Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Muffs: “The Muffs” (1993/2015) CD Review

When I was in college, The Muffs were huge. Huge. Then I was a radio DJ from 1994 to 1997, and their music got a lot of airplay. We all enjoyed spinning their discs for people. My main gig was a folk and acoustic radio show, but I would sometimes take random shifts to play stuff like The Muffs. So it's a total fucking joy to revisit the band’s self-titled debut album, which is being re-issued by Omnivore Recordings, with plenty of bonus tracks, including several that were previously unreleased. Does music have the power to keep you young? I don’t know, but if any album can do it, it’s this one. Just put on a track like “Not Like Me” and move around to that wonderful beat, and you’ll be back to your early twenties. (By the way, the bonus tracks include the demo version of “Not Like Me.”) This album has great raw energy, and fun, kick-ass tunes. Turn it up and enjoy. This disc also includes new liner notes by Ronnie Barnett and Kim Shattuck, and lots of photos.

The album kicks off with “Lucky Guy,” which I remember getting a lot of airplay in 1993, 1994. It’s a fun track, with a steady beat and some lyrics that are shouted. In the liner notes, Kim Shattuck talks about how it was written about Ronnie. The bonus tracks include the radio remix version.

“Lucky Guy” is followed by “Saying Goodbye,” which was always one of my personal favorites (and still is). It’s a great break-up song, with a lot of energy. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “No matter what you say/No matter what you do/I'll always have a low opinion of you/I've finally done it/And it's too late for you to try and make up with me.” The bonus tracks include the demo version, which is titled “Saying Goodbye To Phil.” It’s a slower rendition, with some added lyrics at the end delivered as spoken word (which Kim Shattuck explains in the liner notes). The demo version was previously unreleased.

“Everywhere I Go” is another favorite of mine. It’s the best kind of pop tune, with the attitude and energy of punk. It’s about a stalker. Here is a bit of the lyrics: “You understand I'm not afraid/Of your complete devotion now/But if it ever gets out of hand/I'll bring you down/Everywhere I go you're there/Everywhere I go you're there/Everywhere I go you're there/Can't you see you're driving me insane?” I also really like these lines: “It's not that I've done wrong/I never think I'm wrong/But when you're watching me/I feel so guilty.” The bonus tracks include the cassette version. Yes, you heard a different version if you bought the cassette. Kim Shattuck talks about this in the liner notes. I really like both versions.

“Better Than Me” is one of those great angry rock tunes that you turn up and shout along to, thinking about that not-so-special someone, whoever it is that’s pissing you off. “Why don’t you stay away/Why don’t you stay away/Why don’t you stay away/Why don’t you stay away.” And then I dig the mid-1960s rock vibes in “From Your Girl.”

I love “Big Mouth.” It reminds me a bit of early Joan Jett material. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I believed you and I thought I knew you/And I told you things that I would never tell anybody else/And now it's common knowledge to everyone/And now I can't face anyone.” And at under two minutes, this tune is short and sweet. “Another Day” is another favorite of mine. There is something undeniably catchy about this one. Partly it’s that guitar riff, maybe because it reminds me of certain mid-1960s rock numbers. Well, whatever it is, it’s a very cool song.

“All For Nothing” is the last track of the original album, and the only one from it that actually worked for my folk and acoustic radio program. It’s actually a pretty song. “Am I wise to run away/Are you the kind to always say/Give it a chance/I don't want to think it was all for nothing.” The bonus tracks include the demo version, which has quite a different sound. I enjoy both versions.

Bonus Tracks

This CD includes ten bonus tracks, eight of which were previously unreleased. Besides the ones I’ve already mentioned, there are demo recordings of “Do You Want Her,” “I Don’t Expect It,” “My Face,” “Something On My Mind” and “Ethyl My Love.” “Something On My Mind” is my favorite, a wonderful song with a classic rock and roll vibe. “I can't stop what's in my head/I can't stop what's in my head/I can't stop what's in my head right now/Can't you see what I mean/But I know you don't think of me/Can't you see/I've got something on my mind.” “Ethyl My Love” ended up on the next album from The Muffs, 1995’s Blonder And Blonder.

Actually, there is an eleventh bonus track, an untitled, unlisted track, which is a phone message to Kim from Dave: “Hey, Kim, it's Dave, calling you back. I guess you're not home. It's 1:20 in the morning, it's Wednesday morning. And I don't hate you...” It's followed by a second message: “Pick the phone up, Kim.” This track is pointless, but whatever.

CD Track List
  1. Lucky Guy
  2. Saying Goodbye
  3. Everywhere I Go
  4. Better Than Me
  5. From Your Girl
  6. Not Like Me
  7. Baby Go Round
  8. North Pole
  9. Big Mouth
  10. Every Single Thing
  11. Don’t Waste Another Day
  12. Stupid Jerk
  13. Another Day
  14. Eye To Eye
  15. I Need You
  16. All For Nothing
  17. Lucky Guy (radio remix)
  18. Everywhere I go (cassette version)
  19. All For Nothing (demo)
  20. Do You Want Her (demo)
  21. I Don’t Expect It (demo)
  22. My Face (demo)
  23. Something On My Mind (demo)
  24. Ethyl My Love (demo)
  25. Not Like Me (demo)
  26. Saying Goodbye To Phil (demo)
This special re-issue of The Muffs is scheduled to be released on August 14, 2015 through Omnivore Recordings. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mark Christian Miller: “Crazy Moon” (2015) CD Review

Jazz vocalist Mark Christian Miller’s new CD, Crazy Moon, features some wonderful choices of material, including standards like “Cheek To Cheek” and some lesser known material by famous composers. Mark Christian Miller is based in Los Angeles, and this is his second album. His first, Dreamer With  A Penny, was released more than a decade ago. Why did someone with so much talent wait so long between releases? Well, in the meantime he’s worked as a music promoter and booked jazz concerts in Los Angeles. And as we all know, it can be easy to get sidetracked from your passions. But he’s back now, and that should make jazz vocalist fans happy. On this new CD, he is joined by Josh Nelson on piano. Nelson also did the arrangements for half of the tracks (Jamison Trotter did the arrangements for the others). He is also joined by Dave Robaire on bass, Sammy Miller on drums, Larry Koonse on guitar, Ron Stout on trumpet, Billy Hulting on percussion and Bob Sheppard on bass clarinet.

The CD kicks off with a really good rendition of “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams,” written by Harry Barris, Ted Koehler and Billy Moll. This is that kind of positive, feel-good vocal jazz that Woody Allen might use in one of his happier moods. It’s the kind of tune that makes you feel that life is perhaps a bit lighter, a bit better, and a bit more magical than you ordinarily do. You know? “Now I look at life a different way/When skies are cloudy and grey/They’re only grey for a day/So wrap your troubles in dreams/Dream your troubles away.” Listening to this song, you feel it’s not only possible to dream your troubles away, but that to do otherwise would be foolish. There is some wonderful work by Josh Nelson on piano. Jamieson Trotter did the arrangement for this track.

Mark Christian Miller’s rendition of “Tomorrow Is My Turn,” written by Charles Aznavour, Marcel Stellman and Yves Stephane, has a good Latin flavor. I love the bass solo, which begins a wonderful instrumental section that includes a drum and percussion solo. Mark Christian Miller follows that with “Cheek To Cheek,” probably the most popular song on this CD, and a song that Woody Allen actually included in The Purple Rose Of Cairo. It was written by Irving Berlin for the 1935 film Top Hat. This version by Mark Christian Miller really swings, opening with brushes moving quickly over the snare, and then Miller coming in on vocals over the drums, with brief, little touches on the bass. And when the bass really comes in, that’s when the song begins to move for me. In addition to some wonderful stuff on bass, Josh Nelson really delivers on piano. The arrangement for this track is by Josh Nelson and Mark Christian Miller.

Mark Christian Miller’s vocals really shine on “Second Chance,” a song written by Andre Previn and Dory Previn for the film Two For The Seesaw. That’s followed by “Oh, You Crazy Moon,” the song that gives this album its title. It was written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, and covered by many artists over the years, including Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker and Wes Montgomery. This version by Mark Christian Miller has a bit more pep to it than many other renditions. It was arranged by Josh Nelson and Mark Christian Miller, and features some nice work on guitar by Larry Koonse.

“I’ve Got Just About Everything” is a fun track which includes some playful scat at the beginning. Jamieson Trotter did the arrangement for this track. “I’ve Got Just About Everything” was written by Bob Dorough, who also wrote “Conjunction Junction” and other tunes for School House Rock. This album concludes with “Almost In Your Arms,” written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. This was the love theme from Houseboat. This version by Mark Christian Miller is a much livelier, faster paced, upbeat number, and even includes a drum solo.

CD Track List
  1. Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams
  2. Tomorrow Is My Turn
  3. Cheek To Cheek
  4. Second Chance
  5. Oh, You Crazy Moon
  6. Strange
  7. Moonray
  8. Twilight World
  9. I’ve Got Just About Everything
  10. April Fooled Me
  11. Almost In Your Arms 
Crazy Moon was released on July 21, 2015 through Sliding Jazz Door Productions.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Whitney Rose: “Heartbreaker Of The Year” (2015) CD Review

From the photo on the cover of Whitney Rose’s new CD, Heartbreaker Of The Year, and from the photo on the back (which shows a pair of white cowboy boots), I expected the music to be basically pure country. And while there definitely is that wonderful classic country feel, Whitney Rose mixes in some strong pop elements as well, creating an interesting and unusual sound and vibe, which I began digging almost immediately. Plus, she has a fantastic voice. This CD contains mostly original material, and features members of The Mavericks backing her. In fact, Mavericks lead singer Raul Malo produced this CD (and joins her on vocals for a rather surprising duet). By the way, this is yet more excellent music from Canada; Whitney Rose is based in Toronto (if you’ve been reading this blog lately, you’ve probably noticed that a lot of great discs are coming from Canada, particularly Ontario).

The album opens with “Little Piece Of You,” and straight off you’ll notice something interesting going on. It’s country music, but with a 1960s pop thing happening as well. It’s a wonderful combination, and fits well with the song’s opening lines, “Where’d you find that old school soul/They don’t make those anymore.” And I completely fell for her vocals on the next lines, “Did you go diving deep down in the ocean blue/For that little piece of you.” Clearly her own soul is timeless.

That’s followed by “My First Rodeo,” a fast-paced bit of country bliss, with a good beat. The band is cooking here, though of course Whitney Rose’s vocals are what take center stage. I’m not a big fan of false endings, but I love when this song comes bursting back in, and actually I just wish it went on longer after that. From there, Whitney Rose switches gears for “The Last Party,” one of those slow, gorgeous, heart-breaking country numbers. “Go cover every jukebox, smash all the guitars/There’s no more music now, even sad songs feel so far away/Board up every theatre, there’ll be no more shows/Why do the birds still sing? Surely they must know.” (This reminds me a bit of that excellent W.H. Auden poem that is read in Four Weddings And A Funeral.)

“Heartbreaker Of The Year,” the CD’s title track, is a country song, but with the cool vibe of a tune like “Fever,” with a prominent bass line, and even has finger snaps. It’s a song about someone who is making it in the entertainment field, walking the red carpet to receive an award, but from the perspective of a woman no longer in his life. “You won’t find me too drunk at the after party/You won’t find me in bed drowning in tears/I’ll be sitting with paper and pen/Working out the math so it won’t happen again.” But my favorite lines are “You must have taken a class in fading away, friend/You must have taken a class in drawing folks near.”

While I was surprised that the first song had a certain 1960s pop flavor, the first of two covers on this CD is a 1963 pop hit, “Be My Baby,” here done as a duet with Raul Malo. “Be My Baby” was written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector, and was originally recorded by The Ronettes. This version doesn’t open with that famous drumbeat. It’s followed by “The Devil Borrowed My Boots,” which actually has something of a late 1960s soul vibe – horns would certainly not be out of place here. And at one moment the guitar briefly reminds me of “Harper Valley PTA.” This is a fun song. “Don’t be fooled by the boots, that wasn’t me.”

While the first of this CD’s two covers is a classic pop tune, the second is a classic country song, Hank Williams’ “There’s A Tear In My Beer,” here done as a sweet, beautiful, slow number, almost like a lullaby, Whitney's voice nearly angelic.

CD Track List
  1. Little Piece Of You
  2. My First Rodeo
  3. The Last Party
  4. Only Just A Dream
  5. Heartbreaker Of The Year
  6. Be My Baby
  7. The Devil Borrowed My Boots
  8. Ain’t It Wise
  9. Lasso
  10. There’s A Tear In My Beer

Musicians on this album include Whitney Rose on vocals and acoustic guitar; Raul Malo on vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and percussion; Nichol Robertson on electric guitar, acoustic guitar and mandolin; Jerry Dale McFadden on piano and organ; Jay Weaver on bass; Paul Deakin on drums; Burke Carroll on pedal steel, lap steel and dobro; and Drew Jurecka on strings.

Heartbreaker Of The Year is scheduled to be released on August 21, 2015 on Cameron House Records.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Love Love: “Love Love” (2015) CD Review

Love Love is a fairly new Boston band centered on two talented singers and songwriters, Chris Toppin and Jefferson Davis Riordan, along with Darren Ray on lead guitar. You might recall Chris Toppin from the 1990s band Fuzzy, and Jefferson Davis Riordan from Evelyn Swoons. The band’s self-titled debut album finds them joined by several guest musicians, including Eric Schmider, Aaron Gelb and Joe Klompus, all of whom played together in The One Smith (previously known as Mollycoddle). This CD features mostly original material and boasts some great tracks, like “Dreaming” and “I Like You Weird.”

It opens with “Murderpedia,” which was the first song that Chris Toppin and Jefferson Davis Riordan worked on together. It’s a good, solid rock tune, with rather unusual lyrics. Check out these lines: “Angelita of Barcelona/Rescued alive from a witch’s lair/Told tales of ten young girls before her/Made into potions sold at the fair.” Chris Toppin takes lead vocal duties, cutting loose, particularly on the chorus.  Jonathan Ulman plays drums, and Winston Braman plays bass on this track. “Murderpedia” is followed by “Hey Fella,” with Jefferson Davis Riordan on lead vocals. This tune has a good, slow groove, and again with some interesting lyrics. “Hey fella/You’ve got a face looks out of place everywhere that it’s been shown round” and “She knows one of these days you’re going to have to right what she made wrong.” This track features Russell Chudnofsky on guitar and Joe Klompus on bass.

For me, however, the album begins getting really good with its third track, “Dreaming,” a song that pulls me in almost immediately with these lines: “Just let me be/In love with fantasy/A child with a child’s ability to make things easy.” It’s a strangely gorgeous and haunting song, and I love the way their vocals work together. “Why did you, why did you have to stop dreaming?” This is also the first track on the album to feature horns. That’s Aaron Gelb on tenor sax, Cale Israel on trombone and Ezra Weller on trumpet.

“Dreaming” is followed by another of my favorites, “Big Backyard Moon,” which starts off sweetly, in the folk realm, with Chris singing, “Though there’s trouble all around us/I still love you/And I want you to know/Everything is gonna be all right.” It’s pretty, and I love it, but when the song kicks in, it gets even better, with a good country rock vibe. This is a song to make you feel good. And then suddenly the horns come in, taking the song up another notch. This is a wonderful song.

Their vocals are at the center of “Bailing,” which opens with a section sung a cappella. It’s beautiful, but it’s when the song kicks in that I really begin to love it. There is something fun about this song. I really dig the percussion on this track. Jonathan Ulman is on drums, and Matt Tahaney is on percussion. “No place safe when water’s on the rise/There ain’t no place to escape to but into each other’s eyes.” And when Chris sings “Stick it out with me,” the power of her voice reminds me of Leslie Knauer (of Kanary).

I seriously love “I Like You Weird.” As you might guess, it’s a fun song with a certain sense of humor. This is the kind of love song I can sink my teeth into and relate to. I’m not sure my girlfriend will appreciate knowing that this song reminds me of her, so let’s just not tell her, okay? “I like you weird/I like you off your rocker/Go nuts, baby, just take me along with you/Yeah, I might be queer/But you’re looking better and better.” Aaron Gelb is on tenor sax and Ezra Weller is on trumpet on this track.

“Sunday Morning” is one of album’s most interesting songs, with a kind of dark tone at times, and with two distinct perspectives, the dual lead vocals working as a sort of conversation. “I’m not going through this anymore with you.” It’s followed by “Skin,” another powerful and unusual track.

“Lost Battle” is another highlight, with some wonderful vocals. The album concludes with its only cover, “Bright Morning Stars,” a traditional song also known as “Bright Morning Stars Are Rising.” The track begins with a little studio banter, which is unnecessary but doesn't mar this beautiful rendition, performed a cappella.

CD Track List
  1. Murderpedia
  2. Hey Fella
  3. Dreaming
  4. Big Backyard Moon
  5. Bailing
  6. Maryland
  7. I Like You Weird
  8. Wide Open Skies
  9. Winter Changes Everything
  10. Sunday Morning
  11. Skin
  12. Leave Myself
  13. Lost Battle
  14. Bright Morning Stars
Love Love is scheduled to be released on October 16, 2015. 

Holly Golightly: “Slowtown Now!” (2015) CD Review

I am always happy when a new Holly Golightly CD is released. Mostly what we’ve been hearing from her lately is Brokeoffs material, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the new album, Slowtown Now! (her first full band album in a decade). I’ve been totally digging Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs (their Sunday Run Me Over was on my list of the best CDs of 2012, and last year’s All Her Fault was on my list of best CDs of 2014). Slowtown Now! has more of a rock and roll flavor than the Brokeoffs material. But while quite a bit different in sound and approach than the Brokeoffs, this new CD has the same joy and intelligence and humor.

It opens with “Seven Wonders,” which right away has a catchy groove to get you in the right mood. And then Holly’s wonderful and distinctive voice comes in. This tune has a delightful, classic feel, with some cool work on guitar. It’s followed by “Fool Fool Fool (Look In The Mirror),” the one cover song on this CD. This tune was written by Rudy Clark, and performed by Barbara Lewis. There are other versions of “Fool Fool Fool,” by groups like Ray Brown And The Whispers and Joey And The Flips, attributed to Rudy Clark, but those seem like a completely different song. So did Rudy Clark write a song titled “Fool Fool Fool,” and then another song a few years later titled “Fool Fool Fool (Look In The Mirror)”? It seems that way. Anyway, this recording by Holly Golightly is excellent. She’s really got that 1960s vibe happening. What a wonderful vocal performance.

“Frozen In Time” is one of my personal favorites on this disc. Holly’s vocals are so smooth and sexy and sweet, and there is a wonderful jazzy feel to it, due of course in part to George Simmonds’ presence on trombone. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Drink ‘til we’re dry/Think we can fly/Falling like rocks into the river/Even though I’ve tried/I can’t seem to find/Any way to leave you behind.” There is also a jazzy element to the delightful and quirky “Empty Space,” another favorite, which makes great uses of pauses. “There’s an empty space where you should have had something to say/I got no more time to waste on silence, I won’t wait.” I completely love the bass on this track.

“As You Go Down” is another of this album’s many highlights. It has a fantastic 1960s sound and is full of kick-ass attitude. I mean, check out these lines: “And all you recall as you hit the ground/Will be the sound of the crowd cheering out loud/As you go down, you go down, you go down, you go down, you go down” and “And that knife in your back will be turning some more.” This is one that has me dancing around in my apartment and singing along. I just fucking love this song. And speaking of 1960s rock sounds, the opening of “Stopped My Heart” sounds a lot like Jefferson Airplane’s “The Ballad Of You &Me & Pooneil” (“If you were a bird and you lived very high…”), though a bit slower.

“Slowtown” has something of a cool, dark country vibe, which I love. It’s a song about taking a break from the road: “The road gets as weary as it’s long,” “Don’t worry about a thing, swing by and rest/You get too tired to go on, heading east then heading west/Leave your troubles at the door.” And this song gives the album its title, in the line “You can come on down/I live in Slowtown now.” I really like the way those lines are repeated at the end.

“What You See” features more great 1960s sounds, and is yet one more highlight. It has kind of a peppy sound, but with lyrics that work in wonderful contrast. Actually, it’s almost like the sound of the song is the very front she sings about. After all, the first line is “See me smile, you think I’m glad.” A little later she sings, “But all you know ain’t all there is to show/And what you don’t I won’t ever let you know/You won’t ever know.”

CD Track List
  1. Seven Wonders
  2. Fool Fool Fool (Look In The Mirror)
  3. Frozen In Time
  4. As You Go Down
  5. Stopped My Heart
  6. Empty Space
  7. Catch Your Fall
  8. Slowtown
  9. Hell To Pay
  10. What You See
  11. Forevermore
  12. When I Wake
Slowtown Now! is scheduled to be released on September 11, 2015 through Damaged Goods. (Well, that's the date listed on the press sheet, anyway. On the Damaged Goods site, the release date is given as August 28, 2015. And on Amazon, it's listed as coming out on August 21, 2015.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I Dream Of Wires DVD Review

I’ve had mixed feelings about synthesizers. I first heard the Moog on Monkees tunes like “Star Collector” and “Daily Nightly” when I was a kid, and loved it. Then in the 1980s, it seemed synthesizers were taking over music, and people with little or no musical ability were able to churn out songs. And at that point I wanted them all destroyed. But since then I’ve learned to appreciate what they can do in certain contexts. I suppose I have a more balanced perspective (though I am still diametrically opposed to drum machines). Giving me a greater appreciation of these instruments is the new film I Dream Of Wires, a truly interesting documentary that recounts the history of the synthesizers and their use. The film is narrated by Patti Schmidt, who early on talks about how when electricity was first used, it quickly entered into every aspect of life. “So it’s not surprising that electricity would find its way into the world of music, not just to record it, as the phonograph had done, but to make it, using electricity as the sound source. Truly electronic music.”

There is a lot of interesting information about two pioneers in synthesizers: Robert Moog and Donald Buchla. They came at the idea from two very different perspectives, and with different intentions. Robert Moog was based on the east coast, and began selling do-it-yourself kits for theremins, before creating his synthesizer, which he hooked up to a keyboard to make it something a working musician could use. Meanwhile, in the San Francisco area during the height of the counterculture, “a very different modular synthesizer was born.” As Patti Schmidt tells us, Donald Buchla was “a former NASA engineer who drifted into the west coast counterculture and its community of artists and musicians.” The differences in the types of synthesizers these two men created, and the ways they were used are fascinating. It’s interesting too that it was at the Monterey Pop Festival that the Moog first took off on the west coast, something I didn’t know before.

The film includes interviews with many of the key players, including Ramon Sender and Morton Subotnick, who founded the San Francisco Tape Music Center, a collective of experimental composers with ties to Donald Buchla. Morton Subotnick also recorded Silver Apples Of The Moon, the first electronic album released commercially. It’s interesting to hear the different perspectives on that album versus Switched-On Bach, an album by Walter Carlos where he performed classic works by Bach on the modern instrument. It was the latter album that introduced electronic music to a large audience, but the differences in the two records are greater than their similarities.

The film recounts the changes in the way the public viewed the instruments, as well as the changes in the instruments themselves, from the expensive and large early machines to the Minimoog, to the seeming death of analog by the introduction of the DX-7 with preprogrammed sounds.

There are also interviews with several musicians, including Gary Numan, Vince Clarke (of Depeche Mode and Erasure), and Trent Reznor and Alessandro Cortini of Nine Inch Nails. With regards to the fashion for preprogrammed sounds, Trent Reznor says, “Interesting new sounds took a back seat to cheaply made junk that could do lots of things kind of half-assed, but not anything with any character.”  I do wish that Walter (now Wendy) Carlos had been interviewed.

I also wish the film had more music, like tracks from Switched-On Bach, or music from Nine Inch Nails, Erasure, or Emerson, Lake And Palmer. Its lack is the film’s one major weakness. Co-writer and producer Jason Amm, as Solvent, provides most of the music heard in this film. And actually, Solvent music plays basically throughout the film. It would have been better to include a greater variety of composers from various times in the history of synthesizers. The Monkees are mentioned at one point, but we don’t hear any of their music. Emerson, Lake And Palmer are mentioned several times, but again, we hear nothing from that band. Also, the movie is definitely very fond of modular synthesizers. We don’t hear from any detractors. But like I said, the film held my interest, and I learned quite a bit from it.

Special Features

The DVD contains more than an hour of bonus material, included an extended interview with Trent Reznor and Alessandro Cortini of Nine Inch Nails. Trent talks about working in a store selling synthesizers, and about his own use of the instruments. Synth 101: An Introduction To Modular Synthesizers For Beginners is basically a ten-minute tutorial. This is actually really handy, and it might not be a bad idea to watch this bonus feature before watching the film.

The bonus footage also includes a tour of Vince Clarke’s synthesizer collection, and a profile on two Canadian manufacturers of synthesizers. There is also a look at Solvent’s process for creating the soundtrack, as well as three Solvent music videos (for “Burn The Tables,” “Pattern Recognition” and “Themogene”).

I Dream Of Wires was directed by Robert Fantinatto, and is scheduled to be released on DVD on August 4, 2015 through First Run Features.

Nick Ferrio: “Amongst The Coyotes And Birdsongs” (2015) CD Review

I know I’ve said this a lot lately, but much of today’s best music seems to be coming out of Canada. Another fine example of this is Nick Ferrio’s new album, Amongst The Coyotes And Birdsongs, which features strong and moving original material in the folk realm. Several guest vocalists join him, helping to give each song a more distinct feel. There are no weak tracks here, and two of the tracks – “Come Hell Or High Water” and “Mirrorball Shine” – are among my favorite songs of the year.

It opens with “Hide My Love,” which features Tamara Lindeman (from The Weather Station) joining him on vocals, and Matt Monoogian on pedal steel. “If I only knew how to/I would give myself to you wholehearted/Don’t want to hide my love.” There is almost kind of a pop feel to this song, particularly in the chorus, and its brighter vibe matches the excitement and nervousness the characters of this song feel. Tarama Lindeman also joins Nick Ferrio on vocals for the following track, “Fall In Love,” a mellower and pretty song.

One of my personal favorites is “Come Hell Or High Water,” which has more of a country vibe, and features Sylvie Smith on vocals (you might know her from Evening Hymns and The Magic). There is something so positive about this song, and I just love the whole feel of it. “I’ve been waiting so long/For you to come along/I’ve been waiting so long/To say, to say/Come hell or high water.” It’s a wonderful song, and I’ve been listening to it over and over. And yet, as good as this song is, I think “Mirrorball Shine” is even better. There is something timeless about this folk song – the sound, the subject, the approach. This is one of those songs that feels like it could eventually (or soon) become a traditional tune. Julie Doiron joins Nick on this track, and I love her vocals. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Daughter, daughter, I won’t say this twice/If you’re thinking of him, you don’t need my advice/You don’t need my advice/Keep him with you beneath your sleepy lids/If he’s in your thoughts when you awake/Then your love is his/Then your love is his.”  You might find yourself singing along. It’s a song you want to commit to memory to have at the ready to sing yourself. Matt Monoogian plays pedal steel on this track.

Am I mad, or does “Wrecking Ball” remind you a bit of The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down”? Maybe it’s just me. “Once I thought I had a true love/Stood like a tower tall/Thought nothing could shake it/Nothing could make it fall.” Tamara Lindeman joins him on vocals on this track, as well as on the following track, “Amongst The Coyotes And Birdsongs.” The CD’s title track has a lighter, happier feel (though the lyrics sometimes work wonderfully against that – “And now when we pass on a busy street/We walk right by like a couple of strangers/With no hellos, and no goodbyes/Just a certain sadness somewhere in our eyes”), and a catchy guitar part that I can’t help but love. Gavin Gardiner also provides vocals on this one. I should mention that Gardiner co-produced the album with Nick Ferrio, and also recorded and mixed it. He also plays bass on several tracks. (You might know Gavin from The Wooden Sky.) “Amongst The Coyotes And Birdsongs” is another of this album’s highlights. It features Matt Monoogian on pedal steel.

The only cover on this release is “Hang Man,” a traditional song that is also known as “The Gallows Tree” and “The Maid Freed From The Gallows.” Led Zeppelin recorded it as “Gallows Pole,” as did Neil Young, and The Watersons recorded it as “The Prickle Holly Bush.” On the back of this Nick Ferrio CD case and on the CD itself, it is listed as “Hangman,” but inside it’s listed as “Hang Man.” Julie Doiron joins Nick on vocals on this track.

CD Track List
  1. Hide My Love
  2. Fall In Love
  3. Come Hell Or High Water
  4. Mirrorball Shine
  5. At My Window
  6. Wrecking Ball
  7. Amongst The Coyotes And Birdsongs
  8. Hang Man
  9. Back In Town 
Amongst The Coyotes And Birdsongs was released on CD on May 26, 2015 through Headless Owl and Shuffling Feet. This album was also released on vinyl and on cassette (yes, that’s right, cassette).

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Larry Newcomb Quartet: “Live Intentionally!” (2015) CD Review

Larry Newcomb is a seriously talented jazz guitarist (who also teaches guitar). Live Intentionally, the new album from Larry Newcomb Quartet, was recorded live in the studio, without overdubs. The tracks here are a mix of covers and original compositions, all arranged by Larry Newcomb. The original material is so strong that it fits right in with classics by Kern and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart, and even Charlie Parker. I’m particularly fond of “Thanks Jack!” There is a great rhythm to the album, and even the solos flow organically from the main structure. Take, for example, the bass solo on “Sure Thing.” It feels natural, instead of feeling like the result of someone saying, “Okay, your turn to solo.” The quartet is Larry Newcomb on guitar, Eric Olsen on piano, Dmitri Kolesnik on bass and Jimmy Madison on drums. And it is a quartet, with each member contributing equally, rather than three musicians backing one guy.

The album opens with a bright, fun rendition of “Be My Love,” written by Nicolas Brodsky (often spelled Brodszky) and Sammy Cahn. This song was originally recorded by Mario Lanza, and also sung by Placido Domingo, but I actually prefer this instrumental version. In addition to some sweet work on guitar, there are wonderful lead spots by Eric Olsen on piano and Dmitri Kolesnik on bass. It’s followed by “All The Things You Are,” a song written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II for the 1939 musical Very Warm For May. It begins with a kind of playful piano solo, with some nice little touches on guitar, and has a sweet groove throughout.

The CD then gets into the original material. There are three tracks written by Larry Newcomb, all placed together on the CD. The first, “Thanks Jack!,” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. It has such a joyous vibe. And then “Sure Thing” has a kind of cool, even sly vibe, which I really like. This music just makes me feel good. “Instant Water,” the third original composition, begins with some delightful, playful work on guitar. It feels like the guitar itself is smiling. And I love the piano lead, which really takes over the track, as well as those brief, but wonderful, drum solo spots.

“Olhos De Gato” is an interesting composition by Carla Bley, and recorded by Gary Burton in 1973 and by Paul Bley in 1992. This is a more introspective and mellow track than the others on this CD. Things then get decidedly more lively with a rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Au Privave,” the piano taking the first lead. This track is hopping, and I’m definitely into it. I actually wish it went on a bit longer.

The CD then concludes with two popular tunes, “Stardust” and “Have You Met Miss Jones?” “Stardust” has been recorded by an incredible amount of artists over the years, from Bing Crosby to Willie Nelson, and it always seems effective. This version features some wonderful work on piano by Eric Olsen. It was written by Hoagy Carmichael. “Have You Met Miss Jones,” by Richard Rodgers (on the back of the case misspelled as “Rogers”) and Lorenz Hart, has also been recorded by a lot of artists over the years. It was composed for the musical I’d Rather Be Right. This is a peppy version, to leave you feeling good, and features a wonderful bass solo by Dmitri Kolesnik.

CD Track List
  1. Be My Love
  2. All The Things You Are
  3. Thanks Jack!
  4. Sure Thing
  5. Instant Water
  6. Olhos De Gato
  7. Au Privave
  8. Stardust
  9. Have You Met Miss Jones? 
Live Intentionally! is scheduled to be released September 4, 2015 on Essential Messenger Records.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Continental Drifters: “Drifted: In The Beginning & Beyond” (2015) CD Review

Continental Drifters included folks like Peter Holsapple, Susan Cowsill and Vicki Peterson in the lineup during the band’s ten-year existence. In fact, the only steady band member was bass player Mark Walton (whom you’ll also know from The Dream Syndicate). As a result, there are several voices in the band’s songs, several members contributing material, and keeping things interesting. The new two-disc retrospective, Drifted: In The Beginning & Beyond, includes plenty of previously unreleased tracks to keep serious fans happy. And for someone who might be new to the band, this two-disc set should serve as a great introduction. There is a lot of original material from the band’s early years on the first disc, plus some great covers on the second disc. This set includes liner notes by Scott Schinder, as well as by band members Carlo Nuccio, Ray Ganucheau, Mark Walton, Gary Eaton, Robert Mache, Danny McGough, Peter Holsapple, Vicki Peterson, and Susan Cowsill, who all tell the story of the band. There is also a brief note by Steve Wynn (Wynn and Mark Walton played together in The Dream Syndicate).

Disc One: In The Beginning

This collection kicks off with an early version of “Who We Are, Where We Live,” a song written by Vicki Peterson that was included on the band’s 1999 release, Vermilion. This version was previously unreleased. I love the raw power of this track. It’s a good rock song. By the way, if you’re having trouble placing the name, Vicki Peterson was a founding member of The Bangs (who then became The Bangles), and also a member of The Psycho Sisters (along with Susan Cowsill). “Who We Are, Where We Live” is followed by “Side Steppin’ The Fire,” written by Carlo Nuccio. This song really works for me. Perhaps it’s because of the line about making a list, which I tend to do every day, and perhaps it’s because of his goal with the list – “How I plan to turn it around/To better fit this guy I knew/When I was much younger.” It definitely has the feel of some of The Band’s material.

Another of my favorite songs from the first disc is “Karen A,” also written by Carlo Nuccio. It has a beautiful folk feel, with nice work on harmonica at the beginning and at key moments. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I must admit I miss our conversations on the phone/I never figured out what exactly went wrong/But it was good/When you wanted it that way/Karen A.” This demo was previously unreleased. Also previously unreleased is the early version of “The Rain Song,” a tune that would be included on Vermilion. This is a strong track written by Susan Cowsill. Here are the opening lines: “I don’t think about us much anymore/Frankly, the topic has become a bore/You don’t come up much in my conversations/I don’t think about you on vacation/But when it rains, when it rains, when it rains/That’s when I remember.”

The band goes more into the country realm with “Mr. Everything,” a song written by Gary Eaton. The version here is a previously unreleased alternate mix. “He’s Mr. Everything/He’s all you need to know/Nothing matters/’Til it’s time for him to go.” Then things get a little funky with “No One Cares,” written by Ray Ganucheau. And even though has a bit of funk to it, it takes on a serious tone, with lines like, “No one cares/No one calls/No one’s there for when you fall.” Also written by Ray Ganucheau is “I Didn’t Want To Lie,” a really sweet, pretty tune, with nice vocals. This is another of my favorites.

One of the most interesting tracks for me is “Invisible Boyfriend,” written by Peter Holsapple (the only of his songs included in this collection). Check out these lines: “I watched her turn and then smile at the air/Halfway expecting to see him right there/And when he’s not, her face just drops/Meet the invisible boyfriend/The man of her dreams has returned to a dream/She’s by herself, or so it would seem/To a casual observer like I am.” This is a seriously good song.

Disc Two: Beyond

While the first disc contains all original music, the second disc is all covers, including quite a few songs from Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson of Fairport Convention. Several tracks on this disc are live recordings, all of them previously unreleased. It opens with a live version of “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” a song written and originally performed by William Bell. This excellent version was recorded on in July of 1992 for the Los Angeles radio program Morning Becomes Eclectic. That’s followed by a live version of Lucinda Williams’ “Crescent City,” recorded in November of 2000 in Louisiana. Interestingly, it cuts before the audience applauds, which is actually nice, since this is a mixture of live and studio recordings from a variety of sources.

They dip into pop with a fun cover of the Alive N Kickin’ hit “Tighter, Tighter,” which was co-written by Tommy James (yes, of the Shondells), and also “I Can’t Let Go,” which had been released as a single by The Hollies. And they do a wonderful rendition of “Some Of Shelly’s Blues,” written by Michael Nesmith (and here spelled “Some Of Shelley’s Blues”). I’m a huge Monkees fan, and I was so excited in 1990 when they finally included this song on a compilation, titled Missing Links Volume Two (there spelled “Some Of Shelly’s Blues”). It’s a great song, and it’s been covered by several artists over the years, including Earl Scruggs, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Mary McCaslin. The version included on this disc was previously unreleased. A different version of this song (there spelled “Some Of Shelly’s Blues”) was included on the self-titled album from Continental Drifters, but I actually prefer the version on this disc.

One of my favorite tracks on this disc is a Beach Boys cover, “Farmer’s Daughter.” Continental Drifters take that short intro from the original and stretch it out, giving it a decidedly James Bond feel, which is great. Maybe I’m mad, but I’m digging this version more than the original. This track was recorded at a reunion show in April of 2009.  It’s followed by another of this disc’s highlights, a wonderful rendition of “Dedicated To The One I Love,” recorded live in 1996. I love this track, and the vocals are excellent.

The final eight tracks were written either by Sandy Denny or Richard Thompson (the one exception being the traditional tune “Matty Groves” which Fairport Convention had covered). Six of them were previously released on 2001’s Listen, Listen, but the first, a live version of Sandy Denny’s “At The End Of The Day,” was previously unreleased. It’s a really nice rendition from 2000. The final track, “Meet On The Ledge,” was previously released on a single in 1997. I love Richard Thompson, and this band does some really good versions of his music. I'm particularly fond of “I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight.”

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Who We Are, Where We Live (Early Version)
  2. Side Steppin’ The Fire
  3. The Mississippi
  4. Match Made In Heaven
  5. Karen A (Demo)
  6. The Rain Song (Early Version)
  7. Dallas (Alternate Mix)
  8. Here I Am
  9. Mr. Everything (Alternate Mix)
  10. No One Cares
  11. Green (Demo)
  12. I Didn’t Want To Lie
  13. Invisible Boyfriend
  14. New York (Demo)
  15. Let It Ride 
Disc Two
  1. You Don’t Miss Your Water (Live)
  2. Crescent City (Live)
  3. A Song For You
  4. Tighter, Tighter (Demo)
  5. I Can’t Let Go
  6. Some Of Shelley's Blues (Campfire Mix)
  7. When You Dance I Can Really Love
  8. Turn Back The Hands Of Time (Live)
  9. Farmer’s Daughter (Live)
  10. Dedicated To The One I Love (Live)
  11. At The End Of The Day (Live)
  12. Listen, Listen
  13. I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
  14. The Poor Ditching Boy
  15. You’re Gonna Need Somebody
  16. I’m A Dreamer
  17. Matty Groves
  18. Meet On The Ledge (Studio Version)
Drifted: In The Beginning & Beyond was released on July 17, 2015 through Omnivore Recordings. By the way, the entire band will be getting together for two shows in September – one in New Orleans, one in Los Angeles (the two cities that this band called home). 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Mark Winkler: “Jazz And Other Four Letter Words” (2015) CD Review

You might be familiar with Mark Winkler as a co-writer for the musical Naked Boys Singing! (which was also made into a film) and Too Old For The Chorus ... But Not Too Old To Be A Star!, as well as for Play It Cool. He’s also a well-known lyricist, having written many songs recorded by other artists. And of course he’s released many albums of his own. Jazz And Other Four Letter Words, the new CD from this talented jazz vocalist and lyricist, includes a mix of original material and some nice choices of covers. There are two duets with Manhattan Transfer’s Cheryl Bentyne, whom Winkler teamed up with on the 2013 release West Coast Cool.

Jazz And Other Four Letter Words opens with “My Idea Of A Good Time,” a song Mark Winkler wrote with Greg Gordon Smith. The first lines of this one are: “Some say that I dream too much/My head up in the clouds/I’m out of touch.” Ah, we’ve all been told that at one point or another, right? I know I have. And I like any jazz song that makes reference to King Kong (“And the world’s in my palm”). I also dig these lines: “Yes, fleeing from the scene of a perfect crime/I guess that’s my idea of a good time.” In addition to these good lyrics, there is a nice lead on piano by Jamieson Trotter.

Mark Winkler follows that one with a humorous tune titled “I’m Hip,” written by Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough in 1965 (by the way, Dave Frishberg also wrote the lyrics for “I’m Just A Bill,” for you Schoolhouse Rock fans). This is the first of the two duets with Cheryl Bentyne. I love the way they sing together on phrases like “my shades on.” I also love the way the song sort of pauses for a moment when she says she’s into Zen, as if the song itself is meditating. This track has quite a few nice little touches like that. Plus, it has a cool bass solo by John Clayton. This is one of my personal favorites. The other duet with Cheryl Bentyne is Rodgers and Hart’s “I Wish I Were In Love Again,” from the 1937 musical Babes In Arms. The lines that always amuse me in this song are “The conversation with the flying plates/I wish I were in love again.

You can really never go wrong with Gershwin, and on this release Mark Winkler does a nice, slow rendition of “Nice Work If You Can Get It” – just vocals, piano and guitar, giving it a groovy, mellow feel. There is a good lead spot on guitar by Pat Kelley halfway through. Mark also does a Paul Simon cover, “Have A Good Time.” I really dig how the bass dominates the beginning of this track, and then there is a delightful surprise when the pace suddenly picks up. Check out that lead on trombone by Bob McChesney. And Walt Fowler is on trumpet.

This album includes two songs with music by Bill Cantos. The first, “Your Cat Plays Piano,” has a piano part that at times reminds me of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.”  This cool tune has some funny lines, like “And I could swear he’s a jazzer, because he will not play the melody” and “And though I can’t say what your poetry’s about, I know it’s very deep.” There is a spoken word section, delivered over some cool work on bass and drums. The second song with music by Bill Cantos is “I Chose The Moon,” a sweet, romantic song that is going to make you want to reach out to embrace your loved one (one verse reminds me of when I met my girlfriend).

Mark Winkler co-wrote the album’s title track, “Jazz And Other Four Letter Words” with Jamieson Trotter. This song takes a kind of humorous (and loving) look at the current state of jazz, from the perspective of a musician. “Today you dare not use the word/It’s like something bad, they say/It’s not commercial, man/But they don’t understand.” And it refers to some of the most famous jazz musicians – “Bird, Monk, Chet, Prez” (whose names, or nicknames, coincidentally have four letters).

This CD concludes with “Stay Hip,” which Mark co-wrote with Rich Eames, who also arranged the track and plays piano on it. It's a love letter to jazz and its fans. “Stay true, stay young, stay hip.” This song features a cool guitar lead by Larry Koonse.

CD Track List
  1. My Idea Of A Good Time
  2. I’m Hip
  3. Nice Work If You Can Get It
  4. Your Cat Plays Piano
  5. I Chose The Moon
  6. Have A Good Time
  7. I Wish I Were In Love Again
  8. Jazz And Other Four Letter Words
  9. I Never Went Away
  10. In A New York Minute/The Great City/Autumn In New York
  11. Stay Hip
Jazz And Other Four Letter Words is scheduled to be released on August 1, 2015 on Café Pacific Records (though Amazon has the release date as July 21, 2015).

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Vince Guaraldi Trio: “Peanuts Greatest Hits”

When I was a kid, I had no idea I was a jazz fan. Like most kids I knew, I couldn’t get enough of the music from the Peanuts specials, music written by pianist Vince Guaraldi. We didn’t know that was jazz. We just knew it sounded great. Now a new compilation, Peanuts Greatest Hits, allows us to revisit those wonderful compositions from our childhood, music that never really left us. Sure, as adults, we know a lot more about Vince Guaraldi and how these compositions came about (and if you don’t, just read this CD’s new liner notes from Derrick Bang), but the music hits us the same way it did when we were children. And that’s something we all need from time to time.

The CD opens with the wonderful “Linus And Lucy,” the tune most people think of as the Peanuts theme. It’s such a great composition, and it never fails to make me smile. This track was included on A Charlie Brown Christmas, which was re-issued in 2012, and also on The Very Best Of Vince Guaraldi, also released in 2012. It’s followed by the lesser known “Charlie Brown Theme,” from A Boy Named Charlie Brown. This one has a delightful, relaxed swinging groove, and I really like what Monty Budwig does on bass.

“Baseball Theme” contains nice little nods to “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” at the beginning. Baseball is another thing that has the power to bring me back to my childhood, the joy and excitement of being at Fenway Park eliminating all grown-up cares, if only momentarily. And Vince Guaraldi really captures the innocence and joy of baseball with this composition. “Happiness Is” likewise has an innocence, and is a sweet tune, with a certain nostalgic quality.

“Little Birdie” is definitely the most unusual track on this release. First of all, Vince Guaraldi is on electric piano. And secondly, this song treats us to his vocals. The song is from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (heard while Snoopy and Woodstock are setting up the ping pong table and chairs), and was included on the album Peanuts Portraits. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Little birdie, why do you fly upside down/It’s amazing at the way you get around/Little birdie, why you worry like you do/Don’t you worry, you just do what you can do.” Tom Harrell is on trumpet, and Chuck Bennett is on trombone. Also included from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is “Thanksgiving Theme.”

This CD concludes with four tunes from A Charlie Brown Christmas, all of which feature Fred Marshall on bass and Jerry Granelli on drums. Both versions of “Christmas Time Is Here” are included. This composition is so beautiful and peaceful. It feels like being seated next to the fireplace late at night, a cup of cocoa in your hand, the snow lightly falling outside, time at a standstill. I prefer the longer instrumental rendition, but the vocal version has its own charm, and features St. Paul’s Church Choir. It is certainly one of the best Christmas songs.

CD Track List
  1. Linus And Lucy
  2. Charlie Brown Theme
  3. Baseball Theme
  4. Oh, Good Grief
  5. Happiness Is
  6. Little Birdie
  7. Great Pumpkin Waltz
  8. Thanksgiving Theme
  9. Christmas Is Coming
  10. Christmas Time Is Here (Instrumental)
  11. Skating
  12. Christmas Time Is Here (Vocal)
Peanuts Greatest Hits is scheduled to be released on July 31, 2015 through Concord Music Group and Fantasy Records.

Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band: “Live From Vancouver 1973” (2015) CD Review

Captain Beefheart was the stage name of Don Glen Vliet, a singer, musician and songwriter known mainly for his work with The Magic Band from 1965 to 1982. Live From Vancouver 1973 captures the band in concert at the Commodore Ballroom in March of 1973, and includes liner notes by Jon Downes. The sound quality of this CD is on the poor side. This is not a soundboard recording, but seems to be an audience tape. There is no information in the liner notes about the source material, or in fact about the show itself. From what I can gather from other sources, this CD contains the entire set, in proper order. The front cover says it’s from March 3, 1973, but the title of the album on the side of the case is Live From Vancouver 1977, which must be an error. Fans will appreciate having this recording, because any Captain Beefheart is good, right? But for other folks, this is probably not the CD to serve as an introduction to this band’s music. The Magic Band had different line-ups over the years. The band on this album includes Captain Beefheart, Rockette Morton, Roy Estrada, Zoot Horn Rollo and Ed Marimba.

The CD kicks off with “Hair Pie: Bake III,” which begins nearly in full force. No introductions, no stage banter, just right into it. Of course, it’s possible that there was something before this, and whoever was recording the show started his tape a bit late. Who knows? “Hair Pie: Bake III” is a loud, odd instrumental track, a bass solo. A strange way to begin a show, no? Well, this is Captain Beefheart, so you can just forget normality. It leads straight into “Suction Prints,” a thumping and unrestrained instrumental. They then go into “Low Yo Yo Stuff,” the lead-off track from the band’s 1972 release Clear Spot, and finally we can hear that familiar bluesy rough voice of Captain Beefheart. They follow that with another tune from Clear Spot, “Nowadays A Woman’s Gotta Hit A Man.” One thing about Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band, they sure came up with some great, memorable titles. (Hey, who else would write a song titled “I Wanna Find A Woman That’ll Hold My Big Toe ‘Til I Have To Go”?)  It’s a shame the sound quality is so poor, because it’s hard to make out the lyrics at times, and the lyrics to this tune are pretty awesome. Check out these lines: “You gotta wait for your woman/Let her know you’re there/I knew I had to go out and tell all of the women/That I knew they were there/Now everywhere I go the women all know that I know/There ain’t no, there ain’t no other place to go but there/Yeah, I’m talkin’ about women, man/They don’t have to hit me/To make me know it’s there.”

“Abba Zaba” is a very cool track from the band’s debut album, 1967’s Safe As Milk. This is a good version, but of course I wish the sound quality were better. There are band introductions before the band goes into “Sugar ‘N’ Spikes,” an instrumental. And there is a bit of stage banter between that track and “Peon,” another instrumental tune, this one from the 1970 album Lick My Decals Off, Baby.

Most of this material is obviously original, but the band does play a few covers. The first is “Old Black Snake,” a John Lee Hooker song (which was originally titled “Black Snake”). Before that song, you can distinctly hear audience members talking. And this one is all Captain Beefheart – some harmonica at the beginning, and then the vocals performed a cappella. It’s a short version. The band also does “I’m A King Bee,” written by Slim Harpo, and “Sugar Mama,” the blues standard adapted by Howlin’ Wolf. Though these two songs are listed as separate tracks on the CD case, they are in fact on one track, done as a medley.

The band does a ten-minute version of “Mirror Man,” which is actually quite a bit shorter than the original album version (which is approximately fifteen minutes). The CD concludes with “Big Eyed Beans From Venus” and “Golden Birdies,” the closing tracks from Clear Spot.

CD Track List
  1. Hair Pie: Bake III
  2. Suction Prints
  3. Low Yo Yo Stuff
  4. Nowadays A Woman’s Gotta Hit A Man
  5. Abba Zaba
  6. Band Intro
  7. Sugar ‘N’ Spikes
  8. Peon
  9. I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby
  10. Old Black Snake
  11. Alice In Blunderland
  12. I’m A King Bee/Sugar Mama
  13. Mirror Man
  14. Big Eyed Beans From Venus
  15. Golden Birdies
Live From Vancouver 1973 was released on February 17, 2015 through Gonzo Multimedia.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Buddy Rich: “Birdland” (2015) CD Review

As probably everyone knows (at least everyone who would read this review), Buddy Rich was a phenomenal jazz drummer. He played with Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey, among others, before becoming a band leader himself. Birdland contains previously unreleased live material, including a fantastic rendition of the album’s title track. This CD contains liner notes by band member Alan Gauvin, who also mixed and edited this project. In the liner notes he offers thoughts and memories of Buddy Rich, as well as information on the equipment he used to record these performances. What is lacking is information on the precise dates and venues of these recordings. We know they’re between April 1976 and early 1980, because that is the time frame Alan Gauvin was in the band, but it would be nice to know the exact dates. But, whatever, what’s important is that these tracks contain some incredible performances. The sound isn’t perfect, but in a way that sort of adds to the raw, live experience of this album. As Gauvin explains in the liner notes, he made these recordings for himself, not originally intending to release them. But I am so glad he changed his mind on that score.

The disc opens with “Mexicali Nose,” which kicks off appropriately with a little action on drums by Buddy Rich – the cymbals, specifically – and then gets off to an energetic pace. There are two brief drum solos in the middle, and also some nice work on piano by Barry Keiner. “Mexicali Nose” was composed by Harry Betts. It’s followed by “Birdland,” which begins a bit slowly, with some nice little teases and moments, but then becomes an absolutely delicious beast, some funky jazz. Check out the horns around the four minute mark. What a fantastic jam. “Birdland” was written by Josef Erich Zawinul, and was originally recorded by Weather Report in 1977.

“Just Friends” is a jazz standard from the 1930s, composed by John Klenner and Samuel M. Lewis, and the version contained on this disc is excellent. It begins sweetly, as you’d expect, with a wonderful lead on piano, which becomes more playful and fanciful as it goes on.  That’s followed by a cool bass solo by Tom Warrington, and then by some humorous drumming by Buddy Rich. Seriously, it had me (and the audience) laughing. And yet the track retains its sweetness, its heart throughout. This disc also contains a nice, pretty rendition of “God Bless The Child,” written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr. The highlight here is Turk Mauro’s work on baritone sax, but this is a really strong version overall.

There is some more humor to Buddy Rich’s solos on “I Hear A Rhapsody.” He is clearly having a good time. Then “Three Day Suckers” opens with some wild drumming. This is one of my favorite tracks, featuring a great, powerful jam, coming at you like a speeding train set on fire by possessed cannibals. And check out Steve Marcus’ lead on sax. Fantastic. The album concludes with a fun cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Keep The Customer Satisfied,” from their 1970 album, Bridge Over Troubled Water.

CD Track List
  1. Mexicali Nose
  2. Birdland
  3. Milestones
  4. Just Friends
  5. CTA
  6. God Bless The Child
  7. Moments Notice
  8. I Hear A Rhapsody
  9. Three Day Suckers
  10. Parthenia
  11. Keep The Customer Satisfied 
Birdland was released on May 26, 2015 through Lightyear Entertainment, Lobitos Creek Ranch and Scabeba Entertainment.

Celestial: “Asphyxiate” (2015) CD Review

Celestial is the project of pop vocalist and pianist Celeste Tauchar, a young talent (only twenty years old) who was born in Germany, raised in California and currently residing in Florida. Asphyxiate is the debut EP from this young artist, containing four tracks, each of which is also being released as a single on her web site and Soundcloud. The first two tracks are currently available.

The first, “Tidal Wave,” begins with a strong rhythm on keys, the other instruments soon adding to that rhythm. There is an intensity to this song which is felt almost immediately, and an intensity to Celeste’s performance, an urgency, like it’s a matter of life and death. There is a sense of danger and need in her voice, and there’s no holding back in this young woman. “I would swim as fast as I can/But you are a tidal wave.” And later in the song, she relaxes a bit when repeating the line, “I choose to swim,” which works well thematically. I love the strings on this track. That's Elijah Kirkland-Andrews on violin, and Vienna Sa on cello

The second, “Rag Doll,” has a cool, groovy vibe helped by the presence of horns. Alec Aldred joins Celeste on trumpet, and Chris Palowitch joins on trombone. This is one of my favorites on the CD. It’s about the strong, sometimes detrimental effect someone can have on us. At the beginning, the woman at the center of this song tells us: “Once I was a real girl, made of skin and bone/My teeth were tough, my fists enough/To protect my soul.” But at the introduction of the touch of the man, she becomes soft, his plaything, and tells us, “I am fraying, falling apart/I can’t get nowhere if you’re not there/I am tattered, torn at the seams/And the only cure is to be yours.” She maintains the metaphor of the rag doll throughout the song.

“You Soul Belongs To Gin” describes another troubled relationship, this one with a man who relies on alcohol. This is a really strong track with some excellent lyrics. “You won’t call unless there’s a bitter taste in your future/You’re pulling me apart/Because you only touch me if you’ve downed a bottle first/In fact, your heart won’t open unless it’s with a corkscrew/Pouring itself another night of blues.” She realizes she’s wasted so many nights, but it’s almost like she’s jealous of his drink: “You don’t really dream of me.” This is my other favorite track.

“Medicate Me” is an interesting track, and is really all about the vocals. Celeste’s vocal approach on this one begins more in the jazz realm, which I really like, and then as the song builds, it gets closer to what these days is called R&B. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “No bandage, no stitches could sew me up/I was terrified of dying/But not in your arms.” This song also provides the EP with its title in the line, “I’d asphyxiate when you were gone.”

CD Track List
  1. Tidal Wave
  2. Rag Doll
  3. Your Soul Belongs To Gin
  4. Medicate Me

Celeste Tauchar is on vocals, piano and keyboard. Joining her are Matthew Clinkenbeard on guitar, Koa Ho on bass, Chris Schreck on drums, Elijah Kirkland-Andrews on violin, Vienna Sa on cello, Alec Aldred on trumpet and Chris Palowitch on trombone.

Asphyxiate is scheduled to be released on July 24, 2015.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

John Basile: “Penny Lane” (2015) CD Review

Every once in a while I meet someone who claims not to be a Beatles fan, and I immediately stab that person in the chest because obviously he’s a member of an alien race bent on the destruction of humanity, and I just don’t stand for that kind of thing, you understand. There have been an incredible amount of Beatles covers done over the years, and for good reason: those guys wrote quite a few phenomenal songs. Beatles tunes have been done in just about every musical style you can think of, and that of course includes a lot of jazz covers. Jazz guitarist John Basile’s new CD, Penny Lane, dedicates itself entirely to Beatles material. This album has lots of mellow vibes, often with a bit of a Latin flavor. It focuses on the band’s middle period (there is nothing from Abbey Road or Let It Be), and the majority of the tracks are Paul McCartney songs. John Basile is the only musician on this album, using midi programing on the guitar to create all the other sounds.

This CD opens with “Eleanor Rigby,” and John Basile goes in some interesting directions with this one, while maintaining the basic structure and heart of the song. The main guitar follows the vocal line, and it’s hard not to sing along with it. John follows that with “The Fool On The Hill,” which here is titled “A Fool On The Hill” for some reason, and then “Penny Lane.” It’s with “Penny Lane” that this CD begins to get really interesting. There is some wonderful and joyous guitar playing on this track. It kind of carries you along, with uplifting vibes. I actually wish it were a little longer, because as it fades out it seems to be going in a different direction. He also finds some interesting places to take the largely mellow “And I Love Her,” especially in the middle of the track.

The only song that John Basile covers from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is “A Day In The Life,” and oddly this jazz cover is shorter than The Beatles’ original version. It has quite a different feel from the original, sounding brighter, which I’m not sure works. And it’s lacking that incredible build and final note from the original. But there is some great guitar work here. The only song from The White Album covered here is George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” on the CD case erroneously attributed to Lennon and McCartney. This is the only Harrison composition on this CD, and here it’s given a Latin rhythm.

John Basile delivers a sweet rendition of “Here, There And Everywhere,” following it with an interesting version of “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” the only early Beatles song on this album. Here John Basile stretches out, more than doubling the length of the original, and gives the song a very different tone and vibe. It’s perhaps the most surprising track on this release, as I wouldn’t have guessed this would be the song that would get the longer treatment. The way “Can’t Buy Me Love” is handled also comes as a surprise. It opens with some funky guitar that catches you off guard at first, and maybe seems a bit misplaced, but as the tune gets going, it begins to work and make sense. Though at times this track feels a bit odd to me, there is some seriously good guitar playing.

Penny Lane concludes with two of my favorite Beatles tunes: “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” (here simply titled “Norwegian Wood”) and “In My Life.” This version of “Norwegian Wood” has a bit of swing to it, which actually works quite well. And this is another track that goes in some interesting territory, with lots of space to move, as it’s more than twice the length of the original. This is one of my personal favorites from this CD. “In My Life” is fairly faithful to the feel and spirit of the original, and is probably the prettiest track on this release. There is a lot of heart and love in the playing, making it quite effective.

CD Track List
  1. Eleanor Rigby
  2. A Fool On The Hill
  3. Penny Lane
  4. And I Love Her
  5. A Day In The Life
  6. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  7. Here, There And Everywhere
  8. I Want To Hold Your Hand
  9. Can’t Buy Me Love
  10. Norwegian Wood
  11. In My Life 
Penny Lane is scheduled to be released on August 7, 2015 through StringTime Jazz. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Knack: “Live From The Rock ‘N’ Roll Fun House” (2002/2015) CD Review

Several years ago I was fortunate enough to see The Knack perform in concert. It was an outdoor show, and it was a ton of fun, far exceeding my expectations. Live From The Rock ‘N’ Roll Fun House, originally released in 2002, will give you a taste of that experience. And the new re-issue includes two tracks that were previously unreleased, and they’re placed in the appropriate spots in the set list rather than at the end. Omnivore Recordings has been re-issuing the final few albums from The Knack, starting with Zoom in May, and followed by Normal As The Next Guy in June, and now Live From The Rock ‘N’ Roll Fun House, which features songs from throughout the band’s career. This special re-issue includes new liner notes by Lee Lodyga, Prescott Niles and Berton Averre.

They kick off the CD with “Pop Is Dead,” the lead-off track from their 1998 release, Zoom. It’s a delightfully fun tune, and there is a lot of energy to this live rendition. “Please don’t trouble me/Not while I’m watching TV.” They keep the energy high by following that with “Baby Talks Dirty,” the lead-off track from their second album, 1980’s …But The Little Girls Understand. This tune was also released as a single, reaching #38 on the Billboard Hot 100. Sure, this song has a similar sound to “My Sharona,” but it really works, and has its own charm. They then go into “Oh Tara,” a song from the band’s debut album, Get The Knack. “You’ll never know what you’ve done to me/The agony and the ecstasy.”

They also do “Good Girls Don’t” from their debut album. It takes the audience approximately one second to recognize it and cheer. It’s a fun and catchy song about teenage lust, always a good subject for rock tunes. With the words we all love to hear: “Good girls don’t, but I do.” It was released as a single, reaching #11 on the Billboard Hot 100. I love the use of harmonica on this song. “Siamese Twins (The Monkey And Me),” also from that first album, is one of my personal favorites. It’s such a cool and odd song, with a strong hook. “He's making me strange/The monkey and me/Sits on my back, shits on my back, piss on my back.” Also from that debut record, they do “That’s What The Little Girls Do” and “(She’s So) Selfish.” “(She’s So) Selfish” is one of the band’s best tunes, a song about a horrible tease. It has that great Bo Diddley beat, and some lyrics that kept it from getting airplay – “She give a wiggle and a wink/But she don't give a shit about/Anybody else but herself” and “She got the smile and the ass/And the power to flaunt” and “She’s a rich little bitch” and of course “When she takes you by the short hairs/It's the only thing she'll leave you down there/No fuck-a me fuck-a me today/No fuck-a me fuck-a me today/She's the prima donna queen/Coming from the Quaalude scene.” And, as if there were any doubt, they play “My Sharona,” the band’s giant hit from that first record. The crowd understandably gets very excited when they begin it, and so do I. This song still works for me every single time I hear it.

I am a little surprised that they chose to play “Can I Borrow A Kiss,” from Zoom. It’s not a bad song, but it’s probably my least favorite track from that album, and has a terrible title. I would have preferred to hear a live version of “Smilin’” or “Good Enough.” I am glad, however, that they include “Harder On You,” also from Zoom, on this CD. This version is excellent; the band is clearly having a great time with this one.

From Round Trip, the band’s third album, they do “Another Lousy Day In Paradise,” a good, fairly straight and bright pop tune, and “Sweet Dreams,” one of my favorite tracks on this CD. “Sweet Dreams” is probably the most interesting tune on this release. And from their fourth album, Serious Fun, they do only “One Day At A Time,” which is actually another of my favorite tracks. It’s totally catchy, and has a wonderful sweetness to it. Interestingly, they re-recorded this tune and included it on Normal As The Next Guy, which turned out to be the band’s final studio album, released in 2001. There are two other tracks from that CD on this live album, and they are the two bonus tracks – “It’s Not Me” and “Seven Days Of Heaven.” They were left off the album’s original release, but are included here in the correct spots in the set list. Normal As The Next Guy is a really strong album, and I would have loved this CD to include live versions of its title track and “Spiritual Pursuit,” but, hey, I’ll take what I can get. “It’s Not Me” is fun, and “Seven Days Of Heaven” has a delicious 1960s pop vibe. “One night is like seven days of heaven, baby, when I’m holding you.”

This live album ends with “(Havin’ A) Rave Up,” a damn fun rock and roll song from …But The Little Girls Understand, and then an interesting medley of covers: “Tequila” and “Break On Through (To The Other Side).” Sounds like an odd combination, right? This is when the band gets really loose, jamming at the end of “Tequila” before sliding into “Break On Through (To The Other Side).” There are band introductions as the track fades out.

CD Track List
  1. Pop Is Dead
  2. Baby Talks Dirty
  3. Oh Tara
  4. Can I Borrow A Kiss
  5. Another Lousy Day In Paradise
  6. Good Girls Don’t
  7. One Day At A Time
  8. It’s Not Me
  9. Siamese Twins (The Monkey And Me)
  10. Harder On You
  11. Sweet Dreams
  12. Seven Days Of Heaven
  13. That’s What The Little Girls Do
  14. (She’s So)Selfish
  15. My Sharona
  16. (Havin’ A) Rave Up
  17. Tequila/Break On Through (To The Other Side) 
This special re-issue of Live From The Rock ‘N’ Roll Fun House is scheduled to be released on July 14, 2015 through Omnivore Recordings.