Another Love,” it features lines like “But girl, I think it’s time you knew where I go when I leave you.” He assures her that his love for her is just as strong, telling her “You’re the only woman for me.” Written by Bobby Flax and Lanny Lambert, this song was released as a single in 1974.

“Slip Away” is a fun song written by Ric Ocasek, with a bit of a new wave feel and a bouncy vibe. Released as a single by Ian Lloyd, this song reached #50 on the chart.

I was nine years old when the first couple of Joan Jett records came out, and I couldn’t get enough of them. A lot of those tracks were covers, and she did a great job with them. At the time, I had no idea who Gary Glitter was, but I loved “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah).” The same year that Joan Jett included that song on her first album (soon re-released as Bad Reputation), Ian Lloyd released his own version of the song on an LP and as a single. It’s a good rendition, fairly similar to Joan Jett’s take, and it’s this track that closes this compilation.

CD Track List

  1. Love Songs In The Night
  2. Two By Two (I’m Losing You)
  3. I’m Coming Home
  4. Take Cover
  5. Circles
  6. Darling
  7. Love Is In Motion
  8. Please, Please
  9. Brother Louie
  10. Mammy Blue
  11. Bridges
  12. Stories Untold
  13. Earthbound/Freefall
  14. If It Feels Good, Do It
  15. Another Love
  16. She Broke Your Heart
  17. Slip Away
  18. Love Stealer
  19. Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah) 

Stories Untold: The Very Best Of Stories was released on September 30, 2014 through Real Gone Music.