Monday, July 31, 2017

Chris Fullerton: “Epilepsy Blues” (2017) CD Review

Chris Fullerton’s album Epilepsy Blues was released early in the year, and is already seeing a re-issue, which is due out in a couple of weeks. This will give most of us a chance to enjoy this remarkable disc. Yeah, I too missed it the first time around. This album features excellent songwriting and wonderful delivery. All the songs were written by Chris Fullerton, who also plays most of the instruments here, though getting some help from Luke Willis on violin and Ian Sutton on pedal steel. I loved this album the first time I listened to it, and am somehow enjoying it even more after repeated spins. It is one of the best of the year so far.

It opens with a song titled “Bad Winds,” and I’m on board immediately. The first part of this song is delivered nearly a cappella, with just a bit of strumming on guitar to accompany his voice. And what a voice. His is one of those voices with strength and character, worn just enough that you believe his tales, emotional enough that you want to hear them. And he starts by directly addressing alcohol: “Whiskey/You come wash over me/’Cause I’ve been underneath/In the pastures of sin.” It’s more than a minute before it kicks in, so that when it does, it comes as a wonderful surprise. And at that moment, I’m hooked, but the song only gets better from there. “Sometimes I feel like only the lord and I know/Where the bad winds blow.” Well, these days I think we all know where the bad winds blow. That’s followed by “Come To Texas,” a delightful country tune in which he tries to convince a girl to come to Texas. Chris Fullerton is based in Austin, by the way. “The whole town’s a can of beer/I’ve been thinking of some things that I could do to you, my dear/And some of them things are just downright weird.” Amen! This track features Ian Sutton on pedal steel. Then Luke Willis joins Chris Fullerton on violin on “I Feel Nothing,” a pretty and mellow tune with some damn good lyrics. Check out these lines, which open the song: “You should see the way the stars look/All shiny and bright/The city lights can’t break them tonight/And my head feels no pain/With a mouthful of medicine.” Luke Willis also plays on “Ma Cherie Amie,” a slow dance. “Is it too early to say I love you/Because I do.”

Okay, the line “Well, I just can’t shake these epilepsy blues” might seem an obvious joke, but it made me smile. That’s clearly from the album’s title track, “Epilepsy Blues.” It begins with an old-time sound, like it’s being played on an old record player, which then dies – perhaps the power was cut, who knows. But then the song takes on a more immediate feel. “Well, if you’re smart you’ll see a neurologist/And if you ain’t smart you’ll find you a girl that is/That’s what I did, and that’s why I’m singing this.” And yes, Chris Fullerton has epilepsy. “Epilepsy Blues” is followed by “Float On Up And See,” which might be my favorite track. From the first lines, I love this song, and the “foaming at the mouth” line made me laugh aloud the first time I listened to it. Yet, this is a sweet, gorgeous song. And the violin adds a somber aspect to its beauty. By the way, these are the first lines: “Well, she unstraps her halo/Lets it fall to the floor/It doesn’t matter much anymore, man/’Cause she’s a goddamn angel.”

“Motel Blues” has a more playful, lighter vibe. Chris sings “And I complain, but why listen,” then pauses before continuing, “To the words a drunkard cries/And who would buy flowers for the clown.” In this song he also mentions the promise of having flying cars by now, asking, “Where have all my boyhood dreams gone?” And off into space we go at the end. Then, in the fun “El Paso Spacedance,” Chris wishes a happy birthday to Buzz Aldren. The album then concludes with an intriguing tune titled “Seven Roman Candles,” which features Lindsay Preston reciting an excerpt from the poem “Brooding Likeness,” written by Louise Gluck (she first reads the last few lines, then at the end of the song reads basically the second half of the poem). And check out these lines: “I went out walking in the snow/And the people just watched me stumble/Saying who’s that dead guy/While seven roman candles lit the night sky.”

CD Track List
  1. Bad Winds
  2. Come To Texas
  3. I Feel Nothing
  4. Ma Chere Amie
  5. Epilepsy Blues
  6. Float On Up And See
  7. Motel Blues
  8. Come On In
  9. El Paso Spacedance
  10. Seven Roman Candles 
Epilepsy Blues is scheduled to be released on August 11, 2017 on Eight 30 Records (though originally it was made available on February 27, 2017).

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Leonard Cohen: “Live On Air” (2017) CD Review

There are lots of these unofficial Leonard Cohen CDs being released these days, and I can’t help but want to own them all. Some are actually quite good, others not so good. Live On Air fits more in the latter category, at least as far as the overall package. It contains absolutely no information in the liner notes, just the track list. There is no information on the recording date or location, not even which station these tracks aired on. In fact, the only information on the front cover is misleading. It says, “Classic FM Broadcast/The Early Years.” The early years? Taking a glance at the track list will tell you this recording was not from the early years of Leonard Cohen’s career. More than half of the songs here are from the 1980s. Well, it turns out the lack of information may have been deliberate, for these songs are from the show Leonard Cohen did on November 9, 1988 in Toronto, a show that has already been released on CD at least a few times. I own it as Back In The Motherland and as Toronto ’88 (the latter I have on vinyl as well as CD). (It was also released as Warm Reception.) So here it is again. However, this time it includes two interviews. More on that in a bit.

First off, the sound isn’t great. There is a hiss. And the beginning of the first track, “Ain’t No Cure For Love,” is missing. The first line we hear is “I can’t believe that time is gonna heal this wound I’m speaking of.” So why does this particular recording get so many releases? I have no idea. And this isn’t the complete show. Each release that I own has the same songs. What happened to the other songs? Didn’t the radio broadcast feature the entire concert? And why are they not presented in the correct order? I haven’t found any answers. But of course the music is excellent, and perhaps after a while you can ignore the hiss. The first disc contains a seriously good rendition of “Bird On The Wire,” with some nice work on guitar and on organ. And it’s followed by a delicious version of “I’m Your Man,” and a wonderful country take on “Heart With No Companion.” “Take This Waltz” is beautiful, almost magical. It’s really one of the best versions I’ve heard (and I’ve heard it several times now). Oh, if only we could eliminate that constant hiss. The first disc ends with “Tower Of Song.” “They don’t let a woman kill you, not in the tower of song.”

The second disc opens with a good version of “Joan Of Arc,” and is followed by “Jazz Police,” the only Leonard Cohen song that I don’t like. There is something goofy about this song that just doesn’t work. That one section with the backing vocalists always reminds me of the theme to the original Star Trek television program. But I really do like that instrumental section partway through, with cool work on keys. “Jazz Police” was originally included on the 1988 album I’m Your Man. On this disc it’s followed by a much better song from that album, “First We Take Manhattan.” This disc also contains an excellent version of “Coming Back To You,” one of my favorite songs from Various Positions (which is my favorite Leonard Cohen album). “Even in your arms, I know I’ll never get it right/Even when you bend, when you bend to give me your sweet comfort in the night.” That’s followed by one of Leonard Cohen’s most famous songs, “Suzanne,” and as always he delivers a captivating performance of this one. The concert ended with “I Tried To Leave You” and “Whither Thou Goest,” and both of those songs are included here to conclude the second disc. “I Tried To Leave You” features each of the band members (including vocalists Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen) getting a chance to shine. “Whither Thou Goest” is gorgeous.

Each disc contains an interview, and these interviews make it worth owning this particular release. They were recorded backstage before the concert. In the first interview, Leonard Cohen talks about being on the tour bus, having just arrived from Chicago. When asked if he wants people to take him seriously, even though he has a sense of humor, Leonard answers: “I don’t have any strategy in this matter. My friends know I’m good for a laugh or two.” He talks about his success in Europe, and about the differences between country and pop music, and about his interest in the work of Federico Garcia Lorca. The first interview is approximately eight and a half minutes, and is positioned between “Take This Waltz” and “Tower Of Song.” The second interview comes after “First We Take Manhattan,” and is approximately six and a half minutes. It begins with a question about the meaning of “First We Take Manhattan.” “I think it means exactly what it says. It is a terrorist song. I think it’s a response to terrorism.” He also talks about going to a monastery, and about ceremony, and about sex. He says that after the tour, he’ll get back to work writing.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Ain’t No Cure For Love
  2. Bird On The Wire
  3. I’m Your Man
  4. Heart With No Companion
  5. Take This Waltz
  6. Interview #1
  7. Tower Of Song 
Disc 2
  1. Joan Of Arc
  2. Jazz Police
  3. First We Take Manhattan
  4. Interview #2
  5. Coming Back To You
  6. Suzanne
  7. I Tried To Leave You
  8. Wither Thou Goest
Live On Air was released on June 9, 2017.

Grateful Dead: “Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 5: Boston Music Hall 6-9-76” (2011/2017) CD Review

After the Dick’s Picks series ended, and before the Dave’s Picks series began, there was the Road Trips series of live Grateful Dead recordings. Originally released from 2007 to 2011, and available only through Grateful Dead Merchandising, the series is now being re-issued by Real Gone Music and available in stores for the first time. Like Real Gone’s re-issues of the Dick’s Picks series, they’re starting at the end and working their way backward. Thus, the series’ final release, Vol. 4 No. 5, has been re-issued first. Unlike many of this series’ releases, this one contains a complete show (most contain selections from certain tours). This three-disc set contains the entire show the Grateful Dead performed at the Boston Music Hall on June 9, 1976, and a few selections from June 12, 1976 at the same venue. The June 9th show was only the third show the Dead performed after the hiatus, and the first east coast show, so the audience must have been pretty damn excited.

I always thought “Cold Rain And Snow” was a good choice for a show opener, and the Dead deliver a pretty sweet rendition here. Sure, it’s a bit mellower than earlier versions, but Jerry’s vocals sound great. That’s followed by one of my favorite Grateful Dead tunes, “Cassidy,” a song with excellent lyrics. When I met lyricist John Barlow, I told him as much, and he told me it was one of his favorites too. These days Dead & Company really jam on this one, but back  in 1976 it was delivered in a more straightforward manner. Still, this is a pretty good version, and Bob and Donna’s vocals blend well. “Let your life proceed by its own design.” The Dead then play the always-appreciated “Scarlet Begonias.” Check out what Phil is doing on bass. It seems more exaggerated than usual, playfully, or maybe I’m just more focused on it for whatever reason. Ah, some forgotten lyrics. But no matter, this is a fun rendition, and the jam is particularly delicious, with Jerry’s guitar flowing beautifully. The band keeps things moving with “The Music Never Stopped.” And then Donna has a strong vocal presence on this smooth version of “Crazy Fingers.” It gets interesting toward the end, as the band jams a bit. But right as it seems ready to take off toward points unknown, the jam comes to an end. Still, it’s one of the highlights of the first set. That’s followed by a good “Big River” and a really nice “They Love Each Other.” The version of “Looks Like Rain” on this disc is beautiful, even delicate at times, then rising to some wonderful heights, another of the first set highlights. It’s followed by another pretty tune, “Ship Of Fools,” and Jerry delivers an excellent rendition here. Ah, when Jerry still had thirty years upon his head. Now we’re approaching what would have been his seventy-fifth birthday. Can you believe how quickly time’s been going? The first set ends with Chuck Berry’s “The Promised Land.”

It might just be my copy, but I had some trouble getting the second disc to come free from its tray. Anyway, the second disc contains most of the second set, and it starts with fan favorite “St. Stephen.” It must have been something to see the band play this song. There were rumors in later days that the band was playing it during soundchecks, but it did not make its way back into a set list during the time when I was seeing the band. This “St. Stephen” is the first performance in nearly five years, so the crowd must have been particularly thrilled to hear it. It feels like we’re missing the first several seconds of the song on this disc. It just starts right up, and we don’t hear the audience’s reaction to the opening notes, which is a shame. Still, this is a really good version, with a nice solid jam. The jam never gets into any strange territory, but it’s good, and the sound is crisp and clear. It leads right into “Eyes Of The World,” another of my favorite songs. Something about the sound of this one never fails to make me happy. The playing always flows so well, with Jerry’s guitar sounding like a joyful friend, and there is that wonderful, steady groove beneath it all. This song was particularly delicious in the 1970s, totally fun to dance to, and this version begins with an excellent jam. For me, this is the best part of this three-disc set. “Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own.” The jam mellows after that final verse, and the band eases into “Let It Grow.” But this is certainly not a mellow version of “Let It Grow.” There is a power here. Listen to Bill and Mickey keeping it moving, and there is even a drum solo in the middle of this fantastic jam. What an excellent version of “Let It Grow.” It’s followed by a good rendition of “Brown-Eyed Women.” During the band’s break, the members kept busy. One of the side projects Bob Weir was involved with was Kingfish, and two songs from the band’s self-titled debut album found their way into the Dead’s set lists – “Lazy Lightning” and “Supplication,” usually paired together (though if memory serves, I think I saw “Supplication” by itself at Shoreline once). That’s followed by a wonderful “High Time,” which builds beautifully toward the end. Then, after “Samson And Delilah,” Jerry delivers another moving performance with “It Must Have Been The Roses,” which concludes the second disc.

The third disc contains the rest of the second set and the encore, as well as a few tunes from June 12, 1976. It begins with “Dancing In The Street,” which has a very different sound from the way the band performed it in the 1960s. It has more of a disco flavor, and this version has a fun, groovy jam. It leads into a really good “Wharf Rat,” and the band ends the second set with “Around And Around.” It’s a slightly slower, mid-1970s-style version of “Around And Around.” It then picks up in pace several minutes in for the jam. The encore if “Franklin’s Tower.”

The rest of the third disc is music from the show the band did on June 12, 1976. It’s not a solid chunk of the show, but rather songs from throughout the performance, beginning with “Mission In The Rain” from the first set. This is a song from Jerry Garcia’s Reflections, an album released during the band’s hiatus (and featuring members of the Grateful Dead). Though the Jerry Garcia Band played this song quite a bit, the Dead didn’t do it very much. It’s an excellent song. Check out these lines: “Ten years ago I walked this street, my dreams were riding tall/Tonight I would be thankful, lord, for any dream at all/Some folks would be happy just to have one dream come true/But everything you gather is just more that you can lose.” That’s followed by a cool rendition of “The Wheel,” which opened the second set. This is another that was performed slightly more slowly during this time period, but I like it. “Comes A Time” also comes from the second set, and is a pretty version, especially toward the end. The third disc then concludes with the encore from that show, “Sugar Magnolia” into “U.S. Blues” into “Sunshine Daydream.” Yeah, right when you expect “Sunshine Daydream” to start, the band surprises you by going into “U.S. Blues.” And then they go into “Sunshine Daydream.”

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Cold Rain And Snow
  2. Cassidy
  3. Scarlet Begonias
  4. The Music Never Stopped
  5. Crazy Fingers
  6. Big River
  7. They Love Each Other
  8. Looks Like Rain
  9. Ship Of Fools
  10. Promised Land
Disc 2
  1. St. Stephen >
  2. Eyes Of The World >
  3. Let It Grow
  4. Brown-Eyed Women
  5. Lazy Lightning >
  6. Supplication
  7. High Time
  8. Samson And Delilah
  9. It Must Have Been The Roses
Disc 3
  1. Dancing In The Street >
  2. Wharf Rat >
  3. Around And Around
  4. Franklin’s Tower
  5. Mission In The Rain
  6. The Wheel
  7. Comes A Time
  8. Sugar Magnolia >
  9. U.S. Blues >
  10. Sunshine Daydream
Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 5: Boston Music Hall 6-9-76 was released on June 2, 2017 through Real Gone Music.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Grateful Dead: “Live At The Fox Theatre, December 1971” (2017) CD Review

Live At The Fox Theatre, December 1971 contains the complete show the Grateful Dead played on December 10, 1971. It is taken from the radio broadcast on KADI. This three-disc set contains a booklet with an article on the Grateful Dead from 1972, as well as several photos, including a photo of a ticket for this concert ($4 in advance, $5 at the door, and the bill also included New Riders Of The Purple Sage). By the way, this show was previously available on another unofficial release titled Fox Theatre, which came out only last year.

The Dead kick off the first set with “Bertha,” but first this disc contains just the very end of an introduction. Basically, all we hear of it is “Grateful Dead.” And maybe that’s all we need to hear. Hey, we know what’s what. The sound isn’t perfect at the beginning of “Bertha,” but it’s soon sorted out, and this ends up being a pretty damn good version. It’s followed by “Me & My Uncle,” and then by an excellent “Mr. Charlie,” the first Pigpen song of the evening. For me, this is when the show really gets going. Jerry then follows that with a powerful rendition of “Loser.” There is a bit of stage banter, with Bob addressing the radio audience: “For you folks out there in radio land, a big hello to you all. And this is what’s known as Dead air, while we’re waiting around deciding what it is we’re going to do next.” What they decide is “Beat It On Down The Line,” and it’s a fun, energetic version. They follow that with a nice “Sugaree” and a really good “Jack Straw.” And any sound issues at the beginning of the show are completely forgotten by this point. We then get our second dose of Pigpen, with “Next Time You See Me.” Despite one moment of miscommunication, this is a totally enjoyable rendition. I don’t know exactly what it is about “Tennessee Jed,” but this is a song that I never tire of, and the version on this disc is a delight. It just gets better and better, certainly a highlight of the first disc. The first set also includes good versions of “El Paso” and “Big Railroad Blues,” and concludes with “Casey Jones.” Unfortunately, there is a station identification before the band begins “Casey Jones.” What, they couldn’t wait the length of one more song? But, yes, this is an energetic rendition of “Casey Jones,” with some wonderful stuff on keys. All in all, a fantastic first set.

The second disc contains the first hour or so of the second set. The band kicks off the second set with a nice long version of “Good Lovin’” – yes, more Pigpen. And this is where Pigpen really gets loose. Actually, this is where the whole band gets loose, with the first big, tasty jam of the night. And in the middle of the jam, suddenly Pigpen starts riffing, delivering that stuff we all love to hear from him. “I’m built for comfort, not for speed/Got everything a woman might need.” This feels like the end of the set, not the beginning – it has that kind of vibe. There is a radio station identification after this song, and then a bit of talk about the venue from Bob Weir before the band starts its next tune. And there is a rare false start, with the band abandoning it after a few moments. All of this is presented as a separate track, by the way, here titled “Talking And Tuning.” And then finally they go into “Brokedown Palace,” one of my favorites. That’s followed by “Playing In The Band,” which was still a relatively new song at the time of this show. There is some jamming, but the song is not yet the powerful vehicle that it would soon become. This version feels a bit sluggish at times. Pigpen then belts out “Run Rudolph Run,” a classic rock and roll tune featuring some fun work on keys. This is a song the Dead did only a few times, and it’s great to have this version on CD. After “Deal,” the Dead deliver an energetic “Sugar Magnolia.” The second disc then concludes with “Comes A Time,” another of this disc’s highlights.

The third disc has the rest of the second set, plus the encore, and starts off with a bang as the band bursts into “Truckin’.” The lyrics of this song always resonate. “Lately it occurs to me/What a long strange trip it’s been.” It seems those words are growing only more true as more years pass. The band really rocks during the jam, and you hear hints of “The Other One,” before Bill Kreutzmann gives us a very cool drum solo. And then the band rips into “The Other One.” This is a song that is almost always exciting, because the band tackled it in many different ways over the years. This version starts off as explosive, then eases back slightly to explore while still maintaining an edge, like it could attack again at any moment. Then things get a bit looser, as if stripping away certain layers of reality to see what may live underneath, almost to the point of silence, of nothing. I love that this band wasn’t afraid of going that far in. And this is all before the first verse. As they return, they take a different, groovier route, because, hell, on certain nights, all avenues were open to this band. Certainly this was one of those nights. And only after a little while does the main thrust of the song make itself heard again, quickly gathering the forces together, and Bob begins the first verse. “But the heat came round and busted me for smiling on a cloudy day.” And immediately they’re off into unraveling the cosmos again. Man, I love this band. These guys sometimes can really surprise you, and they do here, going from spacey territory into “Sittin’ On Top Of The World.” Talk about a shifting of gears, and yet it goes smoothly. And then “The Other One” takes over again, with a fierce power, and after some more exploring, Bob delivers the second verse. This version of “The Other One” into “Sittin’ On Top Of The World” back into “The Other One” is fantastic. That leads straight to “Not Fade Away,” paired, as it often was in those days, with “Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad.” But in the middle of it, there is a brief “China Cat Sunflower” jam. And check out that vocal play between Bob and Pigpen at the end of “Not Fade Away.” Holy moly! The encore is “One More Saturday Night.”

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Bertha
  2. Me And My Uncle
  3. Mr. Charlie
  4. Loser
  5. Beat It On Down The Line
  6. Sugaree
  7. Jack Straw
  8. Next Time You See Me
  9. Tennessee Jed
  10. El Paso
  11. Big Railroad Blues
  12. Casey Jones
Disc Two
  1. Good Lovin’
  2. Talking And Tuning
  3. Brokedown Palace
  4. Playin’ In The Band
  5. Run Rudolph Run
  6. Deal
  7. Sugar Magnolia
  8. Comes A Time
Disc Three
  1. Truckin’ >
  2. Drums >
  3. The Other One >
  4. Sittin’ On Top Of The World >
  5. The Other One >
  6. Not Fade Away >
  7. Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad >
  8. Not Fade Away
  9. One More Saturday Night 
Live At The Fox Theatre, December 1971 was released on March 3, 2017 through Rox Vox.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Jerry Garcia Band: “Midnight Moonlight… Live” (2015) CD Review

Midnight Moonlight … Live contains nearly the entire show that the Jerry Garcia Band performed on March 7, 1982 (my tenth birthday) in San Jose. It’s missing just one song from the first set – “Valerie,” which was played after “Catfish John.” That might be due a glitch in the source material. I’ve listened to this version of “Valerie” online, and there is a weird moment in the recording. Still, I’d prefer to have the song, and it would certainly fit on the disc. At any rate, the band for this show includes Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, as well as John Kahn, Melvin Seals, Jimmy Warren (yes, two keyboard players), Julie Stafford and Liz Stires. For the second set, Dave Torbert replaces John Kahn on bass. The liner notes include an interview with Jerry Garcia from 1982. By the way, a portion of this show was previously released on CD under the misleading title Palo Alto, California.

Jerry Garcia opens the show with “Sugaree,” and the CD gets right into the music. There is no crowd noise or tuning or anything at the beginning, which makes me wonder if we might actually be missing the very start of the song. It’s a pretty good rendition, with a high-energy, rockin’ jam. That’s followed by “Catfish John,” which also has a seriously good jam, this one maintaining a nice, fun groove, and featuring some wonderful stuff on keys. As the song ends, the sound quickly fades out, and then comes in again as the band starts “I Second That Emotion.” That’s because “Valerie” was played in between, but is missing from this disc. This rendition of “I Second That Emotion” is joyous and wonderful, a highlight of the first set. I mean, you can hear the band’s heart in every note. Weirdly, the disc quickly fades out at the end of this track also, and then comes in as the band starts “Tangled Up In Blue.” I’m not sure why we don’t hear the crowd noise between these tracks. My guess is that, because this is from a radio broadcast, maybe there were brief station identification breaks between songs. Anyway, this is a breezy rendition of “Tangled Up In Blue.”

The second disc contains the second set, and, like the first disc, when it starts, the band seems to already be playing. There is no crowd noise or tuning before “The Harder They Come,” which kicks off the second set. This is fun, fast-paced rendition. The band members seem to be enjoying themselves, and there is a lightness to their playing, like they’re dancing with their instruments. And I’m dancing around my apartment, totally digging this tune. And again there is a quick fade-out at the end of the song. I prefer live recordings where we hear every moment of the show, even if it’s just the audience shouting while the band decides what to play next. “The Harder They Come” is followed by “Mystery Train.” Man, the band is really cooking at this show. This is another fast-paced song to get you dancing, to get you grooving and keep you going. It is a total joy listening to this track. Jerry Garcia then does slow things down with “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” but this isn’t an entirely slow version. It has a reggae beat at times. Jerry’s guitar sounds beautiful, and they jam on this one for a while. The band then gets things rocking again with “Tore Up Over You” before concluding the show with “Midnight Moonlight.” “Midnight Moonlight” was written by Peter Rowan, and the first version I ever heard is that on the 1975 self-titled album by Old & In The Way. The rendition on this disc is quite good, and the backing vocalists really shine here. This is an excellent show. I only wish that the CD included the crowd noise between songs, and of course that “Valerie” were included too. But the sound is excellent, and the band is definitely on.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Sugaree
  2. Catfish John
  3. I Second That Emotion
  4. Tangled Up In Blue
Disc Two
  1. The Harder They Come
  2. Mystery Train
  3. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
  4. Tore Up Over You
  5. Midnight Moonlight
Midnight Moonlight… Live was released on August 21, 2015 through Keyhole.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Jerry Garcia & John Kahn: “Santa Cruz Blues” (2017) CD Review

Okay, first I have to point out that they misspelled John Kahn’s name on the CD cover. That doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in the company putting out this release. This is another of those unofficial releases taken from radio broadcasts. On October 16, 1985, Jerry Garcia and John Kahn did two short shows at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, California. Santa Cruz Blues contains almost both complete sets; it is missing just one song, “Rubin And Cherise,” which ended the early show. This disc was released once before, in 1997, with a different cover, and “Rubin And Cherise” was also missing from that one. Also, on that disc “Little Sadie” is listed as “Jericho.” And apparently these shows were also released on vinyl as Comin’ Up For Air, which is also lacking “Rubin And Cherise.”

I love acoustic Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia recordings, and so this disc is a treat. It’s just Jerry on guitar, and John on upright bass, and so has a loose and intimate feel. They kick off the early show with “Deep Elem Blues,” a song Jerry also did with the Grateful Dead (you can hear a good version on Reckoning). The version here is a bit messy, but still cool. They follow that with “Friend Of The Devil,” and it’s the slower version that the Dead did in concert. I love those moments when Jerry gets real quiet. “Little Sadie” follows, and is one of the highlights for me. The Grateful Dead did this song a few times in 1969, 1970 and 1980. Here it has the feel of being sung around a campfire, which works so well. And then I love Jerry’s delivery of Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs To Me.” Plus, that guitar part a few minutes in is excellent, making this track another of the disc’s highlights. Jerry sang this one with the Grateful Dead a few times in 1985. And “Jack-A-Roe” is a song the Dead played at the very last show I ever saw (in Portland, 1995). The version here is okay. But it’s followed by an excellent rendition of “Oh Babe, It Ain’t No Lie,” a song written by Elizabeth Cotten. And, with “Rubin And Cherise” missing, that’s the end of the early show.

The late show opens with “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” a song that Bob Weir sang with the Grateful Dead. Jerry gives it a delicious energy, particularly in the vocals, and there is also a delightful jam. “Someday everything is gonna be different/When I paint my masterpiece.” That’s followed by a good rendition of “I’ve Been All Around This World” (here titled “Been All Around This World”). This is a traditional song, but the back of the CD case erroneously indicates Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir as its writers. It’s great to hear an acoustic version of “Run For The Roses,” a song that the Jerry Garcia Band often did, and I dig what John Kahn does on bass here. Then the crowd gets excited when they start “Bird Song.” You might not think there’d be a lot of jamming on this version, what with only two guys playing, but you’d be wrong. This is actually a seriously good rendition of “Bird Song,” with them taking it in some interesting directions. And it’s nearly ten minutes long. That’s followed by a really nice take on “Gomorrah,” a song from Cats Under The Stars. But of course for me the best track is the one that concludes the show, “Ripple,” my all-time favorite song. I never got the chance to see Jerry sing this one in concert; I wish I’d been at that show in Landover in 1988. This song works beautifully every time, and the rendition on this disc has a sweet feel to it.

By the way, the sound of this recording is quite good, and though it is a radio broadcast, there are no interruptions or weird cuts.

CD Track List
  1. Deep Elem Blues
  2. Friend Of The Devil
  3. Little Sadie
  4. She Belongs To Me
  5. Jack-A-Roe
  6. Oh Babe, It Ain’t No Lie
  7. When I Paint My Masterpiece
  8. Been All Around This World
  9. Run For The Roses
  10. Bird Song
  11. Gomorrah
  12. Ripple
Santa Cruz Blues was released on February 10, 2017.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Hangabouts: “Kits And Cats And Saxon Wives” (2017) CD Review

The Hangabouts are a groovy pop band based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a trio delivering fun pop music with a certain 1960s feel on their new release, Kits And Cats And Saxon Wives. This album features all original material, written by the band members. The Hangabouts are composed of John Lowry on vocals, guitar, organ, mellotron, piano, synthesizer, bass and percussion; Gregory Addington on vocals, guitar, bass, drums, piano, synthesizer and percussion; and Chip Saam on vocals, bass and guitar. Several musicians (including Molly Felder) join them on various tracks of the new CD.

The album opens with its title track, “Kits And Cats And Saxon Wives,” a song with a playful Beatles vibe and some delightful blending of voices. It’s followed by “Cricket Time,” which has a more straightforward feel. Of course, in this song’s title could be another nod to The Beatles, as The Beatles took their name because of their affection for The Crickets, Buddy Holly’s band. “Beetles are lighting/Mosquitoes are biting/It’s cricket time.” Then “Sinking Feeling” has kind of a sweet sound, even with lines like “I love you, yeah, but it’s a sinking feeling/I’m never coming up for air/I’m lying here, staring at the ceiling/Wondering how I got here.” It’s a duet, featuring Molly Felder (from Swan Dive) on vocals.

There is something catchy about “Evelyn Wood,” and I found myself enjoying it almost immediately. “Evelyn Wood, what’s the hurry, babe/We’re going faster than I think that we should.” It’s a delightful pop song, with a cool little instrumental section at the end. “Turrialba” is an incredibly short instrumental track (approximately thirty seconds), a mood piece. I’m curious in what direction the band would take it if it were to go on longer. For me, things then get even more interesting with “Selling Out,” an intriguing pop gem. “But everybody’s worried that you’re selling out/When you know you ought to be telling us/What’s in your heart instead.” This one too shows its Beatles influences. It’s followed by “Mrs. Kite,” another of this album’s most interesting songs, with some psychedelic vibes. And is this one’s title also a nod to The Beatles (“Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”)?

“Too Hot To Sleep” has a mellower folk vibe, which works quite well with their vocals. I particularly like their voices on these lines: “Watching headlines on the wall/Hear your breathing rise and fall/By tomorrow you won’t recall/Tonight.” This is one of my favorites, and of course it’s a great song for the summer. “Sensation Overnight” also has something of a sweet folk sound, and is another of the disc’s highlights. Plus, check out these lines: “Cautiously glamorous/I rule the universe/And now/It’s turned upside down.” Yeah, the phrase “cautiously glamorous” stood out for me the first time I listened to this disc. The album then concludes with “Follow The Sunshine,” an innocent and fun pop song.

CD Track List
  1. Kits And Cats And Saxon Wives
  2. Cricket Time
  3. Sinking Feeling
  4. Evelyn Wood
  5. Twelve Songs
  6. Turrialba
  7. Selling Out
  8. Mrs. Kite
  9. Taking You To Leave Me
  10. Too Hot To Sleep
  11. All Day All Night
  12. Sensation Overnight
  13. Follow The Sunshine 
Kits And Cats And Saxon Wives was released on April 28, 2017 on Futureman Records.

The Brian Kinler Band at Vitello’s, 7-23-17 Concert Review

Brian performing "I Know, Madame"
Last night The Brian Kinler Band returned to Vitello’s to celebrate the release of Euphoric. It was the first time the band had played at that venue in several years, and in the meantime the whole look of the room had changed, with even the stage placed in a different spot. The band’s original drummer, Jon Weiner, returned for this gig, and though a lot of new material was played, the show had something of a classic feel to it because of Weiner’s presence. It was also an emotional night, as Brian’s father had passed only the day before. Brian mentioned that at the start of the show, and opened with a solo piano rendition of “Angela,” the song Bob James wrote as the theme to Taxi, dedicating it to his father who was a Bob James fan.

The audience was – as always – supportive, and after that song, both Brian and the crowd immersed themselves in the music. The band – Jon Weiner, Matt Whitney and Andrea Whitney – joined Brian on stage, and they played a couple of tunes from the new album, beginning with the CD’s opening track, “I Know, Madame,” and following it with one of my favorites, “Norway.” It was a beautiful rendition of “Norway,” particularly Andrea’s work on violin. Andrea then left the stage for an old favorite, the fun “Wookiee Boogie,” a song included on Stories From The Quarter. Andrea returned for another fan favorite, “Rosedown,” also from Stories From The Quarter. That was followed by a cover of “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” And then they did another song from Euphoric, “I Can’t Remember Your Face,” followed by the wonderful “The Fall,” a song from Not Your Everyday Amateur.

For many years, Brian has been joined by different vocalists for a portion of his concerts. But it wasn’t until 2015, with the release of The Race Against Time, that one of his albums featured vocals. That singer, the talented Francesca Capasso, joined him last night for several songs. Three audience members were celebrating birthdays, so she did an a cappella rendition of “Happy Birthday To You” before going into “Bombshell,” the fun dance song that kicks off The Race Against Time. They followed that with an excellent rendition of “I’d Give Up Everything But You,” which ended up being one of the highlights of the show for me. This version was slower than that on the album, and, as Brian mentioned before the song, this was the way he originally envisioned it. I hope he’ll include this slower version on a future release.

“Once Is Not Enough” is one of my favorites from the new album, a tune written as a sort of James Bond theme. It’s a gorgeous piece, and last night Brian and Andrea performed it as a duet, another of the show’s highlights. That was followed by “Orange Blossom Special,” and then by “Slobbertongue,” another fan favorite, with the audience providing finger snaps. Francesca then returned for a couple of energetic covers to end the set – “Chain Of Fools” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” I love listening to her belt out those tunes. Delicious. The show ended at 9:31 p.m.

Set List
  1. Angela (Taxi Theme)
  2. I Know, Madame
  3. Norway
  4. Wookiee Boogie
  5. Rosedown
  6. The Devil Went Down To Georgia
  7. I Can’t Remember Your Face
  8. The Fall
  9. Happy Birthday To You
  10. Bombshell
  11. I’d Give Up Everything But You
  12. Once Is Not Enough
  13. Orange Blossom Special
  14. Slobbertongue
  15. Chain Of Fools
  16. Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Here are a few photos from the show:

"I Know, Madame"
"Wookiee Boogie"
"The Fall"
"I'd Give Up Everything But You"
"Chain Of Fools"
 Vitello’s is located at 4349 Tujunga Ave. in Studio City, California.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Korby Lenker: “Thousand Springs” (2017) CD Review

Korby Lenker’s new album, Thousand Springs, was recorded at various locations in Idaho, where he grew up. Places he has a connection to. And perhaps that’s one reason this album (his seventh) has a passionate and personal feel. Other portions of the album were recorded in other states, Lenker traveling to different places to record contributions by several musicians. And that might be part of the reason for the relaxed and playful vibe the album has at times (like on “Book Nerd”). Thousand Springs features all original music, written or co-written by Korby Lenker, and the writing, for me, is what really makes this CD one worth paying attention to.

The album begins gently, easing us in with “Northern Lights,” a song written by Korby Lenker and Jon Weisberger. This is a pretty and intimate tune, and it works so well to pull us into the album. Its chorus has something of a hopeful sound, which I appreciate. “All the way to Chicago/Wonder what will I find/And I’m leaving behind/The stars and the northern lights.” And I love these lines: “The night sky’s a chandelier/Windshield makes a frame/Radio I turned down low/I thought I heard your name.” The second song, “Friend And A Friend,” also finds him on the road. It’s a song about traveling and human connections (what else do we need?). “You wake up feeling low/And then you get behind the wheel and go/Some days it’s wide open/Some days it’s a dead end.” And check out these lines: “This is the life, the life I’ve chosen/Not even I can see the cards I’m holding/And if tonight doesn’t go my way/Well, there’s always tomorrow.” “Friend And A Friend” was written by Korby Lenker and Molly Tuttle (Tuttle also provides harmony vocals on this track). I will be adding this song to my road trip play list.

“Nothing Really Matters” is a delightful, happy-sounding tune with mandolin, banjo and fiddle. The vocal approach reminds me a bit of some of Paul Simon’s material. “Nothing really matters when I’m here with you/Clouds rush in, the sky’s still blue/Storm is just passing through/Nothing really matters when I’m here with you.” This one was written by Korby Lenker and Stoll Vaughn. Annie Staninec is on fiddle, John Reischman is on mandolin, and Molly Tuttle plays clawhammer banjo. This is one of my favorite tracks.

“Book Nerd” was written by Korby Lenker, and features Kai Welch on accordion, and Chris “Critter” Eldridge on baritone ukulele. This is one that has a very playful feel, and of course I appreciate the literary references. However, my friend Jan will flip out if she hears that line about To Kill A Mockingbird. This one is followed by another of my favorites, “Uh Oh,” written by Korby Lenker and Holiday Mathis. I love the vocal approach here, and Caroline Spence provides harmony vocals.

“Father To The Man” is another happy-sounding pop-folk tune, this one written by Korby Lenker and Amy Speace. Amy provides harmony vocals on this track, and Korby plays ukulele. “Everything was spinning/But in the middle of the room/I saw my younger self/To my surprise, he recognized me right away/He said, ‘I know you well.’” Perhaps the best song on the album is “Love Is The Only Song,” written by Korby Lenker and John Martin. I can’t help but love this beautiful song. Certainly it doesn’t hurt that this track features cello, an instrument I love. That’s Mai Bloomfield on cello. Angel Snow provides backing vocals. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Love, it has no pride/And love is the only reason/In this world gone wrong/When everything else is gone/Love is the only song.” And it’s always good to hear someone tell us, “But remember, it’s been like this forever/You are not alone/We’re all in this together.

CD Track List
  1. Northern Lights
  2. Friend And A Friend
  3. Nothing Really Matters
  4. Last Man Standing
  5. Book Nerd
  6. Uh Oh
  7. Stormy Seas
  8. Father To The Man
  9. Late Bloomers
  10. Love Is The Only Song
  11. Mermaids
  12. Wherever You Are 
Thousand Springs was released on July 14, 2017.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London (1968/2017) CD Review

I still haven’t seen Peter Whitehead’s Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London, a film documenting the late 1960s London scene, but after listening to the soundtrack, which includes some dialogue from the film as well as music, I am certainly interested in checking it out. The film was released in 1967, the soundtrack in 1968. The soundtrack features some excellent tunes from artists like Pink Floyd and Small Faces, as well as snippets of interviews with folks such as Michael Caine and Mick Jagger. The new re-issue is a digitally remastered edition, from an original master tape, and – unlike the original vinyl release – presents the dialogue as separate tracks, which I appreciate. It’s actually a really nice package as well, folding out like a double album, with the liner notes on one side, and the CD on the other, with the CD in an inner sleeve as records are packaged. The back of the CD case is basically the same as the back of the original vinyl release, with the tracks mentioned in paragraph form rather than a list (and Pink Floyd called “The Pink Floyd”). The people responsible for this remastered edition obviously took the time and care to get it right.

It opens with Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive.” I don’t ever again want to hear The Wall, but man, do I still love this early Pink Floyd stuff. It’s all about Syd Barrett for me, and this early instrumental number is wonderful. The full version of this recording is nearly seventeen minutes long, and was later released on London ’66 – ‘67. A nearly-ten-minute version was included on Pink Floyd’s first album, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. The tune has a delicious psychedelic and improvisational sound. Though the original vinyl soundtrack credits this one to just Barrett, Piper credits it to Barrett, Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason. The soundtrack includes two more snippets of this instrumental tune.

One of my favorite tracks is The Marquis Of Kensington’s “The Changing Of The Guard.” It’s a delightful and odd tune about the troubles of the rich British folks. “We’ve had to sell our stately homes to pay our debts and taxes/And no one can afford a chauffeur-driven Rolls/If we ever get invited to the palace/Then we’ll all get there by bus.” It’s a playful tune, with a joke on “naval”/ “navel.” I’d never heard this song before, and I love it. It’s followed by another tune that’s new to me, “Night Time Girl” by Twice As Much. It was included on the band’s first LP, Own Up, and has a kind of sweet pop sound.

This soundtrack includes two Rolling Stones covers, both done by Chris Farlowe. The first is “Out Of Time,” which Farlowe released as a single in 1966 (he had a big hit with it in the UK), and also used as the title track for an LP. It’s a good version, though I prefer the second Stones cover, “Paint It Black,” which is another of my favorite tracks. It’s a very cool rendition, with some great backing vocals, though fades out to include an interview with Alan Aldridge before kicking back in again. The Stones connection is interesting, as this soundtrack album was originally released on Instant, a sub-label of Immediate Records, which was started by Andrew Loog Oldham, a man who also at that time managed the Rolling Stones and produced the band’s records (though obviously not on his own label). Snippets of an interview with Oldham are also included on this soundtrack (in which he talks about being proud of his work with the Rolling Stones, and about money). It’s also interesting that Mick Jagger is interviewed, but that the Rolling Stones songs are done by another artist. By the way, Mick Jagger talks about violence and anger, and about songwriting. He also mentions that audiences in the U.S. didn’t like the Stones until “Satisfaction.”

Another interview that stands out is that with Edna O’Brien, who says: “This thing of falling in love, you know, it’s such a nuisance. And I think women – no man will agree to this, but I’m sure it’s true – women are more devoted and committed to the notion of falling in love, and therefore they fall in love, than men are, because it is the one territory of adventure that a woman has.” And Julie Christie talks about The Beatles. “We were lucky enough that they were quite cool and hip, and there weren’t an awful lot of cool, hip people around. Not a majority. And that they became idols, and like any idol, they were copied. So that’s why London perhaps is now cool and hip.” Michael Caine, in his second interview, talks about short skirts, and is funny when distinguishing English men from other men. Lee Marvin also mentions miniskirts. The soundtrack ends with Allen Ginsberg reciting “Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London.”

CD Track List
  1. Interstellar Overdrive – Pink Floyd
  2. Interview 1 – Michael Caine
  3. The Changing Of The Guard – The Marquis Of Kensington
  4. Night Time Girl – Twice As Much
  5. Interview – Genevieve
  6. Out Of Time – Chris Farlowe
  7. Interview – Edna O’Brien
  8. Interstellar Overdrive Extract 1 – Pink Floyd
  9. Interview 1 – Andrew Loog Oldham
  10. Winter Is Blue Extract 1 – Vashti
  11. Interview 2 – Andrew Loog Oldham
  12. Winter Is Blue Reprise – Vashti
  13. Interview – Mick Jagger
  14. Interview – Julie Christie
  15. Interview 2 – Michael Caine
  16. Paint It Black – Chris Farlowe
  17. Interview – Alan Aldridge
  18. Paint It Black Reprise – Chris Farlowe
  19. Interview – David Hockney
  20. Here Come The Nice – Small Faces
  21. Interview – Lee Marvin
  22. Interstellar Overdrive Extract 2 – Pink Floyd
  23. Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London – Allen Ginsberg 
Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London was released on June 2, 2017.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Lightnin’ Willie: “No Black No White Just Blues” (2017) CD Review

Ah yes, blues is the order of the day, what with the nation having firmly lodged itself in dark and horrid territory and not taking any of the escape routes that seem open to it. People are acting oddly these days, without logic or reason, and things are uncertain all around. But one thing that you can rely on is the blues to lift you from the mire by letting you know you’re not alone. And Lightnin’ Willie’s new album, No Black No White Just Blues, is a perfect choice for that. This album is full of great grooves, excellent work by all musicians involved, and positive vibes so potent you’ll be smiling as the world crumbles around us. This disc features all original material, though much of it has such a familiar ring to it that you’ll be surprised you hadn’t heard it before. And you’ll definitely want to hear it again.

Lightnin’ Willie kicks off the disc with “Can’t Get That Stuff,” a tune with a good groove (reminding me a bit of CCR at times), about how things are changing, and so much you once could get is now gone. There is a playful element to this song. “Selling homemade whisky for a dollar a jar/You can’t get that stuff no more.” My favorite section is that delicious lead part by Doña Oxford on keys. “There was a pretty woman up on top of the hill/Used to let me kiss her for a one-dollar bill/You can’t get that stuff no more.” That’s followed by a fun number titled “Eyes In The Back Of My Head,” a song about a cheating woman – yes, one of those great blues subjects. “Last night you come home and kiss me/I lost all of my hope/Sweet lips taste like cigarettes/Girl, and you don’t even smoke/I can’t take it.” There is some nice work on harmonica.

“Locked In A Prison” has a very cool, late-night vibe, featuring some wonderful, light work on the keyboard, and a smooth and sweet saxophone. And if I’m not mistaken, there is some pride, as well as heartache, in Lightnin’ Willie’s voice as he sings, “She used to love me/She used to call my name.” But guess what? It ends with him telling us he has to stop talking to us because “I hear the sound of her shoes.” In “Note On My Door,” I dig the way the bass shapes this song. This is another blues tune about losing his woman, and in this case being unable to cry. And this one, too, takes a turn at the end. “Birds are calling, she smiles at me/That’s when I realized it was all a bad dream.”

One of my favorite tracks is “Heartache,” which has a delightful groove. Lightnin’ Willie’s voice reminds me a bit of Jim Bianco on this track, in the style and approach. “This woman I was loving/Took my heart when she left/Gotta find my heart/So I have something to break.” And I love the horn. There is something fun about this song, and the guitar work has a friendly feel to it. Another favorite is “Thinking Of You,” a love song with a sweet, delicious classic feel, a looking back at a relationship. “I’d spend all my money/Just to hear your voice one more time.” This song is beautiful. Lightnin’ Willie then leaves us dancing with a good, playful rockin’ tune titled “Shake My Snake.”

CD Track List
  1. Can’t Get That Stuff
  2. Eyes In The Back Of My Head
  3. Locked In A Prison
  4. Sad ‘N’ Blue
  5. Note On My Door
  6. Heartache
  7. Fuss And Fight
  8. Phone Stopped Ringing
  9. Thinking Of You
  10. Shake My Snake

Musicians on this album include Lightnin’ Willie on guitar and vocals, Pete Anderson on bass and harmonica, Michael Murphy on piano and organ, Skip Edwards on organ and accordion, Doña Oxford on piano, Jesper Kristensen on drums, Jerry Olson on drums, Ron Dziubla on saxophone, and Luke Miller on strings.

No Black No White Just Blues was released on June 16, 2017 on Little Dog Records.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Aaron Burdett: "Refuge" (2017) CD Review

If you're looking for some well-written and engaging new folk music, you should check out Refuge, the latest album from Aaron Burdett, a singer and songwriter based in North Carolina. All of the songs on this disc were written by Aaron Burdett, and they feature some excellent lyrics. Joining him on this album are Jeff Hinkle on bass, James Kylen on drums, Jackson Dulaney on lap and pedal steel and David Johnson on fiddle. There are also some guest musicians on certain tracks.

Aaron Burdett kicks off the CD with "Pennies On The Tracks," a song tackling those perennial folks subjects - trains, working men, death. Aaron's is a trustworthy voice spinning a good tale, delivering it without unnecessary adornment. Check out these lines: "Mind your job, boys, and take your work to heart/One wrong move and we'll all be torn apart/There's no room for error, sure death for mistakes/If pride in your work won't guide you, let the fear of God today." The song builds in intensity, until it gives way to a wonderful instrumental section halfway through. I love David Johnson's work on fiddle. That instrumental section deftly divides the song into two connected parts, the second having a more personal feel.

That's followed by "It's A Living," which has a fuller, happier country sound, and is about working an office job one is not passionate about. "There's a paycheck at the end of the week/It seems a little smaller every time to me." No kidding! "After all this time, if I was gone two weeks, they'd forget I was ever here/It's good to have the bills paid/But it's a precious trade/Spending half of my time at something I don't like to pay for the half I do/But it's a living." We can all relate to this, though some of us work more than half our time. "And this office job, it ain't too hard/Easy on the back, but hard on the heart."  But as I mentioned, this song does have an upbeat sound, and it seems to urge us to maintain a positive attitude and live our lives to the fullest whenever and however we can. Joining Aaron Burdett on this track are Tim Surrett on rhythm guitar and Jeff Collins on piano.

Aaron Burdett then returns to a nice folk vibe with "Looking For Light," one of my personal favorites. There is some impressive guitar work on this track, with Jackson Dulaney playing the second acoustic guitar. However, the focus is the vocals, the lyrics. Check out these lines: "Let the pain pass/We're left with the scars we all have/The signs of a well-lived life." And these lines feel especially relevant and important these days: "But lies from the talking heads repeating what the TV said/Can fill the day with fears that have no bearing on me/In the end, nothing's as bad as it seems when first brought to light." Yes, ultimately this is a positive song. Then in "Last Refuge," he sings, "We all need a place to hide/A quiet room off to the side/Let the party rage on while you pass right through."

Another of my favorites is "A Couple Broken Windows," with its sweet folk vibes. "Giving up ain't the same as giving in/And living rough ain't a sin/Choices made in the heat of yesterday/They add up to the shape I'm in/The add up the to world I'm living in." There is some wisdom and experience in his voice, but enough youth to provide the song and listener with hope. You know? But perhaps the best song of the album is "Thieves And Charlatans." It is so honest, so beautiful, so vulnerable and strong simultaneously. This song features more good work by David Johnson on fiddle. "And I've spent some time with thieves and charlatans, it's true/And I can't promise all those days are through/But I can say with full conviction and the road ahead in view/I'll do anything it takes to stand next to you." This is an excellent song, a song of both maturity and excitement. The CD then concludes with "Wolves At The Door," with Aaron Burdett's vocals reminding me a bit of Van Morrison. And by the end he's howling like Warren Zevon. Jason Webb plays organ on this track.

CD Track List
  1. Pennies On The Tracks
  2. It's A Living
  3. Looking For Light
  4. Last Refuge
  5. Rock And Roll
  6. Another Nail In The Coffin
  7. A Couple Broken Windows
  8. Poor Man
  9. Thieves And Charlatans
  10. Wolves At The Door
Refuge was released on May 12, 2017 on Organic Records.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Raging Fire: "These Teeth Are Sharp" (2017) CD Review

In the mid-1980s, Raging Fire was formed in Nashville, the band originally going by the name Ring Of Fire. The band released one LP in that decade, Faith Love Was Made Of, and then by 1990 broke up. Fortunately, their story did not end there. A compilation of their material, Everything Is Roses 1985-1989, was released in 2015, a few years after the death of guitarist Michael Godsey (Godsey and Mark Medley started going through the old recordings in 2012 with the idea of putting together that compilation). To celebrate that release, the band reunited for a show, and that show got the band going again. And in May of this year, the band put out its first new album in thirty years. The CD, These Teeth Are Sharp, is dedicated to Michael Godsey (and to Jim Ridley, a fan of the band). Some of the songs on this disc were written early in the band's career, songs that were not recorded before (as well as two that were recorded before and included on the band's first album), while others are new. The lineup for this album includes founding members Melora Zaner, Mark Medley and Les Shields, as well as John Reed and Rusty Watkins, both of whom played in the band in the 1980s. Joining them are Joe Blanton and Jeff Cease on guitar, and Giles Reaves on keys.
The album kicks off with its title track, "These Teeth Are Sharp," a song from early in the band's existence, one with very cool vibe, a rock sound with some country elements and a punk attitude and energy, particularly heard in Melora Zaner's vocal delivery. And it's this combination of sounds and vibes that got me excited about this CD. There is also some delicious work on guitar. This song is a great start to the album, and features some interesting lyrics. "Maybe there's only one way out/One way out of this life of pain/One more flash, and the pain is gone." And I love that moment where Melora delivers the title line a cappella. That's followed by "A Narrow Sky," a song that was originally recorded for and included on the band's first album, Faith Love Was Made Of. This song is a good dose of rock and roll. "Do you know the feeling when the air closes in/As quiet as the grave/Well, it's a narrow sky here in Tennessee, babe/It takes much tolerance."

The only cover on this CD is "Walking The Dog," the Rufus Thomas song that for a while every band seemed to cover. But I hadn't heard a new version in a while, and the only female singer I can think of offhand that tackled it is Sandie Shaw, back in the 1960s. This version by Raging Fire has a cool, slow groove, and Melora Zaner delivers the lines with a cute girlishness, even a teasing whisper. It's a damn good rendition, no question. (And hey, this song is perfect for today, as it mentions the fourth of July in its lyrics.) That's followed by "After Loving One Man From East Texas," a song that was originally included on the band's first album. The version here is quite different. It is more of a rock tune, and contains hints of The Cramps, right? In the music, not the vocals. Anyway, this is one of my favorite tracks, and Melora's delivery is full of attitude. I love the original version too, but the direction the band took the song on this album is bloody brilliant, and it features some catchy work on guitar.

And then suddenly Raging Fire gives us a ridiculously positive pop tune, "Free To Be," which is absolutely wonderful, and certainly needed these days when things seem to be going wrong in all sorts of ways. Here are the opening lines: "Such a beautiful day/I'm so unafraid/Blue skies above/I'm so full of love." And here are some lyrics you might appreciate: "I'm free to be/In control of my own destiny/You see, that's the way it has to be/For you and me." Indeed. We need a bit of reminding now and again, don't we? "Free To Be" is followed by "Hush Angel Blue," a song that was included on Everything Is Roses. It's the only live track on that compilation, and on that disc is titled "Angel A Blue," though you can hear Melora introduce the song as "Hush Angel A Blue." It was recorded in 1989, and the sound quality of that live recording isn't perfect, so it's great to have this new clear version, particularly as it's a really good song.

But perhaps my favorite song is "Hopeful While In Bed." Certainly, it has my favorite title of any song on this album. Something about this song has dug its way into my brain and made a home for itself in there. Part of it is Melora Zaner's vocal performance, which is nuanced and intriguing. But there is also something familiar about the groove of this song, something that pulls me in. It's a wonderful song. "Curse this house and curse this home/Dream about living alone." "Raindances" then has the most straightforward rock sound of the album. And the disc concludes with "Dreams From Under The Love Seat," which of course has my second favorite title. "Dreams you might forget in a week/Who can we ask and who might know/If dreams stay in your head, then where do they go?"

CD Track List
  1. These Teeth Are Sharp
  2. A Narrow Sky
  3. Walking The Dog
  4. After Loving One Man From East Texas
  5. Free To Be
  6. Hush Angel Blue
  7. Hopeful While In Bed
  8. Raindances
  9. Dreams From Under The Love Seat
These Teeth Are Sharp was released on May 12, 2017. Let's hope there is more to come from this band.

Music in Boston (And Nearby), Summer 2017

I try to organize my trips east in such a way that I'm able to catch at least a few good concerts. This time there were so many to choose from that I ended up missing artists like Dead & Company, Ellis Paul, Cloud Cult, Huey Lewis And The News, Aimee Mann, and Dave Alvin And Phil Alvin, all of whom were playing in the area, and all of whom I would have loved to see. But I did see Josh Ritter, Josh Lederman And The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars, Air Traffic Controller, Yonder Mountain String Band and The Be Nice Or Leave Brass Band.

Josh Ritter

I got to Massachusetts very late on the 14th (or very early on the 15th, depending on your politics), and the first concert of the trip was on the 16th in Derry, New Hampshire, at a place called Tupelo Music Hall. It was the first time I'd been to a show at the venue's new location. The place was nice, and had a relaxed atmosphere, but the stage lights for some reason were not very bright. Lots of deep blues, which tended to create a distance between the audience and the band, and also made some of us rather sleepy. Both Josh and opener Amber Rubarth delivered good sets to an appreciative audience. For me, the energy was a bit low, but several people were dancing, so the low energy might have been from me rather than the band. Either way, it was still a good show, and Josh played my favorites. His band included Mark Erelli, and toward the end of the show Mark sang lead on a song, which was cool. I didn't write down the set list that night, but rather just enjoyed the music.

Josh Lederman & The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars

My girlfriend and I attended two concerts on June 24th, the first being Josh Lederman & The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars at the Plough And Stars in Cambridge. Though billed as a CSARs show, the band was basically the Country Pleasures duo, with just the addition of trombone, and with Emily on vocals for certain songs. Things are loose in the summer, Josh explained before the show.  See, the lineup of the Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars changes from show to show, depending on who's available for a particular gig. That's part of the charm and excitement of those gigs. I love what Josh and Mark Earley do in the Country Pleasures, so I saw the lack of a lot of musicians as a positive thing. They did two sets, kicking off the first at 4 p.m. with "Baby What You Want Me To Do," followed by "France Blues" and "Cornbread, Peas And Black Molasses." Mark Earley then chose "Sittin' On Top Of The World." Emily joined them on vocals for "Rockin' Chair Money" and "Jackson," the latter featuring a playful mock fade-out. The first set also included "Sugar Mama," "Stewball," and "You'd Better Mind." Emily then returned to sing on the last two songs, "Sweetest Waste Of Time" and "Step It Up And Go." The first set ended at 4:55 p.m., with Josh joking about the band's name, conflating Country Pleasures and Josh Lederman & The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars.

Josh said they'd be back in fourteen minutes, and thirteen minutes later they kicked off the second set with "Bright Lights, Big City." During "Long Way From Home," the trombone and harmonica sounded so damn good together. They followed that with "Outside Blues." We left partway through the second set in order to get to my brother's house early for the second concert of the day - Air Traffic Controller.

"Baby What You Want Me To Do"
"Cornbread, Peas And Black Molasses" 
"Rockin' Chair Money"
"Outside Blues"

Air Traffic Controller

My brother hosts a series of house concerts in Billerica (outside of Boston), and during this trip Air Traffic Controller did an acoustic show there. I'd seen Air Traffic Controller a couple of times before, but never the acoustic version of the band. For this show, they were a four-piece band (Steve Scott wasn't there). It was the night before the official CD release show for Echo Papa at The Sinclair, but the CD was available for those of us in attendance, and they played some of the new material. They opened the show, however with "Pick Me Up," a song from Nordo. The first set focused on selections from the band's 2016 release, Black Box. From that album, they played "What You Do To My Soul" (with Adrian on mandolin), "Get It Over With," "Water Falls" and "Island." "Island" actually ended the first set, with Casey performing it solo. They also did "This Road," with Dave first mentioning, "This is a song that was written while driving," revealing it's about nearby Route 3. Before Casey played "Island," Dave said they'd play new songs in the second set. "We're going to go out to the van and learn them real quick."

They opened the second set with "Doubt," a song from the new CD, and followed it with a couple of favorites from Black Box: "People Watching" and "The House," the latter of which is one of the most ridiculously catchy songs I've ever had the pleasure of hearing. And it worked just as well in an acoustic setting. In introducing "Ready Or Not," Dave told the audience that it's not a breakup song, though many people think it is. "It's a let's-try-to-keep-it-together song." They followed that with a really nice version of "Warrior," before playing some more songs off the new album, including "It's You," "Live In" and "After Party." They also played "The Work" (I love Casey's work on bass on that one) and "Bad Axe, MI" (with Adrian on harmonica), and ended the show with "Are You With Me?"

(By the way, I picked up the new CD, and it's really good.)

"Water Falls"
"You Know Me"
"You Know Me"
"The House"
"Bad Axe, MI"

Yonder Mountain String Band

On June 27th, my brother and I headed up to New Hampshire for an outdoor concert by Yonder Mountain String Band. The show was part of the Prescott Park Arts Festival in Portsmouth. The music was scheduled to start at 7 p.m., with Tyler Childers doing an opening set, but you could put blankets down starting at 3 p.m. On the way up, we drove through a hard rain and saw lightning in the distance. But the rain was supposed to stop by 7 or 8, so we weren't worried. When we arrived, a little before 4, it was raining, but several people had already staked out territory with blankets and chairs. Surprisingly no one had claimed the very front, so we put our blanket there, holding it down with several rocks we found in the area in case a strong wind accompanied the storm. Then we went off to get some dinner and beer at a local brewery, and to get dry.

Tyler Childers started his short solo acoustic set at 7:20 p.m., and I was particularly impressed by some of his lyrics. Several times during his set, certain lines grabbed me. And the rain had stopped. Yonder Mountain String Band took the stage at 8:09 p.m., kicking off their set with a cover of Townes Van Zandt's "White Freightliner Blues," leading straight into "Kentucky Mandolin," which featured a delicious bass lead and then a mandolin solo. There were some sound issues with Dave's microphone at the beginning of "Just The Same," but it was still a good version. As at the Troubadour show I saw recently, the band did several songs from their new album, Love. Ain't Love, which was released on the 23rd, playing a really nice "Bad Taste," "Last Of The Railroad Men" and "Take A Chance On Me." Dave introduced "Take A Chance On Me" by clarifying for the audience that it was not an ABBA song. During "Only A Northern Song," we could see lightning behind the band, and it wasn't long before the rain started to fall. And then suddenly it was announced the show was over, they had to shut down because of the lightning. It was 9:06 p.m., and so this was by far the shortest Yonder Mountain concert I'd attended. People were surprised, but everyone seemed to understand that it wasn't worth the risk to continue playing.

Tyler Childers
Yonder Mountain String Band

Be Nice Or Leave Brass Band

Josh Lederman, in addition to Josh Lederman & The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars and The Country Pleasures, leads a brass band called Be Nice Or Leave. On June 30th, they played at Bull McCabe's, which used to be Tir Na Nog, a venue where Josh Lederman Y Los Diablos often played (yes, I saw some excellent shows at this location). The band took the stage at 9:34 p.m., and during the first number, the cymbal attempted an escape. It didn't get far, and the band then played "When My Dreamboat Comes Home," followed by "Just A Closer Walk With Thee." The first set was a lot of fun, and it ended at 10:15 p.m. After a twenty-minute break, the band came back for a second set, which was even better and included "I'll Fly Away" and "Oh, Didn't He Ramble," as well as a fantastic rendition of "Blue Monk." Toward the end of the set they did "Down By The Riverside" straight into "This Little Light Of Mine." The second set ended at 11:21 p.m., with Josh saying, "Go Sox." The Red Sox were in extra innings at that point, and Josh said they'd play until the game was over. The Red Sox would win that game in the eleventh inning, but my girlfriend and I left after the second set.