Monday, April 30, 2018

Ryan Hutchens: “The Last Ten Years” (2017) CD Review

The world is crazy, and seeming to get crazier at a rapid, dizzying pace that one can hardly keep up with. Sometimes what we need is to calm down, to give ourselves a break, so that we don’t explode. The music on Ryan Hutchens’ new album, The Last Ten Years, is the perfect vehicle to take our thoughts elsewhere. Many of these tracks have a beautiful, calming effect. Not that they’re dull or anything; far from it. But they seem to work to refocus our thoughts, at least for a time, giving us a much needed break, shutting out the news, creating a space where those things don’t exist, or at least don’t matter as much. That is achieved in part because these songs are emotionally engaging. This album contains all original material, written by Ryan Hutchens. Ryan plays several instruments on this release, including acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, banjo and percussion. Joining him are Kenny McWilliams on piano, synthesizer, guitar, bass and percussion; Idris Chandler on cello; and Travis Wright on pedal steel guitar. The Last Ten Years is the second album that Ryan Hutchens has released under his own name. Earlier he released CDs under the name Cancellieri, and on this new album he revisits a couple of songs from the Cancellieri album 46 And Raleigh.

The album opens with “Green My Eyes,” which has a beautiful, very pleasing folk sound. The song features some seriously good lyrics. “You said that life has been a mess/It’s been a crazy year/You’d like to get things off your chest/I probably wouldn’t care/To hear about the times you cried or where you spent your nights/Pretty mouth and green my eyes, there’s nothing left to try.” That’s followed by the album’s title track, “The Last Ten Years,” which has a gentle, comforting folk sound, which works well with the song’s lyrics. Check out these lines: “If you’re struggling with a troubled mind you should know I’ve been there before/Spent the better part of the last ten years just knocking on your door.” This track features Idris Chandler on cello, an instrument I am always happy to hear. Something about its sound never fails to move me, and it is effective here. And the line “If that Boston cold makes you feel alone, you can keep your love with mine” hits home with me, as my girlfriend is currently in that city, so far from me. This is a gorgeous song, one of my personal favorites.

“Education” is a song that Ryan Hutchens included on the Cancellieri album 46 And Raleigh, and he revisits it on this album. This one too has a calming effect. The approach is gentle and pretty, and I feel I can succumb to its sound, ease myself into warm, dark waters. You know? At the end, Ryan repeats, “Let me sleep/Let me sleep/Let me sleep.” Then “New Remedy” is more in the country realm, with the presence of pedal steel. Travis Wright’s work on that instrument is beautiful. This one too features some really good lyrics, such as these lines: “Spending all of my time coming up with new plans to make a living and get some rest/I wish a warning had come with this ache in my chest/But walking alone beats working to death for a person.”

Idris Chandler again joins Ryan Hutchens on cello for “Fortunate Peace.” “So tell me more about your writing and the way your family’s strange/Tell me anything you like, girl, in the end I can’t stay.” After those lines, there is a moment where it feels like the song is ending, and then the tone changes, the song taking on a happier feel. “The Landing” has a cheerful vibe and is another of my favorites. It has a country sound, and some excellent lyrics. Check out these lines: “But all I’ve learned I’ve soon learned how to forget/’Cause I’ve stood on top of castles/Yeah, I’ve slept on top of graves/Nothing lasts forever/The worms will have their way.” Not bad, eh? This is one I love more and more, the more I get into it. There is wisdom, there is experience, there is acceptance in his voice, in his delivery, in these thoughts. Travis Wright plays pedal steel on this track. On “The Trouble With You,” Ryan Hutchens performs solo, just vocals and acoustic guitar, giving the song a simple, but wonderful folk sound. “I only ever told the truth/I only loved the thought of you/I could leave it/I could take it/It all seems a little fake.” The album then ends with an instrumental track titled “Instrumental In C,” a pretty tune that is delivered just on guitars.

CD Track List
  1. Green My Eyes
  2. The Last Ten Years
  3. Education
  4. New Remedy
  5. Fortunate Peace
  6. Fake Flowers And The Weather
  7. The Landing
  8. Poor Old Man
  9. A House And A Porch
  10. The Trouble With You
  11. Instrumental In C 
The Last Ten Years was released on October 13, 2017.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Bonus Disc 2018” (2018) CD Review

Each year, the Grateful Dead releases four volumes in the Dave’s Picks series of concert recordings. And if you order the entire set before the beginning of the year, you receive a bonus disc. This year’s bonus disc arrived with Dave’s Picks Volume 26, and it includes songs from the show the Grateful Dead did on December 14, 1971 at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Approximately half of this show was included on the third disc of Dave’s Picks Volume 26, and approximately half is included on this bonus disc. However,  the discs are not divided up by sets. Because, as Dave Lemieux explained in the video he released recently, no covers can be included on bonus discs, the concert is divided up in a strange way. Most of the second set is included on the bonus disc, but also several songs from the first set. To listen to the show in order, you’d have to switch back and forth between the two discs.

This bonus disc opens with “Jack Straw,” which was the sixth song of the first set. It’s a good rendition, but nothing outstanding. That’s followed by “Tennessee Jed,” also from the middle of the first set. It’s a nice version, and I love the way Jerry delivers the line “Drink all day and rock all night.” The disc then skips to the end of the first set, giving us the last three songs – “Black Peter,” “Playing In The Band” and “Casey Jones.” “Black Peter” is gentle and moving and beautiful, and you feel that Peter is in the room. The song builds toward the end, and is for me one of the disc’s highlights. Like the version from November 17th, this version of “Playing” isn’t very long, but still contains some good jamming and hints of where the band would take this song in the years to come. “Casey Jones” is fun, as always.

We then go to the second song of the second set, “Mexicali Blues.” (The first song, “Ramble On Rose,” is not on either disc, and I believe is the only song missing from the show.) Ah, “Thinking and drinking are all I have today.” I’ve done quite a bit of both today. The rest of the disc is a great chunk of the second set, presented in order, beginning with “Cryptical Envelopment,” and leading into a drum solo. Then “The Other One” bursts open with a crazy, wild force. Soon the band is off into stranger territory, but with reminders of the main line of the song. And approximately seven and a half minutes in, we get the first verse. Then we’re plunged right back into the weirdness. It can get a little chaotic, a little messy, but it is never dull. And it goes in some unusual directions. Definitely a good reason to get a copy of this disc. Just shy of the eighteen-minute mark, we get the second verse. There is cool stuff on both organ and piano. The band then eases into “Wharf Rat.” Wow, this version is excellent. I am surprised by how quietly the “But I’ll get back on my feet someday” line is delivered. It completely pulled me in. And then Jerry builds from there, rising to a great height. Wonderful rendition, and the band allows it to end rather than going right into the next song. The next song, the final song of the disc, is “Sugar Magnolia,” and it is as energetic as ever.

CD Track List
  1. Jack Straw
  2. Tennessee Jed
  3. Black Peter
  4. Playing In The Band
  5. Casey Jones
  6. Mexicali Blues
  7. Cryptical Envelopment >
  8. Drums >
  9. The Other One >
  10. Wharf Rat
  11. Sugar Magnolia 
Dave’s Picks Bonus Disc 2018 was released at the end of April, 2018, mailed out with Dave’s Picks Volume 26.

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 26” (2018) CD Review

Dave’s Picks Volume 26 contains the complete show the Grateful Dead performed at Albuquerque Civic Auditorium in Albuquerque, New Mexico on November 17, 1971, plus approximately half the show from December 14, 1971 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. These shows weren’t long after Keith Godchaux had joined the band, due to Pigpen’s health problems (Pigpen is not present for November 17, but is with the band for the December 14 show), and before his wife Donna Jean Godchaux joined. Also, Mickey Hart had left the band earlier in the year, after his father had embezzled a good deal of money from the band. And during this time, the Dead were adding several new songs to their repertoire. So it’s an interesting time. But what makes this release good is, of course, the music. There isn’t a whole lot of jamming on these discs (a quick look at the number of songs on each disc will tell you that), but there is certainly a lot of energy and a lot of joy. This is a three-disc set; but for those of us who placed an order for the entire year’s selections, this release came with a bonus disc. More on that later.

Disc 1

The band is going strong right out of the gate, opening with “Truckin’,” that good groove getting folks dancing, no doubt. It’s not a particularly long version, but there is still some good jamming at the end. That’s followed by “Sugaree,” which includes a false start. The band jokes “These things take time, you know,” adding “We’re new here.” A playful reference to the fact that this was the band’s first show in New Mexico? It’s a really good “Sugaree.” The band then does “Beat It On Down The Line.” They joke about how many beats they’ll use to open it (“A bunch”). They end up choosing thirteen, in case you’re wondering. This tune moves at a good pace, with plenty of energy. And the band wastes no time, getting right to a wonderful “Tennessee Jed,” keeping things moving. “Drink all day and rock all night.” Oh yes. (I’m enjoying a Guinness from one of the Grateful Dead Dave’s Picks glasses my mom sent to me a while back.) Bob follows that with “El Paso.” I love what Keith is doing on keys here. Bob forgets the lyrics for a moment toward the end, but it’s still a damn good version. This is a fairly hopping first set, and Jerry next chooses “Big Railroad Blues.” That’s followed by a sweet “Jack Straw.” I love how Jerry rips into those closing lines of “Deal,” raising the energy there.

This version of “Playing In The Band” is short, as it wasn’t yet that great beast it would soon become. Rather than a vehicle for exploration, what we get here is a fairly tight rockin’ number, but certainly with some hints of what could be done with the song. We then get a very fun rendition of “Cumberland Blues,” followed by a really nice “Me And Bobby McGee.” Jerry then delivers an absolutely wonderful take on the country number “You Win Again.” Listen to what he does vocally here. Man, he’s really into it, and the results are excellent, making this song a surprising highlight of the first set. Bob follows that with “Mexicali Blues,” and then the band concludes the first disc with a rousing version of “Casey Jones.”

Disc 2

The second disc opens with “One More Saturday Night.” Bob momentarily forgets the lyrics, but it’s still a fun version. This song finishes the first set, and the sound fades out after it. The second set opens with “Ramble On Rose,” with more nice work on piano by Keith. That’s followed by the crowd-pleasing “Sugar Magnolia,” which has a whole lot of energy. While they’re tuning, we hear hints of “Cryptical Envelopment,” and the band soon goes into it. This is really the first trippy song of the show. That leads to a drum solo by Bill, with a steady thumping at a certain point. And then “The Other One” comes roaring in. This is when things start to get interesting. This is one of my favorite songs, because it was always exciting, the band approaching it differently every time, forever trying to get it under control. Here they distract it, attacking it from two angles, one hand gentle, the other suddenly forceful. At one point, they soothe it, with gentle, quiet strokes, mesmerizing the beast, hypnotizing it. Then when they’ve got it, they ride that monster, seeing what they can make it do. (Are there hints of “Uncle John’s Band” at one point, just very briefly, or am I mad?) And only then does the band return to the familiar main line of the song and go into the first verse. Then the band abandons it altogether, at least for a time, and slides into “Me And My Uncle.” But immediately upon ending that tune, the band returns to “The Other One,” strange territory, finding the right moment to pounce again. And when they do, bang, Bob delivers the second verse. And when you might expect them to return to “Cryptical,” instead Jerry leads the band into “Wharf Rat.” It’s a powerful version, the lyrics delivered with passion. The band then concludes the second set with “Not Fade Away” into “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” back into “Not Fade Away.” There is some excellent stuff here, particularly in those moments before “Not Fade Away” segues into “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad.” And then check out the energy in “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad.” Fantastic! And that’s how the show ends. No encore? None needed. (Though I should point out that some sites online list “Ramble On Rose” as the encore, rather than as the second set opener.)

Disc 3

The third disc is what we used to call “filler.” It is a good chunk of the show from December 14, 1971 (approximately seventy-nine minutes, actually), this one with Pigpen back in the lineup. The songs are not completely in order. As Dave Lemieux explained in his recent video about this release, they had to change the order of songs because the bonus disc couldn’t contain any covers. The bonus disc also contains music from this show. Put together, these two discs contain almost the entire show (I think only one song is missing), but you have to go back and forth between discs. Anyway, this third disc opens with the beginning of the first set. This set begins the same way the show from November 17 did, with “Truckin’” and then “Sugaree.” But right away you can hear a big difference, and that’s the presence of Pigpen on organ. Bobby flubs the lyrics at one point, but no matter. The energy is high. A good “Sugaree” is followed by “Mister Charlie,” with Pigpen taking his first turn of the night at lead vocals. Just three beats begin this version of “Beat It On Down The Line,” and it’s another fun rendition. Jerry then mellows things out a bit with “Loser.” This is when Jerry still sang the “Sweet Susie” part of that line.

After “Loser,” you have to switch to the bonus disc for a song, then come back for “Next Time You See Me.” Pigpen delivers some good work on harmonica. Again, you have to go to the bonus disc for a song, and then come back to this one for “El Paso.” That’s followed by “Big Railroad Blues.” Yeah, this show has a lot of song choices in common with the main show of this release. But it’s all right, as the playing is so good. The band is clearly having a good time, as is the audience. “Me And My Uncle” follows, and then Pigpen delivers the rock ‘n’ roll holiday classic, “Run Rudolph Run.” This was a song the band played only that month. This disc then jumps to partway through the second set for “Big Boss Man.” The disc then goes to the end of the second set for “You Win Again” (after some playful tuning), and then “Not Fade Away” into “Goin’ Down The Road Feeing Bad” back into “Not Fade Away.” This is another delightful rendition of “You Win Again,” with some wonderful stuff on piano. The “Not Fade Away” jam gets interesting, and “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” rocks. (By the way, I plan on reviewing the bonus disc separately, since not everyone who purchased this set received that disc.)

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Truckin’
  2. Sugaree
  3. Beat It On Down The Line
  4. Tennessee Jed
  5. El Paso
  6. Big Railroad Blues
  7. Jack Straw
  8. Deal
  9. Playing In The Band
  10. Cumberland Blues
  11. Me And Bobby McGee
  12. You Win Again
  13. Mexicali Blues
  14. Casey Jones
 Disc 2
  1. One More Saturday Night
  2. Ramble On Rose
  3. Sugar Magnolia
  4. Cryptical Envelopment >
  5. Drums >
  6. The Other One >
  7. Me And My Uncle >
  8. The Other One >
  9. Wharf Rat
  10. Not Fade Away >
  11. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad >
  12. Not Fade Away
 Disc 3
  1. Truckin’
  2. Sugaree
  3. Mr. Charlie
  4. Beat It On Down The Line
  5. Loser
  6. Next Time You See Me
  7. El Paso
  8. Big Railroad Blues
  9. Me And My Uncle
  10. Run Rudolph Run
  11. Big Boss Man
  12. You Win Again
  13. Not Fade Away >
  14. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad >
  15. Not Fade Away 
Dave’s Picks Volume 26 was released in late April, 2018. My copy arrived on April 27th. This release was limited to 18,000 copies.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Emily Johnson: “Open Your Heart” (2018) CD Review

Emily Johnson is a singer and songwriter with a strong voice full of passion. On her debut EP, Open Your Heart, she delivers songs that feel like they’re about the healing and rejuvenating power of music and love, and these songs – particularly the first two tracks – are especially effective in these days of division and strife and troubles. On this EP she gives us positive, uplifting, empowering, and encouraging music, all tracks written by Emily Johnson and Narada Michael Walden. Narada Michael Walden, who has produced music for Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, George Michael and Stevie Wonder (among others), produced and arranged these tracks, and played most of the instruments.

The EP opens with “The Light,” a pop love song with some gorgeous gospel sounds, especially in the backing vocals. They have that kind of passion, you know? Cornell “CC” Carter and DeeDee Simon provide the backing vocals on this track. There is joy and love in Emily Johnson’s delivery. “The light shines above me when I’m with you/The light in you gives me everything I need/When you hold me close and tell me that you love me/The light in you gives me everything I need.” I hope everyone can experience that kind of feeling, because it’s the very thing that keeps me going in these dark days of the Trump regime.

That’s followed by the EP’s title track, “Open Your Heart,” which has a steady beat, marching us toward a positive future. At least, that’s how it feels, and we all need this now. “Please stop denying yourself/Please stop blaming everybody else/You know we can make it better/We all can get it together.” The song acknowledges that hatred abounds these days, but offers hope and a reminder that there is a way out, a way above, that it’s all about heart. “Open your heart/Let it go, let it go/Open your mind/And change the world, change the world/Start to believe and you will see/As long as you love, you will be free.” Her delivery is heartfelt, and so her words carry weight, and we believe her. There is an optimism here that I want to latch onto. Chris Heist Walden plays keys on this track, and Jim Reitzel is on guitar. The backing vocals are again done by Cornell “CC” Carter and DeeDee Simon.

“I’m Blessed” is more of a dance song, with an electronic beat. I’m not as into it as I am the first two tracks, but it still has a positive vibe. This one was written by Narada Michael Walden, Gary Williams and Emily Johnson. G Dub provides some vocals. The EP then concludes with “Baby Forever” an innocent pop love song, with a happy sound. “Be my baby/Come on, hold me tight/Be my baby/Love me tonight, love me tonight.”

CD Track List
  1. The Light
  2. Open Your Heart
  3. I’m Blessed
  4. Baby Forever
Open Your Heart is scheduled to be released on May 11, 2018 on Tarpan Records.

Leonard Cohen: Live In San Sebastian 1988

The year 2016 was an absolutely atrocious and abysmal year. A year that could give Donald Trump the presidency and take Leonard Cohen from us – and that was actually in the same week – is a foul year indeed. Fortunately, we still have all the excellent music that Leonard Cohen recorded, and we’re getting new releases of some live recordings too, including this filmed concert from May 20, 1988. Until God takes Steve Poltz up on his splendid offer (listen to “Hey God I’ll Trade You Donald Trump For Leonard Cohen”), these releases will have to suffice. As Leonard Cohen tells us in “Tower Of Song,” “But you’ll be hearing from me, baby, long after I’m gone.” And what a treat it is to be able to watch this concert, which was originally broadcast on television. Apart from a couple of minor glitches near the beginning because of the source material, the picture is pretty good. And the sound is fine. The music, of course, is fantastic.

As he did at every concert of his that I attended, Leonard Cohen opens with “Dance Me To The End Of Love.” And look at that smile as Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla sing at the beginning. I’m always struck by how giving Leonard Cohen was. I experienced that myself the one time I met him, and you can see it here in the way he focuses his attention (and his joy) on his fellow musicians, such as on Bob Furgo when he takes the lead on violin. He follows that with “Ain’t No Cure For Love,” from what was at the time his new album, I’m Your Man. And this is a really good rendition. I love the moment when Leonard Cohen steps between Julie and Perla near the end. He then straps on his acoustic guitar for “Who By Fire,” which features a beautiful instrumental introduction. This is a pretty and gentle performance of the song, and it’s followed by a passionate “Bird On The Wire.”

Leonard Cohen plays guitar on “Avalanche,” which he performs solo. I do wish the camera would pull back slightly so we could see his finger work on the guitar. The concert is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio, and I wonder if in making it widescreen we’re actually losing the bottom of the frame. Because there are several shots that seem odd, like the camera needs to pan down slightly or pull back just a bit, and that would provide an explanation for those shots. Because overall the show is shot really well, with the camera basically always where you would want it to be.

Leonard Cohen introduces “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” saying “This is a song that I wrote a thousand years ago for Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel.” Perla translates this introduction into Spanish for the audience. Leonard plays guitar on this one too. He gives a little laugh on the line, “But for me you’d make an exception.” He plays keyboard on “Tower Of Song.” There is no audible crowd reaction to the “golden voice” line, perhaps because the song was still quite new at the time. That’s followed by “Sisters Of Mercy” and then a really good rendition of “One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong” – so good, in fact, that it was chosen to be included on the 1994 release Cohen Live.

In the introduction to “First We Take Manhattan,” Leonard Cohen tells the audience they’ve been warm and kind, but that their kindness would “not divert me from my appointed task, which is first to take Manhattan and then Berlin and several other cities and do with them as I will.” (Perla does not translate this time.) Stephen Zirkel plays trumpet at the beginning. You can see the sweat dripping down the side of Leonard’s face during this song. “First We Take Manhattan” must be the last song of the first set, but Leonard gives the audience a salute as if it’s the end of the show. It’s difficult to tell because the song comes to a sudden ending. I feel like we’re missing the last moments of it, moments that might indicate if they’re taking a set break. (I’m not certain that we’re getting the complete concert. There are moments when I feel something is cut, and this concert is not quite two hours, significantly shorter than the shows I saw him do.)

He is then back, introducing “Everybody Knows,” also from I’m Your Man. It sounds like he sings “Everybody knows this broken feeling” rather than “Everybody’s got this broken feeling.” And this version includes some different lyrics: “Everybody knows that Jesus was born/In Bethlehem without a single dime/Everybody knows that the homeless people/Could be themselves some other time.” Those lines lead to “Everybody knows the deal is rotten.” I don’t recall hearing him sing those lines before. But it is during “Hallelujah” that the most significant changes come. This concert was only four years after the release of Various Positions, the album containing the studio version of “Hallelujah,” and in that time he had completely rewritten the song. This version has no verses in common with the studio recording. And this version has only three different verses, with the first then being repeated at the end. These verses will be familiar to those who saw him in concert later on, but there are still some other changes within those verses. He begins with the “Baby, I’ve been here before” verse, which is the one with the line “But love is not some kind of victory march.” He follow that with the “There was a time when you let me know/What’s really going on below” verse. The third verse is the “Maybe there’s a god above” verse. However, in this verse he sings “Not the abandoned laughter of someone who claims to have seen the light” rather than “It’s not some pilgrim who claims to have seen the light.” (“Pilgrim” was sometimes replaced with “fool.”) He then repeats the first verse, changing “broken” to “lonely” this time. You can hear a somewhat similar rendition on Cohen Live, which was recorded on the same 1988 tour, though several months later (though that version does not include the repetition of a verse, but rather the final verse from the studio album version). Anyway, it’s a wonderful rendition.

During “Take This Waltz,” at one point he sings “dragging its ass in the sea” instead of “tail.” Julie Christensen is excellent on this song, and I also love the trumpet. It appears that this song ends the second set, as Leonard Cohen walks off before the song ends. In that case, there must be songs missing from this DVD, because the second set contains only four songs. There is a shot of the audience, and then Leonard Cohen is back with “The Partisan,” followed by “Suzanne” and “Heart With No Companion.” Leonard Cohen walks off again at the end of “Heart With No Companion,” and this time we see the band leave too. They come back for “Coming Back To You,” which is one of my favorites. This is a passionate rendition, and it is followed by “I Can’t Forget.” The show then concludes with an unusual version of “So Long, Marianne,” with an added vocal section by Perla and Julie at the end.

Leonard Cohen: Live In San Sebastian 1988 was released on DVD on April 7, 2017. The DVD contains no special features. Apparently, an interview with Leonard Cohen was recorded for the original broadcast, but that is not included here. The DVD is approximately 107 minutes. The scant closing credits do not even include the band members or song titles.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Gene Turonis: “All The Pretty Girls” (2018) CD Review

Gene Turonis, also known as Gene D. Plumber, has apparently been performing for several decades. Performing in two very different realms, I should mention, that of a plumber and that of a musician. Yeah, the moniker Gene D. Plumber is due to his actually working as a plumber (and the band he’s played with is called The Plumbers). His plumbing and his music have been restricted to the Hoboken area. Until now, that is. With the national release of All The Pretty Girls, his new album, he’ll be getting exposure across the country. (His plumbing might still be restricted to Hoboken.) The album features a mix of original tunes and covers. Joining Gene D. Plumber are Charlie Giordano on accordion and piano, Adam Krass on fiddle, Marc Jonson on organ, and Tim Tindall on bass.

He opens the album with its title track, “All The Pretty Girls,” an original number with the accordion featuring prominently. It’s kind of a playful, delightful song with profound lyrics like “All the pretty girls feed me a sandwich.” And how can you help but love him when he begins his goofy “Wah wah” part?  That’s followed by another original tune, “Round And Round We Go,” which Gene wrote with Emily Turonis. This song has a cheerful, friendly vibe, and includes the happy sound of whistling. It’s a song that should disarm you and raise your spirits. The lyrics are delivered with sweetness. “But let’s not think about the past/Let’s think about this melody/With my arm your waist/And you holding onto me.”

Gene Turonis delivers an interesting a cover of the old rock and roll tune “I Like It Like That.” This song was written by Chris Kenner and Allen Toussaint, and was a hit for The Dave Clark Five back in the sixties. Gene’s version has a delightful energy, and feels like a party down south. That’s followed by another cover, “Things Have Gone To Pieces,” a song that was recorded by George Jones and then later by Merle Haggard. The first line of this country song certainly is appropriate for a singer/plumber: “The faucet started dripping in the kitchen.” And maybe that’s the reason he chose to cover it. His version features some whistling, and a really nice vocal performance, but perhaps what I like most about this track is Adam Krass’ work on fiddle.

“Let’s Make A Deal – Marriage Proposal” has an early rock and roll energy, particularly in the work on keys. This is a playful, fun number. Check out these lines: “A beautiful woman is a wonderful thing/When your beauty is showing, that makes the man in me sing/You got it, you got it, you got it/I want it, I want it, I want it.” Yeah, there is a good deal of humor to this one. It’s followed by a wonderful rendition of “Going Back To Louisiana,” written by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, this rendition featuring more whistling and more nice work on piano. Gene shows his sense of humor again in “Been A Fool All My Life,” a self-deprecating song about the many mistakes he’s made. “I’ve been making stupid moves since I don’t know when/Never learning from the past, repeating it over again/From my very first used car, to my last ex-wife/I’ve been a fool all my life.” And he has enough experience in his voice to make this song really work.

In “I’d Have To Be Crazy,” Gene sings “Oh, I may not be normal, nobody is.” Ah, I’ve been saying that for years. “Normal” is just someone you don’t know all that well. The main line, however, is “I’d have to be crazy, plumb out of my mind, to fall out of love with you.” Yes, it is a sweet song. It was written and recorded by Steven Fromholz. Willie Nelson has also covered it. “She Belongs To Someone” is fun from the start, even before the humorous line “She belongs to someone and I’m glad it ain’t me.” This song is a delight. One line that stuck out for me is “She’s probably listening to Thriller.” The specificity caught me by surprise.

The album’s final cover is a really nice rendition of “I Always Get Lucky With You,” here shortened to “Always Get Lucky.” This is another song that was recorded by both George Jones and Merle Haggard. Haggard wrote it with Freddy Powers, Gary Church and Tex Whitson. The album then ends with “George Jones, George Jones.” On the CD case, it’s labeled as a bonus track, but I have never understood how a song could be a bonus track on the album’s first release. It’s not a bonus track; it’s a track. Well, however you label it, it’s a really good song, with a bit of a raw and immediate sound, just vocals and guitar.

CD Track List
  1. All The Pretty Girls
  2. Round And Round We Go
  3. I Like It Like That
  4. Things Have Gone To Pieces
  5. Let’s Make A Deal – Marriage Proposal
  6. Going Back To Louisiana
  7. Been A Fool All My Life
  8. I’d Have To Be Crazy
  9. She Belongs To Someone
  10. A Breeze Blows Through The Palm Tree
  11. Diamonds As Big As Potatoes
  12. Always Get Lucky
  13. George Jones, George Jones 
All The Pretty Girls is scheduled to be released on May 11, 2018 on Bar/None Records.

Shawn Phillips: “Continuance” (2018) CD Review

Shawn Phillips has been having a pretty noteworthy career, from his early work with Donovan and his two dozen or so solo albums. His music has elements of rock and roll, folk, jazz, hard rock, progressive rock and even classical. While you might hear such influences and elements on his new album, Continuance, Shawn Phillips really has his own sound, and seems to let his music follow its own direction. Joining him on this release are Brockett Parsons on keys, Anthony Crawford on bass, Sebastian Persini on drums, Danny Janklow on saxophone, and Josh Seguin on lead guitar. And, according to Shawn in the CD’s liner notes, the musicians recorded this album live in the studio, with everyone in the same room, playing together, without much rehearsal, in order to capture the magic as it happened. So this is an album that came from improvisation, and with very few takes, and it consequently has a certain undeniable energy. It’s also kind of amazing, because these aren’t simple songs. Many of the tracks run directly from one to the next without pause. All of the songs are originals, written or co-written by Shawn Phillips, and they feature some good lyrics. For example, check out these lines from “In Grace We Intend”: “At the heart of the matter is avarice and greed/Enacted by people this world doesn’t need.” Guess which people I think of when I hear those lines? (If you guessed anyone in the Trump regime, anyone at all, you are correct.)

The CD’s first track, “Life,” opens with some crowd sounds, and a bit of Sousa’s “The Liberty Bell.” Okay, I know that “The Liberty Bell” existed before Monty Python used it, but as far as I’m concerned it is just the Monty Python’s Flying Circus theme song, and whatever came before is of no importance. Anyway, we get just a bit of that before this song begins in earnest. It’s a cool track, an introduction to what will follow, referring to it as “the show of shows” and mentioning that “the stage is set.” So is it an admission of artifice? Perhaps, but it seems that it is also in line with Jaques’ famous speech from As You Like It, that all the world’s a stage. And this track invites us to take part, like a barker for the carnival of life. The vocal line has a good rhythm. Check out these lines: “And the world keeps turning, live are churning, loving and killing are part of this burning/The best and the worst they make this scale, we haven’t realized we are so frail.” I love that moment when the saxophone suddenly comes in.

“Life” leads straight into “The Force That We Call Life,” a short, somewhat pretty tune featuring an orchestral arrangement by Paul Buckmaster. That, in turns, leads straight into “Tribute To D,” an instrumental rock track that features some nice work on saxophone. The sax becomes a part of the atmospheric rock sounds, until the end, when it rises above the other instruments. This track fades out. Then “Man With A Gun” opens with a thumping hard rock force. The gun problem is more serious than ever, and yet some folks still want to blame everything but the easy availability of the guns themselves (someone really ought to smack Ted Nugent across the face). If those pro-gun people become the victims of gun violence themselves, perhaps they will change their horrible, indefensible stance. Anyway, this song has a serious, intense tone. “Like the sunlight in a day, he will never go away/He is holding onto all his power/And in the hour of your need, he is only feeling greed/And he simply wants to see you cower.” I hope the line “You know that without fail, they will never go to jail” will prove incorrect. How is Donald Trump not already spending his life in prison?

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” What a lot of us feel these days is something more like “Furious Desperation,” which is the title of one of my personal favorite tracks on this CD. “Furious Desperation” begins with a good beat and a snippet of a speech from Bernie Sanders. When Shawn’s vocals come in, the lyrics are delivered almost like beat poetry over the beat. Halfway through, a very cool bass line comes in, and then there is some delicious and kind of funky work on keys. Check out these lines: “No insurance, county’s full, the ambulance is transportation/To take you on those useless rounds, in furious desperation.” Not bad, eh? “Don’t look to god or devil now, for both of them are taken/This is the earth for all us folks, it’s not yet all forsaken/Just wake up to priorities, forget the conflagration.”

“C’mon Round” has more of a fun, cheerful, optimistic sound and vibe, with something of a country feel, and is another of the disc’s highlights. This is one that I like more and more. “Ain’t nobody here immortal; if you’re hearin’ this, you’re alive.” Jonathan McEuen plays guitar on this track. “Bach To The Fusion” features some beautiful work on guitar. Settle in and let this track transport you. I love the mix of electronic and acoustic sounds, a combining of worlds. This is another of my favorites. “Dancing In Survival,” which has my favorite title of the album, takes us on a ride too, particularly in the instrumental section in its second half. The album concludes with “Some Things Will Never Change,” an idea that frightens me. We need some serious change, and we need it immediately, beginning with the absolute and total destruction of the entire Trump regime. Not one of them should be left in a position of power. Trump has surrounded him with the absolute worst that humanity has to offer, which makes sense, as a guy like Donald isn’t going to attract decent or intelligent people. Anyway, the track begins with the eerie sound of winds across what is perhaps a desolate landscape. The lyrics are delivered as spoken word, as poetry over gentle music. “Through the wonders of perception, we question time and space/We grapple with the issues, but never that of grace/In seeking God we kill ourselves, I find this so deranged/But in the order of this chaos, some things will never change.”

CD Track List
  1. Life
  2. The Force That We Call Life
  3. Tribute To D
  4. Man With A Gun
  5. Furious Desperation
  6. C’mon Round
  7. Song For A Thief
  8. Bach To The Fusion
  9. In Grace We Intend
  10. Dancing In Survival
  11. Mirror Of Light
  12. Some Things Will Never Change
Continuance was released digitally on January 31, 2018, and is now available on CD.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Grateful Dead: “Fillmore West, February 27, 1969” (2018) Record Review

My main purchase on Record Store Day (this past Saturday) was the Grateful Dead box containing the complete show the band performed at the Fillmore West on February 27, 1969. The show is on four records (though the fourth contains only one, relatively brief song), and the box contains an insert about the concert. As most of you are aware, this show was recorded for the album Live/Dead, so some of this material has been available for decades. Also, a CD box set of the entire four-night run at the Fillmore West was released back in 2005. But this new release marks the first time the show has been made available on vinyl.

The band opens the first set with “Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl,” which kind of eases in. Then Pigpen’s harmonica really gets the song underway. Pigpen gives an interesting pause before “help” in the line “I just can’t help myself.” The crowd didn’t have to wait long for a jam this night, eh? This version is more than eleven minute long, and Pigpen is sounding smooth at times. It’s certainly not the wildest version I’ve ever heard the band do, but they were just getting started. There is a bit of stage banter before the band begins “Doin’ That Rag,” a song that would be included on Aoxomoxoa, which was released later that year. It’s great hearing a live recording of this one, a song the Dead didn’t play all that much, or for that long. And this version has that totally delightful ending. There is some stage banter following the song as we hear hints of “Cryptical.” And just before the first side ends, we hear Jerry say, “It’s really too weird up here.”

Side 2 begins with Jerry saying “It’s really too weird up here,” adding a few other comments. The band then does the entire “That’s It For The Other One,” which takes up the whole album side. It begins with “Cryptical Envelopment,” and then a brief drum solo, and Phil’s monstrous bass leads into “The Other One,” a powerful, loud explosion. I love “The Other One.” This is a song that the band tackled differently every time, a song that refused to be tamed or subdued. The band jams on it for a while, as if trying to get it under control, before Bob delivers the first verse. Check out the guitar after the first verse. And I dig what TC is doing during the second verse. This is a fantastic “Other One.” It then goes straight back to “Cryptical.” And after a mellow jam, Jerry comes back in, repeating “He had to die.” And the jam becomes heavier again. There are more peaks and valleys, of course, with the tune getting quiet for a few moments, as if to bring us in for a gentle landing. And that’s the end of the short first set. The band asks everyone to stick around for the second set. “The second set will be the long set,” Jerry promises. And Bobby says that they’ll bring out the monkeys.

The second set begins with “Dupree’s Diamond Blues,” played on acoustic guitars, and is followed by a nice “Mountains Of The Moon,” both of which would be included on Aoxomoxoa. I particularly like the jam toward the end of “Mountains Of The Moon.” It goes straight into “Dark Star,” and that’s when Side 3 fades out, because “Dark Star” needs its own side.

Side 4 begins just a moment before the band starts “Dark Star,” so there is just a bit of overlap with the previous side. That way, we don’t miss a note, you know? This song was included on Live/Dead. As you already know, it’s a phenomenal rendition of “Dark Star,” with everything coming together perfectly, and yet also entering into some wonderfully weird territory. At the end we hear the very beginning of “St. Stephen.”

Side 5 begins with “St. Stephen,” this version also appearing on Live/Dead. This too has excellent peaks and valleys. The band is on, as they make their way through this complex tune, including the “William Tell” section. That leads directly to “The Eleven,” which features a great, rocking jam before the band begins the vocal section. And the jam takes off again after that. It begins to go into “Turn On Your Lovelight,” and the side fades out.

Side 6 begins with the last moments of Side 5, as the band goes into the second set closer, “Turn On Your Lovelight.” The first set began with a Pigpen tune, and the second set closes with one. Now Pigpen is at full force, and the band is right with him. Pigpen gives us, as he says, a taste of his woman. Oh, there is plenty of Pigpen’s rap in this version.

As for Side 7, it’s interesting that rather than putting “Cosmic Charlie,” the encore, at the end of Side 6 (it seems like it would fit), they included a fourth record containing just that one song. In high school, I had a beautiful blue fish, and that fish would dance whenever I put on a Grateful Dead album or bootleg tape. Seriously. No reaction to any other music, but when I put on the Dead, he would get excited, dancing, even jumping out of the water (I had to keep his bowl only half filled because at least once he managed to get completely out of the bowl; later I just purchased a tank for him, so he’d have more dancing room). That fish was named Cosmic Charlie, after one of my favorite Dead songs, one I wish I could have seen them perform in concert. Anyway, before the song, there’s a bit of stage banter. Bob introduces the song as “a sentimental number.” It’s a good version, and ends gently. And that’s all for Side 7.

Side 8 contains no music, but there is a cool etching in the vinyl. As much as I like the look of that etching, it seems it would have made more sense to include some filler on this record, perhaps some music from the next night’s show.

Track List

Side 1
  1. Good Morning Little School Girl
  2. Doin’ That Rag
Side 2
  1. That’s It For The Other One
Side 3
  1. Dupree’s Diamond Blues
  2. Mountains Of The Moon
Side 4
  1. Dark Star
Side 5
  1. St. Stephen
  2. The Eleven
 Side 6
  1. Turn On Your Lovelight
 Side 7
  1. Cosmic Charlie
Fillmore West, February 27, 1969 was released on vinyl on April 21, 2018 as part of Record Store Day. It was released as a limited edition of only 9,000 copies, on 180-gram vinyl. By the way, this box was priced at $80 (plus tax, of course), so keep that in mind if you’re purchasing from a dealer online, and don’t let him or her rip you off.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Tom Rush: “Voices” (2018) CD Review

When I was first getting into folk music in my teens, Tom Rush’s voice was one I heard a lot. He had so many excellent and well-known recordings. Even friends that didn’t know folk music knew of Tom Rush. So when I read that his new album, Voices, was the first to feature almost entirely original music, I couldn’t believe it. How could that be true? It’s not that he hadn’t written original material before – of course he had (songs like “No Regrets” and “Mink Julip” spring to mind) – but his original material never dominated an album the way it does here. Well, I’m happy to find that his songwriting is as strong now as it ever was, if not stronger. Tom Rush also has some talented musicians backing him on this release, including Sam Bush and Al Perkins. By the way, Tom Rush offers some thoughts on each of the songs in the CD’s liner notes.

Though Voices contains mostly original material, it actually opens with a cover (one of only two on the album), “Elder Green.” This rendition is quite a bit different from the blues versions I’m familiar with. This is a lively, happy-sounding version, featuring Sam Bush on mandolin, Al Perkins on dobro, Leroy Troy on banjo, and Jim Hoke on harmonica. There are also some wonderful backing vocals by Kathy Mattea, Suzi Ragsdale, and Matt Nakoa (Matt Nakoa is also on keys). This is a fun opening track. It’s followed by “Come See About Me,” a cheerful tune with some blues elements. This song makes me feel good, and these days that is something I appreciate even more than usual. I like Matt Nakoa’s work on piano, but what I love most is Tom Rush’s delivery, particularly when he dips into those lower registers. There is something simple about the song’s structure and lyrics, yet also completely delightful. “Hey, little mamma, you’re the one I love/You know that to be true/Hey, little mamma, you’re the one I love/I hate to see you blue.”

“My Best Girl” is a song about a special gal; that is, a special guitar. It’s an entertaining country song full of affection and joy. “She’s not as young as she once was/She’s got the scars from the miles we’ve shared/When it rains, she’s my silver lining/When it’s darker than the darkest night/When everything’s wrong and nothing’s right/My best girl, oh, she comes shining.” I love the little laugh in Tom’s voice as he sings “I don’t dance, but she don’t mind.” Suzi Ragsdale provides harmony vocals. That’s followed by “Life Is Fine.” The whistling at the beginning works so well with the song’s title, for it makes me feel that life truly is fine. “Life is fine” is a message we need to hear fairly often nowadays, a helpful and necessary reminder not to let anger and despair overtake us. This song had me laughing at moments, as when Tom Rush sings “She says she’ll love me when I’m old/And fat and getting fatter.” There is joy here, and Tom’s voice is honest and friendly, and with a good amount of experience to make his assertion believable. His is exactly the right voice for this song. There is more whistling toward the end. Yes, life is fine, at least as long as this music is playing.

“Far Away” is a sweet and pretty song, and is probably my favorite track from this album. I find myself just playing it over and over. I love his delivery, intimate and sharing with us a bit of bliss. And check out these excellent lyrics: “The blossom is such beauty, but the blooming is too brief/As beauty is a treasure, time’s a thief/Yesterday steals tomorrow, tomorrow steals today/So come my love, come, let’s steal away.” This song is wonderful, and is making me long for my girlfriend. Ah, she and I want to go far away. “Far away, far away/Tell my troubles I’m not home today/Just lie here in my arms, and we’ll sing another song/Tell the world we’ve gone so far away.

The album’s second (and final) cover is an easygoing, cool rendition of “Corina, Corina,” featuring some nice work on harmonica by Jim Hoke. That’s followed by “If I Never Get Back To Hackensack.” This must be the only song that begins with the line “Now I just love New Jersey” (and perhaps is the only song to express that sentiment at all), but the song goes in perhaps a different direction as it gets going. “If I never get back to Hackensack, it’ll be all right with me.” This song is another delight, and features Sam Bush on mandolin. Jim Hoke plays harmonica and Jew’s harp (or jaw harp, as it is more often called these days), and Richard Bennett plays bouzouki. The album concludes with its title track, “Voices.” This song has its own beauty, and features Sam Bush on mandolin and Al Perkins on pedal steel guitar. “There are voices at the ocean’s edge, voices in the foam/Singing songs of high adventure, singing songs of going home.”

CD Track List
  1. Elder Green
  2. Come See About Me
  3. My Best Girl
  4. Life Is Fine
  5. Cold River
  6. Far Away
  7. Heaven Knows
  8. Corina, Corina
  9. If I Never Get Back To Hackensack
  10. Going Down To Nashville
  11. How Can She Dance Like That?
  12. Voices
Voices is scheduled to be released on April 27, 2018 on Appleseed Recordings.

Gerry Spehar: “Anger Management” (2018) CD Review

Okay, some folks have suggested that I could use a little anger management myself these days. Just the other day I was kicked off of Twitter (again) for saying that I’d love to see Donald Trump buried up to his neck in dirt and for hundreds of fire ants to cover his hideous head. But hell, who wouldn’t want to see that? And fuck you, Twitter, for not having a sense of humor, and for letting Donald Trump say whatever he wants but for not letting us respond in kind. Anyway, while I think I will avoid actual anger management and therapy (at least for now), I believe I’m getting even better help from Gerry Spehar’s new album, Anger Management. There are some damned good songs on this disc. All of the tracks are originals, written or co-written by Gerry Spehar. The album is dedicated to Woody Guthrie, and this music works in the same vein that much of Guthrie’s music did (or, rather, does), addressing social and political troubles (and, boy, do we have a lot of those these days). Plus, Gerry Spehar has got some of my favorite people backing him on this album, including Paul Lacques and Paul Marshall of I See Hawks In L.A. In fact, Paul Lacques co-produced the album with Gerry Spehar. There are several other excellent musicians joining him on various tracks. I think this album is going to speak strongly to a lot of folks. It’s an album a lot of us need now.

Anger Management is an album that I love right from its very start, because it starts with a song against that delusional incestuous cretin Donald Trump, “Thank you Donald.” It doesn’t have an angry vibe, however; rather, it has a playful sound, with a nice rhythm and also a banjo, the sound of which almost always makes me happy (that’s John David on banjo). “Now, they tell me love trumps hate, and maybe that’s true at the Pearly Gate/But there ain’t much love down here, just a whole lotta hate and fear.” And it is a call to action, a call to vote. “Well, I ain’t gonna quit; I gotta vote a little bit.” And Brantley Kearns, another of my favorite musicians, plays fiddle on this track, so there’s that. That’s followed by “Son Of An Immigrant,” which has a more serious tone, and carries a reminder that we are all the descendants of immigrants (something that it seems a screwed up portion of the population is choosing to ignore). “I’m the son of an immigrant and he’s my brother/Why’s it so hard to love one another?

“Anger Management,” the album’s title track, had me from its first line, “Don’t tell me I’m angry, that makes me mad,” which had me laughing aloud (and this on a day when I was getting furious with the Trump regime again). My girlfriend and I were having a conversation, in which we were trying to figure out just what is the correct amount of anger to have these days. I mean, it seems ridiculous to not be angry. How can you not be angry when these bastards are trying to destroy not just the country, but the whole world? On the other hand, I don’t want my anger to get the best of me. I want to still be able to function. You know? There is a line, “My anger wants to pick a fight.” And that’s what worries me. Fortunately, I’ve never once run into anyone with a “Make America Great Again” cap. But if I did? I can’t swear that I would be able to walk away without, at the very least, ripping that hat off and tossing it into the street. It’s not a bad thing to be angry at fascists. Marc Doten and Joe Berardi of Double Naught Spy Car play on this track. It was written by Gerry Spehar, Stephanie Spehar and Christine Spehar.

“A Soldier’s Spiritual” is more in the folk realm, an effective and moving number. “I am a veteran, but I am not free/I’m still doing battle each night in my dreams.” You don’t have to be a veteran to be able to relate to this line: “I have no pension and I’m growing old.” “A Soldier’s Spiritual” was written by Gerry Spehar, Susan Spehar and Bobby Allison. “Carnival” has a very different sound and vibe, that of a demented, twisted carnival, earlier run by Lyndon Johnson and now by a mendacious bully. “We got ourselves a carnival, boys, and that man in the ring/Barking at the clowns is just our latest greatest king.” I absolutely love this song; it is playful and fun and has plenty to say. Marc Doten plays calliope on this track.

That’s followed by “Bitch Heaven,” which has a cool back porch folk sound and is a song about Fred Trump, Donald’s despicable father. The last line of Steve Poltz’s fantastic “Hey God, I’ll Trade You Donald Trump For Leonard Cohen” is “What do you say, God, Donald Trump for Woody Guthrie?” There was an actual connection between Woody Guthrie and Donald Trump’s father, as Guthrie had rented an apartment from the racist, and subsequently wrote a song about him, referring to Fred Trump as “Old Man Trump.” Gerry Spehar puts both Trump and Guthrie in this song, seeing how they fare in the afterlife. “Now, Old Man Trump had money and Woody had song/And which one do you think you get to take along.” This song makes reference to “This Land Is Your Land,” the song that I believe is actually our national anthem (or, at least, should be), ending with the line, “Yeah, this land was made for you and me, not old Trump.” Amen. “Bitch Heaven” was written by Gerry Spehar and Lindsey Smith. John David plays guitar on this track.

Perhaps the album’s most intriguing song is “Barrier Relief,” about a young immigrant making the dangerous crossing. The story is moving, of course, but it is also the song’s tone which is so effective, using certain instruments in an unusual way, particularly the horn and fiddle – Gabe Witcher plays fiddle on this track, and Erinn Bone is on horn. And it features some beautiful backing vocals by Christine Spehar and Gerry Spehar. That’s followed by a very short track that is not listed on the back of the CD, “Greed Prelude,” which leads directly into “Greed.” I dig the bass line to “Greed.” This one also features Erinn Bone on horn, as well as Tommy Jordan on horn.

“Freedom To Grab” makes a logical argument, referring to that recording of Donald Trump and Billy Bush, in which Donald Trump bragged about grabbing women by the pussy. I still, in my darkest moments, believe that any woman who voted for Donald Trump should have her pussy grabbed by strangers since by voting for him they were saying that behavior was okay. (Seriously, how did any women vote for this guy? I don’t get it.) In this song, however, it goes both ways. And why not? “See, I grab you and you grab me, and we’re both happy as we can be.” It’s delivered in a playful manner, which I appreciate. I also appreciate that the song has a nice dart aimed at Bill O’Reilly (“Don’t get uptight, it’s the Bill O’Reilly of Rights, baby”). And the backing vocalist at the end singing “It’s presidential” is hilarious. The album then concludes with “What Would Jesus Do,” a song about the Republicans’ version of Jesus. Another thing that I can’t wrap my head around is how hypocritical the so-called religious people in this country are these days, supporting Donald Trump, a man who has been married three times and has cheated on his wives, and is not the least bit spiritual. “Would Jesus vote for Trump?” Gerry asks in this song. Republicans would answer, “Yes.”

CD Track List
  1. Thank You Donald
  2. Son Of An Immigrant
  3. Anger Management
  4. A Soldier’s Spiritual
  5. Pearl Harbor
  6. Carnival
  7. Bitch Heaven
  8. Except For The Bomb
  9. Barrier Reef
  10. Greed Prelude
  11. Greed
  12. Freedom To Grab
  13. What Would Jesus Do? 
Anger Management was released digitally on February 19, 2018, and is scheduled to be released on CD on May 18, 2018.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Odin at Whisky A Go Go, 4-21-18 Concert Review

It had been just about a year since Odin last played the Whisky A Go Go, and fans were eager for a good dose of hard rock and roll from the band immortalized in the documentary The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. Last night’s concert seemed to come at a perfect time. After all, it was Record Store Day, and the show was held, at least in part, to celebrate the special vinyl re-issue of Don’t Take No For An Answer, a six-song EP originally released in 1985. You didn’t have to wait in line for hours at a store to get a copy of this particular record; they had it for sale at the merchandise booth at the show. By the way, this new re-issue has a great look, a red and black pattern to the vinyl (yeah, I am a sucker for colored vinyl). The show also came at a time when the band seems re-energized and excited about playing, about moving forward. Lead singer Randy O is working on a solo album, and based on the tracks I’ve heard (particularly “Black And White”), it’s going to be excellent. And the band has added a song to the set list, one I hadn’t seen them perform live before. Who knows what other songs they’ll break out in the months to come? (I’m hoping for “The Writer.”) This is certainly a good time to catch this band.

When I arrived at the venue last night, the second of five opening bands was playing. Yeah, having five opening bands is a bit much. I am getting old, I know, but so was everyone in the place. And by 10:30 p.m., I was feeling a bit drained and ready for Odin to go on. But there was still one more opener to go. There were several familiar faces in the crowd. There really is a nice little community here, and most people were enjoying themselves (I did later see security having to deal with one guy, which surprised me). One woman was completely rocking out on the floor during the openers, moving all about like a dizzy angel, spreading cheer to everyone around her. At one point she threw her shirt over her face and moved about by instinct. Metal chicks are of a particularly cool breed. One thing I like about metal fans is that they don’t limit themselves to just one type of music. I got into a conversation with one guy about Earl Scruggs, for example. Anyway, it was a good crowd, and the floor was filling up before Odin took the stage.

Flowers were placed at the lip of the stage, and petals were strewn over the stage just before Odin came down to start the set. They began at 11:50 p.m. (following a brief “Odin” chant), and there was no messing around. They got right to the music, opening with “One Day To Live.” The line “The end of our days is in sight” might have more meaning in these dark days of Donald Trump. The band had a terrific energy and excitement last night, and “12 O’ Clock High” was particularly awesome. Randy checked in with the audience after that one, asking if everybody was okay. Hell, yeah! The crowd was pumped. And after “Over Your Head,” the band mentioned the vinyl re-issue. Several people in the audience had the record, and the band had signed a few copies backstage before the set. “Push” had a tremendous energy, like an explosion moving everyone forward, certainly one of the highlights. All four members of the band – Randy O, Jeff Duncan, Shawn Duncan and Aaron Samson – were delivering the goods last night, and Shawn launched into a cool drum solo leading into “Don’t Take No For An Answer.” This band really knows how to engage an audience, which was especially noticeable during a song like “Don’t Take No.”

It was great seeing Odin do “She Was The One,” a song I hadn’t seen them perform before. This song was included on both the band’s 1987 EP The Gods Must Be Crazy and the 1988 LP Fight For Your Life. I hope they continue to pull out other tunes and mix up the set list at future shows. “She Was The One” was followed by “She Needs My Love” and then “Little Gypsy.” Last summer, Odin played a show down in Fullerton, where they were joined on stage by Lit members Jeremy Popoff and A. Jay Popoff during “Shining Love.” Last night Jeremy again joined them for “Shining Love,” which closed out the set. Before the song, he told the crowd that when he was fourteen, fifteen years old, he had been in the audience at that very venue, seeing Odin perform. The encore was “Judgement Day,” which came on strong with that great punk beat. The show ended at 12:57 a.m.

Set List
  1. One Day To Live
  2. Midnight Flight
  3. 12 O’ Clock High
  4. Over Your Head
  5. Push
  6. Modern Day King
  7. Don’t Take No For An Answer
  8. She Was The One
  9. She Needs My Love
  10. Little Gypsy
  11. Shining Love 
  1. Judgement Day
Here are some photos from the show:

The Whisky A Go Go is located at 8901 Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood, California.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Record Store Day: April 21, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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