Sunday, April 30, 2017

Odin at Whisky A Go Go, 4-29-17 Concert Review

Odin performing "Shining Love"
Odin was part of the Los Angeles rock scene of the 1980s, and immortalized in the documentary Decline Of The Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. Last night they did a special show at the Whisky A Go Go, right there on the Sunset Strip, the heart of that rock scene. This is their turf, their territory, and they return to it from time to time to tear things up, remind us of what’s what, and to rock our worlds. I hadn’t seen them before, but was ready. With the country having gone completely sideways, dipping into the darkest of territory, I was eager for some release, for some good solid rock music. And Odin delivered. Their show was exactly what I needed. No bullshit, no airs. Just great, honest rock from some talented musicians.

If you’ve seen Decline Of The Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, you’ll recall the “Odin” chant led by Bill Gazzarri. Well, last night the audience led its own “Odin, Odin, Odin” chant just before the band took the stage at 11: 44 p.m.  The band started with an instrumental intro, then got things flying with “One Day To Live,” an excellent tune from the band’s EP Don’t Take No For An Answer. They followed that with “Midnight Flight” and then “12 O’ Clock High.” The energy from the band was fantastic, and the energy among the crowd was just as strong. Everyone seemed really happy. This was one of the nicest concert crowds I’ve ever been a part of. Seriously. Every single person I came into contact with was considerate and cool, and seemed excited to be there. There was a great vibe in the room.

This music had me on my feet and dancing. “Push” was particularly good.  And it was followed by perhaps the most surprising song of the set, “Modern Day King” (it included the guitar intro, and was a treat). Shawn then gave us a fun, though relatively brief, drum solo, which I completely enjoyed. I always appreciate a good drum solo. That led into “Don’t Take No For An Answer,” with some awesome work on guitar and then a great bass lead. Randy O. got the audience singing along, passing the microphone to those in the front. And after “She Needs My Love” (another of the set’s highlight), Randy asked the audience if they’d seen Decline Of The Western Civilization Part II, then joked that he’d planned to wear those pants for the show. If you’ve seen the film, you know exactly which pants he’s referring to. By the way, I interviewed Randy in 2015, and asked him about those famous pants. You can read that interview here.

Odin doesn’t play all that often, but when the band does perform, it’s with all the original members, and they mentioned that at the show after “Little Gypsy.” This isn’t one of those rock bands that’s gone through like fifteen variations and has only one original member. The guys that rocked the Sunset Strip in the 1980s are the same guys that rocked it last night. Odin then ended the set with “Shining Love,” another of the band’s best songs. Randy again got some help from the audience on the chorus.  The encore was “Judgement Day,” with Randy introducing it by saying it was Odin punk rock, a song from the very beginning of the band’s career. The show ended at 12:48 a.m.

Set List
  1. One Day To Live
  2. Midnight Flight
  3. 12 O’ Clock High
  4. Over Your Head
  5. Push
  6. Modern Day King
  7. Don’t Take No For An Answer
  8. She Needs My Love
  9. Little Gypsy
  10. Shining Love
  1. Judgement Day
Here are some photos from the show:

"One Day To Live"
"12 O' Clock High"
"12 O' Clock High"
"12 O' Clock High"
"Over Your Head"
"Modern Day King"
Drum Solo
"Don't Take No For An Answer"
"Don't Take No For An Answer"
"Shining Love"
"Shining Love"
"Judgement Day"
Whisky A Go Go is located at 8901 Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood, California.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Carol Saboya: “Carolina” (2016) CD Review

These days I’m constantly on the lookout for music to raise my spirits. I don’t think I’m alone in that search, that need, what with the anxiety many of us feel due to the political situation here in the U.S. Things are basically fucked out there, and I keep hearing it will end soon, that Trump will be impeached, that he’ll be jailed, that…. Well, so far these promises of a better future haven’t paid off. So I turn to music. Over and over, I turn to music. Today I popped in Carol Saboya’s most recent release, Carolina, and immediately felt lighter. Something about her voice tells me not to worry, that things will be all right. Hers is a beautiful voice, to be sure, but it’s also a friendly voice, a comforting voice, so the music feels close to us. You know?

Carolina follows the 2015 release Copa Village by Carol Saboya, Antonio Adolfo and Hendrik Meurkens. On that album, they covered several songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Carol Saboya likewise does a few Jobim compositions on the newer CD. She also dips into some pop with songs by The Beatles and Sting. Joining her on this album are Antonio Adolfo on piano (he also did the arrangements), Marcelo Martins on flute and saxophone, Leo Amuedo on guitar, Jorge Helder on bass, Rafael Barata on drums and percussion, and André Siqueira on percussion (André Siqueira also played percussion on Copa Village).

Carol Saboya opens the album with one of the Antonio Carlos Jobim compositions, “Passarim.” It begins interestingly with flute, piano and percussion before Carol’s vocals come in. Her voice is both warm and pretty. And later there is a really nice instrumental section featuring good work on guitar and flute. But it is the following song, “1 X 0,” that really got me interested. It is totally delightful, and Carol Saboya does some wonderful stuff with her voice on this one. Seriously, this track commanded my attention, and the longer it went on, the bigger my smile grew, each new section better than the previous one. It’s fun and adorable, a treat for my ears. Carol Saboya follows that with a pretty song, “Senhoras Do Amazonas.” And then I love the flute on “Avião,” one of two songs on this album written by Djavan Caetano Viana.

As I mentioned she covers a couple of pop songs, including a mellow, pretty version of The Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye.” It has a relaxed groove, but there is still an energy to her vocal delivery, and there is a brief but excellent lead part on guitar. This version is without the coda of the original Beatles recording. She also delivers a gorgeous rendition of Sting’s “Fragile,” a song from …Nothing Like The Sun. Sting himself had also released the song in both Spanish and Portuguese on …Nada Como El Sol. Carol sings it in English.

The other two Jobim songs that Carol Saboya covers on this release are “A Felicidade,” which he wrote with Vinicius de Moraes, and “Olha, Maria,” which he wrote with Chico Buarque and Vinicius de Moraes. “A Felicidade” is from the 1959 film Black Orpheus, and this version by Carol Saboya is excellent, mostly because of her vocals. Interestingly, it ends with drums. “Olha, Maria” features some beautiful work on saxophone. Claudio Spiewak joins the group on acoustic guitar for “Faltando Um Pedaco,” a song by Djavan Caetano Viana. The CD then concludes with one of my favorite tracks, “Zanzibar,” written by Edu Lobo. I love the energy and that rhythm. I just want it to carry me away to a land without deceit, without racism, without fascism… a land without Trump. By the way, this song features a great lead on guitar by Leo Amuedo.

CD Track List
  1. Passarim
  2. 1 X 0
  3. Senhoras Do Amazonas
  4. Hello, Goodbye
  5. Avião
  6. Fragile
  7. A Felicidade
  8. Olha, Maria
  9. Faltando Um Pedaco
  10. Zanzibar
Carolina was released on May 23, 2016.

Tina Raymond: “Left Right Left” (2017) CD Review

Jazz drummer Tina Raymond has played on several artists’ recordings, and has now released her debut album as bandleader. Left Right Left is an interesting album of patriotic songs and folk songs. It might seem an odd idea to do protest and folk songs as instrumentals, because the subjects being addressed in those songs are then lost unless you’re familiar with the tunes. But then again most people are likely familiar with Tina Raymond’s choices of material, including songs by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. The band on this album is the trio of Tina Raymond on drums, Art Lande on piano, and Putter Smith on bass. Yes, she’s playing with two incredibly accomplished musicians. Putter Smith is also a songwriter, and the trio plays a couple of his compositions on this CD. The album’s title is a reference to the general political landscape of the United States, with folks on the left largely situated on the two coasts, and folks on the right being in the middle. Of course, that’s a generalization, as some places in the middle – Illinois, Colorado, Minnesota – lean to the left, and some places on the east coast – North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia – lean to the right. The title also makes me think of military formation marches, with one guy calling out, “Left, left, left, right, left.”

Tina Raymond opens the album with Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures Of Plenty.” Woody Guthrie is one of the most important, prolific and influential songwriters in this country’s history. I believe that “This Land Is Your Land” is the true National Anthem, and it should be sung at sporting events and so on. Tina Raymond’s rendition of “Pastures Of Plenty” has a great vibrant quality, with some excellent work by all three musicians. It feels immediate, as it engages you, rather than feeling like it’s about long-past events. The song is about the plight and pride of migrant workers, and as such might remind of you John Steinbeck’s Grapes Of Wrath, the title of which comes from a line of “Battle Hymn Of The Republic”: “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” Whether it is for that reason or not, Tina Raymond follows “Pastures Of Plenty” with “Battle Hymn Of The Republic.”  It starts as a march, and then sort of deliberately devolves, fractures, just as the country is doing now. But what emerges is a delicious drum solo, followed by a cool bass solo, giving me hope that something wonderful will emerge from the current political state. Then they take up the main theme again, but it is still a twisted take on it.

America feels like it has in very serious and frightening ways ceased to be America. I joked with someone not too long ago that the Statue of Liberty was being taken down, and the person believed me. That’s the kind of reality we’re dealing with these days, where it’s actually not inconceivable that the Statue of Liberty would be removed. Certainly the poem at its base is no longer applicable or appreciated. And yet, listening to Tina Raymond’s take on “America The Beautiful” (here simply titled “America”), and hearing the lyrics in my head, I can’t help but think there is still beauty here, there is still majesty – in the landscape, in the people (not all of the people, of course – it’s difficult to imagine an uglier soul than that of the man currently pretending to lead the nation). And perhaps the so-called leaders might take a moment to consider a few lines of this song: “America! America!/God mend thine every flaw/Confirm thy soul in self-control/Thy liberty in law.” Tina Raymond’s rendition moves at a good pace, and goes in some interesting directions. It is certainly among the coolest versions I’ve heard.

Tina Raymond includes a second Woody Guthrie composition on this CD, “Union Maid,” delivering a very relaxed, mellow, late-night rendition. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it presented this way before. I’m used to robust renditions. But I do like it. She follows that with Joni Mitchell’s “The Fiddle And The Drum,” which was on Clouds, the first Joni Mitchell album I ever purchased. On that album version, Joni’s voice is unaccompanied, so it is certainly an interesting choice of songs to perform as an instrumental. But Art Lande’s piano sounds like a voice at times, as does some of Putter Smith’s work on bass here. The most beautiful and uplifting track on this disc is “Lift Every Voice And Sing.” This version is at times tender, and always emotionally stirring, and is one of my favorite tracks. The piano is the heart of this one, but there is a good bass lead, and I love the work on drums, especially toward the end.

There are two tracks written by bass player Putter Smith – “Xxmas In Baghdad” and “White Flight.” Perhaps it’s just because of the Christmas connection, but the beginning of “Xxmas In Baghdad” does remind me just a bit of Vince Guaraldi’s Peanuts music. But any similarity (if any indeed exists) disappears soon, and this piece has its own strong presence. “White Flight” teases at the beginning, then suddenly comes alive with a great energy, and even includes a good drum solo. This is one of my favorite tracks, and features some excellent playing by all three musicians.

There is something gentle and delicate in the trio’s delivery of Joan Baez’s “Saigon Bride,” a song from her Joan album. Tina Raymond concludes the album with Pete Seeger’s “If I Had A Hammer.” I’ve heard several unusual interpretations of “If I Had A Hammer” in recent years. Ruthie Foster’s sexy rendition jumps to mind. Tina Raymond’s version has a bit of swing to it, which is wonderful. It’s full of bright, positive and playful energy, and it contains a bass solo.

CD Track List
  1. Pastures Of Plenty
  2. Battle Hymn Of The Republic
  3. America
  4. Union Maid
  5. The Fiddle And The Drum
  6. Lift Every Voice And Sing
  7. Xxmas In Baghdad
  8. Saigon Bride
  9. White Flight
  10. If I Had A Hammer
Left Right Left was released on April 7, 2017 on Orenda Records.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mississippi Heat: “Cab Driving Man” (2016) CD Review

At a time when nearly the entire nation has a bad case of the blues, Chicago blues band Mississippi Heat offers some fun, uplifting tunes on the newest release, Cab Driving Man. Yes, it’s a case of using the blues to combat the blues, and I think it might be working. It’s working for me at least. Mississippi Heat is led by harmonica player Pierre Lacocque, who wrote most of the tunes on Cab Driving Man. The album features two lead vocalists. Inetta Visor sings lead on most tracks, with Michael Dotson singing lead on the tracks that he wrote. This band has been performing for more than twenty-five years, with different lineups. The lineup, as of the release of this CD, is Pierre Lacocque on harmonica, Inette Visor on vocals and tambourine, Michael Dotson on guitar and vocals, Giles Corey on guitar, Brian Quinn on bass, Terrence Williams on drums, and Chris “Hambone” Cameron on piano and organ. Joining them on various tracks are Ricky Nelson on bass, Kenny Smith on drums, Sumito Ariyo on piano, Dave Specter on guitar, Ruben Alvarez on percussion, and Sax Gordon on saxophone.

The band gets things going with “Cupid Bound,” a good tune to get you on your feet, with some great work on harmonica. “I never really planned/To ever want to settle down/No, I never dreamed, baby/To be one day Cupid-bound/So why do you care?/Why do you love me the way you do?” Sax Gordon plays sax on this track, and his playing helps give this song something of a classic feel. Sax Gordon also joins the band on the CD’s title track, “Cab Driving Man,” one of my favorites. I love the groove to this song, with Ruben Alvarez adding some delicious percussion, and the song has a something of a gypsy funk vibe. And in the middle of it all, there is a surprising and wonderful lead part on piano by Chris “Hambone” Cameron that is certain to wipe away at least some of your blues. “He knows your city well/He don’t need no fancy map/You can relax, let go/No need to sweat/You’ll get there in a snap.”

Both of those songs were written by Pierre Lacocque. They’re followed by one of Michael Dotson’s songs, “That Late Night Stuff,” fun Friday night party blues rock, with great touches on saxophone by Sax Gordon. As I mentioned earlier, Michael Dotson sings lead on this one. He also sings lead on “The Last Go Round” and “Can’t Get Me No Traction.” “The Last Go Round” kicks in with a strong groove. It’s about the end of a relationship, the lines that stuck out for me the first time around being “And I’m sorry, baby, so sorry for you/You can’t get it right no matter what you do.” We’ve all wanted to sing that to someone at some point, right?

“Flowers On My Tombstone” has an excellent, timeless blues sound, and is one of this disc’s highlights. It tackles a brutal subject, an abusive marriage, the woman staying because of the kids. She sings the song directly to her husband, a man who himself was beaten as a child. And Inetta Visor delivers a great vocal performance here. “It would be a miracle when I die/If you laid flowers on my tombstone/It’d be like watching blood dripping/Right off an old dried-up bone.” Wow. That’s followed by “Icy Blue,” a somewhat funky blues tune, interesting in the way it handles its subject. It asks an important question – what if following your dreams would put your relationship at risk? It shouldn’t, of course, but the woman in this relationship isn’t certain whether her man will stand by her the way she stood by him while he reached for his goals. “Would you leave me/If I followed through/Or would you still be mine/Or will you turn icy blue?/I don’t want to lose you/This ain’t about a man/It’s a chance I can’t miss/I hope you understand.” Yes, the songwriting is certainly one of this band’s strengths, tackling some serious subjects. This song contains a cool rockin’ jam, led by harmonica and then by guitar.

Another of my favorites is “Life Is Too Short.” It features a nice, light, jazzy groove, with delightful touches on harmonica (and a great lead on harmonica partway through). Inetta Visor delivers a wonderful vocal performance that begins smoothly and gently, as she tells us, “I’ve got a mind to travel/Explore this great wide world,” and then gains in power. Oh yes, I want to explore too. Seems like a good time to get the hell out of the United States, right? “Life is so short that I’m itching to go.” Kenny Smith plays drums on this one. This is a seriously good song. Then “Rosalie” is all about the groove, and features a cool bass lead, plus percussion by Ruben Alvarez. “Mama Kaila” is one of those great, relaxed blues numbers, with some wonderful work on harmonica right from the start. This one features another outstanding vocal performance by Inetta Visor. “Yes, please call Mama Kaila/Tell her we’re not going out today/You know, she’s got her claws deep inside me/And I am tired of being her sweet prey.” This track also features a really good lead guitar section by Michael Dotson. “Lonely Eyes” is a fun track. The “I have such a weak spot when I see a man in need” line made me laugh out loud the first time I listened to this album.

The album contains two covers. The first is “Don’t Mess Up A Good Thing,” written by Oliver Sain. Giles Corey joins Inetta Visor on vocals for this one. The second is a fun rendition of “Smooth Operator,” written by Clyde Otis and Murray Stein. I still prefer Sarah Vaughan’s recording of this one, but Mississippi Heat does a really good job with it, definitely getting into the spirit of the song.  The CD concludes with a joyful instrumental number titled “Hey Pipo!”

CD Track List
  1. Cupid Bound
  2. Cab Driving Man
  3. That Late Night Stuff
  4. Flowers On My Tombstone
  5. Icy Blue
  6. The Last Go Round
  7. Life Is Too Short
  8. Don’t Mess Up A Good Thing
  9. Rosalie
  10. Luck Of The Draw
  11. Mama Kaila
  12. Music Is My Life
  13. Lonely Eyes
  14. Smooth Operator
  15. Can’t Get Me No Traction
  16. Hey Pipo!
Cab Driving Man was released on October 21, 2016 on Delmark Records.

Mari Nobre’s Jazz Band: “Live And Alive: From Gershwin To Jobim… A Musical Journey” (2017) CD Review

Mari Nobre is a talented jazz vocalist, originally from Italy, who sings in several languages. Her new CD, Live And Alive: From Gershwin To Jobim…A Musical Journey, is a live album featuring selections from a concert she performed at Jan Popper Theater at UCLA on May 27, 2016. As the title promises, she covers music by Gershwin and Jobim, and also compositions by Benny Golson, Alberto Dominguez and Leonard Cohen. Yes, it’s that last one that first got me interested in this album. There isn’t much stage banter included, just a “thank you” at the end of a number, and thanks to the band members at the end. The focus is on the music, and the music is seriously good. Backing Mari Nobre on this CD are her husband Leo Nobre on bass (Leo Nobre also did most of the arrangements), Justo Almario on saxophone and flute, Angelo Metz on acoustic guitar and electric guitar, Sandro Feliciano on drums, and Daniel Szabo on piano.

She opens the CD with “Chega De Saudade,” a famous bossa nova number written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. Right away, the music sounds so positive, so full of joy, with Mari Nobre embracing life in such a strong and bright way that it’s difficult for the listener to not follow suit. There really is a lot of beauty in the world, she seems to be reminding us. Take the guitar work on this track, for example. The positive vibes of the music on this disc are likely to be at least partly due to the fact that Mari Nobre performed this concert just a few weeks after having surgery for cancer. Talk about bouncing right back, and not letting things get you down. Talk about strength. Mari Nobre covers two other Jobim compositions on this disc – “Retrato Em Branco E Preto,” which was co-written by Chico Buarque, and “Corcovado.” On “Retrato Em Branco E Preto,” Mari Nobre’s heartfelt vocal performance is at first accompanied only by Daniel Szabo’s delicate and beautiful work on piano, and that’s my favorite section of the track. The arrangement for this one was done by Mari Nobre.

One of my favorite tracks is Mari Nobre’s version of Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not.” This rendition begins with a slow, groovy bass solo, accompanied by just some finger snaps, establishing a cool atmosphere. And then, once it’s established, Mari Nobre comes in, and her vocals sound delicious. But everything about this track is delicious, including Daniel Szabo’s work on piano and a delightful lead on saxophone by Justo Almario. Though the Gershwin name is part of this CD’s title, Mari Nobre covers only one song by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, “Fascinating Rhythm.” Not a bad choice, though, right? She delivers an interesting rendition, beginning it slowly, then, when it kicks in, giving it a Brazilian rhythm. And I love Justo Almario’s work on flute. (By the way, if anyone hasn’t seen Eleanor Powell’s incredible tap-dancing scene in the 1941 film Lady Be Good, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s done to “Fascinating Rhythm,” and it makes me happy every time I see it.)

This album contains one original track, “Linda,” written by Mari Nobre and Patrick Lockwood, a song that was included on the Nobresil album Original. It’s a fun, joyful song. She also does a pretty rendition of “When I Fall In Love” and a fun version of “Frenesi.” But as I mentioned, the song I was most excited to hear (and the reason I first popped in this disc) is her rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me To The End Of Love.”  I love Leonard Cohen, and this is the song with which he kicked off every concert I saw him perform. It’s from my favorite Leonard Cohen record, Various Positions. This is a cool, jazzy rendition, as you might expect. The vocals have a lightness and a playfulness that caught me off guard the first time around, and there is even a bit of scat. Wait, does she skip the “Dance me to the children that are asking to be born” verse, or did I just miss it? There are some nice touches on sax, and some wonderful work on bass, including a bass solo – another surprise the first time I heard this track. And for good measure, there is a drum solo near the end.

CD Track List
  1. Chega De Saudade
  2. Whisper Not
  3. Retrato Em Branco E Preto
  4. Fascinating Rhythm
  5. Corcovado
  6. Linda
  7. When I Fall In Love
  8. Dance Me To The End Of Love
  9. Frenesi 
Live And Alive: From Gershwin To Jobim… A Musical Journey was released on April 21, 2017 on Chrome Records.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Sneetches: “Form Of Play: A Retrospective” (2017) CD Review

Even though music has played an important role in my life since early childhood, certain bands – for whatever reason – have nonetheless managed to escape my attention. Such was the case with The Sneetches. They were a pop band based in San Francisco, together for approximately a decade from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. And even though their last years were when I worked at a radio station in Oregon, I never heard them. Strange. But now I have the opportunity to become familiar with their music, through Omnivore Recordings’ new compilation, Form Of Play: A Retrospective. This disc includes twenty-two tracks, almost seventy-eight minutes of music, from the years 1987 to 1995. A few of the tracks on this CD were previously unreleased. The music here is some wonderful pop rock, with good harmonies and lyrics, and a bright, youthful energy. And there are some good lyrics, like this line from “What’s In Your Mind”: “It is too bad you had to go away to make my day.” All of the songs on this CD are originals. This collection includes liner notes from band member Alec Palao.

The CD opens with “Over ‘Round Each Other,” a ridiculously fun and catchy song from the band’s 1990 album Slow. This is pop at its best. How have I not heard this before? Near the end, around the two-minute mark, there is what sounds to me like a little Gershwin tease on guitar. It’s that bit from “Rhapsody In Blue,” the same part that Phish refers to on piano in the album version of “Bathtub Gin.” There is of course a bit of Beatles to this band’s sound too, heard in the guitars at the beginning of the next song “...And I’m Thinking.” This song was a single released in 1992. For “Voice In My Head,” another song from Slow, a horn section joins the band, adding another level of joy to this music. “The voice in my head has spoken for me once again/And if you will listen, he will be your closest friend.

One of my personal favorites is “Don’t Turn Back,” from the band’s 1988 LP That’s All We Have. (And no, the songs are not presented in chronological order in this collection.)  This song is a total delight right from its opening moments, with its sort of relaxed folk groove and finger snaps. At moments it reminds a bit of The Mamas And The Papas, partly because of its wonderful vocals. And it builds from there. There are nice touches on harmonica by Matt Carges, and Steve Cornell plays steel guitar on this one. “I just want to let you know that things are not that fine/Something’s got to change inside your mind.” Another of my favorites is “Heloise,” a song that was originally on Slow. The version on this compilation is a live recording from 1994, and is one of the disc’s previously unreleased tracks. I’ve listened to the album version, and I prefer this live version. It’s a bit longer than the album version, and develops into a cool jam. Plus, I dig that bass. Also previously unreleased is this compilation’s version of “Julianna Why,” a song that was included on Think Again.

“Looking For Something” is another fun track, a pop song with something of a punk style (reminding me a bit of The Buzzcocks), and it works really well. This song was previously included on an earlier compilation, 1985-1991. It’s followed by a mellower, pretty song, “A Good Thing.” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “She’s in love with him/But he is not alone/The thoughts inside her head won’t go away.” “Let Us Go” has something of a relaxed vibe, plus some nice percussion. “It’s getting late/We’ll have to turn in soon/Pull up the covers/And let us sleep again/I can’t believe/What we have done/Just look around/Makes me wonder sometimes.”

“Unusual Sounds” has a distinct 1960s pop sound and groove and style, reminding me of several different bands from that time at various points. This song is the opening track of Sometimes That’s All We Have. This compilation then concludes with three previously unreleased tracks. The first is a live version of “A Light On Above,” and this is another of my favorites. “So take me by the hand and lead me back there/And take me by surprise but not for granted.” This is from the same concert recording that gives us “Heloise.” And the following track, “The Weather Scene,” is also from that same show, September 12, 1994 at the Great American Music Hall. The final track is a demo of “How Does It Feel,” a song that would end up on Slow. “But maybe someday you’ll hear me say/I’m glad to be here today.”

CD Track List
  1. Over ‘Round Each Other
  2. …And I’m Thinking (Single Version)
  3. What I Know
  4. Voice In My Head
  5. Don’t Turn Back
  6. Only For A Moment
  7. Heloise (Live)
  8. What’s In Your Mind
  9. Julianna Why
  10. They Keep Me Running
  11. Behind The Shadow
  12. Take My Hand
  13. Looking For Something
  14. A Good Thing
  15. I Don’t Expect Her For You (Look At That Girl)
  16. Wish You Would
  17. Empty Sea
  18. Let Us Go
  19. Unusual Sounds
  20. A Light On Above (Live)
  21. The Weather Scene (Live)
  22. How Does It Feel (Home Demo)
Form Of Play: A Retrospective is scheduled to be released on April 28, 2017 through Omnivore Recordings.

Dead Testaments: “231 MLK” (2014) CD Review

Dead Testaments are about to release a new CD, Mississippi Ave. It is their first release in three years, after the band took a break when drummer Matt Livingston had surgery to remove a non-malignant brain tumor. And if you think the darker feel of the new material is because of Matt’s experience, well, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The music of the band’s first release, 231 MLK, released in 2014, has a similar feel. Rather than, say, the bright feel of back porch folk, this is like late-night basement folk, with the lights down low – and  perhaps a purple lava lamp in the corner – and it is seriously good. The band includes Abe Houck on guitar and vocals, Matt Livingston on drums, Dave Maki on bass, Jeremy Southern on guitar and Allie Stafford on violin. Joining them are Drew Hamilton on trombone, Margaret Houck on vocals, Lorin Jones on trumpet, Ethan Key on saxophone and Stacy Newman on euphonium.

The EP opens with “Eyes In The Leaves.” It eases in, establishing a mellow, but intriguing atmosphere and vibe. It is intriguing, because at moments it has almost a comforting warmth, while at other moments it holds the possibility of danger, so you’re not certain if you’re safe in the world of this song. Interestingly, it is the work on drums that makes us feel that perhaps we’ll be all right. Also, there is a cool, late 1960s feel to the guitar at certain points. “Eyes In The Leaves” is followed by “Walking Backwards,” and right away it is the vocals that pull you in, the first lines delivered in deep, thoughtful, quiet tones, almost spoken, almost whispered. When the song then kicks in, it has already grabbed hold of you. Throughout the song, it is the vocal work that stands out, but I also really love the violin. This song has an interesting ending, with some unusual vocal play.

“Death Of Houston” has a good rock groove and delicious, deep vocals. There is something strangely catchy about this song, the repeated lines and sections make themselves a home in our heads, clearing out a spot in a corner and claiming it. And hey, we’re happy to have this music stay with us. I should point out that even the darker feel of certain sections isn’t depressing. Is it possible to be dark and uplifting? It seems so. My favorite track on this disc is “Cold Cold Lake,” in large part because of the vocals. There is something gorgeous and moving about this song. And after a minute or so, it kicks in with a haunting force that I love. Then halfway through, it goes in a different direction, the violin lighting the way, and this part is beautiful and emotional and it seems to create a strange landscape where the weight of people is rendered ineffective, and characters, rocks, trees float above the ground, and we can move slowly through them, or stand back if we wish. Everything is in motion around us. This is an excellent song to conclude the CD.

CD Track List
  1. Eyes In The Leaves
  2. Walking Backwards
  3. Death Of Houston
  4. Cold Cold Lake
231 MLK was released on March 22, 2014.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Dead Testaments: “Mississippi Ave.” (2017) CD Review

Dead Testaments is a band based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, consisting of Isaac “Abe” Houck on guitar and vocals, Matt Livingston on drums, and Allie Stafford on violin and keys. They’ve been playing together since 2013, and in 2014 released their first CD, an EP titled 231 MLK. Now they’re following it up with another EP, Mississippi Ave. Why the three-year gap between CDs? Well, Matt had a brain tumor in 2015, and that required a couple of operations and a recovery period. But now that he’s back to health, the band is ready to continue, and this new CD contains four original songs. The sound of this album is mainly a kind of haunting folk rock, music that will draw you in and make you pay attention.

The EP opens with “Under The Sun,” a song that approaches you like some strange craft in a night when maybe you’ve had a bit too much to drink, or not quite enough – but regardless, you’re ready for whatever comes, be it answers or oblivion – for whatever it is, it promises to be interesting and different. Soon the song takes on a cool, dark groove, and the lyrics are offered quietly, simply, without unnecessary effort to reach us, for we’re already there: “We lit out for the west/Came back to the place where we began/Under the sun, under the sun.” And then that guitar part is just perfect. In the second half of the song, you find yourself drifting through the tunnel of a kaleidoscope where the colors are all deep shades of blue and purple and red. And voices remind you, over and over, “What has been will be again,” until past and future become meaningless, and you trust the groove, the voice, implicitly to carry you through.

“Under The Sun” is followed by “Ghosts Of The Civil War Trees,” which was the first single released from the EP, and was the song that got me interested in the band. It has a happier folk sound, a more positive feel right from the beginning, with light, playful touches, as if to reach out to the child in us all. Like a waltz from some collective past that we all dreamed one warm afternoon and then forgot.  And here suddenly it is again, beautiful and unnerving. “They are still swaying/Swinging low/Deep roots/Gorged on young blood/Full of seeds/Opening.” This is a wonderful song.

“Washed Up” is an interesting mix of folk and a kind of moody rock, with that electric guitar giving the song a kind of 1960s rock thing, at one point sounding almost like surf guitar. “There’s gold in those hills/I would take my bones and lay them in holes.” The EP then concludes with “Good Union Man,” which quickly creates a dark mood and atmosphere with its slow, nearly hypnotic groove.

CD Track List
  1. Under The Sun
  2. Ghosts Of The Civil War Trees
  3. Washed Up
  4. Good Union Man
Mississippi Ave. is scheduled to be released on April 30, 2017.

We Are Twisted Fucking Sister! DVD Review

In 1984, Stay Hungry was released. I got it, loved it, played that cassette over and over, especially “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” I turned up the volume and shouted the lyrics along with Twisted Sister lead singer Dee Snider, aiming my voice at my parents, at the world. I was twelve years old. Like a lot of people, I thought Twisted Sister was a new band. I was wrong. So wrong. The band was twelve years old too.

We Are Twisted Fucking Sister! (and, yes, that’s the title that appears on screen – fuck those bloody asterisks on the DVD cover) tells the story of this band’s long, slow rise to fame. Twisted Sister was essentially a bar band for a decade – the most determined, hardest working bar band ever, perhaps. It is a fascinating story for any music fan (no, you don’t have to be a Twisted Sister fan to enjoy this documentary), and for anyone who appreciates an overcoming-the-odds type of story. When the film opens, we hear an audio warning over a black screen: “The act you’re about to see is not for the faint of heart. Twisted Sister has been accused of using foul, indecent and profane language during the course of their show.” And then we’re treated to some concert footage from 1982. After a moment, a title card reads “3267 shows earlier,” and we’re back in New York in 1972. Yeah, holy shit! That’s more shows than the Grateful Dead played in thirty years, and that band toured all the time.

The documentary features interviews with the band members, focusing on guitarist Jay Jay French and lead singer Dee Snider. Jay Jay French takes us back to the earliest days of the band, when the lineup was different, including a different singer, telling us about the band’s first gig playing to an audience made up of soldiers. Among the lineup changes in those early times was the addition of Dee Snider, who had been in a band called Peacock. There is information on the New York music scene of the 1970s, and how the clubs didn’t want bands to play original music. For a while, Twisted Sister was a cover band, and the film treats us to footage of them covering David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” and “Rebel Rebel,” as well as Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” (which had an interesting audience participation moment).

In addition to interviews with band members (including original members), this documentary includes interviews with the band’s managers, club owners and fans. And Suzette Snider (Dee’s wife) talks about seeing the band for the first time, and tells some funny anecdotes, like about what got her to start making clothes for Dee and the rest of the band. The band’s look was important, and the documentary gets into some detail about the clothes and makeup and so on, with the band members offering their own thoughts on it.

But what is fascinating is the lengths they would go in their determination to make it, and the number of times they got so close only to have something go wrong. Like the time they sold out the Palladium in 1979 without a record contract, and then had to postpone the show after a band member had a seizure. And the idea of putting on an entire rock concert for one record label executive is insane. Even after they finally recorded some music, they couldn’t get a record deal, so they put out the music as singles on their own label. These guys even bought air time on the radio, ad spots for their shows, but with one of their songs playing throughout the ads so that it was almost like the song got airplay. Brilliant. And even after they signed with a British label and recorded an album in the UK, things still went wrong.

The story of the efforts to get them signed to Atlantic is also wild. This documentary tells the tale of the band leading up to Stay Hungry, but ends without getting into that record or mentioning that memorable music video for “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (with its ties to Animal House). In fact, neither of the band’s two biggest hits – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” – are heard or even mentioned in the film. The documentary is really about the band getting there, not being there.

Special Features

This two-disc set contains plenty of bonus material. The first disc features a commentary track by director Andrew Horn. He mentions that the disclaimer at the beginning was from a live tape from Vermont. He also says he wasn’t a Twisted Sister fan (interestingly, he was a Deadhead in high school), and tells the story of how he got the idea for doing this project, and how the project grew as he learned more about the band. It’s surprising that he had trouble getting financing for this film. The first disc also includes the film’s trailer.

The second disc is all bonus footage, deleted and extended scenes, arranged by subject, including more concert footage (they play “Train Kept A-Rollin’”) as well as more interview footage. Dee Snider talks a lot about connecting with the audience. He even mentions that a Twisted Sister concert was like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as far as audience participation. He also talks about singling out people who didn’t seem like they were enjoying themselves. There is also stuff about how Jay Jay and Dee would pretend they were high or drunk at concerts, even though neither of them ever drank or did drugs. They even sing, “Hey, hey, we’re the junkies,” a play on “(Theme From The) Monkees.” There is a funny anecdote about Jay Jay’s former teacher wanting a Twisted Sister T-shirt, and some hilarious stage banter about a new Olympic event. Jay Jay also tells a funny story about a stint as a waiter. There is plenty of interesting information in this bonus material. One fan mentions that Dee Snider would sit out the third set, and the band would just jam. There is approximately two and a half hours of bonus footage on this disc.

We Are Twisted Fucking Sister! is available as a two-disc DVD through Music Box Films.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Grateful Dead: “P.N.E. Garden Aud. Vancouver Canada” (2017) Record Review

Yes, it’s Record Store Day. I hadn’t realized Record Store Day has been going on for ten years, but the banner outside the record store assures me it has. Boy, time sure does fly. And, perhaps because of the anniversary, the list of releases this time around was impressive. There were plenty of records that I wanted, though only a few that I ended up purchasing. One of the releases I was most excited about is this live Grateful Dead recording from 1966, P.N.E. Garden Aud. Vancouver Canada, featuring, the band’s first gig ever outside of the U.S. They played a few nights in Vancouver, British Columbia, doing fairly short sets. I admittedly get excited about all Grateful Dead releases, but I am always particularly excited to hear a record that contains songs that other releases don’t have (or that few releases have). And this one contains a tune called “Cardboard Cowboy” that Phil Lesh wrote. The song is known by a few other titles, such as “No Left Turn Unstoned” (which is the first title I ever heard for this one, and is how Bob Weir introduces it at this show), but by any title it wasn’t played all that much by the band. This two-record set contains a few other early gems that the Dead soon stopped playing. On the Record Store Day official web site, it says this release is limited to 4,000 copies, but on the actual record cover it lists the number as 6,600.

This set opens with an original tune, “Standing On The Corner,” a song the Grateful Dead didn’t play all that much. Actually, there is a brief introduction, after which you can hear Phil say, “Our fame has preceded us.” “Standing On The Corner” is one of the songs on this release that the band only played in 1966. “I was standing on the corner, wondering what’s become of me/Well, things don’t seem to be the way they used to seem to be.”  It’s followed by a short version of “I Know You Rider,” played faster than they’d later play it, and with that extra verse. You know, the one that goes, “I drink muddy water, sleep in a hollow log.” “Next Time You See Me” is a fun Pigpen song with plenty of organ. Yeah, the organ was prominent in the mix in these early shows. That is followed by an energetic rendition of “Sittin’ On Top Of The World,” a song the band played often in the early days (and included on the band’s first record). The first side concludes with “You Don’t Have To Ask,” another fun original number. There is a bit of jamming on this one, a jam to get you dancing, the first jamming of the evening. But really, there isn’t a whole of exploration at this show (except of course during “Viola Lee Blues,” but more on that in a bit).

There is some more Pigpen to open the second side of the first record, “Big Boss Man,” Pigpen playing harmonica. That’s followed by “Stealin’,” one I am always happy to hear. This is another the band played a lot in the early days, then dropped from their repertoire. There’s a bit of humorous stage banter before “Cardboard Cowboy,” which Bob introduces as “No Left Turn Unstoned.” Apparently, it was most often referred to as “The Monster.” It’s certainly not among the band’s best material (in an interview, Phil Lesh called it an awful song; it has lines like “Watching mashed potatoes dribble in the heat of reality’s earth,” though in this version it sounds like “Watching mashed potatoes shrivel”), but it is a total delight to hear this rare number. The Grateful Dead covered Bob Dylan songs throughout their career, and on this release we get an early rendition of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” “Cream Puff War” is a song that Jerry Garcia wrote the lyrics for as well as the music, and it ended up on the band’s first album. This version has a good, solid jam. After this song, Bob says, “We’ll be back, and we’re probably gonna play the last set tonight, and there’s gonna be a lot of entertainment in between, so stick around.” And he offers an unenthusiastic “Yippie.”

The real treat as far as jamming goes is of course the ten-minute “Viola Lee Blues” that opens Side 3, and it includes that odd little intro that they didn’t do too often. I love this song, and this is a really good version, with the jam getting pretty wild. The lines that often get stuck in my head are “I wrote a letter, mailed in the, mailed it in the air indeed/I wrote a letter, mailed it in the air/You may know by that letter I’ve got a friend somewhere.” Then “Beat It On Down The Line” comes on fast and strong. This version seems faster than most, or perhaps I’m getting slower. Who knows? Pigpen then delivers “Good Morning Little School Girl.” This is definitely not the best version of this song, with the sound of the vocals sounding less than perfect, and it seems we are missing something from the end. The band gets quieter at the end, but then it seems to quickly fade out. It’s weird, especially as the fourth side of this album is apparently from the following night. So the Dead came back, and just played three songs (or two, if “Viola Lee Blues” is actually from the first set)? I’ve read online that the show might actually be longer, but Owsley’s tape ran out. That seems odd too.

The fourth side of this album is from the following night, July 30th, at the same venue. From what I can gather, these four tracks were not played consecutively that night. It looks like “Cold Rain And Snow” was the second song of the night, “One Kind Favor” was the fourth, “Hey Little One” was the sixth, and “New Minglewood Blues” was the ninth and final song of the set. (Also, it looks like a lot of folks’ tapes of the 29th are incorrectly labeled as the 30th.) This “Cold Rain And Snow” has a lot of energy right from the start, and the organ is prominent. Jerry then gets bluesy with “One Kind Favor,” a song the Dead did just a few times in 1966. There is a little stage banter before they go into “Hey Little One,” another song the band only did in 1966. This two-LP set ends with “New Minglewood Blues” (which in the early days was listed as “New, New Minglewood Blues,” as it is here and on the band’s first album). The lyrics are delivered almost as a shout, and there’s a bit of stage banter at the end.

Record Track List

Side A
  1. Standing On The Corner
  2. I Know You Rider
  3. Next Time You See Me
  4. Sittin’ On Top Of The World
  5. You Don’t Have To Ask 
Side B
  1. Big Boss Man
  2. Stealin’
  3. Cardboard Cowboy
  4. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
  5. Cream Puff War 
Side C
  1. Viola Lee Blues
  2. Beat It On Down The Line
  3. Good Mornin’ Little School Girl 
Side D
  1. Cold Rain And Snow
  2. One Kind Favor
  3. Hey Little One
  4. New, New Minglewood Blues
P.N.E. Garden Aud. Vancouver Canada was released on vinyl on April 22, 2017. By the way, as it turns out, all of these tracks were released on the second disc of the fiftieth anniversary deluxe edition two-CD set of the Grateful Dead’s first album. So if you missed out on the Record Store Day edition, you can still own the music on CD.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Mick Kolassa & Mark Telesca: “You Can’t Do That!” (2017) CD Review

There have been a lot of tributes to the Beatles released over the years. The reason for that, of course, is that the music is so damn good. Like songs in the Great American Songbook, the music of the Beatles lends itself to a wide variety of interpretations. On You Can’t Do That! blues singers and guitarists Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca team up to deliver some wonderful acoustic blues renditions of Beatles songs. Their choices include some of the band’s most well-known numbers, such as “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Feel Fine,” and also some songs that aren’t covered as often, such as “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” and “Mean Mr. Mustard” into “Polythene Pam.” Joining Mick Kolassa (also known as Mississippi Mick) and Mark Telesca on this release are Jeff Jensen on guitar (Jensen also produced the album) and James Cunningham on drums and percussion. There are a few guest musicians who play on certain tracks.

Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca open with the album with “I’ll Cry Instead,” which of course is a perfect blues title. The song was originally on A Hard Day’s Night. And on this CD, this song is given a cool groove, with some wonderful touches by Marc Franklin on trumpet. Yeah, it’s blues, but it’s blues with a positive, happy sound. “I’ll Cry Instead” is followed by another song included on A Hard Day’s Night, “Can’t Buy Me Love.” This song was also released as a single in 1964, and reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Also a #1 hit for The Beatles in 1964 was “I Feel Fine.” Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca deliver a very cool, slow rendition of this one. Eric Hughes adds some good work on harmonica.

They then dip into some later Beatles material with a powerful and moving rendition of “Fixing A Hole,” a song from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. On this version, they repeat “Where it will go” at the end of a stanza (well, that, or whichever line ends the stanza). They then go back to earlier material with “You Can’t Do That,” which was the flip side to “Can’t Buy Me Love” (and used as the title to this CD). And wow, listening to this version, it’s plain to see that this really is a blues song. It works so well. Seriously, it makes much more sense in a blues context than it does in rock or pop, with its theme of jealousy and with its threats of ending the relationship. Plus, there is some cool guitar work here. Eric Hughes plays both harmonica and guitar on this track. This is one of the album’s highlights.

Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca deliver a groovy interpretation of “Got To Get You Into My Life,” and an interesting rendition of “Lady Madonna.” I love the addition of fiddle to the latter. That’s Tommy Boroughs on fiddle. No horns on this version. This is a laid-back, slow version of “Lady Madonna,” a song that was originally released as a single in 1968, another #1 single for The Beatles. This is another of the highlights of You Can’t Do That! It’s followed by “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road,” another song from 1968, this one appearing on The Beatles (the White Album). I like this version a lot; there is something kind of catchy about it. They then return to the earlier days with “She’s A Woman,” which had been the flip side to “I Feel Fine.” It’s interesting that Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca include both sides of the “I Feel Fine” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” singles. I dig the rhythm to this rendition of “She’s A Woman.” Marc Franklin plays flugelhorn on this track.

They then conclude this acoustic blues tribute to The Beatles with three songs from the second side of Abbey Road: “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam” and “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.” The first two are presented as a single track, “Mean Mr. Mustard” having a good rock feel. Toward the end of “Mean Mr. Mustard,” when he sings, “Lord, he’s a dirty old man,” I can’t help but think he’s talking about Donald Trump. Something in the way the line is delivered. The pace is then slowed for “Polythene Pam,” giving it a very different vibe from the original version. On Abbey Road, this song leads straight into “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.” Interestingly, though that song also follows “Polythene Pam” here, “Polythene Pam” actually fades out at the end. And then “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” comes on strong, a delightful mix of blues and bluegrass, with Tommy Boroughs on mandolin. The vocals have a kind of amused, playful vibe, particularly on a line like “She could steal but she could not rob.” Though my favorite cover of this song is still that by Joe Cocker, I absolutely love what Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca do with it here.

CD Track List
  1. I’ll Cry Instead
  2. Can’t Buy Me Love
  3. I Feel Fine
  4. Fixing A Hole
  5. You Can’t Do That
  6. Got To Get You Into My Life
  7. Lady Madonna
  8. Why Don’t We Do It In The Road
  9. She’s A Woman
  10. Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam
  11. She Came In Through The Bathroom Window 
You Can’t Do That! is scheduled to be released on May 5, 2017 on Swing Suit Records.