Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Vinyl Hampdin: “Red” (2018) CD Review

Vinyl Hampdin is a great loud funky beast of a band, led by trombonist and songwriter Steve Wiest, and featuring a horn section and some dynamic vocals. The band’s debut album, Red, is an odd and exciting mix of original material and covers, with even the covers, to a large extent, feeling like originals. The band is made up of Lisa Dodd on vocals, Ryan Davidson on guitar, Eric Gunnison on keys, Stockton Helbing on drums, Gerald Stockton on bass, Art Bouton on baritone saxophone and flute, Frank David Greene on trumpet, Ray Herrmann on tenor saxophone and flute, and Steve Wiest on trombone. These guys seem to draw inspiration from many different musical areas, including jazz, rock, progressive rock, funk and soul.

The band kicks things off with a fun, funky, jazzy rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” the horns having a prominent role, at least equal to that of the vocals. Then the song finds a somewhat mellower place to dwell for a bit, with some nice work on keys. But soon things get wild again. Yes, this group takes the song in some interesting and unexpected directions. And listen to Lisa Dodd belting out the lyrics toward the end. They follow that with an original tune titled “Gottaluvit,” a funky rock song with more nice work on horns, plus some catchy vocals on the title line. And check out these lyrics: “Think you so slick with what you say/The bigger the lie, the bigger the pay/Don’t matter what’s right, don’t matter what’s wrong/Get enough votes and sing a new song.” “Gottaluvit” was written by Steve Wiest.

“One Song,” also written by Steve Wiest, is a strange combination of jazz and progressive rock. We’ve stepped into some other realm now, and it feels like we’ve left everything else far behind. Can we even remember the funk? There is something theatrical here, particularly in the vocals. I’m not as fond of this one as I am of the first two tracks, but there is certainly something intriguing about it. You want to find out where it’s going. The electric guitar turns to hard rock toward the end, and the horns sound like Chicago if that band had something to prove and was heavily armed. (By the way, Ray Herrmann is also a member of that band.) We return to funkier ground with a cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “The Road’s My Middle Name.” Yeah, it’s still bluesy, particularly in Lisa Dodd’s vocal delivery, but those horns take things in a different direction from the original.

Vinyl Hampdin also delivers a very strange rendition of “Flowers On The Wall,” the Statler Brothers song. It’s nearly unrecognizable, except for the lyrics. Gone is the lighthearted sense of the original version, and in its place is someone who is perhaps a bit unhinged and a bit on edge. There is an eerie, even frightening, aspect to this version at moments. It’s different, obviously, but it makes sense, as I always thought the song was about someone in a mental hospital. That’s followed by an original tune, “Billions,” a song that urges us to choose love, something that is incredibly difficult to do these days. “Don’t fear the dark, open your heart instead/How many people are lost?/There are billions, billions.”

This band covers Rare Earth’s “I Just Want To Celebrate,” which seems a perfect choice to follow “Billions,” and a perfect choice for this band. I love this song, and these guys do a great job with it, giving it a fiery, positive energy. They then give us an original song about baseball, “Diamonds.” As you’ll recall, 2016 was a completely foul year. The only good thing from that year was the Cubs winning the World Series. I’m not even a Cubs fan (go Red Sox!), but that Game 7 was fantastic. “Diamonds” refers to the Cubs’ curse in the line, “No goats, my heart can’t take the strain.” That’s followed by a cover of Paul McCartney’s “My Love,” never one of my favorite Paul McCartney songs (but still much better than “Silly Love Songs”) Still, Vinyl Hampdin does a decent job with it. The album then ends with an interesting and powerful rendition of Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” featuring more great stuff on horns, as well as some nice work on guitar. “When you love me, I can’t get enough/And I want to spread the news/That if it feels this good being used/You just keep on using me/Until you use me up.”

CD Track List
  1. Superstition
  2. Gottaluvit
  3. One Song
  4. The Road’s My Middle Name
  5. Pay For It
  6. Flowers On The Wall
  7. Billions
  8. I Just Want To Celebrate
  9. Diamonds
  10. My Love
  11. Use Me 
Red is scheduled to be released on October 5, 2018 on Armored Records.

Maxwell James: “Maxwell James” (2018) CD Review

Maxwell James is a singer and songwriter based in Nashville, his music a delicious blend of folk, rock, pop and blues, any sort of musical boundaries ignored in the name of pursuing something better. And he gets there. On his self-titled debut EP, he is joined by Jason Cheek on drums and percussion, Chris Croce on bass, David Dorn on organ and electric piano, and Scotty Murray on electric lap steel. All the songs are originals, written by Maxwell James.

The EP opens with “Roll Down Your Window Slowly,” a catchy tune with a steady beat, a song I dig right the start. It’s rock and pop, with a bit of a bluesy edge, a good song for summer. “Roll down your window slowly/Going to get to know me.” There is some playful vocal work toward the end, giving it a kind of relaxed groove, followed by a false ending. The blues edge is stronger, more pronounced, at the beginning of the next song, “Feed My Evolution.” This one too has a steady, and somewhat slow, rhythm, with an almost menacing quality. I particularly like the part on keys in the second half of the song. “Be my absolution from evil/Bite your tongue and don’t make a sound.”

My favorite track is “The More You Say, The Less I Know,” a wonderful mix of folk and blues with some damn good lyrics. “I’m on my way to feeling low/Sometimes I pray I just let go/What can I say when I know that I’ll be wrong.” There is something catchy about this song, and there is a good chance you’ll be singing along before it is over. That’s followed by another of this disc’s highlights, “Blatantly,” which begins with acoustic guitar and some seriously nice vocal work. There is something absolutely delightful about this song, about its sound. It has me smiling every time I listen to it. And check out these lyrics: “I don’t want to be untied/I just want to be on your side/When all of your friends/Have left you again/I don’t want to be inside/I just want to be on your mind/When all of your sins/Catch up in the end.” I love this song. The EP then concludes with “When It’s Real,” a slower folk-pop song, with more nice vocal work and a sweet, kind of sad vibe, which I love. “Right or wrong, I want to feel it/There’s a hope when it’s real/In my heart, I want to hear it/Like a song in my ear/And I know I can’t pretend/There’s a life without trouble/So I go and try to live/When I can.”

CD Track List
  1. Roll Down Your Window Slowly
  2. Feed My Evolution
  3. The More You Say, The Less I know
  4. Blatantly
  5. When It’s Real 
Maxwell James was released on March 22, 2018. I am definitely looking forward to hearing more from this singer/songwriter.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

M.D. Dunn: “The River Lately” (2018) CD Review

It’s a bit unnerving to suddenly find ourselves living in horrible times, among horrible people, and to not be able to predict when those times (and people) will come to an end. I honestly thought we were better than this, that we had progressed in some way. I was wrong. Being angry about it only seems to hurt me, but not being angry about it makes me feel guilty. And so I’ve been turning to music to help me through, and to remind me that, although a significant portion of the country has gone irreparably sideways, there are still lots of decent folks out there who are struggling with the same problems, the same anger, the same depression. Music tells us we are not alone. Music reminds us of what is truly important. I was turned on to M.D. Dunn’s music a couple of years ago, just before everything went wrong. His 2016 release Solace impressed me, and I was excited to hear more from him. His new album, The River Lately, features all original material, largely in the folk realm, but certainly not limited to that. This album contains some seriously excellent lyrics. But, perhaps more importantly, it is music to help us as we try to make sense of a world that lost its balance.

M.D. Dunn opens the new album with “The River Lately,” the title track. It eases in with a sweet folk sound on the guitar, and seems to kick in gradually, in stages, first taking on a cool, mellow 1970s vibe, like some of CSN’s mid-1970s work. Then the horn comes in, which is kind of a delightful surprise. I love the sound of this song, and the way it builds. But the lyrics are what really grab me. Check out these lines: “Have you been to the river lately?/You should see how high the water is now/Last time you couldn’t drown here if you’d been trying.” And these: “There are no shortcuts where we’re going/We’re going to have to play it through.” And these: “You probably have it all figured out anyway/Don’t let that keep you from trying.” How’s that for some good advice? The sax comes back in after this, and the song has kind of a nice little jam, which I dig. By the way, that’s Josh Norling, who plays both trumpet and saxophone on this album. “Hold on, hold on/With all those thoughts making noise all the time/Stick around for the punchline.” Yes.

“War In Me” feels like folk for the first few seconds, then comes in with a force, with an edge, which seems fitting for the song’s content. After all, turmoil within is going to affect what comes out. “You’re the sound I make when I dream/Another soul who is more than you seem.” What a line, eh? “You’re the sound I make when I dream.” This album is full of astute, intriguing lines like that. “War In Me” is followed by “The Story Begins,” which has a lighter, more playful vibe, in strong contrast to what we’ve just experienced. This track features more good work on saxophone. “When you arrive, the story begins.”

“Barn Swallow’s Dance” is the album’s first instrumental track. It’s strange, but sometimes when I listen to it, I feel it should have lyrics. I’m surprised when his voice doesn’t come in at some point. That being said, this tune has an uplifting vibe which I appreciate. The other instrumental track is “Dragonfly,” a pretty guitar piece that has a positive feel to it.

One of the album’s most important and timely songs is “The Cowardice Of Kings.” It is no secret that Donald Trump fancies himself a king, and that he has strange love affairs with dictators. He is a dangerous and doltish enemy of democracy, and thus an enemy of the United States, and he should be treated as such. Donald Trump is not mentioned by name in this song. But see if these lyrics don’t apply: “The cowardice of kings brings cruelty to the weakest/Go on and call him on it and you become his new enemy” and “The cowardice of kings makes everyone a traitor/Sees refugees as enemies and immigrants as invaders/Public dissent becomes a treasonable crime.” And this: “The cowardice of kings brings out the tyrant.” This song reminds us to “stick around” for “the weather will change.” Yes, but please hurry.

The first line of “Only In Summer” caught me by surprise: “All he said was she was pretty enough to be a stripper.” Before I could catch myself, I laughed aloud. M.D. Dunn follows that with these lines: “They used to say that back home/It never was a problem/He thought it was a compliment.”  And there is a really good line about thinking about what you say before saying it: “Every scene you’re in needs editing/Before it goes to air.”  This is a good country song, delivered with a passion, his voice once or twice reminding me of Brian Doser. The album closes with “We Need Everyone,” in which M.D. Dunn sings “We need you now/We need everyone/You have always, always been loved.”

CD Track List
  1. The River Lately
  2. War In Me
  3. The Story Begins
  4. Ghost Water
  5. Barn Swallow’s Dance
  6. The Cowardice Of Kings
  7. When I Fall Away
  8. Only In Summer
  9. Dragonfly
  10. We Need Everyone
The River Lately was released on April 29, 2018.

Adam Ezra at Kiva House Concerts, 6-10-18 Concert Review

Adam Ezra performing "Yellow Brick Road"
I do not enjoy looking for things. If I can’t find something quickly, I figure the hell with it, it will turn up or it won’t. That’s what happened with my notes from the Adam Ezra concert I saw a month ago in Massachusetts. When I went to write my review, the notes were not where I expected them to be, and I figured they could have come loose from my clipboard anywhere between Massachusetts and Los Angeles. Someone in the Dallas airport might be reading them, assuming of course that anyone can read my handwriting. Well, last night the notes turned up. They were in an envelope with a CD I had been listening to. How did they get in there? No idea. But the concert was so good that I figured I’d write something now, using the small portions of the notes that I myself can make out (though mostly what I wrote was simply the set list, because I was enjoying the show too much to take copious notes) and my memory (those who know me well might be questioning the wisdom in trusting my memory, but hey, sometimes a slightly fictional account of a show can be just as enjoyable). Okay, enough of this rambling introduction.

My brother runs the Kiva House Concerts in Billerica, Massachusetts (just a bit outside of Boston). And he tries to book a show whenever I’m in town. This past trip, Adam Ezra did a solo show, and the weather was nice enough that the show was held outside in the back yard (rather than in the basement). And it was a phenomenal concert, with lots of positive vibes. It was a Sunday, and it also happened to be our parents’ wedding anniversary, but more on that in a bit. When Adam began the show, at 3:34 p.m., he mentioned he had no plans for the set list, and that people could shout out ideas. And indeed, they did. They were not shy about it. Several songs in the first set were requests, including “OK By You,” “Yellow Brick Road” and “Lonely Mile.” Also early in the first set, Adam played “The Toast,” and this he dedicated to our parents for their fifty-first anniversary. In the song, he urges, “Raise up your glasses/Let us drink to the wind at our backs.” It was an incredibly sweet moment. But really, the entire show was like that. It was intimate and friendly and wonderful. Not that every song was sweet, of course. He played “Something To Break,” mentioning that it’s an angry song, and that he just has to play it all the time these days. I think we all can understand that. “I wish I had something to break.” He played harmonica on “A Boy’s Song” and “Switching To Whiskey.” “Switching To Whiskey” is a somewhat new song that I love. The first set closed with a cover of “Sweet Baby James.” The first set ended at 4:36 p.m.

After a 35-minute break, he started the second set with “You Dance With Me,” which then led straight into “Corn Song.” The second set included some favorites like “Basement Song” and “Let Your Hair Down,” as well as a new song, “It Don’t Land.” He also did a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I’ve heard a lot of artists cover this one over the past decade or so, and I’m always curious which verses they’ll do, and in what order. Leonard Cohen himself performed different verses on different tours over the years. Adam Ezra did five verses, starting with the “secret chord” verse and then the “kitchen chair” verse, the first two verses from the studio version heard on Various Positions (my personal favorite Leonard Cohen album). The other three verses he did were more recent ones, beginning with the “I’ve walked this floor” verse and following it with the “what’s really going on below” verse and finishing with the “maybe there’s a god above” verse. So basically, he performed all but one of the verses that Leonard Cohen did on that final tour (and in a slightly different order). And he did a really nice job with it. It was one of the highlights of the second set. He followed that with “Katie,” on which he played harmonica. He ended the second set with a cover of “Let It Be,” performing it unmiked in the middle of the audience. He broke a string and said, “Oh man, I really fucked this thing up,” and yet it was still a wonderful ending to the set. The second set ended at 6:20 p.m.

At that point, he told the crowd that he would do another set for anyone who wanted to stick around. This entire set, which started at 6:38 p.m., was performed unmiked and in the audience. It had a casual, intimate vibe. Hell, the whole show was intimate, but this set was particularly relaxed and fun. He opened it with “Flyin’” and at one point forgot some of the lyrics. The audience reminded him, and he responded, “You know this shit better than I do.” That was followed by “Shine” and then by a new song, which had a false start. He mentioned that it’s not quite out of the incubation stage yet. I don’t know the name of this song. My brother thinks it’s probably titled “When My Work Is Done.” The only lines I wrote down were “When I’ve come to meet my maker/When my work is done,” so that seems a fairly safe bet. Adam followed that with the crowd favorite “Sprig,” and then “She’s Just A Girl.” There was some audience participation on “Come On Over,” which wrapped up the third set. The show ended at 7:20 p.m. I’ve seen Adam Ezra only a few times, but this was absolutely the best of those shows. Apparently folks that have seen him a lot also remarked this was one of his best concerts.

Set List

Set I
  1. You Paint Me
  2. OK By You
  3. Yellow Brick Road
  4. The Toast
  5. All I Am
  6. Lonely Mile
  7. Rescue
  8. Something To Break
  9. A Boy’s Song
  10. Switching To Whiskey
  11. Sweet Baby James 
Set II
  1. You Dance With Me >
  2. Corn Song
  3. Kill Like This
  4. Glory Song
  5. Like An Angel
  6. It Don’t Land
  7. Basement Song
  8. Let Your Hair Down
  9. Hallelujah
  10. Katie
  11. I Believe
  12. Let It Be
  1. Flyin’
  2. Shine
  3. When My Work Is Done (title?)
  4. Sprig
  5. She’s Just A Girl
  6. Naïve Little Me
  7. Devil’s Side
  8. Come On Over
Here are a few photos from the show:

"A Boy's Song"
"Kill Like This"
"Basement Song"
"Let It Be"

And if you are interested in attending one of the Kiva House Concerts, here is the link to the site.

Chalwa: “Concentration Time” (2018) CD Review

I like to smoke pot on occasion, but I am apparently not up on the lingo because I had no idea what “chalwa” meant. For anyone else who might be wondering, it is a kind of pipe for smoking marijuana. Chalwa is also the name of a reggae band based in Asheville, North Carolina. The band’s new album, Concentration Time, features all original music. This album has its own sound, its own feel, and isn’t your typical reggae release. This music really grew on me. The band, by the way, is made up of Dennis Berndt on lead vocals and guitar, Dustin Brown on bass, Bernard Carmen on keys and vocals, Tim Marsh on guitar and vocals, Nethali Percival on percussion and melodica, Joshua Lyn on drums, and Evan Ackerman on guitar. Joining them on this release are JP Furnas on trombone, Greg Hollowell on saxophone, Aaron “Woody” Wood on guitar, Mike Rhodes on drums, and Nik Hope on drums.

The album gets off to a good start with “The Journey,” a somewhat mellow, easygoing reggae tune. That steady reggae beat is present, but it’s not as prominent as it often is. And there is some nice work on horns. I really like this song’s vibe; it is having a relaxing effect on me. Like I could just let go and ride upon the soothing river of this song. “Even though it’s cold and dreary/Inside there’s burning a candle bright enough to light up the city.” That’s followed by “Roots,” which surprised me the first time I listened to it, as it has something of a 1950s or early 1960s sound mixed with reggae. This is a delightful, intriguing and seriously cool song, one of my personal favorites. I love what the group does vocally here. “A peace of mind without a piece of land/So take the roots in your heart and your hand/The roots will bring you back home.” Then “Concentration Time,” the album’s title track, has a very different vibe. I am really impressed by the variety of moods and sounds on this album. Sometimes reggae can feel a bit stale, when all the tracks have a similar sound. That is not the case here at all.  Inspiration, dedication, putting out your life creation/Your life creation/But anxiety is on the rise/Please don’t let these tears get in your eyes/Get in your eyes/Worries come and worries go/Let your heart just beat in full control.”

“Fire” begins with the sound effects of a storm, which I – as always – would rather do without. But this song, once it gets going, is quirky and fun and totally enjoyable, and it develops into a good jam. “We need some rain to put out this here fire/We need more love in this here hour.” (By the way, my copy of this CD contains an error on the back of the sleeve, with “Fire” listed as the fifth track, and “Life Goes On” as the sixth, when the two songs are actually in the reverse order.) “Fire” is followed by “Staring At The Sun,” the title of which reminds me of that moment when Donald Trump looked directly at the solar eclipse. What a fucking moron. Not only that, but the dipshit actually pointed at the sun, in case anyone wasn’t sure where it was. It would be funny if it all weren’t so depressing and frightening that this idiot is in a position of power. Anyway, the song has a really good groove. “Beating Of The Drums” is a fun, positive song that makes me smile. “Listen closely, here it comes/It’s the beating of the drums.” Yes, this album should help raise your spirits. And we can all use a bit of that these days, eh? The album concludes with “BassBalls,” a song that incorporates the sound of a baseball announcer, which calls to mind that section from “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.” I’m a big baseball fan, but this is my least favorite track on the album.

CD Track List
  1. The Journey
  2. Roots
  3. Concentration Time
  4. Can You See
  5. Life Goes On
  6. Fire
  7. Staring At The Sun
  8. Sisters Of The Moon
  9. Beating Of The Drum
  10. BassBalls
Concentration Time was released on CD on June 20, 2018.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Marty Elkins: “Fat Daddy” (2018) CD Review

Marty Elkins is an extremely talented jazz vocalist based in New York. Her voice fits with the best of the classic jazz singers, those women you turn to again and again. On her new release, Fat Daddy, Marty Elkins delivers excellent, heartfelt, and totally enjoyable renditions of some classic songs. Though the songs chosen for this release are all many decades old, they are not the well-worn numbers we’ve heard too many times. The band backing her includes Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet; James Chirillo on guitar; Joel Diamond on piano, organ and alto saxophone; Steve Ash on piano; Lee Hudson on bass; Taro Okamoto on drums and tambourine; and Leopoldo Fleming on conga and claves.

Marty Elkins opens the album with “You Turned The Tables On Me,” her beautiful voice backed by just bass at the start. There is something amusing about this song, particularly in lines like “I always thought when you bought/The lovely presents you bought/Why hadn’t you bought me more.” This track develops into a fun, sweet version, and includes just a bit of scat at one point. That’s followed by “On Revival Day,” a song written by Andy Razaf, and recorded by Bessie Smith. The first time I listened to this disc, the moment this track began, I found myself with a goofy grin on my face. This one is an absolute delight, a bit of blues, a bit of gospel, a bit of New Orleans jazz, and a whole lot of joy. This song rhymes “hallelujah” and “peculiar,” so there. I love the work on trumpet. This song feels like a spiritual celebration, and is bound to lift your spirits.

Things then turn mellow for “How Can You Face Me,” a song about the end of a romance, written by Fats Waller and Andy Razaf. But after a moment, it kicks in with a nice steady rhythm, like she has decided she should not have to suffer. After all, it’s the guy’s fault, he was the one being dishonest, and she’s not going to remain down. “After you broke each vow/How can you face me now?” she asks, perhaps even challenges, him. There is more wonderful stuff on horn, and also guitar. Then on “That’s All There Is To That” Marty Elkins’ vocal performance has me entranced. It is smooth and sexy, and contains more than a dash of humor.

The trumpet gets “It’s Too Hot For Words” going, like a call to open our windows, to come out into the streets. This is one of my favorite tracks, and it certainly feels like the perfect song right now. “It’s too hot for words/There’s nothing like relaxation/Can’t endure this temperature/But if you want to make love, okay!” Amen! I love the excitement and joy in her delivery of “Okay!” Her humor shines through on this track.  There is more lovely work on horn. Actually, each of the musicians gets a chance to shine here, and I particularly love Taro Okamoto’s drumming. The fun continues with “Cow Cow Boogie,” with that cool rhythm on piano and some delicious stuff on horn and keys. There is a nice little jam here, and a certain playfulness to Marty’s vocal performance.

“Fat Daddy,” the album’s title track, is another fun and delightful tune to get you moving and shaking.  I’ve got men who are younger, handsome too/They just don’t move me like you do.” This track features some nice work on guitar, but it’s the horn that really makes this one so enjoyable. There is a bit of a New Orleans flavor here, which I love. “These Foolish Things” is a romantic number that, like most romantic songs these days, makes me think of my girlfriend (“Don’t get mushy,” she reminds me, too late). “Those stumbling words that told you what my heart meant/A fairground’s painted swings/These foolish things remind me of you.”  The album then concludes with “Trav’lin’ All Alone,” a groovy and catchy number with a prominent bass line.

CD Track List
  1. You Turned The Tables On Me
  2. On Revival Day
  3. How Can You Face Me
  4. That’s All There Is To That
  5. It’s Too Hot For Words
  6. Cow Cow Boogie
  7. I Cover The Waterfront
  8. It’s A Pity To Say Goodnight
  9. My Old Flame
  10. Fat Daddy
  11. I Can’t Face The Music
  12. Sugar
  13. These Foolish Things
  14. Trav’lin’ All Alone
Fat Daddy was released on July 6, 2018 on Nagel Heyer Records.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

My New Grateful Dead Shirt

Yesterday my friend Jon and I caught a really good show by Dead And Company. We ended up parking fairly close to Shakedown Street, so after the show we walked through, checking out all the wares. The last thing I needed was another T-shirt, but I saw one that I couldn’t resist purchasing. It was exactly right for me and for our current landscape. On the front it says, “Making America Grateful Again,” obviously a play on the slogan of that racist moron currently pretending to be president (a slogan he stole from Ronald Reagan, by the way). But also it touches upon the way a lot of us in this country feel, grateful that these musicians are touring again, spreading the good times. The picture on the front of the shirt is close to that which was on the back of the very first Grateful Dead T-shirt I ever owned, a “Twenty Years So Far” shirt from 1985. Below the picture is a line from “Uncle John’s Band”: “No time to hate.” (Well, the full line in the song is “Ain’t no time to hate, barely time to wait.”) A good reminder to myself when I read the news or when some fool comments on something I’ve posted.

The back of the shirt makes use of lines from “Throwing Stones,” a song that feels more relevant than ever. It reads, “While the politicians are throwing stones, the kids they dance and shake their bones,” a slight change from the song’s lines “And the politicians throwing stones/So the kids they dance and shake their bones.” (Those lines are toward the end; earlier in the song, the two lines are reversed.) The artwork reminds us that Donald Trump and his like are not representative of what this county is supposed to be about. There is still good out there.

So, yeah, it’s easy to see why I needed to buy this shirt. Anyway, I just thought I’d share that with you.

Dead And Company at Dodgers Stadium, 7-7-18 Concert Review

Dead And Company performing "Ramble On Rose"
This past week, record temperatures were noted all over the world. I was in Santa Clarita, where the temperature hit 114 degrees on Friday. It felt like the planet was dying. According to the weather folks, it was supposed to cool off to 100 degrees or so in Los Angeles for Saturday’s Dead And Company concert at Dodgers Stadium. I had seen the Grateful Dead on some pretty hot days – Foxboro in the summer of ’89, Raleigh in the summer of ’90. But, as my friend Jon Rosenberg pointed out, we were a lot younger then. Shit didn’t bother us like it does now. And my car’s air conditioning wasn’t cooperating, forcing hot air into my car, regardless of how I adjusted the dial. Fortunately, Jon offered to drive to the concert, mainly because he was worried we might actually die in my oven-on-wheels on the short ride there.

Shockingly, there was no traffic on the way in, and we parked in Lot 1, where Shakedown Street was. It cost us $35 to park. That’s insane. What exactly does the facility fee on our tickets pay for then? We pondered that for a few moments, then headed into the venue. Our seats were on the floor. That is, in the outfield. I was able to walk over to third base and stand there for a bit, which I admit was kind of a thrill for me. In addition to being a big Grateful Dead fan, I am a big baseball fan (go Red Sox!). Standing there, seeing the field from that new perspective, I felt that it wasn’t all that far to home plate. Give me just the slightest of leads, and I will steal home. No problem.

The tickets indicated the show would start at 7 p.m., but a little after 7, the place was still slowly filling up. Very slowly. The line at the security checkpoint wasn’t all that long when we went through, but it moved incredibly slowly. I asked one of the guys there, “How long will it take to get everyone in?”  He said: “We should get everyone in by eight. What time does the show start?” “Seven,” I told him. “Oh,” he said. The temperature on the floor was significantly cooler than I’d expected, and cooler even than up by the concession stands. My friend Jon and I had kind of braced ourselves for horrible conditions, and so we were pleasantly surprised.

At 7:31 p.m., the band came out, and kicked off the first set with “Playing In The Band.” And they got right into it, no sort of introductory jam. Of course, the song turned into a jam, and it was good. Nothing spectacular, but the night was just beginning. That led straight into “Bertha.” I still can’t get used to John Mayer’s voice, but this song is always a fun choice. It seemed to pick up some energy as it went, and the jam was totally enjoyable. However, they ended it oddly, fading out on the repeated “Anymore” at the end rather than getting louder. An interesting choice, but not nearly as good a choice as a strong ending. “Jack Straw” followed, though for a moment I thought it was going to be “Looks Like Rain.” So did the guy next to me. “Sun so hot.” No kidding. And John Mayer definitely stressed that line. But you know, a light breeze came through right after that, and I was feeling pretty good. “Jack Straw” had a great ending. Things were really coming together now. There was a hardly a pause before the band went into “Big Railroad Blues,” and this song rocked. That was followed by “Peggy-O,” and it struck me how damn good Bob Weir’s voice sounded.

But things really started popping for me on “Ramble On Rose,” which featured some phenomenal work by Jeff Chimenti on keys. The “leader of the band” line didn’t get as big a cheer as it did in the Jerry days, but still got a reaction. This was the first real highlight of the show, and for a moment it seemed like things were going to be derailed right there. Bob said something was fucked up, that there was some difficulty with the power on stage, so they were going to take a break. But before they could leave the stage, someone told him it would take just a few seconds to repair. So Bob took the time to tell that duck joke he’s so fond of. Mickey Hart shoot his head at him when Bob began it. Bob has told this joke a few times, but still sort of messed up the punchline. John Mayer then joked that he was going to take that time to perform “Your Body Is A Wonderland.” The guy to my right explained to me that that is a real song. I’d never heard it. Fortunately, things were fixed – at least enough that they could continue with the set – and the band played “Cumberland Blues.” This was an absolutely fantastic rendition, with Jeff really rocking on the keys. This song had a ton of energy. The band was really cooking now. They then chose to close the first set with “Deal,” not one of my favorite Dead songs. This was a fairly mellow “Deal,” though it did pick up some energy toward the end. But then, like “Bertha,” they ended the song very quietly instead of with energy. Strange. Bob said they were going to take a break and test some equipment. The first set ended at 8:48 p.m.

During the set break, a message was on the screen at the back of stage letting us know we could “Relive The Show Free” by scanning our tickets online. Cool! I definitely want to hear that “Ramble On Rose” and that “Cumberland Blues” again.

At 9:26 p.m., the house lights suddenly went out and the band came back for the second set. They kicked it off with “Sugar Magnolia,” a good start. They followed that with “Scarlet Begonias,” a song which is always a lot of fun and gets folks smiling. They repeated the phrase “look at it right” a few times. Bob switched guitars during the jam. There was some really nice jamming, by the way. And the transition to “Fire On The Mountain” was smooth. Oteil Burbridge sang lead on this one, which was nice. I like Oteil’s voice, and I wish that he would take lead vocal duties more often (and that John would take them perhaps a little less frequently). Bob switched guitars again after “Fire On The Mountain,” and the band went into “Althea.” Wow, John really loves this song. Didn’t they just play it at Shoreline, only two shows ago? Well, it’s okay, as I love that song too. And this was a really good version. They jammed on it, and that jam had a lot of energy and some very cool work on bass. “Althea” led directly to “Eyes Of The World,” one of my favorites. And this too was a good version. At one point the song began to slow down, as if it were coming to a close, and I wondered if they’d forgotten the final verse. Or perhaps I had forgotten that they’d already done it; sometimes that happens. But no, the song kicked into gear again. Bob sang, “Sometimes the song that we sing are just songs of our own” rather than “Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own.”

An unusual and cool jam led to “Drums,” which had a fun electronic dance pulse. “Space” meandered a bit, as it sometimes will. And the guessing began as to what the band would choose for the post-“Space” slot. Jon said, “Maybe ‘I Need A Miracle.’” I told him, “No, they played that last night.” Then I asked him, “Are they doing ‘The Wheel’ at all?” But soon the band eased from “Space” into “Stella Blue.” This was a nice rendition. It led directly into “Sunshine Daydream,” which surprised me. I expected at least one more song before the end of the second set. But no, there were only one and a half songs after “Space.” The second set ended at 10:49 p.m. But the band made it up to us in the encore, playing two songs, neither of which was “One More Saturday Night.” How about that for a pleasant surprise? Instead of the song I fully expected to hear, it being Saturday and all, the band delivered a sweet “Brokedown Palace” and followed that with a fun “Not Fade Away.” And it wasn’t a short “Not Fade Away.” The band jammed on it, as you’d hope they would. They certainly sent us out into the warm night with smiles on our faces. The show ended at 11:07 p.m.

Set List

Set I
  1. Playing In The Band >
  2. Bertha
  3. Jack Straw
  4. Big Railroad Blues
  5. Peggy-O
  6. Ramble On Rose
  7. Cumberland Blues
  8. Deal
Set II
  1. Sugar Magnolia >
  2. Scarlet Begonias >
  3. Fire On The Mountain
  4. Althea >
  5. Eyes Of The World >
  6. Drums >
  7. Space >
  8. Stella Blue >
  9. Sunshine Daydream
  1. Brokedown Palace
  2. Not Fade Away
Here are a few photos:

Before the show. Check out the Dead baseball card on screen.

Dodgers Stadium is located at 1000 Vin Scully Dr. in Los Angeles, California.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Wayne Powers: “If Love Were All” (2018) CD Review

Feeling romantic? If you are, or if you want to be, put on the new album from Wayne Powers, If Love Were All. This album contains familiar and beloved songs on the subject of love and romance. The things that really matter, you know? The things that are keeping me going in these dark and frightening days are music and my girlfriend. And if I can squeeze both of them into a night, well, that’s a perfect night. Pour some wine, turn the lights low, and put on music that is timeless. On this release, Wayne Powers’ first in a very long time, the vocalist is backed by Ziad Rabie on tenor saxophone, Keith Davis on piano, Ron Brendle on upright bass, and Al Sergel on drums.

The album opens with “Never Let Me Go,” which has a sweet, relaxed but cheerful groove. “What would I be without you/There’s no place for me without you/Never let me go/I’d be so lost if you went away.” That’s how I feel. And I hope everyone can feel that kind of love. “Because of one caress, my world was overturned.” Ah yes, I remember that caress clearly. This is a timeless love song. Love is always in style, and these days it feels particularly important, when there is so much anger and hatred out there. But then he follows that with “You’ve Changed,” in which he sings of a love that is no longer what it once was. “That sparkle in your eye is gone/Your smile is just a careless yawn/I can’t understand, you’ve changed.” This is a really good rendition. I love the vocal approach. There is a perfect rough and weary quality at times, like he’s tried to make things work, and is now exhausted, is now giving up. And that’s when the horn takes over, rising up with a new power, almost as if to lift his spirits, to get him back to himself. And it works. For then we get an interesting, unusual rendition of “All Of Me.” This is a song I’ve loved since I was a kid. I think it was the Steve Martin/Lily Tomlin film All Of Me (“Put Edwina back in bowl”) that introduced me to this song. This rendition begins slowly, with a sweet and honest romantic bent, then suddenly kicks in to swing a bit. And there is some playful vocal delivery on lines like “I’d go insane/You don’t want to have no crazy person on your conscience” and “Drove me nearly crazy/Got me crying like a baby,” lines I don’t recall from other versions. This is an energetic rendition, with a nice bass line and a sudden ending.

“Lush Life,” written by Billy Strayhorn, has a nostalgic sound. There are lines to this song that I just love, such as “Then you came along/With your siren song/To tempt me to madness/I thought for a while/That your poignant smile/Was tinged with the sadness/Of a great love for me.” Yes, sometimes we can be wrong. But this is not really a song of heartache, partly because there is something humorous when Wayne Powers delivers lines like “Now life is awful again” and “Romance is mush.” The bass takes on a kind of happy rhythm, and the piano and horn lightly play over it toward the end. Wayne Powers gives us a really nice rendition of “Willow Weep For Me,” with one of the album’s best vocal performances. I also love the little jam, particularly the work on sax, helping make this one of my favorite tracks.

“If Love Were All,” the album’s the title track, is a wonderfully depressing song. “The more you love someone, the more you put your trust/The more you're bound to lose.” There is still something hopeful about the song, though you get the sense the person will remain truly alone. But then Wayne Powers follows that with “Just In Time,” in which he sings “For love came just in time/You found me just in time/And changed my lonely life that lovely day.” So there you have it. The song then kicks in, gets groovy, and it lifts my spirits with its cheerful sound. And then later he refers to it as “that lucky day.” That’s exactly how I feel about the day that my girlfriend came into my life. No matter how bad things get out there (and things are truly terrible), I can never allow myself to get too down because of that lucky day. This song features a cool bass lead. The bass starts “I Only Have Eyes For You,” and for a little while the bass is the only instrument backing Wayne Powers’ vocals. It’s an interesting approach, and I dig it. The drums lead the others into the mix. By the way, he begins the song with the line “Are the stars out tonight,” skipping the “My love must be a kind of blind love” part. This rendition has more pep than a lot of versions I’ve heard, and there are good leads on both saxophone and piano. The album concludes with an optimistic and comforting number, “Smile.” “When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by/If you smile through your fear and sorrow/Smile and maybe tomorrow/You’ll see the sun come shining through for you.” Wayne Powers delivers an intimate and friendly rendition. “You’ll find that life is still worthwhile/If you just smile.” Worth a try, right?

CD Track List
  1. Never Let Me Go
  2. You’ve Changed
  3. All Of Me
  4. Body And Soul
  5. Lush Life
  6. When Your Lover Has Gone
  7. Willow Weep For Me
  8. You Don’t Know What Love Is
  9. If Love Were All
  10. Just In Time
  11. East Of The Sun (West Of The Moon)
  12. I Only Have Eyes For You
  13. Time After Time
  14. Smile
If Love Were All is scheduled to be released on August 3, 2018 on Kabockie Records.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Galen Ayers: “Monument” (2018) CD Review

Galen Ayers’ debut album, Monument, is an engaging collection of original material that feels honest and true, songs that are personal yet are also easy to connect to. Written while she was on the island of Hydra, where Leonard Cohen once lived and wrote, these songs combine elements of folk and pop.

The album begins with “You Choose,” an intimate song, in which you get the sense she is baring her soul. “I live in the cracks to forget what I’ve seen/I don’t know much, baby, of why I’m bruised/But I know in the end you choose.” The song is basically delivered with just guitar backing her vocals, but with a haunting atmosphere rising beneath that folk sound. Her vocal delivery might remind you a bit of Aimee Mann. This song is a striking opener. It’s followed by “Collide,” which has a more positive sound and lyrics. Check out these lines: “All this wasted time/Makes you want to run outside/Seek and find/Grab your girl/Grab your man/See the world/All you can/Find out what you want/Find out what you believe/Find out what you love/And collide.” Yes, exactly! These days you might feel selfish doing just that, you know, while the world seems to fall apart around us, but it feels necessary. We can’t lose sight of ourselves as the nation loses sight of itself. The only time I’m absolutely certain I am spending well is the time I have my girlfriend in my arms, particularly when we are out seeing small portions of the world together.

“Run Baby Run” begins with some cool, raw-sounding percussion. Much of this song is sung in Spanish. “Nunca vas a aprender/Tengo que irme/I’m going to run baby run baby run.” This song has a certain beauty and power.  Then “Morning Song” mixes folk and pop elements to create an engaging sound that pulls you in and holds you tight. Check out these lines: “Been so long since I took the time/To hold the weight of your hand in mine/I know I’m lazy/And I’ve become a hazy version of myself/What can I do?/How can I get over it again?” It is the song of someone who is determined to regain control of her life, and is a compelling track. “I know I’ve got a destination/But I’ve lost my constellation/Help me to start over again/Help me.”

“Into The Sea (Calm Down)” is a kind of dreamy folk-pop song, but with a steady pulse keeping us grounded. It has a bit of an odd, intriguing tone, for it’s about finding the right person, but doesn’t take it all that seriously. “You could be the one/That will the shine above everyone/And I could be just me/We’ve got to meet eventually/Oh, when it all falls down, down, down, down, down/Down, down, down, down, down/Into the sea.” Then “U-Turn” is a strong pop song that I can’t help but enjoy. It’s that chorus, which is catchy and sweet and pretty, and I just bloody love it. You probably will too. The entire song has an unusual and playful vocal line. The CD concludes with its title track, “Monument,” which begins with a haunting sound and works through heartache to build into a positive-sounding pop song. “You and I/We live underneath the same sky/You and I/It’s gonna be all right.”

CD Track List
  1. You Choose
  2. Collide
  3. Run Baby Run
  4. Morning Song
  5. Duet
  6. Melancoholic
  7. Into The Sea (Calm Down)
  8. U-Turn
  9. Ain’t The Way
  10. Monument
Monument is scheduled to be released on July 27, 2018 on Bombinate Records.

Charlie Smyth: “The Way I Feel” (2018) CD Review

Several years ago Charlie Smyth and his wife, Kalee Smyth, formed The Western Shore and in 2014 released Thunderstorm. Before that, Charlie Smyth had performed in several different bands. Now he’s releasing a new solo album, The Way I Feel. Though it is a solo album and not a Western Shore release, Kalee Smyth sings on it. The rest of the band backing Charlie on this album are Billy Contreras on violin, Andy Gibson on guitar and steel guitar, Jeff Moon on bass, Adam Mormolstein on drums, Eric Penticoff on keys, and Jamison Sevits on horns. The CD contains a good mix of covers and original material, including some songs that he is revisiting, a couple of songs that appeared on Thunderstorm, including that album’s title track. (And though this album is being referred to as his debut solo release, it appears that he actually released a solo album seven years ago, and that a few of the songs on this new release were also included on that one.) The music contains folk, country and pop elements.

He opens it with a pop song from the 1970s that should be familiar to everyone, Neil Diamond’s “Beautiful Noise.” The recent news about Neil Diamond having to quit touring due to health reasons was depressing. I’m glad I got a chance to see him in concert a couple of decades ago. He put on a phenomenal show. Apparently, he’s going to continue to record, which is good. Charlie Smyth delivers a cheerful, wonderful rendition, with violin and horns. It’s faithful to the feel of the original, but has a lot of life in it, and Charlie Smyth’s voice is perfect for the song. Plus, I love the way Kalee’s voice blends with his. I think Neil Diamond fans will appreciate the way the song is handled. Charlie Smyth follows it with an original, “Buddy,” an interesting and unusual song that I seriously dig. “The air tastes like chewed up pencils/Or beat up utensils/Tossed on the desk like forks in the road/Busted forks in the road.” This is a song that was also included on Thunderstorm, but unlike the original Western Shore version, this rendition features some cool percussion. I don’t know what it is about this song, but there is something seriously appealing about it, and it somehow makes me feel good. So there.

I love the way that Charlie Smyth’s vocals are contrasted with the lighter vocals of backing vocalist Kalee, particularly on “Castle,” a song that features some nice work on steel guitar. There is something gorgeous about this album, and the beauty sometimes seems unexpected. Also unexpected is the strange ending of this track. We then get a song with more of a standard country feel, which – after everything that has come before – also manages to surprise me. But this is a cover, “The Cold Hard Truth,” a song written by Jamie O’Hara and recorded by George Jones. Charlie Smyth does a good job with it. I love how Kalee’s voice comes in on “There is a woman we both know/I think you know the one I mean/She gave her heart and soul to you/You gave her only broken dreams.” A woman’s presence on these lines makes them more powerful and sharp, gives them more of an ache. Charlie Smyth and Kalee Smyth also deliver a good rendition of Slim Willet’s “Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes,” with some nice work on harmonica.

“Far Away” has something of a sweet sound, and features some nice work on keys. “Sometimes I pretend that you don’t rule my world/That the sea doesn’t roar, or the planet turn/Well, never fear, I will not be late/You will not be lonely, I won’t make you wait.” That is followed by “Daggers,” a completely delightful song, another of my favorites. By the way, “Daggers” is a song that was included on Leaves, the 2011 release, though with a different sound. Another of the disc’s highlights is “Paint.” It is a sweet, pretty, mellow tune. And when they sing, “Seems like a nice way to live,” you can believe them. This song is as appealing as the life it describes. “And it’s deep as the bottom of the ocean/Light as a feathered crown/Blue as a pilot light.”

“Shore” is a fun, spirited tune that I love. This one too was included on Leaves, but again has a different sound here. It sounds more like a party, like a glorious celebration on this new album. It’s a bigger production. That is followed by “The Star Spangled Banner,” which might seem like a strange choice, especially these days, when it appears democracy is dead or at least severely wounded. But this is a sweet and kind of sad instrumental rendition performed solo on violin. And it actually makes me hopeful, for it seems to be saying not to give up. It’s like the rest of the band is gone, the rest of the instruments are gone, but this last one, this last voice is still rising up to deliver a hopeful note. Can the country recover? As long as one voice remains in opposition, this track seems to answer Yes.

“That’s The Way I Feel” is the album’s second George Jones song. This one was written by George Jones and Roger Miller, and functions as the CD’s title track (well, close enough). I love the way Charlie Smyth approaches this one, slowing it down slightly at the start to give it a good and catchy rhythm. The way his voice blends with Kalee’s is another wonderful touch. The album then concludes with “Thunderstorm,” which was the title track to the 2014 release from The Western Shore. I actually prefer this new version, which has a fuller country sound and is beautiful. “I’ve been so high for so long/I don’t know who I am/I’ve been so dry for so long/I wouldn’t know water if I saw it again/Thunderstorm, come back to me/Thunderstorm, come back to me/I want you to roll through my dream.”

CD Track List
  1. Beautiful Noise
  2. Buddy
  3. Castle
  4. The Cold Hard Truth
  5. Far Away
  6. Daggers
  7. Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes
  8. Faithfully
  9. Paint
  10. Country Girl
  11. Shore
  12. The Star Spangled Banner
  13. That’s The Way I Feel
  14. Thunderstorm
The Way I Feel is scheduled to be released on July 13, 2018.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Thomas Stajcer: “Will I Learn To Love Again?” (2018) CD Review

It’s good to know that excellent country albums are still be recorded and released. Thomas Stajcer’s Will I Learn To Love Again? gives me a renewed faith in the genre. These songs are emotionally engaging, well-written, and delivered with a voice that has both passion and experience. Really, Thomas Stajcer’s voice is a big part of the appeal of this disc. If you are a fan of those great classic country singers, you are going to absolutely love this album. It features all original material, written or co-written by Thomas Stajcer. And these songs have a lot of memorable lines, such as “When I hit the big time, it’ll be okay/Things will change in dramatic ways” from “Sad Cowboy” (lines that remind me a bit of Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece”) and “The wildfires, the backdrop to our wreckage” from “Wildfires.” By the way, Thomas Stajcer is based in Halifax. I’ve never been there, but from all the great discs I’ve heard lately, I imagine the town must have one of the best music scenes in North America. I must make it a point to get there.

Thomas Stajcer kicks off the album with “Love Me Now (Or Never Again),” which includes a pretty intro that is almost separate from the song, as there is a brief pause after it. When the song kicks in, I am completely on board. It has a sweet, gorgeous vibe, partly because of the work on fiddle. This is a beautiful slow country number with some excellent lyrics, like “I want you, I need you right now/I know that’s not fair/And you may be right, I may be going nowhere” and “I know I’m not offering much, but I won’t take it back.” His voice is strong, yet still conveys heartache so well. “Love Me Now (Or Never Again)” is one of my favorite tracks, an excellent start to the album. It’s followed by “Salesman,” which has something of a classic vibe, especially in the vocals, but also the subject matter. “Could I earn you back/Do the work that it takes.”  I love that he’s all in, completely invested, you know? “I’ve been so lonely and dark/I should’ve begged you to stay.” There is also some wonderful work on guitar here.

Then “In The Long Run” moves at a good clip. It’s one of those country tunes that imitate a train, at least at moments, and is a lot of fun. It has a delightful, full sound, with some catchy work on guitar. Check out these lines: “I know that I’ve done you wrong, and I’ll do you wrong too/No, I’m not quite done with these self-inflicted blues.” “Any Other Road” is another fast-moving country song that has the feel of a train, a train that’s aimed right at you and then on out of town. “I’m coming for you through and through.” This is a seriously fun song, with a surprising turn partway through, leading to a cool jam. “I’ll get gone and any old road will do without you.”

“Will I Learn To Love Again?” is a slow country number about the possibility of moving on. “I didn’t know lovers like me could get so down/I didn’t know heartache could just hang around.” The album then concludes with a rocking number titled “How Long Could I Wait?” This one has a lot of energy, and features backing vocalists. By the way, this album is Thomas Stajcer’s debut full-length release. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing more from him.

CD Track List
  1. Love Me Now (Or Never Again)
  2. Salesman
  3. In The Long Run
  4. Sad Cowboy
  5. Wildfires
  6. Any Old Road
  7. Me And Willie
  8. Will I Learn To Love Again?
  9. How Long Could I Wait? 
Will I Learn To Love Again? is scheduled to be released on July 6, 2018.

Willie Nile at McCabe’s, 6-30-18 Concert Review

Willie Nile performing "Les Champs Elysees"
What a treat it was to see Willie Nile last night at McCabe’s in Santa Monica. McCabe’s is one of my favorite places to see artists perform. It’s an intimate venue, and the crowds that attend shows there are made up of real music lovers. And artists like to perform there, so they tend to put on excellent shows. When Willie Nile took the stage just after 8 p.m. last night, accompanied only by Johnny Pisano on bass and backing vocals, he mentioned another reason why it’s a pleasure to play there: the guitars hanging on the walls “hum during the show with the sound.” Indeed they do! Willie Nile then kicked off the show with “Seeds Of A Revolution,” the opening track from his new album, Children Of Paradise. Much of the show focused on this album. That was good news for those of us who attended, because Children Of Paradise is among Willie Nile’s very best albums. Also, because much of the material is fairly new, the show had a delightfully loose vibe, since the music hadn’t been over-rehearsed.

“Seeds Of A Revolution” was followed by “Life On Bleecker Street,” a cheerful-sounding song from his 2013 release, American Ride. Willie Nile had a natural rapport with the crowd, and often spoke between songs. Before “This Is Our Time,” he talked about how the song was used as the theme for a speech by Malala Yousafzai that The Voice Of America hosted. “This Is Our Time” is also from American Ride, and is an absolutely wonderful and positive song. “This is our time/This is our place/This is our moment in the human race.” Something that’s good to remind ourselves of these days. Johnny delivered some cool work on bass on this one. After that song, Willie Nile talked about his new album, mentioning that the title comes from a 1940s French film. About the new release, he said, “It’s on fire, pissed off, in love and out of its mind all at the same time, much like myself.”

He then did several songs from the new album, starting with “Getting’ Ugly Out There.” When he sang the line “Does anybody even care,” I couldn’t help but think that Melania Trump certainly doesn’t. And when he sang, “There’d be another politician who’d be dead and gone,” some folks applauded. So I knew I was among friends. He followed that with the fun “All Dressed Up And No Place To Go,” first talking about being a philosophy major in college. And the energy of this song was just perfect. He then did “Don’t,” which was the song I was planning on requesting. “The original title was ‘Don’t Let The Fuckers Kill Your Buzz,’” he told us. This is a great rocking punk tune, and it featured more excellent stuff on bass. The audience sang along, which was wonderful. That was followed by “Earth Blues,” the song I want Scott Pruitt to hear.

In introducing “American Ride,” Willie Nile said, “This is a song about a journey across America.” He then added, “I love the dream that is this country.” That’s how a lot of us feel, and we have to remind ourselves of it. The dream is good, and the current nightmare will come to a close at some point. At least, I remain hopeful that it will. It was a really good rendition of “American Ride,” by the way, with the bass becoming the lead instrument. The audience sang along. Afterward, as Willie moved to the upright piano, someone shouted out a request for “Oatmeal Box.” Willie replied, “I love that song, I’m not going to do it,” which got a big laugh from the crowd. He also mentioned the binder containing his song lyrics, which he had on a stand next to him, and which he then moved to the piano. The song he chose was the beautiful and moving “Yesterday’s Dreams.” This was a gorgeous rendition, one of the highlights of a fantastic night. “Things we said yesterday, we don’t say them anymore/Now I’m standing in the rain with yesterday’s dreams.” This song always manages to get right to me. He followed that with “Sunrise In New York City,” a fun and uplifting tune that makes me feel good, and then “All God’s Children,” which he performed solo on piano.

He then switched back to acoustic guitar for “Children Of Paradise,” the title track of the new album. Before playing it, he mentioned his recent trip to Spain. “We stayed in a nunnery. Where else would we stay? For real. The promoter knew a priest, and there was this convent. Gee thee to a convent.” I mention this here because, as a huge Shakespeare fan, I appreciate the play on the line from Hamlet, and figured perhaps others would appreciate it too.  He followed “Children Of Paradise” with “Sing Me A Song,” a song from his first album, and one he dedicated last night to his son, who was in the audience. Willie and Johnny really rocked out on this one, jamming at the end. Very cool. He then returned to the new album for one of my favorite tracks, “Have I Ever Told You.” This is a song that makes me feel that things are going to be all right, for it focuses our thoughts and energy on what is most important in our lives, the people we love. “When you whisper in my ear/All my troubles seem to just disappear.” Yes. He followed that with another excellent song from the new album, “Lookin’ For Someone,” a song he wrote with Andrew Dorff (the album is dedicated to his memory).

“House Of A Thousand Guitars” of course seemed a perfect choice to play at McCabe’s, where the guitars on the walls were humming. The audience appreciated the choice, and sang along. Willie Nile then ended the set with “One Guitar,” a song from The Innocent Ones. This is a song that feels more pertinent and important than ever. Willie, in his introduction to the song, said: “I believe that music can change the world. Here’s a song about one guitar and one voice.” A beautiful and empowering conclusion to the set, and the audience joined in on the chorus. The encore was “Les Champs Elysees,” a rocking song from Golden Down to get everyone feeling damn good. The show ended at 9:55 p.m.

Set List
  1. Seeds Of A Revolution
  2. Life On Bleecker Street
  3. This Is Our Time
  4. Gettin’ Ugly Out There
  5. All Dressed Up And No Place To Go
  6. Don’t
  7. Earth Blues
  8. American Ride
  9. Yesterday’s Dreams
  10. Sunrise In New York City
  11. All God’s Children
  12. Children Of Paradise
  13. Sing Me A Song
  14. Have I Ever Told You
  15. Lookin’ For Someone
  16. House Of A Thousand Guitars
  17. One Guitar 
  1. Les Champs Elysees
"House Of A Thousand Guitars"
"One Guitar"

McCabe’s is located at 3101 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica, California.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Grateful Dead: “Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 2: April Fools' '88” (2018) CD Review

Real Gone Music is continuing to release the Grateful Dead Road Trips series on CD. Previously, these recordings were only available through the Grateful Dead’s official website. Real Gone Music is putting them out in reverse order, and the latest release is Vol. 4 No. 2, which contains the complete show the Grateful Dead performed on April 1st, 1988, as well as a lot of the show from March 31st, 1988. Both shows were at Brendan Byrne Arena (also known as Meadowlands) in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Not a whole lot of shows from 1988 have been released officially, and that is one reason I am pleased to have this set in my possession. The shows on these discs were performed approximately one week before my first show, another reason this set piqued my interest.

The order the songs are arranged in on these discs is a little weird. The first disc contains the entire first set from April 1st, then a couple of songs from the end of the first set from March 31st, and then the encore from April 1st. The second disc contains the second set and encore from March 31st, and the third disc contains the second set from April 1st. I’m not sure why it was done this way. I certainly prefer to hear the songs in exactly the order they were performed, along with whatever tuning and banter occurred between songs. If it had been up to me, the second disc would either have been first (in the order it happened) or third (as a sort of bonus disc), and I probably would have cut the two songs from March 31st from the first disc. That way, the only weird thing would have been the encore stuck at the end of the first set rather than at the end of the second set (something that was often done on cassettes back in the day anyway, due to space).

It was April Fools’ Day, and the Grateful Dead start the show with a bit of playful tuning, including what sounds like “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” after which Bob jokes that the first set is over. “Thank you very much, we’ll be right back.” The crowd appreciates the humor. The band then kicks off the first set with an energetic, fun rendition of “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.” Man, listen to Jerry belt out “On my way!” And at the end, his guitar is singing and soaring. This is a damn good start to the show, and they keep up the positive vibes by following it with fan favorite “Jack Straw.” This is a rockin’ version, particularly toward the end. They then go right into the sweet “To Lay Me Down.” I love this song. The following year, I saw them perform this one at Sullivan Stadium, and I swear there was a glider overhead, dipping its wings in time with the music. “To wake beside you, my love still sleeping.” The band follows that with Bob Dylan’s “Ballad Of A Thin Man,” a song the Dead performed only twice without Bob Dylan. Bob really tears into this one vocally. This was never one of my favorite Dylan songs, but I like the way Bob handles it. Jerry then gives us a decent version of “When Push Comes To Shove,” featuring some nice work by Brent on keys, and Bob follows it with “New Minglewood Blues.” “A couple shots of whiskey, these Jersey fillies start looking good.” One of the highlights of the first set for me is “Cumberland Blues.” This one move and shakes, and the vocals sound great. The band then wraps up the set with “Deal,” the energy nice and high during the jam at the end.

As I mentioned, the first disc then includes two songs from the first set from the night before. First we get a nice version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” “Someday everything’s gonna be different/When I paint my masterpiece.” That is followed by “Let It Grow,” which concluded the set. (At the show, these two songs were separated by “Ramble On Rose.”) This is a really good version, with plenty of jamming. The first disc then concludes with the encore from April 1st, “Brokedown Palace.” There are some forgotten lyrics, but it’s still a good version. “I love you more than words can tell.”

The second disc contains the second set from March 31st, and the band kicks it off with “Scarlet Begonias,” a song that never fails to make me happy. The jam is good, but it’s not long before it slides into “Fire On The Mountain.” That familiar guitar part makes me smile, and you can hear the crowd react. There is a whole lot of energy to this version of the song. Bill and Mickey then lead the band into “Samson And Delilah,” to keep everyone dancing and grooving. Things then get more interesting with “Terrapin Station,” another crowd favorite. Yeah, this is a really good second set. The segue into “Drums” is interesting, kind of easing into strange territory rather than immediately turning to a straight beat. Yes, we’re finally in weirder lands. And “Space” takes us further outward and inward, to a place populated by aliens and sprites. And, man, when “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” begins to emerge, it sounds positively bizarre. Like the road is coming from another world. And then suddenly, bam, we are back on familiar ground. That transition from “Space” to “Goin’ Down The Road Feeing Bad” is one of my favorite moments of the show. And then “Goin’ Down The Road” is so smooth, so good. That leads into “I Need A Miracle,” with Bob nearly howling some of the lines. And, holy moly, the heavens know we all need a miracle today. From there, the band slides into “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” Oh yes, Brent! “Take us out of this gloom.” That song is, of course, coupled with the “Hey Jude” reprise, and it’s a really good version. The set then concludes with “All Along The Watchtower,” which begins tentatively, which is interesting. When it feels like the song is about to kick in, Bob stops it with “Wait a minute,” keeping the sound sparse just a bit longer. It’s a really unusual and cool version, and a strange way to end the second set. For the encore, they choose another Dylan song, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” It’s interesting how differently Jerry approached this one when playing it with the Dead versus when playing it in the Jerry Garcia Band. This is a really moving rendition.

The third disc returns us to the main show of this release. The band kicks off the second set with “China Cat Sunflower.” Jerry’s voice is a bit rough, but no matter. This song always seems to work. The jam leading to “I Know You Rider” has a bright, positive feel, and the transition is seamless. This is a lively, wonderful “I Know You Rider.” No one is holding back here. The band then delivers my favorite pairing of songs: “Estimated Prophet” into “Eyes Of The World.” This is an excellent “Estimated,” hitting all the right spots and featuring a good amount of jamming. Bob goes a bit nuts vocally at one point, as he sometimes is wont to do, and that leads to a groovier jam that I love. The transition to “Eyes” isn’t as smooth as that from “China” to “Rider,” but once we’re there, this song just shines. “Eyes” always lifts my spirits, gets me dancing. I would have liked a little longer jam at the end before Bill and Mickey take over for “Drums.” This “Drums” comes on strong before getting into stranger territory. This time it’s like the weirdness overtakes them gradually until we’re all immersed in the throbbing heart of a mountain, with dwarves working away. And then we go deeper. Things become dangerous, and then “Drums” gives way to “Space,” and it’s like we’re suspended in heavy air, floating but able to make waves with our movement, and those waves come back to us, from walls, from others, from whatever lurks in the darkness. And they soon make themselves known, showing off their magnificent and esoteric machines, boasting. “Look what we can do to your reality.” And they turn another knob, and we are propelled into green and yellow. We’ve made contact, and the little bastards are toying with us. But, hey, everyone deserves a little fun. Just as our selves feel about to dissipate entirely, “The Other One” pulls us back together. But we are not safely on solid ground yet. Bob’s vocals are eerie at first, and everything is on edge, with input from beyond and beneath. It’s an intense “Other One.” The band is really plugged into something now, and not shying away from whatever they might learn or glean. Holy moly!

From there, the band eases into “Wharf Rat,” another excellent song. And we know soon we’ll be pulled up, lifted up with the band. We are not quite at sunlight yet, but it’s coming. This is a powerful rendition of “Wharf Rat,” and when Jerry sings “I’ll get up and fly away,” we all begin to feel lighter, better, like we are back in control of our destiny. Then suddenly the band goes into “Throwing Stones.” “Picture a bright blue ball just spinning, spinning free.” This song seems more relevant than ever. “The darkness never goes from some men’s eyes.” Oh man, listen to Bob deliver the line, “The future’s here, we are it, we are on our own.” “Thowing Stones” leads directly to “Not Fade Away,” a positive way to end the second set, uniting everyone with a fun song. “You know our love will not fade away.” What a journey the band has taken us on.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo >
  2. Jack Straw >
  3. To Lay Me Down
  4. Ballad Of A Thin Man
  5. When Push Comes To Shove
  6. New Minglewood Blues
  7. Cumberland Blues
  8. Deal
  9. When I Paint My Masterpiece
  10. Let It Grow
  11. Brokedown Palace
Disc 2
  1. Scarlet Begonias >
  2. Fire On The Mountain
  3. Samson And Delilah
  4. Terrapin Station >
  5. Rhythm Devils >
  6. Space >
  7. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad >
  8. I Need A Miracle >
  9. Dear Mr. Fantasy >
  10. Hey Jude >
  11. All Along The Watchtower
  12. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Disc 3
  1. China Cat Sunflower >
  2. I Know You Rider
  3. Estimated Prophet  >
  4. Eyes Of The World  >
  5. Rhythm Devils >
  6. Space >
  7. The Other One >
  8. Wharf Rat >
  9. Throwing Stones >
  10. Not Fade Away
Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 2: April Fools' '88 was released on June 1, 2018 through Real Gone Music.