Thursday, June 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CD Track List

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Willie Nile: “Children Of Paradise” (2018) CD Review

I love Willie Nile. I love the passion, the honesty, the wit and the spirit of his music. He is able to connect to us on an emotional level, but can also rock us – often in the same song. And after listening to his new album, Children Of Paradise, I love him even more. I guess I’m not wrong in assuming that everyone who reads this blog is feeling angry and desperate and sad at the current political, social and environmental landscapes. Well, this new album may be just exactly what you’re looking for, as we try to make sense of a country gone sideways. It is certainly what I have been in need of. And no, it’s not a bunch of angry songs. This album actually takes us on a journey that, while there is anger along the way, turns to love and ends on a hopeful note (but, yes, I sure do love those angry songs). Unlike his previous release, 2017’s Positively Bob, which featured music written by Dylan, this album includes all original music, written or co-written by Willie Nile.

He opens this one with “Seeds Of A Revolution,” a good and timely song dealing with immigration, its first several lines delivered a cappella. This one has a positive-sounding pop vibe. “The tender kiss that freedom brings belongs to everyone.” That’s followed by “All Dressed Up And No Place To Go,” a song that is so bloody fun. It’s one you might find yourself singing before too long, at least the title line, which is sung by backing vocalists. “The president’s starrin’ in a new game show (All dressed up and no place to go)/Santa Claus is singing out ‘Ho ho ho’ (All dressed up and no place to go).” This song had me smiling, even laughing at various lines like “Plato on a date-o with a beautiful blonde.” There are some dire lines too, such as “The Arctic ice is sinkin’ low… say it ain’t, say it ain’t, say it ain’t so.” But while registering the message in your brain, you probably won’t lose your smile, and all the while, you’ll be dancing around. You know, sometimes it feels like we’re dancing into oblivion. “Where we’re headed, baby, I don’t know.”

“Don’t” comes on strong, with a punk energy and attitude that I appreciate even more than usual these days. “Don’t let the fuckers kill your buzz.” The first time I put on this disc, I kept turning up the volume. The second track demanded a bit more volume than the first. And then this third song needed even more volume. Though my voice shouting along added to it, I’m sure. You’ll be shouting along too. The repetition of “They do it all for the money” is more apt than ever.  This is a great song. Then Willie Nile gives us “Earth Blues.” As bad as a lot of social issues are, perhaps the most important issue is the destruction of the environment. After all, if we don’t have an environment, civil rights and reproductive rights are going to be irrelevant. Here is a perfect, angry anthem that should be constantly played on a boom box by someone following that asshole Scott Pruitt through his every hour until the bastard either becomes human or does himself in. Seriously, who lives near Pruitt? Get this album, and play this song on repeat at extreme volume directly at him, night and day, at work and at home. When you need a rest, hand it off to someone else. “Sorry earth, sorry planet, some people here just don’t get it/Sorry sun, sorry moon, there’s gonna be trouble comin’ soon.”

“Children Of Paradise,” the album’s title track, is another strong song with something to say. “Say a prayer for the children of paradise/Born naked in a world of fire and ice/Sing a song for the little ones/As they blow their horns and they beat their drums.” Maybe I’m mad, but this serious pop tune feels like a hit to me. I haven’t listened to hit radio in decades, but if there is any sense to things still, this song should be popular. We’ll see, I suppose. It was written by Willie Nile and Martin Briley. Willie Nile then turns to more of a folk sound for “Getting’ Ugly Out There,” in which he sings “It’s getting ugly out there/It’s getting darker, I swear.” Yup. This is what most of us feel. “I turned on my TV to watch some news/Saw big shots arguing, spoutin’ their views/Saw a child refugee drowned on the seashore/I had to turn it off, I couldn’t take it anymore.” When is this horror show going to end? When will the healing begin? Every day it seems that the troubles are increasing, that people are getting uglier and stupider. Each step down this dark road is another we’ll someday have to fight our way back from. “If the people ever knew what was really goin’ on/There’d be another politician who’d be dead and gone.” I’m tired of being angry, and I don’t like feeling hatred toward anyone, but I sincerely wish that Donald Trump and his entire regime and all his supporters would drop off the face of the earth. Enough already.

“I Defy” has something of a lighter pop sound at the beginning, but then kicks in with a great punk energy. Oh yes! “I never want to be in your society/You can try but you’ll never hang on a name on me/No, I don’t want to be what you want me to be/I’m never gonna light up like a Christmas tree.” This one was written by Willie Nile and Frankie Lee. Willie Nile then gives us a sweet song, a love song, a song to make us feel that perhaps things will be okay, “Have I Ever Told You.” Yes, it’s like Willie Nile sensed that at this point in the album we’d need something like this, a reminder of the better things in life. “My hands stop from shaking ‘cause baby I’m holding you now.”  Beautiful, right? This is what is going to pull us through this mess – being with the people we love. Holding, and being held. And he follows that with another love song, “Secret Weapon.” “I feel you close even when we are apart/You give the kind of love that’s real and turn it into art/You’re the secret weapon in my heart.” And these lines are perhaps the most important reminder we can hear now: “Bombs and guns, they can destroy when in the hands of a fool/But you and I, this girl and boy, are not here to be cruel.” I don’t want to let my hatred of Donald Trump destroy whatever might be good inside me. It’s difficult. But music and my girlfriend’s hand on my skin will pull me through. I hope every one of you has a secret weapon too.

I really like that line about love being art in “Secret Weapon.” And then in “Lookin’ For Someone,” the line that stands out for me is also about art: “I want to be a painting, I don’t want to be a sketch.” This song, which was written by Willie Nile and Andrew Dorff, has a sweet vibe. That’s followed by “Rock ‘N’ Roll Sister,” a rock tune that mentions CBGB, The Kinks and The Clash. This is a celebration of that woman who seems to be living on rock and roll. From my earliest experiences at rock concerts, I became aware of this person, drawn to her, and I am still happy whenever I see her at a show. The album then finishes up with “All God’s Children,” a gentle song delivered on piano. Yes, he gives us a pretty and uplifting and hopeful song to conclude what is one of the best albums I have heard so far this year.

CD Track List
  1. Seeds Of A Revolution
  2. All Dressed Up And No Place To Go
  3. Don’t
  4. Earth Blues
  5. Children Of Paradise
  6. Gettin’ Ugly Out There
  7. I Defy
  8. Have I Ever Told You
  9. Secret Weapon
  10. Lookin’ For Someone
  11. Rock ‘N’ Roll Sister
  12. All God’s Children
Children Of Paradise is scheduled to be released on July 27, 2018 on River House Records.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Jerry Garcia Band: “Garcia Live Volume 10” (2018) CD Review

I was twenty-three years old the last time I saw Jerry Garcia perform with the Grateful Dead. That was half my life ago. Crazy. I still miss seeing him. And I love that we are getting so many Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band releases these days. We certainly need them. We need that magic, that joy, perhaps now more than ever. And as much as I loved seeing the Grateful Dead, there were days when I preferred seeing the Jerry Garcia Band. Those shows had a looser, more intimate vibe. Garcia Live Volume 10 (the first volume in the series to sport a new look to its cover) is a two-disc set containing the complete show that Jerry Garcia Band performed on May 20, 1990 at the Hilo Civic Auditorium in Hawaii.

Disc 1

Jerry Garcia opens the show with a delightful rendition of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” It isn’t long before the joy is apparent in both the vocals and the playing. Check out Melvin Seals’ work. “I want to stop and thank you, baby!” A really good start to the show. The band follows that with “They Love Each Other,” and immediately Melvin is making his presence heard. I’ve always enjoyed this song, its sweet, positive groove, and this is a pretty good version. That’s followed by an energetic rendition of “Tough Mama,” the first of several Bob Dylan songs played at that show. And man, Jerry is getting into it! Listen to him belt out the lyrics. He then delivers a gorgeous, glorious rendition of “Like A Road Leading Home,” with help from backing vocalists Jacklyn LaBranch and Gloria Jones and more great work on keys. This is certainly a highlight of the first set. Jerry follows that with the fun “Run For The Roses.” This one feels a bit sloppy, but is still enjoyable.

I love the way “The Way You Do The Things You Do” begins, with bass and drums. Very cool. The band eases into this one, and then rocks us gently, joyfully. This track contains some really good, interesting jamming. That’s followed by “My Sisters And My Brothers,” in which Jerry reminds us, “Though this world of trouble, we’ve got to love one another.” The first set also includes a really nice version of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” featuring some passionate guitar work from Jerry, and some strange stuff on keys toward the end. Then Jerry closes out the set with “Deal.”

Disc 2

Jerry Garcia Band kicks off the second set with “The Harder They Come,” a song I find myself singing along to, shouting out some lines actually. It’s that kind of time, you know? That’s followed by a passionate, excellent version of “Forever Young,” Jerry’s voice sounding so good. This is certainly another highlight of the show. And it seems like everything is working perfectly now, for “Stop That Train,” which follows, is also really moving, while simultaneously getting your body active. It features another wonderful vocal performance from Jerry Garcia.

A fun, rockin’ “Tore Up Over You” is followed by a powerful “Tears Of Rage.” And then Jerry gets folks dancing again with a cover of Los Lobos’ “Evangeline,” and follows it with a good version of Bruce Cockburn’s “Waiting For A Miracle.” But it is “That Lucky Old Sun” that is seriously impressive. This is a beautiful, heartfelt, and engaging rendition, with some fantastic vocal work from Jerry, Jacklyn and Gloria, and wonderful stuff from Melvin on keys. This is one of the best versions of this song I’ve ever heard, perhaps the very best. The show then concludes with a seriously energetic rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue.”

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)
  2. They Love Each Other
  3. Tough Mama
  4. Like A Road Leading Home
  5. Run For The Roses
  6. The Way You Do The Things You Do
  7. My Sisters And Brothers
  8. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
  9. Deal
 Disc 2
  1. The Harder They Come
  2. Forever Young
  3. Stop That Train
  4. Tore Up Over You
  5. Tears Of Rage
  6. Evangeline
  7. Waiting For A Miracle
  8. That Lucky Old Sun
  9. Tangled Up In Blue
  Garcia Live Volume 10 was released on February 23, 2018.

Michika Fukumori: “Piano Images” (2018) CD Review

I first started listening to pianist Michika Fukumori in that foulest of years, 2016. Her album Quality Time came to me when the country was suffering through that ugly presidential campaign, the results of which still baffle and anger me daily. But the CD was just what I needed, as I tried to make sense of a country gone batty, a country eager to embrace authoritarianism, a country whose most unappealing qualities were rising to prominence. Now things are even worse out there. I am shocked that no one has dragged Donald Trump’s hideous body out of the White House yet and given the bastard the severe beating he so rightly deserves. Well, Michika Fukumori once again delivers an album to soothe some of our nerves, heal some of our wounds. Unlike Quality Time, on this album she performs solo (with one exception). And, perhaps because of that, the music has an intimate and personal feel. As on the earlier release, she gives us a mix of original material and covers.

Michika Fukumori opens this album with some original material, beginning with “Colors Of The Blues,” a cool tune combining elements of blues and jazz, with a playful sound and approach that I appreciate immediately. That’s followed by “Into The New World,” which has a light, pleasant, soothing vibe. This new world sounds like a good place to be. Then “The Answer Is…” is a mellower, pretty composition. This is the first of four tracks composing a suite titled “The Seasons.” She begins in winter, with a track that at times feels introspective and at other times is filled with excitement about what is to come. For the season of spring, she presents “The Story I Want To Tell You.” This one eases in, just as spring often gently, slowly emerges from winter, and then it grows and takes on brighter, warmer tones. This is a composition that Michika Fukumori also included on Quality Time. I’m surprised that the track for summer, “The Days We Were Smiling,” begins with such gentle, thoughtful sounds. We tend to think of summer as the liveliest of the seasons. But this is a warm and affectionate look back, a track of sweet nostalgia, rather than a celebration of the present (and hey, that makes sense, as there is not all that much to celebrate presently). “Tomorrow Is Full Of Promises,” the song for autumn, certainly has the most optimistic of titles. And, hell, I am ready for a little optimism. Eager for it, actually. And of the four songs in this series, this one does have the most positive and cheerful sound. It is making me feel ready for the future. Of course, it is also the shortest of the four tracks. Perhaps it’s impossible to keep that sort of optimism for long?

The first of the album’s covers is the Rodgers and Hart number, “Where Or When,” a song from Babes In Arms. I really like the way Michika Fukumori handles it. This track has given me a new appreciation for the song. On Quality Time, Michika Fukumori covered Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Someone To Light Up My Life.” And on this disc, she again turns to that composer, first delivering a thoughtful, emotionally engaging rendition of “Chovendo Na Roseira,” and then a gentle and moving version of “Luiza.”

“Palco (A Little Dancer)” is an original composition, and one that I love. It has something of a familiar feel to it, like a theme from the score to a delightful foreign film. The character feels vivid, doesn’t it? There is a sense of play, a sense of fun, and a vibrant joy to the music. “My Muse” is a pretty composition, treated with a gentle touch, with compassion and tenderness and warmth. It is another of my personal favorites. That’s followed by “Oceans In The Sky,” the one track on this album on which Michika Fukumori is joined by another musician. She is joined on piano by Steve Kuhn, who wrote the number, and who also produced the album. It’s an interesting track, with a certain beauty, delivered with passion. The album concludes with Cole Porter’s wonderful “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” a song that speaks to me strongly these days, as I am often apart from the Love of my life. Michika Fukumori delivers a pretty and intimate rendition.

CD Track List
  1. Colors Of Blues
  2. Into The New World
  3. The Answer Is…
  4. The Story I Want To Tell You
  5. The Days We Were Smiling
  6. Tomorrow Is Full Of Promises
  7. Where Or When
  8. Palco (A Little Dancer)
  9. Chovendo Na Roseira
  10. My Muse
  11. Oceans In The Sky
  12. Luiza
  13. Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye
Piano Images was released on June 22, 2018 on Summit Records.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Big Apple Blues: “Manhattan Alley” (2018) CD Review

A current topic of conversation among friends and acquaintances is what type of music is best suited to see us through these dark and awful times. Hardcore punk is certainly a strong contender. And several other musical genres work at different moments. But we always seem to return to the blues. Manhattan Alley, the new album from Big Apple Blues, should help pull us through. It is far from the standard blues album. It’s an instrumental album, mixing blues and jazz and soul and rock, and featuring all original compositions. Big Apple Blues is made up of Admir “Dr. Blues” Hadzic on bass, Barry “The Baron Of The Blues” Harrison on drums, Zach Zunis on guitar, Jim Alfredson on organ and keyboard, and Anthony Kane on harmonica. Joining them are Chris Eminizer on saxophone, Bill Vits on shakers, Kevin Jones on percussion, and Louis Rudner on acoustic bass.

The album kicks off with one of its strongest and most fun tracks, “You Gotta Start Somewhere.” This is funky blues with a delicious groove and a great jam feel to get you dancing. The horn gives it something of a classic sound; then the guitar lead has more of a rock flavor.  I especially dig the work on keys toward the end of the song. The fade-out comes suddenly and, to my ears, prematurely. I want this one go on longer. I am nowhere near done dancing yet. That’s followed by “Happy.” As it opens, it has a more serious tone. Then, like twenty seconds in, when the horn comes in and the groove is established, this song lifts my spirits. As its title suggests, this is blues to make you happy. And, hey, we can all use that these days. This track features more good work on keys.

Another of my favorite tracks is “SDW,” a mellower, thoughtful tune. I love the way the soulful saxophone blows over that slow, interesting groove. “Hudson Breeze” is one, like “Happy,” that sounds as you’d expect from its title. It’s a light, kind of breezy tune, perfect for summer. And I like that section toward the end where the percussion gains in prominence. That’s followed by “Steamroller,” which has a wonderful funky edge and becomes a good jam, led by some really nice work on guitar. Then “Subway Rumble” has a late 1960s, early 1970s vibe, and is another highlight. Hey, if being on the New York subway always sounded this good, people might be a whole lot happier, with a bit of a dance in their step. Imagine that. The album concludes with “Rock On,” a rocking blues number with a steady beat.

CD Track List
  1. You Gotta Start Somewhere
  2. Happy
  3. Take Two
  4. SDW
  5. Deep Talkin’
  6. Hudson Breeze
  7. Steamroller
  8. Subway Rumble
  9. Love As I Know It
  10. Rock On
Manhattan Alley was released on CD on June 19, 2018 on Stone Tone Records.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Ellis Paul, Antje Duvekot and Sam Baker at Club Passim, 6-16-18 Late Show Concert Review

Ellis Paul, Antje Duvekot, Sam Baker performing "Deportee"
On June 16th, Ellis Paul, Antje Duvekot and Sam Baker performed two concerts at Club Passim in Cambridge. It was a fantastic evening of music. My brother and I had concerns that the two shows might be similar as far as song choices, but only three songs were repeated (and all three of those were ones I wanted to hear a second time). The second show was perhaps even better than the first, and certainly had a more playful vibe. While the three musicians had joked briefly about coming up with a band name in the early show, they took that joke and ran with it in the late show, with those in the audience adding some of their own thoughts on the matter.

The show started a little after 8 p.m., and as in the early show there was a bit of discussion as to who would kick off the set. Sam Baker told the audience, “This is all scripted.” This time, Ellis Paul was chosen to begin the show, and he got things going with “The Storyteller’s Suitcase,” the song that will be the title track on his upcoming release. Antje Duvekot followed that with “Long Way,” on which she played both acoustic guitar and harmonica. There was a briefly frightening but ultimately funny moment in which she almost fell off her stool after singing “And I have never seen.” The song was halted for a bit, and then Antje had trouble remembering just where in the song she was. In this version, after the line “I called you from a payphone,” she added “back when payphones still existed.” Ellis and Sam provided backing vocals. Then Sam told the audience that one of their possible band names was Sorry, Everybody. Other possibilities included The Slippery Pants, The Sisterhood Of The Slippery Pants and We’re So Lucky. Also, Mariana Trench. But Sorry, Everybody was the one they’d return to several times. Sam played “Same Kind Of Blue,” with Ellis and Antje adding some backing vocals. That song contains the line, “Way down in a tunnel where the fallen angels dwell,” and Ellis followed it with “When Angels Fall,” an excellent new song. This was the first of the three that were also played at the early show (and one I was excited to hear a second time). When introducing it, Ellis said: “This is a sing-along about the gun problem. I’m not kidding. I want you all to sing.” And folks did.

Antje then began what would be a round of covers with Ani Difranco’s “Not A Pretty Girl,” first mentioning that it’s a song she’s been playing ever since the orange one was elected. For those who might be unfamiliar with this song, here are some of the lyrics: “I am not an angry girl/But it seems like I've got everyone fooled/Every time I say something they find hard to hear/They chalk it up to my anger/And never to their own fear.” Yeah, those lines really strike a chord these days, don’t they? Sam followed that with a cover of Paul Simon’s “Duncan,” and Ellis ended the round of covers with Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game,” the audience singing along on the chorus.

Someone shouted out a request for “Dandelion,” and Antje kindly obliged. Sam followed that with a wonderful rendition of “Waves,” on which he played harmonica. Sam also played harmonica on “Straight To The Moon,” another of Ellis Paul’s new songs. This is one I requested between shows, as it just makes me so damn happy. Antje followed it with a cover of “Ring Them Bells.” Then Sam played “Snow,” an absolutely beautiful song about Boston. “This city is so pretty when the snow falls just at dawn.” This was for me one of the highlights of the show, and was followed by another highlight, “Last Call,” a song I hadn’t seen Ellis perform in quite some time. Antje joined him on vocals, and Sam played harmonica.

Laurie MacAllister, of the band Red Molly, joined Antje Duvekot on vocals for a really good version of “Sex Bandaid.” Sam followed that with “Go In Peace,” the second of the three songs played at both shows. They then joked about a future Strawberry Puffin reunion tour. (Yes, Strawberry Puffin was another of the possible band names. Or was it Strawberry Puffins?) As at the early show, the three musicians concluded the concert with Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos),” each singing lead on different verses. A microphone stand problem partway through the song led to a sweet moment. The show ended at 9:58 p.m. There was no encore. By the way, another running joke through this concert was the song “Sisters” from the movie White Christmas, and right after the show ended, Matt Smith played it on the venue’s sound system. A perfect way to send a delighted and united audience out into the night.

Set List
  1. The Storyteller’s Suitcase
  2. Long Way
  3. Same Kind Of Blue
  4. When Angels Fall
  5. Not A Pretty Girl
  6. Duncan
  7. The Circle Game
  8. Dandelion
  9. Waves
  10. Straight To The Moon
  11. Ring Them Bells
  12. Snow
  13. Last Call
  14. Sex Bandaid
  15. Go In Peace
  16. Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)
Here are a few photos from the show:

"The Storyteller's Suitcase"
"Long Way"
"Same Kind Of Blue"
"Last Call"
"Sex Bandaid"
"Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)"

Club Passim is located at 47 Palmer St. in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Ellis Paul, Antje Duvekot and Sam Baker at Club Passim, 6-16-18 Early Show Concert Review

Antje Duvekot performing "Sweet Spot"
My trips to Massachusetts don’t feel complete without at least one visit to Club Passim. And this time the shows I attended were special treats, with three excellent songwriters performing in the round. Ellis Paul, Antje Duvekot and Sam Baker had just finished a series of shows and workshops at Mohegan Island, Maine, and concluded their shows together with two concerts at Club Passim on June 16th. The early show started just after 5 o’clock.

There was a bit of discussion about which musician should lead off the show, and the decision was for Sam Baker to get things going. Sam was the only one of the three that I hadn’t seen in concert before. He mentioned Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee,” a song that is once again pertinent, and then began things with “Migrants.” “They were migrants/They got twelve lines of news.” Sam played electric guitar, and both Ellis Paul and Antje Duvekot sang backup on this one. Afterward, Sam talked about choosing a name for their band, suggesting The Prima Donnas. Ellis asked, “How about The Prima Donalds,” which caused the audience to groan. Ellis then followed that with “I Ain’t No Jesus,” playing acoustic guitar and getting some help on vocals from Antje and Sam.

There was a lot of playful humor at this show, the three musicians clearly enjoying each other’s company. Sam riffed a bit about how “Itsy Bitsy Spider” tells a hopeless and futile story. Antje Duvekot then raised everyone’s spirits with “Sweet Spot,” on which she played acoustic guitar and was backed on vocals by both Ellis and Sam. Afterward, she said “That song goes out to Itsy Bitsy, the depressed spider.” It was then Sam’s turn again, and he actually played his morose rendition of “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” performing it solo, and leading Ellis to joke, “I sense a children’s album coming.” Sam then followed that with “Pretty World,” and jokingly added a line from “Three Blind Mice.”

One of the most moving songs of the evening was “When Angels Fall,” a new song from Ellis Paul, a song that addresses the rampant gun violence plaguing our nation. This song asks, “Will you fight for your guns, or will you fight for your children?” When Ellis finished it, my girlfriend turned to me and told me it gave her chills. Antje followed that with a beautiful cover of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” performing it a cappella. Sam Baker then did “Orphan,” with Ellis and Antje providing backing vocals. The three ended that song with a gorgeous a cappella section.

Ellis moved to the keyboard for “Scarecrow In A Corn Maze,” a nice rendition marred only slightly by some static in the speakers. Antje mentioned that Ellis Paul was kind of her idol during her teen years, then played a song by John Gorka, whom she described as her other hero. Sam followed that with “Ditch,” a song he said was saved by Ellis Paul, and one of my personal favorites. Ellis then played “Five Alarm Fire On The 4th Of July,” a fairly new song that I first saw him perform at McCabe’s last month. As at that earlier show, he included a bit of “We Are Family” at the end. Antje delivered a sweet rendition of one of her best songs, “Pearls.” Ellis Paul sang backup, adding a playful “bleep” where Antje would have normally sung the word “motherfucking” (they had joked about this early show being an “all-ages” show).

Sam then did “Go In Peace,” a short but wonderful song, and one that is needed these days. “Go in peace/Go in kindness/Go in love.” Ellis followed that with “The Innocence And The Afterlife,” another song I first heard last month in Santa Monica, and another that I love. His upcoming album is looking like it’s going to be one of his best. Antje then did a surprising medley of songs from The Wizard Of Oz. The three musicians wrapped up the show with a cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos),” a song that Sam had mentioned right at the concert’s start. Each of the three sang lead on different verses. The show ended at 6:41 p.m. There was no encore.

Set List
  1. Migrants
  2. I Ain’t No Jesus
  3. Sweet Spot
  4. Itsy Bitsy Spider
  5. Pretty World
  6. When Angels Fall
  7. Feeling Good
  8. Orphan
  9. Scarecrow In A Corn Maze
  10. Love Is Our Cross To Bear
  11. Ditch
  12. Five Alarm Fire On The 4th Of July
  13. Pearls
  14. Go In Peace
  15. The Innocence And The Afterlife
  16. If I Only Had A Brain >
  17. If I Only Had A Heart >
  18. If I Only Had The Nerve
  19. Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos) 
Here are a few photos from the show:

"I Ain't No Jesus"
"Sweet Spot"
"Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)"

Club Passim is located at 47 Palmer St. in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Gary Brumburgh: “Moonlight” (2018) CD Review

Jazz vocalist Gary Brumburgh released his first album, Up Jumped Spring, more than a decade ago, and has now followed it up with Moonlight. Why did so much time pass between releases? Gary spent a good deal of that time battling cancer, which was in his neck and tonsils. Fortunately, it did not affect his vocal cords, and the cancer went into remission in 2016. Now he’s back, and there is plenty of joy in his voice. Interestingly, in the liner notes he quotes the first line of Twelfth Night: “If music be the food of love, play on.” It’s interesting because Orsino, who speaks that line, is suffering from a sort of faux melancholy brought on by his love not being answered by Olivia. Anyway, on Moonlight, Gary Brumburgh delivers his personal spins on some familiar songs, including material by The Beatles, The Supremes and Irving Berlin. He is joined by Jamieson Trotter on piano, Gabe Davis on bass, Christian Euman on drums, Conor Malloy on drums, Pat Kelley on guitar, Larry Koonse on guitar, and Bob Sheppard on saxophone.

I love the way this album begins, with just the bass providing a cool introduction. Then, after a few moments, the familiar sounds of “Day Tripper” emerge, and soon the rest of the band joins in for a cool rendition of the Beatles tune, with a bit of swing to the rhythm, and some really nice work on saxophone. Gary Brumburgh is clearly enjoying himself, and his vocal work has a fun, excited feel, with even a bit of scat.  Just before the end, the song returns to the vocals backed by bass, and then the track ends gently, with a final note on piano. That ending works well, as the following song, “I’ll Close My Eyes,” begins quietly on piano. I like when an album has a flow like that, when the entire album is in mind as a band records individual tracks. It’s not long before this song picks up a bit, with Larry Koonse’s work on guitar. I really like Gary’s delivery, particularly on these lines: “I’ll lock my heart/To any other caress/I’ll never say yes/To a new love affair/Don’t you know, don’t you know that I’ll close my eyes/To everything that’s gay/If you’re not there/To share each lovely day.” And this track features some good work on piano.

“Dig/Sweet Georgia Brown” immediately announces itself as a fun track with that great drumming, and then those backing vocals shouting “Dig Georgia Brown.” The track is a combination of Miles Davis’ “Dig” and “Sweet Georgia Brown,” two compositions having a lot in common. As you might expect, this one cooks, and it features more fantastic work on piano. “Moonlight,” the CD’s title track, was written by John Williams, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and was recorded by Sting for the 1995 remake of Sabrina. The song was nominated for several awards, but I never cared all that much for it. Still, there are things I like about this rendition, particularly Bob Sheppard’s work on sax. Interestingly, Gary follows that with another Sting song, this one written by Sting, “Heavy Cloud No Rain” from Ten Summoner’s Tales. It’s a really good version, in part because Paulette McWilliams provides backing vocals on this track.

Gary Brumburgh’s rendition of “My World Is Empty Without You” is quite a bit different from that by The Supremes (and the other versions I’ve heard). It begins with serious and sad tones, Gary at first accompanied only by Jamieson Trotter on piano and some light touches on percussion by Conor Malloy. From there, it does pick up, and it features some really nice work by Gabe Davis on bass. One of my favorite tracks is Kenny Rankin’s “Haven’t We Met.” This excellent rendition is delivered as a duet with Gail Pettis. I mentioned earlier that Gary Brumburgh quoted Shakespeare in the liner notes. Well, this song has a direct reference to Romeo And Juliet: “And I know that’s just how it happened/When Romeo met Juliet/Somewhere I read that Juliet said/‘Pardon me, haven’t we met?’” In Kenny Rankin’s original version it is Romeo that says “Pardon me, haven’t we met?” Perhaps in this version it is switched to Juliet because Gail Pettis sings that line. Because then at the end the lines are repeated, except this time it is Romeo delivering the line, and Gary sings it. This track features some damn good drumming toward the end. The album then concludes with a mellow tune, a passionate rendition of Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do.”

CD Track List
  1. Day Tripper
  2. I’ll Close My Eyes
  3. Dig/Sweet Georgia Brown
  4. Wichita Lineman
  5. Moonlight
  6. Heavy Cloud No Rain
  7. Eggplant
  8. My World Is Empty Without You
  9. Just A Little Lovin’ (Early In The Mornin’)
  10. Haven’t We Met
  11. What’ll I Do
Moonlight was released on June 1, 2018 on Café Pacific Records.

Friday, June 15, 2018

John Daversa: “Wobbly Dance Flower” (2017) CD Review

Honestly, I picked the John Daversa CD Wobbly Dance Flower out of the stack because of its title. I was up for some fun, vibrant music, and figured this might be just the thing. And indeed, it was. This disc features mostly original compositions by John Daversa (with only one exception). Joining the trumpet player on this release are Bob Mintzer on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Zane Carney on guitar, Joe Bagg on piano and organ, Jerry Watts Jr. on bass, and Gene Coye on drums.

It opens with a tune titled “Ms. Turkey,” and immediately I’m into it, the horn getting the song started like some fun, glorious announcement. There is certainly a great amount of joy to this track, but the tune goes in some exciting directions too, and there is some excellent drumming. Just the thing to pick you up. That’s followed by the album’s only cover, a cool rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee.” It has kind of a slow groove at the start, and some wonderful stuff on horn. I also dig that work on piano; and wow, listen to that bass beneath it. This track features some impressive playing, particularly in the second half of the track, when it starts to cook.

“Be Free” begins like a call to get out of bed and onto the dance floor, which might in fact be the entire landscape. I can imagine a crowd dancing to this one. And then when things start getting a bit wild, like thirty seconds in, the crowd leaps into the air, melts into trees and façades, and the buildings begin rumbling and dancing in their own way. It gets a bit chaotic, but it’s like coloring book chaos, you know? All fun, all perfect in its way. And why not? After all, it’s titled “Be Free,” and it seems to express a freedom to go off in different directions, to be a person or a cavorting tree or whatever you can draw or imagine. Then at the end, it returns to the beginning, dropping us back off where we started. Then we get “Brooklyn Still,” a mellower, kind of bluesy, soulful tune that builds toward the end.

“Wobbly Dance Flower,” the title track, is a lot of fun, as you’d expect. Every part of your body will want to dance, perhaps doing different dances, but not to worry, you’ll come together again later. By the way, the song’s playful title came from Daversa’s young daughter, who also created the album’s artwork. That’s followed by “Jazz Heads,” a track I love right from its opening. It has a great playful, almost child-like quality. I can imagine this song playing in a scene from The Muppet Show, with some delightful Muppet dancing with the episode’s guest star. Actually, I want to see that. Let’s bring back that show. Hey, they’re bringing back every other darn show that ever existed (though obviously some aren’t lasting as long as one might have thought), so let’s (once again) bring back The Muppet Show. There are some good conversations between instruments in this track, and this one too returns us to the beginning, after taking us on a wonderful journey. That’s followed by “Meet Me At The Airport,” the title fitting well its mood and themes. There is something very positive about meeting someone at the airport, or being met at the airport. For most of us, it means seeing someone we haven’t seen in a while, someone we very much want to see. And this track has an excited, happy quality. As it goes on, it then settles into conversation, like the two people are catching up, or like several people are catching up, as each instrument adds to the conversation. I especially like that lead on bass. This tune becomes powerful, forceful at the end.

We then get “You Got A Puppy?!” Okay, first I have to say I really dislike when people put a question mark and exclamation point together. Pick one! Okay? (Though it’s not as irritating as when people use multiple exclamation points or multiple question marks, an offense that deserves a serious smacking.) That being said, I do like this track. It opens with some drumming, and moves a good clip. It also features more great work on bass. And I really like what Zane Carney is doing on guitar. Bob Mintzer’s work on bass clarinet is also absolutely wonderful. But of course it is the trumpet that really soars and cooks here. The entire band has plenty of opportunities to shine, even though this track isn’t even three minutes long. A whole lot of deliciousness is packed into that short span. The CD then ends with an even briefer number, “Extra Credit,” which is less than a minute long. This strange, electronic jam features cool work by Joe Bagg on organ. I’m curious where this one would go, given more time.

CD Track List
  1. Ms. Turkey
  2. Donna Lee
  3. Be Free
  4. Brooklyn Still
  5. Wobbly Dance Flower
  6. Jazz Heads
  7. Meet Me At The Airport
  8. You Got A Puppy?!
  9. Extra Credit 
Wobbly Dance Flower was released on September 22, 2017.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

All Those Ships: “Meteorology For Runners” (2016) CD Review

All Those Ships is the project of Brandon MacNeil, who not only wrote all the songs on Meteorology For Runners, but also played all the instruments. The music is basically folk, but certainly not the typical folk fare. He has a freedom to explore some interesting territory here without being self-indulgent, certainly a danger when an artist might have no input from other musicians. There isn’t just a sense of adventure, but a sense of humor to this music. If you are into groups like Blimp Rock and Moldy Peaches, you should definitely check out this release. All Those Ships is based in Derry, New Hampshire.

The album opens with “Head Up,” which made me burst out in surprised laughter at one point the first time I listened to it. “Don’t you know how this will end/Won’t you slow down, turn around now/Or you’ll end up all cooked in a stew/You’ll end up all cooked in stew.” The way he plays with the word “in” in that last line is surprising and kind of delightful. There is also an interesting contrast in the somewhat drawn out vocal line and the percussion. That’s followed by “Making Sense,” a song that grabbed me right from its start. The first lines are “One night I dreamt that I was driving/And I couldn’t keep my eyes open/I couldn’t stay awake/So I nodded off/Then I woke back up/And then I woke back up again.” And it just gets better and better. This is an unusual and wonderful song, powerful at moments. This is one of my favorites. “If I don’t make it where I’m going, well, at least they’ll say I made a valiant effort/If I make an effort, if I make an effort.”

“Gravel” has kind of a bright, friendly sound. “You know summer’s been fading/And I am a runner in waiting/Away, away.”  That’s followed by “Good Luck,” an odd and playful song that offers some advice, such as “Get some sleep/Shower often/Lots of exercise/Don’t get into strange cars/Set some goals.” He repeats the line about not getting into strange cars, so perhaps that’s the most important advice. I like that it’s not “strangers’ cars,” but “strange cars.” Some of my closest friends have strange cars. Hmm. It’s a lively tune, and in addition to advice, he wishes us “the best of luck.” “I hope it comes to you/Well, it’s bound to come soon.” Ah, sometimes we need to hear that, don’t we? I’m kind of in love with this song.

“Stuck In Your Head” begins by establishing an intimate folk feel. And how is this for an opening line: “Something tells me denial won’t help at all.” I also love this line, which stuck out the first time I listened to this disc: “I hope this song’s enough to replace the one that’s been stuck in your head.” This song has its own kind of beauty. “Squish Spiders For You” is a decidedly lo-fi affair, like he recorded it on whatever equipment he had handy, or was going to play it over the phone to the person afraid of spiders. This song is kind of adorable and made me laugh. “You know I’d squish spiders for you/Even though I don’t like to/They might bite you/So those spiders just have to go/They just have to go.”

Another song I can’t help but love is “We Won’t Rest.” It reminds me just a bit of Syd Barrett.  We live in, we live in, we live inside/We may go out, we may go out, oh, we go out now and then/But we live in, we live in, we live inside.” This song is a total delight. And this line is another that had me laughing aloud: “We won’t rest, we won’t rest, we won’t rest until we get some rest.” There are more unusual lyrics in “Tiny Clouds,” such as “Tiny little storm clouds grow up big and strong by and by.” I love being surprised by music, and this CD surprised me multiple times. Other lines from this song that stood out include “But you can do something new with something old” and “You may say it’s some kind of magic, I don’t know what else to call it.” The album then concludes with “Broken Cassette,” which begins a little chaotically. Apart from the “self”/“shelf” rhyme, which I never care for, I totally dig this song, its title being a play on the idea of a broken record, repeating one’s self.

CD Track List
  1. Head Up
  2. Making Sense
  3. Gravel
  4. Good Luck
  5. Stuck In Your Head
  6. From Far
  7. Squish Spiders For You
  8. Backtracked
  9. We Won’t Rest
  10. Tiny Clouds
  11. Broken Cassette
Meteorology For Runners was released on September 12, 2016.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Big Harp George: “Uptown Cool” (2018) CD Review

Big Harp George, on his new album, sounds like he’s been on top of things for a long time, so it’s surprising to learn that he released his debut CD only four years ago. He followed that with 2016’s Wash My Horse In Champagne and now with Uptown Cool, this new release featuring all original material, written by George Bisharat (Big Harp George). In these songs, he tackles his subjects with humor and style, and is backed by a great band, which includes Chris Burns on keys, Alexander Pettersen on drums, Joe Kyle on bass, Kid Andersen on guitar and bass, Little Charlie Baty on guitar, Michael Peloquin on saxophone, Mike Rinta on trombone and tuba and Derrick “D’Mar” Martin on percussion. Loralee Christensen and Derick Hughes provide backing vocals. Yes, this is the blues, but there certainly is a whole lot of joy in these tracks.  

The album opens with “Down To The Rite Aid,” which is some fun, slightly goofy blues, with delightful work on horns. It has a kind of classic sound, while being about a modern place and modern issues, as the line playing with the idea of having an erection that lasts more than four hours. The lyrics also include a reference to The Walking Dead. The song is delivered with a sense of humor, and with plenty of good work on harmonica. I love the way the harmonica interacts with the horns and guitars in that instrumental section. Likewise in “Internet Honey,” he employs a delicious classic sound to tackle a modern subject, online romance. “Swipe left, swipe right/I really can’t figure it out/I need that cyber magic/Right away, without a doubt/I want an internet honey.” It’s a fun song with more cool work on horns, particularly toward the end. Oh man, I wish that jam went on a bit longer; it was just starting to really groove and cook when suddenly the song is over. I’m guessing from these moments that this is a band worth seeing in concert.

Another modern subject is addressed in “Alternative Facts.” In these sad and disturbing days, Big Harp George sings, “I always thought that truth mattered.” It’s a good song, and I am always in favor of poking fun at Trump and his gang of mendacious assholes, but this is also a serious matter. We can’t let honesty and truth be things of little consequence or things of the past. I can’t wait for Trump to be a thing of the past. Anyway, I dig the groove, and of course there is more good, expressive work on harmonica. “Don’t get shackled by the truth/Only fools think that truth matters/When in truth, it just distracts/You’ll never reach your vast potential/Without alternative facts.” At the end it mentions “fake news” as the excuse to use when you’re called out on your lies. What I want is for reporters to never let up on Donald Trump or Sarah Huckabee Sanders, to not let them get away with bullshit responses. Just keep asking the questions, demand answers. Keep on them until they fucking explode. And then toss their pieces into the trash, so the country can get back on track.

“Nobody’s Listening” is a wonderful, slow number about the end of a relationship (always a good subject for a blues tune), where we are given the man’s assessment of the woman’s lesser qualities. “How many nights, baby, did we go out with friends/You’d drop an insult from which no friendship mends/And I’m sorry to share with you/Nobody’s listening anymore.” Nice, right? “And now the time has come, dear/For you to find your own way/I’m done cleaning up your messes/That’s why I left you yesterday.” I love this song, particularly the way the horns are used in this track, supporting him and almost like comforting him, backing him up as if they’d been present during these scenes with him and his ex-girlfriend. They are like good friends. Plus, there is some nice work on both keys and guitar. And this line describing the woman is just perfect: “Some kind of magnet for woe.” I think we’ve all known someone that that line accurately describes. That’s followed by a fun, upbeat instrumental track titled “In The First Place,” the harmonica acting as the main voice, engaging the other instruments in a bit of conversation, with some call and response.

“Cold Snap By The Bay” is a very cool tune, with a mean vibe and some stunning and moving work on horns over a serious groove, plus a really good vocal performance. And then there is that great work on keys. Man, everything is working so well here. This is one of my favorite tracks. That serious song is followed by a fun tune with something of a New Orleans vibe, “Just Calm Yourself.” Loralee Christensen delivers a strong vocal performance, singing lead in certain sections. Then “Uptown Cool,” the album’s title track, is a nice, kind of bouncy instrumental track. The CD ends with “Lord Make Me Chaste,” a humorous tune with a bit of gospel thing. “Lord make me chaste, but not yet.” And while we’re on the subject, here is a note to those out there who confuse “celibate” with “chaste”: Quit it. “Celibate” simply means “not married.” The word has nothing to do with sex or a lack thereof. The word you’re looking for is “chaste” (as Big Harp George is obviously well aware). Please pass that on. Thanks.

CD Track List
  1. Down To The Rite Aid
  2. Internet Honey
  3. Alternative Facts
  4. I Wanna Know
  5. Nobody’s Listening
  6. In The First Place
  7. Standing In The Weather
  8. Bulletproof
  9. Cold Snap By The Bay
  10. Just Calm Yourself
  11. Uptown Cool
  12. Lord Make Me Chaste
Uptown Cool is scheduled to be released on July 16, 2018 on Blue Mountain Records.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Lucky Losers: “A Winning Hand” (2015) CD Review

After enjoying Blind Spot, the new release from The Lucky Losers, I decided to go back and listen to the band’s debut CD, 2015’s A Winning Hand. Unlike the new album, this one features a lot of cover tunes. There are some originals too, of course, written either by vocalist Cathy Lemons or by vocalist Phil Berkowitz and Danny Caron. And some of the same musicians back them: Robi Bean is on drums, Chris Burns is on keys, Kid Andersen is on guitar and percussion. It’s an impressive debut, and certainly worth listening to, or revisiting.

The album opens with an original track, “Change In The Weather,” a fun, kind of funky number written by Phil Berkowitz and Danny Caron. It has a great vibe, and some good lyrics as well. Check out these lines: “Can you feel a change in the weather/Making clouds around your heart/A chance to dance around the subject/For the sake of playing a part.”  And these: “The weeds will start to grow among the flowers/That we planted in hopes of a better tomorrow.” Oh yes. There is some cool work on harmonica toward end. They follow that with a cover of “I Take What I Want,” the Sam & Dave song that was included on that duo’s 1966 LP Hold On, I’m Coming. It’s a fun, upbeat soul tune, and The Lucky Losers do a good job with it, with Phil delivering more good work on harmonica. Another cover follows that, Jimmy Rogers’ “What Have I Done,” a really cool blues song. I always liked the lines, “You got me coo-coo, baby/Coo-coo in my head.” Love can do that to you.

We then get a couple of songs written by Cathy Lemons, starting with “A Winning Hand,” the album’s title track. It’s performed as a duet, and I love that moment when those backing vocals come in. Lisa Leuschner-Andersen provides the backing vocals. Steve Freund is on lead guitar on this track. “This game is all I got.” Then “Suicide By Love” features some really nice work by Joe Kyle on upright bass and Chris Burns on piano. This is a cool late-night jazzy song, one of my personal favorites. I love the way Cathy delivers lines like “I was drinkin’ and druggin’ oh so well/I had my portrait taken at the city jail.”

The Lucky Losers do an interesting rendition of Bob Dylan’s “What Was It You Wanted,” giving it a perkier vibe than the original recording. Chris Burns’ work on organ is featured prominently, and Phil Berkowitz delivers some good stuff on harmonica. Marvin Greene is on lead guitar on this track. They follow that with a really nice rendition of Allen Toussaint’s “What Is Success,” their vocals blending well. Ben Rice plays slide guitar on this track. They also give us a fun version of “Baby, You Got What It Takes” and a kind of sweet rendition of Charles Brown’s “Cry No More,” both of which feature Kevin Zuffi on keys.

While on the new album, Cathy Lemons has a song titled “Take The Long Road,” on this release Phil Berkowitz delivers a song titled “Long Hard Road,” a good bluesy tune with a horn section. “’Cause I’ve been trying so hard to love you, baby/But you see I’ve got to love myself/’Cause I’ve given up pretending/To be somebody else.” Michael Peloquin is on saxophone, and Tom Poole is on trumpet. This disc concludes with two more original compositions. The first is “Detroit City Man,” a mean and cooking blues tune written by Cathy Lemons. She really gets into this one, telling us the story of a guy who maybe is less than perfect. “He had blond hair and blue eyes/He was long and lean/Everything he said to me/My god, lord, I swear he didn’t mean.” And then “Don’t You Lose It,” written by Phil Berkowitz and Danny Caron, has a classic mellow rhythm and blues vibe, and is another of the disc’s highlights. “Can you hear the whistle blowin’/It may feel like a warning sign/The past exists only in your mind.

CD Track List
  1. Change In the Weather
  2. I Take What I Want
  3. What Have I Done
  4. A Winning Hand
  5. Suicide By Love
  6. What Was It You Wanted
  7. What Is Success
  8. Long Hard Road
  9. Baby, You Got What It Takes
  10. Cry No More
  11. Detroit City Man
  12. Don’t You Lose It
A Winning Hand was released on June 1, 2015 on West Tone Records.

Monday, June 4, 2018

David Cross & David Jackson: “Another Day” (2018) CD Review

David Cross is electric violinist known for his work with King Crimson, and David Jackson, who plays flute and saxophone, is known for his work with Van der Graaf Generator. The two (who both also play keyboards) have joined forces for an intriguing album titled Another Day. This instrumental album features all original material, written by Cross and Jackson (with a few tracks co-written by band mates Mike Paul and Craig Blundell). Mike Paul is on bass, and Craig Blundell is on drums. These tracks take us on some wild journeys, creating entire worlds in the span of several minutes.

“Predator,” the album’s opening track, starts a bit chaotically, but once that funky rhythm is established, I am on board. This track mixes jazz and progressive rock, but with a twisted carnival vibe, which I love. It’s like a passageway to a strange, captivating, and perhaps dangerous realm. Watch your footing, mind your head. Then, with “Bushido,” we’re invited into a very different world, one perhaps more natural, but also darker, with denizens lurking about, checking you out from the periphery. There is something almost magical about this brief number. “Last Ride” begins with a more ominous sound and tone, with a heavy feel. Then suddenly, after a minute or so, it opens up into a wild landscape, with devils on trapeze, tossing poison darts at your feet to get you to move. And you have no choice but get caught up in the progress of the tune. There is some excellent playing on this cool track.

“Trane To Kiev” is an interesting track. It begins tentatively, cautiously, like taking small steps into an unfamiliar place. But then the music becomes bolder, even insistent. And the drums, when they come in, at first have a sort of an official feel. Then at one point things come to a sudden halt, with just a heartbeat remaining. The heartbeat continues as the world comes rushing in on it, spinning around. Then “Millennium Toll” comes in sounding like the ticking of time, or the dripping of water. Time suddenly fractures and disappears as the tune breaks through, rising forth with confidence. The idea of time is never gone, however, and comes in force toward the end, with what sounds like the striking of a great bell. That’s followed by “Arrival,” which has a more uplifting vibe to it and becomes rather beautiful.

“Mr. Morose” is a more bluesy tune, a sad and passionate yearning for something you feel the person knows he or she will never get or achieve. Yet, there is life in it. If not hope, then there is at least some sort of acceptance of the state of things. And, after all, it isn’t the end. That’s followed by “Anthem For Another Day,” which begins with a lone instrument raising its voice. There is some joy there, but it is when it is joined by other instruments that the tune really begins to feel cheerful. It becomes rather pretty and works to raise our spirits, with those repeated phrases raising us up more each time through, working in time with our hearts, our hopes. It feels like it is uniting us, and as it does, it becomes one of my favorite tracks. Wonderful.

CD Track List
  1. Predator
  2. Bushido
  3. Last Ride
  4. Going Nowhere
  5. Trane To Kiev
  6. Millennium Toll
  7. Arrival
  8. Come Again
  9. Breaking Bad
  10. Mr. Morose
  11. Anthem For Another Day
  12. Time Gentlemen, Please
Another Day was released on March 9, 2018.