Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tom Craig And Soul Patch: “Get Ready For Me” (2016) CD Review

Tom Craig And Soul Patch are an east coast band, playing good blues and soul music, led by Tom Craig on vocals and guitar. Get Ready For Me, which was released late last year, features all original music written by Tom Craig. The band consists of John O’Connell on drums, Rando Branning on bass, Eric Johnson on keys, Vince Gleason on tenor saxophone, Mark Gallagher on baritone saxophone, Skyler Hagner on baritone saxophone, Dan Young on alto sax, and Sean McCusker on trombone. On certain tracks, Dave Gross joins on bass and backing vocals, and Mikey Junior plays harmonica and contributes backing vocals.

The album opens with a seriously cool and catchy tune titled “Louita.” What initially made me really dig this tune is the work on horns, particularly that bit where each horn player responds in turn after Tom sings, “Louita.” Each time it happens, I am just completely delighted, and I think you will be too. Check out this song when you get the chance. “Well, early in the morning until supper time/Got this feeling deep down, can’t help but pay it mind/Got to have some of what you’re serving up/Satisfy my hunger with your lovin’ stuff.” Oh yes, seems the best way to spend a day. This song has a classic rhythm and blues feel which is wonderful. “Louita” is followed by “How Did I Break The Rules,” with more nice touches on horn. This is an easygoing, groovy blues number, a perfect summer blues tune, so pop it on while the weather is still warm. It has that innocence, heard in these opening lines: “Did you lie to me, baby, when you told me that you liked my moves/Were you for real when you said that you thought that we’d really groove/You said to take it slow, we got nowhere to rush off to/Come on, baby, tell me how did I break the rules?” I really like John O’Connell’s playing on this track. Dave Gross plays bass on these two opening tracks.

“Get Ready For Me,” the album’s title track, has a kind of slower, heavier groove, with a bit of funk to the playing. More good drumming by John O’Connell and some nice work on organ by Eric Johnson make this one worth paying attention to. But it is Tom Craig’s bluesy lead on guitar halfway through that stands out. That’s followed by one of my personal favorites, “Can’t Stop Thinking About You.” This is a track that I can’t help but love immediately, with its delicious, playful and catchy groove. Plus, Mikey Jr. plays harmonica on this track, delivering some wonderful stuff. This song also features what is probably my favorite vocal performance by Tom Craig. “I’m having one of those days/With everything going wrong/Every day has been like this/Since you’ve been gone/And I’m sad, lonely and blue/And I just can’t stop thinking about you.”  Then in “She Did It To Me (She’ll Do It To You),” there is an excellent section when the organ leads, and the horns help keep that good groove going.

“Ballroom Dancer” has a classic Sam Cooke-type feel, which I always love. But its first line caught me off guard, with its use of the word “flip flops.” Is this the only rhythm and blues song to make use of that word? I think so. At least, I can’t think of another one offhand. “Couldn’t even finish my beer” is one of the saddest lines I’ve heard. I am fortunate to have never suffered that particular trouble. “Please Forgive Me Baby” also has a classic vibe, and features some wonderful work on guitar. “Don’t know why I do the things I do/No matter how hard I try, I just keep on disappointing you.” And I love Tom Craig’s delivery on these lines: “I’ll give you anything that you want/Baby, please give me what I need/I’ll even spill some blood for you, baby/Just tell me who needs to bleed.” Fantastic!

Both Dave Gross and Mikey Jr. join the band again on “I Can’t Help Myself,” and their backing vocals echoing “I can’t help myself” add a great deal of fun to this tune about a man with a certain weakness for women. And I love that sax (hey, is there just a bit of a nod to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue,” or is that just me?). Tom Craig delivers more fun with “Nothing That A Man Can’t Do,” a playful, innocent, fast-paced tune. The album then concludes with “Every Woman,” a sweet love song. “You wouldn’t want her to cry/When you hang up the telephone/You don’t want her to be lonely/When you have to leave her alone/Gotta tell her how you feel/Let her know she’s your whole wide world/Because inside every woman resides a little girl.”

CD Track List
  1. Louita
  2. How Did I Break The Rules
  3. Get Ready For Me
  4. Can’t Stop Thinking About You
  5. She Did It To Me (She’ll Do It To You)
  6. Ballroom Dancer
  7. Captain Funk
  8. Please Forgive Me Baby
  9. Tornado
  10. I Can’t Help Myself
  11. Nothing That A Man Can’t Do
  12. Every Woman
Get Ready For Me was released on December 28, 2016.

Grateful Dead: “50 Shades Of Black & White With A Touch Of Grey” (2016) CD Review

Yes, 50 Shades Of Black & White With A Touch Of Grey is another of those unofficial releases, based on a radio broadcast. And yes, I have mixed feelings about the title. And though the liner notes say this two-disc set contains the complete show that the Grateful Dead performed on April 7, 1987, it’s actually missing one song – the encore, “Quinn The Eskimo.” I should also note right away that there are a few station identifications, as heard in the original broadcast.

This show was exactly one year before my first show, and the band opens it with “Touch Of Grey,” which is the same song with which they’d open my first show a year later. The sound isn’t perfect (a bit muddy), but the energy is high, and the band is clearly ready to deliver. Oh, “We will get by.” I still believe it. The band then goes right into a good, thumping “New Minglewood Blues,” and we get some delicious bursts on organ from Brent during the jam, followed by Jerry taking it higher on guitar, and all the while that pulsing rhythm continues to keep us all on our feet – like a train cutting through a jungle. “And it’s T right here in Jersey where the little girls know what to do.” Though it’s a radio broadcast, it sounds like an audience recording rather than a soundboard. But I’m into it. A lot of my old tapes are audience recordings, and I kind of miss that certain sound quality. It puts me there, you know? Gives us more of the atmosphere of the place and all.

Jerry delivers a good “Friend Of The Devil.” The jam is sweet, with some nice work by Brent on keys, and perhaps a little more energy than some later renditions. There is a radio station identification over the sound of the audience before Bob leads the band into a slightly relaxed rendition of “Beat It On Down The Line.” There is a bit of a false start to “Stagger Lee,” and does Jerry laugh? He seems to be having a damn good time with this one, and as a result it’s a really good version. Another station identification comes after it, however, breaking up the energy. Then Bob goes into a breezy, fun pairing of “Mama Tried” and “Big River.” The guys are really cooking on “Big River.” There seems to be a weird cut as they go into “West L.A. Fadeaway.” It’s a pretty good version, and they follow it with another song from In The Dark (which would be released a few months after this show), “Hell In A Bucket.” This one has a false start, the band humorously adding a big finish to its false start. “At least I’m enjoying the ride.” They then finish up the first set with “Don’t Ease Me In.”

The second disc contains the complete second set. It’s eighty-three minutes. For some reason, I’d been under the impression that CDs could only be eighty minutes. I was wrong. Anyway, Phil kicks off the second set with “Box Of Rain,” joking with the Jersey crowd by singing “What do you yous want me to do?” They follow that with “I Need A Miracle,” which very quickly leads to an energetic “Bertha.” Jerry then slows things down with a really good rendition of “Ship Of Fools.” Which is more expressive here – his voice or his guitar? Both make this one of the set’s highlights. After a pause (rare in the second set in those days), the band launches into “Man Smart, Woman Smarter.” It’s not the best version, but it’s still fun to dance to. The crowd claps along at the end, and “Drums” flows straight out of that, holding onto that rhythm for a little while, and making this a damn good “Drums” segment. The energy is fantastic, and you can hear the crowd responding. Even though this is a good show, there really isn’t a lot of jamming. No “Playing In The Band” or “Eyes Of The World” for the band to stretch out on, and it turns out that at fourteen minutes, “Drums” is the longest tune of the night. And as it builds, we actually get the addition of guitar, which is surprising and wild. The guitars begin to overpower the drums as the band slides into what turns out to be a really nice “Space.”

From there, “Gimme Some Lovin’” emerges. It’s a halfway decent version, and it breaks down to give way to “Morning Dew.” Jerry’s vocal performance is fantastic, emotionally charged, powerful – and so, even though the version is a bit messy at moments, it ends up being another highlight of the set. The jam at the end is beautiful. But the band isn’t done. As they start “Throwing Stones,” there is a radio station identification, the only one to actually interfere with the music. This is a good “Throwing Stones.” “The future’s here, we are it, we are on our own.” It leads straight into “Not Fade Away” to end the second set. As I mentioned before, the encore is not included.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Touch Of Grey
  2. New Minglewood Blues
  3. Friend Of The Devil
  4. Beat It On Down The Line
  5. Stagger Lee
  6. Mama Tried
  7. Big River
  8. West L.A. Fadeaway
  9. Hell In A Bucket
  10. Don’t Ease Me In
 Disc Two
  1. Box Of Rain
  2. I Need A Miracle
  3. Bertha
  4. Ship Of Fools
  5. Man Smart, Woman Smarter
  6. Drums
  7. Space
  8. Gimme Some Lovin’
  9. Morning Dew
  10. Throwing Stones
  11. Not Fade Away 
50 Shades Of Black & White With A Touch Of Grey was released on October 7, 2016.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Oscar Feldman: “Gol” (2017) CD Review

The first time I popped in “Gol,” the new album by saxophonist Oscar Feldman, my intention was for it to be background music while I unwound after a long and tiring day at work. But four or five minutes into the first track, that tremendous piano part by Leo Genovese commanded my attention. Then of course I began listening more closely to Oscar Feldman’s sax part as well, and I was hooked. I set aside the other things I’d planned to do around my apartment, and sat down and listened. And what a joy it was to do so. Gol is a vibrant album, an album of celebration, of community. It features Oscar Feldman on alto and soprano saxophone, Antonio Sanchez (of Pat Metheny Group) on drums, John Benitez on bass, and Leo Genovese on piano and keyboards, as well guest Guillermo Klein on one track.

That first track is a cover of Duke Ellington’s “I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart,” and it features some wonderful playing by the entire group, and goes in some delightful directions. It’s followed by “La Canción Que Falta,” which was written by Guillermo Klein, who provides vocals and plays keys on this track. The vocals have something of an intimate sound, which is great, but for me the saxophone is the more expressive voice. Oscar’s playing is beautiful. Then three and a half minutes in, the tune changes its feel, and the piano takes over as lead instrument. There is something playful and delightful here, and yet the tune does not lose any of its beauty, but rather rises to a different level of joy. Then just as it’s ending, this song goes in another direction. This album features a second Guillermo Klein composition, “N.N,” which John Benitez starts off on bass. This track has a great rhythm, and features some rousing playing by Oscar Feldman and more fantastic drumming by Antonio Sanchez.

“Viva Belgrano,” the album’s only composition by Oscar Feldman, begins with the sound of a sports announcer (that’s Matias Barzola). Belgrano is a soccer team of Cordoba, where Feldman grew up, and this tune celebrates an important goal in that club’s history (making it sort of the album’s title track). As the announcer fades out, the tune begins, the drums leading into it. This too has some interesting changes and features more wonderful work on both keys and saxophone. And check out that bass line. But perhaps my favorite section is when Antonio Sanchez on drums take over, with Leo Genovese holding down the groove on keys, the drums acting as lead instrument. This track has an exciting feel throughout, but that section, for me, really is the highlight. And it is during that section that Matias Barzola comes back in, clearly thrilled about a soccer goal. It is interesting how integral the announcer feels to the tune, how well the whole thing works.

The music then takes a turn to something prettier, more thoughtful, with a relaxed rendition of “Murmullo.” As the song grows, Oscar Feldman’s playing becomes more powerful. And then suddenly it leads to a cool lead on bass by John Benitez. Oscar Feldman covers Beck’s “Nobody’s Fault But My Own,” the bass at first doing what would be the vocal line, and later the saxophone taking over that line and stretching it further. Four and a half minutes in, the song gets more interesting for me, going into territory not explored in Beck’s original. At moments, it feels like anything could happen – the tune could explode, it could ease us gently back into a pop realm. As it ends, it drifts off into a strange electronic realm, leaving us there. Well, not for long. The next track, “Is That So,” the Duke Pearson composition, begins with a more standard groove and feel, sticking closely with the original. But it’s not long before it gets interesting, and there are short drum solos and bass leads. The CD then concludes with a Beatles number, a lively, fun, excellent rendition of “I Feel Fine.”

CD Track List
  1. I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart
  2. La Canción Que Falta
  3. Viva Belgrano
  4. Murmullo
  5. N.N.
  6. Nobody’s Fault But My Own
  7. Is That So?
  8. I Feel Fine
Gol was released on August 4, 2017 through ZOHO Music.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Meeting Henry Rollins

The other day (actually, I think it was yesterday) I had the fortune of meeting Henry Rollins. Occasionally at work I get to meet musicians and performers I admire. And I’ve never been disappointed. That is, I’ve never had a certain view of someone shattered by meeting him or her – at least, not in a negative way. I’m sometimes struck by how gracious and kind and considerate people are. Actually, that happens quite frequently. I sent this text message to a friend yesterday (it was yesterday – I checked): “Henry Rollins just called me ‘sir.’ Is my life complete?”

A friend turned me on to Black Flag when I was twelve or thirteen years old. This was the mid-1980s, when pop music seemed to rule over everything. I was already beginning to drift away from that, but more toward late 1960s music, buying albums by The Kinks, Jefferson Airplane, Cream and of course the Grateful Dead. Some friends went in another direction, buying records by bands like Descendents, Dead Kennedys, Agent Orange, Circle Jerks and Black Flag. And so of course I listened to those records too. Do kids still do that – get together to listen to new albums (or albums they just discovered)? I hope so. That was an important part of my childhood. Hell, it’s an important part of my adulthood too. And it’s something special when I’m able as an adult to meet the people I listened to when I was growing up, a time when we were serious about music, excited about it, when one’s music collection was something of a defining characteristic, when we were figuring out who we were and who we wanted to be, a time when everything mattered. I remember then that our records really felt like our records. It truly felt like our music, like we had a stake in it. It was a piece of us.

I think kids these days are missing out by not having to go the store and purchase records. How important is any given album, or even a song, to them when they can have instant access to basically everything? All of this was on my mind when I met Henry Rollins. I didn’t mention any of it; there wasn’t time. And he’s probably heard it before. In more recent years, I’ve enjoyed reading his column in the LA Weekly. And I hope I get a chance to attend one of his spoken word performances. But for now I’m thrilled that I got a chance to meet him, to remember and tap into the excitement the first time I listened to a record like Damaged.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Cassie Keenum & Rick Randlett: “Hauntings” (2017) CD Review

Leonard Cohen is my favorite songwriter, and I’m always excited to hear a new cover of one of his songs. The song that is most often covered these days is “Hallelujah,” a tune from Various Positions, my favorite Leonard Cohen album. Cassie Keenum & Rick Randlett include a rendition of that song on their debut release together, Hauntings, and it is that track that initially sparked my interest in this album. But before I even got to that song (it’s the fifth track), I became a fan of Keenum and Randlett’s work. They are a blues duo based in Florida, and apart from “Hallelujah” the album contains original material. Joining them on this release are Nicole Wagner on bass and Rusty Valentine on drums, as well as a couple of guest musicians on certain tracks.

The CD opens with “Seventh Day,” a cool bluesy number, with somewhat sparse instrumentation to give greater focus to the vocals. As the album’s title promises, this song does have a haunting quality, both in the way the vocals are delivered and in that guitar part. “On the seventh day, while the good lord was sleeping/On the seventh day, the devil went creeping/On the seventh day, on the seventh hour/The devil found a woman and he offered her a flower.” It was written by Cassie Keenum. “Seventh Day” is followed by “One More Last Time,” another cool blues tune with a good groove, plus some nice work by Little Mike on harmonica. This song has a relaxed feel that I love, and includes a verse with references to Romeo And Juliet. I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare’s work, and appreciate this verse, which includes these lines: “Like Juliet and Romeo/This love is poison to us both/We were star-crossed from the start/Doomed when we tangled these two hearts.

“Won’t Make That Mistake Again” has something of a classic vibe, and features a wonderful vocal performance by Cassie Keenum. “I saw it coming/Lord knows it’s true/I was a fool to love someone like you/But I’ve learned my lesson/I won’t make that mistake again.” This one was written by Rick Randlett, and includes a nice lead guitar part by him. That’s followed by “All Along,” which has a meaner groove and vibe that is absolutely delicious.

So I got all of that before hearing their rendition of “Hallelujah,” the track that caused me to pop in the disc. Their version of this beloved song begins with an instrumental section, somewhat quietly, kind of sneaking up on you. It’s a pretty rendition, with vocals and guitar, though it includes just three verses. Cassie sings the first two verses from the album version and one more recent verse, the one that begins “Well, maybe there’s a god above/But all I’ve ever learned from love/Is how to shoot somebody who outdrew you.” I wonder why they chose to leave out the other verses, especially the final verse, which begins “I did my best, it wasn’t much.” Still, it’s a heartfelt version, and Leonard Cohen fans should appreciate it

That’s followed by “She’s Gone,” an interesting duet that was written by Ed Kuykendall and Rick Randlett, and features Mitch Rogers on keys. This one too has something of a haunting quality. “Early In The Morning” has the feel of a classic blues number, though it was written by Rick Randlett. “Early in the morning, as I watch the rising sun/Early in the morning, as I watch the rising sun/Got a bad, bad feeling all my trouble has begun.” Little Mike joins them again on harmonica for this track, delivering some wonderful stuff.

“Get Lit” is a good tune about using alcohol to deal with one’s problems. And yes, getting lit often seems like the solution, especially these days. While it’s the state of the world that causes me to frequently turn to the bottle (how the hell did Donald Trump end up in the White House, and how is he still there?), in this song it’s the end of a relationship that does it. “Gonna tell myself it’s over/But I just can’t do it sober.” Cassie Keenum delivers another wonderful vocal performance here. The album concludes with another highlight, “How Long,” and again, the focus is on the vocals. “It’s long, lonely road I got to take/But brother, I’m so tired of the wait/How long, how long, oh how long must I wait?

CD Track List
  1. Seventh Day
  2. One More Last Time
  3. Won’t Make That Mistake Again
  4. All Along
  5. Hallelujah
  6. She’s Gone
  7. Early In The Morning
  8. Get Lit
  9. Minute Man
  10. Born With Wings
  11. How Long 
Hauntings is scheduled to be released on September 23, 2017.

Gracie And Rachel: “Gracie And Rachel” (2017) CD Review

Gracie And Rachel’s self-titled debut album is one of the year’s most intriguing releases. The lead instruments are piano (Gracie Coates) and violin (Rachel Ruggles), with percussion, bass and synthesizers rounding out the sound. No guitars. The music can be beautiful, but can also set you at unease. There is magic in these tracks, but a magic that isn’t always uplifting or kind. It’s a remarkable album, featuring all original material written by Gracie Coates and Rachel Ruggles. Garrett Eaton is on percussion, bass, synthesizers and backing vocals (Garrett also produced most of the tracks). David Linard provides additional percussion.

The album begins with “Tiptoe,” a gorgeous and haunting track whose second line, “Violin and black and white,” is a reference to the songwriters’ instruments. And I wonder how autobiographical the song – and the album – might be. Then, when the song bursts in, a powerful landscape is created, with beauty and the feeling of danger. And toward the end, the repetition of “tiptoe” and “let go” make these words feel more like pure sounds, communication occurring almost in spite of language rather than because of it. “Tiptoe” is followed by “Sing Song,” and again there seems to be an autobiographical element to the music, with lines like “Making mistakes until mistakes help us write a song.” But the song starts with some backward sounds, like a quick returning to a beginning. The vocals here are wonderful, particularly in the sections without lyrics, this song mixing mundane details with ethereal sounds to create a fantastic and strange place, like angels bursting from a repressive human skin. “Sing Song” ends as it began, going backward, a loop, like they’ll keep trying, just as they sing “Keep on, keep on, keeping on.”

With “Only A Child” there is a sense of urgency in the sound at the start. I feel like a child peeking out from behind a rock at a scene I don’t fully comprehend and filling in the gaps with monsters and fancy. Listening to this album is like stepping into a place where we are not completely at home, but are captivated. “I am a nobody, posing as a someone/I am only, only just only, a child, walking to run/Who do I think I am/Who do I think I am.” Then “Go” begins with an electric pulse, and builds from there. As they sing “So let go, let go of going slow,” they seem to be urging us to follow our excitement. Will it lead to bliss or darkness, or to transformation? Not sure, but the song seems to want us to find out. This one too ends as it begins, with that pulse.

In “(Un)comfortable,” they sing, “Welcome to a world that’s hard to leave/Welcome to a world of make believe/I am getting so very comfortable, and I don’t want to get that way.” The song is so inviting and pretty that we become comfortable in this world too, wanting to immerse ourselves in it. This is one of my favorite tracks. “Take me to a cemetery full of life/Take me to uncomfortable paradise.” That’s what this album feels like to me – a place where even contradictions have a strangely natural beauty. I feel safe with these voices, like in “Let It Out,” a powerful song that seems to be offering comfort, guiding us through the darkness.  And you just keep screaming but you don’t know what it’s good for/‘Cause no matter how loud you yell, no one can hear you anymore.”

CD Track List
  1. Tiptoe
  2. Sing Song
  3. Only A Child
  4. Go
  5. (Un)comfortable
  6. It’s Time
  7. Let it Out
  8. Upside Down
  9. Don’t Know 
Gracie And Rachel was released on June 23, 2017.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Lew Jetton & 61 South: “Palestine Blues” (2017) CD Review

The whole country has the blues these days, and things are getting even more screwed up out there, as Donald Trump’s rabid fans have gotten loose from their leashes. While we wait for them to be rounded up and sedated, we can enjoy an excellent new release from Lew Jetton & 61 South, Palestine Blues. This album contains all original material, written by Robert Lewis Jetton. It follows the 2016 release, Rain, which is the album that turned me on to Lew Jetton & 61 South. The band on this new release is Lew Jetton on guitar and vocals, Otis Walker on bass, and Erik Eicholtz on drums. J.D. Wilkes joins them on harmonica on certain tracks. By the way, apparently Palestine (in addition to being an area of seemingly eternal conflict in the Middle East) is an area in Paducah, Kentucky, where Lew Jetton lives.

The album kicks off with “Will I Go To Hell,” one of the tracks featuring J.D. Wilkes on harmonica. And his harmonica is so expressive, such a great presence. This song is working so well for me, a perfect song for these strange days of strife and division. “I hear you, politician/You yourself did stray/Will I go to hell/If I don’t vote your way.” And check out these lines: “Sometimes I want to live, sometimes I want to die/Will I go to hell if I don’t feel like trying.” I know a lot of us can relate to these lines. I hope the current political and social situation comes to a swift close soon, so we can get back on track. Will that be enough to push back the depression that so many of us feel? I don’t know, but certainly it will be a good start. Anyway, this is a seriously good song to start the album. It’s followed by “Oh My My,” a harder, somewhat harsher tune, a sound which is fitting the times, don’t you think? “I hate my job, hate this strife/Hate this town, hate my life.” There is just the slightest amount of optimism in the lines, “Maybe someday change my mind/Maybe come out on the other side/Maybe darkness turn to light.” And that’s the thing – no matter how dark things become, we still hold onto the possibility of improvement.

“For The Pain” is my favorite song on this album. It has a mellower vibe and groove, and really moves me. Like the best of the blues, this song has the power to make us feel better even as it digs into our pain. The pain of living, the pain of addiction. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Here comes the pain again, I wonder when it will end/My addiction is my only friend who always stays by my side/It's just my pain and me, we keep to ourselves/Doctor, write me up, or I'll do it myself, for the pain, for the pain.” Lew Jetton delivers an incredibly personal and heartfelt vocal performance here. I also love his emotional work on guitar. What an incredible song.

“Mexico” is about jobs moving to other countries, something a lot of folks are experiencing these days. My brother just lost his job, as the position went to India. “Mexico” is followed by “Sold Us Out,” and this one too feels timely (though I suppose it would have felt that way for quite a while, and – I fear – probably will for decades to come). “The politicians in DC done sold us out/Don't give a damn about you and me, they sold us out/We’re taking on more than we can bear/They’re making the money and they just don't care/They want more and more and more.” And, no, it’s not just the politicians, but the corporations who are addressed in this song (though really the lines between the two are more than a little blurry): “The corporations with their profit line, they sold us out/They want to take away my overtime, they sold us out/It's ‘bout the money and you best beware/Don't give a damn and they just don't care/They want more and more and more, they sold us out.”

“Drinking Again” is a wonderful, somewhat mellow blues tune about how we turn to alcohol for many different reasons. “One for the road, one ‘cause you're mad/One when you're happy, another when you're sad.” I like that he’s not committed to stopping as he sings “I guess it’s a sin.” I love how honest Lew Jetton is. How many of us are certain about anything? Though at the end of the song, perhaps he’s convinced himself and is sounding more sure. And then in “Don’t Need No Devil,” he sings, “You know there ain't no whiskey can take away my pain/Ain't no whiskey can take away my pain/It just makes it worse, and the pain, well, it just stays.”

The album concludes with a good blues rocker, “‘Bout Time,” one which will probably speak strongly to a lot of us. “‘Bout time to stop feeling bad/Change my way of thinking before it drives me mad.” But it’s not that easy, and the song doesn’t pretend that it is. At the end, Lew sings, “‘Bout time, they all say the same/Yeah, that's easy to say when you ain't the one in pain.”

CD Track List
  1. Will I Go To Hell
  2. Oh My My
  3. For The Pain
  4. Mexico
  5. Sold Us Out
  6. Drinking Again
  7. Don’t Need No Devil
  8. Christ Have Mercy
  9. Drama
  10. ‘Bout Time
Palestine Blues was released on August 7, 2017.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Paul Kelly: “Life Is Fine” (2017) CD Review

A few months ago I saw Paul Kelly and Charlie Owen in concert, supporting their October 2016 release, Death’s Dateless Night. While they focused a good deal of their set on music from that album, they also played a new song, “Life Is Fine,” a Langston Hughes poem set to music. It was one of many highlights from the show, and now it is the title track of Paul Kelly’s impressive new album. And even with all the craziness in the world these days, I can’t help but believe that life is fine while listening to Paul Kelly’s music. Certainly life can be good for the length of this disc. Life Is Fine features all original material, written or co-written by Paul Kelly. As on some previous releases (such as Spring And Fall and The Merri Soul Sessions), Vika Bull and Linda Bull join Paul Kelly on backing vocals. Each takes a turn on lead vocals as well.

The album opens with “Rising Moon,” a powerful song that grabs you immediately with its opening notes on piano and doesn’t let go. Paul Kelly delivers a strong vocal performance here, backed by Vika Bull and Linda Bull. “I took your hand and you didn’t let go/And my poor heart jumped out of my chest.” And check out these lines: “That moon changed its colour/As it rose in the sky/And we changed each other/Under heaven’s bright eye/I might live to a hundred/I might die soon/But I’ll never forget that rising moon.” “Rising Moon” was written by Paul Kelly and Bill Miller. Paul Kelly then raises our spirits with “Finally Something Good,” a wonderful tune that seems designed to make us smile, and works beautifully. This one includes a play on a line from Macbeth at the end, as Paul sings “Something good this way comes” (the famous passage from Macbeth reads, “By the pricking of my thumbs/Something wicked this way comes”). This is certainly not the first time Paul Kelly has turned to Shakespeare. Last year, in addition to Death’s Dateless Night, he released Seven Sonnets & A Song, in which he set some of Shakespeare’s sonnets to music.

“Firewood And Candles” has a bit of a Bob Dylan flavor. It’s a song about spending a night with a woman, and forgetting about the world. “We’re gonna shut out the world/Forget about the TV news/Firewood and candles/Tonight they’re gonna see us through.” Sounds like a perfect plan, particularly these days. I love Cameron Bruce’s work on keys on this track, with a 1960s flavor. “Firewood And Candles” was written by Paul Kelly and Bill Miller. That’s followed by “My Man’s Got A Cold,” which features Vika Bull on lead vocals. This is a delicious, playful and yet strangely sexy, song. “Could be the worst ever cold/In the history of the world/And I’ve got a front seat row/To the whole sorry show.” And I love these lines: “And he’s taken every drug/But they just won’t kill that bug/Now he’s worried it might get worse/He’s thinking about the hearse.” And Vika totally sells it. And, oh, what a rough solution she offers at the end! This is completely fucking wonderful.

“Leah: The Sequel” is another playful track, a sequel to Roy Orbison’s “Leah.” If you know that song, you’ll remember that the main character goes diving for pearls to make a necklace for Leah, and nearly drowns. But then it turns out to be a dream about his lost love. Well, in this song it is no dream. The song begins with the guy on the beach, someone performing CPR on him. And when he hands the pearl to Leah, she’s his forever, which may or may not turn out to be what he wanted. “Now I’m working in the cannery, hosing down the floor for her old man/And I’m hoping I get used to it, ‘cause Leah’s got a ten year plan/She’s hidden my snorkel, says I’m never going diving again.” I love Vika and Linda’s backing vocals sort of recreating Roy Orbison’s “Leah, Leah.” And then “Josephina” is a sweet and joyful and kind of catchy love song. “I’ll get a job really soon, Josephina/I know that’s what you want me to do, Josephina.”

Linda Bull sings lead on “Don’t Explain,” which has a good pop vibe and some humorous lyrics, such as “Don’t look so serious/It doesn’t suit your face” and “You sure know how to use your hands/But you don’t have a great attention span.” It’s not really a funny song, but its final lines make me laugh. Lucky Oceans then joins Paul Kelly on pedal steel for “Petrichor.” “I wish I knew the names of things/Trees and flowers, birds that sing/You’re much better at that kind of thing than I.” The CD concludes with its title track, “Life Is Fine,” the Langston Hughes poem set to music. This is a beautiful and uplifting song, leaving us with the lines, “Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!” Must do our best to remember that in these dark days.

CD Track List
  1. Rising Moon
  2. Finally Something Good
  3. Firewood And Candles
  4. My Man’s Got A Cold
  5. Rock Out On The Sea
  6. Leah: The Sequel
  7. Letter In The Rain
  8. Josephina
  9. Don’t Explain
  10. I Smell Trouble
  11. Petrichor
  12. Life Is Fine
Life Is Fine was released on August 11, 2017. By the way, Paul Kelly will be touring the U.S. in September and October. I highly recommend attending at least one of those concerts if you’re able.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The B-52s: Hello!

The world has gotten even uglier, thanks to Donald Trump’s violent fan club. But, as always, there is music to help remind us of what’s important: love and dancing and wigs. There were plenty of these at The B-52s show last night in downtown Los Angeles. The show was part of the Downtown Stage Saturday Concert Series, put on in Pershing Square, and a large amount of people turned out for it. Folks were in the mood to come together, forget the horror for a while, and enjoy a night of fun tunes. Quirky beauty to combat the ugliness of the country, and what better band for that than The B-52s? And yeah, it worked, at least for a while. Of course, first we had to get into the show.

I am early everywhere I go, but yesterday lots of people got there even earlier than I did, and there was a long line outside the park. After a while, the line came to a stop, and didn’t move again for several minutes. People got a bit nervous. And when the line started moving it, it moved quickly. And that got people even more concerned. Word came that the venue was at capacity, and no one else was being allowed in. I stayed in line anyway, but the rumor proved true. Lots of folks stood outside the gates and walls, and I made my way as close to the entrance as possible. There was a little playground area to the left, and the fence leading to it was not very tall. But if I got in there, then I’d still have to get through a small opening into the concert area, which was guarded. A guy across the way jumped over the wall, and two guards went over to him and escorted him out (after a woman behind me got their attention, ratting out the guy, which weirded me out). But the guard at the opening remained at his post. A few people in front of me left, so I got even closer. Soon another guy across the playground jumped over the wall, but this guy ran, which caused all the guards to chase him, leaving the opening in the wall clear for me. So I stepped over the fence and walked in through that opening. I walked quickly, but did not run, and soon I was in the concert area. The Sh-Booms, who opened the show, were already on at that point. I was digging them, but I needed to pee, and so got into another long line. Someone outside the venue had told me the capacity of the place was 6,000. There were ten toilets. Dark boxes of despair. I fumbled with my cell phone, trying to use its light to guide my movements, and of course making sure it didn’t slip from my grasp. If it had fallen, that would have been the end of that phone. No way would I have retrieved anything from the floor of that hellish chamber.

The Sh-Booms were good, and I enjoyed their cover of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” though I think they maybe stayed on one or two songs beyond what was needed. And then there was a wait for The B-52s. A helicopter circled overhead, and then there was an announcement aimed at those outside the gate, asking them to leave. Weirdly, those inside were asked to help with this announcement, asked to yell at those outside to leave. No one complied with this insane directive, at least no one near me. Instead, people booed the idea. And I learned later that everyone stayed, and that several other people jumped over the walls and fences at various points along the perimeter. It did get a little crowded inside, and my claustrophobia kicked into gear. There was a moment when I thought it might get to be too much to bear, but once the band started, everything was fine. My superb dancing skills usually cause others to move away in alarm and fear. And I danced my ass off, gaining more space as the show went on.

I didn’t write notes during the show, or take any photos (sorry). Instead, I just danced and smiled and enjoyed the concert. So I can’t include the complete set list here, but I do recall the band played “Mesopotamia” early on. What a fun song! The set also included “Lava,” “Private Idaho,” “Summer Of Love,” “Roam” (which is one of my personal favorites – it just makes me so bloody happy), “Channel Z” (another highlight) and “Wig.” Early in the show, Fred gently chided the audience, “Put down your goddamn phones and dance.” Seriously, it was weird: the moment the band started, like two hundred cell phones suddenly were held up in the air. Most of them were put away soon, but I don’t think there was ever a moment during the show when there weren’t at least a few dozen phones in the air. So Fred kept on people, sometimes telling individuals directly to put their phones away and enjoy the show. He also teased the people near the front who were seated. “Why are you sitting down? Are you old or something?” Apparently, someone responded that he or she was only sitting between songs. So Fred asked if he was boring or something. Yeah, I totally fell in love with Fred during this show. He did repeat his suggestion to dance, and often added, “Hello?” After a while, folks around me echoed his “Hello” playfully. How could you not love the guy? Hello!

They ended the set with “Love Shack.” I joked with the girl next to me, “I wonder what the encore could be.” She thought about it for a moment, then responded, “Rock Lobster.” “I was being sarcastic,” I told her. I mean, was there any question of their playing that song? A guy behind me, however, wanted to hear “Strobe Light,” and I realized there were actually a whole lot of tunes the band could play for its encore. Fortunately, they did a three-song encore, starting with “Planet Claire,” the lead-off track from the first album, and a song that I love. They followed that with “6060-842.” And then Fred said, “That leads us to ‘Rock Lobster.’”  It was said with a certain amount of fatalism, I felt. Perhaps they’re sick of this song, for they didn’t do a very long version. Only one “Down, down” section, and while I did crouch down, I didn’t get completely on the ground. Fucked up my knee at work, and who knows what shit is down there? Anyway, the show was excellent. Their energy was wonderful, and their voices are still really strong. And I’m glad Fred was okay after falling off the stage. He said that moment would probably be on You Tube today, and it is.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Jerry Garcia And Merl Saunders: “Garcia Live Volume Nine” (2017) CD Review

August 1st would have been Jerry Garcia’s seventy-fifth birthday, and just before that date, a new volume in the Garcia Live concert recordings series was released. Garcia Live Volume Nine contains the complete show that Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders performed on August 11, 1974 at the Keystone. The band this night included Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, as well as John Kahn on bass, and Martin Fiero on flute and saxophone. This two-disc set includes liner notes by Merl Saunders, Jr.

The band opens the show with “That’s What Love Will Make You Do.” There is a slight hesitation at the beginning, but once that great groove is established by Bill Kreutzmann and John Kahn, things start moving, start flowing well, and Martin Fiero adds great touches on saxophone, supporting Jerry’s wonderful vocals. I’m particularly fond of John Kahn’s bass work on this rendition. Merl delivers some fun stuff on keys during the jam, really leading the band during that section. Martin then takes a turn at lead on sax. I always loved the addition of saxophone to the Jerry Garcia Band, and was fortunate enough to see Clarence Clemons play with Jerry a couple of times. Here, Martin really propels the song to another level, and you can hear the crowd respond appreciatively. Martin Fiero then switches to flute for his own composition, “La La,” a light and pretty instrumental number that Fiero leads from the beginning. But check out Bill Kreutzmann’s wonderful jazzy drumming here. This song has kind of a pleasant vibe, but also has surprises and some phenomenal playing. This is one to pay attention to. There are some moments that feel akin to those delicious 1973 and 1974 versions of “Eyes Of The World,” especially in the way Jerry’s guitar has a free-flowing and joyous sound. The song starts to soar toward the end, and then right at the end becomes spacey. This track is wonderful. They then dip into bluesy waters with “It Ain’t No Use,” with Martin Fiero back on saxophone. This one builds nicely to become an energetic blues number. The first set then concludes with a seriously fun and groovy version of “Mystery Train.” This one just gets better and better.

The second set gets off to an excellent start with “The Harder They Come.” The first reggae album I ever bought, when I was like fourteen or fifteen, was a Jimmy Cliff cassette, and I’ve had a love for his music ever since. Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders deliver a nice, long rendition here, really digging into that groove. And this is a song that still resonates strongly. Plus, there’s some great work on saxophone, as well as some joyous work on guitar by Jerry Garcia. This track should put a smile on your face. “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got)” is not a song I would associate with Jerry Garcia. It’s not a bad song, but seems an odd, surprising choice. Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders deliver an instrumental rendition. For this one, Martin Ferio switches again to flute, playing what would be the vocal line on it at the beginning. But a little later the track develops a funky groove, with Jerry Garcia and John Kahn working so well together, and Merl free to go for it on keys. The jam gets a little weird, at one point sounding like a computerized phone dialing or something. They follow that with “It’s Too Late,” which has a delicious, classic vibe, especially with the presence of saxophone. Things get even more fun with “(I’m A) Road Runner,” a song about a restless soul hitting the road, certainly an appropriate subject for Jerry Garcia, and for fans of the Grateful Dead. They then conclude the show with “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” It’s not a bad rendition, but the version on Garcia Live Volume Eight is much better.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. That’s What Love Will Make You Do
  2. La La
  3. It Ain’t No Use
  4. Mystery Train
Disc Two
  1. The Harder They Come
  2. Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got)
  3. It’s Too Late
  4. (I’m A) Road Runner
  5. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Garcia Live Volume Nine was released on July 28, 2017.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Jerry Garcia Band: “Garcia Live Volume Eight” (2017) CD Review

The Jerry Garcia Band hit the road in the fall of 1991 for a tour of the east coast, with a few Midwest stops at the end. (I saw only the Worcester show of that tour, and I remember it being a good one.) One of the last shows of that November tour was at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, and that show was released as Garcia Live Volume Eight, a two-disc set. The Jerry Garcia Band at the time of this recording was Jerry Garcia on guitar and vocals, Melvin Seals on keyboards, John Kahn on bass, David Kemper on drums, Gloria Jones on vocals, and Jacklyn LaBranch on vocals.

The band kicks off the show with crowd favorite “Cats Under The Stars.” I always want to call this one “Cats Down Under The Stars,” since that’s what Jerry’s singing. Anyway, it’s a great way to start the show, with joy and energy. Listen to the delight in Jerry’s voice as he sings, “Feels like it’s all right.” Indeed! The band is loose and ready right out of the gate. And they follow “Cats Under The Stars” with a wonderful “They Love Each Other.” Melvin Seals delivers right from the beginning of this one. This is a song that Jerry did with the Grateful Dead too, but I’m really fond of the way Garcia Band does it here, with the backing vocalists. This is such a happy-sounding song. Check out Jerry’s guitar toward the end of the jam. Then there’s the good groove of “Lay Down Sally” to keep you smiling. That’s followed by a sweet rendition of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” with Jerry’s vocals full of passion, so clear, so good. And Melvin really gets into it, delivering some wonderful work on keys. This track is one of the set’s highlights. Then, after a pretty good “Reuben And Cherise,” the band gets things grooving with “Money Honey,” and again those backing vocalists – Gloria and Jacklyn – are responsible for a lot of the love I have for this version. And Melvin is cooking, particularly during the jam. The band is clearly having a good time. The first set concludes with a good version of “My Brothers And Sisters” and a rockin’ “Deal,” with an energetic jam.

The second set opens with a cover of Van Morrison’s “Bright Side Of The Road,” a song I don’t think I ever saw Jerry perform. This is a really nice version too, and Jerry is clearly into it. After a decent “Waiting For A Miracle,” Jerry gets a bit bluesy with “Think,” written by Jimmy McCracklin and Deadric Malone. I love the way his guitar and Melvin’s keyboard work together on this track, especially during Jerry’s extended lead section in the jam. And then they trade off, with Melvin taking the lead and Jerry supporting him. Wonderful stuff. That’s followed by a cool version of “Shining Star,” a mix of pop and gospel sounds. Before you know it, the band has turned it into a relaxed, sweet jam, surprisingly another of the set’s highlights. “I want to be right here where you are until my dying day/Oh, baby.” Things then get ridiculously fun with “Ain’t No Bread In The Breadbox.” This one should put a smile on the face of even the most troubled among us. That’s followed by a glorious “That Lucky Old Sun.” The backing vocalists really shine here, helping to make this track another highlight. The show then ends on another strong note, with a delicious cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue.”

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Cats Under The Stars
  2. They Love Each Other
  3. Lay Down Sally
  4. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
  5. Reuben And Cherise
  6. Money Honey
  7. My Sisters And Brothers
  8. Deal
Disc Two
  1. Bright Side Of The Road
  2. Waiting For A Miracle
  3. Think
  4. Shining Star
  5. Ain’t No Bread In The Breadbox
  6. That Lucky Old Sun
  7. Tangled Up In Blue 
Garcia Live Volume Eight was released on March 10, 2017.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Jerry Garcia Band: “Garcia Live Volume Seven” (2016) CD Review

On August 1st, what would have been Jerry Garcia’s seventy-fifth birthday, Amoeba Music had a sale on all Garcia and Grateful Dead albums. So after work I went down there and bought a bunch of discs. I wanted to stay up all night listening, but I had to be up at five the next morning for work. So I popped in the first disc of Garcia Live Volume Seven, as I was in the mood for some more 1976 recordings after enjoying the Grateful Dead’s Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 5. Garcia Live Volume Seven contains the complete show the Jerry Garcia Band performed at Sophie’s in Palo Alto on November 8, 1976.

The first set kicks off with a sweet and fun version of “The Way You Do The Things You Do.” Sure, this song might come across as a bit cheesy at times, but Jerry sings it with heart, with joy, and it makes me feel good, thinking about the girl who stole my heart. And yes, that’s Donna Jean Godchaux on backing vocals. The band on this night included Grateful Dead members Keith and Donna Godchaux, as well as John Kahn on bass and Ron Tutt on drums. The jam features a good groove by Keith on keys. Then “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” begins quietly. At times this song finds its own reggae-like groove, and at other times it feels delicate and pretty. Everything seems to be working to create a pleasant, relaxed, but still passionate, rendition. That’s followed by a groovy, slightly slow version of “After Midnight.” Donna sounds great here, and the band gets a good jam going, with Keith really shining. And then check out the wonderful vocals on “Who Was John?” This track is, for me, one of the highlights of the first set, in large part because of the vocals. But it also features a cool jam.

I already mentioned Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 5, a recording of the Grateful Dead from 1976. Well, that set includes a version of “Mission In The Rain,” a song the Dead didn’t do all that much. This Garcia Live volume also contains a rendition of “Mission In The Rain” done approximately five months later, and it’s excellent. This is one of my favorite Jerry Garcia Band songs, and this version is particularly good. The first disc then ends with “Stir It Up,” with Donna taking lead vocal duties.

The second disc opens with “Midnight Moonlight,” which is actually the last song of the first set. And then the second set gets off to a good start with “Tore Up Over You,” with a wonderful groove to get you moving, and some great stuff on keys. Keith really gets to show his stuff here, more so than on a lot of the Dead tapes from the seventies. That’s followed by “Friend Of The Devil,” and it’s the slower version the Dead did in concert, a really pretty rendition, with some passionate work on guitar that makes this track a highlight of the second disc. And the band follows it with “Don’t Let Go,” one that never fails to delight. This version is particularly wonderful. The band is in no hurry here, just enjoying the groove and seeing where they can take it. And at twenty-two minutes or so, they have the time to take this song wherever they desire. It’s so loose, so relaxed, and there is even a bass solo. Yes, this jam is another of the show’s highlights. Donna then sings lead on “Strange Man,” and this song, written by Dorothy Love Coates, seems perfectly suited for her.

I was especially excited to hear “Stop That Train,” because for whatever reason, it’s been in my head off and on for several weeks now. I find myself singing it at some point nearly every day. So hearing this version satisfied some need of mine. There are some surprisingly sweet and delicate moments in this rendition. The show then ends with the fun disco, rhythm and blues tune “Ride Mighty High.”

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. The Way You Do The Things You Do
  2. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
  3. After Midnight
  4. Who Was John?
  5. Mission In The Rain
  6. Stir It Up
Disc Two
  1. Midnight Moonlight
  2. Tore Up Over You
  3. Friend Of The Devil
  4. Don’t Let Go
  5. Strange Man
  6. Stop That Train
  7. Ride Mighty High
Garcia Live Volume Seven was released on August 19, 2016.