Sunday, December 20, 2015

JD & The Straight Shot: “Ballyhoo!” (2016) CD Review

The new CD from JD & The Straight Shot, Ballyhoo!, is an excellent acoustic album featuring mostly original material. (Its one cover is an interesting choice – Spirit’s “Nature’s Way.”) This band was founded and fronted by vocalist Jim Dolan, and is based in New York (but let’s not hold that against them). The music here has an authentic and true feel, and is seriously cool. In addition to Jim Dolan on vocals, the band consists of Aidan Dolan on guitar, mandolin and backing vocals; Erin Slaver on violin, mandolin and backing vocals; Byron House on upright bass, mandolin and backing vocals; and Marc Copely on guitar, percussion and backing vocals (what, no mandolin, Marc?). And all of the musicians have a hand in the songwriting for this CD.

The album gets off to a really strong start with the excellent tune “Empty,” which begins with a great back porch feel, with just guitar and vocals. And when it kicks in, the backing vocals give it more power, “I’m empty as a promise/I’m hungry in my bones/Empty, but I’m honest/Honestly alone.” And I love Erin Slaver’s work on violin. That’s followed by one of my absolute favorites, “Better Find A Church,” which opens with a nice groove (I love that bass) and has such a cool vibe. “Better find a church/Better find it soon/Better search through the night by the light of a sinner’s moon.” Jim Dolan and Erin Slaver sound so good together. Then the line “When you find a church, you won’t find me there” made me laugh aloud the first time I listened to this CD, and it’s followed by the line, “’Cause I’ll be home, not alone, in the arms of someone who cares.” It’s such a great tune.

Another favorite is “Perdition.” I love this kind of bluesy, mean-sounding folk. “A man needs a reason to live/Will and purpose to see him through/Gives all he can give/’Til there’s nothing left to lose.” The guitar at the beginning of this track grabs me immediately, and the song only gets better when everyone else comes in. Seriously, you should definitely check out this tune. And then “Glide” has such an interesting feel to it – like part bluegrass, part folk, part 1970s rock.

The album’s sole cover is “Nature’s Way,” a song written by Randy California and originally performed by his band Spirit on that band’s 1970 record Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus. This is a really nice rendition. I’m particularly fond of the presence of violin, and the instrumental section is great. (Christopher Cross also covered this song.) It’s followed by another of this CD’s many excellent tracks, “Don’t Waste My Time.” This is a powerful and beautiful song, and again I love the violin. “But you’re just passing through/Someone I once knew/Returning to the scene of the crime/Don’t waste my time.” “Don’t Waste My Time” was written by Jim Dolan and Marc Copely.

Check out these lines from “Ballyhoo,” the album’s title track: “Audience, please take your seats/It’s time that we bring out the freaks/Be prepared for the most bizarre/And just listen to what the people say/Dehumanize and degrade/They can’t feel it anyway/They’re not like you and me/Money back if you don’t agree/You ain’t seen anything this strange.” And then the violin has a nice lead part. “Everyone got a carnival show/Everyone got a freak inside.” Oh yes! That’s followed by “Hard To Find,” a great folk tune with strong country influences. Yes, it’s another favorite of mine. “I’m all out of luck/I’m all out of time/Should I even try/Oh lord, give me a sign.” If you enjoy bands like I See Hawks In L.A., you will likely love this song as much as I do.

This album ends with a sweet, sad, beautiful tune titled “I’ll See You Again.” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Your body’s grown tired and you want to rest/You gave it your all, you gave it your best/And though you might think that this is the end/I know I’ll see you again.” This is such a wonderful song.

CD Track List
  1. Empty
  2. Better Find A Church
  3. Under That Hood
  4. Perdition
  5. Glide
  6. Nature’s Way
  7. Don’t Waste My Time
  8. Ballyhoo
  9. Hard To Find
  10. Here He Comes
  11. I’ll See You Again 
Ballyhoo! is scheduled to be released on January 15, 2016.

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