Sunday, January 25, 2015

Macedo: “Paper Doll” (2014) CD Review

Macedo is a band whose core is sisters Michelle and Melissa Macedo, who also wrote all the material of their 2014 EP, Paper Doll. That EP features some seriously moving songs and gorgeous vocals. This group can lift you up and get you moving with a track like “Like Me Most,” and then move you in a completely different way with a song like the sweet “Remember.” This is pop, yes; but it’s pop with intelligence and heart. Plus, I’m a sucker for any album with cello. On this release, the band is rounded out with Caleb Bigler on guitar, Hunter Hunt on cello, Ryan Loui on bass, Sam Morgan on bass, Nabedi Osorio on drums, and Khris Kellow on keyboards, as well as special guest Ken Christianson on violin.

Macedo kicks off the EP with a glorious pop gem titled “Like Me Most.” This tune has a groove you can move to, and there is soul at the heart of it. There is a wonderful, bright feel to the music, particularly in the electric guitar part by Caleb Bigler. This group is based in Los Angeles, and the lyrics mention the Pacific Coast Highway. And check out these lines: “Need a change of pace to catch me/Like a heavyset hunter would/Artemis did never actually/Stick with Orion for good/Love you ‘cause you're a little bit dangerous/In a fairly responsible way.”  I love the energy on the line, “Crank up the music and play,” which leads, appropriately, to a brief instrumental moment.

“Like Me Most” is followed by “Remember,” a beautiful and moving song driven by excellent vocals, as well as piano and cello. Here are the opening lines: “I am the ruins of a song strung along to/Sound nice to everybody else/I am a mess of sounds and colors and ivory mistakes.” And I’m really fond of these lines: “I didn't feel the losing then/I only felt the need to leave.”

“Your Skin” begins with vocals and piano. And then when it kicks in, the song has a delicious and engrossing power. This is one to turn up and get absorbed in. It has lots of peaks and valleys, and a good lead guitar part by Caleb Bigler. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Remember when we couldn’t sleep/When you got back to town/We tried to get so tired and wound up/Driving around/Fixated on getting/Underground.” I also really like the section near the end where they repeat the lines, “Damn, you're a pessimist/Damn, I'm a cynic/Damn, I'm about to kiss my worst critic.” Macedo has released a music video for this song.

Macedo gives another strong, emotional vocal delivery in “17,” my favorite line being, “Some things in life don't just end with goodbye.” It’s simple, but so effective. And check out these lines: “He said I don't want to hurt you/But it's funny just how/We surprise ourselves with just what we allow.” And then the EP’s title track, “Paper Doll,” has a kind of beauty that includes something of an innocence, particularly in the music. There is almost a fairytale feel to it. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I know/You care/Only as much as your shadow allows/I know/You care/If only you let yourself say it out loud/The past is like revolving doors/Only I am stuck in yours/In yours.”

The EP concludes with “Amazing,” a pretty love song driven by vocals and piano. “There is a child inside of me/Who functions out of fear/Though you shouldn't come closer/You should still stay here.” There is also some nice work on violin, and I love the way the vocals and violin work together. I also really like this line: “All your mistakes have led you to me.”

CD Track List
  1. Like Me Most
  2. Remember
  3. Your Skin
  4. 17
  5. Paper Doll
  6. Amazing
Paper Doll was released on February 4, 2014 on MoonGold Records.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mason Summit: “Loud Music & Soft Drinks” (2014) CD Review

Mason Summit’s new album, Loud Music & Soft Drinks, features some really good material, particularly "In A Lonely Place" and "Village Dogs." All of these tracks are originals, showcasing Mason Summit’s songwriting abilities. For example, check out these lines from “Flake”: “You’re the secretary of pretense/There’s only so much I can be against/But it all keeps coming up, bringing me down.” Also, this line from that same song: “Like a hearse, I always know just where you’re going to.” Even when he seems to resort to a cliché, as he does in the love song “Pretty Penny” when he sings, “You’re a sight for sore eyes,” he saves it with the following line, “And believe me, my eyes are sore.” He then further improves upon it by adding, “But I feel better seeing you in that tight black turtleneck sweater.” (Amen!) And the phrasing of those lines is interesting too. He’s also quite a good musician, playing acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass and even organ on one track.

And he has a great group of musicians backing him, including Carl Byron on organ and piano, and John McDuffie on electric guitar and pedal steel guitar. You can hear Carl Byron on Anne McCue’s excellent new album. And, as I’ve mentioned before, John McDuffie’s presence always gets me interested in a project. You can actually hear both of those musicians on last year’s Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst CD, Endless Sky. In addition to them, the album features Jason Chesney on bass, Zander Schloss (from The Circle Jerks) on bass, Shawn Nourse (from I See Hawks In L.A.) on drums, and Lynn Coulter on drums. John McDuffie engineered, mixed and mastered this release, while Mason Summit produced it. I’m impressed by Mason's work here, and so am a bit shocked, perhaps even a little annoyed, to learn that he’s only eighteen. Imagine all the good things still to come from this singer/songwriter/musician.

Mason Summit kicks off his the CD with “Two Friends,” a fairly straight-forward pop rock tune about friendship. Here is taste of the lyrics: “Two friends sit down again/No awkward conversation, just friends/And the stubborn rock in his shoe/Feeling new and said/If you’ll lower your expectations/I’ll drop my affectations/We’ll commence negotiations.” It’s a decent song, but for me things start to get much more interesting with the second track, “Kaleidoscope,” a quirky little tune played on classical guitar, with the addition of flute in the second part of the song. (That’s James King, of Fitz And The Tantrums, on flute.)

Even better is “In A Lonely Place,” a strong, emotionally charged track. Mason Summit creates a vivid portrait of an area and its denizens, and he really sells it on the vocals. When he sings the title line, “In a lonely place,” you can hear the desperation. “Down on the corner making a deal/To try and fight that urge to feel/In a lonely place.” And he places the listener in the city, singing, “You shouldn’t believe her this time.” This track features John McDuffie on both lap steel and pedal steel, and is one of the best songs on this CD.

“Puddle” is the only instrumental track on the album. It’s a kind of mellow track which Mason Summit performs solo, playing electric guitar, acoustic guitar and bass. “Later” is a very short, but kind of pretty track. It has vocals, but no lyrics.

“Right Mind” has something of an early rock flavor to it, both in the music and in the vocal approach (listen to the way he sings “I wanted you so bad/Tried so hard to hold on”). Plus, it benefits from the addition of James King on saxophone. Jason Chesney plays bass. I really like these lines: “I’m at your beck and call/You are a wrecking ball.” Another of my favorites is “Village Dogs,” which has a cool groove and vibe. “On the roof everything is all right/It’s warm now, but it’s so cold at night/I can see out to the lake/I can see past my mistake.” This one features John McDuffie on electric guitar.

CD Track List
  1. Two Friends
  2. Kaleidoscope
  3. In A Lonely Place
  4. Puddle
  5. Pretty Penny
  6. Cute One
  7. Flake
  8. Right Mind
  9. Later
  10. Village Dogs
  11. Interloper
  12. My Blank Canvas
Loud Music & Soft Drinks was released on November 11, 2014 on French Dip Records.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tom Paxton: “Redemption Road” (2015) CD Review

Tom Paxton is one of the most respected and influential singer-songwriters. He really helped shape contemporary folk music, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. His music has been covered by artists like Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Neil Diamond, John Denver and many others. And now in his late seventies, Tom Paxton is releasing an excellent new album, Redemption Road. All tracks but one are originals. After all these years, Tom Paxton is still writing effective and often moving folk songs, while of course maintaining that sense of humor and sense of fun. This album also features guest appearances by John Prine and Janis Ian.

Redemption Road opens with “Virginia Morning,” a sweet and positive tune with good, pleasant vibes. It’s a song designed to put a smile on your face, and does so for me every time I listen to it. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “It’s good to be alive, Virginia morning/It’s good to feel your earth beneath my feet/Rise and shine, Virginia morning/You’ve got a sweet, sweet Virginia day to greet.”

“Virginia Morning” is followed by “Susie Most Of All,” one of my personal favorite tracks. It has a relaxed feel, and a delightful humor as well as love in the delivery. It opens with these lines: “Wish I had a nickel, wish I had a dime/Wish I had Susie, and Susie had time to play/Susie had time to play/The thing about Susie, Susie can play all day.” As much as I love Tom Paxton’s vocal delivery on this one, it’s probably the music that makes this track a highlight. It’s just totally delightful.

“Time To Spare” has the feel of a traditional Irish folk ballad, and so of course I bloody love it. It’s that great sweet ease of his vocals that makes this song so effective. “I’ve been thinking about you lately/I’ve been wondering where you are/It’s been years since we went rambling through the night/You were going to write your novel/I was going to be a star/We were young, and things were sure to work out right.” I love the fiddle.

“The Losing Part” is a wonderfully depressing song about aging. Somehow listening to this song makes it easier to accept, as the song is like a hand reaching to help you through. And it’s inevitable anyway, right? This one really affected me, nearly had me in tears the first time I heard it. “When it never came true/Never happened for you/It just slowly faded away/’Til it broke your heart/Some dreams die harder/Some are living yet/Sooner or later you get/To the losing part.” “Come On, Holy” is another of this album’s tracks that really moves me. It was co-written by Tom Paxton and Jon Vezner, and has a positive and friendly feel.

John Prine joins Tom on vocals for “Skeeters’ll Gitcha,” a fun and light-hearted little tune about mosquitoes (“skeeters’ll gitcha if your screens ain’t tight”) which also features some nice work on fiddle. My favorite lines are: “You were missing on the day they passed good sense around/If you had any sense, then you’d have to agree/If you had any sense, then you couldn’t love me/Give me a sweet little kiss.” Another fun track is the lively and affectionate “The Mayor Of MacDougal Street,” a good tune about Dave Van Ronk. “No one’s replaced him yet, and no one will.”

“Central Square” is another of my favorites. It’s such a beautiful song, and it’s one that grabbed me immediately. The first time I put this CD on, I was taking care of some things in my apartment, and this song made me stop what I was doing, and just sit down and listen. “I saw the road that led to home, but I took another way/I met the girl I came to love one night in Central Square.” Of course, this song speaks to me in part because I met the woman I love in Central Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts. But I don’t plan on making the mistake that the character of this song makes.

Janis Ian joins Tom on vocals on “Redemption Road,” the album’s title track, a song that Tom Paxton co-wrote with Geoff Bartley. Geoff wrote the music, and Tom wrote the lyrics of this touching song. “Only time and time alone/Treats each weary soul the same/When my sum of days is flown/Time alone will know my name.” The album then concludes with its sole cover, a rendition of the tradition song “The Parting Glass,” with the lyrics delivered a cappella followed by a brief instrumental section.

CD Track List
  1. Virginia Morning
  2. Susie Most Of All
  3. Time To Spare
  4. The Losing Part
  5. Skeeters’ll Gitcha
  6. Ireland
  7. Come On, Holy
  8. If The Poor Don’t Matter
  9. The Mayor Of Macdougal Street
  10. Central Square
  11. Buffalo Dreams
  12. The Battle Of The Sexes
  13. Redemption Road
  14. The Parting Glass
Redemption Road is scheduled to be released on March 10, 2015 on Pax Records.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Roger Taylor: “Best” (2014) CD Review

I was ten years old when I got my first Queen album. It was a cassette of the band’s first greatest hits compilation, and we listened to it over and over on a road trip my grandparents took my brother and me on that summer. I was already a fan, but during the course of that road trip, I became totally hooked. While singer Freddie Mercury was the main songwriter of the band, each of the other members contributed songs. Drummer Roger Taylor’s tunes included “Modern Times Rock ‘N’ Roll” from their first album, “Tenement Funster” from Sheer Heart Attack, “I’m In Love With My Car” from A Night At The Opera, “Rock It (Prime Jive)” and “Coming Soon” from The Game, “Calling All Girls” from Hot Space, and “Radio Ga Ga” from The Works. “Calling All Girls” and “Radio Ga Ga” were also released as singles, the latter being a big hit for the band.  On certain tracks, like “Tenement Funster” and “I’m In Love With My Car,” Taylor also provided lead vocals.

Roger Taylor released two solo albums in the 1980s while Queen was still active, and then a couple more in the 1990s. His most recent studio album is Fun On Earth, released in 2013. Best collects tracks from those five albums, as well as singles. These tracks obviously showcase Roger Taylor’s songwriting, vocals and drumming abilities, but on his first solo album, Fun In Space, he plays all the instruments. Best kicks off with “Future Management (You Don’t Need Nobody Else),” a cool track from that record. It reminds me a bit of The Police in its rhythm. That song is followed by “I Wanna Testify,” which was released as a single in 1977, and is a very fun rock song. It’s actually a cover of a single released by The Parliaments (who would later change their name to simply Parliament), but Roger Taylor’s version is quite a bit different. It is seriously good, and I love the “doo-wop” backing vocals. The overall sound is similar to that of Sweet.

From Fun In Space, Best also includes “Let’s Get Crazy” and “Magic Is Loose.” “Let’s Get Crazy” is one of my favorite tracks of this collection. It’s got a beat designed to get you moving, and lyrics to match. “Let’s get crazy, let’s get crazy tonight.” There is even a short, but delicious drum solo. And in “Magic Is Loose,” I love when the song suddenly bursts in, with Roger singing, “Magic is loose, magic is loose in the world tonight.” This one has more of a theatrical feel, which Queen fans should totally dig.

This compilation includes the first three tracks from Roger Taylor’s second solo album, Strange Frontier, which was released in 1984. The title track really takes me back to that twisted decade when politics were completely fucked. Check out these lyrics: “Freedom fighters come and go/Bloody righteous and mentally slow/We’re on the skids/We’re off the lines/We’re trapped inside these dangerous times/Now we’ve reached the borderline, you can start to smell the fear/People say it could never happen here/But this is a strange frontier.” This is another of this CD’s highlights. I also really like “Beautiful Dreams,” which has a sweeter, prettier sound.

Four tracks are included from Happiness? (which was released in 1994, and was Roger Taylor’s first album following Freddie Mercury’s death). “Nazis 1994” is a heavy and serious tune about the lunatics who deny that the Holocaust happened, with Roger repeating the line, “They’re saying now it never happened.” “Foreign Sand” is a song that Roger Taylor co-wrote with Yoshiki Hayashi, who also performs on the track. In “Happiness,” Roger Taylor sings, “No matter how, how hard you try/In your own life, and through your years/With every up must come a down/Enjoy the laughter and the tears/Of happiness.” This album was clearly colored by Mercury’s death.

Best features five tracks from Roger Taylor’s 1998 release, Electric Fire. “Surrender” features vocals by Treana Morris, in addition to Taylor’s vocals. There is something beautiful about this song, particularly with the repetition of the lines “You can’t hurt me now” and “I surrender.” “Where Are You Now?” likewise has something sweet about it, and I like these lines: “You don't have to bleed, you don't have to believe/You don't have to pretend to know what's right/Or what's real.” “A Nation Of Haircuts” has my favorite title of this collection, and is a harder rock song. “No More Fun” is also a hard rock song.

This collection also includes the single, “The Unblinking Eye (Everything Is Broken),” which was originally released in 2009. A different version of that song was included on Taylor’s 2013 release, Fun On Earth. This is a really strong song, and the version included here is longer and a bit different from that on the album, with a bit more power to the music. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “God would weep/If he existed/And he saw what man can do to man/He'd think that we were twisted/His unblinking eye would blink and then/He'd say not in my name you don't/You stupid little men.” I also really appreciate these lines: “Five million cameras stare at us/They treat us like we're fools/Our privacy is meaningless/We're suffocating by ten thousand rules.” The only track from Fun On Earth to be included on this collection is “Sunny Day,” a sweet love song which concludes the CD.

CD Track List
  1. Future Management (You Don’t Need Nobody Else)
  2. I Wanna Testify
  3. Let’s Get Crazy
  4. Magic Is Loose
  5. Strange Frontier
  6. Man On Fire
  7. Beautiful Dreams
  8. Nazis 1994
  9. Foreign Sand
  10. Everybody Hurts Sometime
  11. Happiness
  12. Surrender
  13. Where Are You Now?
  14. A Nation Of Haircuts
  15. Tonight
  16. No More Fun
  17. The Unblinking Eye (Everything Is Broken)
  18. Sunny Day
Best was released on October 28, 2014 through Omnivore Recordings.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Lulu: “The Atco Sessions 1969-1972” (2014) CD Review

These days when I think of Lulu, I think about Absolutely Fabulous, and her wonderful appearances as herself on that program. And I hear Jennifer Saunders repeating her name, and suggesting she sing “Shout” or something. But of course she’s still probably best known for singing “To Sir With Love” and the theme from the 1974 James Bond film The Man With The Golden Gun. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Lulu dipped a bit into soul (well, a mixture of soul and pop), and The Atco Sessions 1969-1972 collects two complete albums as well as singles and outtakes from that time. This two-disc set also includes liner notes by Richie Unterberger.

Disc One

The first disc contains the two complete records, New Routes and Melody Fair, both released in 1970. New Routes was recorded in 1969 at Muscle Shoals. It kicks off with a couple of Bee Gees tunes. The first, “Marley Purt Drive,” is a really cool track, with a vibe that might call to mind The Band. Lulu’s version is a bit less country rock, especially with the addition of horns, giving it more of a New Orleans feel. I love what she does vocally on “People In Love,” a song written by Eddie Hinton and Grady Smith. The energy in her voice is perfect. Lulu also does a groovy cover of “Feelin’ Alright,” a song originally done by Traffic, but also famously covered by Joe Cocker. Lulu’s version has a fun vibe and some nice work on horns. Also fun is her rendition of Delaney & Bonnie’s “Dirty Old Man” (co-written by Mac Davis and Delaney Bramlett). And I like her sweet version of “Mr. Bojangles.” The song that became a hit from this record, however, was “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby),” a mellow tune that would later be recorded by Aretha Franklin.

Melody Fair was recorded at Criteria Studios in the spring of 1970, and it opens with a strange cover of The Beatles’ “Good Day Sunshine.” That was never one of my favorite Beatles songs, but Lulu does some interesting things with it. She follows that with a heartfelt rendition of “After The Feeling Is Gone,” a song that was also recorded by Five Flights Up. One of the coolest tracks on this album is “I Don’t Care Anymore,” written by Jerry Williams, Gary Bonds and Maurice Gimbel. This song creates a compelling character. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Then I met a guy as smooth as silk down in a midtown bar/Told me with my good looks I’d go very far/I didn’t know just what he meant/Well, I thought he was heaven sent/And all of his sweet talkin’ sent me streetwalkin’/That was the part that broke my heart.” (I love the way she holds onto the word “smooth.”) Lulu also does Bonds and Williams’ “To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman).” As on New Routes, on Melody Fair Lulu covers a Bee Gees song from Odessa, this time the song providing Lulu with her album’s title. She also covers Randy Newman’s “Vine Street,” a song that Harry Nilsson also recorded. Lulu has some fun with this one; when the song switches from that opening, energetic section to the mellower section, there’s a bit of studio banter (“Nice one”). “Move To My Rhythm” is also a fun track, and I dig the horns. Melody Fair ends with “Saved,” a tune written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and originally recorded by Lavern Baker and also covered by The Band. She really gets into the gospel aspects of the song, especially with the backing vocalists.

Disc Two

The second disc contains singles and outtakes. And like the first disc, it opens with a Bee Gees song, this one being “Bury Me Down By The River,” a song from that band’s 1970 release, Cucumber Castle. She also delivers a seriously fun version of the Bee Gees’ “Back Home,” a song from 2 Years On. This is a good dose of rock and roll, and is one of my favorite tracks on the second disc. She does a peppy gospel-pop tune called “Got To Believe In Love,” written by Neil Goldberg. It’s an odd mix of gospel with bubblegum teen sounds. Interestingly, this song was also recorded by Robin McNamara in 1970. At the time, he was playing Claude in Hair, and several other cast members are on his recording of this song. There are two versions of this song by Lulu, the single version and an early version. I prefer the early version. There is also an early mix of “I Don’t Care Anymore” and a different version of “Hum A Song (From Your Heart)” (with a bit of studio banter at the beginning), as well as an Italian version of “Oh Me Oh My,” titled “Povera Me (Oh Me Oh My).” Lulu also covers Elton John’s “Come Down In Time.” The only track on the second disc that I don’t care for is “Things Are Getting Better.”

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Marley Purt Drive
  2. In The Morning
  3. People In Love
  4. After All (I Live My Life)
  5. Feelin’ Alright
  6. Dirty Old Man
  7. Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby)
  8. Is That You Love
  9. Mr. Bojangles
  10. Where’s Eddie
  11. Sweep Around Your Own Back Door
  12. Good Day Sunshine
  13. After The Feeling Is Gone
  14. I Don’t Care Anymore
  15. (Don’t Go) Please Stay
  16. Melody Fair
  17. Take Good Care Of Yourself
  18. Vine Street
  19. Move To My Rhythm
  20. To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman)
  21. Hum A Song (From Your Heart)
  22. Sweet Memories
  23. Saved 
Disc Two
  1. Bury Me Down By The River
  2. Got To Believe In Love
  3. Jokers Wild
  4. Come Down In Time
  5. Everybody’s Got To Clap
  6. Back Home
  7. Things Are Getting Better
  8. Love Song
  9. Goodbye My Love, Goodbye
  10. It Takes A Real Man (To Bring Out The Woman In Me)
  11. You Ain’t Wrong You Just Ain’t Right
  12. Even If I Could Change
  13. Hum A Song (From Your Heart) (Session Version)
  14. I Don’t Care Anymore (Early Mix)
  15. Got To Believe In Love (Early Version)
  16. Povera Me (Oh Me Oh My)
The Atco Sessions 1969-1972 was released on July 1, 2014 through Real Gone Music. 

Thoughts On The Grateful Dead’s Reunion/Farewell Concerts

The Grateful Dead was the best live band I ever saw. I caught forty-one shows between 1988 and 1995, and though nearly twenty years have passed since my last show (in May of 1995), I still miss this band. And I think about them on a fairly regular basis, and often revisit old concert tapes, CDs and records.

Now to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the band’s formation, and the twentieth anniversary of their final concert in Chicago, the surviving band members are reuniting for three shows. The three original surviving members – Bob Weir on guitar and vocals, Phil Lesh on bass and vocals, and Bill Kreutzmann on drums – as well as Mickey Hart, who joined so early on as to basically be an original member, and Bruce Hornsby, who was a member of the band in the early 1990s, will be playing together in Chicago in July. Joining them are Jeff Chimenti on keyboards, in place of Vince Welnick who died in 2006, and Trey Anastasio on guitar in place of Jerry Garcia who died in 1995. It’s this last addition of Trey on guitar that is the first thing to give me pause about these shows.

Jerry Garcia had such a distinct style. You could pick it out anywhere. Trey Anastasio likewise has a distinct style, but it is so different from Garcia’s. I’m afraid it’s going to sound like Phish covering the Grateful Dead (which of course they often did). And don’t get me wrong: I like Phish. I saw them in concert many times between 1990 and 1999 (the last show I saw, however, was so awful that I never went back). But Phish and the Grateful Dead are completely unalike, except for the fact that both bands have accomplished musicians and both bands jam. I don’t necessarily want to see them combined.

The second thing that troubles me is the ticket prices. If the band is taking its fans back to Chicago, then how about we return to the ticket prices of the summer of 1995? Not only are the tickets for these three shows very expensive, but the band is using tiered ticket pricing, something they never did back in the day and something that I find completely repulsive. (The only thing close back then was that the lawn at Shoreline was slightly cheaper than the seats.) Tickets range from $95.50 to $215.50 for the mail order (supposedly some cheaper seats will be sold later). This means that it won’t be the biggest fans at the front, but the richest. That is so unlike the Grateful Dead.

The other thing that strikes me as peculiar is that these three shows are billed as farewell shows. Now these guys have played together several times since Jerry’s death. I myself never went to any of those Other Ones or Dead concerts, because it just didn’t feel right. I did, however, go see RatDog and Phil Lesh And Friends and always had a great time. But now the band is saying this is it. My question whenever a band does a farewell show is, How do you know? I mean, what if next year you want to do another show? Will you abstain because of this year’s promise?

I’m so torn. I would love to see these guys play. I would love to see some of my favorite songs performed live again. But the tickets are so expensive. And the world is a different place. I don’t want to see a sea of cell phones at a Grateful Dead concert. I don’t want to see a lot of blue lights in front of me. And how much is a sheet of acid these days? I have no idea.

Mail order starts on January 20th, so I have a few days to decide (and to raise several hundred dollars).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Trip Shakespeare: “Are You Shakespearienced?” (1988/2014) CD Review

Are You Shakespearienced? was the second release from Trip Shakespeare, and the first to feature band member Dan Wilson. The album’s title, of course, is a play on the 1967 Jimi Hendrix record, Are You Experienced. All of the album’s songs were originals, written or co-written by Matt Wilson. Like the band’s first release, Applehead Man, this album features intriguing, unusual lyrics. But this one is even more interesting with a more accomplished, distinct sound overall, with several excellent songs. The new expanded re-issue contains nine bonus tracks, most of which were previously unreleased, as well as new liner notes.

This CD kicks off with “Diane,” a song written by Matt Wilson and Dan Wilson. It has a bit of a bouncy pop feel, but it is that short bridge halfway through that really wins me over. Here is a bit of the lyrics: “Relax your hand/Trusted angel/Stranger than the things young men should know.” (This band has quite a few songs with women’s names as titles: “Diane,” “Patricia,” “Pearle,” “Mariah,” “Susannah,” “Lulu.”)

“The Lake” opens with a really good groove, and has more of a trippy vibe to it. It has a sort of early Jefferson Airplane feel at moments, which I love, and some excellent vocals, particularly at the end. This is one of my personal favorites. It’s followed by “Swing,” which also has a fantastic groove, and a vocal line that reminds me of something that Entrain would later do. It also has a cool, jazzy jam quality, helping to make it another highlight. Plus, check out these lyrics: “Swing! She swung down from a tree this spring/On a rope of white mercy with a bell to ring/Yeah, she swung down to my world hung down on a string.”

One of the oddest tracks is “Toolmaster Of Brainerd.” It has more of a hard rock sound and attitude (“He played guitar like a natural disaster”), but then with a strange, theatrical vocal section in the middle: “Up in Brainerd, where the children go to milking school/He learned to play the Gibson that his dog had found/And he came to haunt the bars of Minneapolis town/Now the spell-casters, the jeweled and cruel pastors/In town came to enchain the Toolmaster.” The total effect is strange and fun. It’s hard to dislike the tune, but I prefer the following track, “Vines.” It too has a bit of an odd feel, and features Elaine on xylophone. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Boughs hung heavy with the poison charms/Wrapped my body in their coiling arms/Stained my vision with the purple juice we know.” There is also some cool work on keys.

The original album concludes with “Reception,” a song about being drunk at a wedding reception, as Dan mentions in the liner notes.  On the steps I fell to darkness/And her friends came out around me/But I saw the darkness only/Drunk now, I will be lonely.”

Bonus Tracks

This special re-issue contains nine bonus tracks, all but one of which were previously unissued. The first, “Earth, By Revolving,” is the one that was previously released, as the flip side to the “Pearle” single in 1990. It’s followed by “Car,” an absolutely delightful song with a cool groove. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Car, I’ve got to have one/I’m old, I’m old, I’m old not to have one/The woman that I’ll see tonight/She can take me where she will/She makes planes fall out of the sky.” This is one of my favorite tracks on this CD. “Look At The Lady” features some really nice vocal work, and “Stories End” is a good pop tune.

The bonus tracks also include early versions of “Reception,” “Bachelorette” (which would be included on Lulu) and “Snow Days” (which would be included on Across The Universe). This version of “Bachelorette” is a bit shorter, without that extended ending. “Snow Days” is one of my favorite Trip Shakespeare songs, and it's great to hear this early, longer version.

CD Track List
  1. Diane
  2. The Lake
  3. Swing
  4. Two Wheeler, Four Wheeler
  5. Spirit
  6. Thief
  7. Toolmaster Of Brainerd
  8. Vines
  9. Reception
  10. Earth, By Revolving
  11. Car
  12. Black Road
  13. 10,000 Watt Searching Light
  14. Bachelorette (early version)
  15. Look At The Lady
  16. Reception (early version)
  17. Stories End
  18. Snow Days (early version)
This special re-issue of Are You Shakespearienced? was released on December 16, 2014 through Omnivore Recordings. That same date also saw the release of the re-issue of Applehead Man

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Trip Shakespeare: “Applehead Man” (1986/2014) CD Review

Applehead Man, the first album from Trip Shakespeare, was recently re-issued with several previously unreleased bonus tracks and new liner notes. This album is from when the band was still a trio, before the addition of Dan Wilson on guitar and piano. At this point the band was composed of Matt Wilson on guitar and vocals, John Munson on bass and vocals, and Elaine Harris on drums. (John Munson and Dan Wilson would later go on to found Semisonic.) Tim Rowe joins them on percussion on this release.

I was a teenager when this band released its first couple of albums, but somehow I didn’t get turned onto them until much later. It still strikes me as odd, as I’ve long been a fan of William Shakespeare’s work, and people tend to send things my way that are in any way related to the bard. But these expanded re-issues of their first two albums now give me a chance to immerse myself in Trip Shakespeare.

All tracks on Applehead Man are originals, written or co-written by Matt Wilson. The album kicks off with “Fangs,” an interesting and kind of fun bit of pop-rock. The music is fairly straightforward, but it’s the lyrics that stand out. Here is a taste: “Fangs in the city fifty stories long/Will she push her weapon in a beggar on the ground?/Fire in the city, fools in the woods/When she puts that loser down, isn’t Kelly good?” Certainly not the usual rock fare.

It’s followed by “Rose,” another strange one dealing with winter and decay. Check out these lines: “There are kinds of beauty that a cold wind never shook/You’ll need that beauty once you’ve worn a wedding gown/And your pretty children start to rip your pretty looks.” I really like the prominence of the bass on this album, particularly on this track and on “Stop The Winter.” Just listen to the bass in the instrumental section of “Stop The Winter.” Very cool.

“Applehead Man,” the album’s title track, is one of my favorites on this release. It has a groove that immediately grabs me, and musically has a lot going on. It’s a song you can sink your teeth into. And lyrically it’s certainly on the unusual side: “Carve an applehead man, put him on the fence/You can always hear him tell his apple friends/‘Yes I grew up sweet till I fell from a tree/Things have gotten bad, take one look at me.’” And I love the backing vocals echoing “Take one look at me.” They have both a darker and more humorous tone.

Another of my favorites is “Highway In The Sun,” which begins with some cool, funky work on bass as the song fades in. While it’s the bass that really makes this track a highlight for me, I also enjoy the song’s steady beat. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Burn my pretty sun, you always know the way is clear/And I always think of ones I meet in other towns/Folks who never bone you in the street or put you down.” This is one I need to put on my next road trip mix CD.

The original album concludes with “Beatle,” a wonderful tune with lots of nods to The Beatles in the music, including a bit of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” It has a slow, strange groove. “Be now bewitched, bewildered, bothered and wise/I will be a Beatle in your mind.”

Bonus Tracks

This special re-issue contains seven bonus tracks, all of which were previously unissued. These include early versions of “The Nail,” a song that would end up on the band’s 1990 release Across The Universe, and “Patricia,” a song which would be included on the 1991 release Lulu. “The Nail” was written by Matt Wilson and Dan Wilson, and has a delightful quirkiness, its first line being “I came from Minnesota with a nail in my head.” I love this early version. The early version of “Patricia” is quite a bit different from the version that would end up on Lulu. The intro is different, and there is no drum solo. “Fall,” the first bonus track, has kind of a sweet vibe that I really like. “Freedom Bird” has a little nod to The Doors. “Fool Of The Wicked Kind,” the CD's final track, is probably the most interesting of the bonus tracks.

CD Track List
  1. Fangs
  2. Rose
  3. Stop The Winter
  4. Necklace
  5. Applehead Man
  6. Washington Bridge
  7. Pearle
  8. Fireball
  9. Highway In The Sun
  10. Beatle
  11. Fall
  12. Freedom Bird
  13. The Nail (early version)
  14. Patricia (early version)
  15. Maria
  16. Susannah (early version)
  17. Fool Of The Wicked Kind
This special re-issue of Applehead Man was released both on CD and on vinyl on December 16, 2014 through Omnivore Recordings. That same date also saw the release of the re-issue of Are You Shakespearienced?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Supertramp: “Crime Of The Century: Deluxe Edition” (2014) CD Review

Crime Of The Century was the third album released by Supertramp, and the first to really have any commercial success. It featured basically a new lineup of band members, and included the hits “Bloody Well Right” and “Dreamer.” It was the first Supertramp album I ever bought (on cassette).  For the fortieth anniversary of this excellent album, it was remastered and issued in a Deluxe Edition, which includes two discs, the second being a concert performance from March of 1975. This edition also includes extensive liner notes by Phil Alexander, with snippets from interviews with band members.

Disc One: Crime Of The Century Original Album

I always loved the album’s opening track, “School.” It starts off with a lonely, plaintive harmonica, almost crying out from a distance. The first time I heard it, I was intrigued, and immediately pulled in. And then when the vocals come in, at first the song retains a strange mellow quality, with the sounds of children playing in the background. Then nearly two minutes in, the song kicks in with a steady beat, but still finds lots of interesting places to go.

“School” is followed by “Bloody Well Right,” which was released as the flip side to “Dreamer,” but became the bigger hit in the United States, reaching #35 on the Hot 100. It certainly has more of an edge, due largely to Rick Davies’ vocals. And I love that great keyboard part at the beginning, and the sax at the end. It’s just a great song. “So you think your schooling’s phony/I guess it’s hard not to agree/You say it all depends on money/And who is in your family tree/Right, you’re bloody well right.”

Rick Davies also sings lead on “Asylum,” an engaging song with certain lines that always struck me: “Please don’t arrange to have me sent to no asylum/I’m just as sane as anyone/It’s just a game I play for fun – for fun.” Davies really creates a vivid character in this song, someone with a tortured soul.

“Dreamer” was the album’s big UK hit, reaching #13. It’s a wonderful song, with the brightest sounds of this album. It’s so great to follow the haunted sounds of “Asylum” with the more optimistic, happy sounds of “Dreamer.” And I am always impressed by Roger Hodgson’s vocals on the lines, “Take a dream on a Sunday/Take a life, take a holiday/Take a lie, take a dreamer.”

One of my favorites from this album is Roger Hodgson’s “If Everyone Was Listening,” partly because of its theatre theme, but mostly because of its sad, yet hopeful tone. It’s a beautiful song. Check out these lyrics: “For we dreamed a lot/And we schemed a lot/And we tried to sing of love before the stage fell apart/If everyone was listening you know/There’d be a chance that we could save the show/Who’ll be the last clown/To bring the house down/Oh no, please no, don’t let the curtain fall.”

Disc Two: Live At Hammersmith Odeon, March 9, 1975

The second disc contains a concert the band performed on March 9, 1975, when they played the entire Crime Of The Century. The show begins with the songs from the first side of Crime Of The Century, and ends with the songs from the second side. In the middle are several songs from Crisis? What Crisis?, which would be released later that year. This show was previously released in 2001 as Is Everybody Listening?

At the first note from Rick Davies’ harmonica, the audience erupts. And then what’s even more telling is that they become almost completely silent for the rest of the harmonica solo at the beginning of “School.” It feels like it’s part respect, part rapture. The band has grabbed the audience immediately. And it’s followed by a particularly excellent version of “Bloody Well Right.” This extended rendition features some great work on saxophone, and some funny “woo-hoo” vocals toward the end, making it a highlight for me.

“Hide In Your Shell” is also quite good, and there is a bit of stage banter before they begin that song. There is also a bit of banter before “Sister Moonshine”: “These are some new songs which will hopefully be on our next album if we ever get time to record one.” And indeed, the next several songs ended up on Crisis? What Crisis? (which was released in the fall of 1975). Those songs include “Sister Moonshine,” “Just A Normal Day,” “Another Man’s Woman” and “Lady.” Of those tunes, “Another Man’s Woman” and “Lady” are my favorites. Both are a lot of fun. “Another Man’s Woman” has a good groove and some nice work on keys. It’s followed by some stage banter, including a bit of interaction with an audience member: “To get on here, you need some material. And the only material you’ve got is that shitty suit you’re wearing.”

Following “Lady,” the band teases the beginning of “Dreamer,” but then stops, and John Helliwell does a funny little rendition of “A – You’re Adorable,” the only cover on this release. It was written by Sid Lippman, Buddy Kaye and Fred Wise. They then do go into “Dreamer,” much to the pleasure of the audience. And then they finish up with the rest of the second side of Crime Of The Century. Band introductions are done before the final song.

CD Track List

Disc One:
  1. School
  2. Bloody Well Right
  3. Hide In Your Shell
  4. Asylum
  5. Dreamer
  6. Rudy
  7. If Everyone Was Listening
  8. Crime Of The Century
Disc Two:
  1. School
  2. Bloody Well Right
  3. Hide In Your Shell
  4. Asylum
  5. Sister Moonshine
  6. Just A Normal Day
  7. Another Man’s Woman
  8. Lady
  9. A – You’re Adorable
  10. Dreamer
  11. Rudy
  12. If Everyone Was Listening
  13. Crime Of The Century
Crime Of The Century: Deluxe Edition was released on December 9, 2014.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Jayhawks at The Fonda Theatre, 1-10-15 Concert Review

"I'm Gonna Make You Love Me"
Recently a few albums by The Jayhawks (Sound Of Lies, Smile and Rainy Day Music) were re-issued, and so the band is currently touring to promotes those CDs. Last night I caught them at The Fonda Theatre in Hollywood, and it was a completely enjoyable show. While most of the set focused on material from those three albums, they did play a few songs from other releases throughout their career, which now spans thirty years. Holy moly!

The Jayhawks took the stage at 9:09 p.m., following a really good opening set by Trapper Schoepp And The Shades. After a short joke about being glad the barrier was there in front of the audience so that people wouldn’t rush the stage, the band jumped right in with “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” a tune from Smile, one of the albums that was re-issued last year. After “The Man Who Loved Life,” they mentioned the re-issues, but then played a song from farther back – “Ain’t No End” from their 1989 release, Blue Earth. This tune featured a nice, brief lead spot on mandolin. They were a seven-piece band last night, including Gary Louris, Marc Perlman, Tim O’Reagan, Karen Grotberg, Kraig Johnson, John Jackson on mandolin and guitar, and Jessica Greene on violin.

The band quickly established a good rapport with the audience. In introducing “Trouble,” Gary talked about Marc Perlman, and how he’s been there since day one. This song featured really sweet vocals. After “Stumbling Through The Dark,” Gary joked about having trouble playing these songs because they didn’t perform on their own records, letting session musicians handle that work. Someone in the audience yelled out a name, which the band didn’t recognize. So they teased him that he was shouting out his own name. After that they went into “Angelyne,” a delightful pop song from Rainy Day Music, my personal favorite Jayhawks album. Gary played harmonica on this one, and afterwards the band joked, “I know you’re thinking these guys never age.” Before “Save It For A Rainy Day,” Gary talked a bit about how the band started in 1985. He said: “There was no such thing as alternative country. We invented it. And now we hate it.”

The Jayhawks played a lot of their best material, including “Smile,” a song I love and one which offers this bit of good advice: “Smile when you’re down and out.” Tim had a chance to take over lead vocals on the sweet “Tampa To Tulsa.” And of course they played “Blue.” I love these lines: “Always thought I was someone/Turned out I was wrong.” David Poe joined the band on guitar and backing vocals for “Tailspin.”

In addition to excellent original material, The Jayhawks did a seriously fun cover of the Billy Walker country song “Down To My Last Cigarette,” with Karen on lead vocals, and some really nice work on fiddle as well. They also did a few songs from the 1998 Golden Smog album Weird Tales, including “Looking Forward To Seeing You,” which Kraig Johnson wrote and which Jessica Greene sang lead on, and “Jennifer Save Me,” which Gary Louris and Kraig Johnson wrote. The vocals were particularly beautiful on “Jennifer Save Me.”

The band did a four-song encore, including the very pretty “Sound Of Lies” and “All The Right Reasons,” one of my personal favorites. During a rocking cover of Neil Young’s “Sedan Delivery,” there were problems with a guitar strap not staying on, but that didn’t slow them down a bit. And they ended the night with another Golden Smog song, “Until You Came Along.” Trapper Shoepp And The Shades joined the band for that last number, so there were twelve musicians on stage for the end of the show.

Interestingly The Jayhawks played nothing from their very first album or from their 2011 album.

Set List
  1. I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
  2. The Man Who Loved Life
  3. Ain’t No End
  4. Big Star
  5. Trouble
  6. Stumbling Through The Dark
  7. Angelyne 
  8. Take Me With You (When You Go)
  9. Looking Forward To Seeing You
  10. Somewhere In Ohio
  11. Smile
  12. Tampa To Tulsa
  13. Waiting For The Sun
  14. Jennifer Save Me  
  15. Blue  
  16. Down To My Last Cigarette 
  17. Real Light  
  18. Save It For A Rainy Day
  19. Tailspin
  20. I’d Run Away 
  1. Sound Of Lies
  2. All The Right Reasons
  3. Sedan Delivery
  4. Until You Came Along
The show ended at 10:59 p.m.

Here are a few photos from the set:

"I'm Gonna Make You Love Me"
"Looking Forward To Seeing You"
"Tampa To Tulsa"
"Real Light"
"I'd Run Away"
"Sedan Delivery"
"Until You Came Along"
"Until You Came Along"
The Fonda Theatre is located at 6126 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood.  It's a really nice venue, with a seated area in the balcony and general admission on the floor. The most important thing is that the sound was quite good last night.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Willie Nile: “If I Was A River” (2014) CD Review

Willie Nile’s latest release, If I Was A River, is quite a bit different from his previous release, 2013’s American Ride. While that one features some really good rock and roll, this new album is more stripped down, with the focus on Willie Nile’s vocals and piano. It’s like he started with the emotional core or essence of a song, and realized nothing else was needed, and the results are excellent. This isn’t a completely new approach for Willie Nile, as he’s included tracks like these on earlier releases (for example, “The Crossing,” from American Ride). But this time the album as a whole is approached that way. Not that this is a solo effort. He is joined on many tracks by Steuart Smith on guitar, bass, organ and backing vocals; David Mansfield on mandolin, acoustic guitar, violin and viola; and Frankie Lee on backing vocals.

All of the songs on If I Was A River are original, written or co-written by Willie Nile. And yes, I do have to mention that the title should be If I Were A River, but I suppose we can’t always expect songwriters and musicians to use proper grammar. And that’s about the only criticism I have. This is an excellent group of songs, and I am just more and more impressed by Willie Nile’s work.

If I Was A River opens with its title track, a gorgeous, emotional, heartfelt offering. Willie Nile’s vocals are so moving on this track, with just the right amount of strain. This isn’t a smooth love song, but one that feels lived in, and lived in for years. It’s not a song of the moment, but rather one of a complete life. “If I Was A River” was written by Willie Nile and Frankie Lee. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “If I was a mountain I’d stand by your side/I would be there in the dark, a place where you could hide/I would guard you from the storm, and my path would be your guide.” I also really like these lines: “If was a forest I would bow down my head/I would stand back in the shadows and let you go instead/I would offer you some shade, I would offer you my bed.”

Willie Nile follows that track with “Lost,” which also is quite moving. There is so much passion in both his voice and his piano-playing. This is a song that got right on top of me and blocked out other sounds, blocked out the rest of the world. It’s a track you can become involved in, even lost in – that is, the emotions of the piece envelop you, until they become yours as well. You feel as alone and forlorn as the person from whose perspective the song is told. “Clouds roll in, I can see the boats go by/Through the din I can year the seabirds cry/Don’t know why these waves get so high without you.” This is a seriously excellent track.

“Song Of A Soldier” has the feel of one of those wonderfully sad Irish ballads. While the focus is still on the vocals and piano, this song also features some sweet work on mandolin and violin. This one was written by Willie Nile and Frankie Lee. “I have lived my life but as a soldier/I have seen the flash of bomb and gun/Though as yet I stand my only fortune/Is to love, yes just to love.”

“Lullaby Loon” is a fun, kind of silly song, in which Willie rips on the various genres in music, while keeping things bright and moving on piano. It opens with the lines “Rock and roll is a crock of shit/The boys in the band are full of it,” and later goes on to say, “Jazz is just like water on the brain/The classics are for the criminally insane/To hear the blues is to be in pain.” And the chorus is one you’ll find yourself joyfully singing along to, in which he sings of his true love waiting for him. I love the humor of this song. And to show you it’s all a bit of fun, Willie actually laughs at the end of the track.

Another song that I love is “I Can’t Do Crazy (Anymore),” with lines like “Your beauty walks a tightrope high above the bedroom floor.” Nice, right? Perhaps this song speaks to me because lately I’ve been feeling a bit older, and this song addresses that feeling and some of those glances backward that seem to occur more often. “But sometimes late at night when I hear the old songs play/I hear your voice and see your smile like it was yesterday/But that was then and this is now, been down that road before/Yeah, that was then and this is now, that boat has left the shore/And I can’t do crazy, I can’t do crazy, I can’t do crazy anymore.” “I Can’t Do Crazy (Anymore)” was written by Willie Nile and Danny Kortchmar.

“Goin’ To St. Louis” is probably the sweetest, prettiest song of the album. It has such a great feel to it, and is likely to raise your spirits. It has an attractive innocence, with lines like “I’m going to St. Louis just to walk my baby home/And to hold her in my arms so happily.” There is even an excited, whispered “Yeah” after the line “Just to take her from this state of misery,” which is utterly delightful.

The album opened with “If I Was A River,” and it closes with “Let Me Be The River.” The two songs work really well together, both functioning as promises or prayers. They are songs full of hope and love. In “Let Me Be The River,” Willie Nile sings, “May an angel sing you off to sleep/When your days are dark and your nights are long/Let me be the river that you sail away on.”

CD Track List
  1. If I Was A River
  2. Lost
  3. Song Of A Soldier
  4. Once In A Lullaby
  5. Lullaby Loon
  6. Gloryland
  7. I Can’t Do Crazy (Anymore)
  8. Goin’ To St. Louis
  9. The One You Used To Love
  10. Let Me Be The River
If I Was A River was released on November 11, 2014 on River House Records.