Monday, May 28, 2018

Notes From The 2018 Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival, Day Two

Eddie Money
After catching the Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore concert in North Hollywood, I raced back out to Simi Valley for the second day of the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival. I knew I was going to miss some good artists, but would get there in time to catch Lost Bayou Ramblers, as well as Eddie Money, who was the headliner at the blues stage. As I pulled into the lot, while the guard looked for my name on his many lists, I could hear The Chamber Brothers playing “Time Has Come Today.” It took a while, but my name was finally located, and I drove in to park. Fortunately, The Chambers Brothers did such a deliciously long version of the song that I was able to park, walk in, and get to the front of the stage to snap some photos while they were still playing it. What I caught of the song was excellent, and I knew the band must have put on a really good show. I was totally energized just from the few minutes that I was able to see.

After a couple of beers, I was ready for the next band, Lost Bayou Ramblers. They are from Louisiana, and had performed on the Cajun stage Saturday, but at that point I was seeing The Wild Magnolias on the blues stage. It’s difficult sometimes to plan your schedule at this festival, because you’re bound to miss at least a couple of good sets. This year, however, I managed to see basically everything that I wanted to, thanks to bands like Lost Bayou Ramblers performing both days. The microphone stand came apart during their first song, leading to some good jamming while it was being repaired, and immediately you got the sense that this was a fun band, with a whole lot of energy. And I love to see a band that includes fiddle and accordion totally rock the way these guys did. They got the audience dancing. At one point, they even had some folks waltzing. It was that kind of crowd, you know? Good people.

It seemed more crowded on Sunday than it was on Saturday – both out front and backstage. And it turned out that was at least partly due to Eddie Money being the headliner. Folks were excited to see him, though of course he’s not really a blues artist, not by any stretch of the imagination. I have his early material on vinyl, but guess I didn’t know all that much about him, because when he arrived backstage with a saxophone, I was caught by surprise. I didn’t know he played sax. I had also forgotten just how many hits the guy had recorded. He opened his set with “Baby Hold On,” a song from his 1977 debut LP, and followed that with “No Control,” on which he played harmonica. After that, he talked a bit about his television program. Apparently, he has his own so-called “reality” show, which I knew nothing about. He joked, “I wish they’d shot it ten years ago and ten pounds ago.” The band then played a song called “Tonight” without him. That was followed by “We Should Be Sleeping.”

Then Eddie Money brought out his saxophone for “Wanna Be A Rock And Roll Star,” a song from his first album. (I just pulled that record off my shelf, and – sure enough – it mentions that he plays saxophone on it, so I guess I did know that and just forgot. Ah, my memory isn’t perfect.) He got the audience singing along, shouting out “Star.” He followed that with “Endless Nights.” His energy was impressive. By the way, he wore a Dodgers shirt, with his name on the back, with the number “00.” As it was Memorial Day weekend, his “One More Soldier Coming Home” fit perfectly. On the line “We salute you,” he actually offered a salute. He followed that with “Walk On Water.” He then asked the crowd if they wanted to go back to the 1980s. Some people near me screamed, “I wanna go back!” And, indeed, Eddie Money then did “I Wanna Go Back,” playing saxophone on it.

He wrapped up his set with three of his most popular songs – “Take Me Home Tonight,” “Think I’m In Love” and “Two Tickets To Paradise.” When he started “Take Me Home Tonight,” a woman near me exclaimed, “I know this song!” The audience sang along with that one. Before beginning “Two Tickets To Paradise,” he dedicated it to his wife, joking that he might get lucky that night. He also said something about the crowd being on television, so apparently someone was filming his set for that “reality” show. The encore was “Shakin’” and he finished just before 6 p.m.

As always, a portion of the crowd left after the headliner. But those who stayed were treated to an excellent set by 3 Sista Blues, which is a group led by three female vocalists – Kelly Zirbes (of Kelly’s Lot), Deb Ryder and Shari Puorto. The set consisted of original material, with each of them singing lead on a few songs, while the others provided backing vocals. Yes, we were back to the blues, with this group delivering some good, thumping, rocking blues numbers. The band backing them was great, and included Perry Robertson (from Kelly’s Lot) on guitar. And at one point, there was the welcome addition of trumpet (Shari introduced the trumpet player as being her boyfriend). The last couple of numbers then featured all three vocalists. Their set ended at 7:17 p.m. What an excellent conclusion to a fantastic weekend of music.

Here are some photos from the day:

The Chambers Brothers
The Chambers Brothers
The Chambers Brothers
Lost Bayou Ramblers
Lost Bayou Ramblers
Lost Bayou Ramblers
Eddie Money
Eddie Money
Eddie Money
3 Sista Blues
3 Sista Blues
3 Sista Blues
The Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival is an annual event, and is located at 5005 Los Angeles Ave. in Simi Valley, California.

Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore at The Federal Bar, 5-27-18 Concert Review

Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore, "Downey To Lubbock"
My fantastic weekend of music continued on Sunday, first with a concert by Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore at The Federal Bar in North Hollywood. This was part of the Mimosa Music Series, hosted by Gary Calamar. I got there early, because when Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin did a show there in 2014, the place was packed, and I expected much the same for this concert. And indeed that was the case.

For the first time ever, we were asked to form two lines – one for those who had sent in an RSVP, and one for those who hadn’t. It was a good idea, and one they probably should have employed before. As the first person in line, I was appointed by the guy working the door to distinguish the lines for all those who would arrive after me. It was not an office I sought, but I fulfilled my duty as best as I could. “You look like a fairly vocal person,” he told me. Well, I suppose that’s true. And it was a good thing I got there early, because with still fifteen minutes before doors were scheduled to open, both lines were already pretty long. I love attending these shows. The music is always good, and the atmosphere is relaxed and mellow, which works well for me these days. Have a couple of drinks, some breakfast and enjoy the show. The crowds that gather for these shows are also mellow. Never any trouble, never any nonsense, perhaps because it is just too early for that.

Just before 11 a.m., the doors were opened, and we filed inside. This time we were given only one drink ticket (I usually get two), and ordered my free mimosa as soon as I was seated, as well as the breakfast bread basket. The service at this venue is always friendly and prompt. And it was not long before the place was packed, leading Gary to make a joke about the fire marshal assuring that we were not violating codes, but that we should applaud vertically rather than horizontally. Opening the show was Abby And The Myth. Or, as lead singer and guitarist Abby Posner indicated at the beginning of their set, half of Abby And The Myth. It was just Abby along with Cara Batema on accordion and backing vocals. I enjoyed their set, particularly their harmonies. Certain lines stood out, such as “Won’t you look me in the eye to see who I’ve become” from their opening number, “Who Have I Become.” They focused on material from their album When You Dig A Well.

Then at 12:40 p.m., Gary Calamar introduced Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Dave then teased Gary for failing to mention their new album in his introduction, the album they were in fact promoting and celebrating. Yes, they have an album coming out this Friday, titled Downey To Lubbock. And it’s going to be released on both CD and vinyl. They kicked off the set with the album’s title track, with each of them taking lead vocal duties on different verses. Dave forgot some of the lyrics, laughing, “It’s early in the morning, for Christ’s sake.” They were clearly having a great time. Dave Alvin played electric guitar, while Jimmie Dale Gilmore was on acoustic guitar and harmonica. And it was about the stories almost as much as it was about the music at this show. Jimmie mentioned that they’d been friends for thirty years, but didn’t play together until last year. He joked about how folks thought he was retired, “It’s a better word for lazy.” Then they told a funny anecdote about how each of them was asked to record “Silverlake,” a pretty song written by Steve Young.

They followed “Silverlake” with another beautiful song, “The Gardens,” written by Chris Gaffney. Dave sang lead on that one, and Jimmie added some nice touches on harmonica. Jimmie then joked that he learns what he thinks by what he says on stage. “I had a pertinent digression,” he said, a line that made laugh aloud. “Stealin’” is a song I’ve loved since I first heard it in my early teens, and Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore did a fun and wonderful rendition, each singing lead on different verses. That was followed by Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos).” After that, while Dave tuned, he joked, “Let’s tune again like we did last summer.” Then, not getting as much of a reaction as you might expect, he opined that the reference was too old. Well, if a Chubby Checker reference is too old, the next song they chose was nearly a decade older, Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” They then played “Billy The Kid And Geronimo,” with each of them singing lead on certain verses, and then finished the set with The Youngbloods’ “Get Together,” changing the lyric from “smile on your brother” to “smile on each other.” The encore was a totally delightful rendition of “Honky Tonk Song.” The show ended at 1:41 p.m.

Set List
  1. Downey To Lubbock
  2. Silverlake
  3. The Gardens
  4. Stealin’
  5. Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)
  6. Lawdy Miss Clawdy
  7. Billy The Kid And Geronimo
  8. Get Together
  1. Honky Tonk Song
Here are a few photos from the show:

"Downey To Lubbock"
"Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)"
"Billy The Kid And Geronimo"
"Honky Tonk Song"
The Federal Bar is located at 5303 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood, California.

We Are The West at 701 Santa Monica Blvd., 5-26-18 Concert Review

We Are The West
I was turned onto We Are The West only recently, with the release of the band’s new full-length album, The Golden Shore. But these guys have been making excellent and interesting music for several years, releasing several EPs and putting on a series of concerts at a parking garage in Santa Monica. That is where I saw the band Saturday night. Apparently, they’ve been doing this for six years, every month on the Saturday before the full moon. And if you’re thinking that a concert in a parking garage doesn’t sound all that appealing, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. These guys do the place up right, making it feel cozy and warm. There were carpets on the floor where the band performed, and lights. Artwork was hung on the walls. There was even a DJ spinning records before the band went on. And chairs were set up for everyone, helping to give the place a relaxed vibe. And though the crowd was fairly young (I might have been the oldest person in the place), they were all respectful and mellow.

Opening for the band on Saturday was Little Wings, the project of Kyle Field. As he started his set, Kyle called the place a living room. And yes, surprisingly, it had that vibe. I really enjoyed Little Wings’ set. Kyle went in some directions vocally, sort of in the way that Martin Sexton does. Some of his songs were truly pretty, with lyrics that you could connect to. “What can I say about paradise that everybody doesn’t know?” he asked in one song. His set ended at 9:40 p.m.

At 10:07 p.m., We Are The West took the stage, and John immediately quieted the crowd by making some soft, delicate sounds on his bass using the bow – like the creaking of a wooden ship. It was kind of a fascinating way to start the show, mesmerizing and haunting. This was “Siren,” the opening track from the band’s new album. They followed that with “Cauliflower Ears,” from one of the band’s EPs. The crowd was completely silent, attentive. I became a fan of We Are The West’s music when I first heard the new album, but at this show I completely fell in love with this band. Paul and Jason then joined them on piano and drums respectively as they eased into “The Golden Shore.” This song was gorgeous and exciting, music you can wrap yourself in and float away. Paul then switched to the keyboard for “The Hammer.”

Before I saw We Are The West perform, I had wondered how the music from the new album would translate into a live setting. And if I had to guess one song that they wouldn’t even attempt to do in concert, it would have been “More Machine Than Man.” But these guys are adventurous and undaunted, and they followed “The Hammer” with that very song. It was a completely captivating performance. Paul then stepped away for “Hold On,” a sweet and pretty song featured on another of the band’s EPs. Brett introduced “For Me, For You” as a “feel-good number.” (I think I said something similar about the song in my review of the album.) That was followed by “Sea Of Light (Dirty Ditty)” and then “Crops,” both also from The Golden Shore. Paul did some particularly nice stuff on piano during “Crops.”

Brett then announced they were going to play a song that Jason had never heard before. And they started “Don’t Worry About It, Michael,” singing the beginning a cappella. They followed that with “The Watchers,” and then concluded the set with “Good Luck (And All That Stuff),” which had such a delightfully cheerful sound and lifted my spirits tremendously. The audience called for an encore, and Brett said, “Let’s go into the dark.” And indeed, the band led the audience into the dark area of the parking garage for the encore. They performed “From The Bower” unmiked and in the dark, the audience gathered in a semi-circle in front of them. And it was perfect. Honestly, I live for these moments. It was a beautiful ending to an incredible night.

Set List
  1. Siren
  2. Cauliflower Ears
  3. The Golden Shore
  4. The Hammer
  5. More Machine Than Man
  6. Hold On
  7. For Me, For You
  8. Sea Of Light (Dirty Ditty)
  9. Crops
  10. Don’t Worry About It, Michael
  11. The Watchers
  12. Good Luck (And All That Stuff)
  1. From The Bower
Here are a few photos from the night:

Little Wings
Little Wings
We Are The West
We Are The West

The garage is located at 701 Santa Monica Blvd., in Santa Monica, California.

Notes From The 2018 Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival, Day One

Dave Mason
It has been a fantastic weekend of music. For me it started Saturday at the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival at Rancho Santa Susana Community Park in Simi Valley. Plenty of good music on two stages (set far enough apart that the music from one doesn’t bleed into the other), as well as food, drinks and positive vibes make this an event I enjoy every year. Saturday’s lineup featured Dave Mason, Bo Dollis Jr., Devon Allman Project and Chubby Carrier.

I started the day off at the blues stage, where Lightnin’ Willie got things underway with a really good set featuring music from his 2017 release No Black No White Just Blues. I’ve been digging this album, and was glad to get a chance to see him perform. When introducing “Eyes In The Back Of My Head,” he said it was a song about cheating, and urged folks not to cheat because they’d end up hurting themselves more than the other person. That tune featured some cool work on harmonica. He had a horn section come out for “Locked In A Prison,” and I loved Lightnin’ Willie’s cool and passionate delivery of lines like “She used to love me/She used to call my name.” That song had a great slow blues groove, and those two saxophones sounded wonderful. Lightnin’ Willie also gave us some delicious work on guitar, not scrimping on his solo, but letting it go on long enough for the audience to get caught up in it. After that guitar solo, the next line he delivered was “Well, that’s my story,” as if the guitar itself had told the story, which of course it did. The horn players then remained on stage for “Heartache” and “Phone Stopped Ringing.”

The set-up was a bit different from last year. There was still that fenced-off section in front of the blues stage for people who purchased what they called “Super Tickets.” But the size of the photo pit was cut in half, and just behind it, but in front of the Super Ticket section was a new area for folks to dance. And they certainly made good use of this new section. Bo Dollis Jr. & The Wild Magnolias got folks moving, opening their set with “Hey Pocky Way.” (They started while I was in the bathroom. The beer was going right through me that day. By the way, the bathrooms backstage were like palaces. Seriously, those portable toilets were bigger than my bathroom at home.) The Wild Magnolias delivered a completely fun set, and a couple of the band members wore beautiful, elaborate costumes with lots of feathers. A couple of times, Bo Dollis Jr. stepped down off the stage, even entering the Super Ticket area and popping over to the sponsors’ tent, while continuing to sing. (He wisely walked around through the backstage area to get back on stage, rather than trying to jump back up.) Things got funky with their very cool, fun rendition of “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,” featuring delicious work on bass. Somehow things got even funkier from there, with some wonderful stuff on keys and drums. Their set felt like a celebration, and the crowd was really into it, even joining in with tambourines and whistles. In addition to some band members going out into the audience, a few audience members were invited on stage toward the end of their set, as the line between performers and audience was blurred.

I wanted to get over to the Cajun stage for Chubby Carrier & The Bayou Swamp Band, but decided to first catch a bit of the Devon Allman Project. The band members huddled toward the back of the stage before beginning their set, and when they started, they immediately began jamming. No talk, no nonsense, no easing in, just straight into a good, heavy jam. The crowd was certain appreciative, as were other musicians (I saw Lightnin’ Willie down front snapping a couple of photos of Devon Allman). After two or three songs, Devon said, “What a perfect day, y’all.” Indeed!

I then made my way across the park over to the Cajun stage to see Chubby Carrier. He was already into his set when I got there, and folks were dancing. There is an actual dance floor set up in front of the Cajun stage, and lots of folks were enjoying themselves there, grooving and moving. As in previous years, I got the sense that this stage was where the party really was. “We’re going to have a Louisiana gumbo in California,” Chubby Carrier told the crowd. He did a good rendition of “Josephine,” rock and roll with that great New Orleans flavor. And that washboard player seemed to be in a glorious state of ecstasy throughout the set. After a great instrumental number, Chubby Carrier tossed some items out to the crowd, asking them to visit Louisiana. And in introducing “Zydeco People,” he told the crowd, “You are my zydeco people, you know that?” At one point, drummer Jayme Romain stepped to the microphone to deliver a nice rendition of “Tennessee Whiskey,” while Chubby Carrier took over on drums. He sang another number, and then the bass player took over on lead vocals and squeeze box, while the drummer played bass, and Chubby Carrier remained behind the kit. Then Chubby Carrier returned to his spot at the microphone for the ridiculously fun “Jalapeno Lena.”

I headed back to the blues stage because I didn’t want to miss a single second of Dave Mason’s set. He opened with “World In Changes.” And, hey, was that a plush teddy bear attached to the drum kit? Yes. “Nice to be here,” Dave said after the opening number. He then added, “Nice to be anywhere, as a matter of fact.” He then played “Rock And Roll Stew,” a song from the Traffic days, and one that got the audience excited. That dance area in front of the stage was packed with folks. Gretchen Rhodes then joined the band for a very cool rendition of “Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys,” singing lead on a verse. Oh man, there was a moment when Dave Mason held onto a note on guitar, and it was so delicious. The crowd responded enthusiastically. Gretchen also sang on “We Just Disagree.” Dave Mason followed that with “Look At You Look At Me,” which featured a really nice section on keys. Gretchen returned for “Can’t Find My Way Home.” She then sang lead on a cover of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride And Joy,” with Dave Mason stepping aside (he didn’t play on this one). Gretchen really belted out the lyrics, totally owning it. They followed that with “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” a song I used to love seeing the Grateful Dead perform. “Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave” and “Only You Know And I Know” followed, with Gretchen playing tambourine on the latter. Dave Mason closed out the set with “Feelin’ Alright,” first mentioning that he was nineteen when he wrote it. “I want you to join on the chorus of this song, ‘cause I know you know it.” Indeed, everyone knew it. But I think everyone knew all of the songs from his set. At any rate, everyone around me was dancing and singing. He did an encore that began with a good dose of classic rock and roll, “Shake, Rattle And Roll,” which had everybody dancing and smiling. He followed that with a great, rocking version of “All Along The Watchtower,” Dave delivering a short guitar solo at the end. It was a really good set, and it ended a little after 6 p.m.

I had intended on staying to catch at least the first couple of songs of Alex Nester’s set. I had missed her last year, and had heard only good things about her performance. But it took quite a while to get her band set up, and I had to get down to Santa Monica for the We Are The West concert. Perhaps next year I’ll be able to see her?

Here are a few photos from the day:

Lightnin' Willie
Lightnin' Willie
Bo Dollis, Jr. And The Wild Magnolias
Bo Dollis, Jr. And The Wild Magnolias
Devon Allman Project
Devon Allman Project
Chubby Carrier And The Bayou Swamp Band
Chubby Carrier And The Bayou Swamp Band
Dave Mason
Dave Mason

The Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival is an annual event, and is located at 5005 Los Angeles Ave. in Simi Valley, California.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Lamont Dozier: “Reimagination” (2018) CD Review

Lamont Dozier is one of the folks responsible for the Motown sound. He co-wrote (with Brian Holland and Eddie Holland) some of Motown’s most famous and beloved songs, such as “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Heat Wave,” “You Keep Me Hanging On” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” That songwriting team has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame, as well as The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. And now Lamont Dozier has released a new album of some of his most famous compositions. Titled Reimagination, it features special guests on most tracks, including Graham Nash, Lee Ann Womack and Todd Rundgren. Though, after leaving that songwriting team, Lamont Dozier continued to write for other artists, he also has been putting on his own albums since the early 1970s, and did record some of these songs before, including them on a 2004 release titled Reflections Of.  This new album has a very different sound and approach, and will give you a new appreciation for these songs. The liner notes contain an interview with Lamont Dozier, in which he gives his thoughts and recollections about each of these songs and their origins.

This CD opens with a medley of four songs the Supremes recorded: “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Stop In The Name Of Love,” “Come See About Me” and “Baby Love.” What’s remarkable about this collection of four songs is that every one of them reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Not bad, eh? If Dozier, Holland and Holland had written only these four songs, they’d still be recognized as talented songwriters. His take on “Where Did Our Love Go” is tender and almost heartbreaking, and you can really hear the plea in his voice. It’s a wonderful new look at the song, and it builds toward the end, leading to “Stop In The Name Of Love.” Interestingly, Lamont Dozier then eases into “Come See About Me,” which has a more passionate and moving vibe. Likewise, “Baby Love” is thoughtful and pretty. Graham Nash joins him on backing vocals on this medley.

“How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” is such a damn good song. I always loved when the Jerry Garcia Band would play this one in concert, as it never failed to make the crowd happy. It’s a song that raises your spirits and makes you smile every time you hear it. While the arrangement on this CD is more sparse than usual, it still has that bright energy, and focuses on the vocals, the lyrics. On this track, Lamont Dozier is joined by Gregory Porter on vocals. This one also features some wonderful work on keys. That’s followed by “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” which was a number one song for The Four Tops. This version is slower, more intimate at the start, and then stresses the song’s gospel vibe toward the end, with some great backing vocals. Then we get another hit for The Four Tops, “Baby I Need Your Loving,” which for me is one of the disc’s highlights. This version has a bright, uplifting feel and sound, and features some nice work on acoustic guitar. Lee Ann Womack joins Lamont Dozier on vocals for the choruses, which also helps to make this track something special. They sound really good together.

Lamont Dozier pairs a couple of songs that were hits for Martha And The Vandellas, beginning with “(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave.” This tune establishes a cool vibe right from the start, with that work on bass, and even includes finger snaps; then the choruses kind of rock. Jo Harman joins him on vocals. It slides into “Nowhere To Run,” which has a New Orleans rhythm and sound, which is fantastic. This is one of my favorite tracks, and features one of Lamont’s best vocal performances. That’s followed by another Martha And The Vandellas tune, “In My Lonely Room.” This is a beautiful and moving rendition, and features Todd Rundgren.

Lamont Dozier delivers a very cool, bluesy version of “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While),” a song that was recorded by Kim Weston, The Isley Brothers and The Doobie Brothers. This version builds and starts to really rock, before relaxing at the end, and features nice work on harmonica and guitar. Marc Cohn joins Lamont on this track, which is yet another highlight of the album. That’s followed by “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” another song that was a #1 hit for The Supremes. It was also a hit for Vanilla Fudge and Kim Wilde and Reba McEntire. Lamont Dozier delivers a nice, slow version, where he is joined on vocals by Sarah Joyce (also known as Rumer). He follows that with yet another hit for The Supremes, “Reflections,” featuring Justin Currie. I love this rendition, which has some pretty work on guitar and passionate vocal performances. “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” is fun, as always. The CD then concludes with a second version of “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” this one performed as a duet with Jo Harman.

CD Track List
  1. Supremes Medley: Where Did Our Love Go, Stop In The Name Of Love, Come See About Me, Baby Love
  2. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)
  3. Reach Out, I’ll Be There
  4. Baby I Need Your Loving
  5. Bernadette
  6. This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You)/My World Is Empty Without You
  7. (Love Is Like A) Heat Wave/Nowhere To Run
  8. In My Lonely Room
  9. Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)
  10. You Keep Me Hanging On
  11. Reflections
  12. I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)
  13. Reach Out, I’ll Be There 
Reimagination was released today, May 25, 2018, on Goldenlane Records, a division of Cleopatra Records.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Geoff & Maria Muldaur: “Sweet Potatoes” (1972/2018) CD Review

Geoff & Maria Muldaur recorded two albums together. The first, Pottery Pie, came out in 1968. The second, Sweet Potatoes, came out four years later. And that was that. It wasn’t just the end of their recordings together, but also the end of their marriage. Both went on to further successes, as you’re undoubtedly aware. And somehow both Pottery Pie and Sweet Potatoes remained unreleased on CD in the U.S. until now. Unlike Pottery Pie, Sweet Potatoes contains some original material, written by Geoff Muldaur. Like the CD release of Pottery Pie, this disc contains new liner notes, focusing on interviews with both Geoff and Maria. Maria Muldaur doesn’t have as strong a presence on this album as on the previous release. Amos Garrett, Bill Keith and Billy Mundi all played on Pottery Pie and return for this album. Fellow Grateful Dead fans will be interested to know that John Kahn plays bass on this album. There are several other guest musicians as well.

The album starts with “Blue Railroad Train,” a totally enjoyable country tune written by Alton Delmore. That’s followed by a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Havana Moon.” This version has folk and blues elements, and features Paul Butterfield on harmonica. Then we get “Lazybones,” a relaxed, jazzy gem with a wonderful vocal performance from Amos Garrett. It opens with a bit of dialogue between Geoff and Amos, and likewise ends with a bit of dialogue. “You didn’t even offer me a drink.” The part that makes me laugh is when Amos says “No, no” and then “Yes, yes,” just the way he delivers those lines. This track features Bobby Notkoff on violin. “Lazybones” was written by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer.

“Cordelia” is the first of the album’s original compositions, written by Geoff Muldaur. It’s a lively number, and it has nothing to do with King Lear, if you were wondering. In the liner notes, Geoff mentions he “had an infatuation with a girl named Cordelia.” So there you go. I like the addition of trombone to this one. That’s followed by “Dardanella,” which comes as a delightful surprise. These guys certainly did not limit themselves to any one single type of music, and let their hearts take them where they would. And good thing, too, as this is one of my favorite tracks, with its horn section and New Orleans vibe in certain parts. I love Bobby Notkoff’s work on violin. There is a horn section in “I’m Rich” as well, a bluesy tune written by Geoff Muldaur. “I’m going to have gold-plated mushrooms/All the way from France/Get all them girls/To do a rich man’s dance.” Yeah, there is something playful about this song, which I love. And those horns are wonderful. “Let St. Peter know/I want top billing on that show.”

Maria sings lead on “Sweet Potatoes,” the album’s title track, accompanied only by Jeff Gutcheon on piano. Jeff Gutcheon also wrote this one. I love this song, in spite of its use of the “self”/“shelf” rhyme, which I never care for. Maria gives a wonderful vocal performance. That’s followed by the final of the original tunes, “Kneein’ Me,” written by Geoff Muldaur. This is a fun, energetic, somewhat goofy country tune with some surprising lyrics (“you pinched my tit, you dirty shit”). Geoff tells the story behind this one in the liner notes. I can’t help but completely enjoy this one, even with that odd mistake in the second half, where it seems part of the band thinks the song is ending. Then Maria sings lead on “Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be),” and she delivers an absolutely excellent vocal performance here. This track is certainly one of the highlights, and features some nice work on guitar. As with the previous release, they end this one with a classic blues song. This time it’s “Hard Time Killin’ Floor.” And actually, this track was recorded during the sessions for Pottery Pie, and so features Billy Wolf on bass rather than John Kahn. “Hard times is here, everywhere you go/Times are harder than they’ve ever been before.”

CD Track List
  1. Blue Railroad Train
  2. Havana Moon
  3. Lazybones
  4. Cordelia
  5. Dardanella
  6. I’m Rich
  7. Sweet Potatoes
  8. Kneein’ Me
  9. Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)
  10. Hard Time Killin’ Floor
Sweet Potatoes was released on CD on March 30, 2018 through Omnivore Recordings.

Geoff & Maria Muldaur: “Pottery Pie” (1968/2018) CD Review

Before Maria Muldaur became known for “Midnight At The Oasis,” she and her husband Geoff put out two albums. The first, Pottery Pie, was released in 1968 (one of the best and most interesting years for music, in my opinion). At that time, both Geoff Muldaur and Maria Muldaur were known for their work in the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. The album features all cover songs, and contains a good mix of folk and country and gospel and blues, with Geoff and Maria taking turns at lead vocals. Surprisingly, it has never before received an official CD release in the United States. (How is it that there are still albums this good that haven’t received CD releases? It’s baffling.) This CD release contains new liner notes, focusing on interviews with Geoff Muldaur and Maria Muldaur, in which they give their thoughts on various tracks. The band backing them on this album includes Bill Keith on pedal steel (Bill Keith has also played with them in the Jim Kweskin Jug Band), Amos Garrett on lead guitar, Billy Wolf on bass, Rick Marcus on drums, and Billy Mundi on drums. There are also horns on certain tracks. I don’t usually make much mention of album covers, but I love the photo that is on this album, mainly for the Yaz pennant on the wall. He was my favorite player when I was growing up, and he signed a ball for me when I was in the hospital. Go Sox!

The album opens with “Catch It,” a song written by Eric Von Schmidt, with Geoff on lead vocals. It’s a good, somewhat slow number with some memorable lyrics, like these lines: “If you want a gushing geyser/You have to dig yourself a bunch of dusty, little holes/And if you want good, good loving/You’ve got to love with a little soul.” That’s followed by a nice, relaxed country rendition of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” with Maria on lead vocals. She delivers a delightful, somewhat playful vocal performance. I like this rendition a lot, though I think my favorite remains that by Rita Coolidge. Then Geoff sings lead on “New Orleans Hopscop Blues,” an older tune perhaps still best known for the recording by Bessie Smith. This is an interesting rendition, with horns and wonderful backing vocals.

Maria sings lead on a pretty, gentle and honest rendition of “Trials, Troubles, Tribulations” a folk and gospel tune. Betsy Siggins provides some backing vocals. That’s followed by “Prairie Lullaby,” here oddly misspelled as “Lullabye.” This is a country tune written by Billy Hill and recorded by Jimmie Rodgers (and by many other artists since then, including Michael Nesmith). Geoff does an excellent job with it, adding a spoken word section in the second half of the song. I love the fiddle. Then Maria performs “Guide Me, O Great Jehovah” a cappella, delivering a beautiful version. This song has a few other titles, including “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer.” They then give us a lively, fun number titled “Me And My Chauffeur Blues,” also with Maria on lead vocals. She gives a totally enjoyable and varied performance here, helping to make this one of my favorite tracks.

The album then takes another strange and delightful turn with “Brazil,” a song I absolutely love. Of course I can’t help but think of Terry Gilliam’s fantastic film whenever I hear this song. But this version in particular calls the film to mind since it is in fact the version heard in the film. I didn’t know that the recording heard in the film came from this album, and am excited to now have it on CD. Geoff talks a bit about it in the liner notes (and hints that there are several more anecdotes regarding this recording, anecdotes which I long to hear). This is actually the first version of the song I ever heard, thanks to the movie. And every version I’ve heard since… well, I’ve wanted them all to be more like this one, which is totally playful. By the way, if for some reason you haven’t seen Brazil, you should make a point to get the DVD and watch it right away.

“Brazil” is followed by a sweet, timeless rendition of “Georgia On My Mind,” with Maria on lead vocals. The album then ends with a classic blues tune, “Death Letter Blues,” with Geoff on lead vocals. This one has kind of a bouncy rhythm, quite a bit different from most versions I’ve heard, and I totally dig it.

CD Track List
  1. Catch It
  2. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
  3. New Orleans Hopscop Blues
  4. Trials, Troubles, Tribulations
  5. Prairie Lullabye
  6. Guide Me, O Great Jehovah
  7. Me And My Chauffeur Blues
  8. Brazil
  9. Georgia On My Mind
  10. Death Letter Blues
Pottery Pie was released on CD on March 30, 2018 through Omnivore Recordings.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Ross Cooper: “I Rode The Wild Horses” (2018) CD Review

Ross Cooper was actually a professional bareback rider in Texas, so the title of his new album, I Rode The Wild Horses, is no mere fanciful idea or wish. He is the real thing. Of course, that wouldn’t matter much if the music weren’t good. But it is. And no, these aren’t all country songs about the rodeo circuit. Ross Cooper touches upon ideas and experiences and emotions that we all can relate to. I Rode The Wild Horses features all original material, written or co-written by Ross Cooper. Joining Ross on this album are some seriously talented musicians – Eddy Dunlap on pedal steel, Jeremy Fetzer on electric guitar, Nick Bockrath on guitar, Jordan Lehning on piano, Skylar Wilson on piano and organ, Eli Beard on bass, and Tommy Perkinson on drums. Erin Rae, Dean Fields and Eric Masse provide backing vocals. Eric Masse also produced and mixed the album.

The album opens with its title track, “I Rode The Wild Horses,” which has a very cool vibe, a kind of bluesy, haunted country sound. I love Ross Cooper’s vocals. And check out the song’s first lines: “This town, it’s a-changing, but I feel the same/I guess everything’s different but me/The old stomping grounds are all stomped out.” It’s a song that looks back, while taking stock of the present. “And I ain’t got much to show, but I rode the wild horses.” But perhaps my favorite lines are these: “Well, I’m a patchwork of scars/Posted at the bar/’Cause the pain ain’t up and left.” And then there is some surprising work on electric guitar. Plus, there are some nice moments on keys. That’s followed by “Heart Attacks,” which has something of a pop sound in the vocal delivery. It’s a fun tune with a kind of delightful energy and some interesting, unusual touches. “I was a wishful wanderer/Just a-minding my own/With half a mind to stay alone.” This one was written by Ross Cooper and David Borne. These first two tracks are among the album’s best.

Another highlight is “Living’s Hard, Loving’s Easy,” which has an appealing, easygoing folk vibe, and some nice work on acoustic guitar. It’s a song about struggling, but not letting that get the best of you, and has a positive outlook. “We keep working on the next gig to pay for the last/At night, take your classes/And I’ll write the songs/About you taking classes and me writing songs/Two pennies together until more come along.” This song is sweet, pretty, honest. “Living’s hard, harder than they said it would be/Living’s hard, living’s hard, but loving’s easy.” There is a really nice blending of voices. This one makes me feel good. “Another Mile” also has a bright, optimistic feel, which I appreciate, especially in these dark days. “Another mile, another day, boys/I ain’t there yet, but I’ll get it done/Looking for a place that don’t feel out of place/Somewhere I can face the someone I’ve become.”

“Cowboys & Indians” has a cool, darker, somewhat playful and yet dramatic sound, and is about how some folks put on the trappings of an identity. “And everybody wears a big hat now/Shooting off their guns so loud/And everybody just wants to get peace pipe high/Everybody’s living up in the clouds.” That leads him to say directly, “So everyone stop pretending you’re cowboys and Indians.” This one features some good work on guitar. It’s followed by another really good song, “Strangers In A Bar.” Check out these lines: “Taking pride in that no one understands you/And you should come with a warning/You’ll be alone in the morning/You’re fishing for the first of many drinks/Hooking fools on the first of many winks.” There is something both sad and oddly comforting in lines like, “’Cause by ourselves, we might be lonesome/But we don’t have to be alone.” Then “Me Only” comes on strong, with a force. It has a more raw sound, yet is also kind of groovy, and ends up being another of my favorites. “Maybe you’re sleeping, baby, that’s all right/Or you’re laying with him doing things I like.” The CD concludes with “All She Wrote,” about receiving a note from his love. The letter reads, “I don’t feel like I’m leaving, because you can’t leave a man already gone/And you know I tried to love you/So if you ever loved me, let me go.” He is caught off guard by the letter, and tells us “Well, I read it about a thousand times or so.” “All She Wrote” was written by Ross Cooper and Benjy Davis.

CD Track List
  1. I Rode The Wild Horses
  2. Heart Attacks
  3. Old Crow Whiskey & A Cornbread Moon
  4. Lady Of The Highway
  5. Living’s Hard, Loving’s Easy
  6. Damn Love
  7. Another Mile
  8. Cowboys & Indians
  9. Strangers In A Bar
  10. Me Only
  11. The Wilderness
  12. All She Wrote
I Rode The Wild Horses was released on March 9, 2018. It is available on both CD and vinyl.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Fugitives: “The Promise Of Strangers” (2018) CD Review

The Fugitives are a Canadian group, based in Vancouver, centered on the duo of Brendan McLeod and Adrian Glynn. They work in the folk realm, but with elements of pop and rock mixed into their music. Their new album, The Promise Of Strangers, features all original material, written by Brendan McLeod and Adrian Glynn. And the songwriting is certainly one of the duo’s strengths. These are emotionally engaging songs, some of them touching on serious topics. Brendan McLeod is on vocals and guitar; Adrian Glynn is on vocals, guitar, piano, bass, mandolin, synthesizer, organ and percussion. Joining them on this release are Steve Charles on banjo, bass and vocals; John Raham on drums and percussion; James Scholl on bass; Ali Romanow on violin and vocals; Ben Elliott on organ; Cory Sweet on saxophone; Vince Mai on trumpet, Cayne MacKenzie on synthesizers; Carly Frey on violin; Marcus Abramzik on bass; and Leon Power on drums.

On the CD case, in parentheses after the title of the first track, “No Words,” it says “for L. Cohen.” And that is what first piqued my interest in this disc. Leonard Cohen was (and still is, really) the world’s greatest songwriter, and I figure I can appreciate the music of any artist that appreciates his work. In that foul year of 2016, Leonard Cohen left us. In this CD’s liner notes, the band indicates this song was written the next day. That next day, by the way, was just as bad, for that was the day of the election which took away hope and gave us Trump. The song, however, is gorgeous and moving and powerful. “There used to be grace, there used to be meaning/I have no words, I think he took ‘em all out/I have no courage to face the night coming/I have no light to shine through this crowd/I never knew a stranger that heard my heart better.” Amen. The Awesome Strangers Gospel Choir joins them on this song, and there is a beautiful moment toward the end where the lyrics are delivered a cappella.

“See This Winter Out” has a more cheerful, positive sound, in part because of the work on banjo. But this song addresses loss too, and moving on. And it is in the moving on that this song feels positive. Like they say, “And we will see this winter out.” This is one of my favorite tracks, and it features some wonderful lyrics, like these lines: “Hope walks out of each room in your mind/We make our clumsy jokes/We can’t forget how to try/But you’ve always had one foot in the fire.” And I love that sweet work on violin. Several songs on this album deal with memories of those who have passed. “Northern Lights” is dedicated to Steel Audrey, a singer and songwriter who died in 2015. It has an uplifting feel, and I absolutely love the violin. “I can’t remember the things that you said/I’ve never been much of a steel trap/But I knew that we would be talking of these days/’Til we grew older/Oh, the Northern Lights/I’ll never need a better way to say goodbye.” Then in “Goodnight Everybody,” they sing “We’re here, then we’re gone/Just the pictures that hang on the wall.” Though this song is about being musicians on the road, these lines also remind us that life is so short. Many of these songs seem to remind us to appreciate those people in our lives, because it’s all so fleeting. The vocals are strong on all of these tracks, but this one in particular features wonderful vocal performances, and is another favorite of mine. It ends so beautifully, so gently.

Hey my mother sang but she couldn’t sing” is the first line of “My Mother Sang,” and it makes me think of my own mom. She can’t sing, but no matter. This one features more nice work on violin. “Orlando” is about the shooting at Pulse. It’s so hard to come to terms with an attack or shooting, for each day seems to bring a fresh horror. The Orlando nightclub shooting happened in the summer of that most foul year 2016, and there have been dozens of mass shootings since then. “But enough is enough is enough is enough,” The Fugitives sing in this song. It is something I feel we’ve been saying for a long time. We need strict gun control legislation right now, and we’re not going to get it from the assholes currently in power. So those assholes need to be removed, and immediately.

“Come Back Down” has an uplifting sound. Nothing sounds as positive as these lines right now: “We’ll be waking up to take the town/Take it back for good.” Oh yes! The album then concludes with “Lights Out,” a song dedicated to Adam Capay. I did not know the story of Adam Capay, but looked it up after seeing this song’s dedication. Adam Capay was held in solitary confinement for more than four years while awaiting trial (the United Nations has stated that being held in solitary confinement for more than fifteen days is torture). The overhead light in Adam Capay’s room never was turned off; thus, the song’s title. “Get lost in the lost sleep/And dream your way through the underground to a place you’d rather be/’Cause for all this there’s nothing to say.”

CD Track List
  1. No Words
  2. See This Winter Out
  3. Till It Feels Like Home
  4. Northern Lights
  5. Goodnight Everybody
  6. My Mother Sang
  7. London In The Sixties
  8. Orlando
  9. Wild One
  10. Come Back Down
  11. Lights Out 
The Promise Of Strangers was released on January 26, 2018 on Borealis Records.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

D.O.A.: “Fight Back” (2018) CD Review

The world is in a depressing and dangerous state, and anyone who is even remotely conscious wants to just scream at nearly every moment. There is so much to scream about, and every day we’re given a dozen fresh hells, thanks to that repulsive racist Donald Trump and his gang of corrupt cretins. It is the perfect time for some good hardcore punk, and the new album from Canada’s D.O.A., Fight Back, is just exactly what we need. They give us a whole lot of truth, and they deliver it hard and fast. Truth we can shout, music that might motivate us to actually do something. Or, at the very least, make us feel a bit better by letting off some steam. D.O.A. has been touring and putting out albums since 1978, and after forty years they show no signs of letting up here. The music on this disc is vibrant and exciting and fun and energizing. With one exception, these tracks are originals, written by vocalist and guitarist Joe Keithley.

The album gets off to a good start with “You Need An Ass Kickin’ Right Now,” a lively tune to get you on your feet. And check out these lyrics: “Yeah, you make me sick/When you start to spin your shit/The lies come out your lips/On your psychotic power trip.” It’s a short song, not even a minute and a half, but is perfect. By the way, the band put out a good video for this song. I don’t normally give a shit about music videos, but this one makes a statement and is definitely worth checking out. And some of the people shown in it – like Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump – are people I would personally like to smack. They deserve a serious ass kicking. That song is followed by “Killer Cops,” which contains a reference to “Bad Boys.” “What ya gonna say to your conscience (it makes me sick)/What ya gonna do when they come for you.”  “Time To Fight Back,” the album’s title track, is one of the best. This is one you’ll be singing along with, and it’s designed for that, working almost like a folk song at the beginning. “It’s time we all fight back/’Cause we’re always under attack/And if we want a taste of freedom/Then we’ll all fight back.” And in fact, a few lines toward the end might bring to mind some of Woody Guthrie’s lyrics.

Another of my favorites is “Just Got Back From The USA.,” with the repeated line “Hey, hey, get out of my way, I just got back from the U.S.A.” There are a lot of good songs about the current administration, songs inspired by its unrelenting and unabashed spouting of total horseshit, songs touching on its brazen racism. This one captures the energy and attitude of the country. Check out these lines: “There’s racists marching in the street/‘Cause the White House is paving the way/They’re rubbing their crotches and shooting their guns/So you better watch out, watch out today.” And then in “Gonna Set You Straight,” they sing “Well, I’m gonna set you straight, you son of a bitch/And I don’t care if you’re stinkin’ rich/’Cause you don’t mean jack shit to me.” Oh, how I hope someone sets every last member of Trump’s administration straight. This is a good, angry song, matching the way so many of us feel these days. That’s followed by “State Control,” which has a similar energy. This one is a call to resist those forces that believe they have us. It touches upon those seemingly ever-present surveillance cameras and social media. “If you don’t resist, there’s fuck all you can do.” It’s frightening.

“The Last Beer” has a different feel. It is a kind of fun, bouncy tune (seriously), and it’s bloody great. This song is a fond look back at a friendship with someone who died too soon, and it is a surprising favorite of mine. “I remember when we had no fear/We’d shoot the shit and down some beer/And consider life for what it’s worth/But now you’ve gone and left this earth/I miss you, my friend, you crazy fool/Now memories will have to do.” I love the joy (even if it is tinged with sadness) and innocence to the sound of this one. The only cover on the album is “Wanted Man,” written by Bob Dylan and originally recorded by Johnny Cash. D.O.A. does a damn good rendition. This isn’t the first time D.O.A. has covered Dylan. The band also recorded “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and “Masters Of War.” The album then concludes with “World’s Been Turned Upside Down,” a strong look at the current state of things, opening with the line “All the guns and all the hatred,” which is sadly so damn pertinent every day. And check out these lines: “Our morals have abandoned us and justice does not exist/Where do we go from here, do we hide our heads and drown in tears/The world’s been turned, turned upside down.” But it does contain an optimistic note, which I appreciate. “The fascists are back, have we gone blind/It’s a struggle to stay strong/But it’s always darkest before the dawn.”

CD Track List
  1. You Need An Ass Kickin’ Right Now
  2. Killer Cops
  3. Time To Fight Back
  4. We Won’t Drink This Piss
  5. Just Got Back From The USA
  6. You Can’t Stop Me
  7. Gonna Set You Straight
  8. State Control
  9. The Last Beer
  10. The Cops Are Comin’
  11. I’m Desperate
  12. Wanted Man
  13. World’s Been Turned Upside Down
Fight Back was released on May 4, 2018 on Sudden Death Records.