Monday, March 30, 2015

Brian Mackey: “Broken Heartstrings” (2014) CD Review

Brian Mackey’s first full-length album, Broken Heartstrings, released late last year, contains all original material, showcasing his excellent songwriting talents. These are mostly acoustic tunes, full of passion and wit. Brian Mackey does all the lead vocals, and plays guitar and keyboard. Joining him on this release are Sam Ashworth on guitar, drums, and backing vocals (he also co-produced the album); Jeff King on guitar and banjo; Mark Hill on bass; and Matt Slocum on cello.

Broken Heartstrings opens with one of my favorite tracks, “Captain Of The Moon,” a delicious and delightful folk tune with pop influences and some nice work on guitar. It’s these lines, and the way Brian Mackey delivers them, that made me first love this song: “If the world melts down, the world melts down/The world melts down to nothin’/If the sky turns brown and we don’t get found/We still have somethin’.” I love the shifting emotions and outlook in this song. It’s a really strong lead-off track.

Another really strong track is “America,” which reminds me at moments of Mumford & Sons and of Jim Infantino (particularly his “Everybody Gets The Blues”). And I love the banjo. This is one to add to your road trip play list, with lines like “We open the windows and the towns fly by so fast/The last gas station we stopped at is somewhere in the past/In America.” This is such a great song, and it’s followed by “Ohio,” which has a quiet strength that pulls you in. And once it has you, the song gives you some lighter moments that are sweet and appreciated: “No, I won’t stop looking, no, I won’t stop searchin’/And it won’t go out, it’ll always be burnin’/’Cause I’m always burnin’ for you.” And I really like this line: “What you see in me is what I feel in you.” This is a beautiful and moving song.

And that beauty makes “Philadelphia,” the following song, even more of a surprise. “Philadelphia” is a humorous song that bursts in like a rock song. In this one, Brian Mackey doesn’t hold back. Clearly, he is angry with someone, opening the song with the line “You’re an elitist bitch and you don’t know shit.” Sure, there’s nothing subtle about that, but I totally dig this song. I like these lines: “You do a wardrobe change and you’re quite deranged/When you walk in the room/You think everyone should know your name/You’re insane.” And the line “But you’re still stuck in Philadelphia” makes me laugh each time I listen to this song. Toward the end he sings, “And one would think with all your sophistication/You’d be able to get out of Philadelphia.” Nice.

Broken Heartstrings concludes with yet another of its highlights, a beautiful song titled “Are You Listening.” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “The only thing that's changed is my point of view/You're still the same old girl I always knew/And you, you gonna stay with me all my life/You, you gonna stay with me all my life/Are you listening? Are you listening?

CD Track List
  1. Captain Of The Moon
  2. Desire
  3. America
  4. Ohio
  5. Philadelphia
  6. Rich Hearts Lullaby
  7. The Day
  8. Medication
  9. Are You Listening 
Broken Heartstrings was released on November 10, 2014.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Guess Who: “The Best Of The Guess Who” (2015) Hybrid Multichannel SACD Review

The Best Of The Guess Who is an album I’ve now owned three times – first on cassette when I was a child, then on CD, and now on the new limited edition hybrid multichannel SACD surround sound disc. It’s an album that I’ve always loved, and one I’ve never tired of. And with this new limited, numbered edition, these tracks sound as good as, or better than ever before. The sound still isn’t perfect, as you can tell immediately at the beginning of “These Eyes,” but overall the sound is as good as it gets. And these are excellent songs. Also, a small pink-and-black fold-out poster is included, something that was not included in either of the other two editions of this album that I’ve owned.

“These Eyes,” the CD’s lead track, was a big hit for the group, both in the United States and in Canada, and it’s a good tune, but I’ve always preferred the following track, “Laughing.” “Laughing” reached #1 in Canada, and #10 on the U.S. chart. Both of these songs were written by Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings. A highlight of “Laughing” for me is when Cummings sings, “And now the best years – the best years have come and gone.” So good.

“Undun” has that great jazzy feel, and I love the doom told in these lines: “She found a mountain that was far too high/And when she found out she couldn’t fly/Mama, it was too late.” “Undun” was written by Randy Bachman, and was included as the flip side of “Laughing” before being released as a single itself.

“No Time” was always another favorite of mine. This one reached #1 in Canada and #5 in the United States. I always liked the casual cruelness of the lines, “No time for a summer friend/No time for the love you send/Seasons change and so did I/You need not wonder why/You need not wonder why/There's no time left for you.” “American Woman” is probably the band’s most well-known tune. My favorite part is the cool, bluesy opening. By the way, I cannot stand the Lenny Kravitz version; it is awful and tedious. So if that’s the only version you know, do yourself a favor and listen to the original Guess Who version.

My all-time favorite Guess Who song is actually two songs: “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature.” It has such a good groove and a lot of energy and interesting changes. I remember this was the track that made owning this album a necessity when I was a kid, and I still enjoy dancing around to it. “Hand Me Down World” also has a great energy, and was written by Kurt Winter. The lines that always kind of made me laugh are “Anybody here see the fuzzy-wuzzy loving cup explosion?/I think we missed it.”

“Share The Land” is another strong track, released as a single and as the title track of a 1970 LP. And actually tracks from that LP make up the entire second side of The Best Of The Guess Who, including the pretty “Do You Miss Me Darlin’” and the excellent “Hang On To Your Life.” For some reason, I always forget about the ending to “Hang On To Your Life,” and it surprises me.

CD Track List
  1. These Eyes
  2. Laughing
  3. Undun
  4. No Time
  5. American Woman
  6. No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature
  7. Hand Me Down World
  8. Bus Rider
  9. Share The Land
  10. Do You Miss Me Darlin’
  11. Hang On To Your Life 
This limited, numbered edition of The Best Of The Guess Who was released on March 10, 2015 through Audio Fidelity.

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band at The Mint, 3-28-15

Last night I caught a set by The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band at The Mint in Los Angeles. It was my first time seeing them, and I was hooked almost immediately. There was a good, enthusiastic crowd for the show, and most of them seemed to already be quite familiar with the tunes. The group focused their set on the new album, So Delicious, which was released in February, playing “Raise A Little Hell,” “Let’s Jump A Train,” “Hell Naw” (one of my personal favorites), “Front Porch Trained” and “Pot Roast And Kisses,” among others. (Rev. Peyton says “Pot Roast And Kisses” is his favorite track from the new CD.)

These guys have a tremendous amount of energy, and a sound that is immediate, powerful, delicious and full – and with just three people, and one is on a fucking washboard (and totally rocking it – yeah, somehow she makes a washboard a sexy instrument – maybe it’s the red boots she was wearing). But yes, it’s a big damn band, with a pounding you feel in your chest and throughout your body. This is a group that gets the audience dancing. And during “Clap Your Hands,” when they sang, “Scream out loud,” the crowd complied every time. I really liked “Scream At The Night,” which they introduced as “probably the angriest song on the new album.” They also did a fun rendition of “You Can’t Judge A Book By Looking At The Cover,” a song which will be included on a special 7-inch to be released on Record Store Day next month.

The encore was “Two Bottles Of Wine.” The audience called out for it, but Reverend Peyton made them work for it first. Worth it, for sure.

Here are a few photos from the night:

Tonight you can catch them in Las Vegas. And on April 1st they will be in Salt Lake City.

The Mint is located at 6010 West Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles, California.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

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

After seriously digging the first two volumes of jazz saxophonist Art Pepper’s Neon Art series, I was so excited to pop in the disc of the third (and final) volume. And I was not disappointed. Like the first two volumes, the tracks from this CD were recorded live in 1981. And like the second volume, these tracks are from his November tour of Japan, and feature George Cables on piano, David Williams on bass and Carl Burnett on drums.

Neon Art: Volume Three kicks off with a nice, long (just under twenty-five minutes) version of “Make A List (Make A Wish).” It begins with a cool, easy groove on bass and drums, with some thoughts by Art Pepper on alto saxophone. And almost immediately it feels like it’s going to fade out, like we’re catching the end of the tune, which is so interesting. But of course it’s only just beginning, taking its time, pacing itself, easing into things, setting a great mood. And there are some nice early moments with Art and George Cables working together beautifully. Things start building in intensity around the six-minute mark, with Art getting loose, and the band really getting into the groove. And then, watch out! Art might edge toward chaos at a few moments, but never lets things become too messy. He pulls back to that groove. It’s that wonderful groove and mood which are never allowed to be destroyed. And I love George Cables’ lead spot on piano. It’s sweet, almost tentative at first, like he just wants to play around a bit in this world, but not take it over. But then he does drive the band for a while, taking them further in, if not farther out. Eventually that eases into a lead spot by David Williams on bass, and then a drum solo by Carl Burnett. This track was recorded on November 13, 1981, the same date that gave us the gorgeous rendition of “Over The Rainbow” that was included on Volume Two.

It’s followed by “Everything Happens To Me,” a standard written by Thomas Adaire and Matt Dennis. The version here was recorded on November 14, 1981, and it is wonderfully and perfectly sad and contemplative, particularly Art’s work on saxophone. It’s so beautiful. Put this one on late at night when you’re alone and you may find yourself in tears, and you will likely find yourself enjoying those tears.

The CD concludes with “Arthur’s Blues,” which was recorded on November 19, 1981, the same night that gave us “Mambo Koyama” from Neon Art: Volume Two. You can hear the audience get excited the moment the band starts this tune, and it won’t take long before you understand just why. This track is so sweet, so good, with everything working just right. You know the blues are working well when they make you feel good, and this track will have you swaying and casting off any cares. A tune to put things into perspective, or one to make you forget all that entirely and let you just be. I absolutely love what Art Pepper does on this track. And then George Cables nearly tops him with his lead spot on piano, while the rest of the band gently swings beneath him. It’s fantastic. This is my favorite track, and it makes me wish there were a Neon Art: Volume Four to look forward to.

CD Track List
  1. Make A List (Make A Wish)
  2. Everything Happens To Me
  3. Arthur’s Blues 
Neon Art: Volume Three is scheduled to be released on CD on April 7, 2015 through Omnivore Recordings.

You can also read my reviews of Neon Art: Volume One and Neon Art: Volume Two.

Dion: “Recorded Live At The Bitter End August 1971” (2015) CD Review

Dion DiMucci’s career is so interesting. He started with Dion And The Belmonts in the late 1950s, with hits like “Teenager In Love” and “I Wonder Why.” Then as a solo artist in the early 1960s, he had a string of giant rock and roll hits – songs like “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer.” And then the late 1960s saw a big change in his sound and material, and he had a hit with “Abraham, Martin And John,” which had more of a folk feel. In 1971, when the tracks on Recorded Live At The Bitter End August 1971 were recorded, he had dipped into the blues, while also continuing in the folk realm. He did a residency at The Bitter End, performing solo with an acoustic guitar, and a few tracks from those dates were included on his album Sanctuary. Now this new live album, put out by Omnivore Recordings, includes seventeen tracks, giving us a great feel for what Dion was doing at that time, and what his live performances were like. These tracks include some original material, as well as covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and The Beatles. The CD includes liner notes by Dean Rudland, with material taken from an interview with Dion DiMucci conducted in November of 2014.

The CD opens with a Dylan cover, “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind.” Dion's vocal delivery is earnest and passionate. He follows that with “Brand New Morning,” an original tune which was included as the flip side to his single of “Sanctuary.” This song is quite short – he even says so at the end of it – but his vocal delivery has so much power and emotion that it is for me one of the highlights of the disc. There is not a whole lot of stage banter on these tracks, but at the beginning of “Too Much Monkey Business” he talks a bit of his experience as a rock and roll artist and a bit about Chuck Berry. And he jokes, “I usually do choreography with this tune, you know.” He stresses the blues aspects of this song, pulling back from the rock and roll of the original.

He also does a couple of excellent blues covers – Sam Hopkins’ “You Better Watch Yourself” (with the line, “You better stop drinking that wine, Sonny Boy”) and then Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me Talking.” He does such a great job with the blues.

And of course he performs “Abraham, Martin And John” (joking as he starts it, “It was in tune when I bought it” – I wonder who first used that line), and the audience applauds once they recognize the song. It’s a really nice version, and he includes a little nod to “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” before the Martin verse. “Abraham, Martin And John” was written by Dick Holler, who also co-wrote “Sanctuary” with Don Burnham.

He does a fairly good rendition of The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” though I’m not sure about his whistling at the end. (Around the time of this recording, he also recorded a cover of “Let It Be.”) I have mixed feelings about his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters Of Mercy,” but that might be because that is one of my favorite songs, and some of the slight pauses throw me. He doesn’t repeat the song’s final line, “We weren’t lovers like that and besides it would still be all right.” And then he says, “Sure” at the close, which I don’t like, for it’s like he’s commenting on the song.

“Your Own Back Yard” is an original song that has a very personal feel, being about troubles with drugs and excessive drinking, with lines like “I lost everything near and dear to me” and “My idea of having a good time/Was sitting with my head between my knees.” In the CD’s liner notes Dion talks a bit about getting sober in 1968. This song was released as a single in 1970. He does several other original tunes, including “Sunshine Lady,” which features a humorous introduction (“I really got into this tune, I was singing it, man, for god-knows-how long… this is the short version”). It’s a totally delightful song. I’m also fond of “Sunniland,” which was released as a single, and “Harmony Sound.”

And if you were wondering, the answer is yes, he does a couple of his early rock and roll numbers: “The Wanderer” and “Ruby Baby.” In his introduction to “The Wanderer,” Dion says, “It's not to be taken too seriously.” This is a cool, slow, bluesy rendition. “Ruby Baby” already had a blues thing at its base, and so this blues version is close to the original, and Dion is clearly having fun with it.

CD Track List
  1. Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind
  2. Brand New Morning
  3. Too Much Monkey Business
  4. Abraham, Martin And John
  5. One Too Many Mornings
  6. Blackbird
  7. Sisters Of Mercy
  8. Your Own Back Yard
  9. You Better Watch Yourself aka Drinkin’ That Wine
  10. Don’t Start Me Talking
  11. Sunshine Lady
  12. Sunniland
  13. Sanctuary
  14. Willigo
  15. The Wanderer
  16. Ruby Baby
  17. Harmony Sound 
Recorded Live At The Bitter End August 1971 is scheduled to be released on April 7, 2015 through Omnivore Recordings.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Bread: “The Best Of Bread (Hybrid Multichannel SACD)” (2015) CD Review

The Best Of Bread is one of those greatest hits albums that everyone should have in his or her music collection (you know, along with Abba’s Gold and Bob Marley’s Legend). Originally released in 1973, it includes such hits as “Make It With You” and “Baby I’m A-Want You.” And earlier this month it received a special multichannel SACD release. This limited, numbered edition sounds excellent. By the way, I haven’t been able to discover just how many of this limited, numbered edition were actually made, though my number is 1014, so there are at least that many.

Bread is known for its 1970s soft rock hits, mostly written by band member David Gates. The Best Of Bread opens with “Make It With You,” which was the group’s first top-ten hit, released as a single in 1970 and reaching the #1 spot in the summer of that year. If you’re having trouble recalling the song for some reason, here is a taste of the lyrics to remind you: “Life can be short or long/Love can be right or wrong/And if I chose the one I’d like to help me through/I’d like to make it with you.”

It’s a good song, but I much prefer the album’s second track, “Everything I Own.” This is a sweet and beautiful tune, with lines like “The finest years I ever knew/Were all the years I had with you/And I would give anything I own/Give up my life, my heart, my home/I would give everything I own/Just to have you back again.” This is one of those songs that finds you in tears in your weaker moments. Boy George covered this one, giving it a happier, sort of reggae vibe, which completely changes the tone. Olivia Newton-John also covered it, her version remaining truer to the original.

“Baby I’m-A Want You” was another big hit for Bread, reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1971. If you’ve listened to the radio, you’ve heard this song. You’ve also probably heard it in several films and television shows. But in case you haven’t, here are the opening lyrics: “Baby I'm-a want you/Baby I'm-a need you/You're the only one I care enough to hurt about/Maybe I'm-a crazy/But I just can't live without/your lovin' and affection.”  “If” likewise has been used in films and television programs, and is another beautiful song, this one reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. This one was also covered by Olivia Newton-John, as well as by Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton and Petula Clark. “If a picture paints a thousand words/Then why can’t I paint you/The words will never show/The you I’ve come to know.”

If you’ve only heard Bread’s mellow tunes, then a song like “Mother Freedom” will come as a surprise. This is more of a rock tune, with some really nice work on electric guitar. It kicked off the band’s 1972 record Baby I’m-A Want You, and opened the second side of The Best Of Bread. It wasn’t as successful as the band’s mellower material, reaching only #37 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Down On My Knees,” from that same album, is another more energetic tune, this one co-written by David Gates and James Griffin. “Let Your Love Go” is also more of a rock tune, and was released as a single in early 1971, and also kicked off their 1971 LP, Manna.

One of my favorites is “Too Much Love,” which has more of a folk and country flavor, which I really like. This is one of the few tracks not written or co-written by David Gates. It was written by James Griffin and Robb Royer. This compilation ends with another Griffin/Royer tune, “Truckin’,” a good song that includes a harmonica part.

CD Track List
  1. Make It With You
  2. Everything I Own
  3. Diary
  4. Baby I’m-A Want You
  5. It Don’t Matter To Me
  6. If
  7. Mother Freedom
  8. Down On My Knees
  9. Too Much Love
  10. Let Your Love Go
  11. Look What You’ve Done
  12. Truckin’
This special limited edition of The Best Of Bread was released on March 10, 2015 through Audio Fidelity. 

Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin: “Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play And Sing The Songs Of Big Bill Broonzy” (2014) CD Review

In the liner notes to Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play And Sing The Songs Of Big Bill Broonzy, Dave Alvin talks about how he and his brother Phil got their first Big Bill Broonzy record when they were in their early teens. Big Bill Broonzy was a blues singer, songwriter and guitarist who also dipped into folk and country. He performed from the late 1920s until his death in the late 1950s. Big Bill Broonzy’s music is a life-long passion for these brothers, and you can hear it on every track of this CD, their love for this music. Which is great, because I love this music too. And it’s hard to imagine someone not enjoying this disc. These tracks are so damn good, and this music is designed to get you smiling, get you moving, get you feeling that life, after all, is pretty good. I had the privilege of seeing Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin perform several of these songs in concert last year, and it was one of the best shows I attended. They performed without a backing band, but on this disc they are joined by Gene Taylor on piano, Bob Glaub on bass, Brad Fordham on bass, Don Heffington on drums, and Lisa Pankratz on drums.

The album opens with “All By Myself” (which was the song they opened with when I saw them in concert). This is one Big Bill Broonzy released as a single in the early 1940s, and it’s a seriously fun tune. This rendition by Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin certainly embodies that fun vibe, with both Dave and Phil providing vocals. “I didn’t have no one to help me/I had to do it all by myself.” Of course, they’re tackling this one together, and so it has a really bright feel to it. Plus, there’s an excellent instrumental section. They follow that with “I Feel So Good,” another song that Big Bill Broonzy released in 1941. This version by Dave and Phil has a little more rock to it, a little more swing, and I love what Gene Taylor does on piano. Phil takes lead vocal duties on this one, and Dave provides a very cool electric guitar lead part during the instrumental section. “Tomorrow” also has a delightful country swing groove to it, and features more wonderful work by Gene Taylor on keys.

Things get much bluesier on “Southern Flood Blues,” a song which features Dave on electric guitar and Phil on harmonica. Dave’s lead vocals have a kind of sexy, smooth feel at first, quite a bit different from Big Bill Broonzy’s delivery. “Big Bill Blues” is one of my favorite tracks on this CD. Phil’s vocal delivery is just bloody perfect, and the song has a great vibe, a supreme example of how blues you can you feel so good. “I got up this morning, feeling sad and blue/I lost my baby, now tell me what am I going to do/That’s why I am so lonesome, the way these blues keep dogging me/Yeah, but that’s all right, I will overcome someday.”

“Key To The Highway” is another favorite, and one I saw them play in concert. This one features some more nice work by Phil on harmonica, and vocals by both brothers. Leaving never sounded so good as it does here. This is one to put on your road trip mix CDs. “I’m going to leave here running ‘cause walking is most too slow/I’m going down to the border, down where I’m better known.” And I love the way Dave delivers the line, “So come here, sweet mama, and help me with this heavy load,” deep and low and serious. “Stuff They Call Money” is also a hell of a lot of fun, and features both Dave and Phil on vocals. They are clearly enjoying themselves here.

This excellent album concludes with “Saturday Night Rub,” the CD’s only instrumental track, a joyous, fun number that will likely have you deciding to replay the entire album right away. Yes, it's that good.

CD Track List
  1. All By Myself
  2. I Feel So Good
  3. How You Want It Done?
  4. Southern Flood Blues
  5. Big Bill Blues
  6. Key To The Highway
  7. Tomorrow
  8. Just A Dream
  9. You’ve Changed
  10. Stuff They Call Money
  11. Truckin’ Little Woman
  12. Saturday Night Rub
Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play And Sing The Songs Of Big Bill Broonzy was released on June 3, 2014 on Yep Roc Records.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Chris Washburne & The SYOTOS Band: “Low Ridin’” (2015) CD Review

Jazz musicians have always done interesting covers of more mainstream material, making us look at pop songs from a different perspective and perhaps focusing on different aspects of the compositions. The new CD from Chris Washburne & The SYOTOS Band, Low Ridin’, finds the group covering some very familiar and beloved rock tunes from the 1960s and 1970s, including material by The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young and Lou Reed. It also includes one original tune, written by saxophone player Ole Mathisen. SYOTOS is a Latin jazz band, based in New York, that formed in 1992. SYOTOS, by the way, stands for “See You On The Other Side.” That feels especially apt for this album, as they’re taking us to the other – or at least an other – side of these familiar songs, including “Break On Through (To The Other Side).”

The album opens with a joyful rendition of “Feelin’ Alright,” a song written by Dave Mason and originally recorded by Traffic, but more well known as done by Joe Cocker. This rendition begins with the brass in full control, even as that great rhythm comes in. It features some excellent work on trumpet. The band follows that with War’s “Low Rider.” I’ve always thought this tune was pretty damn cool, but it’s only recently that I’ve heard bands finding different ways of tackling it. Dreaming Bull does a pretty wild cover of this song at their concerts. And this rendition by Chris Washburne & The SYOTOS Band finds places to groove and swing, and I especially love the keyboard section. Fantastic! A definite highlight of this album.

Perhaps one of the most interesting tracks is the band’s take on Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven.” They explore some darker territory here, and you feel that something could spring out of the song at certain moments and pounce on you. That tone then changes partway through, just as Led Zeppelin’s original went through various sections. What also makes this an unusual track is the mixing in of Duke Ellington’s “Heaven.” This version is quite a bit shorter than the original. They also cover Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.”

Also interesting is the band’s rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression.” The piano part feels to me like it could at any moment go into Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus And Lucy,” something that never popped into mind while listening to a Jimi Hendrix record. And then partway through, this version takes on a very different and surprising feel. What a great vibe!

I’m also quite fond of their version of “Walk On The Wild Side,” though of course I do miss Lou Reed’s voice and lyrics. There is something kind of pretty and sweet about this rendition, and I like the percussion. It’s the percussion of The Doors’ “Break On Through (To The Other Side)” that makes that song totally work for this sort of venture. That rhythm has a built-in Latin jazz feel, and Chris Washburne & The SYOTOS Band do some interesting things with this tune. I really like the direction they take this one. They also take Neil Young's “Sugar Mountain” in unexpected directions, and really groove on it.

The album’s final track, “Syotomon,” is the only original composition, written by Ole Mathisen, and it's a great ride in itself, opening with a driving rhythm before relaxing a bit into a good Latin rhythm. But it continually returns to that driving, somewhat anxious section, and the energy from those brief sections is carried over into the solos. This, for me, is one of the CD's highlights.

CD Track List
  1. Feelin’ Alright
  2. Low Rider
  3. Get Up, Stand Up
  4. Stairway To Heaven/Heaven
  5. Manic Depression
  6. Ohio
  7. Walk On The Wild Side
  8. Break On Through (To The Other Side)
  9. Kashmir
  10. Sugar Mountain
  11. Syotomon 

Chris Washburne & The SYOTOS Band includes Chris Washburne on trombone and tuba, John Walsh on trumpet and flugelhorn, Ole Mathisen on saxophone, Yeissonn Villamar on piano and keyboards, Leo Traversa on bass, Vince Cherico on drums and percussion, Oreste Abrantes on percussion, Roberto Quintero on percussion, Isa Washburne on percussion, and August Washburne on electric guitar.

Low Ridin’ is scheduled to be released on April 14, 2015 through Zoho Music.

Roger Taylor: “Strange Frontier” (1984/2015) CD Review

Omnivore Recordings is re-issuing the first two solo albums by Queen drummer Roger Taylor, with bonus tracks. Strange Frontier, his second album, was originally released in 1984, just after Queen’s The Works, an album that included the hit “Radio Ga Ga,” which Roger Taylor wrote. It was clearly a creative period for him. Roger Taylor plays most of the instruments on this album, as on his first release, Fun In Space. But on this one he does get a bit of help from his fellow Queen bandmates, with Freddie Mercury providing some vocals on “Killing Time.” And unlike his first album, this one features a couple of cover tunes. This re-issue includes liner notes by Greg Brooks (along with a short note from Roger Taylor), and the song lyrics.

The album kicks off with its title track, one of its strongest songs and one included on last year’s compilation Best. I love his vocal approach to this song, beginning with a softer, more intimate tone as he sings, “We’re off the tracks/We’re off the lines/You and me seen better times/Now we’re on the borderline/And I wish I wasn’t here.” The song then bursts open, and his voice takes on more passion on the lines, “Freedom fighters/Come and go/Bloody - righteous/And mentally slow.” This song is still quite powerful, and it really raises the spectre of those awful Reagan years when we were all taught to be afraid.

It’s followed by the surprisingly pretty “Beautiful Dreams,” a song also included on Best. This one at first feels almost like a lullaby, or a wistful look back to childhood, but then takes some interesting turns, mentioning “chemical dreams” and then “Colourful dreams we have at night/Nuclear purity/This is the final twilight.”

“Abandonfire” has more of a pop dance feel, yet just as you’re starting to dance around, the lyrics give you pause: “Abandon hope who enter here/Land of hopelessness and fear/A band of gypsies, a band of gold/Won’t save your hide, won’t save your soul.” Certain songs of the 1980s did this so well – making your body move while hitting with you some pretty serious lyrics.

Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan

Roger Taylor does two covers on Strange Frontier, the first being Bruce Springsteen’s “Racing In The Street,” a song originally included on his 1978 record Darkness On The Edge Of Town. It might seem like an odd choice, but it fits with the general mood of this album, with lines like “But now there’s wrinkles ‘round my baby’s eyes/And she cries herself to sleep at night/When I come home, the house is dark.”

The second cover is Bob Dylan’s “Masters Of War,” from his The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Considering the time Strange Frontier was recorded, and what was happening, this cover is less surprising, and completely apt. But what is surprising is what Roger Taylor does with this song. He takes a folk song of anger (with none-too-subtle lyrics: “And I hope that you die/And your death will come soon”), and creates a haunting electronic atmosphere that is kind of frightening.

Bonus Tracks

This special re-issue includes five bonus tracks. The first is an extended version of “Man On Fire,” which was originally released on a promotional record in 1984. It opens with a percussion section that I totally dig, and the song slowly but surely builds from there. It’s nearly two minutes before the vocals come in. That longer introduction really helps, and I actually prefer this version.

The bonus tracks include two versions of “I Cry For You,” the first being the single remix from the British single. The second is an extended remix, which was released on a 12” UK single in 1984. The other two bonus tracks – an extended remix of “Strange Frontier” and “Two Sharp Pencils (Get Bad)” – are also from that same 12” release. The extended remix of “Strange Frontier” is the longest track on this CD, coming in at nearly nine minutes, and it includes a drum solo near the beginning. “Two Sharp Pencils (Get Bad)” is an odd and kind of delightful pop song. Check out these lyrics: “Got stung on the knee by a wasp/When asked if it hurt, said no not a bit/He can do it again if he wants to.”

CD Track List
  1. Strange Frontier
  2. Beautiful Dreams
  3. Man On Fire
  4. Racing In The Street
  5. Masters Of War
  6. Killing Time
  7. Abandonfire
  8. Young Love
  9. It’s An Illusion
  10. I Cry For You (Love, Hope And Confusion)
  11. Man On Fire (extended version)
  12. I Cry For You (single remix)
  13. Strange Frontier (extended remix)
  14. I Cry For You (extended remix)
  15. Two Sharp Pencils (Get Bad) 
This special re-issue of Strange Frontier was released on CD on March 24, 2015 through Omnivore Recordings. This album will also be released on red vinyl.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Roger Taylor: “Fun In Space” (1981/2015) CD Review

In October of last year, Omnivore Recordings released Roger Taylor’s Best, a collection of music from Queen drummer Roger Taylor’s solo efforts. Now his first two solo albums are being re-issued with bonus tracks. Fun In Space, his first solo album, originally released in 1981 when Queen was at the height of its success, features such excellent material as “Let’s Get Crazy” and “My Country.” On this album, Roger Taylor performed all the vocals and played all the instruments (the only exception being that he got some help from David Richards on keyboards). This special re-issue, which was produced by Roger Taylor and Cheryl Pawelski, includes liner notes by Greg Brooks and song lyrics.

Fun In Space opens with “No Violins,” an odd yet fun rock tune that steps outside of the current weirdness to look back at the old weirdness: “Remember when you were angry/About every cause to be had/We weren’t all bad.” But it’s the following lines that really work for me, and make the song interesting: “I’m not talkin’ ‘bout security complex/I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout some monochrome duplex/I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout some new kinda weird sex/I’m just talkin’ ‘bout you and me/The way we used to be.”

Roger Taylor follows that with “Laugh Or Cry,” a kind of sweet and unusual love song, which I bet would work equally well as an acoustic folk song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “But baby you make me laugh/And baby you make me cry/I don’t mind either way/Now I don’t care why/You just gotta laugh, or cry/Right ‘til the day you die.” There is a short but surprising drum bridge a couple of minutes into the song.

“Future Management (You Don’t Need Nobody Else)” is one of the tracks from this album that was included on last year’s Best. I really like the groove, and also the drive behind Roger Taylor’s vocals. This is a song that I appreciate more and more. The following track, “Let’s Get Crazy,” was also included on Best, and is one of my favorites. It’s just so much damn fun. “Let’s get crazy, let’s get wild tonight.” Hey, that’s all the encouragement I need. And then there’s that cool drum solo to help get us all pumped up. The other track from this album to be included on Best is “Magic Is Loose,” a grand and glorious song that should appeal to Queen fans.

“My Country I & II” is for me one of the best and most interesting tracks on the album. There is a lot going on here. On one level, it works as a simple personal political statement, with lines like “I would not fight for my country” and “Don’t wanna die for some old man’s crusade.” (Remember, this was the early 1980s, a very ugly time politically.) But there is something empowering in the music and rhythm of this song. I absolutely love the percussion. And Roger’s vocals at times have the power of Freddie Mercury’s, as when he sings, “Don’t wanna cry for somebody else’s need.” And I like the line, “Don’t have no part of no partisans.” I could live without the false ending, however.

The album concludes with its title track, “Fun In Space,” a song that opens with a heartbeat and references to science fictions novels. Its first lines are “Strangers in a strange land/In an alien heat.” Stranger In A Strange Land is a famous novel by Robert A. Heinlein, originally published in the early 1960s, while An Alien Heat is the first book of a science fiction trilogy by Michael Moorcock published in the 1970s. And the song certainly has a science fiction vibe to it, and tells us it will be “Stranger than fiction.”

Bonus Tracks

This special re-issue includes three bonus tracks, including “I Wanna Testify,” which was released as a single in 1977 and also included on Best. It’s a seriously fun tune, and is the only cover song on the CD. Its flip side, “Turn On The TV,” is also included, and it has a great, heavy funky vibe (though in one section it oddly reminds me of some of Led Zeppelin's work - “We go to the place over the hill/Where the grass is greener/Where the life is sweeter/But all the time we know/That it never is”).

The final bonus track is the single version of “My Country,” which is significantly shorter than the album version, but still very cool.

CD Track List
  1. No Violins
  2. Laugh Or Cry
  3. Future Management (You Don’t Need Nobody Else)
  4. Let’s Get Crazy
  5. My Country I & II
  6. Good Times Are Now
  7. Magic Is Loose
  8. Interlude In Constantinople
  9. Airheads
  10. Fun In Space
  11. I Wanna Testify
  12. Turn On The TV
  13. My Country (single version) 
This special re-issue of Fun In Space is scheduled to be released on March 24, 2015 through Omnivore Recordings. This album is also going to be released on clear vinyl (followed by black vinyl).

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Rachel Caswell: “All I Know” (2015) CD Review

Jazz vocalist Rachel Caswell’s new CD, All I Know, is a set of duets, but not vocal duets. This album finds her performing with guitarist Dave Stryker on approximately half the tracks and with bassist Jeremy Allen on the other tracks. The sparse instrumentation really causes us to focus on the vocals and on the core of each piece, and it gives the album a beautiful intimacy and late-night personal vibe. The song choices are mostly standards, but with the addition of a Simon And Garfunkel tune and Jimmy Webb’s “All I Know” (a song interestingly enough originally recorded by Art Garfunkel).

Rachel Caswell begins this CD with a cool rendition of “Sometimes I’m Happy,” a song written by Vincent Youmans, Irving Caesar and Clifford Grey. On this track, Rachel gives us some joyous scat. Dave Stryker joins her on guitar, and delivers a deliciously mellow solo partway through. I like that there is a slight pause after his solo before Rachel comes back in on vocals, as if she’s been enjoying Dave’s work on guitar as much as we have.

That’s followed by “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” with Jeremy Allen on bass. This song was written by Don Raye and Gene de Paul, and has been recorded by Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, among others. Rachel Caswell’s version begins with a bass line, and then her vocals have a sweet and emotional tenderness. It is a voice that clearly has a need to share her experience here, and when words aren’t enough, she does a bit of scat to convey her feelings.

I love Rachel Caswell’s approach to “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” a song written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn and most closely associated with Frank Sinatra (he sang it in Anchors Aweigh). She has a great mix of hope and heartache in her delivery. And Dave Stryker’s guitar work is just right. His solo is mellow and intimate, without pushing outside the framework created by Rachel’s vocals. There is nothing showy there, but is more supportive, like a friend who is there to lend a hand.

Rachel Caswell enters the pop realm with a version of Simon And Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy),” accompanied by Jeremy Allen on bass. I am so fond of what Allen does on bass here, giving us a cool, quirky, fun line which works so well with the spirit of the song. And of course Rachel’s scat is perfect for this tune, as it’s already sort of built into the original, though to a much lesser degree. Both Rachel and Jeremy are clearly having a good time with this tune. They also have a great time with “If I Should Lose You” (written by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin), with Jeremy Allen able to get loose at moments, making it one of the highlights for me.

I also really like what Rachel does with “De-Dah,” taking Elmo Hope’s piano part, and turning it into a vocal scat part. And Dave Stryker’s guitar part sounds like he’s smiling and smiling and smiling. It’s a wonderful track. And it’s followed by a cool version of the bossa nova standard “Agua de Beber,” written by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes, and Norman Gimbel. I really like Jeremy Allen’s bass solo on this track.

Rachel Caswell ends this album with another song associated with Frank Sinatra, “One For My Baby,” written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. Again, I love the intimacy of this recording. There is something kind of sexy about this track, and it's another of my favorites.

CD Track List
  1. Sometimes I’m Happy
  2. You Don’t Know What Love Is
  3. For All We Know
  4. I Fall In Love Too Easily
  5. The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)
  6. Tell Him I Said Hello
  7. If I Should Lose You
  8. All I Know
  9. De-Dah
  10. Agua De Beber
  11. I’ve Never Been In Love Before
  12. One For My Baby
All I Know is scheduled to be released on April 7, 2015 through Turtle Ridge Records. Rachel Caswell will celebrate the CD release with a couple of shows on April 20, 2015 at The Bar Next Door in New York City.

10,000 Maniacs: “Twice Told Tales” (2015) CD Review

Formed in 1981, 10,000 Maniacs have gone through several changes in their three decades, the most obvious still being the departure of singer Natalie Merchant in 1993. Mary Ramsey took over on lead vocals that year, and then departed in 2001, returning in 2007. In addition to Ramsey, the current lineup includes original members Dennis Drew, Steven Gustafson and John Lombardo, along with Jerome Augustyniak, who joined in 1983, and Jeff Erickson, who joined in 2001 after the death of founding member Rob Buck. Folk music has always had a strong influence on the band, but until now they’d not released an album dedicated to that genre. Their new release, Twice Told Tales, is a collection of British Isles folk songs, but with a definite 10,000 Maniacs spin to them.

The album opens with “Lady Mary Ramsey I,” a pretty, though brief violin instrumental track that immediately gets us in the right mood. It is followed by “The Song Of Wandering Aengus,” a poem by William Butler Yeats beautifully sung a cappella by Mary Ramsey. It is after that that 10,000 Maniacs move into the traditional folk songs with their rendition of “She Moved Through The Fair,” a well-known tune that has been covered by many artists over the years, including Pete Seeger, Fairport Convention and Sinéad O’Connor. This version has a beauty, and more of a pop feel than many other versions. Mary changes the gender, singing “He moved through the fair.”

They follow that with “Dark Eyed Sailor,” which opens with a typical traditional folk line, “As I roved out one evening fair.” There is a bright, pop feel to this rendition. But one of the most catchy and fun tunes on this CD is “Misty Moisty Morning” (which is often titled “One Misty Moisty Morning”). This band does such a great job with this song, and this track is one of my personal favorites. There is such happiness in Mary Ramsey’s vocals, and there is a nice instrumental section as well. I also love what this group does with “Bonny May,” a song that’s been recorded by June Tabor and Damien Barber & Mike Wilson. This might be the best version I’ve heard, and I especially love the short instrumental section.

They deliver an excellent and intense rendition of “Greenwood Sidey” (a song also known as “The Cruel Mother” and “Down By The Greenwood Side”), letting Mary Ramsey’s vocals dominate the track. “She took out her wee pen knife/All the lee and loney/There she took the sweet babe’s life/Down by the greenwood sidey-o/She wiped the blade against her shoe/All the lee and loney/The more she rubbed the redder it grew/Down by the greenwood sidey-o.”

I’ve heard a lot of versions of the Irish folk song “Carrickfergus” over the years (it’s often played at Irish pubs, with its line “I’m drunk today, and I’m seldom sober” being sung happily by the crowds), and this one by 10,000 Maniacs is sweet and pretty, but with a certain pop bent to it. They also do a sweet rendition of “Wild Mountain Thyme.”

“Marie’s Wedding” is one of my favorite tracks, with a bright energy that should get you dancing. I particularly love the work on violin during the instrumental sections. The album then concludes with “Lady Mary Ramsey II,” leaving us as it began, with a wonderful and pretty instrumental track.

CD Track List
  1. Lady Mary Ramsey I
  2. The Song Of Wandering Aengus
  3. She Moved Through The Fair
  4. Dark Eyed Sailor
  5. Misty Moisty Morning
  6. Bonny May
  7. Canadee-I-O
  8. Do You Love An Apple?
  9. Greenwood Sidey
  10. Carrickfergus
  11. Death Of Queen Jane
  12. Wild Mountain Thyme
  13. Marie’s Wedding
  14. Lady Mary Ramsey II
Twice Told Tales is scheduled to be released on CD and on vinyl on April 28, 2015 through Cleopatra Records.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Brian Kinler Band featuring Francesca Capasso: “The Race Against Time” (2015) CD Review

Jazz pianist Brian Kinler goes in a new direction with his new release, The Race Against Time. This album finds him in the realm of dance music on several tracks. There were hints of this direction in his previous release, Not Your Everyday Amateur, particularly in songs like “The Bean Tree” and “The Ecstasy Of St. Teresa.” Perhaps more surprising is the presence of vocals, a first on a Brian Kinler Band CD. Of course, he’s long had vocalists join him on stage during his concerts. And if you’ve seen him in concert in the last few years, you’ve heard the incredible vocal talent of Francesca Capasso, who provides vocals on many of this CD's tracks. As on his previous release, Brian Kinler plays keyboards on this album, playing the parts of several other instruments. I wouldn’t be surprised if I heard a couple of these tunes the next time I’m out on the dance floor at a club. But if you’re not into dance music, don’t worry, there are still some tracks that will appeal to you, including “Coldest Part Of You,” which he has performed at recent shows.

The album kicks off with “Bombshell,” a completely delicious dance tune that Brian Kinler co-wrote with Francesca Capasso, who provides some perfect vocals. Francesca first performed with The Brian Kinler Band in June of 2012, and immediately impressed the audience. Since then, she’s sung with him several times, and now adds her creative juices to the mix in the writing of this excellent tune. Her energy is fantastic, and I totally dig that sort of spoken word section: “Last night when I saw you in the bar, you were wearing those tight blue jeans/I knew I just had to touch you and make you all mine forever/Or at least for the next few minutes.” Though as much as I love her vocals, it’s that great instrumental bridge that really makes this tune something special. I fully expect to be dancing to this song soon at some of the West Hollywood clubs.

“Don’t Need Your Love” has a good dance vibe as well, but begins as a moodier piece. That mood is allowed to sink it and grab hold before Francesca comes in on vocals more than a minute into the song. “You said you’d never mess me up/But you did just that.” And the song builds from there, and is actually really catchy. Francesca acts as her own back-up singer on the chorus, and those are some of my favorite moments of this track. And I love the way she delivers the final lines.

“Clouds From Up Here” is an interesting track, for in some ways it takes us back to some of Brian’s earliest music, with vibes reminding me of some of the work on Two, while at the same time has a dance groove, with pop vocals by Francesca Capasso. Plus, it features Andrea Whitney on violin, and her presence is always appreciated.

“Racing Against Time” is a beautiful instrumental track which should appeal to longtime Brian Kinler fans. This song is full of passion and compassion, sadness and hope, and is one of the most moving pieces on this CD. It’s followed by another instrumental track, “The Calling,” which has a very different feel. While there is a strong emotional core to this song, its groove is that of an 1980s dance tune. I really like the somewhat quiet section dominated by percussion partway through (though I know it’s all provided by keyboard), leading to a brighter, fun groove which takes over. “Chateau” likewise has a strong dance beat, but with some beautiful work on keys over it.

“Look In Your Eyes” has something of a wonderful 1980s vibe, but opens up into a great modern dance tune. This one was co-written by Brian Kinler and Francesca Capasso. You just want to be Francesca’s toy when she sings, “Take me on your magic tour/And let’s not be discreet/I’ve got something special, you have what I need/Open up your mouth, boy/I have a lust to feed.” She really lets loose. This one should get you moving. “I’d Give Up Everything But You” also has an ‘80s thing happening, and is another to get you out on the dance floor. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I have regrets/I don’t care about all of your threats/Somehow there’s absence in your heart/I’d give up everything but you.” If the clubs don’t play this one, then you’ll just have to turn your home into a club and turn this track up and dance the night away. It’s such a great tune.

“Coldest Part Of You” is one that will be familiar to fans, as it’s one Brian has performed in concert. This gorgeous rendition features vocals (but no lyrics) by Francesca Capasso, and some tremendously beautiful and moving work on violin by Andrea Whitney. This is one of my personal favorites. The album then concludes with “The Lost City,” an excellent instrumental track. I’m particularly fond of this one once it kicks in, around the minute and a half mark. That section just has me smiling every time I listen to it, and the end is so joyful, making this track another highlight for me.

CD Track List
  1. Bombshell
  2. Don’t Need Your Love
  3. Clouds From Up Here
  4. Racing Against Time
  5. The Calling
  6. Chateau
  7. Look In Your Eyes
  8. I’d Give Up Everything But You
  9. Coldest Part Of You
  10. The Lost City
The Race Against Time was produced by Andre Mayeux and Brian Kinler, and was released on March 10, 2015. By the way, the cover is a nod to the poster for the 1985 film Into The Night, starring Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer. This totally fits with the sound and vibes of this album, with a strong 1980s influence heard on many of the tracks.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ray Wylie Hubbard: “The Ruffian’s Misfortune” (2015) CD Review

In “Mr. Musslewhite’s Blues,” Ray Wylie Hubbard sings, “This will help you if you got the blues/This will save you if you got the blues.” The line refers to a harmonica (and is followed by a very cool harmonica solo), but it could easily refer to Ray Wylie Hubbard’s new album, The Ruffian’s Misfortune, on which the song appears. This album is full of great bluesy vibes, certain to keep your heart pumping. But there are also some tunes more in the folk realm, such as “Too Young Ripe, Too Young Rotten,” and some more in the rock realm, as “Chick Singer Badass Rockin’” in which he sings, “Says rock ‘n’ roll is flat-out lawless and Joan Jett is a goddess.” Amen. That song is also one of several tunes on this CD with nods to early Rolling Stones, as he mentions Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed. This is such a great album, and I completely love his voice. Ray Wylie Hubbard’s son, Lucas Hubbard, plays acoustic and electric guitars on this album. The McCreary Sisters provide harmony vocals on “Barefoot In Heaven,” giving us a good dose of gospel. All tracks are originals, written or co-written by Ray Wylie Hubbard.

Ray Wylie Hubbard kicks off the album with “All Loose Things,” an excellent tune with a kind of heavy country twang to its blues, which is bloody delicious. This tune mentions Kevin Welch in the line “A scarecrow’s a-singin’ a song by Kevin Welch/Thunder is rumbling as if the devil himself had belched.” I also dig this line: “The blackbird says the gods can’t save us from ourselves.” The blues continue with “Hey Mama My Time Ain’t Long,” which also mentions the devil in its lyrics, and includes a reference to The Rolling Stones: “And there’s the faithful singing ‘Sister Morphine’” (a sly line, as Marianne Faithfull co-wrote “Sister Morphine” and released her own version in 1969). This one was written by Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jonathan Tyler. Brad Rice plays guitar on this track.

On “Too Young Ripe, Too Young Rotten,” Ray Wylie Hubbard goes more in the folk and country realm, and his vocals have a great intimate feel. This is one of my personal favorites of this album. There is a certain beauty to its sad vibe which is really effective. Plus, there are some excellent lyrics. Check out these lines: “Needs and threads, linen and cotton/May my sins be forgotten/Too young ripe, too young rotten” and “She shares her breath now only with the darkness/She owns a heart wilder than most.”

“Bad On Fords” is a fun kick-ass country rocker, and is another tune in which he mentions The Rolling Stones: “I was raised on The Rolling Stones.” It has a cool outlaw vibe, and its main line is “I’m bad on Fords and Chevrolets, but I’ll be good to you,” which makes me smile every time I listen to this album. And there is humor in his voice when he sings, “And I bet you ain’t a debutante.” “Bad On Fords” was written by Ray Wylie Hubbard and Ronnie Dunn.

“Jessie Mae” is another favorite of mine. It has a great folk/blues base, with some cool work on percussion by Rick Richards. Eleanor Whitmore adds fiddle to this track, which is another element that makes this song a highlight. “Like a hammer and nails on the lowest string, on the lowest string/Oh Jessie Mae, oh Jessie Mae, every time you sing, black angels dance.” The album concludes with “Stone Blind Horses,” another of the album’s highlights. It’s such a beautiful and moving song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “And there’s ghosts all along the highways/And there’s storms out on the sea/My only hope is somewhere in the heavens/Someone says a prayer for me.” And it features some nice work on harmonica.

CD Track List
  1. All Loose Things
  2. Hey Mama My Time Ain’t Long
  3. Too Young Ripe, Too Young Rotten
  4. Chick Singer Badass Rockin’
  5. Bad On Fords
  6. Mr. Musselwhite’s Blues
  7. Down By The River
  8. Jessie Mae
  9. Barefoot In Heaven
  10. Stone Blind Horses
The Ruffian’s Misfortune is scheduled to be released on April 7, 2015 on Bordello Records.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Shanti: “Shanti” (1971/2015) CD Review

Shanti was a group in the early 1970s that combined rock, pop and jazz elements, with a heavy Indian influence, not only using traditional Indian instruments but also including Indian musicians in the lineup. There is also a psychedelic jam vibe to their music, and band member Zakir Hussain later played with Mickey Hart in Diga Rhythm Band. Shanti released only one LP, a self-titled album which is now finally getting a CD release thanks to Real Gone Music. This CD release features new liner notes by Richie Unterberger.

The album kicks off with a good rock tune, “We Want To Be Free,” which features some excellent work on guitar and a great groove. It’s the instrumental sections that really shine on this track. Fans of late 1960s San Francisco music will definitely find a lot to enjoy here. That track is followed by “Innocence,” one of the two longer songs on this album (this one clocking in at nearly eleven minutes). This one has much more of an Indian feel, beginning as a meditation and then taking on a wonderful rhythm a couple of minutes in, which then develops into more of a rock thing. There is a very positive feel to this instrumental track, and it goes into some exciting areas. It was written by Aashish Khan, the band’s sarod player.

Aashish Khan also composed the album’s other long instrumental track, “Shanti,” which is just under fifteen minutes. This one has more of a rock vibe from the start, but with a delicious Indian influence, and it gets kind of wild at times. There is even a percussion section, which leads briefly into a surprisingly familiar groove before returning to the percussion solo. And this extended drum solo is only one reason why this is one of my favorite tracks. “Shanti” also puts this band in that list of bands having a song sharing the band’s name – along with groups like They Might Be Giants, Bullied By Strings, I See Hawks In L.A., Bad Company and Kajagoogoo.

“Lord I’m Comin’ Round” totally succeeds as a rock tune, with nice work on vocals. And the album concludes with “I Do Believe,” a soft, kind of sweet, and very short acoustic tune.

CD Track List
  1. We Want To Be Free
  2. Innocence
  3. Out Of Nowhere
  4. Lord I’m Comin’ Round
  5. Good Inside
  6. Shanti
  7. I Do Believe 
This CD issue of Shanti is scheduled to be released on March 10, 2015 through Real Gone Music.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Double Naught Spy Car & Stew: “Panorama City” (2015) CD Review

Panorama City, the new album by Double Naught Spy Car & Stew, was improvised in the studio, according to a note on the CD case, without rehearsals and without any second takes. This is certainly the band that can pull off this sort of thing and come out the other side with some great material. Double Naught Spy Car includes Paul Lacques on guitar and dobro (you might know him also from his work in I See Hawks In L.A.), Marcus Watkins on guitar (he’s played with Nina Hagen and has his own group, The Marcus Watkins Sintet), Marc Doten on bass and keyboards (he’s played with Shelby Lynn and Dave Alvin, among others), and Joe Berardi on drums (you might know him from his work with The Fibonaccis and Non Credo, and he’s played with Donovan and Ann Magnuson). And of course Stew is known for his work with The Negro Problem, as well as for the musical Passing Strange. Sure, some of the music is a little nutty and sometimes gets just a bit repetitive and messy. But that’s the nature of the experiment, and I sometimes prefer the realness of something messy over the contrived feel of more polished music. This is an album that I dug the first time I listened, but which I appreciate more and more. There is a lot to sink your teeth into here.

“Chat Noir” has kind of an odd, dark feel, particularly at the beginning, but also mentions K-Mart in its lyrics, so you know not to get too carried away by its tone. “Sweet Jackie’s Revenge” is a more interesting track, with a spoken word style that actually calls to mind at times some of the louder work of King Missile. Yes, seriously. There is also a kind of beat thing happening here that is fantastic. But figuring out where to come in with your finger-snaps might be difficult – and unnecessary, as the band is filling out the poetry with inspired sounds. There is some seriously cool work on guitar on this track.

But my favorite track is “Blue Dust,” with its slow, delicious acoustic vibes. Like a country song twisted around a bluesman’s bloody arm. And with great and surprising lines like “She’s an uncharted member of the upper crust” and “She says she’s just waiting for that train to rust.” Improvised? Wow. Just fucking wow. And I dig what Joe Berardi is doing on drums. Basically, I love this song.

“Bodhi Tree Mama” quickly develops a very cool groove, and they play with it for a couple of minutes before Stew comes in on vocals. This is such an unusual song, because it simultaneously feels like a bit of funk and a meditation. You could move to it, or sit with it, and be very happy either way. It’s followed by “Bumpin’ Morton Subotnick,” which opens with the question, “Is Moorpark a boulevard or avenue?” (The answer, by the way, is – surprisingly – “street.” Moorpark Street is located in the San Fernando Valley.) Stew asks the rest of the band while they begin another excellent groove. You can’t really hear the answer, if there is one, and Stew gives up and sings the first line of the song, “Cruising Moorpark,” leaving a gap after “Moorpark” where “Avenue” or “Boulevard” or “Street” would be. This song has a great sense of humor, with lines like “Don’t tell me it’s the wrong approach/I’m Morgan Freeman and you’re the acting coach” and “Tuesday night in Tarzana, what the hell did I expect?” I love what Stew does vocally on this track. This is another highlight for me.

“President” has more of a straight rock flavor, but with some less-than-usual lyrics. “Behind My Green Door” is a groovier tune and again with some unusual lyrics. “Keep the torture chamber tidy/Bring the homegrown from the hills/Call the lawyer nightly.” There is also a cool drum solo midway through. The album then concludes with “Blowoff Therapy,” which has more of a trippy vibe which I like.

CD Track List
  1. Chat Noir
  2. Sweet Jackie’s Revenge
  3. Marcy Boo Coo
  4. Blue Dust
  5. Bodhi Tree Mama
  6. Bumpin’ Morton Subotnick
  7. Batgirl
  8. President
  9. Behind My Green Door
  10. Blowoff Therapy
Panorama City is scheduled to be released on April 14, 2015 on 11 Foot Pole Records.

The Magical Mystery Psych Out: A Tribute To The Beatles (2015) CD Review

January saw the release of Stoned: A Psych Tribute To The Rolling Stones, and so of course it’s only fitting that The Beatles get a similar tribute. The Magical Mystery Psych Out: A Tribute To The Beatles focuses on the psychedelic elements of the band’s music, and is perhaps even better than the Rolling Stones tribute album. There is an interesting selection of compositions. You might think a compilation like this would focus on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but there are actually no tracks from that album. I’ve always preferred Revolver anyway, and this tribute includes a few selections from that album, as well as a few from The Beatles (known forever as The White Album).

This CD kicks off with Electric Moon’s version of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the perfect song to open a psychedelic tribute to The Beatles. This is one that the Grateful Dead covered in their later years, pairing it with The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” Electric Moon does a great job with it, bringing up the guitars a bit and slightly downplaying that excellent drum beat. “Rain” is another Beatles song that the Grateful Dead covered, and here it is done by Sugar Candy Mountain, a band based in Oakland. I really like their version, with some sweet backing vocals and moments of exploration toward the end.

“Julia” is performed by The Vacant Lots, one of only two bands from Stoned to be represented on Magical Mystery Psycho Out. They give it a sort of 1980s new wave feel, which oddly works quite well. It’s obviously a large departure from the soft, intimate feel of the original recording from The White Album. KVB, the other band to be represented on both tributes, does a somewhat slow, dark version of “Taxman.” And Kikagaku Moyo’s “Helter Skelter” is loud and intense, with violent, twisted tones that call to mind the song’s screwed up interpretation by Charles Manson.

The Blank Tapes deliver a totally groovy and fun rendition of “The Word,” a song originally from Rubber Soul. Since this was never my favorite Beatles tune, I’m surprised to find this to be one of my favorite tracks on this collection, but it’s just so damned good. “Love You To” is another highlight, and this version by Fantasmes incorporates those Indian vibes of the original and is one of the trippiest tracks of this CD. I’m also quite fond of Quilt’s rendition of “Cry Baby Cry.”

CD Track List
  1. Tomorrow Never Knows – Electric Moon
  2. Rain – Sugar Candy Mountain
  3. Julia – The Vacant Lots
  4. The Word – The Blank Tapes
  5. Martha My Dear – The Ruby Suns
  6. Taxman – The KVB
  7. Come Together – The Underground Youth
  8. Love You To – Fantasmes
  9. Cry Baby Cry – Quilt
  10. And I Love Her – The Lucid Dream
  11. Helter Skelter – Kikagaku Moyo
  12. Sun King – Strangers Family Band
The Magical Mystery Psych Out: A Tribute To The Beatles is scheduled to be released on March 3, 2015 on Cleopatra Records.