Friday, September 30, 2016

The Kinks Konspiracy Concert Review

"Sunny Afternoon"
I’ve been a Kinks fan since I was a kid. When I got my drum kit at age thirteen and my friend got his guitar, the first song we ever tackled, as far as I can recall, was “You Really Got Me.” A simple tune, to be sure, but a good one. This was the mid-1980s, and I bought records like Give The People What They Want, State Of Confusion and Word Of Mouth, and listened to them over and over, at fairly ridiculous volumes. Of course, it was Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One that became my favorite, especially “Strangers” and “Apeman.” My passion for this band never decreased over the years. Clearly I’m not the only one who answers the question “Beatles or Stones?” with a resounding “Kinks!” Jay Souza, singer and guitarist of Patrolled By Radar, feels the same way, and he organized a night of Kinks music at The Lost Knight, a bar in Echo Park, featuring his band as well as The Evangenitals, NOCONA, and Tawny Ellis, among others.

I got there early and ordered a Guinness. “Eight dollars,” the bartender said, and I was shocked. He then corrected himself, “Nine, actually.” “Really?” I asked. Was he having me on? Nine dollars for a beer? Holy shit. Well, my first drink of the night was also my last. I’d never in my life paid nine dollars for a beer (ten, with tip), and it felt a bit like being punched in the face, though the bartender was very nice about it. Well, the show was free, so I just hoped that a significant percentage of the bar went to the bands.

The bill included some bands that I love, band I’d seen in concert multiple times, such as Patrolled By Radar and The Evangenitals. There were also some artists that I’d listened to, but hadn’t yet seen perform, such as Tawny Ellis and NOCONA. And then were a few bands I hadn’t heard before, like Livingmore and Kat Myers & The Buzzards (both of those bands are ones I’ll be excited to see do full sets). Each artist or band on the bill was to do two Kinks songs, plus an original if they wished.

At 9:05 p.m., Jay Souza kicked off the evening with a solo set on acoustic guitar, beginning with “Days,” a song The Kinks released in 1968. He followed that with an original tune, “Rally,” one of my personal favorite Patrolled By Radar songs, and wrapped up his opening set with “Set Me Free,” from Kinda Kinks. A good way to start the show, a couple of songs from fairly early in the band’s career. Tawny Ellis followed that with another tune from 1968, “Picture Book.” She also did “Lola,” one of the band’s most famous tunes, and one from my favorite Kinks record, Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One. Yeah, it’s a bit odd hearing a woman sing this one, but Tawny made it work. Folk Riot then did “Destroyer,” a perfect choice to follow “Lola,” because the first line is “Met a girl called Lola and I took her back to my place.” They got the place rocking with that one, and then slid straight into “Till The End Of The Day.”

There was minimal fuss between bands, with each artist not taking too much time to set up. Jay Souza announced the bands and encouraged folks to drink and so on from the sound booth between acts. While Kat Myers & The Buzzards were plugging in, there was a buzz in the monitors and the house, leading the bass player to joke, “We’re the buzzing buzzards.” This was one of the groups I hadn’t heard before, and I became a fan almost immediately. Their first selection was “Complicated Life,” from the 1971 release Muswell Hillbillies, a record that several artists would turn to over the course of the night. They followed that with an absolutely delightful rendition of “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” one of the many highlights of the show. Ben Reddell Band also chose a song from Muswell Hillbillies, the fun “Have A Cuppa Tea,” to start their set. They followed it with one of my favorites, “Apeman,” changing the lyrics a bit.

The Evangenitals also chose a track from Muswell Hillbillies, “Alcohol,” with Juli Crockett on banjo and kazoo. This was an absolutely fantastic rendition, another of the show’s highlights. They followed that with an original tune, “Turbulent Flow.” For their second Kinks song, they picked “Black Messiah,” the only song of the night from Misfits, and it was an excellent version, featuring some great stuff on bass. NOCONA then played “Death Of A Clown,” a cool song from Something Else, and their rendition featured pedal steel. NOCONA had a guest drummer filling in. They also did “Got To Be Free,” the closing track from Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround. They did an excellent version, really jamming on it at the end.

As I mentioned earlier (I did mention this earlier, didn’t I?), one of the benefits of the show for me was getting turned on to some bands I hadn’t heard before. I was particularly taken with Livingmore, one of the night’s great surprises. They started with “See My Friends,” a wonderful choice. This is a song the band released as a single in 1965, and is one of my favorites from the early years, sounding quite a bit different from other songs they were releasing at the time. They followed that with “You Really Got Me,” and then an original song, “Really Mean It,” which I loved.

Patrolled By Radar then did a really good version of “Celluloid Heroes,” a song from Everybody’s In Show-Biz, and one that has a bit of a different feel for me now that I’m living in Los Angeles. “This sure is fun,” Jay Souza said after that one. Absolutely! They then did their “Born Thirsty,” followed by an absolutely wonderful rendition of “Waterloo Sunset,” which was another of the night’s highlights. Cashew & Cleary then did “A Well Respected Man,” a song from the 1965 EP Kwyet Kinks (which, by the way, was re-issued during one of the Record Store Days, along with some of the other Kinks EPs). They followed that with a fun version of “Where Have All The Good Times Gone,” also from 1965. (As a side note, Van Halen kicked off the Diver Down album with a cover of that song. That’s another record I listened to a whole hell of a lot in my childhood.) Cashew & Cleary also did an original tune, introducing it as “This is our Kinksiest song.”

Ivory Deville, the final band of the night, was another great surprise. They started with a delightful rendition of “Oklahoma USA,” a song from Muswell Hillbillies, and even played accordion on it (there is accordion on the original version). They followed that with a rousing rendition of “Victoria,” with the crowd singing along. Excellent! Patrolled By Radar then closed out the night with “Sunny Afternoon,” with most of the other bands joining them on vocals. This was such a great night of music.

Here are some photos from the night:

Jay Souza performing "Days"
Tawny Ellis performing "Picture Book"
Folk Riot performing "Destroyer"
Kat Myers And The Buzzards performing "Complicated Life"
Ben Reddell Band performing "Apeman"
The Evangenitals performing "Alcohol"
NOCONA performing "Got To Be Free"
Livingmore performing "See My Friends"
Patrolled By Radar performing "Celluloid Heroes"
Cashew And Cleary performing "A Well Respected Man"
Ivory Deville performing "Oklahoma USA"
Jay Souza mentioned the possibility of a second Kinks night at some point. Let me just get in my requests now: “Strangers,” “This Time Tomorrow” and “Low Budget.” One more thing. Last night I made an important discovery: Women who are into The Kinks are hot. Just saying.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Adventures In Highland Park: A Night In Words And Photos

American Legion Hall, Post 206
I used to spend a good deal of time in Highland Park, back in the days of The Peak Show. They threw the best house parties. Last night I was in the same general area, though at a venue I’d never been to before – the American Legion Hall, Post 206. The bill for the evening was The Mekons, Sex Stains, Sam Coomes and Sun Foot. I got there early (I’m always early), and walked in just in time for the soundcheck by The Mekons. It was a brief soundcheck, just bits of two songs: “Abernant 1984/5” and “Millionaire.” Afterward, Sally Timms asked what they needed to move for the other bands, but no one seemed to know. This was the most casual venue ever. In fact, when I went in, the guy at the door didn’t have a stamp, so he just drew a stick figure on my right hand with a blue pen. (And, as I would later discover, the door man was also a member of the first band.)

The Mekons soundcheck
The Mekons soundcheck
The venue was basically one large hall, with a stage at one end, and a bar at the other. There was no air conditioning. Two large fans were blowing the hot air around the room. I was told the capacity was two hundred. The show was sold out. It was going to be fucking hot when the people filled the place. Also, I could only find one men’s toilet. And I mean one. There was a hole in the bathroom door larger than my arm, so anyone who had the urge could bend down and take a peek at whatever was going on inside. Two toilets (I’m assuming there was one for women) for two hundred people. Plus the bands. Yeah, apparently there wasn’t even another toilet reserved for the performers. When I arrived, I told the guy that I was on the guest list, and that I was supposed to have an all-access pass. He said it was the same for everybody. I was like, “Oh, okay, I was told I’d have access to the backstage area.” At that point, Sally, who was seated outside while they soundchecked the drums, told me there was no backstage. She said I had access to everything they had access to, except for the stage itself.

The men's bathroom
The sound wasn’t very good during the soundchecks. The vocals were a bit muddy. And the Sex Stains didn’t soundcheck at all. I stood in various places in the room, and it seemed the best sound was approximately fifteen feet in front of the stage, just off to the right of center (right, from the audience’s perspective). During Sun Foot’s soundcheck, the venue’s sound guy asked Sam Coomes if he had any recorded music to play between bands. I’ve never heard a venue to ask a performer if he had CDs to play over the system. But I wish Sam had given him something, because the sound guy then put on his own personal music, and it was Survivor’s “The Search Is Over.” Dear lord. And he followed that with a live recording of Barbra Streisand. Clearly, he was being cruel and vindictive. Did he realize this was sort of a punk show? I despise Barbra Streisand. It’s not her acting or her music (which I could give or take) that irks me, but the way she charged people $1,500 per ticket for her final show, and then within a year or two was touring again. She should have refunded everyone’s money.

Sam Coomes' head
I just needed to ignore Streisand and get into the spirit of the thing. Hell, this was the perfect place for a punk show. No amenities, an amateur vibe, a room that’s falling apart, holes in the ceiling, wallpaper from the 1940s, a scratched up floor, and plenty of enthusiasm from the bands. And the sound guy started playing Styx, certainly an improvement over Streisand (but still an odd choice). As for lighting, there was track lighting in front of the stage. Three lights, none with gels, so basically a white light on the stage. So weird.

At 8:17 p.m., Sun Foot took the stage, with Sam Coomes sitting in on keys. Their first number was like a strong pulse, with vocals not sung so much as spoken, a short message, a thought, “to-make-it-better.” Their songs are kind of like the components of songs, the starting points, and then they would see what could be done when you approach the music from that perspective. I could also hear one of the giant fans throughout their set.

Sun Foot
At 8:42 p.m., Sun Foot left the stage, with Sam remaining to perform a short solo set on keyboard and synthesizer (and vocals). I got into it, a strange, sometimes humorous, twisted wizardry. And a Styrofoam head with glowing eyes slowly spinning slowly at his side. He ended at approximately 9 p.m., and then the sound guy decided to subject us to Pink Floyd (no, not early Syd Barrett Floyd, but that dull, horrid shit from later on).

Sam Coomes
The Sex Stains were up next. I posted a review of their set already, which you can read here. It contains the set list and some photos, but why not post a few more photos here?

And then The Mekons closed out the night with a fantastic, energetic, joyous set of music. I posted a separate review of their show, which you can read here. That review contains several photos, but hey, here are a few more.

"Memphis, Egypt"
"Beaten And Broken"
Jon checking to see what they'll play next
end of the show, end of the night

The Mekons at American Legion Post 206, 9-27-16 Concert Review

The Mekons performing "Diamonds"
Though The Mekons have been around for decades, I wasn’t turned on to them until I saw the documentary film Revenge Of The Mekons last year. I completely fell in love with the band while watching that film. The day after I watched it, I went to the local CD store with the intention of purchasing every single CD The Mekons had ever put out (with maybe one exception). But while there was a spot for Mekons CDs, the store didn’t have any discs, and said they don’t stock them. The card with the band’s name was just a tease. No matter. I was traveling to Boston soon, and certainly Newbury Comics would have at least a few of the band’s albums in stock. Nope. Same story. A spot for the discs, but nothing in stock, and nothing they were able to order. What gives? The Mekons are one of the best bands around, and yet their albums are not readily available. When I learned they’d be doing a show in Los Angeles, I figured it was finally my chance – not only to see this fantastic band perform live, but also to pick up some of their CDs at the merchandise table. They had two discs with them, and I bought both.

They took the stage at 10:14 p.m. Noticing the Sex Stains’ set list, which was still on one of the monitors, Sally Timms said, “I wish we were doing a song called ‘Sex On The Subway.’” But instead, they launched into “Memphis, Egypt,” a kick-ass start to their set, with the audience singing along. After “Beaten And Broken,” they joked about the vocal microphone levels, and about the sound in the monitors. Jon Langford teased: “If there’s any accordion in the monitors, please take it out. No one wants to hear that.” He then introduced “Tina” by saying: “This is for the ghost of Margaret Thatcher. May she be tormented in hell for all time.” The crowd laughed and cheered, and laughed also at the first lines of that song, “It looks like an accident/Caused by the government.”

After “Millionaire,” Jon picked up the set list, joking how it’s a bit difficult to read grey print on grey paper. “Diamonds” had a false start, with Sally saying, “I don’t need any reverb.” Yeah, more sound issues, with a ringing in the monitors. “Heaven And Back” was a lot of fun, but oh shit, Jon, don’t kick me in the head. Ah, the dangers and thrills of being right up in the front at a Mekons concert. After “Fantastic Voyage,” someone in the audience asked, “Where is Sarah?” That led to Jon introducing the bass player and much of the rest of the band. When they started “The Curse,” there was a big cheer from the audience. But hey, Jon, don’t hit me in the head with your guitar. (Don’t worry, he didn’t actually hit me with his guitar, or kick me, but he certainly came close several times.) They ended the set with “Hard To Be Human Again.”

For the encores, they chose two songs from early in the band’s career: “Never Been In A Riot” (which was an answer to The Clash’s “White Riot”) and “Where Were You,” these two being the first singles released by the band back in 1978. I wonder if they might have done a few more tunes had the venue had air conditioning. I know by the end of the show, sweat was just pouring down my entire body, and it must have been even worse for the band. Several options of encores were included on the set list on stage, and the only one of those they played was “Where Were You.” “Never Been In A Riot” apparently wasn’t planned, and was a total treat.

Set List
  1. Memphis, Egypt
  2. Beaten And Broken
  3. Tina
  4. Millionaire
  5. Diamonds
  6. Abernant 1984/5
  7. Heaven And Back
  8. Fantastic Voyage
  9. (Sometimes I Feel Like) Fletcher Christian
  10. Orpheus
  11. Now We Have The Bomb
  12. Last Dance
  13. The Curse
  14. Hard To Be Human Again
  1. Never Been In A Riot
  2. Where Were You
The show ended at 11:25 p.m. Here are a few photos from the set:

"Memphis, Egypt"
introducing "Millionaire"
Jon with the set list
introducing "Heaven And Back"
Now that I’ve seen them in concert, I wish even more that someone had turned me onto them earlier. They’re phenomenal. Just think of all the shows I could have seen over the years. Oh well. I don’t intend to miss such an opportunity again. 

American Legion Hall Post 206 is located at 227 N. Avenue 55 in the Highland Park section of Los Angeles. Tickets for this show were $15.

Sex Stains at American Legion Hall Post 206, 9-27-16 Concert Review

Formed in 2014 and fronted by Bratmobile’s Allison Wolfe, Sex Stains recently released their debut, self-titled CD. They’ve been doing a series of shows to support and promote the album, and last night played a gig at the American Legion Hall in Highland Park, on the same bill with Sam Coomes, Sun Foot and The Mekons. Yeah, it was quite a night. Sex Stains took the stage at 9:23 p.m. During the set-up, Allison Wolfe, dressed in a yellow tank top with the words “I Fuck The Man,” did some stretching on stage to warm up. And good thing too, because once the band started, she hardly was still for even a moment. “We’re from here,” she said. “We’re very honored to play tonight with The Mekons.”

They mostly stuck to material from their CD, but opened the show with “USC,” a song not on the album. They followed that “Land Of La LA,” one of the first tracks I heard from the CD (they released it nearly a month before the CD’s release). After that tune, Allison mentioned that she couldn’t hear herself. Sound was certainly an issue. I know I’m getting old, but I had trouble hearing the vocals throughout the set; that is, I could hear the voices, but often couldn’t make out the lyrics. After “Period. Period.,” Allison said the song was about their periods. Mecca Vazie Andrews added that it was also about punctuation. There is a delicious playfulness about this band.

Allison introduced “Numbers, Faces” as a song about bad dating choices. It was a slower number, and she lay down on the stage, posing at one point during it. You couldn’t help but love her. She has this joyful energy and vibe about her, and a sense of humor as well. “November 9th, that’s my birthday,” she told the crowd, so that someone there would help make sure it’s better than last year. I have no doubt that it will be. One of my favorites from the set was “Don’t Hate Me ‘Cuz I’m Beautiful,” which got the crowd bopping around.

In addition to Allison Wolfe and Mecca Vazie Andrews on vocals, Sex Stains is composed of Sharif Dumani on guitar, Pachy Garcia on bass and David Orlando on drums. Allison announced the band was going to end the set with their two experimental songs, jokingly referring to a CD review which called these two songs experimental. After the first, “Sex In The Subway,” she lay down on the stage for a moment. (By the way, The Mekons would refer to this song at the beginning of their set.) “Crumbs,” the closing number, was a great, energetic tune, and at the end, Allison did the splits. It was a breezy set, eleven songs in twenty-seven minutes, and it left the audience pretty damn happy.

Set List
  1. USC
  2. Land Of La LA
  3. Period. Period.
  4. Numbers, Faces
  5. Done Popped
  6. Don’t Hate Me ‘Cuz I’m Beautiful
  7. Oh No (Say What?)
  8. Spidersss
  9. Who Song Love Song
  10. Sex In The Subway
  11. Crumbs 
Here are a few photos from their set:

Monday, September 26, 2016

Judy Henske & Jerry Yester: “Farewell Aldebaran” (1969/2016) CD Review

Judy Henske & Jerry Yester’s Farewell Aldebaran is a strange one, to be sure. Even for 1969, it is on the odd side. I’ve heard a lot of interesting music from 1968-1969, a time when bands were somewhat freed from conventions to see where their fancies took them, and it seems Judy and Jerry’s fancies took them in all sorts of unusual directions. Jerry Yester had played with the Modern Folk Quartet and then was a member of The Lovin’ Spoonful. Around the time of the Spoonful’s demise, he and his wife Judy Henske (who had a solo career of her own) recorded Farewell Aldebaran, an intriguing album combining folk, pop and even classical elements, each tune its own particular world, and featuring help from folks like David Lindley and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Zal Yanovsky. Every time I look at the CD case, I think it says, “Farewell Alderaan.” Even now, when I know that’s not what it says, I still see it as “Farewell Alderaan.” A good title that would be, actually, though of course this album was originally released in 1969, several years before we even knew about the sad fate of that distant planet. Aldebaran, by the way, is a giant star. Farewell Aldebaran got its first official CD release recently, through Omnivore Recordings, and it includes five previously unreleased bonus tracks.

Farewell Aldebaran opens with “Snowblind,” a great, raw, beautifully harsh tune written by Judy Henske, Jerry Yester and Zal Yanovsky. “Love is nasty, love is so blind/Love shall make us all go snowblind.” Judy really rips into this one vocally, and Zal’s work on electric guitar has something of a blues power. It’s an excellent, somewhat heavy track to get things going. They follow that with “Horses On A Stick,” which is a ridiculously catchy and delightful pop tune. It has an unexpected familiarity somehow, and is one of my favorites. Check out these lyrics: “You’re so afraid you’ll fall/But your horse is shod with starlight/His hooves strike sparks in the night/Afraid someday he’ll carry you away/You’ve hobbled in your mind’s pasture.” Jerry plays harmonium on this track. I am in love with this song, and love it even more as it ends with some “la la la” happiness. Joe Osborn is on bass, and Eddie Hoh is on drums.

Things get darker with “Lullaby,” a song about the end of the world which features Solomon Feldthouse on hammered dulcimer. Play this for your infant to give him or her a grim perspective on life and a good sense of doom. That’s followed by one of the album’s strangest tracks, “St. Nicholas Hall,” featuring a demanding vocal performance by Judy. This one is a message from St. Nicholas Hall, with requests for money for “new texts for zoology” and a new organ. It sounds like a quasi-religious experience. There is a decidedly humorous bent to this song, with lines like “She is mean and incredibly old” and “There’s a banquet for the missal mart/The menu will be a la carte” and “The Lutheran’s hell is threatening, as well,/All the ignorant orphans in Spain.”  It is an intriguing, odd tune. “Three Ravens” then has a sweeter sound.

“Raider” is another favorite. It has sort of a traditional, old-time folk sound, but with a lot going on. Solomon Feldthouse is again on hammered dulcimer, and David Lindley plays banjo (with a bow) on this track. I also like Jerry Scheff’s work on bass. “Oh, you are dreaming me.” Jerry Yester then takes lead vocal duties on “One More Time,” a mellow, sort of bluesy tune about death and a beautiful woman. “All her lovers love as dead now/She’s old, and the cold will kill her/She lusts only for/The far, dark, deep of grave.” That’s followed by another intriguing and compelling song about death, “Rapture.” “Pilots beware/The perilous air/Streaming under your wings/She will betray you/As she sings.” I love Judy’s vocal performance here, and Jerry plays piano, banjo, harmonica and synthesizer on this track.

“Charity” has a lighter feel. “Ivory rings, singing peacocks/And things from the east/There’s a beast on a chain made of gold.” The original album then concludes with its title track, “Farewell Aldebaran,” another of the disc’s highlights. Both Jerry and Judy provide lead vocals, their voices distorted at times to a strange, trippy, kind of creepy effect (as on the lines “It is too far/To come to die/Too far to die”). I love these lines: “Her mouth is torn with stars/And bruised with wings.” It’s a wild track, and fans of science fiction and progressive rock will find things to love about it.

Bonus Tracks

This CD contains five bonus tracks, all previously unreleased. All are (basically) instrumental demos, beginning with “Merry-Go-Round,” which is an early version of the tune that would eventually become “Horses On A Stick.” The recording isn’t perfect here, with the sound dipping low at times, but it’s great to have this track. That is followed by a demo of “Charity,” which isn’t exactly an instrumental. There are vocals, but no lyrics.

“Zanzibar” is a demo of the tune that would become “Farewell Aldebaran.” There are some minor sound issues with this one also, but again, it’s great to be able to listen to it. “Moods For Cellos” is the demo for the track that would come to be titled “Three Ravens,” and it’s really pretty. This one has vocals, but no lyrics. The CD ends with “Divers Asleep,” the instrumental demo for “Rapture.”

CD Track List
  1. Snowblind
  2. Horses On A Stick
  3. Lullaby
  4. St. Nicholas Hall
  5. Three Ravens
  6. Raider
  7. One More Time
  8. Rapture
  9. Charity
  10. Farewell Aldebaran
  11. Merry-Go-Round
  12. Charity
  13. Zanzibar
  14. Moods For Cellos
  15. Divers Asleep 
This special expanded edition of Farewell Aldebaran was released on August 12, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

MarchFourth: “Magic Number” (2016) CD Review

I love it when people introduce me to great new music. That happened recently with the Portland, Oregon band MarchFourth. Of course, the band has been around for a while already – since March 4th, 2003, apparently (which was Mardi Gras that year) – and have released several CDs, but they are new to me. The band’s new album, Magic Number, was funded by fans and features original material written by a few of the band’s members. This disc follows 2011’s Magnificent Beast, and is the first to be released under the name MarchFourth rather than March Fourth Marching Band. And as far as marching goes, it seems to me this band is marching in the sense that the Grateful Dead’s bears are marching (that is to say, they’re dancing). This album is a whole lot of fun, and it features some guest musicians including Trombone Shorty.

They get things going with “Call To Action,” an instrumental track which opens with some cool percussion, The band gets you interested with its groove, and then – bam – hits you with the horns, and by that time you’re totally in, totally theirs. “Call To Action” was written by Anthony Meade, and the action they’re calling for is to let loose and dance like the uninhibited freaks you all are at heart. It’s followed by “The Quarter,” written by Paul Chandler. There’s something cool and sneaky about this one, like a spy going about his work. It begins as an instrumental, and then halfway into the track, the vocals come in. “Sitting in the window seat, the city in your sight.” But it’s those horns during the next section that I especially love. Bloody wonderful! This song then breaks through to a bright, magnificent section, before returning to that cool opening section again.

“Magic Number,” the album’s title track, is one of my personal favorites. It seems to promise adventure right from the start.  I appreciate the jokes about aging, with lines like “I laughed so hard that I fell off my dinosaur” and “Grow old, grow round.” But no matter your age, this track will have you dancing. This CD was recorded in New Orleans, and the magic of that city certainly makes itself felt in songs like this one. “Magic Number” was written by John Averill. By the way, the number 37 is a magic one for me. It seems to come up every day. The second line of this song is “I got thirty-seven hundred reasons to me mad.” What’s your magic number?

“Push It Back” is a dance number that features Galactic’s Stanton Moore on drums. The lyrics are sung with an odd sort of hushed tone: “I’ve seen you swinging from the trees/You’re going to bring it right down to your knees/If you push it back.” Then Galactic’s Ben Ellman joins the band on harmonica for “Inventing The Wheel,” a great instrumental track. (Ben Ellman also produced this album.) Trombone Shorty adds some fantastic trombone to this track. I love when this one breaks open, though still holding onto that steady base, that insistent hook. The band then starts to increase its pace, once this beast has been uncaged; it is at first tentative, testing its freedom, then bounding and leaping in an ecstatic frenzy, before returning to its base, that initial groove. Written by Anthony Meade, this is another of my favorites.

“Hotstepper” is more of a pop tune in certain respects, and is another where the vocals don’t come in until halfway through the song. Is the title “Jan Jar” a playful Star Wars reference, you know, to everyone’s favorite character from the prequels? It was written by Taylor Aglipay. If it is a reference to Jar Jar, it is certainly much cooler than that character ever could hope to be. If it’s not a Star Wars reference, then “It’s A Trap!” must be. Right? By the way, just before Admiral Ackbar says that line, watch the Mon Calamari standing in the background. He seems so confused and excited, and makes me laugh every time I watch the film. Just imagine him dancing around in the background while “It’s A Trap!” is playing, pointing this way then that way. Ah yes, everyone do the Mon Calamari boogie! The CD then concludes with “Endless Highway,” a short and kind of pretty instrumental number.

CD Track List
  1. Call To Action
  2. The Quarter
  3. Magic Number
  4. Push It Back
  5. Inventing The Wheel
  6. Hotstepper
  7. Drunk Bears
  8. Jan Jar
  9. Science (Free Your Mind)
  10. It’s A Trap!
  11. Endless Highway 
Magic Number is scheduled to be released on September 30, 2016.

Monkees Dream

This morning I dreamed I was at a Monkees concert. It was outdoors, and Mike Nesmith was playing with them (so the Pantages show was not his final Monkees performance after all). It was a really good show, and rather than the usual encores, Mike Nesmith sang a new song to end the evening. I loved the song, which was a serious number, but needed to know its title to include on my set list. After the show, I went to ask Mike what the song was called, but he was busy. I think “Sorrow” was in the title, but it was a long title (though of course it wasn’t “Long Title”), and it was one that you couldn’t figure out from the lyrics (you know, like “Tapioca Tundra”). Before I could discover the name of the song, I woke up. And then I realized I’d actually written the song, so I could name it anything I wanted. Except, of course, I hadn’t written it, but only dreamed it, and soon all the lyrics were gone from my memory, and all that remained was the basic feel of the song, or rather, how it made me feel. Oh well. I need a machine to record concerts in my dreams. But at least I got to see Mike Nesmith perform with The Monkees again.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Heaters: “American Dream: The Portastudio Recordings” (2016) CD Review

Remember The Heaters? Don’t feel bad if you don’t. Unless you lived in Los Angeles in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there’s a good chance you never heard them. I never did. Though they released two records back in the day, neither album did all that well. They then went a different route, and in 1983 recorded several tracks on a Portastudio at the house of the lead singer’s parents, but these weren’t released. Until now. Thanks to Omnivore Recordings, they are here as American Dream: The Portastudio Recordings, ten great tracks, many of which have a definite 1960s girl group flavor. But unlike a lot of those girl groups of the 1960s, these women play instruments in addition to delivering fantastic, delicious vocal performances; also, they wrote all the songs on this disc. The Heaters were made up of two sisters – Missy A. Connell and Maggie J. Connell – and lead vocalist Mercy Bermudez. Joining them on certain tracks are Steve Barbato and John Cowsill. The liner notes are written by Mercy, Maggie and Missy, and tell the story of how these tracks came to be.

The CD opens with its title track, “American Dream,” a cool garage pop tune that I got into immediately. Certain lines stood out for me the first time I put on this disc, lines like “Your smile looks like a brand new car,” “You’re not a machine,” “Your hair looks like an airport” (unless I’m mishearing that) and “I’ll never get over your electric windows.” Missy Connell wrote this one, and it’s a lot of fun. I like what Maggie Connell does on piano near the end. “All I Want To Do” then is a sweet, innocent-sounding love song in which they sing, “All I want to do is love you.” Check out these lines: “I don’t understand it/I heard such stories about romance/Do I come from a different planet/Oh, lucky stars, give me one more chance.” Oh, we’ve all felt like that at one time or another, right? This one was also written by Missy.

That’s followed by “10,000 Roses,” which is part 1960s girl vocal group, part punk, and is a total joy. “I need a rose umbrella.” Those backing vocals (“Wah-oo, wah-oo,” and so on) made me laugh out loud. And check out that guitar work. This one was written by Maggie Connell. And then with “Every Living Day,” also written by Maggie, they really nail that delicious kind of heartbreaker that the 1960s vocal groups did so well. And it’s a fantastic song, probably my favorite on this CD. Mercy delivers an incredible vocal performance, and the backing vocals are perfect. “Every living day/Brings us closer/Closer to the end.” There is certainly a humor to it as well, like when they sing, “No, no, no, yes, no.” This one features Steve Barato on guitar, and also includes one of those spoken word sections favored in many of those 1960s tunes: “And my very, very, very best friend/Every living day/Bring us closer and closer and closer/Closer to the end.”

“Sandy” is certainly an unusual song. It starts with a phone being dialed, a girl answering. And then the song kicks in. So it’s like the band, rather than talking to this girl, sings her their thoughts about the boy she’s been seeing. I hope if The Heaters ever have any advice for me, they’ll give me a call and sing it. “But that boy that you’ve been seeing/Doesn’t really care for you/He’s in love with his own feelings/He can’t see you/He wants to be you.” Yup, “That boy wants to be a girl.” I love this song. And the end is surprising and funny.

John Cowsill (from The Cowsills) joins the group on drums for the last several tracks, beginning with “I Want To Love Again.” That song opens with a bit of spoken word: “You know there’s a way to my heart/That no one’s ever found/I thought someone did one time.” They let it loose on “Rock This Place,” which has a strong rock and roll vibe. The CD ends on a sweeter note with “I’ll Meet You There.” “Never will never do/It’s only a word we say/When it’s hard times/We’re going through/Everything is possible/When love’s got a hold on you.” Mercy adds saxophone to this one.

CD Track List
  1. American Dream
  2. All I Want To Do
  3. 10,000 Roses
  4. Every Living Day
  5. Just Around The Corner
  6. Sandy
  7. I Want To Love Again
  8. Rock This Place
  9. Love Will Be Hurrying To You
  10. I’ll Meet You There
American Dream: The Portastudio Recordings was released on August 19, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Gina Sicilia: “Sunset Avenue” (2016) CD Review

Gina Sicilia is a talented blues singer and songwriter. Her new release, Sunset Avenue, is an EP featuring mostly original material and one really good cover. On this CD, she mixes blues with soul and pop sounds, all driven by her powerful vocals. This is her sixth release, following 2014’s The Alabama Sessions. Joining her on this release are Ron Jennings on guitar, Glenn Barratt on guitar (Barratt also produced the CD), Ken Pendergast on bass, Scott Key on drums and percussion, Gary Oleyar on fiddle, Joel Bryant on organ, Walter Runge on organ and piano, and Charlene Holloway on backing vocals.
The EP kicks off with “Abandoned,” which begins with some tasty bluesy guitar before the rest of the band kicks in. This is a groovy blues song about that sometimes fleeting companion, Love. “Love was here, then it abandoned me/Love is who/Taught me to kiss you/Gone without a clue/Left me to miss you.” That’s followed by “Never Gonna End,” which has something of a soul vibe and great backing vocals. “Blood’s being shed/Heart’s on the mend/This hole that we’re in/Is growing deeper/I’m scared to know/Where will we go?/’Cause this battle we’re in/Is never gonna end.” Though those lyrics indicate a somewhat depressing outlook, this becomes kind of a sweet-sounding song by the end, particularly that instrumental section. Perhaps this is sung by someone resigned to this never-ending battle, not someone anxious or eager to get out of it.

In “I Cried,” Gina Sicilia sings about going to the river and crying. “I just had to cry, cry, cry/My weary eyes/Needed to cry, cry, cry.” Ah yes, sometimes we just have to let it out, regardless of what’s going on around us. A song like this, with its easygoing groove and heartfelt vocals, can act as a friend for us at those times. Songs like this tell us, “Hey, you’re not alone.” And sometimes that’s enough. I like that she tells us, “Life ain’t always bad for me/But right now it’s just too tough.” It’s good to know that this too shall pass. It’s a good song, and it’s followed by the EP’s only cover, “Tell Him,” a tune written by Bert Berns and famously recorded by The Exciters.  Gina Sicilia does a really good job with it. At the beginning when she sings, “I know something about love,” I believe her.  There are some nice backing vocals too. It has a slightly messy ending, but I suppose that’s part of its charm.

This EP concludes with “They Never Pay Me,” which for me is the most interesting track. Musically, there is a lot here to get immersed in. And vocally, she delivers a wonderful and emotionally charged performance. “Why do they have to be so cruel to me/Why oh my oh my/So watch your back/Tread carefully now ‘cause/This ain’t the last of me yet/Don’t underestimate me/I am telling you/This ain’t the last of me yet.” It’s a compelling song, and features some good work on guitar.

CD Track List
  1. Abandoned
  2. Never Gonna End
  3. I Cried
  4. Tell Him
  5. They Never Pay Me 
Sunset Avenue was released on August 26, 2016 on Blue Élan Records.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Porter Wagoner: “The Definitive Collection” (2016) CD Review

I’ve been enjoying the new Dolly Parton CD, Pure & Simple. On that album, she revisits two songs she originally recorded with Porter Wagoner. And listening to those tracks got me in the mood to go back to some more Porter Wagoner material. Well, guess what? Real Gone Music has just released a two-disc set titled The Definitive Collection, which contains forty tracks spanning the years 1953 to 1974. Most of these songs are from before his collaborations with Dolly Parton, with only a few tracks from the early 1970s.

The first disc opens with “Howdy Neighbor, Howdy,” a bright, happy tune from 1963 that features some wonderful work on fiddle. The CD then goes back to the 1950s, with “Trademark,” which has a more raw, loose sound. This song was co-written by Porter Wagoner, and in it he describes his trademark as: “A little bit of croonin’/A little bit of spoonin’/A little bit of swoonin’/And a lot of honeymoonin’/That’s my trademark.” He goes on to sing that he’s noted for his attempts to keep satisfying. Oh yes, and from what I can hear, he’s pretty damn successful at it. And from there this collection goes mostly in chronological order.

In 1954, Porter Wagoner had a #1 country hit with his excellent, passionate rendition of “A Satisfied Mind,” a song written by Joe Hayes and Jack Rhodes. His vocals sound great, and he’s joined by some good backing vocals on certain lines. “Money can't buy back/Your youth when you're old/Or a friend when you're lonely/Or a love that's grown cold.”

I could do without the Jesus song, “What Would You Do (If Jesus Came To Your House),” though a part of me keeps coming up with snide responses to that and other questions posed in the song. “If Jesus came to your house to spend a day or two/If he came unexpectedly, I wonder what you’d do.” Well, I really don’t like it when people show up uninvited, especially if they’re planning on spending the night. I think that’s incredibly rude. And as my friends can attest to, there’s hardly enough room for just one person in my home, never mind an uninvited guest. All right, enough about that. That song is followed by the great “Uncle Pen.” I’ve heard a lot of renditions of this song over the years, and this one still works its charm perfectly. It’s a lot of fun, and always makes me smile (and sometimes makes me dance around like a goof). Porter’s version of “Uncle Pen” reached #14 on the country chart. It’s followed by another of my favorites, “Tryin’ To Forget The Blues,” which reached #11 in 1956. Ah, some great country blues. “The song they’re singing makes me want to cry/’Cause it reminds me that you’ve gone and left me.” Then we get “A Good Time Was Had By All,” and with that fast banjo and fiddle, I don’t doubt that for a moment.

“Midnight” is a wonderfully sad and effective song. Ah yes, missing that special someone late at night, feeling lonely, midnight being an hour when you can’t turn to anyone else to alleviate the pain. ”I’m so lonely/So lonely at midnight for you.” And will the coming daylight help? Nope. “Tomorrow is on its way/Empty and blue.” This is another of the first disc’s highlights. I love those sad country songs. Like the delightfully depressing “Everything She Touches Gets The Blues,” in which he sings, “Wonder what she’ll name our baby/Someone else is helping her to choose/I only know my heart is broken/Everything she touches gets the blues.” Even better is “Cold Dark Waters,” another great depressing country song, this one dealing with lost love and suicide. His vocal delivery is perfect and heartbreaking. “I guess it all started the day we first met/You promised that you’d love me so/And I never thought it would end in regret/In the cold dark waters below.” This is one of my personal favorites.

The first disc closes with “I’ll Go Down Swinging,” with the excellent lines, “She thinks she made a fool of me by loving someone else/She should see me make a fool out of myself.” The second disc then opens in a fashion similar to the first disc, with “Y’all Come,” a happy, positive tune about neighbors coming to see you. It was clearly a deliberate choice to open both CDs this way, because both cases are deviations from the chronological order of tracks.

“Y’all Come” is followed by “Green, Green Grass Of Home,” a sweet song that was a big hit for Porter Wagoner, reaching #4 on the country chart. There is a spoken word section toward the end, and a spoken word section in “Skid Row Joe” too. That spoken word part of “Skid Row Joe” is actually my favorite section of the song. “But you see, this is my home/And you see the other bar down the street/Well, that’s my home too.” The spoken word part of “Confessions Of A Broken Man” is also wonderful. “I had a woman/Guess every man does/And every man thinks his is the best/Mine was/Stuck by me through thick and thin/’Til it just got too thin, I guess.”

“The First Mrs. Jones” is one of the highlights of the second disc. It was the lead-off track of his 1967 LP The Cold Hard Facts Of Life. Check out these lines: “Her real first name was Betty/But I’d rather just forget it/So I’ll call her the first Mrs. Jones/We were married in September/And it lasted ‘til November/Then one day she just took out on her own.” Like a lot of his recordings around this time, this track features a spoken word section, and in it he kills his wayward woman and we discover he’s telling the story to the second Mrs. Jones. Wonderful! Ah, the Julie of “Julie” is trouble too, and he tells us, “For she’d only laugh as she’d walk out the door/And each time she hurt me made me love her more.” And uh-oh, this one will end in death too. “Julie” reached #15 on the country chart.

“The Last One To Touch Me” is the only song in this collection written by Dolly Parton. Porter Wagoner released it as a single in 1970, and also included it on his 1971 record Simple As I Am. Dolly included her own version on her 1971 record Joshua. “The last thing I remember before I go to sleep/Is the touch of your sweet lips softly kissing me/And I go to sleep a-thinking how happy you make me/And I want you to be the last one to touch me.” Sweet, eh?

While the majority of the songs in this collection were written by other people, the final three tracks were all written by Porter Wagoner. “The Rubber Room” is an unusual and intriguing song, and Porter’s vocal delivery and approach are quite a bit different here. “Illusions in a twisted mind to save from self-destruction/It’s the rubber room.” And I dig the bass. This strange tune ends up being one of my favorites. “I hear footsteps pounding on the floor/God, I hope they don’t stop at my door.” “What Ain’t To Be, Just Might Happen” is a playful number that I also really like. “Highway Headin’ South” is also fun, and is one I’ll be adding to my road trip mix CD play list.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Howdy Neighbor, Howdy
  2. Trademark
  3. Company’s Comin’
  4. A Satisfied Mind
  5. Eat, Drink And Be Merry (Tomorrow You’ll Cry)
  6. What Would You Do (If Jesus Came To Your House)
  7. Uncle Pen
  8. Tryin’ To Forget The Blues
  9. A Good Time Was Had By All
  10. Midnight
  11. I Thought I Heard You Calling My Name
  12. Legend Of The Big Steeple
  13. Your Old Love Letters
  14. Everything She Touches Gets The Blues
  15. Misery Loves Company
  16. Cold Dark Waters
  17. I’ve Enjoyed As Much Of This As I Can Stand
  18. Sorrow On The Rocks
  19. The Life Of The Party
  20. I’ll Go Down Swinging
Disc Two
  1. Y’all Come
  2. Green, Green Grass Of Home
  3. Skid Row Joe
  4. Confessions Of A Broken Man
  5. I Just Came To Smell The Flowers
  6. Soul Of A Convict
  7. The Cold Hard Facts Of Life
  8. The First Mrs. Jones
  9. Julie
  10. Woman Hungry
  11. Turn The Jukebox Up Louder
  12. Pastor’s Absent On Vacation
  13. The Carroll County Accident
  14. Big Wind
  15. When You’re Hot You’re Hot
  16. You Got-Ta Have A License
  17. The Last One To Touch Me
  18. The Rubber Room
  19. What Ain’t To Be, Just Might Happen
  20. Highway Headin’ South
The Definitive Collection was released on September 2, 2016 through Real Gone Music.