Friday, November 30, 2018

Los Straitjackets: “Complete Christmas Songbook” (2018) CD Review

Every year, just over fourteen million new Christmas albums are unleashed on the public. And most are covering the same material, picking from a group of only twenty or thirty songs. It’s weird. But some of those albums manage to be quite good. In general, instrumental Christmas albums are better than those with vocals, because the lyrics are often insufferable. So a compilation like Los Straitjackets’ Complete Christmas Songbook has a leg up on most of the other releases before it even begins. This band also mixes up the track list a bit, which I appreciate. Sure, most of the music is still traditional fare, but there are also a couple of original compositions thrown in, and a lot of the traditional songs include nods to other non-holiday tunes, in a fashion similar to that employed by The Ventures on The Ventures’ Christmas Album. Los Straitjackets have been around for something like twenty-five years, and in that time they’ve released two Christmas albums, plus some holiday singles. All that music is collected here to aid in your holiday enjoyment.

This compilation kicks off with a rock and roll surf rendition of “Here Comes Santa Claus.” This is not a great song, obviously, but once you take out the lyrics, it becomes a whole lot better. The trick is to enjoy it without letting the lyrics creep into your noggin. That’s followed by “It’s A Marshmallow World,” which is a song of winter, not precisely a Christmas song, though it has long been associated with the holiday. It has an easygoing pleasant vibe, with a catchy guitar line. Then “Feliz Navidad” begins with a nod to “La Bamba.” This is a sweet, cheerful rendition of “Feliz Navidad,” and partway through it returns to “La Bamba.” That’s when the guitar begins to rock. “Jingle Bell Rock” has a good beat, and is a fun and lively track. They follow that by “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer,” a choice I just can’t condone, even though the version they offer is an instrumental, combined with a slowed-down “Tequila.” “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” is one of the worst songs ever written.

But that is followed by one of the disc’s best tracks, a seriously cool surf rock rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” This is definitely one you should add to your holiday play list. Los Straitjackets add in a bit of Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” Then we get an excellent version of “Frosty The Snowman” (okay, that sentence felt bizarre to write). It opens with a great big band beat. Yeah, this version has some swing to it, making it one of the best versions out there. And then after the second drum solo, it begins to really rock. I’m not kidding. I love that guitar.

“Christmas In Las Vegas” is an original composition, written by Danny Amis, Eddie Angel, Peter Curry and James Lester. It begins with what sounds to me like a fast bit of “Brazil,” which is great. I also really like the bass line, and there is a delicious moment on the drums. The other original composition is “Christmas Weekend,” one of my favorite tracks. It opens like an early Who song or a tune from The Creation or something, and it just rocks from there. That’s followed by “Little Drummer Boy,” which was always one of my favorite Christmas songs. Growing up, I was particularly fond of Joan Jett’s rendition. This version by Los Straitjackets is excellent, and is another of my favorite tracks. Then we get a sweet rendition of “The Christmas Song,” the last of the tracks from ‘Tis The Season For Los Straitjackets.

The next ten tracks are from Yuletide Beat, beginning with a really fun version of “Deck The Halls.” That’s followed by a seriously cool rendition of “We Three Kings,” that surf guitar at the beginning coming on strong. I don’t recall ever hearing a version quite like this one. Another of the disc’s highlights is “Groovy Old Saint Nick,” a fantastic track, with a nice vibe and plenty of great stuff on guitar. That’s followed by “Silent Night Rock,” sounding like a peaceful Christmas night on a beach in Hawaii, at least at first. And what could be better? Then it suddenly kicks in to become a fast-paced rock and roll tune. I like this take on the classic holiday song. I also really like what Los Straitjackets do with “Joy To The World.” It begins like one of those great Stax tracks, and then the guitar at times has a distinct CCR sound. Yuletide Beat concludes with “Soul’d Lang Syne,” a song for New Year’s Eve, not Christmas, but one of the best tracks either way. It has a delicious groove, and I love the sax.

“Holiday Twist” is a track from the Oh Santa! compilation, and is the only track on this disc to feature vocals. That’s George Miller on vocals. It’s a goofy, fun tune. “Wrap your muffler around your throat/Put on your gloves and overcoat/And shake it to the left and to the right/And do the holiday twist tonight.” That’s followed by “Hark The Herald Angels Sing,” which was released as a single, and then its flip side, “Silver Bells.” I always thought “Silver Bells” was a pretty song, and this version retains a lot of that vibe, while adding a dash of rock and roll, particularly in the guitar. Far and away the best Christmas television special is A Charlie Brown Christmas, in large part because of Vince Guaraldi’s music. This compilation concludes with a cool rendition of “Linus And Lucy” recorded live in Boston and originally included on The Quality Holiday Revue Live.

CD Track List
  1. Here Comes Santa Claus
  2. It’s A Marshmallow World
  3. Feliz Navidad
  4. Jingle Bell Rock
  5. Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
  6. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  7. Frosty The Snowman
  8. Christmas In Las Vegas
  9. Let It Snow
  10. Sleigh Ride
  11. Christmas Weekend
  12. Little Drummer Boy
  13. The Christmas Song
  14. Deck The Halls
  15. We Three Kings
  16. Que Verdes Son
  17. O Come All Ye Faithful
  18. Groovy Old Saint Nick
  19. Silent Night Rock
  20. Joy To The World
  21. Close To Christmas (The First Noel)
  22. Jingle Bells
  23. Soul’d Lang Syne
  24. Holiday Twist
  25. Hark The Herald Angels Sing
  26. Silver Bills
  27. Linus And Lucy 
Complete Christmas Songbook was released on October 19, 2018.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Carla Campopiano Trio: “Chicago/Buenos Aires Connections” (2018) CD Review

Carla Campopiano is a flutist who was born and raised in Argentina, then lived in Chicago. Her new EP, Chicago/Buenos Aires Connections, bridges the two places, the two cultures. Joining her are Angel Colacilli on guitar and Gustavo Cortinas on drums and percussion. The music these three create is absolutely wonderful, full of joy, full of passion, full of life.

The EP opens with “Sacachispas,” a piece composed by Julio De Caro. What a total delight! It immediately transports me away from all the current insanity plaguing our country, dropping me off in a cool, romantic land where everyone dances and drinks, and the night has a warm breeze. This track features some excellent work on flute. That’s followed by “Melancólico,” which begins with some wonderful work on guitar. The flute then calls us all together, gathering us to join in a dance which it then leads. The flute is partner to us all, and what a wonderful partner. There is so much joy to the playing. “Melancólico” was written by Julián Plaza. Then, with barely a pause, the trio launches into “Don Agustín Bardi,” a piece written by Horacio Salgán. Yes, this is a realm where the music and the wine flow generously. I dig the loose, yet intricate work on percussion, which gives the music a spontaneous feel. This is a lively number.

Then “La Balada Del León” is a mellower, thoughtful piece, at least at the start. It then picks up a bit at moments, but it is in those quieter moments that the piece has an undeniable beauty, the flute offering solace and warmth. “La Balada Del León” was written by Gustavo Cortinas. That’s followed by “Zita,” this one having an unusual opening. It then builds from there. On this track, Angel Colacilli switches to bass, and Julián López plays guitar. Partway through, this track takes a breath, enters into a mellower section that is quite moving, particularly the work on flute. It then explodes into a burst of vibrant movement again, with some nice work on percussion, and is probably the most intriguing of the EP’s tracks. It was composed by Astor Piazzola, as was the EP’s final track, “Triunfal.” The flute begins this one, flute and percussion working together, creating an unusual dynamic. This track features some interesting changes too, and has a rather sudden ending.

CD Track List
  1. Sacachispas
  2. Melancólico
  3. Don Agustín Bardi
  4. La Balada Del León
  5. Zita
  6. Triunfal
Chicago/Bueno Aires Connections is scheduled to be released on CD on December 7, 2018.

Permanent Green Light: “Hallucinations” (2018) CD Review

Permanent Green Light came about after The Three O’Clock ended in the late 1980s, with that band’s singer and bass player Michael Quercio joining up with guitarist Matt Devine and drummer Chris Bruckner to create some delightful psychedelic power pop. The trio released one album, some singles, and an EP before disbanding in the mid-1990s. It was all over so quickly that a lot of us didn’t get a chance then to enjoy the band. But now, thanks to a new compilation titled Hallucinations, we are getting that opportunity. This compilation features music from Against Nature, as well as the singles and EP, and also includes some previously unreleased tracks. This compilation also contains fairly extensive liner notes, with interviews with all three band members and other musicians.

The disc opens with “(You & I Are The) Sunshine,” a song from Against Nature that was also released as a single. This song is fun pop, the perfect song for summer, or any time in the year that you want to feel like it is summer. There is of course a bit of psychedelic sound to the music, and there is a bit of a punk vibe to the vocals at times. The vocals have that youthful, innocent, joyful vibe, and the first line is “You and I have no worries.” Ah, how I miss that sense. But this song makes it all feel possible again. This compilation also includes the 4-track demo version of this song, which is one of the previously unreleased tracks. The sound is a little rougher, of course, with the cymbals seeming to bleed into the other sounds, but it’s a cool version. It fades out, and there is just a bit of banter at the end.

“We Could Just Die” is a faster-paced pop rock tune with some cool work on guitar and a bit of punk to its style. This song was the lead track from the band’s self-titled EP, and it’s a seriously good song. It was also released as a single. That’s followed by “The Goddess Bunny,” an odd song, the verses having a more serious, sad tone, and delivered at a much slower pace than the chorus. The chorus is rather playful. “Having my way with the Goddess Bunny/Twisted limbs, but that’s not funny/Especially to Bunny.” The song is about a real person, a drag queen who is disabled due to polio and who goes by the name Goddess Bunny.

“The Truth This Time” was originally released as the flip side to “We Could Just Die,” and has a great rock sound. What stands out for me is its main line, “But I don’t believe the truth this time.” That line perhaps has more significance in these dark days when the bastard pretending to be president doesn’t believe in or speak the truth, when that creepy gargoyle Rudy Giuliani actually says “Truth isn’t truth.” Then the following song, “Street Love,” has the line “If I tell the truth, it’s because I couldn’t lie.” “Street Love” was originally included on Against Nature. The demo of “Street Love” is also included, a track which was previously unreleased. Another of the disc’s previously unreleased tracks is a 4-track demo of “Lovely To Love Me.” It’s an interesting song, because it has a really sweet vibe, yet also is kind of a thumping good rock tune.

My favorite track on this compilation is “Portmanteau.” This one has a very different sound from the start, with some excellent work on guitar. Then it kicks in, sounding more like a solid rock song, yet has plenty of surprises, both in the lyrics and the music. Plus, it has the most compelling vocal performance of the disc. “Old age and syphilis will chase you down/Go where you want to go.” This is a fantastic song from beginning to end. That’s followed by “Marianne Gave Up Her Hand,” another interesting and unusual track, though with a very different vibe. This one has a mellower feel, and features some really good lyrics, such as these lines: “I know the band’s made out of gold/The weight on her finger will show after time” and “He gave her his heart, she gave him her best.” The album concludes with an odd little track titled “From A Current Issue Of Sassy Magazine,” another of the disc’s previously unreleased tracks. In high school, a girl I didn’t really know (I went to a rather large high school) came up to me, saying she wanted to nominate me for Sassiest Boy of the Year, or some such thing. I had no idea what she was talking about, and she explained that there was a new magazine titled Sassy and they were looking for the sassiest boy in America, and she thought that I was a good choice. I thought she was joking. She wasn’t. It was the first and last time I heard about this magazine (until now), and – I think – the first and last time I heard from that girl. Anyway, this track is a phone message asking the caller to press a four-digit access code from an issue of the magazine in order to hear music from Permanent Green Light’s LP.

CD Track List
  1. (You & I Are The) Summertime
  2. We Could Just Die
  3. The Goddess Bunny
  4. The Truth This Time
  5. Street Love
  6. Wintertime’s A-Comin’, Martha Raye
  7. Ballad Of Paul K.
  8. Lovely To Love Me
  9. Honestly
  10. Portmanteau
  11. Marianne Gave Up Her Hand
  12. Fireman
  13. (You & I Are The) Summertime (4-Track Demo)
  14. Street Love (4-Track Demo)
  15. All For You
  16. From A Current Issue Of Sassy Magazine
Hallucinations was released on October 19, 2018 through Omnivore Recordings.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sonar: “Live At Moods” (2018) CD Review

Sonar is an unusual, progressive band based in Switzerland, their music sounding like rock that decided to reside in the darker realms of jazz. The band is made up of Stephan Thelen on guitar, Bernhard Wagner on guitar, Christian Kuntner on bass, and Manuel Pasquinelli on drums. On their new release, a live album titled Live At Moods, the band is joined by David Torn on guitar. Torn also does some live looping, which is interesting, as Sonar seemed to pride itself on not resorting to looping during live performances. The music here is all original, most of it composed by Stephan Thelen.

The album opens with “Twofold Covering,” which feels kind of creepy, kind of intense right from the start, like it’s stalking you, and you can’t shake it, because there is something steady in the rhythm. You feel like something is going to explode at any moment; the sound is dangerous, intriguing. And in the moments when it gets quieter, it is actually more frightening, ominous. Nearing the end, the guitar has something of a psychedelic quality, a serious trip, indeed. Then in the last few minutes you just become enveloped by the sound, by the whirring advance. And this is all performed live, which you don’t sense during the track, the applause at the end coming as a surprise. “Twofold Covering” was originally included on Sonar’s Static Motion. That’s followed by “Waves & Particles,” which also begins with a something of a steady groove, then builds on it from there, creating a very different sensation, conjuring images of otherworldly dances at moments, performed by pixies or sprites. The band doesn’t go too solidly in that direction, refrains from getting immersed in that realm. And certain elements sound like some kind of military radio tuning into the proceedings, which give us a different perspective of the action of the music, where perhaps our observation is affecting it in some way, making it act in some strange unnatural fashion. “Waves & Particles” was originally included on the band’s Vortex album, an album that also featured David Torn.

Another composition from Vortex is “Red Shift,” which has a different sort of rhythm, to keep you just a bit on edge, off balance. But the guitars work to create a strange welcoming, a doorway we willingly pass through. Things scurry about at our feet, but we can’t focus too much on them, for our attention is more at eye level, and the world around us keeps changing, and we peer more intently ahead, as the music grows quieter. Then toward the end the music builds and rises from the ground to fill the atmosphere, and we breathe, move through it and with it. “Tromsø” begins quietly, then begins pulsing, approaching. And we have a decision – step out of its way, or see what it will do with us. But the pounding of the tom stops, as if waiting to see what we’ll do. Then, perceiving no action on our part, it begins again, rising then receding. At one point it seems ready to overtake us, though by then we are digging the groove, which becomes heavier, the bass at the heart of the beast.

“For Lost Sailors” feels like tuning for a moment when it starts. This track grows in intensity too, like a methodical electronic fire devouring whatever may lie in its path, forever hungry, never satisfied. And chaos results from its destructive progress. The smoke clears to reveal an emptiness, and we tentatively step out into it, effectively nullifying the void with our presence, and there are touches of hope in that. Is this electronic pulse our own pulse? “For Lost Sailors” was composed by David Torn. The CD then concludes with “Lookface!” which bursts in with a heavy rock sound, catching us off guard. There is a chaotic feel, but something rises in the middle, attempting to assert control, to tame the electronic specters. And for a moment it is successful. But it is then things turn strange, and you have to stay on your toes, and what survives, what thrives, is some combination of this force and ourselves.

CD Track List
  1. Twofold Covering
  2. Waves & Particles
  3. Red Shift
  4. Tromsø
  5. For Lost Sailors
  6. Lookface!
Live At Moods was released on November 16, 2018.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Collisionville: “Stones, Keys, Flat Ninths & Salvage” (2018) Record Review

Collisionville is a band that combines a great country rock sound with punk elements and attitudes, and writes some pretty damn good lyrics. They are based in Oakland, and have experienced a few changes in the lineup over the years. The band is currently made up of Stephen Pride, Conor Thompson and Cory Snavely. Their new release is an excellent double album titled Stones, Keys, Flat Ninths & Salvage, and it is available on vinyl. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I am ecstatic that vinyl has made a comeback. It just feels right that music like this release from Collisionville is on vinyl. Plus, it being a double album provides the opportunity for a cool layout (see photo at the end of this review). Stones, Keys, Flat Ninths & Salvage features mostly original material, and includes some guest musicians on certain tracks.

Side 1: Stones

The double album kicks off with “Walkin’ Without The Lord,” which begins with a humorous bit of salesmanship, the words of a huckster of the tenth degree: “Along the banks of a trickling creek wearing the finest boots that you can afford/The way is rocky, but you’ll have no help when you’re walkin’ without the lord.” The song then kicks in with a glorious force to become some great shit-kicking country rock, with the emphasis on rock, featuring some excellent stuff on guitar, and all with a punk attitude. This is just fucking awesome. It’s followed by “Paint By The Numbers,” which is a total delight from the moment it starts, with Stephen Pride playing banjo as well as guitar. It has sort of an old-time sound, but with lyrics you won’t find on any records from a previous age: “I’m a sexy motherfucker but I can’t stay on the mattress.” I love the part with the backing vocals echoing certain words, single syllables, creating a cool vocal rhythm, but really it’s that banjo that makes this track so wonderful. This is one of my favorites. Then “Las Vegas, New Mexico” is more of a rock song with a straight-ahead sound. What stands out for me about this track is some of the vocal work, specifically when Stephen raises his voice. Those moments really grab me. Plus I dig the bass. And no, I had no idea there was a Las Vegas in New Mexico. The album side wraps up with “Somebody’s Free,” which also has a good rock sound, like that supplied by your favorite bar band. And it has a fun beat.

Side 2: Keys

The second side opens with “Signifiers,” a slightly slower number whose interesting use of references to the Rolling Stones at the beginning pulled me in: “Learn well the lessons of the Rolling Stones/Not just Bill Wyman, but also Brian Jones.” This track has some seriously excellent lyrics, such as these lines: “I have a wish inside my darkest heart/To speak it would release it and break the lights apart” and “I'll drive until I'm lost in some horseshit gravel town/Everyone who's expecting me, I'm gonna let you down.” There is a lot going on in this song. Then in “Forgotten Time Zone Blues,” they mention a band called the Strolling Bones in the lines “I found something strange at Jerry's Record Exchange/Between the Righteous Brothers and the Strolling Bones.” The Strolling Bones are a Rolling Stones cover band, and that reference makes me think perhaps this is the side that should have been titled “Stones.” And the line “It’s all been a terrible mistake” seems to describe perfectly the 2016 presidential election and its ongoing fallout.

We then get back to that delicious old-time vibe with Charlie Patton’s “Shake It And Break It,” one of only two covers on this release. This rendition is a whole lot of fun. I love the banjo. Then the addition of trumpet partway through takes the tune to an even more delightful place. That is Indofunk Satish on trumpet. Matt Campana plays guitar on this track. “Your Sister’s Man” has a heavier rock sound at the start, with something of a darker vibe. There is both anger and bravado in the vocal delivery at times. And I dig Stephen’s work on harmonica at the end. He plays harmonica on “Nuclear Fountain Pen” too. This song also has one of the most interesting and powerful vocal performances of the album. Check out these lines: “There's a conspiracy it seems/To set a bomb off in your dreams/And send you home/To nurse your broken bones.” I love this song’s punk vibe, particularly the bass line. This is a seriously cool song, another of my favorites. “And this has all happened before/But something feels different about this war/Like there's no way back/As though the heavens have cracked.”

Side 3: Flat Ninths

The next side opens with “I’m The Only One,” a slightly twisted and totally wonderful song, like from a haunted country singer from a distant land. Check out these lyrics: “The tank's all empty but I can't sit still/Give me treatment, give me matches and a sleeping pill/Is there anybody else who wants to crawl inside a gun?/I'm the only one.”  Seriously, these guys write some fantastic songs. Plus, this tune features pedal steel.  That’s followed by “Tearjerker,” which has more nice work on banjo. Not only that, but Stephen also plays fiddle on this track. “Goddamn it all, I just don’t care/You can take me like I am, or drop me off at a station somewhere.” You might find yourself singing those lines, or maybe shouting them. This tune has an unusual country sound which I love. Matt Campana is on guitar and backing vocals. Then “Turpentine” bursts in, grabs you and tosses you around the room. This one has more than a dash of punk, in the vocal delivery and in that great drum beat. “It's time to get down/It's time to get out/Raise your voice/If you don't know what you're talking about/A voodoo potion/What the country needs.” This track features the unusual, interesting addition of theremin (that’s Shifra Pride Raffel on theremin). Yeah, things get a little crazy near the end. Then things calm down for a sweet-sounding country tune, “When It Comes,” featuring nice work on pedal steel. How many different instruments does this guy play? “Take this promise from me/With a gentle grip between your fingers and your thumbs/I'll keep loving you beyond the heavens/When it comes.” Shifra Pride Raffel and Willa Mamet join the band on vocals on this track.

Side 4: Salvage

The final side of this double album opens with “Progressive Anthem For Kid Rock To Sing.” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this one. For supporting Donald Trump, Kid Rock can lick my toilet clean, and seeing his name sets me on edge. But the title is also a nod to The Minutemen’s “Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing” (from Double Nickels On The Dime, which is also a double album), so I figured the tune would lean toward punk, which it does. This track comes on strong, the lyrics delivered with some anger, the first line being “Wake up, assholes.” The band then switches gears with “It’s Nice To Be Needed (But Not Needed Too Much),” a slower country number, a waltz, with Josh Wirtschafter joining them on fiddle. This song has probably my favorite title from this double album, although “Nuclear Fountain Pen” is also pretty awesome. Stephen adds some nice pedal steel. That’s followed by “I Gotta Laugh While I’m Cryin’ (To Keep From Just Cryin’),” a good solid rock tune. The line I love from this one is “I have no regrets that I know of yet.” We then get the double album’s other cover song, Robert Johnson’s “They’re Red Hot,” and it is another delight, with Stephen once again on banjo. This track also has Matt Campana on ukulele. It’s a fun track, and I dig the bass line. The double album then comes to a close with “We’re Called Collisionville,” a song whose title almost gets them a spot in that list of bands who have a song sharing their name. This one has a great opening line: “There’s been a lot of wrecks in my life.” They follow that with a line that made me laugh out loud “Don’t take it from me, just ask my wife.” It’s a playful look at not only the band’s name, but its history, making mention of the changes in the band’s lineup.

Record Track List

Side 1
  1. Walkin’ Without The Lord
  2. Paint By The Numbers
  3. Las Vegas, New Mexico
  4. Somebody’s Free
Side 2
  1. Signifiers
  2. Forgotten Time Zone Blues
  3. Shake It And Break It
  4. Your Sister’s Man
  5. Nuclear Fountain Pen 
Side 3
  1. I’m The Only One
  2. Tearjerker
  3. Turpentine
  4. When It Comes
Side 4
  1. Progressive Anthem For Kid Rock To Sing
  2. It’s Nice To Be Needed (But Not Needed Too Much)
  3. I Gotta Laugh While I’m Cryin’ (To Keep From Just Cryin’)
  4. They’re Red Hot
  5. We’re Called Collisionville 
Stones, Keys, Flat Ninths & Salvage was released on October 19, 2018.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 28” (2018) CD Review

The Grateful Dead took some time off at the end of 1974 to reevaluate their situation. During their break, they recorded a new album and were involved in several side projects, but did only a few concerts. Then in June of 1976, they came back in force, with Mickey Hart back in the band and without the Wall of Sound. The new live release, Dave’s Picks Volume 28, contains the complete show the Grateful Dead performed at Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey on June 17, 1976.

Disc 1

The band starts the first set with “Cold Rain And Snow,” always a fantastic choice of openers, and this version has a good energy, as well as some smooth vocals from Jerry. Yes, things are off to a good start, and you can hear how appreciative the audience is at the end of the song.  Bob then gets things moving and popping with a nice crisp version of “Big River,” a version to get you smiling and dancing. I love Keith’s work on keys. I know the other band members became unhappy with his work a few years later, but at this point he is totally on. This is a seriously good rendition, with a tight little jam. They follow that with “They Love Each Other,” which in 1976 had a somewhat different feel than it did in 1973, but with a nice slow groove. Then we get a sweet rendition of “Cassidy,” one of my favorite Dead songs. This version has such a good vibe about it. There isn’t a whole lot of jamming, but everything seems to fall into place perfectly. They follow that with a version of “Tennessee Jed” that feels a bit sluggish, but still enjoyable, with some nice touches on guitar. And then Bob leads the band into an interesting version of “Looks Like Rain.” This one has a bit more power to the drums than a lot of versions, and yet Bob and Donna’s vocals retain that gentle beauty. “I only want to hold you, I don’t want to tie you down/Or fence you in the lines I might have drawn.” There are moments when Donna’s vocals are absolutely gorgeous, and the vocal play between Donna and Bob at the end is excellent.

They follow that with a good version of “Row Jimmy,” my favorite element of it being Jerry’s guitar playing, the way he bends notes and makes each one sing at times. Then “The Music Never Stopped” gets you on your feet. The song at this point was still fairly new to folks. Sure, it was included on a studio release the previous year, but not many people had heard it performed in concert yet. And this is a delicious, bouncy rendition. That’s followed by “Scarlet Begonias.” I always enjoyed Phil’s playing on this version, and this song never fails to raise people’s spirits. This version contains a cool bit of jamming, the only real jamming in the first set. The first set then concludes with “Promised Land”

Disc 2

The second disc contains the first half of the second set, which kicks off with a great “Help On The Way.” I fucking love the way they start this version. This song, like “The Music Never Stopped,” was included on Blues For Allah, but had not been played live very many times before this show. They were still doing the “Diga” bit at this point. It leads straight into an interesting version of “Slipknot!” and on into “Franklin’s Tower.” “Franklin’s Tower” is another of those songs that get you dancing and feeling good. “If you get confused, listen to the music play!” Oh yes. That leads straight into “Dancing In The Street,” with the new disco-like arrangement that would be included on the following year’s studio release, Terrapin Station. This rendition contains a nice long, groovy jam, and it leads straight into “Samson And Delilah,” which would also be included on Terrapin Station. This is an energetic, fun version. The second disc then concludes with an absolutely wonderful rendition of “Ship Of Fools,” with Jerry delivering a great, passionate vocal performance. This is one of the best versions of this song I’ve heard.

Disc 3

The third disc contains the rest of the second set, beginning with “Lazy Lightning,” another new song, one that Bob Weir recorded with Kingfish during the Grateful Dead’s break. It leads straight into “Supplication.” That’s followed by a sweet and slow “Friend Of The Devil” that is gentle at times. Keith delivers some really nice work on keys in the second half of the song, and Jerry’s guitar lifts us all up. Bob follows that with “Let It Grow,” which has a dance rhythm at the start, which is interesting and a little odd. But the jam in this version gets pretty good, and it leads to a relatively short but playful drum solo. And then suddenly we’re back in “Let It Grow,” but it isn’t long before the band eases into an excellent and moving version of “Wharf Rat.” Then, as with the first set, they conclude the second set with a Chuck Berry tune. This time it’s “Around And Around,” which starts off slowly, then toward the end picks up in pace.

There is no encore, but there is some filler included on the third disc. I have mixed feelings about filler. On the one hand, I’m happy for every bit of Grateful Dead music I can get my hands on. On the other hand, I get nervous that its inclusion means that there are no plans to ever release the complete shows the filler comes from. And the filler on this disc comes from two different shows, both from this same tour. First we get a really nice “Sugaree” from June 23rd in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. Then we get a beautiful “High Time” from June 28th in Chicago. The vocals are just completely wonderful, and everything sounds exactly right. This filler is one of the highlight of the entire three-disc set.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Cold Rain And Snow
  2. Big River
  3. They Love Each Other
  4. Cassidy
  5. Tennessee Jed
  6. Looks Like Rain
  7. Row Jimmy
  8. The Music Never Stopped
  9. Scarlet Begonias
  10. Promised Land
Disc 2
  1. Help On The Way >
  2. Slipknot! >
  3. Franklin’s Tower >
  4. Dancing In The Street >
  5. Samson And Delilah
  6. Ship Of Fools
Disc 3
  1. Lazy Lightning >
  2. Supplication
  3. Friend Of The Devil
  4. Let It Grow >
  5. Drums >
  6. Let It Grow >
  7. Wharf Rat >
  8. Around And Around
  9. Sugaree
  10. High Time
Dave’s Picks Volume 28 was released in October, 2018. I received my copy on October 26, 2018.

Darryl Way: “Vivaldi’s Four Seasons In Rock” (2018) CD Review

There have been several excellent rock interpretations of famous classical pieces, from Electric Light Orchestra’s version of “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” to Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth Of Beethoven,” from Jethro Tull’s rendition of Bach’s “Bouree” to Phish’s take on “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” from Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s version of “Fanfare For The Common Man” to, well, several other tracks by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Back in 1970, Curved Air included a track titled “Vivaldi” on the Airconditioning album. It was written by founding member and violinist Darryl Way. Now Darryl Way has released an album of Antonio Vivaldi’s most famous work, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons In Rock. As you might guess from the title, this album includes “The Four Seasons”: “Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269, ‘Spring’ (La primavera),” “Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 8, RV 315, ‘Summer’ (L’estate),” “Concerto No. 3 in F major, Op. 8, RV 293, ‘Autumn’ (L’autunno)” and “Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297, ‘Winter’ (L’inverno).” Darryl Way doesn’t really change the music; that is to say, for the most part he doesn’t change the notes, just the way the notes are approached. Also, these pieces are still played on violin rather than, say, electric guitar, so fans of Vivaldi’s work should certainly appreciate this release. And the music, for those who are somehow unfamiliar with it, is extraordinary.


There are three tracks for each of the seasons, beginning with spring. “Allegro (in E Major)” sounds mostly as you know it, but with a pop beat through parts of it. It’s certainly not hard rock or anything. Rather, it is uplifting and pretty, a wonderful take on this famous and gorgeous piece of music. Then “Largo e pianissimo sempre” has more of an electronic feel, but retains the piece’s beauty and emotional weight. It is clear that this music resonates strongly with Darryl Way. “Allegro pastorale” has a bright sound right from the start. There are some minor fluctuations in volume that do not feel natural, but rather like a glitch, but these do not detract much from the enjoyment of this music.


“Allegro non molto (in G minor),” the first section of “Concert No. 2 in G minor,” is truly pretty and moving. It then suddenly takes a turn, becoming exciting and fun. Yet this version allows for those pauses, those quieter moments, before exploding again in sound. Sounds like an intense summer, full of wild emotion and even danger. Then in “Adagio e piano – presto e forte,” the beat feels more pronounced, under the sad sound of the strings, and the contrast in those two sounds is intriguing. “Presto (in G minor)” comes on strong, with a progressive rock feel, the violin fiery and serious.


“Allegro non molto (in F major)” has such a cheerful vibe, feeling to me like some glorious regal celebration where all people of the realm are invited, regardless of class. This is a piece of joy, of dance, of love, of light. It moves through some changes toward the end, including a brief somber section. Then “Adagio molto (in D Minor) has an electronic feel from the start, more so than the others, though the strings rise above that landscape somewhat. There is something sad about the sound, at least to my ears, just a touch of melancholy. Then “Allegro (in F major)” has a brighter feel from the start, though still some of that electronic feel. There is something of a dance about this track too, but with a slightly more serious air. It’s like the need to celebrate is felt by the people more intently, more urgently.


“Allegro non molto (in F minor)” has an intensity from the moment in begins, more prominent than in other versions I’ve heard. It feels like someone’s life is at stake. Yet there is also some beautiful work on violin. Then “Largo” has a mellower, gentler vibe, and is quite pretty. “Allegro (in F minor)” feels like it delivers some kind of warning as it begins. Things have become more serious again. But then it’s like we’re able to turn that to something delightful. This track has an exciting ending.

CD Track List
  1. Allegro (in E major)
  2. Largo e pianissimo sempre (in C# minor)
  3. Allegro pastorale (in E major)
  4. Allegro non molto (in G minor)
  5. Adagio e piano – Presto e forte (in G minor)
  6. Presto (in G minor)
  7. Allegro (in F minor)
  8. Adagio molto (in D minor)
  9. Allegro (in F major)
  10. Allegro non molto (in F minor)
  11. Largo (in Eb major)
  12. Allegro (in F minor)
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons In Rock was released on May 4, 2018 on Right Honourable Records.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

500 Miles To Memphis: “Blessed Be The Damned” (2019) CD Review

Things continue to be weird and ugly out there, with the racist egomaniac in the White House sinking deeper into the heavy waters of fascism, and pulling the country down with him. It leads many of us to drink frequently, and to follow those drinks with other drinks. But sometimes it is better to just cut loose, to rock out to some damn good music. Blessed Be The Damned, the new album from 500 Miles To Memphis, should do the trick. This disc certainly rocks, and it also has a great deal of country in its soul, helping to keep things grounded in a familiar and attractive reality. This band has been around for like fifteen years, and is made up of Ryan Malott on vocals, guitar, banjo and mandolin; Noah Sugarman on bass, vocals, guitar and pipe organ; Kevin Hogle on drums, percussion and vocals; David Rhodes Brown on lap steel, guitar and vocals; and Aaron Whalen on guitar and vocals. Yeah, that’s a lot of guitar, and it keeps everything driving forward. Blessed Be The Damned contains all original material, written by the band, and features a few guest musicians.

The album gets off to a great start with “The River,” which begins with the vocals delivered to just a bit of accompaniment on percussion, the vocals almost like those from some glorious choir celebrating the day. “Follow me down the mountain/We can sing the blues/The thought of losing you made me shiver/Then you came back and washed me in the river.” Then, when it kicks in, it has something of uplifting rock sound that moves at just the right pace to drive away your sorrows. The song then ends where it began. That’s followed by “Bonnie,” which has a sound akin to Irish folk-punk, which I fucking love, but also a strong country bar sound. Basically, it’s a whole lot of wild fun, to get you dancing and stomping your feet.

“Hold On Tight” is one of my favorite tracks. It’s a totally delicious and energetic rock tune with something of a punk rhythm. “You were crazy/I was crazy too.” You’ll want to crank this one up, maybe invite some friends round to bounce off the walls and drink your beer. It ends like some high school band in a garage, even with a bit of banter. Then “I Said Babe” is a fun song that makes me feel like I should be in a rock club with a bunch of folks in their twenties. It has that kind of energy, that kind of invulnerable attitude. I’m going to need to see this band in concert soon. “I Said Babe” is followed by “Blessed Be The Damned,” the album’s title track, a song with a good, raw power. It’s like a country band suddenly developed demonic strength and appeal, and began preaching the Word of the Weird from the bar stage. Damned good country punk.

“No Doubt About It” is another one to rock out to, and I love the vocal line, which has an enjoyable and bouncy rhythm during the verses. And you might find yourself singing along to the chorus, particularly the line “I’ll get there one day.” The band then gets into a country hoedown-type song, “Piggie Boy,” which is a whole lot of fun. Spin your gal round, turn her upside down, and then it’s suddenly over. The song is less than a minute long, but is a total delight. The next song, “In My Chest,” comes on strong to keep you moving. Toward the end, it becomes a wild bluegrass number for a bit. Actually, the whole thing is a rock and roll bluegrass mash that comes barreling toward us with a fiery energy. Like I mentioned, it seems like this band would be great to see in concert, though I fear my ears might be ringing at the end. “Save Me” seems another tune that would get the crowd bouncing and rocking. “Do you really want to save me/From the past mistakes that I have made/And it’s too late/My fault.” Then “What A Waste” rushes in, grabs you, shakes you about. The disc concludes with “I’m A Bastard,” which begins in a mellower place. And, while it does kick in, it doesn’t pick up in pace, and it then relaxes again. It’s almost a folk song, but one with a serious amount of power. “And I won’t forget/And you won’t forgive/And I’m not expecting you to.”

CD Track List
  1. The River
  2. Bonnie
  3. Hold On Tight
  4. I Said Babe
  5. Blessed Be The Damned
  6. No Doubt About It
  7. Piggie Boy
  8. In My Chest
  9. Save Me
  10. What A Waste
  11. I’m A Bastard 
Blessed Be The Damned is scheduled to be released on January 25, 2019.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Keith Emerson: “Emerson Plays Emerson” (2002/2017) CD Review

Keith Emerson was one of the many talented musicians we lost in that most foul of years, 2016. In the year following his death, Emerson Plays Emerson, which had been out of print, was re-released. This album features instrumental tracks, many of them solo piano pieces. You certainly do not need to be a fan of Emerson, Lake & Palmer to appreciate this album. The music here has its own appeal, mixing classical, jazz and rock influences. This album, which features mostly original material but also some covers, is for anyone who appreciates good piano music, music that is both powerful and timeless, and a lot of fun. The CD’s liner notes are in three languages (English, German and Italian).

The album opens with “Vagrant,” a beautiful piano piece that is moving, thoughtful, and at times comforting. It has a warm quality that I love. That’s followed by “Creole Dance,” one of the album’s covers. It was composed by Alberto Ginastera. It comes on strong, rushing in, shaking us by the neck, an exciting piece that takes some interesting turns. This track really demonstrates Keith Emerson’s talent. This guy could play. Then “Solitudinous” is a gentler piece, beautiful and sad, with a nostalgic quality, like it is looking back at a time that perhaps contained its own set of troubles as well as beauty. This is one of my personal favorite tracks.

“A Cajun Alley” has a fun sound, starting off like parlor music played by a slightly demonic, hopped-up Gershwin. Then it starts rolling, getting into a boogie woogie rock and roll style, and maintaining a lively feel throughout. “A Blade Of Grass” has a gentle quality, and “Outgoing Tide” is a gorgeous piece with classical sounds and a surprisingly playful ending. Then “Summertime” comes on like a cool, sly cat, strutting about the place. This is a wonderful take on the popular Gershwin number. I’ve said it before, but you can never go wrong with Gershwin, and this is another of my favorite tracks. This one has drums and bass, and is delicious and fun. “Roll’n Jelly” is short, but wonderful, being a nod to Jelly Roll Morton.

“B&W Blues” is a cool tune, mixing blues and jazz, and is one of the tracks to feature other musicians. Rob Statham is on bass, and Frank Scully is on drums. This tune is a delight, with some great stuff on keys, a groovy bass solo and an unusual drum solo that I really dig. “The Dreamer” is another moving piece, this one written for the 1984 film Best Revenge. “Barrelhouse Shakedown” is a fun tune, that boogie woogie keeping things moving, with a bit of ragtime as well. This tune was originally released as the flip side to Keith Emerson’s 1976 single “Honky Tonk Train Blues,” and was also included on the 1977 Emerson, Lake & Palmer album Works Volume 2 (on both of those releases, it was written as “Barrelhouse Shake-down”).

“Soulscapes” is pretty, friendly tune, like a gentle, loving hand on your shoulder. Ah yes, we will make it through, with a bit of guidance, a bit of companionship. That’s followed by a live version of “Close To Home,” a song included on the 1992 Emerson, Lake & Palmer album Blood Moon. This version is from a concert in London in 1992. That’s followed by another live track, “Honky Tonk Train Blues,” this one from a BBC television series, and it includes a brief introduction. This is great, joyous, old-time boogie fun, with a full band, including horns. Fantastic stuff! The disc then concludes with a medley of songs recorded when Keith Emerson was in his teens. This is a delight, sounding at first like the soundtrack to a silent film. This isn’t the only music released from Keith Emerson’s teen years. A few years ago, the self-titled album from The Keith Emerson Trio was released.

CD Track List
  1. Vagrant
  2. Creole Dance
  3. Solitudinous
  4. Broken Bough
  5. A Cajun Alley
  6. Prelude To Candice
  7. A Blade Of Grass
  8. Outgoing Tide
  9. Summertime
  10. Interlude
  11. Roll’n Jelly
  12. B&W Blues
  13. For Kevin
  14. The Dreamer
  15. Hammer It Out
  16. Ballad For A Common Man
  17. Barrelhouse Shakedown
  18. Nilu’s Dream
  19. Soulscapes
  20. Close To Home
  21. Honky Tonk Train Bues
  22. Medley (Nicola, Silver Shoes & I’ll See You In My Dreams)
This special re-issue of Emerson Plays Emerson was released on September 29, 2017.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band: “West Side Story Reimagined” (2018) CD Review

My interest in West Side Story sprung solely from my interest in Shakespeare. In 2010, I began a rather serious study of Shakespeare’s work, and that included watching as many film adaptations as possible, which of course included the 1961 film version of West Side Story. I have to say that I was not all that impressed by the film (it is a mediocre telling of Romeo And Juliet, better than some – such as that horrid 2013 film – and not as good as others). But I did enjoy a lot of the music. So I was certainly curious about the recent release from Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band, West Side Story Reimagined. Unlike the film, this album really does impress me. This Latin jazz version of the music is excellent, and seriously refreshing, with tremendous energy. I liked the music of West Side Story before; now I love it. This is a two-disc album, recorded live in New York on November 19, 2017. This project was conceived by drummer and musical director Bobby Sanabria, but several different people provided the arrangements for various individual songs. You’ll notice that the numbers are presented in a slightly different order from both the play and the film, and that not all of the songs are included here. One other important thing: some of the proceeds from the sale of this album are being donated to the Jazz Foundation of America’s Puerto Rico Relief Fund.

The first disc opens with a brief introduction, welcoming the band. Then “Prologue” begins with some whistling and snapping, as in the original. But then other percussion comes in, and it becomes an exciting jazz piece, particularly in the second half, which features some fantastic playing. This track is dramatic, thrilling, with each instrument providing a strong voice. There is a spoken intro to “Jet Song,” with the song’s famous opening lines, “When you’re a jet, you’re a jet all the way/From your first cigarette to your last dying day.” Then the song begins with percussion, and is already much better than the original version. Oh man, this version is pumping with life and energy. Throughout the track, the percussion is what drives the music, the percussion is at its heart. I also dig the way the vocals are presented. I should mention that the entire orchestra shouts out lyrics here, rather than having professional vocalists, and that gives it the feel of a band playing out on the streets, which of course is perfect for the material. It’s like the musicians are the gangs of the play’s story. You can hear the back-and-forth in the way different instruments are used, the way different instruments take prominence at various points. This is one of my favorite tracks.

The introduction to “America” is sadly pertinent, when racism is running rampant, when a white supremacist is occupying the White House: “Everything’s all right in America, if you are all white in America” (the line a slight variation of a line from the song). “America” features some excellent work on bass, as well as on piano. Partway through, it seems the track has come to an end, and the audience applauds. But then some percussion leads into a new section, like snake charmers commanding the crowd’s attention. There is more great percussion in “Gee, Officer Krupke.” The first time I listened to this disc, I thought I was crazy, for the music at times reminded me of the theme from Family Guy. But at the end Bobby Sanabria says “Because he’s a family guy.” So hurrah, I’m not crazy! Things turn romantic with “Tonight.” Well, at least for a while. The song goes through more changes from there. “Dance At The Gym” is here presented as two separate pieces – “Gym Scene – Blues/Mambo” and “Gym Scene – Cha Cha Cha.” The first is arranged by saxophonist Danny Rivera, the second by Nate Sparks.

The second disc opens with “Maria,” which begins with a cool section of vocals and percussion, that feels a bit like a celebration. Then the horns come in, providing what would be the song’s vocal line. Halfway through, there is another section with just percussion, a tribal feel, then with some great little touches on horns. Hand claps rise from this, and the percussion grows in volume, and at the same time the pace picks up. I love this track in large part because of that section, but also because of those wonderful bright bursts of horns. There is a very short introduction to “Cool.” This rendition immediately sounds like its title, and it develops a bright, rather happy sound, particularly in the horns, at moments with a big band swing vibe, never getting too far from that sense of cool, and is a whole lot of fun. Then with “The Rumble/Rumba,” things get exciting and wild and intense. The track does settle down slightly for a moment, with that great rhythm fading a bit into the background, but of course it changes again, that rhythm not being able to hold back for long. And listen to those horns! This one too has a section that is just percussion, which I love. This is certainly one of the highlights for me.

We get into somewhat cheesy territory with “One Hand, One Heart,” the duet that is the marriage ceremony for Maria and Tony. But even this one has moments that are exciting, particularly toward the end with the flute. That’s followed by “Somewhere,” this version having a lot of energy and action. But the part I really love is when the electric violin comes in. There is a spoken introduction to the finale: “In these troubled times that we live in, where we disrespect each other at the drop of a hat, when family members don’t talk to each other for years and years, where even in the closest of marriages the most banal and trivial things explode into anger, and when our government doesn’t even respect its citizens on an island that it calls a territory of the United States, Maestro Bernstein, he certainly had the answer. In this world of violence, hate and ignorance, what will do? We will make even more beautiful music, more beautiful theatre, more beautiful poetry, more beautiful art and more beautiful dance.” Ah, a nice, positive message for these dark days. After “Epilogue/Finale,” the CD concludes with band introductions as the audience applauds.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Intro
  2. Prologue
  3. Intro Jet Song
  4. Jet Song
  5. Intro America
  6. America
  7. Gee, Officer Krupke Intro
  8. Gee, Officer Krupke
  9. Tonight
  10. Gym Scene – Blues/Mambo
  11. Gym Scene – Cha Cha Cha
Disc 2
  1. Maria
  2. Intro Cool
  3. Cool
  4. The Rumble/Rumba
  5. One Hand, One Heart
  6. Somewhere
  7. Intro Epilogue/Finale
  8. Epilogue/Finale
  9. Outro
West Side Story Reimagined was released on July 20, 2018.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Hot Buttered Rum: “Lonesome Panoramic” (2018) CD Review

There was some good news coming out of the midterm elections, but things are still frightening, with more mass shootings and with a president who is totally unhinged and happily immersing himself in fascism, his followers having become more rabid and demented, permanently detached from the reality I thought we had all agreed upon years ago. But then events and politics tend to make us all feel untethered and powerless, and we desperately need to feel part of a community again, part of something good. Bluegrass music helps bring us back to Earth. It has that power, that vibe. It seems to urge us to come together, to remind us of some goodness that might otherwise seem dormant or dead. We need this music now. And Hot Buttered Rum’s recent release, Lonesome Panoramic, helps us keep in mind that life is bigger than the horrid, temporary mess we find ourselves in. This isn’t strictly bluegrass (hardly strictly bluegrass, right?), the musicians moving easily through several musical worlds, combining sounds as they see fit, and it all works so well. The band has been together for more than fifteen years now, and their longevity shows in the delicious jams and flow of the music on this release. The album features all original material, with some special guests joining the band on certain tracks.

The album opens with “You Can Tell,” and straight off, this is just what I need, some real music played with joy. There is a short instrumental introduction, and it makes me think of some wonderful times I’ve spent in Irish pubs with good people, dancing and drinking. This is a delightful, cheerful love song written by Erik Yates. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Yeah, you can tell/Just by looking at me/The way I’m looking at you/Girl, it ain’t hard to see/That my heart’s beating double/And I never could hide it all that well/Baby, you can tell.” Then, in “Sittin’ Here Alone,” they sing “I’m sittin’ here alone/I’m sittin’ here wondering/Just when I’ll know what’s coming my way/Will I find peace here before me/Will I find peace my dying day.” Those are lyrics I think a lot of folks can relate to these days. This track features some really nice work on fiddle, which is helping to raise my spirits. “Sittin’ Here Alone” was written by guitarist Nat Keefe.

On “Country Tunes & Love Songs,” the vocals have something of that smooth 1970s sound, a comforting sound. “I’ve been dreaming/Country tunes and love songs/Wish that I could sing them all to you/When I try to write ‘em down/Never can remember/I rack my brain and see if I can/Come up with something new.” This one was composed by Nat Keefe, Kellen Coffis and Jamie Coffis. Kellen and Jamie also provide some vocals on this track. That’s followed by “How Short The Song,” a mellower song with a beautifully sad folk sound. This is one of my personal favorites, with its gorgeous and haunting feel. “Help is what you needed/Help is what you got/Hell is a distance/Between what’s here and what’s not/Another night, another dawn/How short the song.” The line that stands out in “Treasure Island Blues” is “You don’t know what lonesome is ‘til your lonesome goes away.” An interesting line. The vocals are delivered with spirit, with energy. This track also has a nice groove, with some wonderful work on bass. Then “Never Got Married” bursts in with a delightful force, and is one of those fast-paced bluegrass tunes that never fail to raise my spirits. Yes, it is another of my favorites.

The Rainbow Girls (Erin Chapin, Caitlin Gowdey and Vanessa May) join the band on vocals for the beautiful and compelling “The Spirits Still Come,” another of the disc’s highlights. Listen to the way the fiddle is used in this song, at one point sounding like some haunted voice from the heavens, raining down from some eerie, violent cloud. That’s followed by “Sleeping Giants.” I’m digging that bass line, and the way the banjo kind of dances above it. This song borrows a line from Emmylou Harris’ “Deeper Well”: “You’ve got to look for the water from a deeper well.” Then “Leaving Dallas” has some bright sounds, and I can understand the excitement in the line “Finally leaving Dallas.” Dallas is a place I have no interest in visiting whatsoever. That’s followed by “When That Lonesome Feeling Comes,” which has a wonderful combination of gospel and bluegrass vibes. You might very well find yourself singing along to this one. And it has a joyful jam toward the end. I love this song. Then “Mighty Fine” has a cheerful vibe and a fun groove. It takes a turn halfway through to become an interesting jam. There is some fantastic playing here. “The One That Everybody Knows” is a somewhat mellower number with its own nice jam featuring some good stuff on banjo. The disc then ends with “The Deep End,” a warm and wonderful folk song that develops a catchy groove and is yet another of the disc’s highlights. “Well, I was thinking of the deep end/And thinking I’d be working hard like a tug boat/But as soon as I got into the water/All I really had to do was float.” This one was written by Nat Keefe, Erik Yates, Dan Lebowitz and Zach Gill. Dan Lebowitz plays electric guitar and Zach Gill is on keys; both also provide some vocals.

CD Track List
  1. You Can Tell
  2. Sittin’ Here Alone
  3. Country Tunes & Love Songs
  4. How Short The Song
  5. Treasure Island Blues
  6. Never Got Married
  7. The Spirits Still Come
  8. Sleeping Giants
  9. Leaving Dallas
  10. When That Lonesome Feeling Comes
  11. Mighty Fine
  12. The One That Everybody Knows
  13. The Deep End 
Lonesome Panoramic was released on July 20, 2018.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Love Canon: “Cover Story: A Journey Through Music’s Greatest Decade” (2018) CD Review

My friends and I grew up in the 1980s. Some of those friends maintain to this day that it was the best decade – for films, for music, for fun. I disagree about the films. The 1970s are far and away the best decade for movies, no question. As for music, there was a lot of great stuff in the 1980s, and a lot of shit. Love Canon has picked some of the better music from the decade for the new album, Cover Story: A Journey Through Music’s Greatest Decade. Though, the decade in question isn’t exactly the 1980s (more on that in a bit). Love Canon is made up of Jesse Harper on guitar and vocals, Adam Larrabee on banjo and vocals, Darrell Muller on bass and vocals, Andy Thacker on mandolin and vocals, and Jay Starling on resonator guitar and vocals. And, yes, the first time I glanced at the CD, I misread the band’s name as Love Cannon, like some enormous erection euphemism. But it’s Love Canon, like the principles of love, or like the sum of someone’s work in the field of romance and kindness, which is much better. Several special guests (including Mark Erelli and Jerry Douglas) join the band on various tracks.

I got into Billy Joel in my childhood, and bought every one of his albums (on cassette). I always dug the instrumental that Love Canon chooses to open the album, “Prelude (Angry Young Man).” It has quite a different feel with these acoustic instruments, but works surprisingly well. This tune came out in 1976, so it seems the decade in question is 1976-1986 (not 1980-1989), which makes sense, as I’ve long maintained that pop music went wrong in 1986. (As a side note, I stopped buying Billy Joel albums when he put out that awful song “We Didn’t Start The Fire.”) Anyway, “Prelude” is an excellent choice to begin this album, and this version is fun. The 1980s saw the release of a lot of fun music, still the best stuff to dance to at clubs. One artist who put out several great songs in that decade is Howard Jones. I saw him in concert (long after the 1980s), and danced my ass off. Love Canon certainly taps into that sense of fun with a wonderful rendition of “Things Can Only Get Better,” while also exploring the song’s serious side, perhaps the bluegrass instruments helping to highlight the song’s positive and comforting message. And I completely love that jam toward the end. This song features Alex Hargreaves on fiddle, and Sam Wilson on backing vocals. “Things Can Only Get Better” is from 1985, as is the song that follows it, Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie” (here titled “Kyrie Eleison”). I was never a big Mr. Mister fan, but I like this version of the song, in part because of two special guests – Jerry Douglas on dobro, and Mike Barnett on fiddle. This version has something of 1970s easygoing vibe.

I saw Paul Simon open for Nelson Mandela in Boston (yeah, an interesting bill that also included Livingston Taylor and Michelle Shocked). It was in 1990, four years after the release of Graceland, but still in that period when Paul Simon was using a lot of strong rhythms. Anyway, “Graceland” is a wonderful song, and Love Canon does an excellent job with it, the vocals having a similar sound to Paul’s original. Aoife O’Donovan joins the band on vocals, and Michael Cleveland provides some excellent stuff on fiddle. The band jams on it at the end, which is great. That’s followed by “Islands In The Stream.” It wasn’t all that cool when I was growing up to like either Kenny Rogers or Dolly Parton, but I loved them both, and totally enjoyed “Islands In The Stream,” no matter how cheesy it might have been. The song was written by The Bee Gees, which would have made it even less cool in the eyes of my peers had they known. Love Canon embraces the cheesy aspect of it, sure, but also stresses the joy and cheer of it. Lauren Balthrop joins them on vocals, and does an excellent job. Plus, there is a horn section. So there.

Okay, this decade that they’re speaking of seems to be longer than most, because they also do Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence,” which was released in 1990. This is an interesting choice, and it features more good work by Alex Hargreaves on fiddle. Colin Killalea joins the group on guitar and backing vocals. Then Mark Erelli joins them on lead vocals on “Solsbury Hill,” which was released in 1977 and is probably still my favorite Peter Gabriel song. Something about it still manages to bring tears to my eyes sometimes, but also makes me feel good. Love Canon presents it here as part of a medley with an original song, “Icecaps Of Pentatonia” (stretching the decade even more), an instrumental number. Then getting back to the 1980s, Love Canon delivers a cool rendition of Squeeze’s “Tempted,” featuring Erik Krasno on vocals and electric guitar, Daniel Clarke on piano, and Alex Hargreaves on fiddle. The disc concludes with an excellent version of REM’s “Driver 8,” which features Keller Williams on lead vocals. I remember this song getting a lot of airplay when it came out, that it was the song that turned a lot of folks onto REM (those who somehow missed “Radio Free Europe” a couple of years earlier). It was a song that seemed to herald a change in music. I love what Love Canon does with it, particularly that opening section. Mike Barnett plays fiddle on this track.

CD Track List
  1. Prelude (Angry Young Man)
  2. Things Can Only Get Better
  3. Kyrie Eleison
  4. Graceland
  5. Islands In The Stream
  6. Enjoy The Silence
  7. Solsbury Hill/Icecaps Of Pentatonia
  8. Tempted
  9. Driver 8 
Cover Story: A Journey Through Music’s Greatest Decade was released on July 13, 2018.

Dreaming Of Dylan: 115 Dreams About Bob (2018) Book Review

Once I started getting into Bob Dylan on my own (meaning when I branched out from my parents’ copy of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan), one song that stood out for me was “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream,” from the Bringing It All Back Home album. Up to that point, I hadn’t heard anything quite like it (I was probably 14 at the time). The song’s tale feels like a dream, the way it contains its own strange logic and order of events. The title of the new book from author and singer Mary Lee Kortes clearly makes reference to it. Dreaming Of Dylan: 115 Dreams About Bob is a collection of dreams that various people have had about Bob Dylan. It’s an unusual and cool idea for a book. While I’ve had plenty of Grateful Dead dreams over the years, I don’t think Dylan has ever been present. But he has been for many people. The idea for the book came from Mary Lee Kortes’ own recurring dream about having dinner with the famous songwriter. That is not her only connection to Dylan, of course. She released a live album in which she covered the entire Blood On The Tracks album (which, as I’ve mentioned before, is still my favorite Dylan record).

While a couple of the book’s contributions are from people you are likely aware of (Patti Smith and Jimbo Mathus), most of them are from folks you’ve probably never heard of, people from various parts of the world, and of different professions. Several dreams, as you might guess, involve the dreamer playing music with Dylan. But Dylan isn’t always a musician in these dreams. In some, he is a photographer, a police officer, and even president of the United States. Oh, if only he were the president right now. Speaking of that, some of these dreams must be recent, for at least two of them mention the current bastard occupying the White House. Some of the dreams had me laughing. A contributor from New York writes: “We were somewhere in California, perhaps a coffee shop around Malibu. In the dream we spoke briefly, and he acknowledged my presence as not being too bothersome.” Wonderful! And of course, that strange way that dreams progress is part of many of these tales, with a person in Michigan writing, “Dylan walked up behind me, and I took my shoe off, bent my leg so that the bottom of my foot was facing him, and my foot started singing to him, ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.’” Or this, from an anonymous source: “I look back at Dylan. He’s taking a guitar out of the freezer, and I think, ‘Oh, that’s who that belongs to.’” The book also contains lots of photos and illustrations related to the dreams described in these passages.

I wonder what Bob Dylan will make of this book. It must be a strange sensation, knowing you’re the subject of strangers’ dreams. By the way, the dreams are numbered, but aren’t presented in numerical order. I’m not sure the point of that. What do the numbers then signify? The order in which Mary Lee Kortes received the contributions? Nothing? Is that sort of the point – that, like dreams, the numbers have absolutely no logical significance whatsoever?

Dreaming Of Dylan: 115 Dreams About Bob is scheduled to be released in a hardcover edition on November 13, 2018 through BMG Books.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Mitch Ryder: “Christmas (Take A Ride)” (2018) CD Review

Last year I saw Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels at the Simi Valley Cajun And Blues Music Festival, and they were excellent. Their set was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend. And I thought, Mitch Ryder still totally has it, he should put out a new album. And now he has. I didn’t expect it to be a holiday record, but I wasn’t specific in my wish, I guess. And everyone, it seems, has to put out a holiday album at some point. The Monkees just released one. And now we have Mitch Ryder’s Christmas (Take A Ride), the title obviously a play on one of his most famous singles, “Jenny Take A Ride.” And it’s enjoyable. Mitch Ryder gives the songs a classic rock and roll feel, which I love. And he makes some good selections as far as the material goes.

Mitch Ryder kicks off the album with a good version of “What Christmas Means To Me,” a song written by George Gordy, Anne Gordy Gaye and Allen Story. It’s been recorded by a lot of artists over the years, perhaps the most famous version being that by Stevie Wonder. That’s followed by “Blue Christmas,” one of my favorites. This is a Christmas song that I’ve always liked, and Mitch delivers a nice rendition, with a bit of a country sound in his vocals at moments. We then get a good rock and roll rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” with something of a classic sound. Of course, the version we measure all other rock versions by is Bruce Springsteen’s. This one has a different vibe, not as raw or immediate, but with a fun groove and full sound. That’s followed by another song that Stevie Wonder has recorded, “Someday At Christmas” (this was used as the title track for Wonder’s own holiday album). I really like this song, and Mitch Ryder gives a heartfelt vocal performance. It has a hopeful and sweet sound, perfect for the holiday (and for any day, really). Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Someday at Christmas we'll see a land/With no hungry children, no empty hand/One happy morning people will share/Our world where people care.” I don’t think it will be this year, but maybe one year soon. And the song’s lyrics address this: “Someday all our dreams will come to be/Someday in a world where men are free/Maybe not in time for you and me/But someday at Christmas time.” I love that those lines are both sad and hopeful.

Mitch Ryder also gives us a fun rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock.” Even as a child, I was not a big fan of Christmas music; this song, however, was an exception. I remember enjoying that Bobby Helms recording, and wishing that “Jingle Bell Rock” would just completely replace “Jingle Bells.” That’s followed by one of the best song selections of the album, a cover of The Sonics’ “Santa Claus.” This one comes on strong with a great heavy 1960s rock sound. It’s a song in which Santa Claus is directly addressed, and asked for things. There are several songs that do that, including “Santa Baby” and even The Kinks’ “Father Christmas.” The surprise here is Santa’s response, when asked what he’s going to put under the tree: “And he just said, ‘Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.’” Awesome! And Mitch Ryder is definitely into it; plus, I dig that guitar work. This is probably my favorite track.  Santa Claus, I’ve been waiting so long/Now don’t you, don’t you, don’t you do me wrong.”

I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll say it again: I really hate the song “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” I consider it one of the worst songs ever written. A while back I posted an analysis of the song, so I won’t get into the reasons again. What I’ll say is that Mitch Ryder’s rendition here has a 1950s rock and roll atmosphere and sound. That’s followed by “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” another song with a sweetness to it that I really like, and a passionate vocal performance from Mitch Ryder. It was written by Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry and Phil Spector, and originally recorded by Darlene Love. We then get a version of “Sleigh Ride” that takes basically the same approach as the version by The Ronettes, with that same opening.

“Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” is a playful choice, to be sure, as it is a novelty song, and it’s a more recent composition than the album’s other tracks. Mitch Ryder gives it a classic sound, though the song was originally released in the late 1970s. That’s followed by a somewhat goofy and fun rendition of “Let It Snow” (often titled “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”). I don’t think I’ve ever heard a version quite like this one, and it is definitely worth checking out. The album then ends with “Put A Little Love In Your Heart,” a song that is clearly not a holiday song, but one that taps into that sense of compassion that is associated with Christmas. And it’s a good version, working to raise my spirits. This is a song we need right now, and is another of my favorite tracks.

CD Track List
  1. What Christmas Means To Me
  2. Blue Christmas
  3. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
  4. Someday At Christmas
  5. Jingle Bell Rock
  6. Santa Claus
  7. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
  8. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
  9. Sleigh Ride
  10. Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer
  11. Let It Snow
  12. Put A Little Love In Your Heart
Christmas (Take A Ride) was released on October 26, 2018 on Goldenlane Records, a division of Cleopatra Records. And guess what? Word is Mitch Ryder is recording another album, a non-holiday album with some special guests, and it should be out in the spring or summer. I am excited by this news.