Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Kinky Friedman: “Circus Of Life” (2018) CD Review

Last year Kinky Friedman released Circus Of Life, a seriously strong album from start to finish. Every track on this disc is worth hearing. Joining him on this release are Joe Cirotti on guitar, mandolin, steel guitar, bass and fiddle; “Little Jewford” Shelby on piano; Augie Meyers on accordion; Mickey Raphael on harmonica; Clay Meyers on percussion; and Jim Beal on bass.

The album opens with “A Dog Named Freedom,” a moving, kind of sweet folk song that mentions both Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson. “We’ve got a long way to go/But, good lord, don’t you know/There ain’t no quit in either one of us. There is something delightful about this odd tune, and it features some good work on both harmonica and accordion. That’s followed by “Copper Love,” which has a classic folk sound and a friendly, intimate vocal delivery. It also features some nice stuff on mandolin, which helps give this song a bright, positive vibe.

“Jesus In Pajamas” is a delightful song. I am not sure exactly why, but the phrase “ancient town of Dallas” made me burst out laughing the first time I heard this song. There are several other humorous lines and images, yet this song also ends up moving me, particularly because of lines like “Where the only whole heart is a broken one/And the only true love an unspoken one.” Then “Circus Of Life,” the album’s title track, has a much different vibe, and is a beautiful song. “On the phone she told him/She’d really like to hold him/But sometimes she said she wished that she were dead.” While the previous song had me laughing out loud, this one had me fighting back tears. Oh man, lines like “He’d slipped right through the angel’s tiny hands” destroy me. What an excellent song.

“Autographs In The Rain (Song To Willie)” will cheer you up with its rhythm. I dig that bass line. “Nothing in this world is quite as easy as it seems/When you struggle half a lifetime to catch up with your dreams.” This song includes a bit of Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again,” the second track on this album to make reference to that particular tune. I like this song, though I have mixed feelings about the sound effect of the crowd cheering, and the end seems a bit drawn out. That’s followed by “Back To Grace,” a song that has a serious sound but a certain humor in lines like “They said, do you want salvation?/I said I’d rather have a beer.”  I appreciate the humor of that line, but as the song goes on, we learn that alcohol has destroyed him. “She said, I’ll be there at your funeral and I’ll wear my wedding dress.”

In “Sister Sarah,” the line “Sister Sarah, full of grace, help me find a parking place” makes me smile. And anyone who knows me knows exactly why. I also love these lines: “She could have been an angel/She could have been a whore/Or maybe just a girl who left her halo at my door.” And these: “Things aren’t as dark as they appear/Nor are they quite as bright as they might seem.” Then the opening lines of “Song About You” are beautiful and heartbreaking: “I walk by the ocean where I once held your hand/And I think of all the things we didn’t do/I wonder why you’re not here, making footprints in the sand.” It seems like a song of regret, yet has a feeling of hope. “Zoey” is a kind of sweet folk tune. “Zoey, Zoey/I know you’ll never be my wife/Zoey, Zoey/I want you always in my life.” The album then concludes with “Sayin’ Goodbye,” which seems a fitting closing number. The percussion gives this one a different vibe, a different style. “Sayin’ goodbye isn’t easy/For a fool with a tear in his eye/All of my life I’ve been busy/Dreaming of sayin’ goodbye.”

CD Track List
  1. A Dog Named Freedman
  2. Copper Love
  3. Jesus In Pajamas
  4. Circus Of Life
  5. Autographs In The Rain (Song To Willie)
  6. Back To Grace
  7. Sister Sarah
  8. Song About You
  9. Spitfire
  10. Me & My Guitar
  11. Zoey
  12. Sayin’ Goodbye
Circus Of Life was released on July 6, 2018 on Echo Hill Records.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Tom Brumley And The Buckaroos: “Steelin’ The Show” (2018) CD Review

Buck Owens And His Buckaroos were one of the best and most influential country acts going. One of the important elements of the band was pedal steel player Tom Brumley, who was with the band from late 1963 to late 1969, playing with Buck Owens and also on the Buck Owens’ Buckaroos recordings that actually don’t include Buck Owens. Steelin’ The Show showcases his contributions to the band, focusing on material that highlights his playing. So these are instrumental tracks, most of them composed by Tom Brumley. There is one important exception, that being “Together Again,” for no album of Tom Brumley’s work would be complete without that song. The tunes come from albums that were released between 1964 and 1969, such as America’s Most Wanted Band and A Night On The Town. Tom Brumley left the band at the end of 1969 to join Ricky Nelson’s band. The liner notes for this compilation were written by Randy Poe, and also include notes from Tom Brumley’s family.

This collection opens with “Tom Cattin’,” a tune written by Tom Brumley and Buck Owens and first appearing on the Buck Owens LP Roll Out The Red Carpet. This track features some good, joyful playing on pedal steel, obviously, but also features a good lead on fiddle. It is Tom’s work on pedal steel that drives this tune. Things keep moving with the delightful “Steel Guitar Rag,” which was composed by Leon McAuliffe, Merle Travis and Cliffie Stone, and included on Buck Owens’ Before You Go/No One But You. Ah yes, this music ought to raise your spirits, put a little dance in your step as you make your way through your day. That’s followed by “Bud’s Bounce,” which was recorded during Tom Brumley’s very first session with Buck Owens, and appeared on the 1964 LP I Don’t Care.

“The Neosho Waltz” is a sweeter, slower number written by Tom Brumley and Don Rich, and is the first of this collection’s tracks to not include Buck Owens. This tune is from the Buck Owens’ Buckaroos album America’s Most Wanted Band, released in 1967. Tom’s work here is beautiful. That’s followed by another track from that same album, “Steel Guitar Polka,” a fun, kind of bouncy tune written by Tom Brumley. “Seven Come Eleven” is also from America’s Most Wanted Band, and is a groovy, somewhat relaxed number. This one was written by Tom Brumley and Don Rich. We then get a few tracks from The Buckaroos Strike Again, another album without Buck Owens, beginning with the enjoyable “Free And Easy,” also composed by Tom Brumley and Don Rich. Then “Tom’s Waltz” is a sweet and tender waltz. After all, Tom Brumley was known as “Tender Tom” (that was Buck Owens’ nickname for him), and you can hear that gentle sensibility on this track. His playing is beautiful and just exactly right. This track features some nice stuff on piano too. The last track from that album on this compilation is actually the album’s first track, “Apple Jack,” a ridiculously fun and playful number. Yes, life is good.

This disc includes a couple of tracks from A Night On The Town, released in 1968. The first is “The Waltz Of The Roses,” another pretty and sweet track. The second is “Pedal Patter,” a fun, fast-paced country gem, designed to bring a smile to even the most dour of faces. Both were written by Tom Brumley. Meanwhile Back At The Ranch was also released in 1968 (yes, this band was busy). Two tracks from that album are included here. “Tracie’s Waltz” is moving and sweet and touching and beautiful, one of my favorite tracks. It was written by Tom Brumley. Then “Runnin’ Short” is a lively folk number written by Tom Brumley and Bob Morris.

“Highland Fling,” written by Tom Brumley and appearing on the 1969 LP Anywhere U.S.A., is the only track on this compilation to feature on Tom on dobro, and it is another highlight. It’s a cheerful, peppy song. Two other tracks from that album are included on this disc. “Moonlight On The Desert” has something of a 1960s pop vibe, with a hint of psychedelic folk-rock influence, and I totally dig it. It is yet another of my favorites. “March Of The McGregor” also has a strong late 1960s feel. This one features the drums prominently; it is a march, after all. And it was written by Tom Brumley and Jerry Wiggins, the group’s drummer. The disc then concludes with the only track to feature vocals, “Together Again.” This song is from the 1964 Buck Owens And His Buckaroos LP Together Again/My Heart Skips A Beat, and it has what is considered to be one of the best pedal steel solos in the history of country music. It is a thing of beauty. So naturally this song is a fitting conclusion for this wonderful compilation.

CD Track List
  1. Tom Cattin’
  2. Steel Guitar Rag
  3. Bud’s Bounce
  4. The Neosho Waltz
  5. Steel Guitar Polka
  6. Seven Come Eleven
  7. Free And Easy
  8. Tom’s Waltz
  9. Apple Jack
  10. The Waltz Of The Roses
  11. Pedal Patter
  12. Tracie’s Waltz
  13. Runnin’ Short
  14. Highland Fling
  15. Moonlight On The Desert
  16. March Of The McGregor
  17. Together Again 
Steelin’ The Show was released on December 14, 2018 through Omnivore Recordings.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Dead And Company at The Hollywood Bowl, 6-3-19 Concert Review

Dead And Company started their two-night run at The Hollywood Bowl last night, delivering a fairly mellow but really good and interesting show. The doors were scheduled to open at 5:30 p.m., but for one reason or another the good folks who run things at The Hollywood Bowl were not ready, and a large crowd formed just outside the gates. People – including us – were a bit out of it, and kept thinking they saw the gates opening and patrons walking up the hill. But these were mere illusions, hallucinations, providing a topic of conversation but nothing more. At 5:54 p.m., a cheer went up as the gates finally opened. You know, the web sites and the official word from the band said for people to get there early in order to get through security, and lots of folks followed those instructions, but to no purpose. Ah, no matter. By like 6:15 or 6:20 p.m., we were inside and making our way up the hill. The screen on the stage behind the drums had a really nice “Steal Your Face” image. I was digging the colors.

We had guessed, based on the Shoreline start times, that they would go on at 7:30 p.m., so it was something of a surprise when the band came out at 7:19 p.m. I love seeing the boys when it’s still daylight. They opened the show with “Cold Rain And Snow,” which wasn’t what either my friend or I had guessed. I was thinking “Hell In A Bucket” or maybe “Jack Straw.” Interestingly, they ended up playing both of those tunes as the first set progressed. “Cold Rain And Snow” featured a nice little jam, with John Mayer getting into it, but nothing too wild. And there was a bit of breeze up in our section as they sang about the “chilly winds.” The band then eased into “Hell In A Bucket,” and on the big screen we could see that Oteil Burbridge had his face paint on again, ready to lead us into unusual territory. The song felt a bit weird and messy, but that might have been at least partially the fault of my perspective. For a moment I thought they’d drifted into some other song after the first verse – and weirdly the hook to “Way To Go Home” popped into my head – but whatever, I was enjoying the ride. And the song got on track toward the end. Then some tuning had us all guessing. None of us guessed “Easy Wind,” which is what they played, John digging into some Pigpen territory. He didn’t quite get there, of course, but he was trying. But on guitar, he was hitting it just right, that great bluesy stuff. Suddenly the song was over. I thought it was going to go on a little longer, and was surprised when it came to an end.

“Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” was next. Did Bob Weir’s vocals cut out at the beginning? Something was weird, anyway. But this tune began to go places in little ways. The vocal section sounded strange to me. But after that, we were on our way, just as the band promised. The “Across the river” section had a sweet vibe, as did the jam that followed it, a relaxed, cool feel. It kind of drifted off at the end. But it was followed by one of the highlights of the night for me, “High Time.” The whole crowd was excited as the song began (and I learned today that it was the debut performance by Dead And Company, so that was probably part of the buzz). Bob delivered a somewhat tender vocal performance, and the song featured some seriously nice harmonies too. Oteil sang a couple of verses, and some of the folks around me remarked how good his voice is. Oh yes. Plus, John’s guitar sounded so right. The song ended gently, and it seemed that everyone felt the song was a highlight of the first set, if not the entire show.

A somewhat mellow jam began “Jack Straw,” keeping us in a pleasant, relaxed place. I got immersed in the jamming, and was a bit surprised when they sang the “Leaving Texas” line. I thought we were farther along. The song started sounding really good. Not exciting, but really good. The band did try to take off, gaining some power at it led to “Jack Straw from Wichita cut his buddy down.” That was followed by “Bird Song,” which also began as a mellow jam, and seemed the perfect moment to take that second edible. At the start, this song was very mellow, almost delicate at times, with Bob holding off for a second before “Snow and rain.” We started to get into spacey territory, but then the band pulled back a bit, kept things slightly more grounded. The jam was still in motion, though, and the band tried again along a different avenue, a new tangent. Then after another verse, they went into a fun, jazzy, breezy jam. Things were certainly moving now. This jam was fantastic, and the crowd responded with cheers as they eased back into the main part of “Bird Song.” I was no longer even sure where we were at that point, but I could have lived within that song for a while. Wonderful stuff, and another highlight of the show. They then wrapped up the first set with “Don’t Ease Me In,” ending the set with a bit of a pop, this version featuring some energy from Jeff Chimenti on keys. The first set concluded at 8:37 p.m.

During the set break, a guy behind me coughed, and it sounded like he dropped a cardboard box full of nails. The woman to my right didn’t seem all that friendly, barely moving to let folks get by. She was seated for most of the first set, probably the only one in the entire place. Though, again, it was a mellow first set. The break was only thirty minutes – enough time to climb the hill to the bathroom and return – and the band was back on stage at 9:07 p.m. They opened with “Iko Iko,” starting the second set off as a party, folks singing and clapping along. Were there some new verses, something orange? Not sure, since I was in a slightly different realm myself. That was followed by “New Speedway Boogie,” with the line “I spent a little time on the mountain” getting a cheer. Anyone who climbed the mountain to the loo during set break could certainly appreciate the line. “One way or another, this darkness got to give.” Blue lights spilling into pink lights, pink pumping into blue, above the stage. “New Speedway Boogie” let straight into “Sugaree,” the screen on the stage a fiery pit turning into reflections of water, then into smoke, and soon into a giant sea flower opening into eternity, while a crooked finger acknowledged a balloon. Soon John entered a cool bluesy spot, taking things up to a nice height, from where you could see both yesterday and tomorrow. Then a crack, and we were pulled back to the present as John returned to the lyrics. There was a pause in the magic, turning and teasing, and some of us wondering where they were going. They emerged into “Help On The Way,” and when they got it going, it came on strong, the crowd appreciative. The jam got a little jazzy, and I was digging it. During “Slipknot!” things started getting even more interesting, taking us out on a funky and jazzy ride. Then a bright pulse moved through “Franklin’s Tower,” which was fun to dance to. The jam took us in another direction, as things slowed. Then suddenly they burst up through again.

The transition into drums was oddly relaxed, easing us into the drum solo like dropping us gently into an alien pond. But soon there was a strong pulse, and the beast began moving under its own weight, wielding a club aimed at dangerous shadows. A mixture of gold and human blood dancing through the scientist’s tubes, landing on metal, as a choir of chained angels sang off to the side, guiding us to an odd birth. Each beat was part of the story, and the pulse seemed to be that of a lurking lizard of immense proportions. Soon the beat swallowed all delicate things, breaking into tiny, angry electric lights of bright colors, and the animal rose up out of the machinery. Yeah, a fantastic drums sequence. And it was only now getting into the stranger, trippy areas, full of electric mist, our ship guided by the recently deceased and something much older, rays of light piercing individual drops of blood, the sun then rising, removing whatever pain might have been there. And we are in “Space,” treading carefully in a sacred place, stepping on sharp rocks and into dark pools, while ghostly, tender hands caressed an eager new world. It was now an ancient service that we’d become a part of, and dawn was greeted with a cheer.

As “Stella Blue” began, the lights were all blues and greens, like the music had created an underwater city. This was a pretty version, being most beautiful in its gentlest moment. Gorgeous as wind. It led directly into “Not Fade Away,” which came thumping in, like the glorious end to the party promised in the set’s opener. Just keep that groove going, I thought. At 10:42 p.m., the second set ended, but the crowd kept it going, and within a minute the band was back on stage for the encore. The encore was a nice surprise, “Terrapin Station,” the song my friend had been hoping to hear all night. It was certainly a welcome choice of encores, and the jam went into some interesting and enjoyable territory. And that’s where the band left us, on a bright mountainside. The show ended at 10:56 p.m.

Set List

Set I
  1. Cold Rain And Snow
  2. Hell In A Bucket
  3. Easy Wind
  4. Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
  5. High Time
  6. Jack Straw
  7. Bird Song
  8. Don’t Ease Me In
Set II
  1. Iko Iko
  2. New Speedway Boogie >
  3. Sugaree
  4. Help On The Way >
  5. Slipknot! >
  6. Franklin’s Tower
  7. Drums >
  8. Space >
  9. Stella Blue >
  10. Not Fade Away
Encore
  1. Terrapin Station

The Hollywood Bowl is located at 2301 N. Highland Ave. in Los Angeles, California.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Love at The Federal Bar, 6-2-19 Concert Review

Love performing "You I'll Be Following"
The Mimosa Music Series continued today with a fun set by Love, the band known especially for its 1967 LP Forever Changes, which has been noted as one of the best rock albums ever. Obviously, it is not the original lineup. But you know, the original lineup was only together for three albums. After Forever Changes, the records featured just one original member – Arthur Lee. So now the band features one original member – lead guitarist Johnny Echols. The other members performed with Arthur Lee in the 1990s and into the next decade, and this lineup has been consistent for a much longer time than the original lineup, or any other lineup for that matter. And these guys are great. Besides Johnny Echols on lead guitar, the band is made up of Baby Lemonade members Rusty Squeezebox vocals and guitar, Mike Randle on guitar, David Green on drums, and Dave Chapple on bass.

Word had clearly gotten out about this show, because the line was fairly long more than a half hour before the doors were scheduled to open. And fifteen minutes after they opened, the place was packed. There was a buzz in the room; folks were definitely excited to be there for this show. I certainly was, and after a couple of mimosas, even more so. At 11:25 a.m., concert series host Gary Calamar introduced Dylan Rodrigue, who opened the show. I had seen him perform recently with Sie Sie Benhoff at the Roots Roadhouse Festival. Today he performed a (mostly) solo set on acoustic guitar, playing some originals as well as nice renditions of Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You In The End” and Blaze Foley’s “Clay Pigeons.” Sie Sie Benhoff joined him on vocals for the last three songs of his set. He finished up with “It’s So Funny,” a sweet, beautiful song from his new album. His set ended at 11:53 a.m.

Then at 12:05 p.m., Gary returned to the stage to introduce Love. They came out and wasted no time, kicking off the set with “A House Is Not A Motel,” from Forever Changes. The opening lines of this song seem like good words to tell someone on a first date: “At my house I’ve got no shackles/You can come and look if you want to.” This version rocked, and became a nice little jam. They followed that with “My Little Red Book,” which was great. Rusty Squeezebox shared vocal duties with Johnny Echols on this one. I loved that bass. Then Rusty introduced “Can’t Explain”: “This is called ‘Can’t Explain.’ It’s an old one.” He then quickly added, “They’re all old.” This one came at us with a power. That was followed by a mellower tune, “Orange Skies,” which was written by Bryan MacLean, and then by “Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale,” from Forever Changes.

The moment they started “The Daily Planet,” also from Forever Changes, the crowd responded. This audience seemed to be right with the band every step of the way, which was cool. Love then went back to the first album for “You I’ll Be Following.” They followed that with “Your Mind And We Belong Together,” featuring some great stuff from Johnny on guitar toward the end, and then “Andmoreagain.” As Johnny tuned after that song, Rusty remarked, “A master at work.” And they went into “Alone Again Or,” the audience cheering as the first notes were played. This is probably the band’s most famous and beloved song. Even if you believe you’re not familiar with this band’s work, you’ve heard this song. It’s been featured in several movies, and has been covered quite a bit too. They followed that with another song from Forever Changes, “Bummer In The Summer,” bassist Dave Chapple taking lead vocal duties on this fun number.

Rusty brought up the new documentary Echoes In the Canyon, and Johnny explained why Love was not a part of that film. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard mixed things, the negative focusing mostly on the artists who were left out. That led to them playing “No Matter What You Do,” a song that Jakob Dylan and Regina Spektor apparently cover in the movie. Then, after “Are We Okay,” Rusty Squeezebox told the audience: “This is not often performed. So consider yourselves warned.” And the band went into “The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This,” a sweet and cool tune, certainly a highlight of the set. “Live And Let Live” featured some great stuff on guitar. After that, requests were shouted out for “August.” Rusty Squeezebox said they weren’t going to play it today, but they planned to do on the upcoming tour in Europe. So anyone reading this in Europe, you might be hearing this band perform “August” soon. What they played instead today was “The Red Telephone,” another excellent song from Forever Changes. The set then concluded with “You Set The Scene,” also from Forever Changes.

When the band returned for an encore, more requests were shouted out, including “Stephanie Knows Who” and “7 And 7 Is.” A harmonica player joined them for a good rendition of the bluesy “Signed D.C.” That was followed by “7 And 7 Is,” which began with a force, and seriously rocked. A great closing number. The show ended at 1:27 p.m.

Set List
  1. A House Is Not A Motel
  2. My Little Red Book
  3. Can’t Explain
  4. Orange Skies
  5. Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale
  6. The Daily Planet
  7. You I’ll Be Following
  8. Your Mind And We Belong Together
  9. Andmoreagain
  10. Alone Again Or
  11. Bummer In The Summer
  12. No Matter What You Do
  13. Are We Okay
  14. The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This
  15. Live And Let Live
  16. The Red Telephone
  17. You Set The Scene 
Encore
  1. Signed D.C.
  2. 7 And 7 Is
Here are a few photos from the show:

Dylan Rodrigue
Dylan Rodrigue and Sie Sie Benhoff
"A House Is Not A Motel"
"Orange Skies"
"Between Clark And Hilldale"
"The Daily Planet"
"Your Mind And We Belong Together"
"The Red Telephone"
"Signed D.C."

The Federal Bar is located at 5303 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood, California.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Ronan Conroy: “The Moment Is Gone” (2019) Record Review

The Moment Is Gone, the new record from singer and songwriter Ronan Conroy, is the best release I’ve heard from him so far. It follows his 2017 EP, Blood Dread, and features mostly original material, written by Ronan Conroy, with one interesting exception. Joining him again is his Oh Halo band mate Charles Nieland, who on this record plays bass, piano, synths, lap steel, drums and percussion, and also provides backing vocals on one track. The only other musician beside Ronan Conroy and Charles Nieland is Justin Wierbonski, who plays on drums on a few tracks. The music on this record was written over the last several years, and features some excellent lyrics.

The record opens with one of its strongest tracks, and the one most recently composed, “Burn The Cane.” Ronan’s voice has some authority as well as passion; there is nothing timid or unsure here. I love the way it opens, with just his vocals and piano. Then when it kicks in, it takes on just a bit of a pop feel. “Nobody here is a victim/Can’t you see right through that?/I don’t like how you talk to me/How did we get from silence to that?” That’s followed by “Cordite.” This one might have a darker folk vibe, but shafts of light certainly make their way in at certain points, and those moments seem to have a bit of a Beatles influence. “We can’t be the ones/To carry what is not ours/Who are we to close/Wounds that are only yours?” Like I said, these songs features some seriously good lyrics.

There is an interesting dream-like quality to the vocals on “You’re So Cruel,” a song with a more full sound, which might add to that quality and might allow you to get swept up in it. I like that work on piano. “I don’t know if what I’m doing is a good idea/I don’t know if I care anyway/Is it me or is it you who brings the crazy?/Crazy for you anyway.” This is one of the tracks to feature Justin Wierbonski on drums. Ronan Conroy then changes gears with “Who Do You Think You’re Kidding?” This song features a more raw sound of just acoustic guitar and Ronan’s voice, which sounds so close to us, so personal, so intimate. “I got nothing, I got nothing for you, honey.” I love that slightly twisted laugh after the line “Who do you think you’re kidding.” This is one of my personal favorites, and I am absolutely crazy about Ronan’s vocal performance on this track. The guitar work, too, is really good.  It’s an excellent song. The first side of the record then concludes with “GuiltChild,” possibly the strangest song on the album. It opens with steady synth, and some odd strumming on acoustic guitar, and Ronan whispers urgently, “Wake up, wake up, wake up.” There is something undeniably powerful about this song. And yes, it is written as “GuiltChild” on the album, without a space between the words. These lines stand out: “Alarm! Alarm!/The drilling keeps up in the head/Nothing has any meaning.” It’s interesting to me that it ends as it began, with a forceful whisper of “Wake up, wake up, wake up.”

Side 2 opens with the album’s earliest composition, “Anger, My Love,” written in 2014. It has a somewhat different feel from other tracks. It comes on as a brighter alternative rock tune, but as you get deeper in, you get a sense of a darkness that is pumping beneath the surface and then rising up in Ronan’s vocals. After all, the main line is “Anger, my love: you are the beating of my heart.” This one also include a little jam, which comes as a surprise. This is another of the tracks to feature Justin Wierbonski on drums, as is the following song, “Evening Comes.” There is a sweeter sound to the instrumental section that opens this one. I love these lines: “I saw what you’ve done/Even if you don’t know what you’re doing.” He then turns it on himself: “I guess I’ll go on/Even if I don’t know what I’m doing.” And these lines are powerful and depressing: “I got nothing but regrets/Nobody’s here, I got no one to tell.” It’s an intriguing song, and one that conjures different images and feelings for me each time I listen to it.

“Psalm #40” might at first seem a strange choice, but it follows “Evening Comes” so well, with lines about one’s sins and needing mercy. This is the one track not written by Ronan Conroy, though he did adapt the lines for this song. He takes it from “Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord/May your truth and your love always protect me,” which is more than halfway through the psalm. This track features some nice work on lap steel. The record then concludes with “Silence In The Cemeteries,” which has a pretty sound at its start. Then the acoustic guitar has a noticeable sustain. “The sea is sleeping/Sand settles in the cellar of the ocean/Waves kiss the beach/So safe from thought.”

Record Track List

Side 1
  1. Burn The Cane
  2. Cordite
  3. You’re So Cruel
  4. Who Do You Think You’re Kidding?
  5. GuiltChild 
Side 2
  1. Anger, My Love
  2. Evening Comes
  3. Psalm #40
  4. Silence In The Cemeteries
The Moment Is Gone was released on May 30, 2019.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Woody Guthrie All-Star Tribute Concert 1970 DVD Review

Woody Guthrie was one of the greatest and most prolific songwriters of all time. And his music is discovered and loved by each new generation. Lately, that is in part because of the protest songs he wrote about one Fred Trump, a racist real estate developer who was responsible for bringing into existence the absolute worst president this country has ever experienced. Two of those songs were included on I Don’t Like The Way This World’s A-Treatin’ Me, a Record Store Day release. Also, lately it seems a lot of people are covering Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee (Train Wreck At Los Gatos).” His music is always relevant, and it means so much to so many. In 1970, some of the country’s best folks singers paid tribute to Woody Guthrie at a special concert held at the Hollywood Bowl. Artists like Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Richie Havens and of course Woody’s son Arlo Guthrie performed at this show, which was also a benefit to raise funds to fight Huntington’s Disease. Now the film of this concert is being released on DVD.

When the concert begins, Peter Fonda and Will Geer provide the audience with a bit of biographical information, and we see some photos of Woody Guthrie. Then the entire group performs “This Train Is Bound For Glory.” And by the entire group, I mean Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Country Joe McDonald, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Odetta, Richie Havens, and Earl Robinson. Pretty good group, right? And the band backing these folks includes Ry Cooder on guitar and mandolin, John Beland on dobro, Chris Ethridge on bass, Gib Guilbeau on fiddle, Thad Maxwell on guitar, John Pilla on guitar, and Stan Prat on drums. Country Joe McDonald reads from a lyrics sheet, but it’s a cool rendition. Odetta is particularly awesome. (By the way, if you haven’t seen Hal Ashby’s film Bound For Glory, you should really check it out.)

Between songs, Will Geer and Peter Fonda read some of Woody Guthrie’s own words, which is wonderful and often helps put songs into context. Arlo Guthrie plays “Oklahoma Hills,” and then joins Country Joe McDonald on harmonica for “Pretty Boy Floyd.” Pete Seeger and Joan Baez perform “So Long, It’s Been Good To Know Yuh.” Joan Baez looks so serious, even when singing this rather fun tune. Country Joe McDonald, Arlo Guthrie, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Pete Seeger deliver a breezy rendition of “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad,” with a little joke thrown in about the quality of Los Angeles water. This version seems rather short to me, but that might be because I am used to Grateful Dead versions.

Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie do “I Ain’t Got No Home.” I love hearing those two sing together. In the early 1980s they put out a double album titled Precious Friend, which I highly recommend. They do a few Woody Guthrie tunes on that one too. On this song, Pete sings “Now as I look around, it’s mighty plain to see/This world is such a great and funny place to be.” Then Arlo delivers a kind of rocking and funky version of “Do Re Mi,” different from other versions I’ve heard him do. He plays piano on this one. And hey, look, Joan Baez is goofing a bit! She then gets serious again for “Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos),” giving us a really nice, heartfelt rendition. Odetta follows with a cool rendition of “Ramblin’ Round.” Then Pete Seeger and Earl Robinson do “Roll On Columbia.” But maybe my favorite performance of the entire night is Richie Havens’ version of “900 Miles.” He is mesmerizing when he performs. There is so much passion in his playing.

Country Joe McDonald does a bluesy rock rendition of “Woman At Home,” which is cool. That’s followed by Pete Seeger playing “The Sinking Of The Reuben James” and then Pete and Arlo doing “I’ve Got To Know,” backed by Odetta, Joan Baez and Richie Havens. The show ends with a rousing rendition of “This Land Is Your Land,” played by all the musicians. Arlo Guthrie takes the “no trespassing” verse. I’ve said this before, but “This Land Is Your Land” should truly be this country’s national anthem. I think people should just start singing it at sporting events, drown out that other lesser song. “This Land Is Your Land” leads to a brief reprise of “So Long, It’s Been Good To Know Yuh,” and that’s how it ends.

Special Features

But that is not the end of the DVD, for some bonus footage is included. The first bit is footage of the rehearsal for the concert, with Arlo Guthrie and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott offering some thoughts in voice over. We then get three more songs from the concert: a really nice version of “1913 Massacre” performed by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, “John Hardy” done by Odetta, and “Pastures Of Plenty” played by Joan Baez.

Woody Guthrie All-Star Tribute Concert 1970 was directed by Jim Brown, and is scheduled to be released on DVD on June 7, 2019 through MVD Visual.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Buck Owens And The Buckaroos: “The Complete Capitol Singles: 1971-1975” (2019) CD Review

By the early 1970s, Buck Owens was – in addition to being a country music star – a television star, acting as co-host of the program Hee Haw (which ran for a ridiculously long time). And musically he was occasionally dipping into realms other than country, including pop, folk and bluegrass. The Complete Capitol Singles: 1971-1975 collects both the A-sides and B-sides of his singles from this period, which marked the end of his time with Capitol Records (well, sort of – he signed with Capitol again in 1988). This two-disc set also includes liner notes by Scott B. Bomar.

The first disc opens with a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Yes, it is perhaps an odd choice for Buck Owens, but I like his rendition. He really goes for it vocally, and gets there. The flip side, “(I’m Goin’) Home,” is good too, featuring another passionate vocal performance. That’s followed by “Ruby (Are You Mad).” When I was growing up, I figured there must be a whole lot of women named Ruby, because that name figured so prominently in music. But the reality is I’ve met only one Ruby (and that might have been in a dream, now that I think of it). Where are all the others? Anyway, “Ruby (Are You Mad)” is one of the bluegrass tunes, and it begins with the vocals delivered a cappella. As you’d hope, there is a lot of energy to this rendition, with some nice work on banjo. But for me, the vocals are really what sell this one. It’s flip side, “Heartbreak Mountain,” is also a bluegrass number, this one an original tune written by Buck Owens. It’s a fun tune, and that stuff on keyboard comes as a surprise, sounding a bit out of place. We also get a delightful bluegrass rendition of “Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” that banjo whipping along like a joyful maniac. Plus, there is some nice stuff on fiddle. Its flip side is a seriously fun song written by Buck Owens’ son, Buddy Alan Owens, “Corn Likker.” Buddy joins Buck Owens on vocals for “Too Old To Cut The Mustard,” a somewhat goofy tune about aging. Buddy, who was in his early twenties at the time, sings “I used to jump just like a deer/Now I need a new landing gear/I used to could jump a picket fence/But now I’m lucky if I jump an inch.” Buddy also sings on the single’s flip side, “Wham Bam.”

Susan Raye then joins Buck Owens on vocals for “Santa’s Gonna Come In A Stagecoach,” a silly country Christmas tune written by Don Rich and Red Simpson. The flip side is another Christmas song, “One Of Everything You Got,” this one written by Buck Owens, and also featuring Susan Raye on vocals. The song is essentially a list of demands from a young child. These aren’t my favorite tracks, but they are certainly better than a lot of Christmas songs out there. “I’ll Still Be Waiting For You” is sweet song featuring a heartfelt vocal performance and some nice work on pedal steel. I often am surprised by what is a hit and what isn’t, for I think “I’ll Still Be Waiting For You” is a much better song than “Made In Japan,” but it is the latter song that reached #1 on the chart. Susan Raye joins Buck Owens again for “Looking Back To Me,” which is a cute, playful song that I can’t help but like. “I was looking back to see/If you were looking back to see/If I was looking back to see/You were looking back at me.” She also sings on the single’s flip side, “Cryin’ Time.” “Well, my love for you could never grow no stronger/If I lived to be a hundred years old.”

It was in 1962 that Richard Nixon promised people, “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore” (though that crooked little weasel soon came back for more). Ten years later, not long after the Watergate break-in, Buck Owens released “You Ain’t Gonna Have Ol’ Buck To Kick Around No More.” This song is a whole lot of fun, and features some nice work on guitar and pedal steel. “The last time was the last time/And this time it’s for sure/The next sound that you hear will be the slamming of the door/And you ain’t gonna have ol’ Buck to kick around no more.” Its flip side, “I Love You So Much It Hurts,” is also really good. “And if you do me wrong/I’ll still tag along/’Cause I love you so much it hurts.” The first disc concludes with “The Good Old Days (Are Here Again),” the flip side to “Ain’t It Amazing, Gracie.” It’s a sweet love song about a man’s happiness at a woman’s return. The Ray Sisters provide backing vocals on this track.

Then the second disc opens with “The Good Old Days (Are Here Again),” and this time it is the A-side. This version is a duet, Susan Raye providing the other set of lead vocals. It’s interesting to compare the two renditions. Both are good, but I prefer the first version. Susan Raye also sings on the flip side, “When You Get To Heaven (I’ll Be There).” That’s followed by “Arms Full Of Empty,” a totally enjoyable song released as a single in the summer of 1973. “Well, I’m so sick and tired/Of getting up so sick and tired/Sick of dirty clothes and dirty dishes.” There is a nice humor to “Songwriter’s Lament,” the single’s B-side. Things get sillier with “Big Game Hunter,” a song about a guy obsessed with football. It has little touches of rock and roll.

Perhaps a country singer wasn’t likely to make the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, so Buck Owens took Shel Silverstein’s song and turned it into “On The Cover Of The Music City News,” and released it as a single in 1974. “Got a big long bus/With a driver named Gus/That shines our cowboy boots/Got a custom-made car/With a built-in bar/And a closet full of Nudie suits.” The flip side, “Stony Mountain West Virginia,” has something of a cool bluegrass vibe. That is followed by a goofy song to add to your Halloween play list, “(It’s A) Monsters’ Holiday,” a tune that mentions Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the wolf man, gremlins, zombies and other friendly creatures. By the way, on the back of the CD it is erroneously printed as “(It’s A) Monster’s Holiday.” The flip side to that single is “Great Expectations,” a slower tune with some sweet work on fiddle. That’s followed by a different version of “Great Expectations,” which was released as an A-side a few months later. Its flip side, in turn, is “Let The Fun Begin,” a cheerful number.

“Love Is Strange” might seem another odd and goofy choice for Buck Owens. He does it as a duet with Susan Raye. It’s weird, certainly, but you know, later on Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton performed it too. So there. And yeah, Buck and Susan do that goofy spoken word part from the Mickey & Sylvia version, though substituting Susan’s name for Sylvia’s. Susan Raye also joins Buck Owens for the single’s B-side, “Sweethearts In Heaven.” The second disc also includes that wonderful rendition of “The Battle Of New Orleans” and its lively flip side, “Run Him To The Round House Nellie (You Might Corner Him There).” The final single of those Capitol years is “Country Singer’s Prayer,” which was also intended to be the title track to Buck Owens’ final Capitol LP. Capitol instead released a greatest hits compilation. But last year Country Singer’s Prayer was finally released through Omnivore Recordings. That disc concludes with “Meanwhile Back At The Ranch,” as does this collection. It’s a delightful, somewhat silly tune, and I like that bass.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Bridge Over Troubled Water
  2. (I’m Goin’) Home
  3. Ruby (Are You Mad)
  4. Heartbreak Mountain
  5. Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms
  6. Corn Likker
  7. Too Old To Cut The Mustard
  8. Wham Bam
  9. Santa’s Gonna Come In A Stagecoach
  10. One Of Everything You Got
  11. I’ll Still Be Waiting For You
  12. Full Time Daddy
  13. Made In Japan
  14. Black Texas Dirt
  15. Looking Back To See
  16. Cryin’ Time
  17. You Ain’t Gonna Have Ol’ Buck To Kick Around No More
  18. I Love You So Much It Hurts
  19. In The Palm Of Your Hand
  20. Get Out Of Town Before Sundown
  21. Ain’t It Amazing, Gracie
  22. The Good Old Days (Are Here Again)
Disc Two
  1. The Good Old Days (Are Here Again)
  2. When You Get To Heaven (I’ll Be There)
  3. Arms Full Of Empty
  4. Songwriter’s Lament
  5. Big Game Hunter
  6. That Loving Feeling
  7. On The Cover Of The Music City News
  8. Stony Mountain West Virginia
  9. (It’s A) Monsters’ Holiday
  10. Great Expectations (B-Side Version)
  11. Great Expectations (A-Side Version)
  12. Let The Fun Begin
  13. 41st Street Lonely Hearts’ Club
  14. Weekend Daddy
  15. Love Is Strange
  16. Sweethearts In Heaven
  17. The Battle Of New Orleans
  18. Run Him To The Round House Nellie (You Might Corner Him There)
  19. Country Singer’s Prayer
  20. Meanwhile Back At The Ranch
The Complete Capitol Singles: 1971-1975 is scheduled to be released on May 31, 2019 through Omnivore Recordings.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Lasers Lasers Birmingham: “Warning” (2019) CD Review

A few years ago I was turned onto Lasers Lasers Birmingham, the project of singer and guitarist Alex Owen, when Royal Blue was released. That four-track EP has a nice 1970s country rock vibe at times, and features some really good lyrics. It was the second release from Laser Lasers Birmingham, following a 2014 self-titled EP. Now Alex Owen is finally releasing a full-length Lasers Lasers Birmingham album. Titled Warning, this wonderful disc features all original material, written by Alex Owen. The music here is basically country, but something out of the ordinary in the subjects it addresses and its approach. Joining Alex Owen on this release are Jason Soda on electric guitar, acoustic guitar, piano, mellotron, organ, percussion and backing vocals (he also co-produced the album); Dan Wistrom on pedal steel and mandolin; Aaron Stern on bass; Travis Popichak on drums; Jon Nieman on piano and organ; and Eleanor Masterson on fiddle. Providing backing vocals are Sie Sie Benhoff and Davey Allen.

The album opens with its title track, “Warning,” a cool country tune with a somewhat relaxed vibe, some wonderful work on pedal steel, and a good vocal performance. “Ooh, this is a warning/The wildest of frontiers, they’re already tame/Lately feeling older/When the growing days seem so plain.” And any song that somehow gets Ernest Hemingway and John Wayne into the same line is a song I need to pay attention to. This is one of those tracks that I love more and more each time I listen to this album. It’s followed by “Perfection In 3/4 Time,” a delightful tune about being a musician. It includes all the important elements, such as traveling and weed and egos. And the line “No one’s asking for perfection” is wonderful, particularly in light of the song’s title. Like, they aren’t asking for it, but here it is. I love the humor of this song, of this music, of this band.

“After Party After Life” has a strong rhythm on bass that seems to be inspired by some classic R&B tunes, and also features some cool work on electric guitar. I love the line “‘He never knew when to quit’ is written upon my grave.” And check out these lines: “And I should join the circus/I’d be the freak in the center ring/Juggling bearded ladies/On two weeks with no sleep.” Yeah, it’s a fun tune, one to keep that party going long after last call. It even has a big finish, so there. “Wild Animals” is another playful and totally fun tune, and one that kind of rocks. “We was all young once/Real wild animals/When did acting dumb/Stop being so much fun.” Ah, for some people it never ceases being fun, and they join the Republican Party and become Supreme Court justices. Then the next song, “Lead Me On,” opens with the line, “Maybe I’m not as handsome as I used to be.” Ah, a lot of songs seem to touch on aging these days, or perhaps I’m just more aware of that element than I used to be (for no particular reason, I assure you). Anyway, this is a slower, sweeter, more thoughtful number, but still with a wonderfully sad humor in lines like “And she stole my heart/Chopped it up for the parts/And sold it to the boys overseas.”

“Don’t Go Trying To Fix Me” is presented as a duet with Sie Sie Benhoff, and she and Alex sound wonderful together. I recently saw Sie Sie Benhoff perform at the Roots Roadhouse Festival, and totally fell for her voice. I’m hoping to hear more from her. This song has an undeniably sweet sound, but as you might guess from its title, it’s not exactly a sweet song, with lines like “Not a day goes by/You don’t criticize” and “And I can’t change into the person you wished I could be.” Yet, there is certainly love there. It’s a really good song. That’s followed by “Phantom Vibrations,” a cool tune with a bass line that I can’t help but love. “Coming in hot, coming in wild/Making mistakes, but she makes them with style.” And when the song kicks in, there is some nice stuff on fiddle. “Plastic Jesus in the front of the van/Keep me out of trouble the best he can.” The album concludes with “What A Shame,” a sad tale of a once-beloved singer who now struggles as the times change. “The shell of a once-giant soul/The crowds are all gone/And the fans have moved on.”

CD Track List
  1. Warning
  2. Perfection in 3/4 Time
  3. After Party After Life
  4. Sugar Momma
  5. Wild Animals
  6. Lead Me On
  7. Don’t Go Trying To Fix Me
  8. Phantom Vibrations
  9. Emmylou
  10. Numbers And Figures
  11. What A Shame 
Warning is scheduled to be released on July 26, 2019.

Begin The Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years (2019) Book Review

I managed to see R.E.M. in concert only once, in 1989 during the tour supporting the Green album. But I’d been a fan for a few years before that, thanks to “Driver 8,” which received quite a bit of airplay, and thanks to friends who turned me on to the band’s first few records. It is the band’s early period, leading up to the signing with Warner Bros., that author Robert Dean Lurie covers in his new book, Begin The Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years. It is a completely enjoyable and interesting look at the band’s formation, personality and surroundings, as well as the music.

The book gives a good sense of the place where R.E.M. was formed and the music scene that existed there, with some attention paid to The B-52s and Pylon. While the members of R.E.M. were not interviewed for this book, many of the other folks who played important roles in the band’s development were, and because of Lurie’s style, you begin to feel you know these people. A fairly vivid picture is painted of Athens and the scene there. You even begin to feel familiar with some of the buildings, including the old church where R.E.M. was writing and creating music, and where they performed their first concert.  Regarding that show, which was performed in honor of Kathleen O’Brien’s birthday, Lurie writes: “Perhaps the biggest surprise for those in attendance was just how animated Michael Stipe could get in front of an audience. Typically quiet and withdrawn, he turned into a spinning, vibrating maniac when performing the more aggressive songs” (p. 75). And though he doesn’t personally interview the members of R.E.M., he does quote from other interviews with them.

There are plenty of wonderful details and anecdotes along the way, like that Michael Stipe dressed as Frank-N-Furter when attending a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and about the time R.E.M. opened for XTC. And a different explanation for the band’s name is offered, that it is a reference to photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard. The writing has a friendly, conversational tone, and Robert Dean Lurie occasionally takes little tangents, even identifying them as such. His personal approach to the subject functions to endear him to us, to place him almost like a character in the story. For example, check out this passage: “At any rate, the members of R.E.M. have always deflected questions about the band’s name, saying that it could mean anything. I suppose I ought to take advantage of the friendly, informal line of communication I have with the R.E.M. office and push for an official answer to this one question. But you know what? I can’t bring myself to do it. What I Michael suddenly decided to give a frank answer? I wouldn’t be able to bear it. Such an outcome would run counter to the sense of mystery that drew so many of us to this band in the first place” (p. 83). Writing like that makes us feel that he is as much a fan of the band as we are.

Robert Dean Lurie gets into the stories behind some of the early songs, such as “Don’t Go Back To Rockville” and “Radio Free Europe,” as well as the image on the Murmur album cover. And again, Lurie’s playful, casual tone works well as he writes about the often ambiguous meanings of different songs, often reflecting the thoughts of other fans as they try to decipher certain lines. “Oh, what’s the use? I give up. What the hell is a harborcoat, anyway?” (p. 178). The author also gets into some of the other bands and artists that became linked to R.E.M. in one way or another, folks like The Replacements, Matthew Sweet, and The Minutemen. The book includes several photos, too, including one of the old church. As I said, this book is a totally enjoyable read. It’s like a knowledgeable friend telling you the story of his favorite band, with tangents, recommendations and all.

Begin The Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years was published on May 14, 2019 through Verse Chorus Press.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Grateful Dead: “Road Trips Vol. 3 No. 4: Penn State – Cornell ‘80” (2010/2019) CD Review

Real Gone Music continues to re-issue the Grateful Dead Road Trips series of concert recordings, releasing them in reverse order of their original release. The most recent release is Road Trips Vol. 3 No. 4: Penn State – Cornell ’80, which contains the bulk of the shows the Grateful Dead played on May 6 and May 7, 1980. Like most Grateful Dead fans, I prefer full shows, with the tuning and everything, but that wasn’t what the Road Trips series was really about, at least not for most of its existence. It was about tours. So what this three-disc set contains is most of the first set from May 6th, the entire second set from May 6th, three songs from the first set from May 7th, and the entire second set from May 7th. Neither night’s encore is included. It’s almost more interesting to see what was cut than what was included. For example, the Grateful Dead played “Alabama Getaway” at both shows, and neither performance is included here. (It opened the first set on the 6th and was the encore on the 7th.) Also, Brent’s songs are cut, “Far From Me” from the Penn State show and “Easy To Love You” from the Cornell show. All three of those songs were from their new album, Go To Heaven, which – as is mentioned in this set’s liner notes – the band was promoting with that tour. In fact, Blair Jackson says in the liner notes, “The months in the studio perfecting arrangements gave the new tunes a little extra zip.” So why are they cut?

The first disc is about the first sets of both shows. It begins with “Jack Straw,” the first set opener from May 7th at Cornell University. “Jack Straw” feels a bit tentative at first, but features some nice playing by both Jerry and Bob during the jam. And that’s when the energy kicks in. Their vocals after that jam have a wonderful power. That’s followed by everyone’s favorite game, “Take a step back.” The disc then goes to the Penn State show for the third song of the first set, “Peggy-O” (skipping “Alabama Getaway” and “Greatest Story Ever Told”). And it’s immediately clear that this is a sweet rendition, the audience responding right away. It has a mellow, cheerful vibe that feels just exactly right, and Jerry’s vocals sound great. Bob follows that with a good version of “Me And My Uncle” that seems to have quite a bit of pep to it. That leads straight into “Big River,” which also has a good groove and features Brent’s keys prominently in the mix for his lead. Following these Country Bob slots, Jerry eases into a passionate and beautiful rendition of “Loser.” Then, rather than give us “Far From Me,” the disc returns to the Cornell show for “Cassidy” and “Row Jimmy,” the third and fourth songs of the first set. I’m always happy to hear “Cassidy,” one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs, and this is a good version, though without any kind of extended jam. “Row Jimmy” is a really good, sweet version.

The first disc then returns to the Penn State show for the rest of the first set. So we’re missing a total of three songs from that set. “Lazy Lightning” and “Supplication” are songs that Bob Weir first recorded with Kingfish during the Dead’s break. The Dead played this combination in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Those songs always seemed a bit odd to me (not that that is a bad thing, of course). Later the band played “Supplication” without “Lazy Lightning” (I saw them do it at Shoreline in the 1990s). Anyway, they deliver good versions of both here, particularly “Supplication.” Then Jerry leads the band into “Althea,” a song that was less than a year old at that point and included on Go To Heaven. I’m always struck by the Hamlet reference in this song. I should have asked Robert Hunter about his choice there that one time I met him. The first disc wraps up with the pairing of “Lost Sailor” and “Saint Of Circumstance,” two more songs from Go To Heaven. I never got to see the Dead play “Lost Sailor” (they’d stopped playing it two years before my first show), but I did see them do “Saint” several times. I had a Calvin And Hobbes “Saint Of Circumstance” T-shirt back in the day (“Just a tiger in a trance”). Bob delivers an energetic and powerful version here.

The second disc contains the entire second set from the Penn State show. It begins with Bob Weir leading the crowd in “Take a step back” to help the folks in the front keep from getting squashed. And the little accompanying jam leads directly into “China Cat Sunflower,” a tune that always pleases the crowd, and which of course leads straight into “I Know You Rider.” This is a fantastic version of “Rider.” Just listen to Jerry belt out the “headlight” verse. The band is cooking now, the jam having a tremendous amount of energy. Oh yes! Bob then delivers a powerful and cool rendition of “Feel Like A Stranger.” I especially like that vocal jam with Bob and Brent riffing. “It’s going to be a long, long, crazy, crazy night.” A promise we always liked to hear. And then Jerry delivers some wonderful stuff on guitar. The jam has a delicious groove. It gets just a bit messy toward the end, but no matter, as “He’s Gone” emerges from it. And you can’t help but agree as Jerry sings “Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.” On this one too, it is that vocal jam toward the end that stands out. I also love the pretty work on guitar that follows that vocal section. The transition into “The Other One” isn’t as forceful as it often was, but instead offers little teases of the song before finally exploding. I love that moment when Phil takes charge and leads the band into that burst. Then the jam becomes more powerful and eventually leads to the song’s first verse. And then just look out, for this train has no fucking brakes. There is a moment when Brent’s playing reminds me of Tom Constanten’s earlier work. This is a seriously good version, and it’s not long after the second verse that Bill and Mickey take over for the “Drums” segment. I’m digging this “Drums,” as it goes through several different sections, and this is before all the electronic sounds that dominated a lot of the later 1980s drum solos. The “Space” that follows it is pretty cool, and it includes some drumming, which I like. That leads into “Wharf Rat,” with an excellent segue. Check out Jerry’s guitar work there. This is a moving rendition of “Wharf Rat,” featuring some excellent vocals. The second set then wraps up with a couple of Chuck Berry rock and roll tunes – “Around And Around” and “Johnny B. Goode.” Bob whispers some of the early lines of “Around And Around,” allowing then for more room to rise when the song starts rocking. And of course “Johnny B. Goode” has a whole lot of energy.

The third disc contains the entire second set from the Cornell show. They get things moving with a “Shakedown Street” opener, always a great way to start a set. Here is another one with a delicious vocal jam. And then the song has a wonderfully funky vibe, and is just a lot of fun. It leads into another fun song, “Bertha,” to keep everybody dancing. This is an energetic rendition of “Bertha,” and they maintain a high level of energy with “Playing In The Band,” with Bob at one point changing the line to “Playing in the barn,” because of the venue’s barn-like qualities. As you might expect, this is where we get some really good jamming, and the energy never lags. Toward the end, there are little hints of where they might be going. And then Jerry leads the guys into “Terrapin Station.” The jam to this one is absolutely wonderful, at times sweet and beautiful, particularly Jerry’s playing. It is not the most powerful rendition I’ve ever heard, but it is among the most beautiful, no question. A good, rolling “Drums” follows, and settles into a really cool “Space.” From there, “Saint Of Circumstance” emerges and begins to build into something excellent. “I’m still walking, so I’m sure that I can dance.” Jerry then mellows things out with a heartfelt rendition of “Black Peter,” delivering a truly moving vocal performance, certainly a highlight of the set. Is it just me, or does there seem to be a lot of hiss to the sound, noticeable in the quiet moments of this song? “Black Peter” leads back into “Playing In The Band,” with Bob once again substituting “barn” for “band.” And then they wrap up the second set with a rousing “Good Lovin’” to send folks out into the night feeling good.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Jack Straw
  2. Peggy-O
  3. Me And My Uncle >
  4. Big River
  5. Loser
  6. Cassidy
  7. Row Jimmy
  8. Lazy Lightning >
  9. Supplication
  10. Althea
  11. Lost Sailor >
  12. Saint Of Circumstance
Disc 2
  1. China Cat Sunflower >
  2. I Know You Rider
  3. Feel Like A Stranger >
  4. He’s Gone >
  5. The Other One >
  6. Rhythm Devils >
  7. Space >
  8. Wharf Rat >
  9. Around And Around >
  10. Johnny B. Goode
Disc 3
  1. Shakedown Street >
  2. Bertha >
  3. Playing In The Band >
  4. Terrapin Station >
  5. Rhythm Devils >
  6. Space >
  7. Saint Of Circumstance >
  8. Black Peter >
  9. Playing In The Band >
  10. Good Lovin’
Road Trips Vol. 3 No. 4: Penn State – Cornell ’80 was released on January 25, 2019.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Chris O’Leary: “7 Minutes Late” (2019) CD Review

You might know Chris O’Leary from his work with Levon Helm And The Barn Burners, Levon’s blues band, where he sang lead and played harmonica. And for the past decade or so, Chris O’Leary has been releasing albums of his own. His latest, 7 Minutes Late, is a great mix of blues and soul, featuring original music. Joining him on this release are Andrei Koribanics on drums and percussion, Matt Raymond on bass, Peter Hopkinson on guitar, Greg Gumpel on guitar and mandolin, Jeremy Baum on organ and piano, Andy Stahl on tenor saxophone, and Chris Difrancesco on saxophone and clarinet, plus a few guests on certain tracks.

The disc opens with “What The Devil Made Me Do.” A good, steady thumping beat gets things going and gets me excited. Then the song kicks in to become a delicious rhythm and blues tune with a classic style, featuring some nice work on organ and a cool vocal performance. Chris Vitarello joins the group on guitar for this track, and there is a lot of great stuff on guitar. Also, there is a groovy bass line. “When it comes to my heart, baby, now you hold the key/And you jacked that key right down the side of my brand new Mercury.” I really appreciate the twist in those lines. The lyrics also contain a reference to William Congreve, and toward the end a little nod to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps.” That’s followed by “Your Day Will Come,” which has a cooler, mellower western sound at the start. The lyrics surprised me. Based on the initial vibe, I wasn’t expecting a political song, but its opening lines are “Say anything to get you elected/Tell the people what they want to hear/Divide and separate, play up the hate/Stoke the devil’s fires of fear.” And I am totally on board. I think we can all appreciate the song’s title line, “Your day will come.” Just please, please, please let that day be soon. Our country can’t take much more of this dreadful administration. Chris O’Leary delivers a soulful vocal performance, and I really love those touches on keys. Check out these lines: “Judge a man on the content of his character/Not on the color of his skin/A killer or a crook/You shouldn’t need the good book/To figure out what constitutes sin.” Man, this song really gets its hooks into you, while its power is sort of understated. It features more delicious work on guitar. Peter Kanaras plays guitar on this track.

“Second Time Around” is a groovy blues rock tune with a solid rhythm. I love Chris O’Leary’s delivery of these lines: “So I asked her what’d I do/What did I do?/But I guess I already knew.” Here he is honest with himself, as well as with us. And, hey, everyone wants a second chance at some point, right? But the woman of this tale isn’t buying it. “It’s going to be a cold day in hell, fool, before you get a second time around, a second chance at me,” she says. That’s followed by “She Ain’t Coming Back,” which begins as a delicious back porch raw acoustic blues tune. I immediately love the vibe of this one. And when it kicks in, it becomes a glorious number, with some powerful vocals. And of course I dig that great work on harmonica. This track features an interesting choice of drum work, a march of sorts. And then, when I thought the song couldn’t possibly get any cooler, suddenly we get a fantastic horn section. And with that drum beat, it takes on something of a New Orleans vibe in that section. Oh man, I love this track. The band’s sexy, slow playing is just perfect. The New Orleans vibe is stronger in “Circus Just Left Town,” a tune that is pure fun. I’m waiting for the circus to leave Washington D.C.  Details of Donald Trump’s funeral have been leaked: his body is to be tossed onto a dung cart, which will be pulled by a clown car through the streets of our capital, while “Yakety Sax” plays over and over. Yeah, it promises to be a fun time for all. In the meantime, we have this song to get us dancing and put us in the mood for a celebration.

The album’s title track, “7 Minutes Late,” is a much more serious affair. I particularly like the harmonica work in the second half of the song, during that moody jam. It seems to tell a story itself. “Bones” comes on strong, with a great blues force. This is raw, slow blues, with plenty of good stuff on harmonica and lines like “He got a hole in his soul that you’re never gonna fill” and “You’ll do anything to feel alive.” “Driving Me Crazy” features more delicious New Orleans vibes. I love the horns. And Chris O’Leary employs a loose vocal style that works perfectly with overall feel of this song. This is a fantastic tune. “It looks like we’re going to straight to hell, so mama let me drive. The album then concludes with “Daddy’s Here,” a mellower and moving acoustic number with a soulful vocal performance.

CD Track List
  1. What The Devil Made Me Do
  2. Your Day Will Come
  3. One More Chance At Love
  4. Second Time Around
  5. She Ain’t Coming Back
  6. Circus Just Left Town
  7. 7 Minutes Late
  8. Unbelievable
  9. Bones
  10. Heartbreak Waiting To Happen
  11. Driving Me Crazy
  12. Daddy’s Here
7 Minutes Late was released on January 18, 2019 through American Showplace Music.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Dave Wilson Quartet: “One Night At Chris’” (2019) CD Review

I’ve been a Grateful Dead fan since I was twelve or thirteen. And though the band came to a sudden end nearly twenty-five years ago, their music has continued to thrive, some of the songs becoming almost standards. Lyricist Robert Hunter is reported to have once said that if any Grateful Dead song might become a classic or standard, it would be “Friend Of The Devil.” Seems like he was onto something there. It is certainly the Dead song I’ve heard covered the most, and it’s been performed in several different styles. One Night At Chris’, the new live album by The Dave Wilson Quartet, features a good jazz rendition, and that is the track that sparked my interest in the release. Joining the saxophonist on this album are Kirk Reese on piano, Tony Marino on acoustic bass, and Dan Monaghan on drums. The music here is a mix of covers and original material. It was recorded at Chris’ Jazz CafĂ© in Philadelphia, but you don’t hear all that much from the audience. It seems to be edited in such a way that the crowd is cut from the end of the tracks, with at least three tracks actually fading out.

The disc opens with an original tune, “Ocean Blue,” written by Dave Wilson (on the CD case it is erroneously titled “Ocean Blues”). This track jumps and moves, and features some joyful and solid playing, particularly by Dave Wilson, who seems to have a tremendous amount of energy. We’re a few minutes into the track before he relaxes so that Kirk Reese can lead on piano. That’s followed by “Friend Of The Devil,” which – as I already mentioned – was the track that first got me excited about this release. It’s an interesting rendition. The pace is more in line with the original version from American Beauty, rather than the slowed-down versions the band performed in concert later on. This surprised me. I had fully expected a nice, slow jazz exploration of the song, but we get something exciting and animated, popping and bursting along. It’s an instrumental rendition, obviously, and at first I find myself singing along. But soon this cool jam really takes over, succeeding on its own, apart from Hunter’s lyrics. There is a brief drum solo toward the end. By the way, this isn’t the first time that Dave Wilson has covered the Grateful Dead. On his 2015 release, There Was Never, he delivered a beautiful and energetic rendition of “Cassidy.” The band then does slow things down for a nice take on The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” Dave Wilson’s saxophone delivering the vocal line, then venturing into other territory. This track also features a cool lead on bass, which is when things really start to get interesting. And when the sax returns to that main line, it seems to work even better and sound even prettier. This is a wonderful rendition.

The band gets us moving again with “My Own Prison,” a tune written by Scott Stapp and Mark Tremonti, and originally performed by Creed (a band I never cared for). Yes, it is a surprising choice, but it works, and the track features some groovy work on piano. This version is far superior to the original. It moves and breathes, unlike the original, which seems to drag. The Dave Wilson Quartet also delivers a seriously good cover of “God Only Knows,” one of the best Beach Boys songs. This song is so beautiful, and these guys handle it nicely, taking the song into some unusual territory, but never straying too far from its core. The saxophone soars gloriously in this rendition. This is a song that the Dave Wilson Quartet also included on There Was Never. That’s followed by an original tune, “Untitled Modal Tune,” one that moves at a good clip, that bass pushing things along, and features some delicious and impressive stuff on piano, Kirk Reese’s fingers dancing over the keys. And check out that work on drums, particularly during Dave Wilson’s lead on sax, which itself rises and twists and explodes in wonderful ways. Yeah, all four musicians are on top of the world here, and toward the end, this track just comes at you with a delightful force. Listen to those brief drum solos, and the horn blaring, and the piano rushing toward a climax. And yet that isn’t the climax, which is fine, because I don’t really want this one to end, but rather want to see where they will take it next, where it will take us. This is one of my favorite tracks.

So, as I mentioned, the main thing that got me excited about this release was the Grateful Dead cover. But the other track I was particularly eager to hear was the eleven-minute version of “Summertime.” I’ve said it before, but you can never go wrong with Gershwin. This is not a mellow rendition, but one that crackles and shakes, with the piano having a whole lot to say here. And the saxophone leads the band right to the rooftops and spires and beyond. A little more than halfway through, there is a drum solo which begins somewhat softly, then gathers force and energy. This isn’t the first time The Dave Wilson Quartet has covered this one. Versions of “Summertime” were included on both There Was Never and My Time. The disc then concludes with an original tune, “Spiral,” which has a different sort of energy, the rhythm propelling it along its path with a joy and determination. This is yet another of my favorite tracks, and it also includes a good drum solo. It fades out, even as the party is clearly continuing.

CD Track List
  1. Ocean Blue
  2. Friend Of The Devil
  3. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
  4. My Own Prison
  5. Biggest Part Of Me
  6. Movin’ On
  7. God Only Knows
  8. Untitled Modal Tune
  9. Summertime
  10. Spiral 
One Night At Chris’ is scheduled to be released on May 27, 2019. By the way, on the CD case spine, the name of the band is listed as “Thew Dave Wilson Quartet,” an odd mistake.