Saturday, April 21, 2018

Record Store Day: April 21, 2018

I have a lot of records and CDs that I haven’t yet listened to, but that didn’t stop me from going out and getting more records today. After all, it’s Record Store Day. I had gone through the official list of releases online, and written down thirteen records I wanted to own. Then I narrowed that down to seven that I hoped to purchase.

This was my list:
  • Grateful Dead: “Fillmore West 2/27/69” 4 LP set
  • Jerry Garcia: “Run For The Roses”
  • The Honey Drippers/Brotherhood: “Impeach The President/The Monkey That Became A President” 7-inch
  • David Bowie: “Let’s Dance” 12-inch single
  • The Submarines: “Honeysuckle Weeks” LP
  • various artists: “Boston Hardcore ’89-’91” LP
  • various artists: “Hillbillies In Hell: Volume 666” LP
I got in line at 7:30 a.m. (Freakbeat Records opens at 11 a.m.), and there were already twenty people ahead of me, maybe twenty-five. At 9 a.m., the guy came around to collect each person’s number one pick. I went with the Grateful Dead box set. Though it’s probably the easiest item on my list to obtain (more copies were pressed of this one than of any of the others), it’s also the most important to me. And there were too many folks ahead of me in line to risk choosing something else. Not that everyone ahead of me was likely to be a Dead fan, but you never know. The way I figured it, if I walked away with only the Grateful Dead box, the trip would be worth it.

And this time we were treated to some live music while waiting in line. Just before 10 a.m., Dylan Gardner did a quick soundcheck, and just after 10, he began his set, playing songs from his two albums, as well as one Beatles cover. He was accompanied only by a guy on caj√≥n. Some of his fans came out just for his set; they weren’t even in line to buy any records. After his first song, Dylan mentioned that Freakbeat was one of his favorite records stores, and that his new record, Almost Real, had just come out. A little later he said that he had played for people in line two years ago, but that the line this year was much longer. Funny, I don’t recall him playing two years ago. I don’t remember there ever being live music while in line. Did I somehow miss Record Store Day one year? Or has my memory finally disappeared entirely? You know, I am starting to get a hazy recollection of being sick one time and not being able to get out of bed, so sick that I did not care what I was missing. Well, no matter. My favorite song of his set was “The Way It Goes,” a quieter number.

Dylan Gardner Set List
  1. Can’t Stop Thinking
  2. I’m Nothing Without You
  3. Sign Language
  4. Too Afraid To Love You
  5. You Got That Thing
  6. Ticket To Ride
  7. The Way It Goes
  8. Hit Me With The Lights Out
  9. Let’s Get Started
  10. I Want It Like That
As he started his final song, the line began moving. I love when they open a little early, and this time they opened the store twenty minutes early. I was actually inside the store before 11.

Of the seven items on my list, I got three (they didn’t have the others). Besides the Grateful Dead box, I was able to get the Jerry Garcia record and the David Bowie record. The total came to $113.30 (the Grateful Dead box itself was eighty dollars). In the early years of Record Store Day, we’d get a lot of free goodies in our bags. I guess those days are gone. There still was a handy tote bag with the date on it. But the only giveaway inside it was a white flexi-disc by Las Rosas. Still, I’m happy to have the three things that I was able to purchase. In fact, I think I’ll be putting on that Jerry Garcia record now.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Lloyd Green And Jay Dee Maness: “Journey To The Beginning: A Steel Guitar Tribute To The Byrds” (2018) CD Review

The very first folk, or singer/songwriter, concert that I attended (or that I recall attending, anyway) was Roger McGuinn, of The Byrds. I was a teenager, and the show was at The Old Vienna Kaffeehaus (a venue that no longer exists) in Westborough, Massachusetts. It was that show, back in the late 1980s, where my passion for folk music really began in earnest (Ellis Paul was the opener). And it was around that time that I purchased Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. Before that, the only Byrds album I owned was Greatest Hits (a compilation which had come out before Sweetheart Of The Rodeo and so contained none of that material). Anyway, Gram Parsons had just joined the band, and the sound of this album was a whole lot different from the band’s earlier releases. The record also featured two steel guitar players – Lloyd Green and Jay Dee Maness. Both have since gone on to pretty damn good careers, and now they are revisiting that material on their new album, Journey To The Beginning: A Steel Guitar Tribute To The Byrds, an excellent and beautiful instrumental tribute to that record (Sweetheart Of The Rodeo turns fifty this year). And for you fellow vinyl enthusiasts, the album is being released on vinyl tomorrow as part of Record Store Day.

This release presents the songs in the same order as the original album, with one addition – a vocal reprise of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” at the end. So it begins with “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” the album’s most famous track, which was also released as a single. The song is one of several Bob Dylan tunes that The Byrds covered over the years. By the way, joining Lloyd Green and Jay Dee Maness on this release are Russ Pahl on guitar, Dennis Crouch on bass, John Gardner on drums, Sam Bush on mandolin and fiddle, Eugene Moles on guitar, Al Perkins on guitar, Sally Van Meter on Dobro, Earl Poole Ball on keys, Skip Edwards on keys, and Peter Wasner on keys. They have several vocalists joining them for that final track: Jim Lauderdale, Herb Pedersen, Richie Furay, and Jeff Hanna. On backing vocals are Matraca Berg, Jim Photoglo, Bill Lloyd and Marc Lacuesta. Not a bad group of musicians and singers, eh? The focus, of course, is on the steel guitar, and these guys do some delightful work on “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” This music is making me happy, something I appreciate more and more in these dark days of Donald Trump.

“I Am A Pilgrim” was also released as a single, though I don’t think it fared all that well on the charts. This version features some nice work on fiddle by Sam Bush. One of my favorite tracks on this release is “The Christian Life,” which surprises me because it’s not a particular favorite of mine from the original record. I always liked it, but never loved it. I am loving this rendition. My favorite track from The Byrds’ album has always been “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” and the version here is certainly another highlight. Perhaps the most fun track on this album is “Pretty Boy Floyd,” with that delightful exchange between fiddle and guitar. But each track offers its own delights and surprises, and I find myself smiling through the entire album. Perhaps especially during “Blue Canadian Rockies,” and when you hear it, I imagine you’ll be smiling too.

The original Byrds album ends with “Nothing Was Delivered,” another Bob Dylan song, which offers this sound advice, “Take care of your health and get plenty of rest.” Of course, this version doesn’t contain that line, but listening to this album will help with your health, at least soothing your soul. And, as I mentioned, this release doesn’t end there. We get another version of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” this one with vocalists joining in. Jim Lauderdale, Herb Pedersen, Richie Furay (of Buffalo Springfield and Poco), and Jeff Hanna (of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) each sing lead on a verse. The Byrds’ rendition of this song includes a mistake in the lyrics, with the line “Pick up your money, pack up your tent” being sung as “Pack up your money, pick up your tent.” Interestingly, that error is duplicated here. So they are really sticking to The Byrds’ album. It’s a wonderful rendition, and a perfect ending to this album.

CD Track List
  1. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
  2. I Am A Pilgrim
  3. The Christian Life
  4. You Don’t Miss Your Water
  5. You’re Still On My Mind
  6. Pretty Boy Floyd
  7. Hickory Wind
  8. One Hundred Years From Now
  9. Blue Canadian Rockies
  10. Life In Prison
  11. Nothing Was Delivered
  12. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (Vocal Reprise)
Journey To The Beginning: A Steel Guitar Tribute To The Byrds is available on CD, and is being released on vinyl tomorrow as a Record Store Day limited release. By the way, if you live in Nashville, you have a chance to catch Lloyd Green And Jay Dee Maness performing as part of the Record Store Day festivities.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs: “Clippety Clop” (2018) CD Review

Certain things always excite me, such as going to a Red Sox game, seeing a production of one of Shakespeare’s plays, and the release of a new album by Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs. It’s been two and a half years since the duo’s last release, Coulda Shoulda Woulda. Boy, time is just barreling on, isn’t it? Well, Clippety Clop, the new album, has that same great raw and totally delightful sound I’ve come to expect (and rely on), country and folk music with a punk attitude. It’s like back porch music if the porch is attached to a house that contains a gate to hell in the basement and a gate to heaven in the attic. But this album is different from earlier releases. For one thing, it has something of a theme running through it, with the songs all being related to horses and mules, with the rhythm of horses sometimes incorporated into the songs. The other thing that sets this one apart is that the songs are covers.

They open the album with a wonderful rendition of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Mule Skinner Blues” (here simply titled “Mule Skinner”). They give it a cool rhythm and their own spin, singing, “I like to work/I’m working all the fucking time/I can carve my initials/On a mule’s behind.” But it is the instrumental section that follows those lines that makes me so goddamn happy, and gets me moving. This is a fairly short version, just over two minutes, but it’s really good. That’s followed by “Two White Horses,” a traditional song that has been often done as a blues tune. This rendition by Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs is more lively and playful (like in the way they use percussion on the “church bell” line).

They then go to a more recent song, the Bad Livers’ “Horses In The Mines,” a slower, bluesy number. This song was the title track to the Bad Livers’ 1994 album (I was hosting a folk and acoustic radio program at that time, and I remember we played this album a lot). That’s followed by Paul Siebel’s “Pinto Pony,” originally included on his 1971 record Jack-Knife Gypsy. I like what Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs do with this song, particularly in the instrumental section. I dig that guitar. And they playfully add their own impression of the “shootout in the cantina,” which made me laugh. They also deliver a good rendition of Belton Sutherland’s “Kill The Old Grey Mule,” which is sometimes titled “Old Grey Mule” and here is titled “Kill Grey Mule.”

One of my favorite tracks is their version of “I Ride An Old Paint,” perhaps the most famous of the songs chosen for this album. It’s been covered by folks like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Johnny Cash, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and Linda Ronstadt. This rendition by Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs is more lively than most versions, with a wonderful raw edge. It’s more fun than other versions I’ve heard, and is just a total delight. It’s followed by another fun number, “Jinny Mule.” While this rendition is not quite as delicious as the version by Big Maybelle, it is still a highlight and features one of my favorite vocal performances of the album. Another well-known tune chosen for this release is “Stewball,” a song that’s been covered by Joan Baez and Peter, Paul & Mary, among others. This version is quite a bit different from most other versions, with some prominent percussion. I really like the way they approach it. The album finishes up with “Mule Train,” a tune which has been done by folks like Frankie Lane and Bing Crosby and Tennessee Ernie Ford, and the song that gives the album its title. And as you might expect by now, this version by Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs stands apart from all earlier renditions, and is seriously cool. It’s actually a bit slower, meaner than a lot of other versions I’ve heard.

CD Track List
  1. Mule Skinner
  2. Two White Horses
  3. Horses In The Mines
  4. Pinto Pony
  5. Black Horse Blues
  6. Kill Grey Mule
  7. Carpet Of Horses
  8. I Ride An Old Paint
  9. Jinny Mule
  10. Stewball
  11. Strawberry Roan
  12. Mule Train
Clippety Clop is scheduled to be released on May 4, 2018 on Transdreamer Records.

Lunden Reign: “Confessions” (2018) Record Review

Okay, I admit that I am a sucker for colored vinyl. And Confessions, the new record from Lunden Reign, is offered in an incredibly appealing aquamarine shade, with a slight marbled quality. Basically, it’s beautiful. One thing I love about records is the physical relationship it creates between you and the music. And the colored vinyl just makes that relationship even more enjoyable. All right, enough about that. Lunden Reign is a Los Angeles rock band, the core of which is the duo of Nikki Lunden on lead vocals and guitar, and Laura Espinoza-Lunden on guitar and keys. Both contribute material to the new album, which is the band’s second full-length album, following 2015’s American Stranger. Luis Maldonado, who produced the album, plays guitar, bass and keys (and also co-wrote the music). Also on bass are Mathew Denis and Devin Hoffman; on drums are Matt Lucich and Noel Jasso.

Side 1 kicks off with “Stardust Daze,” a strong and positive rock song in which Nikki Lunden sings “We have to find a way/We’ve got to find our way/We’re living in the face of dreams/And everything we’re living for/Is something that’s worth fighting for.” The vocals are delivered with passion and honesty. This is a song I like more each time I listen to it. It’s followed by “Confessions,” the record’s title track. This one is a harder song, with more of an uneasy edge, and it grabs me from the start. I absolutely love the vocal line on this one. It’s interesting that revealing one’s self is akin to confessions.

The first lines of “Coming Home Tonight” are “For days I’ve been so haunted by/Your fierce embrace/And bewitching eyes,” and there is something haunting in the vocal delivery. Then, when it kicks in for the chorus, it becomes more firmly rooted in the pop realm. This song features some unusual lyrics, like these lines: “A portrait of a charcoaled girl/Drawn on sheets on a tilt-a-whirl.” (My friend once vomited on a tilt-a-whirl, and tried to hold it in his mouth, and every time we’d pass by the guy running it, my other friend and I would shout out to him to stop it. The guy ignored us, and eventually, well, my friend couldn’t keep it in. I haven’t been on a tilt-a-whirl since. Okay, slight digression there. Sorry.) “Coming Home Tonight” is followed by “Red Wagon.” In this one, they sing “And we can’t go back to yesterday.” That’s true, and yet this song itself takes me back to an earlier time. Something about its sound makes me feel like I’m a child again, and that’s part of the point of the song. No, we “can’t return to yesterday,” but we can certainly revisit the way we felt then. Likewise, “Little Girl,” which concludes the first side of the record, might take you back. There is something of a 1980s rock thing happening, which I like.  I also really like the way Nikki approaches the vocals, particularly on the chorus. This one also has a positive vibe, urging us to not give up, with lines like “And the sky/Won’t fall upon you this day/And the moon/Will shine until a new day/Comes to me and you.”

Side 2 opens with “Fate Of The World,” rock song of a certain, heavier mood. “These modern day times/Such criminal minds/We’re led into a dark story.” That is true, though I’m doing my best to not let myself be pulled down into it. It’s difficult to separate yourself, to not be affected, isn’t it? This song obviously has something to say about our world, our current situations. Lines that stand out to me as being particularly pertinent are “They’re spewing out lies/Dreams to start to unwind” and “They led us along/Why didn’t we care?” That’s a big question I have these days, even as I try to care a little less myself, in order to keep from completely succumbing to despair or anger. Ah, where is that line? To be informed and concerned with being inflamed and consumed. “Never Ending Dream” takes place in this same dark world, but has a slightly more romantic bent. “Hold me tight so I can sleep/When I wake I want to be/In your arms where I don’t care/If my ghost brings me despair.” How about those lines?

“Dead Man Walking” is a fairly powerful song about the dangers of hard drugs. Nikki gives a passionate, angry vocal performance, and the vocals are what sell the song. “The desperation in his eyes/Believing in the needle’s lies/Fingernails scratch down his spine/Wasted by the demon spies.” Then “Thunder Or The Rain” has heartache and a sense of powerlessness, though you get the feeling she finds strength even in those powerless moments. The album finishes with “Faded Memories,” which hooks you immediately with that guitar part, which has a bit of punk to its style. “Time cuts deep/Recollections bleed/Tearing pages from a book/That you will never read.” A strong finish to a really good record.

Track List

Side 1
  1. Stardust Daze
  2. Confessions
  3. Coming Home Tonight
  4. Red Wagon
  5. Little Lost Girl
Side 2
  1. Fate Of The World
  2. Never Ending Dream
  3. Dead Man Walking
  4. Thunder Of The Rain
  5. Faded Memories 
Confessions was released on vinyl on April 14, 2018.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Kelly Z: “Rescue” (2017/2018) Record Review

For more than two decades now, Kelly’s Lot has been pumping great original blues and rock music into Los Angeles. Now lead singer Kelly Zirbes, under the name Kelly Z, offers an album of covers, Rescue. These tracks were recorded in 2011 and, according to the note on the back of the album cover, left unfinished. This, of course, isn’t the first time Kelly has covered other artists’ material. There are quite a few covers on Pastrami & Jam, for example. But this record is something different. First of all, it’s not a Kelly’s Lot release, though of course Perry Robertson does play on it. This album features mostly a classic sound, complete with a horn section and back-up singers (including the excellent Teresa James).

The record kicks off with “What Do I Have To Do To Prove My Love To You,” here shortened to “What Do I Have To Do,” a great funky number written by James Brown and Marva Whitney, and originally recorded by Marva Whitney. This version by Kelly Zirbes has a classic sound, with raw energy, and is a whole lot of fun, with Kelly belting out those lyrics. And I dig those backing vocals. Even though it is a studio recording, it has a live feel. That’s followed by a good rendition of “Baby It’s You,” written by Burt Bacharach, Mack David and Barney Williams, and originally recorded by The Shirelles. This version by Kelly Z is much closer to that by Smith, who had a hit with it in 1969. I particularly like the work on horns here, and that cool (though brief) lead guitar part (that’s Perry Robertson on guitar).

Kelly then slows things down with “You Don’t Realize,” a wonderful song released by The Electric Flag in 1968, and written by Michael Bloomfield. This is an excellent rendition. Man, I love those horns. Roy Wiegand joins on trumpet on this track. It is Kelly’s vocal work that is the focus here, and at times it is absolutely gorgeous, while other times powerful. That’s followed by “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.” Okay, the “Yes, dear” at the beginning caught me off guard and made me laugh out loud. It had been a while since I’d listened to the Ike & Tina Turner recording, and had forgotten about Ike’s part. (In that version, it was “Yes, Tina.”) Here Perry Robertson does that part, giving us his best Ike Turner. This is a playful number, and Kelly deliberately holds back here, which works well with the song. This version has an early sixties rock and roll sound, along the lines of the original, which was released in 1961, and then those backing vocals are wonderful.

Kelly Zirbes kicks off side 2 with another Ike & Tina Turner song, “Trying To Find My Mind” (though the lyric is “I’m trying to find my mind,” the tune was titled “I’m Looking For My Mind” on the Ike & Tina Turner records), a rockin’ tune that comes on strong. Kelly is certainly not holding back here, but letting loose, showing that great raw power her voice has. This track has a strong ‘70s rock song sound. Chuck Kavooras plays slide guitar on this one. I love when Kelly rips into a lyric, but I also appreciate when she finds those sweeter tones, as she does on Harlan Howard’s “He Called Me Baby,” particularly at the beginning. Of course, the sound builds from there, her voice rising especially as the horns do, which is wonderful. This rendition has more soul and is less country than most versions, and ends up being one of my favorite tracks. I dig that part on keys.

Then we get into some very cool funky soul with a rendition of Isaac Hayes’ “Do Your Thing.” I love that bass. This version has the sound and vibe of a great Stax recording. “If you feel like you want to scream/’Cause that’s your way of letting off steam/Scream on, scream on.”  I do, I do, nearly every day since November of 2016! This track features some cool work on guitar too. The album then concludes with an unusual take on Jimmie Davis’ “You Are My Sunshine.” She gives this delicious rendition a meaner vibe. And I love those bursts of horns. I don’t think you’ve heard a version quite like this before.

Track List

Side 1
  1. What Do I Have To Do
  2. Baby It’s You
  3. You Don’t Realize
  4. It’s Gonna Work Out Fine
Side 2
  1. Trying To Find My Mind
  2. He Called Me Baby
  3. Do Your Thing
  4. You Are My Sunshine
Rescue was released on CD on October 6, 2017, and on vinyl on January 18, 2018. Though it’s available on CD, I recommend getting it on vinyl. It just feels right to listen to this one on vinyl. You know? If you don’t have a record player, this is a good time to get one. After all, Record Store Day is this Saturday.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Joyann Parker: “Hard To Love” (2018) CD Review

If you want music with a whole lot of soul and passion, music that can move your heart one moment, then move your feet the next, check out the new release from Joyann Parker, Hard To Love. The album features all original material, written by Joyann Parker and Mark Lamoine. The songwriting is strong, with lots of good, memorable lines, like “You go to sleep in the driver’s seat, but you wake up in the trunk” in “Bluer Than You.” Joyann, in addition to lead vocals, plays guitar, piano and trumpet on this release. Joining her are Mark Lamoine on guitar and backing vocals, Tim Wick on piano and organ, Michael Carvale on bass, and Alec Tackmann on drums and percussion.

The album has a strong start with “Memphis,” a good mean bluesy gem about moving on, and saying good riddance to someone and not looking back. “No regrets, no time to spare/Now I’m moving on/By the time I get to Memphis/You’ll be gone.” She sure isn’t shy, or pulling her punches, using phrases like “poison oozing out your mouth,” and belting out the lines, getting the anger out of her system through music and through movement. “Gotta keep on rolling, keep on rolling, gotta keep on rolling on down.” Yes, we all need to keep on rolling. That’s followed by “Envy,” which has a familiar, classic R&B sound and rhythm, with good work on keys. In this one, she misses her previous lover, wondering if he is doing the same things with his new girl that he did with her. “Do you touch her like you touched me/Do you hold her body close to yours as you sleep.” What’s interesting is at the end, she is also wondering about the other woman’s reactions to his love. “Do you move her like you move me/Do her eyes light up with fire when you meet/And does her heart pound in her chest when she hears you speak/And does her soul burn when she hears you sing.” Ah, she still has it bad for this guy, and she seems to think that maybe he still feels something for her.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again here: I need to make a mix CD of songs titled “Home.” I’ve never heard a bad song with that title. And Joyann Parker’s “Home” is no exception. In fact, it’s one of my personal favorite tracks on this CD. It’s a beautiful, moving, uplifting R&B number. “We’re only here, we’re only here for such a short time/But the journey, the journey can feel so long/When life ain’t all that you hoped for/And your whole world, your whole world is upside down.” She concedes that there are troubles, but the song is full of hope. And isn’t that what we need? She delivers an excellent, lively, passionate vocal performance. And I dig that lead guitar part halfway through. This song just gets better and better, building to a powerful ending. (If you’re curious about other songs titled “Home,” check out songs with that title by Ellis Paul, Erica Blinn, Michelle Malone, The Evangenitals, The Spongetones, The Ides Of March, Joe Walsh, Iggy Pop, James Houlahan, Janiva Magness and Anton Fig.)

“Dizzy” is a fun, rockin’ number to get you on your feet. Then Gunhild Carling joins Joyann Parker on horn for “Who What When Where Why,” a groovy and energetic tune about a woman with questions. “Who am I to you/What did you think you were going to do/And when will you ever be free/Where is the life you promised I’d see/And why oh why oh why do I cry/For a guy that keeps leaving me high and dry?” The horn is excellent. I’m also totally enjoying the work on keys. “I keep holding onto you while you’re letting go of me.” And, holy moly, listen to Joyann really giving it all vocally at the end. Yes, this is certainly one of the album’s most enjoyable tracks.

And then we get a song with a great New Orleans flavor, “Ray.”  This sound always make me feel good, makes me want to join a second line and dance through the whole city. And this song features more delicious work on keys. “I’m trying to make this work/But you’re really such a jerk/Aren’t you, Ray?” “Take My Heart And Run” is another fun one with a wonderful rhythm, and a raw, immediate, loose sound. And it’s followed by “Your Mama,” a playful tune where the other woman in her man’s life is the guy’s mother. “Tell your mama, your mama she’s got to go/I can’t take her messing with my head no more/Well, you’re my baby, not hers no more.” This tune has a delicious, jazzy vibe. The album concludes with its title track, “Hard To Love,” a slower, pretty number that really focuses on Joyann’s vocals. “They say the best things are free/When it comes to him and me/I paid with my heart early on/The price was high, you see/Because he’s so hard to love.”

CD Track List
  1. Memphis
  2. Envy
  3. Home
  4. Dizzy
  5. Jigsaw Heart
  6. Who What When Where Why
  7. Bluer Than You
  8. Ray
  9. Evil Hearted
  10. Take My Heart And Run
  11. Your Mama
  12. What Happened To Me
  13. Hard To Love 
Hard To Love was released today, April 13, 2018, on Hopeless Romantics Records.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Dave Tull: “Texting And Driving” (2018) CD Review

First off, I have to say that I am not a fan of using the word “text” as a verb, or in this case, I suppose, a gerund. Okay, enough about that. I also have to forgive Dave Tull for playing with Barbra Streisand on her recent tours (that dishonest woman should have been forced to stop performing back in 2000 when fans had to pay an extraordinary amount of money for tickets to what she promised was her final show). Okay, now I can relax and enjoy his new album, Texting And Driving, which features all original material, much of it with a delightfully humorous bent. Dave Tull, known for his drumming, here is both on the drum kit and providing lead vocals. He has a voice that is perfect for jazz standards, and that makes these original songs even more enjoyable. It’s like a singer went a bit whacky during a formal gig, veering far off from the agreed upon set list, and the band had no choice but to follow him and keep going. But it’s not like these are all humorous songs. Take “The Moment,” for example, which is a sweet, earnest duet. And he’s got a pretty talented group of musicians backing him, a group that includes Randy Porter on piano, Larry Koonse on guitar, Kevin Axt on bass, and Doug Webb on saxophone and clarinet, among others.

Dave Tull opens the album with “The Texting Song,” a wonderful big band song about the modern habit many people have of sharing every damn thing they do online, taking photos and posting constant updates on social media sites, assuming that the rest of us care. It is told from the perspective of someone who is suffering from a phone addiction, and the lyrics come rapidly, which is perfect for the subject. After all, people seem in a rush to post things, often not even proofreading (please proofread, people!). “I know I ought to pay attention to my driving/But another instant message is arriving/When my smart phone beckons I just got to reply/I can’t wait ten seconds, though I’ll probably die/In the auto wreck that happens next/I just got to send a text/I just can’t imagine doing anything at all without a phone in my hand.” There is even a bit of scat toward the end, though I’m not sure how one would send that in a text or a Facebook post. How do you spell that? The music is excellent, by the way. I particularly dig the bass line. And there is a wonderful lead part on piano halfway through. Randy Waldman plays piano on this track.

“Henrietta” has a classic, somewhat romantic sound, working in wonderful juxtaposition with the song’s first line, “I didn’t fall for Henrietta.” But that is just the beginning of the story. And love can creep up on you when you’re not expecting it. I really like these lines: “I didn’t see it at first glance/But fate gave me a second chance/To meet Henrietta and fall in love at first sight.” That’s followed by “The Moment,” which is performed as a duet with Inga Swearingen. I love the line, “But a silent heart only knows regret.” And it’s followed by the line, “Ever wondering what would she have said had I only asked her.”  Nice, right? There is some wonderful work on strings, this track featuring Brynn Albanese on violin, Peter Jandula-Clark on viola, and Ken Hustad on cello. Plus, there is a good lead section on flugelhorn by George Stone.

“Please Tell Me Your Name” opens with the sounds of an airport, and with a surprise meeting of an old band mate leading to the beginning of the song. He can’t recall the guy’s name, something I can relate to. I am terrible with names, so I can appreciate this song. Wayne Bergeron, Pete Olstad and Mike Gutierrez are on trumpet, and Andy Martin plays trombone on this track. Doug Webb provides the tenor saxophone solo. Dave Tull uses Wayne Bergeron’s name at the end, making me wonder if he did actually forget the trumpet player’s name at one point. “The Stoplight At The End Of The Street” is a fun song that, like the first track, involves someone using Twitter while driving. “I’ve watched a thousand fender benders go down right here at my feet/So spend just a minute of your day with the stoplight at the end of the street.” I really like the song’s groove, and there is also a seriously enjoyable lead on piano by Randy Porter. There is a bit of scat near the end. “You know the light changed like thirty seconds ago.”

“Watch Your Kid” is another track I really appreciate, and one that every parent (and every potential parent) should have to listen to, and pay close attention to. Here are the opening lines: “If you choose to have a baby, I wish you joy, but be aware/One important detail comes with that decision/When you let sperm and egg collide/You sign yourself up to provide/Eighteen years of nearly constant supervision.” (And, hey, text messages play a part in this one too: “While you text and pick out groceries/He careens about the store.”) George Stone is on trumpet, and Dave Becker plays saxophone on this track.

“The Date” has a delightful, adorable, playful vibe, and is presented as a duet with Cheryl Bentyne, though she doesn’t come in until nearly two minutes into the song. First we get the male perspective on the date, and then the female perspective, which – perhaps not surprisingly – is somewhat different. This song follows my theory that when it comes to relations, men are stupid and women are insane. Toward the end, they simultaneously sing their perspectives, without listening to each other, which is perfect, don’t you think? Another sort of date is described in “Clapping On One And Three,” in which Dave Tull sings “She talks right over the band, but then her kiss makes my concern just disappear.” I think a lot of us that love music have been in that situation at one point or another. The CD concludes with “Fly By The Seat Of My Pants,” a groovy tune about remaining spontaneous and avoiding plans. “Some people feel they’ve got to plan up every minute/But it makes ‘em go through life in a trance/I say that life is a wheel and every day I want to spin it/I like to fly by the seat of my pants.”

CD Track List
  1. The Texting Song
  2. Henrietta
  3. The Moment
  4. Please Tell Me Your Name
  5. I’m Forever In A Fog
  6. I Will Sing To You
  7. The Stoplight At The End Of The Street
  8. Tell Me That I’m Wrong
  9. Watch Your Kid
  10. The Date
  11. Clapping On One And Three
  12. This Summer Night
  13. You Remind Me
  14. I’m So Confused
  15. Fly By The Seat Of My Pants 
Texting And Driving was released on March 16, 2018 on Toy Car Records.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Gladiators: “Serious Thing” (1984/2018) CD Review

The first thing that strikes me about The Gladiators’ Serious Thing album is its cover. Is it just a portion of the cover of the group’s previous release on Nighthawk Records, Symbol Of Reality? Did they just remove the rest of the band from the photo? Weird. Though the more I look at it, the more I think it might be a different photo from the same shoot. His head might be tilted just slightly away on the first cover. Still, what a strange choice. Anyway, both Symbol Of Reality and Serious Thing are being re-issued by Omnivore Recordings, with bonus tracks. While the bonus tracks on Symbol Of Reality were positioned throughout the album (alternate versions following the album versions), on Serious Thing, the bonus tracks are all placed at the end. Two of the bonus tracks were included on an earlier release of this album, where they were positioned directly after the album versions. It is interesting that they decided to rearrange them this time. The rest of the bonus tracks were previously unreleased. All of the tracks on this CD are originals, most of them written by Albert Griffiths. This CD includes liner note by Leroy Jodie Pierson.

Like Symbol Of Reality, this album opens with its title track, “Serious Thing.” “Today you hear this, tomorrow you hear that – a serious thing.” I can’t wait to find out what we hear tomorrow, especially about that wonderful raid on Michael Cohen’s office. Could the end of this horror show be in sight? “Stop going around with your false sayin’/’Cause man must be sure of what he’s saying.” Indeed. This is a good song with a positive groove. The bonus tracks include an alternate version of “Serious Thing,” which was previously unreleased. On this version, some of the vocals are removed, with the focus being on the groove.

“Serious Thing” is followed by “My Thoughts.” I don’t particularly care for the religious aspect of reggae, which of course is often an important element, but it has never kept me from enjoying the music. And so “My Thoughts” has me smiling and bopping around in my apartment. After all, it has a cheerful, uplifting vibe. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “The lord is my light and my salvation/Whom shall I be afraid of? No one/Yea, though I walk through the valley of shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” There are two other versions of this song in the bonus tracks, the first of which is one of the previously released tracks. The second is an instrumental version.

One of my favorite songs on this album is “Fling It Gimme.” It is a lot of fun, and makes me feel good. It has such a positive sound, a positive vibe. “Anywhere at all girl you can fling it gimme, all right.” I can’t help but smile whenever I listen to this one, and I am grateful for that. The bonus tracks include another version of this song, which was previously unreleased. “Fling It Gimme” is followed by “Rearrange,” another of my favorites. The vocal line is kind of beautiful, particularly on the lines “I’m hoping and I’m praying that very soon things will rearrange/Too much innocent blood’s been shed/Our heart cries out, our souls do grieve.” Also, I dig the smooth sound of the horns. It’s a wonderful track.

In “Mid-Range,” they sing, “Can’t you see the time that we livin’ in, man you got to be on your guard.” An alternate version of “Mid-Range” is included in the bonus tracks, with the percussion featured more prominently. This track was included on an earlier release. And in “Good Foundation,” they sing, “Some people love justice, some love revenge/Some believe in building a good foundation.” This is a good song, and I especially love the way Albert Griffiths sings “’Cause a hungry, hungry, hungry, hungry man is an angry man, angry man” toward the end. A different, shorter, and mostly instrumental (except for the beginning and end) version of this song is included in the bonus tracks. The original album ends with “After You,” which has a touch of a New Orleans vibe, particularly at the beginning. I love the horns. And how about these positive lyrics: “There will always be someone to give you a helping hand/So your well should never, ever run dry/I said the sun will shine for you each day/And the moon will shine for you at night.” This song is, for me, another of the highlights.

Bonus Tracks

There are eight bonus tracks, only two of which were previously released. Yes, half of this CD’s tracks are bonus tracks. In addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned there are “Bless Our Soul” and “New Song/New Vibe,” the only two songs on this CD to not be written by Albert Griffiths. They are written by Clinton Fearon. And Clinton sings lead on both tracks. “Bless Our Soul” has a cheerful vibe and carries a social message. Then in “New Song/New Vibe,” the line that always stands out for me is “Let me speak the truth quietly.” It was only a few years after the original release of Serious Thing that Fearon left The Gladiators to form The Defenders and then the Boogie Brown Band.

CD Track List
  1. Serious Thing
  2. My Thoughts
  3. Fling It Gimme
  4. Rearrange
  5. Mid-Range
  6. Freedom Train
  7. Good Foundation
  8. After You
  9. Bless Our Soul
  10. New Song/New Vibe
  11. Serious Thing Version
  12. My Thoughts Version
  13. My Thoughts Instrumental Dub
  14. Fling It Gimme Version
  15. Mid-Range Version
  16. Good Foundation Dub
This expanded version of Serious Thing is scheduled to be released on April 20, 2018.

The Gladiators: “Symbol Of Reality” (1982/2018) CD Review

In these twisted days, my musical needs are great. Music is what is keeping us sane, isn’t it? And sometimes nothing works better than some good reggae. Omnivore Recordings is re-issuing a couple of 1980s albums from The Gladiators, Symbol Of Reality and Serious Thing. Symbol Of Reality, featuring mostly original material written by lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Albert Griffiths, was originally released in 1982. The new re-issue includes several bonus tracks. Interestingly, most of the bonus tracks are sprinkled throughout the CD rather than all placed at the end. Alternate versions of songs are included directly after the album versions, and simply have the word “Version” added to the titles. A couple of these tracks were previously included on an earlier CD release of this album, while the rest were previously unreleased. Liner notes by Leroy Jodie Pierson are included in the new CD. By the way, you might notice a difference in the cover from the original release. The “The” is missing from “The Gladiators.”

Symbol Of Reality opens with its title track, a good tune with an easygoing reggae beat. “Where there is reality, there is dignity/Look at the Rastaman, he is the true messiah.” I’m not into the religious aspects of reggae music, but that doesn’t keep me from enjoying the music. It’s followed by another version of this song, titled “Symbol Version.” The bass and percussion are given more prominence in this version, and I dig it. What’s strange is that a lot of the vocals are missing from this version, focusing on the music. This track was also included as a bonus track on the 1997 CD release of Symbol Of Reality.

There are only two covers on Symbol Of Reality, and both are Bob Marley songs. The first, “Small Axe,” eases in before then kicking in with a wonderful, cheerful vibe. Light up and dance around your home, and you’ll be feeling good in no time. “If you are a big tree/Let me tell you that I am the small axe/Ready to cut you down, ready to cut you down.” Yes, these are lines we should sing to Donald Trump and his gang. The song “Cheater” also makes me think of Donald Trump (I really can’t wait for this administration to be buried out in the desert), with the lines, “A girl like you is a big disgrace/’Cause only when you see money, your eyes begin to shine.” Yeah, it’s about a girl, but whatever. The Gladiators also cover Marley’s “Stand Alone” on this album.

“Bumping And Boring” is a total delight, which you might expect from its playful title. I love the backing vocals echoing the end of the lines, reminding me of certain 1960s pop songs (particularly “She Hangs Out” by The Monkees). Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Well, you don’t know what you want in life (want in life, want in life)/I said, you don’t know what you’re looking for (looking for, looking for)/Always talkin’ about the past (not the present, not the present)/That’s why you’re always bumping and boring (bumping and boring, bumping and boring).” This is one of my personal favorites. Another highlight is “Watch Out,” again in part because of the way the backing vocals are used. But there is something about the overall vibe that I really like. “He who have ears will hear/He who have tongue will tell/He who have eyes will see/What you sow is what you shall reap.”

“Streets Of Gold” is another highlight. It is so sad that these anti-discrimination songs, these songs about standing up for your rights are still needed. “If I am wrong, be not afraid to say so/Is there any difference between black and white?/Oh no/We are all of one skin, same blood, same soul.” This CD also includes an alternate version, which was previously unreleased. Like the other version of “Symbol Of Reality,” this track has the vocals cutting out at points to focus on the beat, so not all of the lyrics are present in this version. “Righteous Man” contains a play on the phrase “love and understanding,” with them singing, “love and overstanding.” I like the work on keys. There is also an alternate version, which was included as a bonus track on the 1997 release of this CD.

The original album concluded with “Not Afraid To Fight,” a positive tune that opens with these lines: “I won’t give up, hey, I won’t give up this fight/Said I’m not running away from reality/I’m not afraid, hey, to fight for what is right.” It is interesting to me that the album opens and closes with songs that mention reality in their first lines. Maybe that’s because reality is something I don’t want to have much to do with these days. On this disc, this track is followed by a different version, previously unreleased. This version is nearly an instrumental, focusing on the rhythm, with only the first two lines of each verse being heard. The CD then ends with a couple of instrumental tracks, both of which were previously unreleased – “Symbol Of Reality” and “Streets Of Gold.”

CD Track List
  1. Symbol Of Reality
  2. Symbol Version
  3. Small Axe
  4. Bumping And Boring
  5. Cheater
  6. Watch Out
  7. Mister Goose
  8. Streets Of Gold
  9. Streets Of Gold Version
  10. Righteous Man
  11. Righteous Man Version
  12. Stand Alone
  13. Not Afraid To Fight
  14. Not Afraid To Fight Version
  15. Symbol Of Reality Instrumental Dub
  16. Streets Of Gold Instrumental Dub
This special expanded re-issue of Symbol Of Reality is scheduled to be released on April 20, 2018 (hmm, that seems the perfect date, doesn’t it?).

Monday, April 9, 2018

Late Blossom Blues: The Journey Of Leo “Bud” Welch DVD Review

When I heard Leo Welch’s first CD release, Sabougla Voices, several years ago, I had the same questions most people had – Where had this guy been all that time? How did it happen that suddenly, at the age of 81, he released a CD? Where had he been performing? His story seemed perfect for a feature-length documentary film. And now we have that film. Late Blossom Blues: The Journey Of Leo “Bud” Welch tells the story of a man for whom music was an important part of life and who finally got to share his music with the rest of the world while in his eighties, proving that it is never too late to achieve one’s dreams. His is an uplifting and positive tale.

The film opens with footage of a soundcheck, all in close-ups – a drum head being tightened, a guitar tuned, a vocal microphone tested. And we hear Leo Welch say: “Well, that sounds good. That’ll work.” Indeed. And we’re taken to rural Mississippi, with shots of life in the area, before we see Leo Welch. Interestingly, the film shows him doing ordinary, routine things before we’re treated to any concert footage. We see Leo getting a coffee at a convenience store, his gait slow, his back somewhat bent.  He is, at times, difficult to understand, as when he’s talking to two men at that store, but the DVD includes different options of subtitles, including subtitles just for moments when the dialogue is hard to hear.

The documentary features an interview with Vencie Varnado, who worked as Leo Welch’s manager, and is basically responsible for Welch having a recording career. Interestingly, he had absolutely no experience in the music realm, but because of his passion for Leo Welch’s music, he made it a point to learn. His involvement is part of what makes this story so interesting. There are also interviews with club owners and people from Big Legal Mess Records, and with Dixie Street, who played drums with Leo. She talks about how she first began playing with him.

Leo Welch gives us some information about his early life, detailing some of the other jobs he’s had. And we’re introduced to Leo’s family, who tell some anecdotes about him. Leo does talk a bit about the church, and we are shown some cool footage of him singing in church. There is interesting material about the blues being the devil’s music, and how Leo Welch did both the lord’s music and the devil’s music, gospel and blues. The film gives us a good amount of footage of Leo Welch in action, both in the studio and on the concert stage. He seems like a tremendously sweet person. I particularly love that footage of him listening to his CD in the studio. His excitement is absolutely charming.

I like that the word “journey” is in the film’s title, because this documentary does take us on what seems like two connected journeys – that of a beloved resident in the regular life of Mississippi, and the journey of a touring musician who signs autographs and plays gigs in foreign countries. And it all feels so natural. Leo’s is an excellent story, and this documentary does a great job of getting it across. By the way, during the closing credits, there is some footage from 1985 of Leo Welch performing “Praise His Name,” which is apparently the earliest known footage of him.

Special Features

The DVD has quite a lot of bonus material, including several deleted and extended scenes. Much of this footage is from the interview with Vencie, in which he talks about approaching Leo for the first time, and about the way Leo worked in the studio. “The studio was just like a venue for him,” he says. He also talks about Leo’s first gig after he began managing him, and interestingly he had no idea what Leo was going to do. There is also footage of Leo talking about his family, as well as Dixie Street talking about their best concert. The deleted and extended scenes total approximately twenty-one minutes.

There is also more performance footage, including Leo Welch at Bukka White Blues Festival, as well as at the recording studio and at his church. There is a bit of footage of Leo Welch jamming on his front porch with Leo Welch Jr. and John Kilgore. The performance footage is approximately twenty-eight minutes. And the DVD includes approximately a half hour of archival footage of Leo Welch, including Leo Welch & The Spiritual Airs performing in 1985, a portion of this footage being included in the closing credits. We also see Leo Welch performing a couple of songs on a television program in 1988, plus a brief interview, in which he talks about getting started playing the blues and about playing with BB King. There is also television footage from 1990 (in which the host – clearly not the brightest guy – says “brung his guitar” and “very unique”). The last of the archival footage is video footage from 1997 of Leo playing “Cadillac Baby.”

Late Blossom Blues: The Journey Of Leo “Bud” Welch was directed by Wolfgang Almer and Stefan Wolner, and is scheduled to be released on DVD on April 20, 2018.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Reverend Freakchild: “Dial It In” (2018) CD Review

We are now approximately sixty-three years into the Trump administration, and everyone is feeling exhausted, anxious and ill. When will this horror show be canceled? It’s anyone’s guess. Let’s hope it happens before democracy and the planet itself are completely destroyed. Meanwhile, folks continue to release good albums to help sustain us, help us keep our heads above the river of shit pumping out of the White House, help us retain at least a shred of faith in humanity. And in a time when the whole damn world seems to have the blues, the blues might be just the force to save us. Dial It In, the new release from Reverend Freakchild, features music based in the blues, but with other elements as well. Unlike his previous release, Preachin’ Blues, which was a solo album, this one finds several special guests joining the good reverend. Folks like Hugh Pool, Chris Parker, Jay Collins, Mark Karan, and Hazel Miller perform on various tracks. Most of the tracks were written or co-written by Reverend Freakchild, but there are a few good covers as well.

Dial It In opens with “Opus Earth,” which has a glorious back porch blues feel, but has some other things happening too, an ethereal, otherworldly wind blowing in, and strange beings taking part in some spiritual dance. And then more than halfway through, the vocals start, the lines delivered as spoken word. “Grant your blessing so that the path may clarify confusion/Grant your blessing so that confusion may dawn as wisdom.” This wild combination of sounds is effective and intriguing. I’m on board, and curious where the good reverend will take us on the rest of the journey of this album. What follows is a very cool rendition of “Personal Jesus,” here titled “Personal Jesus (On The Mainline).” This is a driving, bluesy version of the Depeche Mode song, with some cool work on guitar. And I love the harmonica when this one kicks in (that’s Hugh Pool on harmonica and backing vocals). From the title, I did expect it to be a medley with “Jesus On The Mainline,” but none of that song’s lyrics are included.

“Hippie Bluesman Blues” is a kind of playful tune, with some phrases that made me smile, like “psychedelic cul-de-sac.” Mark Karan (known for his work with RatDog) is on lead guitar and backing vocals; Hugh Pool is on rhythm guitar; Robin Sylvester is on bass; Chris Parker is on drums. “Dial It In!,” the title track, has a great groove and a cool lead vocal performance, with some good backing vocals, all of which help to make it one of my personal favorites. By the way, the backing vocals are by Hazel Miller and Garrett Dutton (G. Love). This one also features some fun stuff on harmonica by G. Love. And man, I dig that bass line by Tim Kiah. This is an all-round damn fine track. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Well now, can we go beyond/What we think of as right and wrong/Like loss and gain, obscurity and fame/Praise and blame, and pleasure and pain.” That’s followed by “Skyflower,” which also has a good rhythm, but is quite pretty at times.

“Roadtrance” is a trippy, kind of heavy jam. “Roadtrance” is a good title for it, particularly if the road goes through some strange, harsh alien landscape. Then in “Damaged Souls,” Reverend Freakchild asks, “Is life but a dream?” These days it’s a nightmare for anyone with a soul. This is an interesting track, making use of some familiar lines like “Well now, things ain’t what they seem” and “Well, you may be done with your past, but it ain’t done with you.” His vocal delivery at times reminds me of Lou Reed. “All I want to do is comfort you.” Ah, we all need that, don’t we? Particularly now, when a gross, mendacious racist is doing his best to drive the country to ruin, and his moronic followers are itching for civil war. This song is another of the disc’s highlights. Then “15 Going on 50” comes on like a classic rock ‘n’ roll country roadhouse tune, with fun work on piano by Brian Mitchell. “You’re between realities.” Oh yes. Rachel Benbow Murdy (who sang on “Janine” on Soul Coughing’s first album) provides backing vocals on this track.

Reverend Freakchild delivers an interesting take on Bob Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” It has a blues base, with some cool work on saxophone by Jay Collins. I love that saxophone; it gives the song a different voice, a different sense. Also, Chris Parker’s work on drums has a kind of jazzy feel. The reverend inserts some interesting pauses; for example, he allows a slight pause after “While others say don’t hate nothing at all” before “except hatred.” The line “But even the president of the United States must sometimes have to stand naked” has a different feel these days, doesn’t it? After all, there is a good chance we are soon going to be seeing naked pictures of Donald Trump, after which we will all want to scrub our eyes with bleach. I like this version of “It’s Alright, Ma” more and more as it goes on. Reverend Freakchild gives a strange delivery of the line “What else can you show me.” This rendition gets a little chaotic toward the end, which works well. I definitely recommend checking out this version.

Another highlight is Reverend Freakchild’s rendition of Blind Willie Johnson’s “The Soul Of A Man,” here titled “Soul Of A Man.” Ah yes, some classic blues, but with some new lyrics. Here, the reverend is joined by Lisa Marie on backing vocals. I love Reverend Freakchild’s work on National steel guitar. Well, the album began with “Opus Earth,” and it ends with “Opus Space,” which is basically the same thing, back porch blues with that strange atmosphere surrounding it. It’s like the wild journey has brought us back to the beginning. Are you ready to go round again?

CD Track List
  1. Opus Earth
  2. Personal Jesus (On The Mainline)
  3. Hippie Bluesman Blues
  4. Dial It In!
  5. Skyflower
  6. Roadtrance
  7. Damaged Souls
  8. 15 Going On 50
  9. It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)
  10. Soul Of A Man
  11. Opus Space 
Dial It In was released on CD on April 1, 2018 on Floating Records.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Salvo Losappio: “Long Story Short” (2018) CD Review

If you are in the mood for some good, honest jazz, you might want to check out Long Story Short, the debut album from tenor saxophone player Salvo Losappio. Born in Italy and now residing in New York, Salvo Losappio started on alto saxophone before switching to tenor several years ago. Joining him on this release are some seriously talented players from New York, including Sacha Perry on piano (Perry is a band leader himself, with the Sacha Perry Trio), Ari Roland on bass (Roland is a band leader as well, with The Ari Roland Jazz Quartet), and Phil Stewart on drums (Stewart has played with a lot of bands, and recently released his own CD, Melodious Drum).

The album opens with a rendition of “Shaw ‘Nuff” that has all the excitement and energy of early jazz recordings, when things were daring – at least, that’s the sense I get. It’s fast and wonderful and real, and feels spontaneous and alive, exactly how a Charlie Parker composition should be. Lose yourself in the moment, or wrap yourself in the moment, breathe, tap your toes and let go. This track includes a brief drum solo toward the end. Then “The End Of A Beautiful Friendship” (often simply titled “A Beautiful Friendship”) starts off with piano, which has an interesting tone; it’s mostly romantic, but with something of a darker feel over it. Or am I mad? Anyway, the band then kicks in, and the song has a cool, gentle swing to it, with Salvo Losappio’s saxophone taking on the vocal line, and moving perhaps a bit more briskly than some other renditions. It eases in its own direction, and has a good, cheerful vibe about it, which I certainly appreciate.

“Boerum Hill,” an original composition by Salvo Losappio, is one of my favorite tracks. It moves at a quick pace, racing to get there while simultaneously already being there (you know?), the notes just flowing out of that saxophone – naturally, effortlessly, like the sax itself is telling a story, holding you captive with every sound. It’s tremendous, but in some ways I find the bass work even more impressive, holding everything together, and moving like a maniac too – and I’m talking about his work even before the great lead section. Phil Stewart’s drum solo starts off simply, then builds, and seems to tell a story as well. Wonderful playing all around. The group then slows the pace again with Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” this version beginning with just saxophone and featuring more wonderful work by Ari Roland on bass.

“Leo For Two,” another original composition, has a cheerful vibe, and is making me feel like the world is a pretty good place (despite the existence of people like Donald Trump and Ted Nugent, two pricks who should be removed from Earth as soon as possible). This one will gently spin you round and lift you up. There is a short drum solo toward the end. That’s followed by another delightful, quickly moving gem, “Avalon.” Sacha Perry is flying over the keys like some wild, amped-up sprite, and once again I am impressed by Ari Roland’s work on bass. And Phil Stewart does some wonderful (and wonderfully varied) stuff on drums. On top of all that, Salvo Losappio drives things forward, aiming the vehicle straight up the mountain and on higher after that. The album then concludes with “I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You” (sometimes shortened to “I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance” and here shortened further to “A Ghost Of A Chance”).  The saxophone has a romantic air, but things don’t get overly sweet in this rendition. There is still some excitement, particularly in Sacha Perry’s piano work.

CD Track List
  1. Shaw ‘Nuff
  2. The End Of A Beautiful Friendship
  3. Boerum Hill
  4. Sophisticated Lady
  5. Leo For Two
  6. Avalon
  7. A Ghost Of A Chance 
Long Story Short is scheduled to be released on May 15, 2018 on Gut String Records.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Tennessee Jed: “Pimpgrass” (2018) CD Review

Yes, I was curious about Tennessee Jed in large part because I love that Grateful Dead song “Tennessee Jed.” (I always wonder, is the line “My doggie turned to me and he said let’s head back to Tennessee Jed” or “My dog, he turned to me and he said let’s head back to Tennessee Jed”?) But also, I am constantly in need of music to raise my spirits and reaffirm whatever faith I may still have in mankind, and bluegrass certainly does the trick. This isn’t strictly bluegrass, as Tennessee Jed mixes in elements of soul and rock. Most songs on this disc are originals, written or co-written by Jed Fisher (and, yes, Jed is from Tennessee; thus, the name Tennessee Jed). The group is made up of Tennessee Jed Fisher on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Scott Vestal on banjo, Todd Parks on bass, Luke Bulla on fiddle and backing vocals, Josh Shilling on key and backing vocals, Andy Hall on dobro, Patrick McAvinue on mandolin, Bob Mummert on drums, and Aaron McCune on backing vocals.

The album gets off to a great start with “Over The Mountain,” which has a cheerful bluegrass sound and features good harmonies, the first lines delivered a cappella. It’s a song about Tennessee, about traveling on Route 40. “Statesville, Asheville, Knoxville, Nashville/Back and forth, forever I may roam/Jesus blessed that stretch of Highway 40 West/Over the mountain to the place that I call home.” Tennessee Jed follows that with a ridiculously delightful cover of “Shout” that begins with a brief bit of dialogue from Animal House (“Do you want to dance?”/“Yeah!”). I love when bands take a pop or rock song, and tackle it bluegrass style (something Yonder Mountain String Band is so adept at doing). This track has a great energy, and I love the backing vocals. And, yes, they do include the “Yeah yeah, yeah yeah” bit. “Shout” is one of only two covers on the album. The other pop song covered bluegrass-style is Prince’s “Kiss.” I’ve seen Ellis Paul cover this one as a folk song, so I already knew it works well in this realm. Tennessee Jed delivers a fun rendition.

Tennessee Jed slows things down with a more serious number, “Can’t Get There From Here.” Check out these lines: “When the piper starts calling, this rodent comes crawling/To a cage that I built from my bones/And the key there with me, lord, that I failed to see/In my pocket, forgotten, unknown.” I also like the sweet sound of the fiddle, which comes as a contrast to the rough quality of the vocals. That’s followed by “Sweet Relief,” a fun, playful and humorous tune about misplacing things and then finding them again (hurrah!). I like how the pace and tone of the song change when each item is found; you can feel the relief as the pace slows. In the verse about car keys, he sings, “Fifteen minutes late, how much longer can this last/I’ve called up all the places I’ve ever driven past/Oh, I lost it, I’m losing it, I found it.” And I love that he thanks Jesus when the item is found, as if a god would really help out with some item. In the verse about cell phones, there is the line “Don’t know any numbers, this surely is a curse.” Ah, yet one more problem with current technology. No one bothers to remember anything anymore. This idea came up in The Claudettes’ new album too, that people will look up information rather than recall it. With regards to phone numbers, we used to memorize a significant number of them. Now, how many numbers do you have at the ready in your memory? This track features wonderful work on banjo.

“Cells” is a cool combination of bluegrass and soul, with a gospel vibe. I dig this interesting mix of sounds. This track becomes a good, relaxed jam. “Opie’s Intermezzo” is a pretty instrumental tune, the only instrumental track on this album, featuring some uplifting work on fiddle. The opening lines of “Soul-Country Pimpgrass” are: “I walked into a record store/I knew this was dream therefore.” That’s such a sad comment on how so many record stores have gone. I’m thankful there are still some around, and ones with knowledgeable folks working there (unlike the guy working the store in this song). This song is basically the title track, and it has a happy sound, about how certain music makes us think of home. The CD concludes with a mellower bluegrass song, “The Train For To Carry Me Home,” with good harmonies and a sweet vibe. “The smell of your skin still wakes me while dreaming/I open my eyes to the wall/I still hear the footsteps, you quietly leaving/There is no reason to stall.” This one was written by Jed Fisher and Phil Bates.

CD Track List
  1. Over The Mountain
  2. Shout
  3. Can’t Get There From Here
  4. Sweet Relief
  5. Cells
  6. Opie’s Intermezzo
  7. Sunup ‘Til Sundown
  8. Soul-Country Pimpgrass
  9. Kiss
  10. The Train For To Carry Me Home
Pimpgrass was released on March 1, 2018. By the way, there is a playful warning on the back of the CD case: “Warning: No electric guitars were used in the making of this recording.”

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Claudettes: “Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium!” (2018) CD Review

First of all, I love the album title Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium! The humor of it reminds me of my early teens, especially with the use of the exclamation point, because, hey, everything was so serious and important back then. Scandal! Gymnasium! Dance! And the back cover, with the black bars over the band members’ eyes, reminds me of my childhood too, for I was a huge AC/DC fan and listened to the Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap album a lot. So I thought maybe the music on this new disc from The Claudettes would take me on a trip back to that time, or perhaps on a trip that has the feel of that time, that excitement. But I certainly wasn’t prepared for the wild ride this disc took me on. Yes, there is excitement here, but the music feels outside of time, with its interesting combination of jazz and pop and blues and punk. All tracks on this release are originals, written by Brian Berkowitz (also known as Johnny Iguana). This band really has its own sound, its own perspective, its own vibe. And it has something to say. The band is made up of Berit Ulseth on vocals; Johnny Iguana on keys, percussion and vocals; Zach Verdoorn on bass, guitar and vocals; and Matthew Torre on drums and percussion.

The album opens with “Don’t Stay With Me,” an unusual and totally engaging song with a full sound and a good rhythm. I particularly dig the work on keys. Check out these lines: “You obey too willingly/You come way too easily, when I call/You shouldn't stay with me, at all/Don't stay with me.” That’s followed by “November,” a character sketch with an urgent rhythm. “August of 2003/That was the best month that she’d ever seen/Tour bus and flowers and white limousine/Now she’s fumbling for a foothold, and she knows it’s getting late.”

“Give It All Up For Good” comes on strong, and is immediately fun, with a rhythm that catches you. And once the band has you in its groovy grip, it has something to say to you: “Nobody knows how to talk to each other these days” is the opening line. Yup, with all the new modes of communication, no one seems able to truly connect with anyone else. What I also love about this track is its play with language and with the expectations from what may seem like familiar lines. For example, what you expect will be “Everyone is going insane” becomes “Everyone around me, everyone is going inane.” And, bugger me, ain’t that the truth? This is one of my favorite tracks. “Naked On The Internet” is also about a form of communication. Social media sites took over communication, and now they are in the news again, as it is clear once more that our privacy is in jeopardy. Partly it’s our own fucking fault. Don’t post photos of every damn thing you do, don’t mention when you start a relationship or end a relationship, don’t post where you are at any given moment. Just stop! We are all naked on the internet, from the supposed safety of our homes. Yes, “Naked On The Internet” is another of my favorite tracks, about a lack of privacy, and about how once something is on the internet, it can never really be completely removed.

“Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium,” the album’s title track (though without the exclamation point), begins on piano. This one takes on an urgent, intense feel right at the start, and yet has something of an early rock and roll thing happening too, and then also a 1970s ELO-type of thing. There is a great energy to this instrumental track. Well, there are vocals, but no lyrics. This is actually another of the album’s highlights for me.

“Influential Famers” comes on suddenly with a strong force, reminding us that piano is a percussion instrument. It does then ease back for brief moments before thumping in again. The line “It’s not 1989 no more” seems to stand apart, stand out, like when you’re on acid and suddenly a line is clearer than any other (ah, is that the band’s way of telling me to forget any associations I was making between this album’s cover and my teens?). Then “Death And Traffic” begins on piano too, but in a more mellow way. And Berit’s vocals have a more compassionate, thoughtful tone. I think this song is going to speak strongly to a lot of people, particularly these days. “I can’t bear to hear ‘They shot ‘im! They shot ‘im!’/All I wanna hear when the dust has cleared is ‘We found ‘em! We found ‘em! We found ‘em!’/All I wanna hear is ‘Yes, my dear, the fear is nearly over.’” Things are bad out there, and the consensus – sadly – is that things are going to get even worse before they get better (seriously, I think at least once a day someone says that to me). I love that this song is also hopeful, but it had me in tears. “The boys in the city and the girls so pretty should run for fun, not for cover…for cover.”

This CD ends with an unusual tune (well, these are all unusual, aren’t they?), “Utterly Absurd.” It’s a cool song that at times might put you at unease, like you’re unsure of your footing. This one, too, is about communication, with these lines: “Thought dies as transmissions rise/’I’ll look it up’ has devoured ‘I know.’” Doesn’t it drive anyone else mad that in a conversation when someone is trying to remember something or think of something, someone else will just get on the phone and search for the answer? Sure, it’s convenient, but it’s so goddamn depressing. No one bothers to think anymore. This song has a punk energy, which feels completely appropriate.

CD Track List
  1. Don’t Stay With Me
  2. November
  3. Give It All Up For Good
  4. Naked On The Internet
  5. Pull Closer To Me
  6. Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium
  7. Bill Played Saxophone
  8. Influential Farmers
  9. Death And Traffic
  10. Total Misfit
  11. Taco Night Material
  12. Utterly Absurd
Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium! was released on March 23, 2018 on Yellow Dog Records.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Yonder Mountain String Band at The Coach House, 3-29-18 Concert Review

Yonder Mountain String Band performing "Saint In The City"
The Coach House, in San Juan Capistrano, is kind of an odd venue for Yonder Mountain String Band. The audience is seated at long tables (twelve patrons to a table), and served dinner. There is no specific dance area, but there is some space in the back (which is where I went for most of the show, occasionally moving forward to take a few photos), and some space to the side. I was told that the venue seats five hundred people. Most of the folks that were seated at my table were locals, and had not seen Yonder Mountain String Band before. When the band took the stage at approximately 9:25 p.m., Ben acknowledged that probably several people in the audience were new to the band and its music, in a brief bit of stage banter before opening with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City.” They followed that with another cover, King Harvest’s “Dancing In The Moonlight,” perhaps to ease the audience in with some familiar material.

It was opening day for the Red Sox, and after “Dancing In The Moonight,” Ben alluded to the fact that the Sox did not get off to a great start (they blew a fairly decent lead). And in introducing “Jolene,” Ben said, “Guess which member of the band is thirty-five weeks pregnant.” Allie then mentioned that the concert was her “baby’s seventy-first show in utero.” Although the majority of the audience remained seated for most of the show (until the encore), the band still did a fantastic set, which included “Another Day,” which might be my favorite of the band’s songs (certainly in my top three). There was plenty of jamming throughout the night, and even a mandolin solo. John Brighton, the fiddler from Old Salt Union, joined the band for the last couple of tunes of the set, and so there was double fiddle action, which was wonderful. The set ended at 11:15 p.m., and the band came back for a brief, one-song encore, “Rambler’s Anthem,” a fun way to conclude the night.

Set List
  1. It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City
  2. Dancing In The Moonlight
  3. Jail Song
  4. Jolene
  5. Insult And An Elbow > 
  6. Fingerprint
  7. Another Day
  8. Pass This Way >
  9. E.M.D. >
  10. Pass This Way
  11. All The Time >
  12. New Dusty Miller >
  13. All The Time 
Encore:
  1. Rambler’s Anthem
Here are some photos from the set:

"Dancing In The Moonlight"
"Jolene" 
"Fingerprint" 
"Fingerprint" 
"Pass This Way"
"Pass This Way"
"E.M.D." 
"E.M.D."
"All The Time"
"All The Time"
"All The Time"
"Rambler's Anthem"
The Coach House is located at 33157 Camino Capistrano, in San Juan Capistrano, California (by the way, the venue is a bit difficult to find, as you can’t see it from the street). The tour continues tonight at the Belly Up in Solana Beach, California.