Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Blind Boys Of Alabama: “Higher Ground” (2002/2016) CD Review

On Spirit Of The Century, the 2001 release from The Blind Boys Of Alabama, the gospel group did a few surprising covers, including songs by Tom Waits and Ben Harper. On their 2002 album Higher Ground, which is now being re-issued, they also do some interesting covers, including material by The Impressions, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Cliff, Stevie Wonder and Prince, moving more in the direction of rock and roll, but this time they are actually joined by Ben Harper on a few tracks, and they’re backed by Robert Randolph And The Family Band. But gospel fans needn’t worry – there are also some classic gospel songs to delight your ears, such as “Wade In The Water.” And this disc actually contains an original tune, “Stand By Me,” written by Clarence Fountain, one of the group’s founding members. This special re-issue includes several bonus tracks, material recorded live for KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic” program on November 27, 2002. There are also new liner notes by David Seay.

The CD opens with “People Get Ready,” a song written by Curtis Mayfield and originally recorded by The Impressions. I think the first version I ever heard was that by Vanilla Fudge, which as you might guess is quite a bit different from this version by The Blind Boys Of Alabama. But on this version the group is joined by Ben Harper on vocals and guitar, and by Leon Mobley on percussion. (Leon Mobley is a member of Ben Harper’s band.) This rendition has a great soul vibe, and it’s followed by an Aretha Franklin song, “Spirit In The Dark,” which was the title track to her 1970 record. This version has a delicious gospel flavor, but when it kicks in, it certainly gets closer to rock and roll.

But one of my favorite tracks is a more tradition gospel tune, “Wade In The Water,” which begins with the group singing a cappella and sounding glorious. When the band comes in, the song gains a very cool groove while not losing any of its great gospel appeal. It’s followed by another highlight, “Stand By Me,” written by Clarence Fountain (so no, not the Ben E. King song), and featuring some good work on guitar.

Prince is on many people’s minds these days, and we’re certainly hearing a lot of versions of “Purple Rain.” But back in 2002, The Blind Boys Of Alabama did an interesting rendition of Prince’s “The Cross,” a song from his 1987 double album, Sign O’ The Times. It’s a pretty good version, and this re-issue is rather timely. (Now I want to hear The Blind Boys Of Alabama cover “Darling Nikki.” Sorry, can’t help it.) It might be surprising to hear this gospel group cover Prince, but it’s perhaps just as surprising to hear them cover Jimmy Cliff. The first reggae album I ever bought was a Jimmy Cliff cassette, a live album, and “Many Rivers To Cross” was one of my favorites on it. The Blind Boys Of Alabama do something really interesting with this song, making it a pretty and moving soul tune, with some touches of country. And it works beautifully, feeling like a very personal and meaningful interpretation.

The Blind Boys Of Alabama then get funky with the CD’s title track, Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” a song from his 1973 album Innervisions. Ben Harper and Leon Mobley join them again for this track. They also join the group on the following track, “Freedom Road,” a cool gospel tune. The Blind Boys Of Alabama do a Ben Harper song on this album, as they did on Spirit Of The Century; this time it’s “I Shall Not Walk Alone,” from Harper’s The Will To Live.

Bonus Tracks

This disc contains seven bonus tracks, all recorded live on November 27, 2002 for the KCRW program “Morning Becomes Eclectic.” None of these tracks have been previously issued. The first is actually a song the group included on Spirit Of The Century, “Run On For A Long Time.” This is a good version, with some nice work on bass, and it’s followed by the gospel number “My Lord What A Morning.” This track is all about the vocals, and it’s wonderful. Delivered a cappella, this song is gorgeous and powerful. And then they get into some of the songs from Higher Ground, including “Freedom Road,” “Higher Ground,” “People Get Ready” and “Wade In The Water.” The CD then wraps up with “Amazing Grace.” Like the version on Spirit Of The Century, this rendition of “Amazing Grace” is done to the tune of “House Of The Rising Sun.”

CD Track List
  1. People Get Ready
  2. Spirit In The Dark
  3. Wade In The Water
  4. Stand By Me
  5. The Cross
  6. Many Rivers To Cross
  7. Higher Ground
  8. Freedom Road
  9. I May Not Can See
  10. You And Your Folks/23rd Psalm
  11. I Shall Not Walk Alone
  12. Precious Lord
  13. Run On For A Long Time
  14. My Lord What A Morning
  15. Freedom Road
  16. Higher Ground
  17. People Get Ready
  18. Wade In The Water
  19. Amazing Grace 
This special re-issue of Higher Ground is scheduled to be released on May 13, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings. That same date will also see a re-issue of The Blind Boys Of Alabama’s 2001 CD Spirit Of The Century, which likewise has several bonus tracks.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Blind Boys Of Alabama: “Spirit Of The Century” (2001/2016) CD Review

The Blind Boys Of Alabama are a gospel group that have been performing and recording for many decades. They formed in 1939, when they were just young boys. Spirit Of The Century, the 2001 release by The Blind Boys Of Alabama, is now going to be back in print, and with a lot of bonus tracks. This album finds them performing some classic gospel songs, while also covering tunes by Tom Waits, Ben Harper and The Rolling Stones. Three of the group’s founding members sing on this album. (George Scott died in 2005, four years after this album’s original release.) The bonus material was recorded live at The Bottom Line in New York in 2001, and was previously unreleased. This CD also contains new liner notes by Davin Seay.

The album actually opens with a Tom Waits song, “Jesus Gonna Be Here,” from his 1992 album Bone Machine. This is a really good rendition, beginning with Clarence Fountain’s vocals accompanied by just Danny Thompson on bass. And then the rest of the band comes in, but maintains a cool bluesy pack porch vibe. On this CD, they also cover Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole,” from his 1987 record Franks Wild Years.

“No More” begins with electric slide guitar playing a bit of what sounds like “Amazing Grace” (which is interesting, particularly as the version of “Amazing Grace” on this CD sounds like another song). That’s David Lindley on electric slide, by the way. Jimmy Carter sounds great on lead vocals here, and he’s backed gorgeously by Clarence Fountain, George Scott and Joey Williams. “Down on my knees, down on my knees/I’m crying lord, if you please/I’ll never turn back no more.” I like this track a lot, in part because of the good groove by Michael Jerome on drums, but mainly because of the vocals. George Scott then takes lead vocal duties on “Run On For A Long Time,” a song that is also known as “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” and “Run On.” It’s been covered by a lot of artists over the years, including Johnny Cash, Odetta and Elvis Presley. The Blind Boys Of Alabama’s version was also included on compilation titled Real World 25.

One of my favorite tracks is “Good Religion,” which has a great bluesy feel and some delicious, passionate vocal work. Another favorite is their version of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” This too has a wonderful bluesy vibe, and they slow it down a bit, giving it more power. And those vocals are excellent. “If I die and my soul be lost, ain’t nobody’s fault but mine.”

The Blind Of Boys Of Alabama cover Ben Harper’s “Give A Man A Home,” a song from his 1995 CD Fight For Your Mind (an album that also has songs like “Power Of The Gospel” and “God Fearing Man”). This version by The Blind Boys Of Alabama has a fuller and more uplifting sound. And I like the addition of Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica. But perhaps the most interesting rendition here is this version of “Amazing Grace,” which is done to the tune of “House Of The Rising Sun.” It’s such an interesting combination, because of course the girl in “House Of The Rising Sun” has led a life she’s not proud of. Perhaps she’s not found grace, but she’s trying to keep her younger sister from making the same mistakes, so the line “Was blind but now I see” can certainly apply to her. (And if you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about, then you’ve only heard The Animals’ version, which changes the gender and thus much of the feel of the song. Still, I do love that version.)

The first time I remember hearing “Motherless Child” was Richie Havens’ passionate version in the documentary film of Woodstock (and on the soundtrack). So I think I’ve measured every other version against that one, and this rendition by The Blind Boys Of Alabama stands up well alongside it. Does the very beginning remind you of the very beginning of Robert Plant’s “Big Log,” or is that just me? They follow that with a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “I Just Want To See His Face,” here titled “Just Wanna See His Face.” The original album then concludes with “The Last Time,” a gospel song that is usually titled “This May Be The Last Time,” not to be confused with The Rolling Stones song (though that song was very loosely adapted from the gospel song). The Blind Boys Of Alabama perform it a cappella, and it is another of this CD’s highlights.

Bonus Tracks

This new re-issue contains seven bonus tracks, all live versions of songs from this album recorded at The Bottom Line in New York in 2001. The first is a wonderful rendition of “Good Religion,” followed by “Way Down In The Hole” and “Give A Man A Home.” Interestingly, the guitar at the beginning of this version of “Motherless Child” doesn’t remind of “Big Log,” but rather “Born Under A Bad Sign.” Again, it might just be me. At any rate, it’s a really good version. That’s followed by “No More,” “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “The Last Time.” I am particularly fond of this live version of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” Wonderful. There isn’t really much stage banter included on these tracks, but that's all right. These live tracks were previously unreleased.

CD Track List
  1. Jesus Gonna Be Here
  2. No More
  3. Run On For A Long Time
  4. Good Religion
  5. Give A Man A Home
  6. Amazing Grace
  7. Soldier
  8. Nobody’s Fault But Mine
  9. Way Down In The Hole
  10. Motherless Child
  11. Just Wanna See His Face
  12. The Last Time
  13. Good Religion
  14. Way Down In The Hole
  15. Give A Man A Home
  16. Motherless Child
  17. No More
  18. Nobody’s Fault But Mine
  19. The Last Time 
This special expanded edition of Spirit Of The Century is scheduled to be released on May 13, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings. At the same time, their 2002 album Higher Ground is also to be released, also with bonus tracks.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Nudie: “Everything’s Different In The Night” (2016) CD Review

It was more than a decade ago that Matt Putnam formed Nudie And The Turks. And when he went solo, the name Nudie stayed with him. At the end of 2013 Nudie released his first solo album, Remember This, one of my favorite country CDs from the last several years. He’s now followed it up with another excellent CD, Everything’s Different In The Night, which features mostly original material. Like his previous CD, this one boasts some excellent songwriting. I love these lines from “That’s All That I’ve Got”: “Bathroom’s just down the hall/My money’s all gone/Did everything wrong/The heartache you brought/Is all that I’ve got.” Joining him on this new release are Chris Altmann on pedal steel, lap steel, electric guitar, fiddle, piano and organ; Rob Foreman on bass; and Justin Ruppel on drums. And he has a couple of excellent guest vocalists on a few tracks.

Nudie kicks off the new disc with “It Ain’t Gonna Happen Today,” which oddly has a false start. But once we’re past that false start, this track is one of my favorites. It is a playful country number with some really good lyrics about procrastination in divesting one’s self of certain habits, such as cigarettes and alcohol. And then: “And when I find the strength to leave you/That’s when the good times will really start/I’ll finally know what it feels like for a man/To walk around without a messed up heart/I’ve been living with the pain too long/You’d better listen to what I say/It won’t be long before you see me walking out the door/But it ain’t gonna happen today.” It’s followed by “The Royal Tavern,” which has a more serious sound and is about a man who is betrayed by both wife and kin. I love Nudie’s vocal delivery here; there is a sadness, a weariness there, perfect for the character of this song. “My wife started screaming, I could barely hear/All I had on my mind was eight or nine cold beers/Tonight I’ll cash my check at the Royal Tavern.” This is a seriously good song that tells a good tale. “At the end of the night you’ll be glad that you’re living.

Sylvie Smith joins Nudie on vocals for “Mr. Why’d You Come To Texas?” This song is a strange and sweet duet, in which the woman asks the man why he came to Texas if he can’t dance. There are some delightful lyrics, and I particularly love this line, which Sylvie sings, “And help me forget in three quarter time all the things that make me blue.” By the way, Sylvie Smith sang with Nick Ferrio on one of my favorite songs of 2015, “Come Hell Or High Water.” And you might know her from Evening Hymns and The Magic. And then Melissa Payne joins Nudie on backing vocals for two tracks. (Melissa Payne is, of course, a damned good singer/songwriter in her own right. You should check out her 2014 release, High And Dry.) The first of these two tracks is “Island Girls,” which has something of a pretty sound, in large part because of the blending of their voices on lines like “Come on home/Can’t make it here alone/I miss your smiling face/And the warm safe place/I felt in your arms/I miss all your charms/Things we use to do/No good without you.” Nice, right? Melissa Payne also joins Nudie on the CD’s title track, “Everything’s Different In The Night.” Check out these lines: “When daylight comes, our words slip away/We thought this time they might last until the day/But all that’s gone now that the sun’s in the way/Everything’s different in the night.”

The only cover on this release is “If You Really Want Me To I’ll Go,” written by Delbert McClinton, who released the song in 1965. Nudie’s version is quite good, and largely faithful to the original.

“I’ve Been Here Before” is one of my favorites. It has something of a Johnny Cash vibe. It describes an interesting relationship, with a woman who is slightly less than faithful: “It’s not her to blame/Because I have no shame/I’m happy about what she’s dishing out/Monday morning I know that I’ll be king/When I’m allowed to fulfill all her needs.” Ryan Weber joins Nudie on trumpet on this track. Another song I’m really fond of, and another about an unusual relationship, is “I Had To Learn About Sheila The Hard Way,” which also has my favorite title of this CD. “When we met I was down on my luck/I fell hard for her looks and her pluck/That she mixed with a vulnerable air/Sometimes needy, sometimes seeming not to care/I had to learn about Sheila the hard way.” I also really like this line: “Each day with her was akin to a dare.”

“Train, You Took My Baby” is yet another highlight. It has a late 1960s/early 1970s country rock vibe which I love. If you enjoy bands like The Byrds, you should definitely check out this tune. “Train, you took my baby/And I’m starting to think maybe/That I may never see that girl again.”

CD Track List
  1. It Ain’t Gonna Happen Today
  2. The Royal Tavern
  3. Mr. Why’d You Come To Texas?
  4. That’s All That I’ve Got
  5. Why’d Ya Do It?
  6. If You Really Want Me To I’ll Go
  7. I’ve Been Here Before
  8. Island Girls
  9. I Had To Learn About Sheila The Hard Way
  10. Hearts & Flowers
  11. Train, You Took My Baby
  12. Everything’s Different In The Night
Everything’s Different In The Night was released on April 22, 2016.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst: “I Feel Like I’ve Got Snakes In My Head” (2016) CD Review

In the fall of 2014, Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst released an EP titled Endless Sky. At that time, I was mostly excited to hear it because of John McDuffie’s presence. I’ve always enjoyed his pedal and lap steel work (as well as his guitar playing), no matter what group he’s sitting in with. But it certainly didn’t take long for me to become a fan of the whole group, which includes Steven Casper on lead vocals and guitar; Herb Deitelbaum on bass and back vocals; Jay Nowac on drums; and Carl Byon on piano, accordion, organ and other assorted instruments. Now Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst have a new EP out. Titled I Feel Like I’ve Got Snakes In My Head (and yes, I totally dig the title), it features six new tunes written by Steven Casper. Like Endless Sky, the new CD was produced by Ira Ingber, who also adds some guitar, bass, percussion and backing vocals.

The CD opens with “For A Few Dollars Less,” an instrumental track, its title being a play on the title of the 1965 Sergio Leone film For A Few Dollars More, the sequel to A Fistful Of Dollars. And it feels like part of a soundtrack to a wonderful new western, a movie where things are going to go delightfully wrong, and where the hero isn’t a completely laudable and virtuous character. It’s followed by “Driving Fast,” which is more of a rockin’ tune, with a bluesy edge. This is one I’m going to add to my road trip play list, with lines like “I got no good reason why/Just want to know what it’s like to fly/The engine’s kicked in overdrive/And I’m driving fast tonight.” Plus, it just has that road vibe, and it’s going to be hard to stay off the accelerator during that instrumental section, with great work on both guitar and keys. By the way, this is the song that gives the CD its title in the lines, “The empty road stretches out ahead/Lord, I hope I don’t wind up dead/I feel like I’ve got snakes in head.” There is a second version of this song included at the end as a bonus track. This version has a slightly mellower, more acoustic feel, and features good work on accordion. Both versions are good, but yeah, as the title of the second version suggests, this one feels more like a late-night tune.

“Restless Heart” has something of a sweeter, passionate pop sound. “But there’s something in your eyes/Something I recognize/Won’t you help me still this restless heart.” That’s followed by “She’s Bad,” a tune that is great fun in its style, energy and attitude. “She might look like an angel/But she’s bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.” Oh yes! On this track, they are joined by Charity McCrary and Linda McCrary Fisher on backing vocals. (They had also joined the band for one track on Endless Sky.) “Some say they saw her working at a rundown bikers’ bar/Some say she killed a man for taking things too far/Some say you can hear her laugh on the empty highway wind/They all say if you hear her knock, you’d better not let her in/Because she’s bad.”

“Maria” is also fun, but with a totally different vibe. It has a happy, Mexican sound, and is something of an innocent love song. “I love your long black hair/You’ve got the prettiest brown eyes anywhere/Maria, you make me stop and stare/Maria, come out tonight.” And I like these lines: “Some people say I’m full of shit/Don’t believe a single word of it/I just get misunderstood/’Cause bad things happen when I’m trying to be good/Some say I got the devil in me/But you’re the angel that’ll set me free.” And then “Slow Dancing” has something of a sweet, nostalgic feel. Sharon Bautista provides harmony vocals on this track. “I see you smile as you move close/I feel your body through your clothes/As we go slow dancing tonight.”

CD Track List
  1. For A Few Dollars Less
  2. Driving Fast
  3. Restless Heart
  4. She’s Bad
  5. Maria
  6. Slow Dancing
  7. Driving Fast (4 A.M.) 
I Feel Like I’ve Got Snakes In My Head was released on March 10, 2016.

Elouise: “Deep Water” (2016) CD Review

Elouise is a fairly new band dipping into the darker side of folk, bluegrass and gospel. Led by Elouise Walker on vocals, bandoneon and accordion, the band also features Richard Dembowski (from Old Californio) on vocals, banjo, guitar, bass, piano and harmonium; John Chamberlin on banjo, guitar, Marxophone and drums; Michelle Beauchesne on cello; and William Bongiovanni on bass. The band’s debut CD, Deep Water, contains mostly original material, with all members contributing songwriting, but also some startling covers of well-known songs.

The album opens with one of those covers, the oddest rendition of “I’ll Fly Away” I’ve ever heard. It begins with a kind of slow, mean sound, very different from the positive tones I normally associate with this song. You wonder if she’ll really be able to fly away, as she claims she will, and you get the sense she needs to. It’s a really interesting take on this gospel tune written by Albert E. Brumley. And then suddenly there is a somewhat pretty and uplifting instrumental section, with strings. John Philip Shenale does the string arrangement. A somewhat similar approach is taken on the band’s slow, haunted rendition of “Amazing Grace.” It gives more power to the phrase “a wretch like me,” because you really get the sense of her being wretched. And when she sings, “But now I see,” you get the feeling what she sees isn’t maybe what she was hoping for. And like the version of “I’ll Fly Away,” it is the instrumental sections of this song that have a more uplifting feel.

“Deep Water,” the CD’s title track, is an original tune, written by Elouise Walker. The harmonium and cello create an interesting texture at the start of this one. And then the simple, repeated strumming has such a sad, defeated sound, perfectly setting the mood before the vocals come in nearly two minutes in, asking for help: “I’m sinking fast/It’s murky and cold/Someone rescue me/I need a hand to hold.” But at the same time she sounds resigned to her fate, not desperate or overly eager for the help that likely won’t come. “I’m in deep water/I’m going down alone/In over my head/I’m sinking like a stone.”  

That’s followed by “Saturn Bar,” a fun, mean tune written by Elouise Walker and Richard Dembowski. If you like Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs, check this out. I’m pretty sure you’ll love it. It’s a seriously cool song. And the horns give it a dark New Orleans feel (Saturn Bar is a venue on St. Claude Ave. in New Orleans, and the song’s lyrics mention Louisiana:  Along worn down edges of Louisiana streets we ride/Straight to an atmosphere where heaven and hell collide”). The horn arrangement is by David Stout. It sounds like voodoo jazz. This is one of my favorite tracks on this CD. “I’m lost in purgatory well after closing time.” I am also incredibly fond of “Black Horses,” which was also written by Elouise Walker and Richard Dembowski, featuring some wonderful stuff by John Chamberlin on Marxophone.

Richard Dembowski takes lead vocal duties on “Oh Lord,” a song that he also wrote. I fucking love these lyrics: “Oh lord, you’re just too hard to please/And you ask too much of me/And I ain’t gonna get on my knees/I ain’t get gonna get on my knees and pray/’Til you and I’ve got a few things straight.” How’s that for a fresh take on gospel? Richard Dembowski also sings lead on “I’ll Be Good To You,” a song which features Old Californio’s Woody Aplanalp on lap steel. “Evil” is an instrumental track featuring some gorgeous, sad work on cello and bass. “Evil” was written by Michelle Beauchesne and William Bongiovanni. It’s followed by the dark and thumping “Hurricane,” written by Elouise Walker and John Chamberlin. “Coming back with a vengeance/But your love’s already gone.”

Their cover of “Shadow Of The Pines” has a different approach from the earlier covers. Sure, it is a bit slower than the Carter Family original rendition, but it retains a kind of pretty folk sound, helped by the addition of Colin Nairne on mandolin. And hell, it was a fairly sad song to begin with. Elouise Walker sings, “All our future is overshadowed by dark despair/And across life’s path, sun no longer shines.”

The CD concludes with two more covers. The first is an unsettling, haunting, creepy rendition of “Silent Night.” Man, if it had sounded like this when I was a kid, it would have scared me. But it also might have kept me interested in religion and all that. I will certainly be adding this to my personal Christmas play list. Woody Aplanalp plays lap steel. And then the second is a cool, raw rendition of Link Wray’s “Fire And Brimstone.” They make it a wonderful bit of back porch bluesy folk, a strange lament sung by a possessed evangelist.

CD Track List
  1. I’ll Fly Away
  2. Deep Water
  3. Saturn Bar
  4. Amazing Grace
  5. Shadow Of The Pines
  6. Oh Lord
  7. Evil
  8. Hurricane
  9. I’ll Be Good To You
  10. Black Horses
  11. East Jesus
  12. Silent Night
  13. Fire And Brimstone 
Deep Water is scheduled to be released July 15, 2016.

Monday, April 25, 2016

East Of Venus: “Memory Box” (2016) CD Review

East Of Venus was formed more than a decade ago by members of popular and respected bands Winter Hours, The Feelies, Luna and The Bongos, and have now finally released their debut CD, Memory Box, featuring mostly original material but also a few good covers. The band is made up of Michael Carlucci on vocals and guitar; Glenn Mercer on vocals, guitar, organ, and percussion; Rob Norris on bass and backing vocals; and Stanley Demeski on drums. It’s great that this group finally put out a CD. But will this first album also be the band’s last? Singer and guitarist Michael Carlucci died suddenly in October of last year, at the age of 58. In addition to providing vocals and playing guitar, Michael wrote all of the original tracks on this CD. And the album is dedicated to his memory.

The CD opens with “Let’s Find A Way,” which has a good groove, a positive feel, and a bit of a psychedelic touch to its guitar, especially right at the start. Overall, it has an alternative independent rock sound, at moments making me think of some of the work of Bob Mould. The following track, “In The Sun,” has something of an early rock vibe, particularly during the chorus, and some serious lyrics, like these lines: “There’s a child sitting all alone/Looking kind of scared/He’s just a little shy/With his blackened eye/He’s not so unaware/And mother looks away.” But the song takes something of a positive spin with the following lines: “He’s gonna be all right in the sun/It’s gonna be all right when the sun hits the sky.” Jesse Carlucci provides backing vocals on this track.

“Jane September” is a very cool song written by Richard Mason and Kristen Yiengst, and originally recorded by Red Buckets, a band that Michael Carlucci and Stanley Demeski both played in during the 1980s. The song has a strong Lou Reed/Velvet Underground sound, both in the vocal approach and the feel of the music. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Jane September looks away/She walks around on rainy days/Dances with a looking glass, dances with a looking glass.” Alli Arnold provides backing vocals on this track. It’s one of my favorites. Another favorite is “Who’s To Know,” with its steady and catchy groove and its great vocal line and its fun lead guitar part. What’s not to love about this track? “I never told you/The things I had to say/Well, you wouldn’t listen/You wouldn’t give me the time, time of day.”

They follow that with a cover of Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe,” a song that’s also been recorded by Rod Stewart, the Carpenters, Johnny Cash and many other artists over the years. This version has a bit more of a pop feel than a lot of versions, and it slides directly into “Wishing Well,” the song that gives the CD its title in the lines, “The memory box, it’s full of pain/Ten years later, we remain the same.” The album ends with a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Citadel,” a song written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and originally included on their 1967 record Their Satanic Majesties Request (and also covered by The Damned). The version on this CD is quite good, and plays up the Stones’ original psychedelic aspect mainly in the vocal approach.

CD Track List
  1. Let’s Find A Way
  2. In The Sun
  3. You Started Something
  4. Jane September
  5. Faded Pictures
  6. Who’s To Know
  7. Reason To Believe
  8. Wishing Well
  9. Dallas
  10. Citadel
Memory Box was released on April 15, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings, on both CD and vinyl.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Jimbo Mathus: “Band Of Storms” (2016) CD Review

It seems ages since I saw The Squirrel Nut Zippers in concert, and since then Jimbo Mathus has really created his own musical identity, quite different from the sound and style of that band. A bit of country, a bit of blues, and a lot of rock and roll. His new CD, Band Of Storms, has a delicious raw energy and attitude. And even though there are nine tracks, this is actually an EP, clocking in at just over twenty-three minutes. Yeah, punk style, in, out, no fucking around. And there is certainly some of that punk energy here. All of the songs are originals, written by Jimbo Mathus (except one track, which was co-written by him).

It opens with “Gringo Man,” a tune with a strong bar band rock flavor, but also with horns. “I’m just a school boy/Ain’t never been to school.” It’s a good tune, but for me this CD gets more interesting with the following tracks. “Can’t Get Much Higher” has a cool Dr. John vibe with some great stuff on keys. This track is a whole lot of fun, with some kind of twisted party atmosphere. And then “Let’s Play With Fire” is even better. It’s one of my favorites on this disc. “Yes, let’s play with fire/Oh yes, let’s play with fire/Let’s cross in front of trains/In the darkness feel the flames.” This is the one that was co-written by Robert Earl Reed, and it has something of early rock and roll groove mixed with the darker side of country. It’s just a damn cool song.

“Stop Your Crying” is another favorite, with a slower, haunting feel. “Take this knife, take my gun/Cried my god, what have I done/Killed my woman because she would not be my bride.”  And then “Massive Confusion” is loud, unpolished punk rock and roll. That’s followed by “Wayward Wind,” which begins with a Tom Waits reference, its opening line being “Hang down your head with sorrow,” calling to mind that fantastic tune from Rain Dogs. And like Tom Waits, Jimbo Mathus has a voice full of raw, rough power and emotion. “Don’t look away too long or I’ll be gone/I might not be back this way again/That’s why I say hang down your head with sorrow.” This is a really good song that I like more each time I listen to this disc.

Another favorite is the bluesy “Slow Down Sun.” “Slow down sun/Don’t leave me here so soon.” I really like Jimbo Mathus’ vocal approach here. That’s followed by “Keep It Together,” the title reminding me of Eddie Murphy’s mantra in the excellent movie Bowfinger, and the sound of the guitar reminding me of George Harrison. Jimbo Mathus takes a turn toward bluegrass for the lively, kind of goofy closing number, “Catahoula.” A bit of howling, a bit of stomping, and some fun rhymes make this a delightful tune.

CD Track List
  1. Gringo Man
  2. Can’t Get Much Higher
  3. Let’s Play With Fire
  4. Stop Your Crying
  5. Massive Confusion
  6. Wayward Wind
  7. Slow Down Sun
  8. Keep It Together
  9. Catahoula 
Band Of Storms is scheduled to be released on May 6, 2016 on Big Legal Mess Records.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Kristen Lynn: “LaLa” (2012) CD Review

Kristen Lynn is a singer and songwriter based in Los Angeles, her music a delightful mix of folk and jazz elements, her instrument of choice being the banjolele. Kristen Lynn’s debut CD, LaLa (which came out at the end of 2012, but which I was just turned on to now – better late than never, right?), is an excellent album of mostly original material. There is something wonderfully quirky about certain tracks, infused with a child-like quality, an innocence, which calls to mind bands like The Moldy Peaches (listen to “By Your Side” and “My Best Friend” for examples). But the music is earnest as well, at times reminding me of Ani Difranco (listen to “Steal Me Away”). That’s not to say that the music is imitative; Kristen Lynn creates a sound that is her own, and which I really enjoy, a sound that seems to flow naturally from her, though there is certainly something of an old-time vibe about it.

Though this CD contains mostly original tunes, Kristen Lynn opens LaLa with a really good cover of “Whispering,” a song written by John Schonberger, Richard Coburn and Vincent Rose. This is a song that I love, and Kristen Lynn’s rendition is a treat. The music has a very bright, happy feel to it. “Whispering while you cuddle near me/Whispering so no one can hear me/Each little whisper seems to cheer me.” Kristen follows that with an original song, “By Your Side,” featuring the line “And I don’t know why I keep ending up by your side.” There is something so sweet and honest about the delivery, and that is a big part of what makes me love this song. Kristen plays guitar on this one, and is joined by James Murphree on mandolin and Peter Suarez on lead guitar. There is an excellent instrumental section toward the end that makes smile each time I hear it.

The title track, “LaLa,” has a great jazzy old-time vibe, which fits with lines like “Sometimes it feels like yesterday/When you were here and everything was okay.” But the song looks forward more than it looks backward. James Murphree plays mandolin on this track as well. And I really like Jim Hancock’s work on bass. That’s followed by “Looking For Love,” which has a very positive, cheerful sound. “Looking for love/Looking for love/Don’t you know someday you’ll find it/Seeking a friend/That you’ll have to the end/Don’t you know someday you’ll find it.” Then her cover of Lee Alexander’s “Lonestar” has more of a country vibe, with Peter Suarez on slide guitar. Sara Sincell provides some backing vocals on this track. (This is a song that Norah Jones included on her debut release, Come Away With Me.)

Kristen Lynn includes two other covers on this CD. The first is Jimmie Davis’ “You Are My Sunshine,” which she delivers with a sweet innocence and vulnerability, as well as with love. She is accompanied by only the banjolele, and then partway through by Karen Willey on backing vocals. “The other night, dear, when I lay sleeping/I dreamt I held you in my arms/But when I woke, dear, I was mistaken/So I hung my head and cried.”  This rendition made me happy and sad simultaneously. Ah, the power of music. That is followed by the album’s final cover, “Dream A Little Dream Of Me,” written by Fabian Andre, Wilbur Schwandt and Gus Kahn (and here titled “Dream A Little Dream”). It’s been covered by many artists over the years, with famous recordings by folks like Louis Armstrong and The Mamas And The Papas. This version by Kristen Lynn has something of a Hawaiian vibe.

Kristen Lynn switches to piano for “Strangers,” a gorgeous and moving song that also features violin. That’s Judy Plester on violin. This is one of my favorite tracks, partly because of the line “Now we’re just strangers in this life,” which is such a beautifully sad line. “You played the victim/Not the man I saw in there/If you would have just opened up your heart/Maybe we would have fought through the hardest part.” Another of my favorites is “Why,” the CD’s closing track, a totally delightful song that had me smiling almost immediately. It has something of a gypsy feel, featuring James Murphree on accordion as well as mandolin, and Judy Plester on violin. I also love Clayton Hamburg's work on upright bass. This is the song that asks the question we all find ourselves voicing from time to time: “Why?”

CD Track List
  1. Whispering
  2. By Your Side
  3. LaLa
  4. Looking For Love
  5. Lonestar
  6. Steal Me Away
  7. You Are My Sunshine
  8. Dream A Little Dream
  9. Tomorrow Night
  10. Strangers
  11. My Best Friend
  12. Why
LaLa was released on December 18, 2012. I’m looking forward to hearing more from Kristen Lynn.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Lauren White: “Out Of The Past: Jazz & Noir” (2016) CD Review

Jazz vocalist Lauren White follows her 2015 release Experiment with something quite a bit different. Titled Out Of The Past: Jazz & Noir, her new CD features songs that were heard in old film noir releases, but with her own special approach. And I think it is even better than her previous CD. As on Experiment, Lauren is joined by Trey Henry on bass. And here she is also joined by Mitchel Forman on piano, Abe Lagrimas Jr. on drums, Andrew Carney on trumpet, Hitomi on saxophone, James Sullivan on clarinet, Andrew Synowiec on guitar and Kathryn Bostic on piano. Kathryn Bostic also did the arrangements. The Lisa Liu String Quartet and the Brass Band Eclectic Plus One also join Lauren White on certain tracks.

Interestingly, Out Of The Past opens with an original tune, “When All The Lights In The Sign Worked,” a very cool, kind of sexy song about a rainy night in Los Angeles. It opens with a mischievous bass line, and just gets better and better from there, including some great work on horns. This is a totally delicious and wonderful tune, which creates a great atmosphere, showing me this city as I want to see it. In the song Lauren wonders what Los Angeles might have been like back in the day, but then the music itself almost answers her question. And who knows if the answer is accurate? It hardly matters. What matters is that I want it to be truth, because it’s so bloody cool. And so it is. “I keep wondering what it must have been like/When all the lights in the sign worked/On a long-gone Hollywood night.” And I love the way she delivers the lines “Shadows wrapping you in mystery/Like a hero in an old film noir” (especially when she dips low for the words “Like a hero”), right before the horns completely take over, let loose on the streets of this magical city. This is one of my favorite tracks. It was written by Joe Pasquale and Mark Winkler. Mark Winkler also produced this CD.

That is followed by “He’s Funny That Way,” a song that can be heard in The Postman Always Rings Twice. This version begins with some nice stuff on trumpet by Andrew Carney. Lauren White’s vocal approach is one of confidence peppered with affection. It’s like her voice almost struts, particularly at the beginning. And then later she laughs, like she’s amused by the man’s own affection, even surprised by it. It’s a really nice rendition. Another really strong and very cool track is “I’d Rather Have The Blues,” written by Frank DeVol and featured in Kiss Me Deadly, where it is sung by Nat King Cole. This new excellent rendition begins with some good work by Lisa Liu String Quartet, and features some wonderful work on piano by Mitchel Forman and a remarkable vocal performance by Lauren White. This track is cool and jazzy and sexy.

“Amado Mio” is the song that Rita Hayworth sings in the nightclub scene of Gilda. Well, she doesn’t really sing it. That’s Anita Ellis singing, and Rita Hayworth lip-synching. Still, it’s a good scene, and Rita Hayworth is fucking gorgeous. The version on this CD begins with some wonderful work on guitar by Andrew Synowiec. The Lisa Liu String Quartet is featured on this track as well. But it is Lauren White’s beautiful delivery that is the focus here. In a different sort of nightclub scene, this one from Macao (a film I haven’t actually seen), Jane Russell sings “You Kill Me.” Lauren White’s version has a playful, lively quality, and she is accompanied by just piano, drums and bass. All three musicians deliver some excellent moments. The CD then concludes with “Haunted Heart,” a song not featured in any film noir, but rather from Inside U.S.A., a musical revue by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz. Here Lauren is accompanied only by Kathryn Bostic on piano.

CD Track List
  1. When All The Lights In The Sign Worked
  2. He’s Funny That Way
  3. Again
  4. I’d Rather Have The Blues
  5. I’m Gonna Go Fishin’
  6. Amado Mio
  7. Laura/The Night We Called It A Day
  8. You Kill Me
  9. Haunted Heart 
Out Of The Past: Jazz & Noir is scheduled to be released May 9, 2016 on Café Pacific Records.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Malawi Mouse Boys: “Forever Is 4 You” (2016) CD Review

Listening to Forever Is 4 You, the new CD from Malawi Mouse Boys, you can’t help but think how music really is the universal language, having meaning for everyone (except, that is, for one woman I met years ago who didn’t like any music at all – but don’t worry, she’s long gone). And no, I have no idea what they’re saying on these tracks. But it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to speak Chichewa to feel connected to this music. The emotion is there, the passion is felt, the humanity is clear. Plus, it’s kind of a beautiful language (except, of course, for the tracks when they’re pretending to be mice and wasps). Part of me wishes the liner notes included English translations of the lyrics, but another part of me is pleased that such translations are not included, keeping intact the purity of the musical experience for those of us who don’t speak the language. The band members not only write material, but actually create their own instruments. That’s pretty impressive. And so I can forgive them the use of the numeral 4 in place of the word “for” in the CD’s title (something that ordinarily drives me into a fury). Forever Is 4 You is the band’s third CD release, following 2012’s He Is #1 and 2014’s Dirt Is Good.

“Chisomo,” the opening track, has a beautiful folk feel. “Ndiyenda Nkuunika” has a steady, insistent pulse beneath the earnest vocals. “Kulira Kwambewa” is both comical and frightening. The title is translated as “The Crying Of The Mouse,” and that’s precisely what it sounds like. The name of the band, by the way, comes from their day job, hunting mice and then selling them as snacks. (Please let them have quit their day job.) That’s followed by “Yesu Ndinkhulupirira,” a gorgeous gospel tune delivered a cappella. And then it’s back to weird animal sounds for “Mabvu,” an odd little track, imitating the sound of a wasp. And then perhaps someone having an allergic reaction to being stung?

One of my personal favorites is “Yasowa Mzeru,” which has a truly pretty and uplifting folk sound. The title is translated as “That’s Not Wise.” This is one that I do wish I had a translation for, and I wish I could sing along to it. It’s that kind of song. This is a wonderful track, and it’s followed by “Ian, A Blessing...,” which has a fun, cheerful sound, and even includes some whistling. This one also has some lyrics sung in English, about having been poor and thanking Ian for his help. (Ian Brennan produced this album, as well as the group’s two earlier releases.) There is also a lot of joy in the sound and delivery of “Mau A Mulungu,” as well as “Kuthokoza,” a track I am really fond of. By the way, this is perhaps the last CD on which I would expect to find a hidden track, but there is one.

CD Track List
  1. Chisomo
  2. Ndiyenda Nkuunika
  3. Ndatopa Nawe
  4. Kulira Kwambewa
  5. Yesu Ndinkhulupirira
  6. Mabvu
  7. Zikutamanda
  8. Yasowa Mzeru
  9. Ian, A Blessing…
  10. Mau A Mulungu
  11. Ndili Ndi Nyumba
  12. Ndikukondani
  13. Kuthokoza
  14. Umasiye Wanga
  15. Ambuye Konzeni 
Forever Is 4 You was released on April 8, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings.

Grateful Dead Meet-Up At The Movies 2016

It's time for the sixth annual Grateful Dead Meet-Up At The Movies, and this year the movie theaters will be playing a show I actually attended. It was July 2, 1989 at Sullivan Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. And it was a great show. I have a lot of memories from this show. First off, I didn't yet own a vehicle, so Chelsea's mom drove us. I forget just how far along we were in the drive before I realized I didn't have the tickets with me. Either Chelsea or her mom made a joke about me having the tickets, and I laughed until I realized that I had completely forgotten them. My friends will understand why these days I am super anal about checking everything multiple times. I think we must have stopped at a pay phone and called my dad, and he brought the tickets out to us wherever we were at the time. Traffic was insane getting to the stadium, so I think we convinced Chelsea's mom to drop off us off some distance from the venue, and we walked the rest of the way. I remember we ended up running into my cousin Bobby, who was... well, completely out of it. (Later I asked him how he enjoyed the show, but he had passed out and apparently never even made it inside.)

We had general admission floor tickets, and as I recall we were a bit in front of the soundboard, and slightly to the right (Brent side). Los Lobos opened the show. It was my first time seeing them, and I definitely enjoyed their set. At the time, I don't think I owned any of their records so my knowledge of their material was limited to what I'd heard on the radio (which was basically "Will The Wolf Survive?" and their Ritchie Valens covers). And then the Dead opened the first set with "Playing In The Band" into "Crazy Fingers," and we were stunned and overjoyed. Another thing I remember from the first set was the glider that was overhead at one point, dipping its wings in time to "To Lay Me Down." Some people since then have said I must have been hallucinating, but I was 17 at the time, and had not yet done acid (that would happen a year later). I'm wondering if the cameras caught that plane. I hope so.

I am excited to revisit this show. I bought my ticket last night, marking the first time I ever bought a movie ticket online. The 1st AD on a television pilot I worked on a few weeks ago gave me a gift card with which to purchase movie tickets, and so I put that card to good use. (Thanks, Marty!) I contacted Chelsea to let her know about this special screening. I'm not sure where she's living these days, but I'm guessing there will be a movie theater close enough to her that she can revisit this show too. Neither of us has any memory of how we got home. Obviously, someone must have picked us up. One other thing I remember was that I gave Chelsea my favorite Dead T-shirt to wear - a Space Your Face tie-dye. And at some point in the show (either between sets or maybe on our way out) I bought a Fire On The Mountain T-shirt from someone. I think I still have that Fire On The Mountain shirt, but I never did get my Space Your Face shirt back.

The concert will be shown at theaters across the country on May 11, 2016. Yeah, just one day. And I think each theater has only one screening. So check your local listings, and enjoy the show.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Ted Russell Kamp: “Flying Solo” (2016) CD Review

I was turned on to Ted Russell Kamp’s music last year when he released The Low And Lonesome Sound, a CD that was largely a solo effort, with just vocals and bass on many tracks. His new album, Flying Solo, is also – as the title will lead you to believe – largely a solo recording. Though he does have some guests on a few tracks. And on this one Ted Russell Kamp plays acoustic guitar, dobro and mandolin, as well as bass. But the focus is really on his soulful vocal delivery and on the songwriting. Flying Solo contains all original material, written or co-written by Ted Russell Kamp, and interestingly contains both studio recordings and live tracks.

Flying Solo opens with “Life On The River,” a studio track written by Ted Russell Kamp and Kirsten Proffit. Kirsten also plays rhythm guitar and provides harmony vocals on this beautiful track, a sweet and mellow love song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “So make love to me tonight/Whatever’s wrong, gonna make it right/Keep me there ‘til the morning light like hallelujah/Be my baby all night long/I want to feel you coming on strong/And the river goes on and on and pulls me to ya.” I also really like this line: “The water washes over the rocks today, carrying a piece of the past away.” This is a wonderful opening track, and it’s followed by another studio track, “The Way Love Burns,” written by Ted Russell Kamp and Wayne Buckner. This is also a really strong track, about the effect of a woman on a man. Check out these lines: “And I can’t understand how time and again/I let you tear my world apart/You know how you had a hold on me/It’s a thing I can never explain/I guess when you love a woman like you/It’s bound to drive a man insane/A little bit more, and I’ll be over the edge.” This one is driven by his vocals and guitar, and it’s one of my personal favorites.

In “Hold On,” these lines really stuck out for me: “Now we can leave your past behind/Because someday soon you’ll find/You can hold on, hold on to me.” Nice, right? This song has a wonderful comforting quality, in large part because Ted Russell Kamp’s voice is one you can trust. Another of my favorites is “When She Flies,” which features Bliss Bowen on harmony vocals. There is something beautiful and kind of sad about this song. “Another bird caught in an airport/I hear the echoes of her song/The panes of glass become her prison walls/I pray she finds her way before too long.”

This CD includes a really nice rendition of “Let Love Do The Rest” that was recorded at WDVX’s Blue Plate Special in Knoxville in 2014. This song originally appeared on his 2009 release, Poor Man’s Paradise. While I do like that album version, I actually prefer this new live version, for it has a more raw and immediate sound. “Let Love Do The Rest” was written by Ted Russell Kamp and David Serby. “Lookin’ For Someone” is the oldest track on this release, recorded as a demo in Nashville in 2006. A different version of this song would be included on Kamp’s 2007 release, Divisadero (there titled “Looking For Someone”). The version here is heartfelt and raw.

Three tracks on this album were recorded live in Helsinki in 2011. The first, “Old Folks Blues,” is also a song from Poor Man’s Paradise. The version here sounds quite a bit different from that album’s version, for it features Kamp on vocals and mandolin, without a backing band. It is just as lively and energetic, but in a different way. “Now the thrills are getting cheaper/And the hills are getting steeper.” And I can relate, especially the past several days, to the lines, “I’ve got a bad back and a nasty cough.” But as he sings a few lines later, “Don’t you give up on me yet.” The second, “If I Had A Dollar,” is a country rock song from his 2011 release, Get Back To The Land, and is one that I saw Ted Russell Kamp perform with Funkyjenn last year. This live version features Tommi Viksten on electric guitar, and has a cool vibe. The third track recorded in Helsinki is “Steady At The Wheel,” a song that was recorded by Shooter Jennings in 2005 and also included on Ted Russell Kamp’s NorthSouth. The version on this new CD is quite a bit different from both of those earlier renditions. Here it is just vocals and mandolin, and I actually think this is a much better version. The album concludes with a version of “Poor Man’s Paradise” recorded live on KNBT’s Roots And Branches in New Braunfels, Texas in 2013.

CD Track List
  1. Life On The River
  2. The Way Love Burns
  3. Let Love Do The Rest
  4. Old Folks Blues
  5. Hold On
  6. The Closer I Get
  7. If I Had A Dollar
  8. When She Flies
  9. Nothing To Lose
  10. Lookin’ For Someone
  11. Steady At The Wheel
  12. Poor Man’s Paradise
Flying Solo was released on March 8, 2016 through PoMo Records.

Victor & Penny: “Electricity” (2016) CD Review

Victor & Penny is the project of Jeff Freling and Erin McGrane, which they started in 2010, combining folk and jazz elements to create a wonderful old-time sound. But though the music has a certain nostalgic “retro” quality, most of these tunes are actually originals, written by Jeff Freling and Erin McGrane, and they have a life of their own rather than being an attempt to create some sort of idealized past. Jeff is on vocals and guitar; Erin is on vocals and ukulele. They are backed by The Loose Change Orchestra: James Isaac on clarinet, saxophone and melodica; Rick Willoughby on bass; and Kyle Dalhquist on trombone. And joining them are Dustin Ransom on piano, organ, accordion and mandolin; and Paton Goskie on violin.

The opening track, “Day Off Boogie” is a fun, light, playful song about putting off the chores to engage in more worthwhile activities. There is a nice instrumental section, and of course we have the classic comparison to food, with lines like “If it’s sugar you want, honey, that’s what I’ve got” and “Honey, you know I love your cooking a lot.” And whatever it is they’re doing, they know it will “give the neighbors a thrill.” Nice. There are more bright, happy sounds on the CD’s title track, “Electricity.” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Proximity/Ooh, the nearness is thrilling me/You’re pulling magnetically/And I can’t breathe/For love, for love, for love.” Things get even more fun with “Penny’s Pounce,” a totally delightful instrumental number. This is one of my favorite tracks, and if it doesn’t get you dancing, it will at least get you smiling. (Maybe I’m crazy, but I could imagine Figrin D’an And The Modal Nodes covering this song.) Check out that great bass part.

Victor & Penny then slow things down with a sweeter-sounding tune, “Hide. Seek.” But that sweetness can be a bit misleading, for this song is certainly no gushy love song, with lines like “You spill your story/Spring a leak/Keep your secrets/Hide seek” and “Fast sled, too steep” (a line I particularly like). That is followed by the album’s only cover, a wonderful rendition of Sting’s “Moon Over Bourbon Street.” While the original already had a very cool, jazzy style, this rendition by Victor & Penny gives the tune an old European gypsy band vibe, which is great. Jeff is on lead vocal duties for this one, taking the perspective of that less-than-innocent denizen of the night. And I love Erin’s backing vocals. Ah, those vampires of New Orleans sound so sexy and suave.

“Rickshaw Chase” is delightfully goofy, especially in the way its only line, “It’s a rickshaw chase,” is shouted out, as if by a crowd of dancers on an off-Broadway stage. This one is a lot of fun, and is quite catchy. And then “Say Goodbye” is a wonderful, kind of strange and creepy, slow tune. Check out these lines: “We can bury the hurt/In that soft red dirt/And pretend we’ll never have to say goodbye/Time doesn’t always ease the pain/Just because it’s passing/And love doesn’t come to stay/Just because we’re asking/Some songs hurt more than others, love/And nothing stays the same.” Those are some great lyrics. And that instrumental section has a haunting quality. This song was written by Erin McGrane, Jeff Freling and Cody Wyoming.

Electricity concludes with “You’re A Revelation,” which asks the question, “What’s the difference between/What is real and a dream/What is, and what seems to be?” I don’t have the answer. Do you?

CD Track List
  1. Day Off Boogie
  2. Electricity
  3. Penny’s Pounce
  4. Hide. Seek.
  5. Moon Over Bourbon Street
  6. Rickshaw Chase
  7. Say Goodbye
  8. More In Store
  9. Overtones
  10. You’re A Revelation
Electricity is scheduled to be released on May 6, 2016.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Lance Lopez: “Live In NYC” (2016) CD Review

Live In NYC, the new CD from Lance Lopez, was recorded in New York in February of 2014 at a special concert celebrating Johnny Winter’s seventieth birthday. And you can certainly hear the celebration in the playing on these tracks. Here Lance Lopez does mostly his own material, playing several songs from his most recent studio release, 2012’s Handmade Music. He is joined by Chris Reddan on drums and Mike Nunno on bass.

This CD opens with “Come Back Home,” the tune that also opens Homemade Music. It’s a nice dose of blues rock, with a cool lead on electric guitar during the instrumental section. There is some wonderful energy here, and the CD is off to a fantastic start, going full steam ahead. “You’ve been gone a month/It don’t seem right/I’ve got to hug my pillow at night/Hey baby, won’t you come on back home/I can’t get no sleep, baby/You’ve been gone too long.” Oh yes, I totally understand the feeling. Then on “Hard Time,” the music gets a bit heavier in its groove and its approach. And why not? Clearly he has cause to be angry. After all, as he says, “You only needed me to share your misery/You spent my money/Now you drink your wine.” And then, “Loving you, baby, is like doing hard time.” “Hard Time” is also from Handmade Music.

The album’s only cover is Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues,” a song that Lance Lopez included on Handmade Music. This is obviously a heavier version than Robert Johnson’s original. Lance’s guitar at times reminds me of Led Zeppelin, which makes sense as Zeppelin took a lot of inspiration from older blues numbers, in many cases flat-out stealing them. In fact, Led Zeppelin took lines from this song and stuck them in “The Lemon Song,” a tune which itself is a rip-off of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor.” And actually Led Zeppelin covered “Traveling Riverside Blues” as well (you can hear it on the BBC Sessions CD).

I find it a bit odd that in the introduction to “Lowdown Ways,” Lance asks the crowd, “Can I play a little blues for you all right now, is that all right?” After all, isn’t that what he’s been doing? Well, no matter. “Lowdown Ways” is a slower, very cool blues number in which Lance sings, “You’ve got to change, baby/You’ve got to change your lowdown ways.” Ah, you know a relationship is doomed if you feel the other person has to change in some way. But hell, maybe she will change. If anything can convince her, it will be that wild, fantastic electric guitar work during the jam. Holy moly! And he lets loose for quite a while. This tune is more than ten minutes long, and is my favorite of the CD. There are band introductions at the end of the track. By the way, “Lowdown Ways” was also included on Handmade Music.

The CD ends with a couple of tunes not from Handmade Music: “Tell The Truth” (a song that is supposedly going to be included on Lance’s next studio release, Texas Prophecies, an album that is a long time coming) and “El Paso Sugar” (from 2007’s Higher Ground). “El Paso Sugar” is a cool tune that begins with some good work on guitar. Then after a minute or so it kicks in to become a louder, more rocking tune. And Lance extends this one a bit too, nearly doubling the length of the album version. “I can’t get your taste out of my mouth.”

CD Track List
  1. Come Back Home
  2. Hard Time
  3. Get Out And Walk
  4. Traveling Riverside Blues
  5. Lowdown Ways
  6. Tell The Truth
  7. El Paso Sugar 
Live in NYC was released on April 15, 2016 on Cleopatra Records.

Brothers Brown: “Dusty Road” (2016) CD Review

Brothers Brown is a band started by two men named Paul Brown, one who lives in Los Angeles and plays guitar (mostly in the jazz realm), the other in Nashville, playing keys (mostly in the blues realm, but is also now a member of The Waterboys). Both provide vocals. Joining them are David Santos on bass and vocals, and Pete Young on drums and vocals (both out of Nashville). These are all experienced musicians, as well as accomplished producers, and they recorded several albums’ worth of material in the past year. Dusty Road is the band’s first album, featuring all original material. This is some good, fun blues with some funky elements as well as some soul.

“Cup Of Tea” is fun choice to start the album. Sure, there is some blues here, particularly in the wonderful guitar work, but it also has a really good groove and energy, along with some playful lyrics (including “ooh-wee” backing vocals). “She’s my buttercup, my sugar plum/Lord, she’s my cup of tea/She’s like cherry wine/She’s so fine.” It’s a song about romance “down on the kitchen floor.” Clearly, their kitchen is bigger than mine. They then slow things down a bit with a straighter blues number, “Love Sake,” which features some really nice vocals. “So tell me where you’ve been, honey/When you’ve been out tempting fate/Don’t swallow your pride, honey/Just for pride’s sake.” Things get a bit funky with “Sweet Cadillac,” and I really dig the percussion. “She’s got more curves than Marilyn Monroe/She’s my sweet Cadillac.”

“When All Is Said Is Done” is immediately catchy, mostly because of its bass line, which I love. And they let the groove play a while before the vocals come in. And it turns out to be a rather sweet love song. “When all is said and done/You’re still the one I’m dreaming of/When I get up, when I get down.” Nice, eh? I really like this song a whole lot. But my absolute favorite is “The River,” with David Santos on lead vocals. It has such a great feel, kind of like The Band. And I love the lyrics. Check out these lines: “Take that steam ship down to Huntsville/Used to know me a girl down there/Don’t have the same face that I used to/But I don’t think that girl will care.” This isn’t just my favorite song of this CD, but one of my favorite songs of the year so far. This is such a great song, with soul and heart.

Another favorite from this album is “This Old Heart,” a great bluesy gem with a nice groove, tackling one of those perfect blues subjects – a love gone wrong. It opens with these lines: “Don’t tell me that you love me/You don’t mean it anymore/Don’t tell me that you need me, baby/While you’re walking out my door/I can’t take this kind of love/Girl, you just ain’t worth fighting for.” There is also a great instrumental section, with the guitar and keyboard working as if in conversation. That song is followed by “California,” perhaps the most interesting song on this disc, with the vocals delivered in a cool, intimate way. “I’m going to California for the girl I love.” I’m also really fond of “Drink You Off My Mind,” with Pete Young on lead vocals. This is another with just a great vibe. And check out these lines: “Well, I fell in love with you again this morning/When I woke up from another lonely night/And I went for the bottle there beside me/And I tried to drink you off of my mind.” The album concludes with its title track, “Dusty Road,” which is another highlight. “The radio plays to my soul, but it’s playing that same old song/And I’m tired of just holding on.”

CD Track List
  1. Cup Of Tea
  2. Love Sake
  3. Sweet Cadillac
  4. When All Is Said And Done
  5. Can’t Outrun The Blues
  6. The River
  7. Hurricane
  8. Nothin’ But Love
  9. This Old Heart
  10. California
  11. Drink You Off My Mind
  12. Dusty Road
Dusty Road was released on March 28, 2016 through Funky Joint Records and 335 Records. I’m looking forward to the band’s next release. In the meantime, they are playing their first U.S. gig on April 27, 2016 at City Winery in Nashville, and Little Feat’s Kenneth Gradney will be joining them for this show.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Beau Brummels: “Triangle & Bradley’s Barn” (2016) CD Review

I admit that before listening to this CD I was familiar only with The Beau Brummels’ hits, “Laugh Laugh,” “Just A Little” and “You Tell Me Why.” I don’t think I’d ever heard any of the tracks from either Triangle or Bradley’s Barn. And that’s a shame, because the music on these two records is actually quite good, and much more interesting than those hits.  And now they’re being released on a single CD, thanks to Real Gone Music. There are no bonus tracks, but there are new liner notes by Richie Unterberger, as well as the albums’ original notes.


Triangle was originally released in 1967, the band’s fourth studio album, following the poorly conceived ’66, which was an album full of covers. Triangle features mostly original material, along with a couple of covers. At this point, the band was a trio, after the departure of John Petersen and Don Irving, and the band was dipping more into psychedelic sounds. Triangle opens with “Are You Happy?” which was written by Ron Elliott and Bob Durand. This song has a wonderful, bright folk-pop sound. “Are you laughing like you know you should be/You can whisper in my ear.” It’s a really good song, but things get more interesting with the following track, “Only Dreaming Now,” which features strings, a kind of European feel, and an unusual vocal approach. “I can feel her dancing/Dancing in the memory of when I saw her crying/Crying ‘cause our hearts weren’t lying/And we are only dreaming now.” “Only Dreaming Now” was written by Ron Elliott and Sal Valentino. Things get even stranger and deeper into psychedelia with “Painter Of Women,” with strong imagery and shades of Velvet Underground. “Painting the faces where no faces are/They are bizarre and lovely to see/Selling to emperors, kings and queens/Each of his dreams, each of his dreams.”

“The Keeper Of Time” is one of my personal favorites. It blends folk and psychedelic rock really well. “When the years all fall together/In a big parade/And the times of yesterday/Are lost in masquerade/Then you see, then you see.” And “Magic Hollow” has a fantasy vibe, its particular and unusual sound helped by the inclusion of harpsichord. It was written by Ron Elliott and Sal Valentino. Another favorite of mine is “Triangle,” the album’s title track, sounding like something that would have been at home on the Easy Rider soundtrack, deftly mixing folk and rock as it does. It has a really great feel.

Triangle ends with a cover, a nice, fun rendition of Randy Newman’s “Old Kentucky Home” (one of only two covers, the other being Merle Travis’ “Nine Pound Hammer”). This rendition actually predates Randy Newman’s own version, which would end up on his 1970 record, 12 Songs. This is back when Randy Newman wrote some great material, before Disney dug its hooks into him. Anyway, this version of “Old Kentucky Home” has a great back-porch feel, especially if that porch is in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco in the 1960s and Owsley has provided the punch. I do wish it went on a bit longer; it fades out so soon.

Bradley’s Barn

Bradley’s Barn was originally released in 1968, and was the band’s final album. Well, that is until the Beau Brummels reunion in 1975. This record is more in the country rock realm, a direction many San Francisco bands were taking (though Beau Brummels maybe went in that direction a bit earlier than most). By the time of the recording of this record bassist Ron Meagher had left the band, and so the Beau Brummels were down to Ron Elliott and Sal Valentino. Joining them were Jerry Reed on guitar (yes, “Guitar Man”), David Briggs on keys, Norbert Putnam on bass and Kenneth Buttrey on drums.  Like the previous album, this one features mostly original material. Bradley’s Barn begins with “Turn Around,” a really good song written by Bob Durand and Ron Elliott. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Barefoot girl, she’s buying winter clothes/Packing everything she owns and right away/Barefoot boy don’t care to see her go/Would give anything if she would only stay/Turn around, the summer’s almost over.” That’s followed by “An Added Attraction (Come And See Me),” which has an easy-going country vibe that is impossible to dislike.

“Deep Water” is one of my favorites from Bradley’s Barn. I really like its energy, its sound, and the honesty in lines like “And I’m in deep water/Wishing like a kid again/Yes, I’m in deep water/Won’t somebody come on in/To my life and love me.” “Deep Water” was written by Ron Elliott and Sal Valentino. I’m also really fond of “I’m A Sleeper,” which has a playful vibe. “Dropping pennies in a well that’s much too cold/Oh, why do I care/Is it I think that there’s wishes in there?” Like Triangle, Bradley’s Barn concludes with a good Randy Newman cover, this time the delightful “Bless You California.”
CD Track List
  1. Are You Happy?
  2. Only Dreaming Now
  3. Painter Of Women
  4. The Keeper Of Time
  5. It Won’t Get Better
  6. Nine Pound Hammer
  7. Magic Hollow
  8. And I’ve Seen Her
  9. Triangle
  10. The Wolf Of Velvet Fortune
  11. Old Kentucky Home
  12. Turn Around
  13. An Added Attraction (Come And See Me)
  14. Deep Water
  15. Long Walking Down To Misery
  16. Little Bird
  17. Cherokee Girl
  18. I’m A Sleeper
  19. The Loneliest Man In Town
  20. Love Can Fall A Long Way Down
  21. Jessica
  22. Bless You California
Triangle & Bradley’s Barn is scheduled to be released on May 6, 2016 through Real Gone Music.

Gypsy Soul: “True” (2016) CD Review

Gypsy Soul is the duo of Cilette Swann and Roman Morykit, a husband-and-wife team based in Jacksonville, Oregon, who have been performing together for approximately two decades. The duo’s new CD, True, their thirteenth release, features mostly original material. This is basically folk, but certainly not constrained by any one musical realm, drifting easily into rock and pop and blues elements and wherever else their hearts take them, wherever the songs demand (listen to “Long, Long Ride” for example). Cilette Swann provides the vocals, and Roman Morykit plays guitar and bass, and also provides some backing vocals. On this release, they are joined by Michael Forney on drums, Michal Palzewicz on cello and Mikey Stevens on horns. To give the music a more immediate and live feel, they limited themselves to just a couple of takes of each track.

They kick off the new CD with “Your Kind,” a strong tune that builds beautifully, with Cilette’s gorgeous vocals at the center. This song also boasts some good lyrics, with lines like “Your mask is now showing the face that you hide” and “I know there’s so much that lies right before me/More than my two eyes could possibly see/And soon you too will be a distant memory.” That is followed by “We Are What We Believe,” and this one too has some excellent lyrics. Check out these lines: “I’ve no regrets about who I’ve become/Just the things I haven’t done/It’s not the heartaches, but the loves that we hold dear/Oh, not our failures, but successes that we fear.” I also really like this song’s kind of relaxed groove. Plus, there is some nice work on guitar.

“Gotta Be Real” has more of a rock flavor, and it comes on strong right from the start, before settling into a good groove. And the vocals during the chorus have a kind of a modern R&B vibe. There is a whole lot of great energy here, but holy moly, for me the best part is when the horn comes in. Just fucking great. I wish that section went on a lot longer. Then “6000 Miles” has a much mellower, sweeter folk feel. I like the word play in the line “A crooked little path straight to my heart.”

Leonard Cohen is the best songwriter, no question. The song of his that is most often covered these days is “Hallelujah” (originally included on his 1984 release, Various Positions, one of my personal favorite records). This version by Gypsy Soul is beautiful, quiet, thoughtful, heartfelt. Like most renditions, it includes Leonard Cohen’s updated lyrics, with lines like “Maybe there’s a god above/But all I ever learned from love/Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you.” But this is actually a bit shorter than many versions, and leaves out some verses. It includes only three verses: “Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord,” “Your faith was strong but you needed proof” and “Maybe there’s a god above.” I love their delivery and their handling of this beautiful song; I just wish they had included more verses. They follow that with “Magic Carpet Ride,” a pretty instrumental tune written by Roman Morykit (not the Steppenwolf song), a mood piece.

I would like the song “Mirabelle,” except for its use of the irritating feminist non-word “herstory” in the line “to share your herstory.” I just can’t get around that. Years ago I was in a Scrabble league, and someone pointed out that “herstory” had been added to the official Scrabble dictionary. That was the end of my respect for that game. Let’s be clear about this. The word isn’t “hisstory.” It’s “history.” So the feminist word should be “hertory.” But really, we just need to move past that.

“He Wore Sandals In The Snow” has kind of a cool, bluesy vibe. And of course I love the cello, an instrument I am always pleased to hear. “You’re Everything To Me” has a pretty sound and some nice work on guitar. “You’re my autumn, you’re my spring/You’re the river that runs through me/You’re my heart’s true currency/You’re everything, everything to me.” This CD then ends with an interesting and good rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

CD Track List
  1. Your Kind
  2. We Are What We Believe
  3. Gotta Be Real
  4. 6000 Miles
  5. Hallelujah
  6. Magic Carpet Ride
  7. Mirabelle
  8. Long, Long Ride
  9. He Wore Sandals In The Snow
  10. You’re Everything To Me
  11. Amazing Grace 
True is scheduled to be released on CD on April 22, 2016 through Off The Beaten Track Recordings. It was made available on Itunes on March 18th.