Saturday, February 28, 2015

A MusiCares Tribute To Paul McCartney (2015) DVD Review

In 2012, Paul McCartney was named MusiCares Person Of The Year, and a special concert was held in February of that year to celebrate, with lots of excellent musicians performing his compositions. Now Shout! Factory is releasing that concert on DVD and Blu-ray.

A MusiCares Tribute To Paul McCartney begins with folks in goofy costumes dancing to a medley of Beatles tunes, including “Get Back.” It’s silly and pointless (remind me to avoid Cirque Du Soleil), but is over in like four minutes. And then the concert begins. Paul McCartney himself plays first, leading off with “Magical Mystery Tour,” and then going into “Junior’s Farm,” a song I’ve always loved (and one I hadn’t heard in a while). This is a joyful performance, with plenty of energy. “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.” I could do without the shots of famous people in the audience. I don’t give a shit who was there; I’m only annoyed that I wasn’t.

Alicia Keys plays “Blackbird” on piano. I’ve certainly heard better renditions of this one. She tries to add a little too much to it vocally, which is unnecessary. Much more interesting is the take on “No More Lonely Nights” by Alison Krauss And Union Station, with Jerry Douglas.

Duane Eddy does a sweet instrumental rendition of “And I Love Her,” and Norah Jones does a pretty version of “Oh! Darling.” Perhaps the biggest surprise is Neil Young And Crazy Horse choosing “I Saw Her Standing There.” They give a good extended rocking version, with brief pauses after “boom” and “room.” And Neil shouts out to Paul at the end.

Sergio Mendes’ version of “Fool On The Hill” features three women on vocals. It’s kind of a cheesy rendition, but has a little “Day Tripper” tease at the end, which is nice. Coldplay does a mostly acoustic version of “We Can Work It Out,” which surprisingly works well.

James Taylor and Diana Krall do really nice versions of “Yesterday” (with James Taylor on vocals) and “For No One” (with Diana Krall on vocals). “For No One” is one of the highlights of the show. Joining them is John Clayton on stand-up bass.

The show also includes the presentation of the award, and Paul’s acceptance speech. Paul then performs what was at the time a new song, “My Valentine.” Joining him for that very cool number is Diana Krall and Joe Walsh. Paul then gets on the keys for “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five,” and “Golden Slumbers” into “Carry That Weight” into “The End.” “Golden Slumbers” is such a beautiful song, and I love that moment when it segues into “Carry That Weight.” During the drum section, Paul switches to guitar for a great, extended ending. This is obviously another of the concert’s highlights.

The DVD is approximately an hour long, and contains no special features. There are liner notes, however, with photos and information on The MusiCares Foundation, as well as a short biography of Paul McCartney. A MusiCares Tribute To Paul McCartney is scheduled to be released on DVD and Blu-ray on March 24, 2015 through Shout! Factory.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Art Pepper: “Neon Art: Volume Two” (2015) CD Review

On February 17, jazz saxophonist Art Pepper’s Neon Art: Volume One saw its first official CD release thanks to Omnivore Recordings. If you’ve been enjoying Neon Art: Volume One as much I have (or even half as much as I have), you’ll be excited to know that Volume Two is just around the corner, and is just as good. While Volume One featured two long tracks from a show Art Pepper performed in Seattle in January of 1981, Volume Two includes three tracks from three different shows, all also from 1981, but these from his tour of Japan in November of that year. These performances were less than a year before his death, and are from his final tour of Japan. As on the first volume, David Williams is on bass and Carl Burnett is on drums. And joining them this time on piano is George Cables.

This CD kicks off with “Mambo Koyama,” recorded in Sapporo on November 19, 1981. This is an original composition, and Carl Burnett starts it off on drums, with David Williams coming in soon on bass, creating a good groove. When Art Pepper comes in on alto sax, the song becomes a bit more playful. I love the brief chaotic moment from which the groove quickly emerges, with George Cables taking the lead on piano. And it’s a seriously delightful lead section, with lots of interesting stuff over that great groove. And the guys just go off from there, really cooking, but maintaining that groove. At times, Art Pepper’s sax sounds totally sweet and joyful, and then it’s singing. Toward the end, there is a very cool bass lead by David Williams, and a little later there’s a drum solo by Carl Burnett. Wonderful.

That’s followed with a gorgeous cover of “Over The Rainbow” recorded in Tottori on November 13, 1981. Art Pepper gives us a solo introduction before going into the familiar melody, with the rest of the band easing in. It’s a beautiful, thoughtful rendition, and it breathes and soothes. It ends as it began, with a saxophone solo by Art Pepper. The CD then wraps up with a version of “Allen’s Alley,” also known as “Wee,” recorded in Tokyo on November 24, 1981. At just over nine minutes, this is the shortest of the three tracks. And it's a lively number that swings at a good pace and features some excellent work by all four musicians. There are band introductions at the end of the track.

CD Track List
  1. Mambo Koyama
  2. Over The Rainbow
  3. Allen’s Alley 
Neon Art: Volume Two is scheduled to be released on CD on March 10, 2015 through Omnivore Recordings. And now I'm looking forward to Volume Three, which will be released in early April.

Anne McCue at The Hotel Café, 2-21-15 Concert Review

"Spring Cleaning In The Wintertime"
Anne McCue returned to The Hotel Café in Los Angeles last night to celebrate the release of her excellent new album, Blue Sky Thinkin’ (which Anne joked was “sixty-five years in the making”). Joining her were Carl Byron on piano, keyboard, accordion and backing vocals; Dave Raven on drums and backing vocals; and Zack Hall on electric bass and standup bass (Zack was filling in for Dusty Wakeman, who was in Kansas City). David Moyer joined the group on clarinet and baritone sax on some tunes.

As expected, Anne focused the set mainly on the new CD, which was fine with me, as I think it’s the best album she’s ever released. But she kicked off the set with an older tune, “Driving Down Alvarado,” with a great jam, including a guitar lead that had the audience cheering. She then got into the new material, beginning with “Things You Left Out In The Rain,” which was the first single from the album. David Moyer joined the band on clarinet (which Anne called a “licorice stick”), and Carl Byron moved from keyboard to piano while Zack Hall switched from electric bass to standup bass. One thing I love about the new album is its old-time, jazzy vibes, with acoustic instruments.

Anne followed “Things You Left Out In The Rain” with “Dig Two Graves,” the opening track from the new CD. Carl provided some great stuff on piano. He then switched to accordion for “Spring Cleaning In The Wintertime.” For that song and the following one, Anne borrowed a chair from an audience member (who turned out to be from Leominster, Mass., like ten minutes from where I grew up – just a side note). She introduced “Hangman” by saying: “This is a disco song, if you’d like to dance… It’s a little ditty I wrote about the Ku Klux Klan. They’re still around, they just changed the name of the party.” Anne played lap steel on this great bluesy number, with Carl returning to keyboard and Zack playing electric bass.

From Koala Motel, Anne performed the absolutely wonderful “Shivers.” The group then played a few more songs from Blue Sky Thinkin’ including “Uncanny Moon,” one of my favorites, with the great line “Your smile tore my world apart.”  David Moyer joined them on clarinet for “Devil In The Middle.” Then for “Save A Life” and “Little White Cat,” David switched to baritone sax, which is one hell of a large instrument. “That’s a mother,” Anne remarked. She introduced “Little White Cat” by saying, “This is a song about good luck.” That song featured a nice lead section on keys by Carl (though it was too brief). They then wrapped things up with “As The Crow Flies,” with a great, extended jam, with Anne and Carl trading off fantastic lead sections.

Set List
  1. Driving Down Alvarado
  2. Things You Left Out In The Rain
  3. Dig Two Graves
  4. Spring Cleaning In The Wintertime
  5. Hangman
  6. Shivers
  7. Uncanny Moon
  8. Devil In The Middle
  9. Save A Life
  10. Little White Cat
  11. As The Crow Flies 
There was no encore, due to time constraints.

Here are a few photos from the show:

"Things You Left Out In The Rain"
"Dig Two Graves"
"Spring Cleaning In The Wintertime"
"Uncanny Moon"
"Save A Life"
"Little White Cat"
"As The Crow Flies"

The Hotel Café is located at 1623 1/2 N. Cahuenga Blvd.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Stone Hill All-Stars: “Away” (2015) CD Review

The new album from The Stone Hill All-Stars, Away, was recorded in a single day, like the old jazz records (though with a few things fixed later). This is remarkable because the album contains nearly an hour of original music, and it’s all really good. There are no weak tracks, and nothing feels messy or incomplete. These guys are some damn fine musicians (check out the lead guitar in the instrumental section of “Jones Et Al V. Petrie” for example). There is a Latin flavor to much of the material, which is part of what makes this such an enjoyable album. Seriously, this CD has me smiling and feeling good every time I listen to it. All tracks were written by Paul Margolis. In addition to some great sounds, this album is full of interesting lyrics, such as these from “Every Step”: “It’s nothing new, and we know better/Than to expect some kind of tether/To hold these things together/Until they’re replaced by something newer/Eyes are losing focus; ears are ringing louder/Nothing can provoke us with our hearts so dim and clouded/Every step is clipped and measured/Like a bird without its feathers.” Excellent, right?

The band gets things going with “Away,” the CD’s title track. And right away there is a great playful vibe, with prominent accordion and even jaw harp (that’s Tom Chalkley on jaw harp). Here is a taste of the lyrics: “She’s moving to the city, said she won’t be coming back/Away, away, she’s moving far away/I said I’d try to come and visit but she looked the other way/As if to say she’d rather that I stay far away from her/She didn’t bother with the words.” There is some really nice work on guitar in the instrumental section.

That’s followed by “Out Across The Frozen Lake,” which begins with some tasty stuff on keys, and takes on a groovy jazzy feel almost immediately. It tells a good and humorous tale of a man and woman at the beginning of winter, introducing the woman with these lines: “Her clerical mistake sent the winter’s supply of salt/To an empty stretch of asphalt/Sheila typed an “e” in place of a “3”/And dispatched all crews a mile west of wounded knee.” The approach might remind you at times of Tom Waits. And there’s a good saxophone lead section.

“Bent And Reversed” is one of my personal favorites, with its cool percussion and sweet harmonica, and its unusual lyrics. “She remembers a time when she was alone/Before her home was a haven for these profane invaders/To thin out the crowd she strains in vain to scream aloud/But no sound comes out her mouth.” I just love the whole vibe of this tune. And it’s followed by “Into The Van,” an interesting track with a seriously fun groove but surprisingly serious lyrics dealing with animal abuse. “He’s called the runt, he bears the brunt of attacks on his scarred back/He won’t turn to face the kid, no matter how hard he hits/A drizzle of air twists down through his snout/He coughs it out.”

“Despite The Current Mess” is another of my favorites (and is my favorite song title of this release). From its opening on acoustic guitar, this song has both a beauty and an intensity, and I particularly like the keyboard. “Despite the current mess he’d almost kept himself together/A coursing in his limbs/Beneath the level that seems real to him/Where he feels too much within/Like his skin is paper thin.”

“All Along The Waterfront” has a sort of jazzy bliss to its sound, which I love. It’s one to get your toes a-tapping. Plus, it has a delicious lead on saxophone. And I dig these lines: “Margaret asked if he would leave/He lacked, she claimed, the traits that separate man from beast/He packed his plastic suitcase and he wandered to the street/When Margaret asked if he would leave.” This is yet another of the CD’s many highlights.

CD Track List
  1. Away
  2. Out Across The Frozen Lake
  3. Jones Et Al V. Petrie
  4. Bent And Reversed
  5. Into The Van
  6. Every Step
  7. Mis Amigos Crujientes
  8. Despite The Current Mess
  9. All Along The Waterfront
  10. Into This World

The Stone Hill All-Stars are Hoppy Hopkins on drums and percussion; Dan Naiman on bass and saxophone; Paul Margolis on guitar, bass and vocals; Tim Pruitt on guitar and backing vocals; and John Shock on keyboard, accordion, harmonica and vocals. Joining them on this release are Jim Hannah on percussion, Mike Barth on backing vocals, Tom Chalkley on harmonica and jaw harp, and Steve Raskin on guiro.

Away was released on January 30, 2015.

Note: I've also posted a review of their 2013 release, Live.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Perry Beekman: “Bewitched: Perry Beekman Sings And Plays Rodgers & Harts” (2014) CD Review

Perry Beekman is a jazz vocalist and guitarist who has been performing in the New York area for the past twenty-five years. While on his 2013 release, So In Love, Beekman covered some of the work of Cole Porter, his latest album, Bewitched: Perry Beekman Sings And Plays Rodgers & Hart, finds him tackling familiar standards from that great songwriting team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Joining him on this release are Peter Tomlinson on piano and Lou Pappas on bass, who both also played on So In Love. The fifteen tracks on this release include some of Rodgers and Hart’s most famous compositions, such as “Have You Met Miss Jones,” “Falling In Love With Love,” “My Heart Stood Still,” and of course the title track, “Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered,” here simply titled “Bewitched.”

Perry Beekman kicks off this release with “I Wish I Were In Love Again,” a song from the 1937 musical Babes In Arms. Beekman delivers a catchy rendition which features a nice bass line by Lou Pappas. This is a fun song, with lines like “The broken dates, the endless waits/The lovely loving and the hateful hates/The conversation with the flying plates/I wish I were in love again.” I think he could possibly have a little more fun vocally with this one, but I do really like what he does on guitar.

That is followed by “Mountain Greenery,” a song from 1926’s The Garrick Gaieties. This one has been recorded by Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Tormé, among others. The version here features some really nice work by Peter Tomlinson on piano. Peter Beekman delivers a cool instrumental rendition of “Have You Met Miss Jones,” with some interesting stuff on bass by Lou Pappas, including a lead section. This CD also includes an excellent instrumental version of “Blue Room,” with the piano taking a delightful lead spot to start. I absolutely love what these three musicians do with this composition. This might be my favorite track on this release.

“Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered,” or simply “Bewitched,” is a song from the 1940 music Pal Joey, and has been covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga. It’s one of those inherently excellent songs that work every time. While this version lacks the beauty of, say, the Sarah Vaughan version, it has a cool vibe that I enjoy, and has a sort of friendly intimacy (like the way he delivers the line “She can laugh, but I love it”). I also really like the instrumental section toward the end.

Perry Beekman delivers an interesting rendition of “It Never Entered My Mind,” first presenting it as a truly pretty solo guitar instrumental, and then two minutes into the track he adds his vocals. This, for me, is one of the CD’s highlights. He gives a moving version of this song which was originally from the 1940 musical Higher And Higher. “There’s A Small Hotel” is another highlight, because of the playful aspect and because of the wonderful work by all three musicians during the nice, long instrumental section.

This album concludes with “The Lady Is A Tramp,” a tune from Babes In Arms which has been covered by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and Shirley Bassey. It's the instrumental section that makes the version on this CD really work. There is some wonderful stuff there, and I love the way the guitar and piano work together.

CD Track List
  1. I Wish I Were In Love Again
  2. Mountain Greenery
  3. Wait Till You See Her
  4. Have You Met Miss Jones
  5. Bewitched
  6. Thou Swell
  7. It Never Entered My Mind
  8. My Heart Stood Still
  9. There’s A Small Hotel
  10. Spring Is Here
  11. This Can’t Be Love
  12. Blue Room
  13. This Funny World
  14. Falling In Love With Love
  15. The Lady Is A Tramp 
Bewitched: Perry Beekman Sings And Plays Rodgers & Hart was released on May 6, 2014.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Shams: “One And All” (2015) CD Review

The Shams are a rock band based in San Francisco, but with a heavy Irish influence (three of the five members are from Ireland), which I totally appreciate. The Shams (not to be confused with the Ohio band Thee Shams or the New York girl group The Shams) formed in 2011, and are made up of Sean Daly on lead vocals, Joe Kennedy on guitar and vocals, James Scragg on drums, Tommy O’Mahony on bass and Henry Moser on guitar and vocals. Their new EP, One And All, features all original music. Joining them on this release is Kevin Tregar Otton on fiddle.

The album kicks off with “Sunset Paddy’s,” beginning with a steady rock beat (and hand claps). This is a fairly straight and fun rock song, and I imagine it’s a good one to see them perform in concert, driven as it is by that steady beat, and with the echoes of “Sunset, sunset.” I like the song, but I’m much more taken with the following track, “Go On Home Boys.” This one also starts off with a beat, but the groove is a bit more fun and catchy. That doesn’t mean it lacks a rock edge, as its brief instrumental section features some great work on guitar that should satisfy the rock fan in you.

Things get even more interesting with “Not Bothered,” which surprisingly has a bit of a reggae thing going on at moments, and also some nice work on fiddle during the instrumental section. This is a really good tune, with an uplifting vibe. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “The birds, they rise in the morning/To start a new day/Their silence has broken/In a world far away/Oh, I’m not bothered or worried at all/As long as I’m breathing/I’ll always be home.”

“One And All,” the CD’s title track, is another strong tune, which also features fiddle. It begins with acoustic guitar, then comes bursting in with a glorious force that should get your body moving. And then later there is a section that is just drums and vocals: “Move your feet to the beat of the drum/Dance to the rhythm of love/Scream and shout/Open your mouth/Let your voice be heard.”

And of course, as this is an Irish band, there has to be at least one earnest drinking song. On this release it is “Drinks Are On Me,” which is one of my favorite tracks. It’s just so much bloody fun, and I fucking love the vocal line, the way it races along (reminding me a bit of “The Rocky Road To Dublin”). And then in the chorus they sing, “Come on, the drinks are on me/One for you and ten for me.” And interestingly, this is a drinking song that acknowledges the troubles associated with the fun: “Now my aching liver’s given up/I’ve had too much of the damned stuff.” But then of course they add, “But before I say goodbye/Pour me a drink and raise it high/Through the good times and the bad/Drink a pint and don’t be sad.” Amen.

This is a CD that just gets better and better, and as much as I love “Drinks Are On Me,” it’s the final track, “Sick To Death,” that is my absolute favorite. This is one to get you dancing and drinking with total abandon. I love the attitude of this tune. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I’m sick to death of everyone I’ve met/Every drink I’ve ever downed/It’s time for me to go, so leave me alone/It’s time for me to leave this fucking town.” And this line makes me laugh every time: “Never been to bed with an ugly woman, but I woke up with quite a few.” And of course I dig the fiddle. This is a song I’m going to be listening to a lot.

CD Track List
  1. Sunset Paddy’s
  2. Go On Home Boys
  3. Not Bothered
  4. One And All
  5. Drinks Are On Me
  6. Sick To Death
One And All is scheduled to be released on February 24, 2015.

“Stoned: A Psych Tribute To The Rolling Stones” (2015) CD Review

Someone at work recently put it well. He said The Rolling Stones have become the best Rolling Stones cover band. They’ve basically ceased to be a creative entity, and are simply covering the material they wrote back when they still had that drive. Maybe so. Sure, The Rolling Stones haven’t put out a decent studio album since 1981. But from the band’s conception through that year, these guys wrote and recorded an astounding amount of incredible material. Stoned: A Psych Tribute To The Rolling Stones explores some of those great songs, giving them a new twist, a new life, with the focus being on the psychedelic aspects of the material. While The Rolling Stones themselves are perhaps the best Rolling Stones cover band, the artists on Stoned deliver some truly interesting renditions of some of that group’s familiar material, such as “Sympathy For The Devil,” “Under My Thumb” and “Beast Of Burden,” as well as some lesser known material such as “Stoned.”

This collection kicks off with Lorelle Meets The Obsolete’s rendition of “What A Shame,” a bluesy song from early in The Rolling Stones’ career. This version by Lorelle Meets The Obsolete comes on harder, but still has that blues core. It’s followed by UK duo The KVB’s version of “Sympathy For The Devil” and Copenhagen band Shiny Darkley’s rendition of “Under My Thumb.”

For me, things begin to get really interesting with Paris band Yeti Lane’s version of “Sway,” a song that was originally included on that fantastic 1971 record Sticky Fingers. This is a heavier take on the song than that original version, with some good, loud work on guitar and some cool madness on drums. That’s followed by Clinic’s version of “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It),” one of the most unusual takes of a Rolling Stones song on this CD. This one is quite a bit different from the original, with an added a spoken word section (“I’m a forty-five-year-old man trapped inside the body of a forty-five-year-old man, and I like it”), and it totally works for me. I really like the direction Clinic took on this one, even if they basically dispensed with most of the song’s original lyrics (lyrics that I absolutely love, by the way).

Sons Of Hippies’ “Gimme Shelter” is more faithful to the original, and is quite good. The Vacant Lots’ rendition of “She Smiled Sweetly” is a large departure from the sweet, moving original track from Between The Buttons. It has more of a rock thing, but with a strangely haunting, darker vocal approach.

“Child Of The Moon” was released as the flip side to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and later included on More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies). Barcelona band Celestial Bums does a very cool version of this song, at times sounding a bit like The Velvet Underground. But perhaps my favorite track on this release is Tashaki Miyaki’s version of “Take It Or Leave It,” which was originally included on Flowers (and on the British version of Aftermath). Tashaki Miyaki’s version is fairly faithful, and has a sweet feel to the groove that I love.

Allah-Lahs, from Los Angeles, tackle “Stoned,” a very early blues number from The Rolling Stones. This was the flip side to the band’s second single, with minimal lyrics (“stoned…out of my mind”) over a familiar groove. Allah-Lahs reduce the lyrics to just “stoned,” but that’s just fine. It’s all about that great groove, which this band is clearly having a good time with.

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is a song that I could easily do without for the rest of my life. That being said, Pink Velvet does a good job with it. The album is rounded out with versions of “Beast Of Burden,” “As Tears Go By” and “Wild Horses.” I am particularly fond of Cheval Sombre's beautiful rendition of “As Tears Go By.”

CD Track List
  1. What A Shame – Lorelle Meets The Obsolete
  2. Sympathy For The Devil – The KVB
  3. Under My Thumb – Shiny Darkly
  4. Sway – Yeti Lane
  5. It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It) - Clinic
  6. Gimme Shelter – Sons Of Hippies
  7. She Smiled Sweetly – The Vacant Lots
  8. Child Of The Moon – Celestial Bums
  9. Take It Or Leave It – Tashaki Miyaki
  10. Stoned – Allah-Lahs
  11. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – Pink Velvet
  12. Beast Of Burden – Pure X
  13. As Tears Go By – Cheval Sombre
  14. Wild Horses – The Tulips
Stoned: A Psych Tribute To The Rolling Stones was released on January 20, 2015 through Cleopatra Records. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 13” (2015) CD Review

For the last couple of years my friend Jon has been telling me how great the Dave’s Picks series is. You can pay for a year’s subscription in December, and then the discs arrive periodically throughout the following year. But I always find myself broke in December, so I kept putting it off. But this past December I received a subscription as a gift. And the first set has arrived. Dave’s Picks Volume 13 is a three-disc set of the show the Grateful Dead performed at Winterland on February 24, 1974. That was a great period for the band, with lots of jamming and some wonderful new material.

Disc One: First Set

The band kicks off the show with the always-fun “U.S. Blues” to get you dancing and on your blissful way. This was a new song at the time, and is just a great dose of rock and roll. And then Bob Weir keeps things moving with “Mexicali Blues.” The guitars seem a bit soft in the mix for a while, but it’s a decent rendition. The first set also includes a pretty sweet “Brown-Eyed Women” and a groovin’ high-energy “Beat It On Down The Line.” The band does a nice rendition of “Candyman,” particularly that guitar part four minutes in, which then leads to some sweet vocals. It’s that section that makes this a really good version. And it leads to fan-favorite “Jack Straw.”

One of the highlights of the first set is “China Cat Sunflower.” Listen to the crowd when they recognize those first notes. This is a really good version, with some interesting, unusual stuff during the jam, keeping the song rocking and surging forward. (And is that a bit of “Uncle John’s Band” I’m hearing?) The jam just gets better and better, and then we’re into “I Know You Rider.” Listen to Jerry belt out “I wish I was a headlight on a north-bound train.”

A wonderful “Loser” and then an eighteen-minute “Playing In The Band” round out the first set. “Playing” comes on strong, but it’s not long before they begin exploring, and we’re treated to a great jazzy jam (listen to Bill’s excellent jazz drumming), with lots of fantastic avenues and passages. And it turns pretty when they start to ease back to the main theme, but you know it’s about to burst open in a big way. And it does, with Donna’s scream.

Disc Two: Second Set (part one)

The second set starts off with a really good, fun version of “Cumberland Blues.” “It Must Have Been The Roses,” which follows, isn’t all that special. “Big River” features some nice work by Keith on piano, but it’s during “Bertha” that things really get cooking. This version had me dancing around my apartment, bumping into things and not caring. I love when they extend that ending part: “Anymore!” The band then plays some of its mellower, prettier material, including the full “Weather Report Suite” (the jam during that one gets a little wild), “Row Jimmy” and a really good, beautiful, moving “Ship Of Fools.” The second disc ends with Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land.”

Disc Three: Second Set (part two)

The third disc opens with a half-hour “Dark Star.” Yes, this is where things get really interesting. It has a fairly mellow beginning, as the band is getting a feel for the lay of the land, and not straying too far. But soon members begin pushing out farther, seeing what’s out there, then creating the landscape as they go. Sure, there are a few bumps and minor detours, but this is mainly a very solid jam. It’s nearly nineteen minutes in before Jerry begins singing the first verse. It’s interesting how pretty the song gets a moment after that first verse. It’s an unexpected direction, and it leads to a spacier realm before returning to a more solid jam. The band then slides into a beautiful and heartfelt rendition of “Morning Dew” (forgetting about the second verse of “Dark Star”). I especially love when the song becomes quiet and intimate and sad (around nine minutes in). This track is definitely one of the highlights of this show.

The band then returns to rock and roll with “Sugar Magnolia,” and it certainly feels like the end of the show, but the band then continues with “Not Fade Away” into an insanely energetic “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” back into “Not Fade Away.” The encore is a good version of Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue."

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. U.S. Blues
  2. Mexicali Blues
  3. Brown-Eyed Women
  4. Beat It On Down The Line
  5. Candyman
  6. Jack Straw
  7. China Cat Sunflower >
  8. I Know You Rider
  9. El Paso
  10. Loser
  11. Playing In The Band 
Disc 2
  1. Cumberland Blues
  2. It Must Have Been The Roses
  3. Big River
  4. Bertha
  5. Weather Report Suite >
  6. Row Jimmy
  7. Ship Of Fools
  8. Promised Land
Disc 3
  1. Dark Star >
  2. Morning Dew
  3. Sugar Magnolia >
  4. Not Fade Away >
  5. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad >
  6. Not Fade Away
  7. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue 
Dave’s Picks Volume 13 was released in early February, 2015 (my copy shipped on February 4th).

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Art Pepper: “Neon Art: Volume One” (2015) CD Review

I’ve long been a fan of really good jams. Ever since I was a teenager I’d get really excited when I’d find a record with just one or two tracks on a side, because I knew that meant some serious jamming, some exploration. Well, jazz saxophonist Art Pepper’s Neon Art: Volume One contains just two tracks. So you know there is going to be some great stuff here. These tracks were recorded in Seattle on January 28, 1981 (the year before he died), and were released on vinyl in 2012. They’re now finally getting a proper CD release. Joining Art Pepper on this night were Milcho Leviev on piano, David Williams on bass and Carl Burnett on drums. Both tracks were written by Art Pepper.

“Red Car” begins softly with a nice little groove on bass, and it isn’t long before things get moving and shaking. The piano starts us off in that direction, and then Art Pepper comes in on saxophone and immediately has us smiling like demented children high on sugar. Be ready to dance, because your body is going to respond naturally to this seriously fun tune. The first time I popped in this disc I had worked a twelve-hour day and was completely bloody exhausted, and this track had me dancing like an immortal monkey within moments. I was re-energized, reborn. The whole band is just flying along with this great groove. Six minutes in, Milcho Leviev uses his lead spot on piano to explore that groove more fully, and things definitely get a little wild there. You can hear the audience responding, and you’ll be shouting for joy yourself as you listen. And then approximately thirteen minutes in, Carl Burnett solos on drums, and it’s just great.

“Blues For Blanche” is a fun tune that almost immediately swings. And boy does it swing, with a great sense of playfulness. Some of what Art Pepper does on saxophone might even get you laughing, as he jumps and rolls and screams and teases. Meanwhile the band is rocking, and Art is pushing and pushing them with his saxophone, and they respond in kind. They’re right with him, and it all sounds just fucking fantastic. Turn this up and find yourself there. Like six minutes in, Milcho takes over lead on piano, and things calm down just a bit, but perhaps get even more interesting. He plays with pauses at times as much as notes, and keeps you paying attention to every place he goes and every place he doesn’t go. And soon he is rocking those keys, and taking us for a glorious ride, with some fun surprises. And then ten minutes in or so, David Williams take a cool lead spot on bass. And a few minutes later, Carl Burnett gives us several short drum solos. This track is just a total joy to listen to, to groove to.

CD Track List
  1. Red Car
  2. Blues For Blanche
Neon Art: Volume One is scheduled to be released on February 17, 2015 through Omnivore Recordings. I cannot wait to hear the other volumes! By the way, the CD’s liner notes contain several photos.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Peggy Lipton: “The Complete Ode Recordings” (2014) CD Review

Peggy Lipton is known primarily for her acting career, particularly as Julie Barnes in The Mod Squad and Norma Jennings in Twin Peaks. But she also has worked as a singer, releasing one full-length album as well as several singles in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Complete Ode Recordings is a collection of those tracks (including a few that were previously unreleased), and features new liner notes with several photos. The majority of these songs are covers, but Peggy Lipton contributes some original material too (as an interesting side note, Peggy Lipton composed some music for the wonderful Robert Altman film, Brewster McCloud).

This CD opens with one of Peggy Lipton’s compositions, “Let Me Pass By,” a strong and thoughtful track. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “But in the mirror every day/I close my eyes and change my ways/And I can’t believe what I’ve been used to/I know it’s wrong, I’ve been living a lie/Stand back and let me pass by.” “San Francisco Glide,” one of the CD’s prettiest songs, was also written by Peggy Lipton. This one really drew me in, and is an interesting look at the city of San Francisco. “Now that the city is ours I feel like you’re closer to me.” She also composed the instrumental number, “Memories Of A Golden Weekend (Or How I Got The Acapulco Blues),” the album’s longest title and shortest track.

Peggy Lipton delivers a really good rendition of “A Natural Woman,” which was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and most famously recorded by Aretha Franklin. This is an inherently beautiful song, and Peggy Lipton adds a bit of her own style to it. Here she shows just what she’s capable of vocally, turning in an emotional, honest performance. She covers a couple of other Goffin/King compositions on that full-length self-titled record: “It Might As Well Rain Until September” and “Wasn’t It You.” Her version of “It Might As Well Rain Until September” is quite a bit different from King’s original 1962 version, making it a sweeter, slower number.

She also covers some of Laura Nyro’s material, including “Stoney End,” which she also released as a single (with the flip side being “San Francisco Glide”). “I was raised on the good book, Jesus, ‘til I read between the lines/Now I don’t believe I want to see the morning.” “Hands Off The Man (Flim Flam Man),” written by Laura Nyro, is one of this collection’s most fun tunes. Peggy Lipton also released Laura Nyro’s “Lu” as a single.

The original album concluded with another original composition, “Honey Won’t Let Me,” one of my favorites. Her vocal delivery is particularly beautiful and moving, and I like the guitar part that begins this song. “I’ve been here before/And I’ve dreamed here before/And yesterday I could say I knew the way to go home.” I love the echo of “to go home.”

Peggy Lipton released “Red Clay County Line” as a single in 1969. Written by Jimmy Webb, this song was also recorded by The Fortunes. I really like Peggy Lipton’s rendition, especially the energy of that instrumental section. The single’s flip side was “Just A Little Lovin’ (Early In The Morning),” a song written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and also recorded by Dusty Springfield. I also like Peggy Lipton’s rendition of Donovan’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” which was released as a single. It begins with a wonderful little tease of his “Sunshine Superman,” before slowing down and easing into “Wear Your Love Like Heaven.”

This collection ends with four previously unreleased tracks, including “I Know Where I’m Going,” an original composition by Peggy Lipton, a road song with a good vibe. She also covers the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song “Wanting Things,” which was written for the musical Promises, Promises, and The Beach Boys' “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” (from that band's excellent Pet Sounds). The final track is “Now That Everything’s Been Said,” which was written by Carole King and Toni Stern.

CD Track List
  1. Let Me Pass By
  2. A Natural Woman
  3. Memories Of A Golden Weekend (Or How I Got The Acapulco Blues)
  4. San Francisco Glide
  5. Stoney End
  6. Who Needs It
  7. Hands Off The Man (Flim Flam Man)
  8. It Might As Well Rain Until September
  9. Wasn’t It You
  10. Lady Of The Lake
  11. Honey Won’t Let Me
  12. Red Clay County Line
  13. Just A Little Lovin’ (Early In The Morning)
  14. Lu
  15. Wear Your Love Like Heaven
  16. I Know Where I’m Going
  17. Wanting Things
  18. I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times
  19. Now That Everything’s Been Said 
The Complete Ode Recordings was released on July 29, 2014 through Real Gone Music.

The Golden Dogs: “3 1/2” (2015) CD Review

The Golden Dogs formed well over a decade ago, with the husband and wife team of Dave Azzolini and Jessica Grassia at its core. Their new release, 3 1/2, finds the group with some changes. Jessica has moved from keyboards to drums, and the band has two new members: Stefanie McCarrol on keyboards and guitar, and Alejandro Cairncross on bass. But this Toronto group is still producing wonderful, high-energy pop-rock tunes, with both male and female lead vocals.

The group kicks off their new CD with “Decided,” which has a very cool groove and certain elements of 1970s dance music. I’m particularly fond of the bass line in this song. And the vocals are impressive. “The look upon my face/I can’t disguise it/The look upon my face/I can’t deny it.” The song takes some progressive turns toward the end, with some wild work on guitar.

They follow that with “Do It For You,” a seriously fun bit of pop joy with delicious vocals and lots of energy. It has an unusual opening, with a repetitive little intro that stops with the sound of glass shattering, like this song is joyfully bursting through the song that might have been, and taking over with a bright power. “Been working so hard/I just want to strangle the boss man/Curse upon the bastards/For making me do it faster/This living will be my doom/I do it for you.”

“Pretending” is likewise a pop-rock song of great energy. That delightful groove at its start sets the tone, and the song just takes off from there. This is music to get you moving, get you smiling. And they keep it going with “Feel Like A Bridge,” another of my personal favorites. It takes a surprising turn toward the end.

The CD concludes with “MK Ultra,” the album's only instrumental track. It follows “Spider Legs,” which ends with an extended electronic instrumental section, and so flows well from that track. It gets pretty wild and intense, while remaining essentially a dance track. After a while, you might feel like a test subject from the MK Ultra program, or perhaps wish to be.

CD Track List
  1. Decided
  2. Do It For You
  3. Pretending
  4. Feel Like A Bridge
  5. Parade
  6. Spider Legs
  7. MK Ultra 
The Golden Dogs’ 3 1/2 is scheduled to be released on February 17, 2015.