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 
  1. Rambler’s Anthem
Here are some photos from the set:

"Dancing In The Moonlight"
"Pass This Way"
"Pass This Way"
"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.

Old Salt Union at Saint Rocke and The Coach House: Photos

Old Salt Union has been opening for Yonder Mountain String Band on the current tour, and so I got a couple of chances to check out this band. Based in St. Louis, Missouri, Old Salt Union does mostly original material, but also a few fun choices of covers, including Men At Work’s “Down Under” (joking afterward, “Thank you, we just wrote that”) and Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.” At the San Juan Capistrano show, someone sent up a bucket of bottles of beer for the band during “Feel My Love,” leading them to say, “I can definitely feel your love.” I enjoyed their sets, and hope to see them again. Here are a few photos.

Saint Rocke, Hermosa Beach, CA

The Coach House, San Juan Capistrano, CA

Yonder Mountain String Band at Saint Rocke, 3-28-18: Photos

Yonder Mountain String Band is one of my favorite groups, and I’m happy whenever they come to southern California. On Wednesday, they played at an intimate and friendly venue in Hermosa Beach, Saint Rocke, to what had to be a sell-out crowd (I don’t think they could have fit any more people in there). I got there early because I’d heard parking was limited; and, indeed, the venue has the smallest parking lot I’ve ever seen. The staff here is really nice, and the venue has an inviting, relaxed vibe, which I appreciate. Because of the layout, there are some problems with sight lines, if you’re seated in that section deep off to the right, or at the far end of the bar. So most people made their way onto the dance floor.

After a good opening set by Old Salt Union, Yonder Mountain took the stage at 9:21 p.m. And then I was too busy dancing and drinking to write any notes. I will, however, mention that I totally dug their cover of The Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein” (and wanted them to follow it with “Hocus Pocus” by Focus), and that the show was a whole lot of fun. Though I didn’t take notes, I did take several photos. Here are a few of them (the set list follows the photos).

Set List
  1. Boots
  2. Winds Of Wyoming
  3. Far From You
  4. Sidewalk Stars
  5. Rain Still Falls
  6. Chasing My Tail >
  7. Frankenstein
  8. High On A Hilltop
  9. Groovin’ Away
  10. All Aboard >
  11. Casualty
  1. No Rain
  2. Crazy Train
Saint Rocke is located at 142 Pacific Coast Highway in Hermosa Beach, California.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Steven Troch Band: “Rhymes For Mellow Minds” (2018) CD Review

Look, I’ll be honest: I put the new Steven Troch Band disc on because there is a track titled “Going To Dagobah.” A blues song about going to the planet where Yoda trained Luke Skywalker? Oh, hell yes, that’s a song I needed to hear. I was a huge Star Wars fan as a kid, and actually right up until the moment I saw The Force Awakens (fuck you, Disney, you suck). Anyway, it’s a fun track; but then again, the entire Rhymes For Mellow Minds album is fun, and it is far from being strictly blues. This band finds inspiration in all sorts of musical realms, and seems to take delight in combining styles and ideas. And the results are a delight for us. All the tracks are originals, written by Steven Troch. The band is made up of Steven Troch on lead vocals and harmonica, Steve Van Der Nat on guitar and vocals, Liesbeth Sprangers on bass and vocals, and Erik “King Berik” Heirman on drums and vocals. There are also several special guests joining the band on various tracks.

The album opens with “Short End,” a groovy, bluesy number about a man who is perhaps not able to live up to his potential and is making the most of things. “Sometimes life treats you like a bitch,” Steven Troch sings in this one. And that’s the way it seems for basically the entire country these days, but perhaps things are going to turn around soon. (It was great seeing so many folks out marching to end gun violence today.)  That’s followed by “Bad Taste,” a goofy, fun song about a sexy girl of dubious taste. Its opening lines are “She’s got bad taste/She puts ketchup on spaghetti/But, oh lord, she’s so damn pretty.” Aw, this song is a bit mean to Woody Allen (one of the best film directors ever), but it features some really nice work on harmonica.

That’s followed by “Going To Dagobah,” which has a false start and just a bit of studio chatter at the beginning. But then it kicks in, and is a fun number, as I mentioned. But it’s an instrumental tune, so there are no blues lyrics about the long ride to the planet, or about dealing with damp clothing or whatever. However, the harmonica could be a distant relative of the old Jedi Master, and this harmonica has plenty to say. Also, there is a brief R2 noise toward the end of the song. “Going To Dagobah” refers to Luke’s first trip to the swampy planet in Empire (rather than to his return trip in Jedi), as we learn right at the end, when there is a brief imitation of Yoda saying “Yes, found me you have.”  “Long Long Beard” is another fun, delightfully silly number, this one about growing a beard. It has a cool folk vibe, with backing vocalists adding to the wonderful lunacy. “I know it may sound weird/But a man without a beard is like a bar without beer/I’m going to grow myself a beard.” Sounds reasonable. This one also features nice work on harmonica.

“White Line Express” swings, and has a good energy (well, any song about cocaine should have good energy, right?). It features David Loos on tenor saxophone, and Nicolas Talbot on baritone saxophone. “White line express/You’ll feel like a success/And we’ll drop you off/When you’re a complete mess.” There is also some swing to “15 Minutes,” a jazzy number that begins with the sound of an old, scratchy record being put on, the record being this song. And then we’re suddenly within the record and everything is clear. Yes, transported to a more enjoyable time. “Fifteen minutes of sin/Put me in the state I’m in/I’m on my way to Dallas/Oh, it’s a long and rocky road/When the clothes on your back is all you own/And you leave behind the one you truly love.” And how great is that guitar? It makes me so happy.

“Bedroom Eyes” is a sweet-sounding blues song, with good work on harmonica and drums. “I love you in the morning/Dream of you every night/I love you in the morning/Dream of you late at night/I’m crazy about you, baby/I like your bedroom eyes.” The discs ends with a groovy, energetic blues number titled “Walk Away,” featuring yet more good work on harmonica. Bruce James joins the band on piano on this track, and David Loos and Nicolas Talbot return on tenor and baritone sax, respectively. “I’m going to drink just enough to forget/All the troubles that I have/And walk away, just walk away.” Oh yes, that sounds just about right. “I’m tired of talking to myself/Nobody wants to listen/Tired of wasting my money/On these wishing well wishes.” There is some excellent stuff on guitar toward the end. But actually, that’s not the end of the album. That song ends around the 3:50 mark, but at 4:50 a hidden tune begins, just vocals and piano, and just about a minute long. “I can tell by the way she’s lookin’/Something’s cookin’/I can tell by the way it smells/Better stop what I’m doing/Because trouble’s brewing.”

CD Track List
  1. Short End
  2. Bad Taste
  3. Going To Dagobah
  4. Troubled One
  5. Long Long Beard
  6. White Line Express
  7. Rabbit Foot Trail
  8. 15 Minutes
  9. Mister Jones
  10. Vertigo
  11. Bedroom Eyes
  12. Rain Rain
  13. Walk Away 
Rhymes For Mellow Minds was released on March 2, 2018 through Sing My Title.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Kid Ramos: “Old School” (2018) CD Review

These days, it feels like the entire country has the blues, and many of us want to escape to a better time and a better world. Music provides the means, the access point to a world where things make some sense, a world where Nazi sympathizers aren’t in positions of power. And perhaps especially helpful is music with something of a classic sound. Old School, the new release from Kid Ramos, features a good mix of classic blues and early rock and roll, along with some original material written or co-written by David “Kid” Ramos. Joining him on this album are Kedar Roy on bass, Marty Dodson on drums, and Bob Welsh on keys. There are also several special guests performing on certain tracks, including Kim Wilson on vocals. Kid Ramos was, for a time, a member of The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and it’s great to hear him playing with Kim Wilson again. This album was recorded at Jon Atkinson’s studio, where they use all analog equipment, helping achieve that classic sound. This is where they also recorded Johnny Tucker’s recent album, which features the talents of Kid Ramos, Marty Dodson, and Bob Welsh. And on this release, Johnny Tucker sings on several tracks (and also co-wrote some of the material with Kid Ramos). So it has a relaxed, friendly, natural vibe, and the music feels real. You know?

Old School opens with “Kid’s Jump,” an instrumental track with a great, classic rock and roll, rhythm and blues sound, driven by the guitar. I absolutely love this kind of music, and I honestly don’t see how it’s possible to dislike it. This is an original composition by Kid Ramos, and it’s a great start to the album. More classic, timeless sounds follow with a wonderful cover of bluesman Magic Sam’s “All Your Love.” Kid Ramos’ son Johnny joins him on this track, performing lead vocal duties. Does he sound a bit young to be singing the blues? Maybe, but he does a good job, and keep in mind that Magic Sam was pretty young when he wrote and recorded it. This is Johnny Ramos’ first appearance on an album. Kid Ramos delivers some delicious work on guitar here. The long fade-out is a bit odd; this song feels like it should have a more solid, definitive ending (though, again, the original recording had a fade-out too). Johnny Ramos also sings on a cover of “Anna (Go To Him),” a song written and originally recorded by Arthur Alexander, but more famously done by The Beatles. Bob Welsh provides some nice work on piano.

Johnny Tucker joins Kid Ramos on vocals for “Tell Me What Ya Want (And I’ll Give Ya What Ya Need),” a song they wrote together. That gloriously rough voice is effective, and this song has a kind of fun vibe. “I’ll give you what you want, tell me what you need/I’m here to love you, and I’m here to please.” Oh yes. Plus, this track features some good, expressive work on guitar, and I totally dig what Bob Welsh does on organ. That’s followed by another original tune, a very cool instrumental track titled “Mashed Potatoes And Chili.” Listening to this music, I can feel my blues slip away. Kid Ramos then takes us back to the early days of rock and roll with a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat.” This time Kid Ramos provides the vocals. Kid Ramos also sings on the cover of “Mona Lisa.” Johnny Tucker joins Kid Ramos again for “You Never Call My Name,” another song they wrote together, and a track which features no other musicians – just vocals and guitar. I am seriously digging this track, the raw and immediate sound of it. Kid Ramos also covers Wes Montgomery’s “Bumpin’,” here titled “Wes Side (Bumpin’),” a wonderful bluesy, moody instrumental piece.

Kid Ramos gives us some good gospel vibes with “Jesus Come By Here” (often titled “Jesus, Won’t You Come By Here”). This is an uplifting, cheerful rendition, sung by Johnny Tucker. That’s followed by “I Can’t Wait Baby,” an original tune, written by Johnny Tucker and Kid Ramos, with Johnny Tucker again on vocals. This is a good blues song with some haunting, effective work on organ by Bob Welsh. “I can’t wait, baby/’Til you come running back to me/I can’t wait, baby/Until you come crawling back to me.” This is a seriously enjoyable vocal performance, and I love that pause after “crawling.” Then Jon Atkinson joins Kid Ramos on vocals for “Weight On My Shoulders,” a song that he also wrote, and one of my personal favorites. It has such a great classic sound and does exactly what I want the blues to do; that is, it makes me feel a whole lot better. For the album’s final number, a cover of T-Bone Walker’s “High Society,” Kim Wilson provides the vocals. I love when Kim Wilson (probably best known for his work with The Fabulous Thunderbirds) shows up on album. A year and a half ago, he sang and played harmonica on Thornetta Davis’ fantastic Honest Woman album. This time he is teaming up with a former Fabulous Thunderbirds member for a really good rendition of a great tune. Danny Michel plays rhythm guitar on this track. “Yes, I got a society woman/She gets the best of everything/You know, she’s living her life in luxury/While she keeps me in the strings.”

CD Track List
  1. Kid’s Jump
  2. All Your Love
  3. Tell Me What Ya Want (And I’ll Give Ya What Ya Need)
  4. Mashed Potatoes And Chili
  5. Heartbeat
  6. You Never Call My Name
  7. Anna (Go To Him)
  8. Wes Side (Bumpin’)
  9. Mona Lisa
  10. Jesus Come By Here
  11. I Can’t Wait Baby
  12. Weight On My Shoulders
  13. High Society 
Old School was released on March 16, 2018 on Rip Cat Records.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Bob Rea: “Southbound” (2018) CD Review

As the world continues to spin out of control, with the absolute worst person we have to offer seated stupidly and arrogantly behind the wheel (a delusional old twit who seems to deliberately aim the vehicle toward the cliff while we all scream from the back seat), I am more and more grateful for good music, and the comfort and solace and understanding and even reason it offers. In a time when the country seems hell-bent on its own destruction, it’s good to hear from individuals who are determined to take things in a better direction, or at least try, and to remind us we are not alone in this frightening void. One new release that I am really enjoying is Southbound from singer and songwriter Bob Rea. This album features all original material, written or co-written by Bob Rea. Joining him on this release are Mike Daly on steel guitar and dobro, Steve Daly on guitar and banjo (Steve Daly also produced the album), Michael Webb on keyboards and accordion, Herschel Van Dyke on drum and percussion, Aaron Shaffer-Hais on drums, Dan Eubanks on bass, Jeremy Holt on mandolin, Lois Mahalia on backing vocals, and Laura Mae Socks on backing vocals. This disc is giving me momentary relief from the horror show blasting from the nation’s capital.

This excellent album opens with its title track, “Southbound,” with a sound somewhere between folk and country, and featuring a train, one of those perennial elements of the genre, and one that always seems to be effective. Something about movement, something about the romance inherent in that image, it always works for me. And check out these lines: “She’s a beautiful distraction in her cowgirl boots/She keeps them babies dancing/So they never grow roots/You might as well be trying to wrap your hands around the wind/Enjoy it while you can/’Cause she won’t be back again.” Plus, there are nice touches on mandolin. “Southbound” was written by Bob Rea and Erik Stucky. Then “Soldier On” has a darker vibe, a thumping rhythm. I love the juxtaposition between the heavy, ominous beat and the joyful sound of the banjo, creating an intriguing effect and pulling me in. This is one of my favorite tracks. “March between the lines of right and wrong/Soldier on, soldier on/Rattle that saber and drag that stone.” This one was written by Bob Rea and Steve Daly.

“Say Goodnight” immediately has a more pleasant and hopeful sound, and its first lines are delivered almost as spoken word, in an immediate and honest fashion: “Wondering and wandering ain’t that far apart/Just two different ways of letting go.” Like this is something he needs to tell us directly, and the delivery is effective over that appealing folk sound. This one too uses the image of a train, although a train that hasn’t yet arrived. And interestingly, it almost refers back to the first track in one line. Whereas in the first song a character is southbound, in this one Bob Rea sings, “And I was nowhere bound.” There is something beautiful about this song, which was written by Bob Rea and Jody Mulgrew. It’s then followed by a more fun, rockin’ number, “The Highway Never Cries.” I’ll be adding this one to my road trip playlist (man, I am itching for a road trip), because of lines like “But the thing about the blacktop is it will take you anywhere/Hitch your wagon to the white line, the white line never lies/Hang your hat out on the highway ‘cause the highway never cries.”

“Screw Cincinnati” has me smiling with lines like “And he whispers romance while he steps on her toes” and “Screw him and that horse he rode in on,” but it also tells a good story with well-drawn characters. I can’t help but love this song, with details like “Her coat and her patience have begun to wear thin” and “She might take out her lipstick and write on his forehead/The words that he don’t want to hear.” Then check out these lines from “Whisper Of An Angel”: “One of these days I’m gonna stand up on the mountain/Look back down at the valley far below/Every step I climb will remind me of how far I have to go.” Not bad, eh? This song has a positive, uplifting sound, urging us to “lay those burdens down.”

“The Law” has a meaner vibe, telling us “You’ll see that the law ain’t got no consciences/No, the law ain’t got no soul.” This one is obviously striking a strong chord. “We oughta know better now/It’s time to get out of town/When the law got a license to kill/You better break the law.” This is a compelling song. “Wanna Do” is a song that makes me feel good from its start; it has an energizing effect somehow, even if its lyrics are perhaps less than cheerful. “It’s a long, long way from heaven/To the streets of San Antoine/In between the sheets with you/Feeling that much more alone/As lonely as the only soldier in a war.” Yeah, this album features some damn good lyrics. This one was written by Bob Rea and Stephen Styles.

“Lonely Is Lonely” is one that got to me right away, perhaps because it was late at night the first time I listened to this album, and I was feeling sad and lonely. Its opening lines are “Three thirty in the morning and you’re feeling so alone/Listening to the clock tick down the hours ‘til the dawn.” And check out these lines: “The only thing that’s harder than leaving is to stay/But you won’t find any pardon/In those halls of yesterday.” This song is so effective, and is another of my favorites. It was written by Bob Rea and Patty Castillo. The album concludes with a sad country song about the end of a relationship, “A Place In Your Heart.” Actually, it seems to take place after its ending, when the hurt is mostly gone. And hell, isn’t that even sadder, when there is nothing, just a void? Yet, there is something hopeful about this song. “I’m all over falling apart/And I don’t need a place in your heart.”

CD Track List
  1. Southbound
  2. Soldier On
  3. Say Goodnight
  4. The Highway Never Cries
  5. Screw Cincinnati
  6. Whisper Of An Angel
  7. The Law
  8. Vietnam
  9. Wanna Do
  10. Skipping Stones
  11. Lonely Is Lonely
  12. Fish Can’t Fly
  13. A Place In Your Heart 
Southbound is scheduled to be released on April 20, 2018 on Shiny Dime Records.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Jeff Plankenhorn: “Sleeping Dogs” (2018) CD Review

Jeff Plankenhorn is reportedly focusing on his solo career these days, especially after the success of his 2016 release, SoulSlide. And that works just fine for us, because it means the release of new material like that on Sleeping Dogs, which is due out in May. This new album features original material, written or co-written by Jeff Plankenhorn, on which he plays a fairly wide variety of instruments – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, lap slide, pedal steel, bass, glockenspiel, melodica, piano and organ. He is backed by Scrappy Jud Newcomb on guitar, bass and piano; and Pat Manske on drums and percussion. Other musicians join him on certain tracks, including Ray Wylie Hubbard (who also co-wrote a song with him) and Patty Griffin.

The album begins with its title track, “Sleeping Dogs,” which has a certain kind of charm, sort of in the way of some of Tom Petty’s work. This is a good pop song with some undeniably catchy elements. And I love the way Jeff Plankenhorn delivers certain lines, like “You say some things behind my back/Well, I’m not so very concerned with that/Your problem has never been mine.” Plus, those are great lines. I seem to find new things to like about this track each time I listen to this album. That’s followed by “Love Is Love,” which has more of a folk sound, and is – as you might have guessed – a song about love. Hurrah for correct grammar; I appreciate the use of “with whom” in the line “You can’t choose with whom you fall.” This is ultimately a positive song, with lines like “Love don’t mind your religion/Love don’t know about race/Love don’t care where you may come from/Love doesn’t need to explain” (and, yes, I’m aware that the correct grammar kind of went out the window with the repetition of “Love don’t” – oh well) and “We are born knowing love/Have to be taught how to hate/To let go of all your preconceived notions/You only need to relate.”  

“Tooth And Nail” has a meaner, kind of darker sound, but also a sense of humor in lines like “Like an old cat having kittens/You just crawl under the porch and do it” and “It’s a Baptist church on a Sunday morning with a hungover choir.” Ray Wylie Hubbard, who co-wrote the song with Jeff Plankenhorn, joins him on acoustic guitar and vocals. The line “Coming off the rail” feels so apt these days. Doesn’t it feel like we’ve all gone off the rails? Then Patty Griffin joins Jeff Plankenhorn on vocals on “Holy Lightning,” which has kind of a sweet vibe, and is a bit of country, with the presence of pedal steel. Their voices sound beautiful and sad together while singing “I keep on driving/But I don’t know why/And I don’t know where I’m going tonight.” And Jeff’s line “Do you still think of me when you turn out the light?” is heartbreaking. “Holy Lightning” was written by Jeff Plankenhorn, Miles Zuniga and Scrappy Jud Newcomb. That’s followed by “Never Again,” which begins with a rough, raw thumping beat. “Yeah, and you tell yourself you’ll leave come midnight/But it’s two in the morning before you start feeling right.” We can all relate to those lines, eh? “Never Again” was written by Jeff Plankenhorn, Jon Dee Graham and Scrappy Jud Newcomb.

“This Guitar” is a really good folk tune in honor of the instrument that brings the music to the crowd, and Jeff Plankenhorn delivers it without other musicians accompanying him. That is, without other instruments. Just acoustic guitar and vocals. It’s almost a love song to the instrument. “This guitar don’t belong to me/It’s for all to hear and see/I never claimed to be the star/When I owe it all to this guitar.” When I first picked up this CD and glanced at the song titles, “I Don’t Know Anything” was the track I was most excited to hear, based solely on its title. That title seems to capture how a lot of us feel these days, when everything is completely fucked up. Anyway, it’s a fun, cheerful-sounding pop song.  Everybody wants to roll the dice/Everybody wants to take a swing/Don’t ask me for my advice/I don’t know anything.” “I Don’t Know Anything” ends up being one of my favorite tracks. It was written by Jeff Plankenhorn and Miles Zuniga. Miles also joins him on this track, playing acoustic guitar and providing vocals. The album then concludes with “Heaven On Earth,” which has an easygoing rhythm and vibe. On this one, Emily Gimble joins Jeff on vocals. “Take a walk with your love through the woodlands/You will see what this life’s truly worth/There’s no need to wait for untold futures/Today you can have heaven on earth/If only for a moment, heaven on earth.”

CD Track List
  1. Sleeping Dogs
  2. Love Is Love
  3. Tooth And Nail
  4. Homecoming
  5. Holy Lightning
  6. Never Again
  7. Further To Fall
  8. Piece Of Cake
  9. This Guitar
  10. I Don’t Know Anything
  11. Heaven On Earth 
Sleeping Dogs is scheduled to be released on May 4, 2018 on Spike Steel Records.