Monday, November 27, 2017

Gary Rex Tanner: “Return To Outlaw Country” (2017) CD Review

Singer and songwriter Gary Rex Tanner’s new album, Return To Outlaw Country, features all original material. The image of the cowboy is central to most of these songs. Yes, we now live in a world where, for better or worse, a lot of the romance has been drained from that image. The characters of these songs seem well aware of this, and that knowledge is perhaps the source of some of the poignancy of these songs. Yet this music also works to return some of that romance to the image. There is humor as well as sadness to some of the stories told in these songs, to some of the characters, and I’ve always found those two elements to be intertwined in the most effective art. These songs feature some good lyrics, like these from “One More Wild Horse”: “Why do you study these lines on my face/They’re just old road maps of pleasures I’ve chased/But if they entreat you, as you say they do/I can’t find a reason to argue with you.” Joining Gary Rex Tanner on this release are Eric Bikales on keys, Chris Leuzinger on guitar, Mike Loudermilk on guitar, Mississippi Slim on guitar, Dow Tomlin on bass, Richard Dodd on cello, Tom Corbett on mandolin, Steve Turner on drums, Dann Sherrill on percussion, Mitch Grainger on harmonica, and Edward Tree on backing vocals.

The album opens with “Just Like A Cowboy,” a somewhat confessional look inward. It opens with the line, “I’ve always been the restless type.” That line, at least for me, has a humorous bent because his voice has the relaxed quality of someone who is not out a-wandering. Perhaps he is restless in his mind, something most of us can relate to. And after all, he’s not saying he is a cowboy here. He has other characters liken him to a cowboy, which is more interesting, in lines like “Like someone’s idea of a cowboy” and “They think I’m just like a cowboy.” It’s an image he takes to heart, seeming to hope to be what they think he is. “I never do pretend to be/The answer to a woman’s dreams/I’m just a guy in boots and jeans/Hell, I’m just trying to be like a cowboy.” I love those lines. Gary Rex Tanner follows that with another song about being a cowboy, and being – or at least feeling – out of place as a result, but ultimately being secure in who he is. Titled “Cowboy Clothes,” here is a taste of the lyrics: “Don’t know much about fashions/Some of them are cute/I may wear a suit/But I still wear cowboy boots.” This song has a pleasant, positive vibe.

In “Hussong’s Cantina,” he sings about being a lonely cowboy, drinking and yearning for love. This song creates a compelling and interesting character, as well as a strong sense of place. “You never know when you might run into/Someone who can bust your bubble/Someone who is worth the trouble/Someone soft and warm to pull you through.” There is a spirited delivery to the song’s lyrics which I appreciate and which help make the song something special. “Unscheduled Day Off” is a lot of fun. It’s country, but with something of a pop flavor to its enjoyable rhythm. “I slept in late this morning/Woke up stretching and yawning/Called up the boss’ recorder/I said that my car’s out of order.” Ah, sometimes when you wake with a beautiful woman, the idea of going to work holds no appeal. And like he says in this song, “Sometimes a man’s simply got to/Stop and do something he wants to.” I also like these lines: “I could have gone in, but I just couldn’t get in the mood/I’ll show up tomorrow, complete with a new attitude.”

Some good work on harmonica opens “When I Was A Cowboy.” In this bluesy little gem, Gary Rex Tanner mentions Mississippi Slim, a musician who plays with him on this release as well as on earlier releases (not to be confused with other musicians named Mississippi Slim, such as the blues singer). Interestingly, he places himself and Mississippi Slim in another time (or conflates two time periods), so that they can encounter Jesse James. And that’s just one verse in this fun tune. It’s followed by a sweet and pretty song called “An Angel To Guide You.” “I know I’m not perfect, but I’ll have to do/’Til God sends an angel to guide you/You win a few battles/You lose a few friends/You take love for granted/It suddenly ends.” There is some nice work on keys. And, as always, I love the cello.

Several of these songs are told from the perspective of an aging cowboy, looking back at his exploits and taking stock in his life now. In “One More Wild Horse,” he sings, “Now someone may tell you that I’ve lost a step/But I’m here to assure you I’m not finished yet/So part your lips sweetly and kiss me again/And I’ll just keep waiting for a good second wind.” And in “Young Guns,” the song that closes the album, he sings, “I’ve got some fight left in me, but this may be my last” and “But if I’m half the man I was, I’ll chase them out of here.” And though he still delivers some lines with some bravado and swagger, bragging “The gals in California ain’t seen the last of me,” he is also well aware of mortality. “But won’t you let me sing a few more songs/Tomorrow I’ll be gone.”

CD Track List
  1. Just Like A Cowboy
  2. Cowboy Clothes
  3. Hussong’s Cantina
  4. Unscheduled Day Off
  5. I Don’t Care
  6. When I Was A Cowboy
  7. An Angel To Guide You
  8. One More Wild Horse
  9. Calgary Cowboys
  10. Young Guns
Return To Outlaw Country was released on September 1, 2017 through Little Frog Records.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Searchers: “Another Night: The Sire Recordings 1979-1981” (2017) CD Review

I knew The Searchers only from their 1960s output, including their hit versions of “Needles And Pins,” “Don’t Throw Your Love Away” and “Love Potion No. 9.” With the new two-disc set, Another Night: The Sire Recordings 1979-1981, I’ve been turned on to a whole other side of this band, music I was completely unfamiliar with. The music has a different sound from those familiar 1960s songs. This is a band that apparently continued to evolve, rather than sticking with what had worked for them early in their career, and so the music has a late 1970s pop sound. What’s surprising is how good it is. The band at this point was basically the same lineup from the mid-1960s, made up of Mike Pender on vocals and guitar, John McNally on guitar and backing vocals, Frank Allen on bass and backing vocals, and Billy Adamson on drums (with Adamson being the most recent addition). This set contains two complete LPs, single B sides, alternate mixes and one previously unreleased track. New liner notes by Scott Schinder are included.

The first disc contains the complete self-titled 1979 release, plus bonus tracks. It opens with “Hearts In Her Eyes,” a fun, bright pop tune written by Will Birch and John Wicks (The Records’ own version is included on their 1980 LP, Crashes). “Some girls want a boy to give them all the action/Others are in a hurry to find a little satisfaction/This girl, she’s tough/She gets going when the going gets rough.” That’s followed by “Switchboard Susan,” a delightfully goofy song written by Micky Jupp, one that was a minor hit for Nick Lowe that same year. I loved it from the moment it started. Well, from the moment the music started; I could do without the phone sound effect at the beginning. (That same effect is in Nick Lowe’s version too, by the way; Gary Brooker, however, dispensed with it for his version, also from 1979.) This tune has a good, catchy groove, and playful lyrics and backing vocals. “First time I picked up my telephone/I fell in love with your ringing tone/I’m a long-distance romancer/And I’ll keep on trying ‘til I get an answer.” Of the three versions of this song released in 1979, I think this is the best, and it’s one of my favorites from this disc.

“This Kind Of Love Affair” is another of the first disc’s highlights. It too is catchy, particularly its chorus, which makes me feel good every time I listen to it. This one is an original, one of two on this album (the other being the rockin’ “Don’t Hang On”). It does remind a bit of Steve Miller Band’s “Swingtown” at moments. That’s followed by a cover of “Lost In Your Eyes,” a song written by Tom Petty. It was also recorded by Don Johnson and The Jeff Healey Band. And apparently it was recorded by Tom Petty with Mudcrutch in the mid-1970s, but not released until 2016 on an unofficial and rare, limited edition CD titled Early Songs. If anyone has a lead on where I can get a copy of that, please let me know. Anyway, The Searchers do an excellent job with it. “Just because it could have been/Doesn’t mean it had to/Ever mean a thing.” The Searchers also do an excellent version of Bob Dylan’s “Coming From The Heart (The Road Is Long),” a song that was recorded for Street Legal, but left off that album. Apparently Dylan performed it only once in concert, on Halloween 1978. I love the section with the backing vocals in the second half of the song. Bob Jackson plays keys on both “Lost In Your Eyes” and “Coming From The Heart.”

“It’s Too Late” is a good rock song written by John David. “It’s too late to say you love me/It’s too late to say you care/It’s too late to say you’re sorry/It’s too late, you weren’t there/When I needed you.” The bonus tracks include an alternate mix of this song. “It’s Too Late” is followed by “No Dancing,” another good rock number, this one with a bit of a punk sound. “And if you start to waving your arms/That’s when the bouncers lose their charm/Moving all around the floor/You see that notice on the door/And it says no dancing is allowed.” The bonus tracks on the first disc also include alternate mixes of two songs from the band’s next album, 1980’s Love’s Melodies – “Love’s Melody” and “Silver.”

The second disc contains the complete 1980 LP Love’s Melodies, plus bonus tracks. It opens with “Silver,” an upbeat pop song written by Dave Paul. That’s followed by a cover of Randy Bishop’s “Infatuation,” a song that would appear on the Randy Bishop & The Underdogs’ Dangerous Infatuation album (the album title combining two song titles). This is a song that asks that eternal question, Is it infatuation or is it love? The Searchers also do a good cover of John Fogerty’s “Almost Saturday Night,” which was included on Fogerty’s 1975 self-titled record and also released as a single. Dave Edmunds also released it as a single, the year after The Searchers’ version came out.

As on the previous album, The Searchers include two original tracks on Love’s Melodies. The first is “Little Bit Of Heaven,” which is one of the disc’s highlights. Is it just me, or does the guitar part at times remind you of The Police? “I’ve never been alone before on nights like these/Never, never cried a tear to sad melodies.” The second is “Another Night,” which closes the album. It’s a strong track, featuring some good vocal work.

“Love’s Melody,” the album’s title track (sort of), is a cool and kind of sweet pop song that kicks off with a driving beat on the drums. It was written by Andy McMasters and originally recorded by Ducks Deluxe. “You’re looking for love, but it don’t come along/And just when the feeling is right, then something goes wrong.” Probably the best song on this album is “Murder In My Heart,” written by Ronnie Thomas. It has a great driving beat, some wonderful work on guitar and a lively vocal performance. “I got a little trigger twitching in my brain/And when that itching starts/Murder in my heart.” I recommend checking out this song. It’s followed by a cover of Big Star’s “September Gurls,” a song that has also been covered by The Bangles and Squire. I like The Searchers’ version, but of course this is an inherently delicious song, and it’s hard to imagine an artist messing it up.

The second disc contains four bonus tracks, including one that was previously unreleased. The first is a cover of Chris Kenner’s classic rock and roll number “Sick And Tired.” This track was included on Play For Today, the UK version of Love’s Melodies, and it’s a whole lot of fun. “Oh baby, hey, what you gonna do/You know I’m sick and tired of foolin’ around with you.” That’s followed by “Changing,” which was released as the flip side of the “Love’s Melody” single. This is an original track, about a couple that is changing and is having trouble as a result. “I don’t know the answer/To this love affair/But I know I’m losing you/I’m a broken man.” The final two tracks were written by John Hiatt. The first, “Back To The War,” was the flip side to “Another Night.” The song’s main line “Let’s get back to the war” of course reminds me of the line from Leonard Cohen’s “There Is A War,” “Why don’t you come on back to the war.” And check out these lines: “And I consciously object to your weapons detector/Hedging bets in the private sector/I don’t have to salute you/But I might have to shoot you.” John Hiatt’s version can be heard on his Two Bit Monsters LP. The last song, “Ambulance Chaser,” was previously unreleased. It’s a quirky and kind of delightful tune. “No justice that I can face/Even though you’re already on my case/Ambulance chaser/Follow that siren, I’m wrapped up around a tree.”

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Hearts In Her Eyes
  2. Switchboard Susan
  3. Feeling Fine
  4. This Kind Of Love Affair
  5. Lost In Your Eyes
  6. It’s Too Late
  7. No Dancing
  8. Coming From The Heart
  9. Don’t Hang On
  10. Love’s Gonna Be Strong
  11. It’s Too Late (Alternate Mix)
  12. Love’s Melody (Alternate Mix)
  13. Silver (Alternate Mix) 
Disc Two
  1. Silver
  2. Infatuation
  3. She Made A Fool Of You
  4. Almost Saturday Night
  5. Little Bit Of Heaven
  6. You Are The New Day
  7. Love’s Melody
  8. Everything But A Heartbeat
  9. Radio Romance
  10. Murder In My Heart
  11. September Gurls
  12. Another Night
  13. Sick And Tired
  14. Changing
  15. Back To The War
  16. Ambulance Chaser
Another Night: The Sire Recordings 1979-1981 is scheduled to be released on December 8, 2017 through Omnivore Recordings.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Chris Pasin And Friends: “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (2017) CD Review

Well, it’s that time of year again. It just can’t be avoided, no matter how much alcohol we drink. Christmas is coming, and I just can’t see a way around it. Can you? Every autumn sees the release of a number of CDs celebrating the holiday. Most are crap. But some are good. A large percentage of the good ones are instrumental albums, and the reason for this is rather obvious: the lyrics to the majority of traditional Christmas songs suck. Trumpet player Chris Pasin and Friends deliver a mostly instrumental collection of holiday songs on Baby It’s Cold Outside. The musicians on this release include Chris Pasin on trumpet and flugelhorn, Armen Donelian on piano, Peter Einhorn on guitar, Ira Coleman on bass, Rich Syracuse on bass, and Jeff Siegel on drums. Joining them on certain tracks is vocalist Patricia Dalton Fennell.

The album opens with one of the songs with vocals – a gentle, late-night rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” This version has a pleasant, nostalgic, relaxed vibe, and is actually quite good. I love those touches on trumpet, as well as that lead section. That’s followed by “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” with the trumpet doing what would be the vocal line. It’s hard to listen to it without hearing in your head the song’s lame lyrics. I prefer the section with piano on lead, when we can forget for a moment what song it is that they’re playing. Ira Coleman and Jeff Siegel get a chance to shine on bass and drums respectively in the second half of the track.

“We Three Kings Of Orient Are” gets a bit loose and features some wonderful and energetic work on trumpet. At moments, you can forget that this is a Christmas song, and those obviously are my favorite moments. There is some really nice stuff on drums here. This track kind of eases out at the end. And then “Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel” begins as a trumpet solo. This is kind of an intriguing rendition, with some pretty stuff on keys. In fact, this track is just piano and trumpet. It ends up being one of my favorite tracks, which might be in part because I’m not as familiar with this one, and so no lyrics are running through my noggin as I listen to it. I can simply enjoy it as a beautiful piece of music.

I love “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” the song used as the title track for this album. It’s not specifically a Christmas song, though by now it is, by virtue of its winter setting, tied (perhaps reluctantly) to the holiday. This track features vocals, of course, delivered as spoken word by Patricia Dalton Fennell and Chris Pasin. Here the roles are reversed, with the woman being the aggressive one. When the roles are reversed like this, the guy often comes across as kind of a dweeb. Right? Unless he’s married or really dislikes the woman or something. Patricia gives some delightful line readings (“I’m not concerned about your brother, dear”). But my favorite part of this rendition is the trumpet, which is the real singer here. “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” features more great work on trumpet, over a cool groove. I really like what Peter Einhorn does on guitar.

Though labeled as “Greensleeves” on the CD case, the song here is actually “What Child Is This?” with vocals by Patricia Dalton Fennell. While I like her voice, this is a song I definitely prefer without the lyrics, or with the original “Greensleeves” lyrics (which have absolutely nothing to do with Christmas). The music is so beautiful. Some of the best Christmas music ever written, however, is by Vince Guaraldi, and it was written for a cartoon. Yup, here Chris Pasin And Friends cover “Christmas Time Is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas, which, by the way, is the best Christmas special ever made. This is a good rendition, perhaps slightly more lively than many versions, but featuring good work on trumpet and guitar. The CD concludes with a really nice instrumental rendition of “The Christmas Song.”

CD Track List
  1. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
  2. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
  3. We Three Kings Of Orient Are
  4. Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel
  5. Baby It’s Cold Outside
  6. It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
  7. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  8. Greensleeves
  9. Christmas Time Is Here
  10. I’ll Be Home For Christmas
  11. The Christmas Song 
Baby It’s Cold Outside was released on October 6, 2017.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Laura Campisi: “Double Mirror” (2017) CD Review

Laura Campisi is a talented jazz vocalist and songwriter based in New York, though originally from Sicily. Her debut album, Double Mirror, is a wonderful collection of original material and intriguing covers. Backing her on this CD are Ameen Saleem on double bass, Gianluca Renzi on electric bass, Greg Hutchinson on drums and Flavio Li Vigni on drums. Yup, the music is basically just bass and drums supporting her voice, though there are guest musicians on certain tracks.

The CD opens with an original song titled “Chorus Angelorum.” I love the loose and immediate sound of just vocals, bass, and drums. It’s a very cool sound and approach, and works to pull us into the world of the song. The lines that stood out for me the first time I listened to this disc are “Snow should be falling/And you here with me.” Winter is approaching, though not here in L.A., where it’s eighty degrees. But whatever the temperature, I am feeling the end of the year approaching, and I am missing that someone special. This song features a good lead on bass. Laura follows that with a cover of Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale.” It begins as almost spoken word, giving us the feeling she really is out on the street, selling her wares, working to gather a crowd of potential buyers around her. The song then takes on a funky, jazzy vibe, and features some absolutely delightful work by guest musician Zach Brock on violin, as well as more great work on bass. I don’t recall ever hearing a version quite like this one, and I seriously dig it.

Giovanni Falzone then joins Laura on trumpet on “Luckier,” an original composition. “I know nothing about the rules of life/And I haven’t yet found any answers/But I have seen many moons shining.” Ah, with the great, delicious sound of this track, it seems knowing the rules of life is unnecessary, irrelevant. At times Laura’s voice takes on a sweetness, and the trumpet certainly has an attitude all its own, which I love. This song also features some excellent and expressive percussion, helping to make it one of my favorites.

Laura Campisi delivers an intriguing rendition of Miles Davis’ “Nardis,” featuring lyrics that she added. Though at first her voice is used in an unusual way; it’s not quite scat, but almost like an animal or infant, someone communicating emotions without words. And her lyrics emerge naturally from that, delivered with the same excitement and wonder as the non-words. It’s kind of wonderful. “They say if it’s your lucky day/You will see Nardis coming your way.” What exactly is Nardis, anyway? This is a strange track. She also covers “I Loves You, Porgy,” giving a sultry, beautiful vocal performance. I’ve said it before, but you can never go wrong with Gershwin.

“Here Where I Stand” is a very cool track, an original tune with pop elements and a fantastic lead on saxophone that is powerful, almost reckless in its urgency and drive. That’s Martin Pantyrer on baritone sax. Laura Campisi’s vocal line is just as exciting as the saxophone. If forced to pick an absolute favorite track on this disc, this would be it. You should definitely check it out. She follows that with a strange take on the Velvet Underground’s “Venus In Furs.” Her delivery is kind of cute, adorable, at least at first. Venus In Furs is a book I love. I’ve seen half a dozen film versions but none of them have quite gotten it right. But where the films generally fail, this song always seemed to work. Laura’s rendition doesn’t have that haunting quality of the original, but is intriguing in its own way, and builds gradually so that suddenly you find yourself immersed in it. And then there is some wonderful work on bass. This version ends suddenly on a strong note.

CD Track List
  1. Chorus Angelorum
  2. Love For Sale
  3. Luckier
  4. Hyperballad
  5. Ironman
  6. Nardis
  7. The More You Know
  8. I Loves You, Porgy
  9. Here Where I Stand
  10. Venus In Furs
  11. Mojo Pin
  12. Al Risveglio
  13. Morningside 
Double Mirror was released on July 14, 2017.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Sonja Kristina: “Anthology” (2017) CD Review

Sometimes a retrospective package on a particular artist will be released and after listening to it for a few minutes I can’t help but wonder how no one had turned me on to the artist before. Such is the case with the new Sonja Kristina two-disc set, Anthology. Sure, I’d heard her work with Curved Air, but somehow her solo recordings had escaped my attention. This two-disc set is absolutely fantastic. Most of the tracks are originals, written by Sonja Kristina, and originally released on her solo albums (there is one Curved Air track included). The collection includes liner notes written by Sonja Kristina.

The collection actually opens with a new track, a new recording of “Frank Mills.” My girlfriend and I were recently talking about covers of songs from Hair (we were listening to Three Dog Night’s rendition of “Easy To Be Hard,” which is what sparked the conversation), but I don’t recall ever hearing a cover of “Frank Mills.” What a delight it is to hear Sonja Kristina’s rendition. It’s such a goofy song, and Sonja delivers it with just the right tone. But of course, this isn’t the first time she did this song. She was in the first London cast of Hair in 1968, and performed this song then. It was included on the album, and was released as a single as well. So while this is one of the most recent recordings in this collection, it is also a return to one of Sonja’s earliest performances. (By the way, if you’re interested, there is some footage of Sonja rehearsing this song available online, and it’s pretty awesome. Apparently, it’s from a rehearsal for a 1968 television broadcast.)

“Frank Mills” is followed by “If This Was Love,” a pretty song from Songs From The Acid Folk. It begins with some nice work on strings. I am a sucker for cello and violin. The sound has something of a European café vibe, you know? Contributing to that vibe is Sonja’s work on accordion. But it is her vocal performance which is at the heart of this song. “I would begin again willingly/If this was love, if this was love/Let go of everything that I own/If this was love, if this was love.” She delivers another moving vocal performance in “The Passion,” a song from Alan Simon’s Excalibur IV: The Dark Age Of The Dragon (a new release in Simon’s ongoing Celtic rock opera).

I love the music to “Lullaby/Baby Song.” It has a light and joyous sound, and some sweet work on violin. There are some interesting changes, leading to a good and surprising percussion section. One of my personal favorites is “Man He Colour,” a track from her self-titled debut solo album. This is a very cool song with a wonderful, impressive, and interesting vocal performance from Sonja Kristina. I also really like the work on bass and guitar. The song has everything going for it, really, including a good groove. Sometimes I end up listening to this one several times before moving on to the next track.

Before I even heard “Melinda (More Or Less),” I appreciated it for its title (for reasons I won’t get into here). This is a track from Songs From The Acid Folk, and it features cello and violin, and some nice percussion. It is yet another unusual and intriguing track. The first disc concludes with a cover of Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “C’est La Vie” (from the Greg Lake side of Works Volume 1). Like this disc’s version of “Frank Mills,” this is a new recording made specifically for this collection, and it’s a really good rendition.

The second disc gets off to an energetic start with a strange and wonderful tune titled “Devil May Care.” It’s folk, rock, country, with a psychedelic edge, and I totally love it. The strings are put to excellent use on this track. This is from Songs From The Acid Folk. “Getting nice and skinny/I think I’m looking good/Kind of pale and interesting/It must be like a food/You say I’ve got to cut it out/You shut me in my room.” That’s followed by another wonderful tune, “Anna,” also from Songs From The Acid Folk. This is one of my favorites, with such a positive sound. “Your mother just called me/She doesn’t know what to do with you/Let’s go check things out/There’s a good place I know/You’ve got to make the decision to get yourself well/Find out what brought you down the sweet road to hell.”

I can’t help but love “Rollercoaster.” This song is a total delight, with glorious and playful vocals, and a cool groove. These are the lines that open the song: “It wasn’t easy, but you made her change/You make her hungry, can you keep her sane.” And it just gets better from there. This one never fails to make me smile. If you’re looking for a fun tune to lift your spirits, I highly recommend checking out this song. Another surprising track is Sonja’s cover of Motorhead’s “I Don’t Believe A Word,” which was originally included on Sheep In Wolves’ Clothing, a tribute album released nearly a decade ago. Sonja’s version is haunting, and performed on acoustic guitars. I actually prefer this rendition to the original. She also delivers an interesting rendition of “O Fortuna” composed by Carl Orff. Her version was originally released as a single. Another of the second disc’s highlights is “Lovechild,” the one Curved Air song to be included in this collection, a song from 1973 (though not released until 1990). It’s fairly bloody awesome, with an excellent instrumental section.

CD Track List

CD 1
  1. Frank Mills
  2. If This Was Love
  3. The Passion
  4. Baby Song
  5. Full Time Woman
  6. Man He Colour
  7. One To One
  8. Melinda (More Or Less)
  9. This Is Not A Sanctuary
  10. Angel
  11. C’est La Vie 
CD 2
  1. Devil May Care
  2. Anna
  3. Buccaneer
  4. Rollercoaster
  5. St. Tropez
  6. I Don’t Believe A Word
  7. Street Run
  8. O Fortuna
  9. Love Child
  10. Citadel
Anthology was released on October 6, 2017.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Lindsay Bellows: “Wake To Dream” (2017) CD Review

The debut release from Lindsay Bellows, Wake To Dream, is a delightful EP of pop music with folk elements and soulful vocals, and plenty of positive vibes. It features all original material, written by Lindsay Bellows. Joining her on this CD are Ananda Vaughan on guitar, Jared May on bass, Beau Askew on drums, Makila Wind on keys, and Jason O’Keefe on percussion, with Spencer Williams on drums on certain tracks. This is a disc I appreciate more each time I listen to it.

Lindsay kicks off the CD with “Slow Steady,” one of my favorite tracks. It has a cool, kind of playful opening with a simple groove on keys and vocals, and I’m hooked from the start. There is also something quite catchy about this song, and it, like all the tunes on this EP, features hopeful and encouraging ideas. Check out these lines: “When I reach too far ahead, there is nothing to hold onto/Fall too far behind, and I’ll never catch up/Release the things I caught and crave/Make peace with things I hate.” Toward the end of the song she sings, “I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.” How often do we feel that way? Spencer Williams plays drums on this track.

Lindsay’s vocals are the focus in “Wake Up,” which begins with lines delivered a cappella. In this song, she offers a positive image of a reality. “I woke up and I saw things in a different way/Words changed meaning, darkness faded/People I know, places I’d been/Didn’t look the same/But this is a beautiful world.” While she’s singing of her own personal experience, the fact that the song is titled “Wake Up” and not “Woke Up” indicates a reaching out to others, like she wants everyone to have the same positive experience that she’s had. Pretty cool. That’s what we need these days. “Heal each other/Listen.” Plus, I dig that bass line.

“Part Life” has more of a pleasant, bright folk vibe, and is another of my favorites. There is something catchy about this one too. These lines certainly speak to me: “Stuck in my head about my day, all I did and didn’t do/Set on a schedule, I can’t miss a beat/Gotta eat, fall asleep, wake up, work, cycle, repeat.” What strikes me especially is that part about being stuck on the things I’ve done with my day as well as the things I haven’t done. How often do we measure our days by little accomplishments and the things we did not accomplish? “This is only a part life that I’m living/Only part of me is alive/And that part is part of something greater, I know/And I can’t wait to feel what that’s like.”

“Wild And Free” has a cool, kind of sexy vibe and attitude, and features more good work on bass. “Climb the tree of life and I eat that fruit/Eyes opening now, I start seeing the truth/The only way to survive is to turn to our roots.” The EP then concludes with “Simple Gifts,” a cheerful pop song offering advice and reminders, such as “Don’t try to get rich, just surround yourself with friends” and “You don’t need an important job to do important work.”

CD Track List
  1. Slow Steady
  2. Wake Up
  3. Part Life
  4. Wild And Free
  5. Simple Gifts 
Wake To Dream was released on November 7, 2017.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 23” (2017) CD Review

The show the Grateful Dead did at the University of Oregon in January of 1978 is known mainly for Jerry Garcia’s jam on the theme to Close Encounters Of The Third Kind in the second set. The spaceship is even incorporated into the artwork for the cover of Dave’s Picks Volume 23, which contains the complete show the Dead did on January 22, 1978 at McArthur Court. But that little jam is far from being the only highlight of the show. This was certainly one of those special nights for the band and for the audience. I attended the University Of Oregon, but fifteen years after this performance, and so saw the Dead play at Autzen Stadium rather than Mac Court. Still, those were some good shows (two in 1993, three in 1994). The band tended to feel at home in Eugene, and delivered excellent shows there.

The January 22, 1978 show begins with a bang – a rockin’ version of “New Minglewood Blues,” with Bob Weir going at it full-force, so that I actually believe him when he sings, “I was born in a desert, raised in a lion’s den.” Bob then tells the crowd that it doesn’t sound at all like it did during the soundcheck, but assures everyone, “We’re going to get our act together real quick here.” They do a pretty good “Dire Wolf,” and then a smooth, pretty, yet energetic rendition of “Cassidy.” The band then eases into a gentle and wonderful rendition of “Peggy-O.” Listen to the way Jerry’s voice breaks on the word “love” in the line “Our captain fell in love with a lady like a dove.” It’s kind of delightful and wonderful. “El Paso” is good, but things really get going with “Tennessee Jed.” Sure, Jerry’s voice is struggling a bit at moments, but that somehow only works to make the song more interesting, more passionate, more powerful. And, hey, there are unusual touches on guitar here too, and the jam toward the end of the song has its own particular flavor. It’s followed by a version of “Jack Straw” that likewise has its own alleys and avenues, the band trying different things, and everything they try seems to work beautifully. The song attains some wild, high level, a peak they maintain longer than you might think possible, but for exactly the right amount of time, before easing out again. That’s followed by a seriously nice “Row Jimmy.” The first set then concludes with that fun dance number, “The Music Never Stopped.” “They’re a band beyond description,” indeed (though we keep trying, don’t we?).

The second disc contains the first portion of the second set, the band kicking it off with “Bertha.” It’s weird, but it sounds like Jerry’s microphone is off for the first couple of lines; yet, I’ve heard an audience recording of this show where those lines were clearly audible. What’s up with that? “Bertha” leads straight into a rousing and totally fun rendition of “Good Lovin’.” They slow things down a bit then with “Ship Of Fools.” But this version has its own power, and is one of the best renditions I’ve heard. The second disc concludes with a high-energy version of “Samson And Delilah.”

The third disc contains the rest of the second set and the encore. And this, as you might guess, is where things get really interesting. The version of “Terrapin Station” that opens this disc is quite good, with glorious peaks and valleys. Listen to Bill and Mickey during the jam. It’s no surprise then that they launch into a drum solo following that song. It’s an unusual solo too, keeping a steady beat at the start, though with a trippy effect. And they just roll on from there. It’s a very cool “Drums,” giving the crowd lots of good grooves to move to. Toward the end, there are hints of where they’re going, and the crowd reacts. And then – bam – the band thrusts us all into “The Other One.” I’m always excited to hear how the band will tackle this particular song, because they’ve done it so many different ways. This time they begin with an energetic jam, more forceful than trippy. The band knows where it’s going and doesn’t want to let up or relax until it gets there, and maybe not even then. They do still venture into strange territory, of course, after the first verse, when things become a little weird, unsettled. And after the second verse, the song takes on a different tone, an urgent feel, and that leads into “Space,” the part of this show that every Dead fan is aware of, when Jerry Garcia takes an actual solo, and dips into that familiar Close Encounters theme. (And hey, to me, U of O always sounded like UFO anyway.) It’s certainly worth listening to, something that was never repeated. And it leads straight into the always-appreciated “St. Stephen.” This is a damn good version. From there, the band goes right into “Not Fade Away,” returning us to Earth with that and another early rock and roll number, Chuck Berry’s “Around And Around.” But listen to that fun stuff on guitar and bass at the beginning of “Not Fade Away.”  The band just continues to surprise us at this show. This version of “Not Fade Away” features a nice long jam. And even “Around And Around” is interesting, especially as they get really quiet with it at one point. The encore is “U.S. Blues,” something we all have these days. It’s a good, solid, rocking rendition.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. New Minglewood Blues
  2. Dire Wolf
  3. Cassidy
  4. Peggy-O
  5. El Paso
  6. Tennessee Jed
  7. Jack Straw
  8. Row Jimmy
  9. The Music Never Stopped 
Disc 2
  1. Bertha >
  2. Good Lovin’
  3. Ship Of Fools
  4. Samson And Delilah
Disc 3
  1. Terrapin Station >
  2. Drums >
  3. The Other One >
  4. Space >
  5. St. Stephen >
  6. Not Fade Away >
  7. Around And Around
  8. U.S. Blues
Dave’s Picks Volume 23 was limited to 16,500 copies.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Sinne Eeg: “Dreams” (2017) CD Review

Danish vocalist Sinne Eeg’s new album, Dreams, her follow-up to 2015’s Eeg-Fonnesbaek, was recorded in New York with mostly American musicians. Unlike her previous album, this one features mostly original material, written or co-written by Sinne Eeg, and it shows just how talented a songwriter she is. I was already well aware from that last release of how great a singer she is. Joining her on this album are Jacob Christoffersen on piano, Larry Koonse on guitar, Joey Baron on drums and Scott Colley on bass. Warny Mandrup, Lasse Nilsson and Jenny Nilsson provide backing vocals.

The album opens with an original track, “The Bitter End,” a very cool tune. I was kind of in love with this tune even before Sinne’s vocals began, with that wonderful work on bass and drums. And then when Sinne’s vocals begin, the first line, “I could whisper lots of stupid things,” increased my passion for this song. There’s also a wonderful instrumental section with some delightful work on keys. This is an excellent, positive track from beginning to end. It was written by Sinne Eeg and Søren Sko. “We might stand a chance to make it to the bitter end.” That’s followed by “Head Over High Heels,” and its playful title is matched by a playfulness in Sinne’s vocal line. What is remarkable is how her vocals somehow seem effortless, completely natural, like someone surprised her by handing her a microphone and she just let this song come out. I also love the bass and that wonderful guitar part. “Head Over High Heels” was written by Sinne Eeg and Mads Mathias.

Just as its title promises, “Love Song” is a timeless, gorgeous love song. I’m so glad to know songs like this are still being written. If you are in need of a little romance, playing this song should help you get there. “No matter where the road will lead us/Near or far/I won’t ever let you go.” It features some seriously enjoyable work on guitar. That’s followed by the CD’s first cover, “What Is This Thing Called Love” by Cole Porter, himself a master of the timeless love song. This is an interesting rendition, beginning with vocals and percussion, which will certainly grab your attention, and including some scat. Then, when the rest of the musicians join in, this track features wonderful work on piano and bass. It’s followed by another cover, keeping with the theme of questioning the notion of love, Rodgers and Hart’s “Falling In Love With Love.” Sinne Eeg delivers a pretty rendition, with some light scat.

“Dreams,” the CD’s title track, is likewise a pretty song, with vocals but no lyrics. It does have a pleasant dream-like quality to it, in part because of that lack of lyrics. Sinne’s vocals feel capable of gently and safely carrying you across a glorious landscape. This track, however, is not without a good groove. There is an instrumental section with some strong work on bass and piano, and the song has a beautiful build to it.

The album concludes with two covers, “I’ll Remember April” and “Anything Goes.” There is something kind of fanciful about her take on “I’ll Remember April,” a song written by Gene De Paul, Patricia Johnston and Don Raye. It features a bit of gentle scat. Sinne Eeg does an absolutely wonderful job with Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” accompanied only by Jacob Christoffersen on piano. This track is a lot of fun, and is one of my favorites. The song’s original lyrics featured then timely lines, and Sinne Eeg adds some lyrics pertinent to the state of things today: “There was a time when talent mattered/When singers were being flattered on TV shows/Now anything goes/A lie was once a lie, but actual/Fake news are now post-factual, I suppose/Anything goes/The world has gone mad today.” And these: “If people think it’s presidential/To rule thanks to influential Russian foes/Anything goes/I guess just about anything goes these days.” Yes, that is certainly how it feels these days.

CD Track List
  1. The Bitter End
  2. Head Over High Heels
  3. Love Song
  4. What Is This Thing Called Love
  5. Falling In Love With Love
  6. Dreams
  7. Aleppo
  8. Time To Go
  9. I’ll Remember April
  10. Anything Goes
Dreams was released on October 6, 2017.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Julia Weldon: “Comatose Hope” (2017) CD Review

Comatose Hope, the new album by singer and songwriter Julia Weldon, is something special. It features all original material, songs that resonate emotionally, songs of depth and beauty, songs you’ll connect to. Hers is a voice reaching out from the darkness, quite literally actually, as many of these songs came about after she emerged from a coma following surgery. There is something ethereal about her delivery, yet also something grounded, like she has taken something from that strange place where she dwelled and was able to shape it into these songs, and in doing so to share with us a piece of that experience. Julia Weldon plays guitar, ukulele and piano on these tracks. Joining her are Drew Morgan on cello, keys, synthesizers, guitar, bass, kantele and percussion; and Matt Brown on drums.

The album opens with “Til The Crying Fades,” a gorgeous and moving song. This one gets right to me, pulling me in, even before Julia’s vocals begin. This is the first song I heard from this release, the song that got me interested. It was released as a single, and there is a video for this song as well. The song was written for the victims of the Pulse shooting, and at the end of the video their names appear. This song does sometimes have me in tears, and yet it really has a positive vibe. “And they say you’re in a better place/But I think your death’s a big mistake/There are flashbacks that we can’t erase/So hold me ‘til the crying fades.”  That’s followed by “Kaleidoscope,” an absolutely wonderful love song that makes me feel good. It has an uplifting sound, and toward the end, when the drumbeat builds steadily, it feels like the song is ready to take on the world. And listening, I feel the same way. “We are the choices we make/We are the choices.”

“Comatose Hope,” the album’s title track, has more of a gentle folk sound at the start. As you might guess, this is a song that emerged as a result of Julia’s coma. “There’s a sadness I can’t say/’ Cause no words could come close/To my close look at dying/My comatose hope.” “Comatose Hope” is strangely soothing, almost as if to say that there is nothing to be afraid of. The song then suddenly deposits us at the beginning again, like it is giving us a look at the beyond, but safely returning us to the present, to our lives, as Julia herself returned. Yes, Julia Weldon is a remarkable songwriter.

“Take Me To The Water” is a beautiful song, with an uplifting feel (the positive sound is due in no small part to the presence of ukulele). Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Love is not an anchor/In the sea/Oh, I am alive/But this deep blue could eat me/Never let me go/Don’t set me free/Take me to the water/And make me clean.” And I really dig that percussion. “Take Me To The Water” is followed by “Everybody Says,” a song about dealing with a painful breakup. “Everybody says/That this is for the best/And I listen with both ears/And I agree with them, I guess/But you’re this heart inside a cage/You’re the burning in my chest/You’re the reason that I stayed/You’re the reason that I left.” “Take It All Back” is one of my favorites. It’s a powerful and excellent song, also about the end of a relationship. “Yeah, I take it all back/’Cause you can’t hold me again, not like that/Not like that.” And I love the strings.

Something about the vocal line of “When You Die” reminds me a bit of Edie Brickell And The New Bohemians. It’s followed by another of my favorite tracks, “Failed To Find,” which begins quietly, almost sweetly on acoustic guitar. Check out these opening lines: “I saw my heart splitting in two/I saw the future when I kissed you/Last night in the calm our lips told the truth/You are the answer that needs no proof.” The song then takes a surprising turn. When it kicks in, we learn just how wrong things have gone:  I’ve cheated and lied/Chose wrong over right/I’ve waited for love on a corner at night/In the dark of a bar/And the strangest of lights/Oh, I have looked, but failed to find.” And yet, this song is ultimately positive. “Because I flirted with death and I came back to life.” The CD then concludes with “You Want It,” a gorgeous song that reminds me of Aimee Mann during the chorus. “You want it/You want it so bad/It’s on the tip of your tongue/And you can taste it/You want it/You want it so close/But still just far enough/You’ve got to chase it.” Jausmė Stonkutė plays kanklės on this track.

CD Track List
  1. Til The Crying Fades
  2. Kaleidoscope
  3. Comatose Hope
  4. Soon II
  5. Take Me To The Water
  6. Everybody Says
  7. Take It All Back
  8. Cursed And Blessed
  9. When You Die
  10. Failed To Find
  11. You Want It 
Comatose Hope was released on July 13, 2017.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Cindy Lee Berryhill at The Federal Bar, 11-5-17 Concert Review

Cindy Lee Berryhill performing "The Adventurist"
The Mimosa Music Series continued today with a performance by Cindy Lee Berryhill, as well as an excellent opening set by Derrick Anderson (yeah, a good double bill). I love starting my Sundays with great music, food, drinks and people. There was plenty of all at today’s performance at The Federal Bar in North Hollywood. Before the show, we ended up pushing two tables together to accommodate our group. All of us, coincidentally, were from Massachusetts, that is until Ronee Blakley kindly joined our table. I ordered the bread basket again, as it was incredibly delicious the last time I was there (for the Paul Kelly concert), and this time I used my drink tickets to get a couple of mimosas. I don’t really care for champagne, but today the mimosas did the trick. Everything was working just right.

Derrick Anderson took the stage at 11:45 a.m., and delivered a fun set, focusing on songs from his new release, A World Of My Own, including “Waiting For You,” “You Don’t Have To Hurt No More,” “Something New,” “Phyllis & Sharon,” “Stop Messin’ About” and “When I Was Your Man.” Derrick plays bass, and he was backed by four musicians, all of whom apparently are part of the Wild Honey Orchestra. Guitarist Rob Bonfiglio sang lead on his “Trouble Again.”  They ended the set with “Spring,” the last song on Derrick’s new CD, but the crowd demanded one more song, and they obliged with a cover of The Beatles’ “She’s A Woman.”

After a twenty-minute break, series host Gary Calamar introduced Cindy Lee Berryhill. Her group for today’s show was similar to that for the show at McCabe’s in April, and included David Schwartz on bass, Robert Lloyd on keys and banjo, Renata Bratt on cello, Joyce Rooks on cello, Danny Frankel on drums, and Paula Luber on vibraphone. She kicked off her set with “Radio Astronomy,” a song from her 1994 release, Garage Orchestra. “That was from an old record,” she said afterward. “And this is from a new record.” She then played “Somebody’s Angel,” one of my favorite songs from her newest album, The Adventurist. There is no keyboard on this song, so Robert Lloyd took the time to read from his book. Later he was asked what he was reading, and it turned out to be a Walt Whitman book. I mentioned in my McCabe’s review the odd habit of the members of this band to read when not needed for a particular song, and this time around it didn’t seem as strange.

After “Somebody’s Angel,” Cindy asked the crowd how the overall sound was. “Everybody here is a musician,” she noted. She followed that with “American Cinematography,” and then “Horsepower,” both from The Adventurist. Actually, the rest of the set (with the exception of “Happy Birthday To You,” obviously) was made up of songs from that album. “This is fun for us because we haven’t played together since April,” Cindy said. “As a band,” she added. She did “I Like Cats/You Like Dogs,” and then Robert Lloyd switched to banjo for “The Adventurist,” a song which also features some nice percussion. Cindy then introduced the band, briefly mentioning the members’ accomplishments. A talented bunch, to be sure.

“An Affair Of The Heart” was beautiful, and Renata Bratt played the melodica during a section of the song before going back to the cello. The band then performed “Happy Birthday To You” for an audience member celebrating her birthday (even though she had to leave early), and the band finished the set with “Gravity Falls.” The show ended at 1:40 p.m., and the house music came on immediately. Apparently, the venue had another event scheduled soon afterward, so there wasn’t time for another song.

Set List
  1. Radio Astronomy
  2. Somebody’s Angel
  3. American Cinematography
  4. Horsepower
  5. I Like Cats/You Like Dogs
  6. The Adventurist
  7. An Affair Of The Heart
  8. Happy Birthday To You
  9. Gravity Falls 
Here are a few photos from the show:

"Radio Astronomy"
"Somebody's Angel"
"An Affair Of The Heart"
The Federal Bar is located at 5303 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood, California.

Popa Chubby: “Two Dogs” (2017) CD Review

Last year Popa Chubby (Ted Horowitz) released a two-disc live album titled Big, Bad And Beautiful Live that featured mostly original material, but with a few covers, including a couple of Rolling Stones songs. In my review of that two-disc set, I mentioned how I wished his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” had been included. Well, he has a new album coming out in a few weeks, and though it is a studio recording, it includes two bonus live tracks, and, yes, one of those is “Hallelujah.” (The other is another Rolling Stones song.) So I was incredibly excited to pop this disc in. The studio recordings are all original songs, and there are some damn good songs included here. Popa Chubby plays guitar and percussion, as well as drums and bass on certain tracks. Joining him on this album are Sam Bryant on drums, Andy Paladino on bass, Dave Keyes on keyboards, Tipitina Horowitz on trumpet and Andrew Garrison on saxophone.

Popa Chubby kicks off the new album with “It’s Alright,” an energetic rock tune that really grew on me, particularly because of these lines: “I spent my whole life wasting away/I wait for the day when I’ll hear you say it’s okay/Hey, hey, baby, it’s alright/You tell me, hey baby, it’s alright.” Popa Chubby is really tapping into something there, putting a voice to something a lot of people are feeling to some extent. It’s followed by a heavier bluesy number, “Rescue Me.”

But for me, the third track, “Preexisting Conditions,” is when the album starts getting really good. This one made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it, right from the first lines. He begins the song by playing on a familiar line: “I got the rocking pneumonia and the boogie woogie flu.” For a moment we might think we’re in standard territory, but he follows it with this line: “And my knees don’t do what they used to do.” I love it, particularly as I’m waiting for an appointment with an orthopedic doctor after tearing the medial meniscus in my left knee at work. But this song isn’t just about aging, as its title lets you know. “I’m telling you I’m a man on a mission/I’m going to die of preexisting conditions.” The song addresses the fear of losing health insurance and calls out that prick Donald Trump directly at the end, which of course I appreciate. Plus, there is some wonderful work on horns.

“Sam Lay’s Pistol” is a very cool, mean blues tune about drummer Sam Lay. This song begins with just a beat on the hi-hat, and then the vocals come in over it: “If Sam Lay were behind that kit/And the wolf turned around, said shoot that shit/He’d do it/Sam’d do it/And I’d do it too/’Cause I’m meaner than Sam Lay’s pistol.” Oh yes. And then the rest of the band comes in. The wolf mentioned in those lines is Howlin’ Wolf, one of the artists Sam Lay played with. Popa Chubby makes that clear in the line, “And the wolf was howlin’ at a strawberry moon.” The “cha cha cha” ending certainly surprised me. That song is followed by “Two Dogs,” the CD’s title track, a song with a good, prominent beat and some wonderful work on guitar. This is another song that really stood out the first time I listened to this disc. It’s kind of twisted and excellent, and is also a bloody good jam.

As I anxiously await more news from the investigation into Donald Trump and the screwed up 2016 election, lines from “Shakedown” really strike a chord. “There’s going to be a shakedown/Truth is going to be told.” Of course, that’s not what the song is directly about, but I can’t help but think of Trump’s imminent demise when I hear these lines. “You keep talking about fiction/Truth’s gonna burn your soul.” That’s followed by another of my favorites, “Wound Up Getting High,” a thoughtful, mellow tune that really works for me. “I sit down and read the papers/I hang my head and cry/I turn on the TV and watch the news/A thousand people died/Think about getting coffee/I wound up getting high/As time slides by.” There is a pretty instrumental section. I love this song, despite its use of the teardrops/rain cliché (“A thousand teardrops fall like rain/They fall down from the sky”).

The studio album concludes with an instrumental track titled “Chubby’s Boogie,” a fun, rocking little jam with good stuff on keys and a catchy guitar part. That’s followed by the two live bonus tracks. The first is a good cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil,” recorded in France. This track features Andrea Beccaro on drums and Francesco Beccaro on bass. The second (and final track on the CD) is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” the track I was most excited to hear. It was recorded at The Falcon in Marlboro, New York. Though the date of the concert isn’t given in the liner notes, it was within the last year because Popa Chubby introduces it by saying “This is a song by the late great Leonard Cohen.” The sound isn’t perfect, and you can hear people talking in the background, which is weird and rude. But it’s a good rendition. One thing that makes this version interesting is Popa Chubby’s choice of verses. He begins it, naturally, with the “secret chord” verse, then follows it with the “love is not some kind of victory march” verse. He then does the “You say I took the name in vain” verse, which is often left out these days. That’s followed by the “What’s really going on below” verse. Popa Chubby changes this one slightly, singing the first two lines as “Was a time not long ago/You showed me what was down below” instead of “There was a time you let me know/What’s really going on below.” Popa Chubby adds “Oh yeah, oh yeah” to the end of each chorus. There’s a really nice instrumental section, featuring good work on keys and then guitar. Popa Chubby addresses the audience after that section, asking the folks if they’ve been having a good time. He then sings the “Maybe there’s a god above” verse, and follows that with another instrumental part to end the song. So he left out the “Your faith was strong” verse and the “I did my best” verse. This is interesting, as I’ve seen live recordings of Popa Chubby performing both of those verses (while leaving out others). As far as I know, Leonard Cohen himself never performed all the verses together, as the song changed over time. Anyway, Popa Chubby’s reading of the song is passionate, and is of course one of the disc’s highlights.

CD Track List
  1. It’s Alright
  2. Rescue Me
  3. Preexisting Conditions
  4. Sam Lay’s Pistol
  5. Two Dogs
  6. Dirty Old Blues
  7. Shakedown
  8. Wound Up Getting High
  9. Cayophus Dupree
  10. Me Won’t Back Down
  11. Chubby’s Boogie
  12. Sympathy For The Devil
  13. Hallelujah 
Two Dogs is scheduled to be released on CD in the US on November 27, 2017. Apparently it was released in Europe last week. (Note: the tune “Cayophus Dupree” is listed as “Cayophus Dupree” in the track list on the back of the CD case, but is referred to twice as “Clayophus” in the liner notes.)

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Chris Barron: “Angels And One-Armed Jugglers” (2017) CD Review

John Irving is one of my favorite writers (after William Shakespeare and Kurt Vonnegut, of course). Last year I reviewed an album by a band called Owen Meany’s Batting Stance, and it was the band’s name that got me interested. Likewise, it was a song titled “The World Accordion To Garp” that initially attracted me to Angels And One-Armed Jugglers, the new solo album by Spin Doctors lead singer Chris Barron. Plus, that’s a damn good album title (apparently, the album was originally going to be titled If I Stop Laughing, I’ll Cry). (Side note: I can’t believe it’s been twenty-three years since I saw Spin Doctors in concert.) The CD features all original music, written or co-written by Chris Barron, songs with some excellent lyrics. Lines like “Loneliness, it’s not the best party dress” and “There’s a saint in every crowd” and of course “I’m tired of songs about angels/I could use a punch in the face” stand out. Joining him on this release are Andrew Carillo on guitar, Jesse Murphy on bass, Shawn Pelton on drums, Rob Clores on keys, Erik Lawrence on saxophone, Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Jeff Nelson on tuba, Jonathan Dinklage on violin and viola, Anja Wood on cello, and Kevin Bents on accordion. Backing vocals are provided by Lindsay Nicole Chambers, Arne Houda and Erik Roe.

Chris Barron opens the album with its title track, which is one of my favorites. Ah, there is something attractive about songs populated by characters like these. “Angels and one-armed jugglers/Sword swallowers and smugglers/Good old Adelaide, she must be long gone/She once was a looker/And a hell of a hoofer/And we never stayed thirsty for long.” And this one has a wonderful sound, with some nice work on horns. There is a good late-night vibe to this song. Pour yourself a drink, sit back and let it take you on a little journey. “Angels And One-Armed Jugglers” is followed by “April And May,” which has more of a pop sound. “The vodka spreads her fingers and I am like a thumb/I can’t drink myself back to the place where May and April come.”

“Gonna (Need Someone)” is a mellower, more reflective song, an effective combination of folk and pop, and is another of my favorites (though I’m not sure why “Need Someone” is in parentheses in the title). Check out these lines, which begin the song: “On some other sunny day/When it used to be child’s play/You could get up and walk away from yourself/Now that the sun is gone/And the shadows are strange and long/You try and try to be strong, but it’s wrong.” Yeah, there are a lot of excellent lyrics in this batch of songs. These lines from “In A Cold Kind Of Way” always make me smile: “She’s as cold as ice/My friends think she’s nice/She could use a little blush/And of course her brains are mush.” I already mentioned my favorite lines from “Saving Grace” (the “punch in the face” lines), but I also really like these lines: “Well, if home is where the heart lies/And my heart is in your hands.”

The title of “Still A Beautiful World” carries a much-needed message in this completely screwed up time when a hideous, incestuous, mendacious creep sleeps in the White House. And the song is quite good. It begins as a sweet-sounding folk song, then develops into a cool pop song with horns. “It’s still a beautiful world/But we destroyed it long ago/Sha la-la, sha-la la-la la.” That’s followed by “The World Accordion To Garp,” the song that initially drew my interest. And it’s another of the album’s highlights, though the second line, “Boozy Susie on my arm,” reminds me of a different John Irving novel. And, yes, an accordion plays a strong role in this song. There is also a tuba, perhaps thanks to the line “The tuba has been drinking.” Check out these lines: “If you listen for her song/In your memory you can keep it/Even if you get it wrong/She plays it on your heartstrings/Starting just as it gets dark/On the world accordion to Garp.”

“Till The Cows Come Home” is a kind of sweet love tune that becomes a delicious jazzy late-night number. Yes, this is another of my favorites. “No matter where you go/You’ll never be alone/I will love you till the cows come home.” The CD then concludes with “Too Young To Fade,” a song about a friend. “His movie ended before they shot a couple of scenes.” When I come across lines like that, I always think of Ken Kesey’s sage advice to “always stay in your own movie.”

CD Track List
  1. Angels And One-Armed Jugglers
  2. April And May
  3. Darken My Door
  4. Gonna (Need Someone)
  5. In A Cold Kind Of Way
  6. Raining Again
  7. Saving Grace
  8. Still A Beautiful World
  9. The World Accordion To Garp
  10. Till The Cows Come Home
  11. Too Young To Fade 
Angels And One-Armed Jugglers was released on October 20, 2017.