Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Hilary Scott: “Don’t Call Me Angel” (2018) CD Review

Hilary Scott is a singer and songwriter working largely in the country and folk realm. Her newest release, Don’t Call Me Angel, however, has a good deal of soul added to her sound. This album contains mostly original material, written by Hilary Scott, songs that are emotionally engaging. Hilary Scott plays piano, acoustic guitar and ukulele on this release. Joining her are AJ Gennaro on drums and percussion; Josh Schilling on bass, electric guitar and ukulele; Johnny Lee Schell on guitar and mandolin; and Mike Finnigan on organ.

Don’t Call Me Angel opens with its title track, one of the album’s best songs. This is a beautiful song that features some excellent lyrics, such as these lines: “I’ve got more than dust on me/And plenty mistakes to my name.” Those are the lines that immediately stood out and pulled me in. “Don’t call me angel…I never looked good in white.” That’s followed by “Not Used To Being Used To,” which has quite a different feel right from the start with the piano and the finger snaps. There is a lot of soul to Hilary’s vocal performance here, and a joy to her blues. “I’m not used to being used to being treated so well/Honey, you took my hand and led me straight out of hell.” This is a really strong track.

On “Make It Right,” Hilary Scott delivers a gorgeous vocal performance that has an intimate feel at first and then builds from there. Check out these lines: “You know how to make it painless when you hit the ground/You know when it’s just not worth the fight/You know how to do wrong and make it right.” Not bad, eh? This song also features some nice work on keys, and is one of my favorites of the album. “Heartless” also has an intimate vibe and builds to become a powerful song. These are the lines that open this one: “I washed most of my makeup clean/Just a few lipstick stains/And though now it’s just plain old me/A bit of you still remains.” But perhaps my favorite lines are these: “You brought me a paper bouquet/And it won’t die, but the colors will fade.” This track also features more good stuff on keys.

I love the soulful, moving songs on this album, like “Moon And Back,” which begins with piano and vocals, and slowly, beautifully builds from there. “It seems like such a long ride/So can you stop it now.” Oh god, there is something heartbreaking about those lines, particularly as they feel to not be just about a relationship, but about some of the harsher things in life, or life itself. “Sometimes the choices we make/They make it seem there’s no escape/Where would I go anyway?/Just a lonely fall through space.” This song itself takes us on a ride, and ultimately raises our spirits, letting hope and optimism return. That’s followed by “In Time,” which has a pretty folk sound on guitar. “Do you always say there’s tomorrow/Do you always think I’ll change my mind/What if you never get the chance in time.” This one gets its hooks in me immediately. “Did you forget there is no promise/Did you forget love is all we have?” There is something delicate in her delivery at times, something that feels ephemeral, which is so fitting for lines like “’Cause everything in passes in time.”

The album’s sole cover is a rendition of Prince’s “Kiss.” Since Prince’s untimely death in 2016 (the worst year), I’ve heard several folk artists cover this one. Hilary Scott’s version is somewhat mellow, and quite a bit different from other renditions I’ve heard. She changes the lyrics to “You don’t have to be rich/To be my boy/Don’t have to be cool/To bring me joy.” She also changes “You don’t have to watch Dynasty” to “You don’t have to watch bad TV.” A comment on Dynasty, or simply an update for those somehow unfamiliar with that 1980s program? (Though didn’t they recently remake that show for some reason?) The album then concludes with “Here I Am,” another track with a good amount of soul. I love how this one opens with the line “I am a mess.” No hiding there, eh? “I never dreamed you could change my whole world/With a smile and the touch of your hand/You have my heart and you won’t let it go/You know I can’t stop, here I am.”

CD Track List
  1. Don’t Call Me Angel
  2. Not Used To Being Used To
  3. You Will Be Mine
  4. Make It Right
  5. Heartless
  6. Unlove Story
  7. Moon And Back
  8. In Time
  9. Kiss
  10. Here I Am
Don’t Call Me Angel was released on October 12, 2018 on Belltown Records.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Paul Nelson: “Over Under Through” (2019) CD Review

What first got me excited to listen to Over Under Through was the fact that Ellis Paul provides some backing vocals on one of its tracks. I’ve been a fan of his music since the late 1980s when I saw him open for Roger McGuinn at the Old Vienna Kaffeehaus (remember that place?). But it wasn’t long before Paul Nelson’s style and vibe had me completely under his spell. There is just something arresting about the sound of this album. It is somewhat dark, somewhat haunted, but with an underlying hope. Besides Ellis Paul, he has several other talented musicians helping him out on this release, including Kevin Barry on guitar and lap steel, John Sands on drums and percussion, Richard Gates on bass, Paul Kochanski on bass, Tom Eaton on keys and percussion, and Jeff Oster on flugelhorn and trumpet. All but one of the songs on this album were written by Paul Nelson.

The album opens with “Go Down Ezekiel,” which has a cool, slow, dark blues vibe, with a steady rhythm that you can feel in your heart. “Move out a bit further/Move out further still/It’s only when you leave the shoreline/Oh, brother, you will be filled.” Tom Eaton adds some work on rain sticks on this track. That’s followed by “Ghost In The Basement,” which also has a somewhat haunting vibe even before the song’s first line about the ghost, “There’s a ghost in the basement, I know she’s there.” Paul Nelson’s vocal delivery, and that wonderful guitar part over that raw steady thump of the drums quickly draw me in until I feel emerged in the world of this song. This is one of my personal favorites, in part because of lines like “Should I turn on the light so she can see?/Or leave her in the dark just like me” and “And I’m chained to her by choice, I guess,” but also because of Kristin Cifelli’s presence on backing vocals, which gives the song a beauty and something of an uplifting quality. Also, there is something angelic in her deliver, and it is almost like she is the ghost, and she too is asking how long it will be until she is free to move on. It’s an interesting idea, that they are both haunted by each other, wondering when they can move on. Kristin Cifelli also adds her voice to the following track, “Color It Blue,” her work here having quite a different effect than on “Ghost In The Basement.” What I really dig about this track is the addition of horns approximately halfway through.

“Secret” has a groovy, mellow vibe and features some nice work on lap steel by Kevin Barry. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Well, I’ve got a secret/I’ve been keeping for some time/One I’ve been saying is dead/Still very much alive, still very much alive.” That’s followed by “Lay A Little,” which has a sweet, pretty folk sound. Something about this one makes me feel relaxed and hopeful. “Crawling out from the wreckage of/Broken trust and shattered dreams/Tried to make our way back to the start/And find ourselves some peace.” Kristin Cifelli again joins Paul Nelson on vocals. I love the addition of flugelhorn on “Alice Mullins,” a song that has a sweet, comforting Van Morrison-type vibe. “There’s a girl who can chase these blues away/With eyes the color of an autumn day.”

Ellis Paul joins Paul Nelson on vocals for the album’s sole cover, Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line.” Ellis is a big Cash fan (his “Kick Out The Lights” about Johnny Cash is a fan favorite during live performances), so it makes perfect sense that he would sing on this one. This is a mellow, thoughtful, unusual take on the song, with some pretty work on lap steel. Kristin Cifelli contributes vocal work to the track as well. That’s followed by “Relative Work.” The lines that stand out for me from this one are “We’re surely on the long decline/Well, we gotta make the best of times.”  Then “Silent Majority” has more of a blues rock sound. Kristin Cifelli and Nickie Fuller join Paul Nelson on vocals on this one. “Will you join the majority/Or say what needs to be said/Violence isn’t the remedy/To injustice that plagues our land/But let your words be a sword/In love take a stand.” Does that bridge halfway through remind you a bit of “Hey Bulldog”? “One well-placed stone of truth/Can make a giant fall/You don’t need money or power/To plant the seeds of change.” That’s followed by “Over Under Through,” the album’s title track, a song with a serious, engaging sound. I dig the trumpet that rises in the distance and moves through us. And is that a talking drum? “Over the mountain of sorrows/Under the crashing waves/Through the valley of pain and suffering/To the land where freedom waits.” The disc then concludes with “There Is Weeping,” a soulful tune with some wonderful backing vocals by Kristin Cifelli and Nickie Fuller. This is a positive tune, a good one with which to finish the album. “Rise up, open your eyes/Wake, o’ sleeper, from your rest/Only you and I can be the feet and the hands/To bring a song of hope to the world.”

CD Track List
  1. Go Down Ezekiel
  2. Ghost In The Basement
  3. Color It Blue
  4. Secret
  5. Lay A Little
  6. Alice Mullin
  7. I Walk The Line
  8. Relative Work
  9. Silent Majority
  10. Over Under Through
  11. There Is Weeping 
Over Under Through is scheduled to be released on January 25, 2019 on Riverwide Records.

Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band at Masonic Lodge, 1-13-19 Concert Review

Phil Lesh performing "I Know You Rider"
Last night Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band played the second of a two-night stand at the Masonic Lodge in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery here in Los Angeles. What a treat it was to get to see Phil Lesh at such an intimate venue. Supposedly the capacity is 150, but it felt more like 250 or 300 people were there. Still, I’d never seen any member of the Grateful Dead at a place that small. The sound wasn’t perfect, but the vibes certainly were. It was a good crowd, good people. And the music was excellent, the band playing several songs I’d never seen performed before, including “Pride Of Cucamonga” and “Born Cross-eyed.”

The venue was not created for music, and so there is no special entrance to the small stage. The band had to walk through the audience to get to the stage, and at 8 p.m., the members began to make their way through the crowd. They then kicked off the first set with “Tennessee Jed,” establishing a good groove before delivering any of the lyrics. Several of the band members sang lead on different verses, with female vocalist Elliott Peck taking the “Drink all day and rock all night” verse. “Tennessee Jed” featured a really good lead on keys by Jason Crosby. That was followed by what was for me one of the show’s highlights, “Pride Of Cucamonga.” It is a song that I’d never seen Phil perform before, and that morning I’d had a dream where I asked Phil to play it. It was great to hear this song, and the rendition was fantastic, with some wonderful work by Ross James on pedal steel. And that section where this cool country tune suddenly turns bluesy was explored more than is done on the version on From The Mars Hotel. Then we got a version of “Jack Straw” that really moved, driven by some excellent stuff on guitar, and then a sweet rendition of “Teach Your Children,” featuring some nice harmonies and more good work on pedal steel.

“West L.A. Fadeaway” is one song that has really found its life in the post-Grateful Dead world, with better versions being performed now than in the 1980s. Dead And Company has done some excellent things with it, and last night Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band delivered a phenomenal rendition, with some delicious jamming. Am I insane, or did Jason Crosby dip into Gershwin during the song’s stellar jam? Anyway, it is interesting how this song has really taken off in the days since the Grateful Dead. “West L.A. Fadeaway” led straight into “No More Do I,” a tune from the Phil & Friends’ There And Back Again. It seemed to be leading to something else, but then just sort of drifted off at the end. That was followed by one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs, “Stella Blue,” a surprise for the first set. It was wonderful watching Phil conduct the band near the beginning, an adorable moment. And there was some beautiful vocal work toward the end. The first set then concluded with “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad,” with Phil singing lead on the first verse. “We’re going to take a short break and we’ll be right back,” Phil told the crowd. And indeed – particularly by Dead standards – it was a short break. The first set ended at 9:22 p.m., and the band started heading back to the stage at 9:49 p.m., certainly not enough time for everyone to use the loo. I should mention that this venue has only two toilets upstairs, one for men and one for women, and so the line before the show began was rather long (apparently there are more toilets downstairs, but those weren’t available then). I didn’t even bother leaving my spot during the set break.

The second set got off to a fantastic start with “Born Cross-Eyed,” a song I was certainly not expecting to hear. It was another of the show’s highlights, and it was followed by “Playing In The Band.” This one developed into a seriously cool jam. Phil gave it a strong pulse, but the jam had a gentleness to it, and the band took an interesting, unusual path back to the main section of the song. And, yes, Elliott Peck did her own version of the Donna scream. Phil then sang “Mountains Of The Moon,” which had a smooth feel at first. This was when things start getting weird for me, the engine of the song catching fire, then suddenly cooling down and returning us to a land that resembled Earth, though we were still on the moon at that point. Phil delivered the song’s lyrics gently, kindly. That was followed by “Caution,” a jam that chugged along on a fast track, giant rodents scampering to either side, as holy men lay sacrifices at the train’s many feet. The guitar suddenly cut through the walls, the hills, the air, a blazing knife dividing and then uniting, as we spilled out and tumbled underground to a gloriously hellish celebration catered by slightly domesticated trolls in striped outfits and surgically achieved smiles. Where were we being led? For a moment it seemed like the band had strayed into Who territory, but soon after that slid into “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” Ah yes, the band had done this one during the soundcheck. We could hear it from outside – that and “Playing In The Band.” And on this song, Elliott Peck finally got a chance to really show her vocal chops. Fantastic!

The rhythm of “He’s Gone” began on guitar, lifting us up just a bit from the mellow and darker realm of “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” That led straight into “The Other One,” a song that is a force to be embraced or destroyed by. This version took us in strange places, with unusual phrasing, and it led directly into “New Speedway Boogie,” and then into Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and back into “New Speedway Boogie,” ending with a nice bit delivered a cappella, the audience finishing the line. That was followed by Robert Hunter’s “Jack O’ Roses,” a song I didn’t recognize at first. It has been a while since I listened to my Robert Hunter albums (I have them all on cassette). That slid nicely into “Terrapin Station,” though something felt weird about this “Terrapin” at one point near the beginning. Did Phil start singing the wrong verse or something? Well, by the time they got to “Inspiration!” it was clear this was a spiritual service and we were all a part of it, the audience supplying the shouts of “Terrapin!” That led into a fun rendition of “I Know You Rider” to wrap up the second set. It featured a wonderful conversation between piano and guitar. The band stepped off the stage at 11:34 p.m., but basically just hid behind the curtain at stage left rather than walking through the audience. After a minute, Phil returned to the stage to urge folks to become organ donors. Then the band came back on to play a rockin’ rendition of “Ripple.” “Ripple” is my favorite song, and this version was so different that I didn’t even recognize it at first. It sounded like a Rolling Stones song from the early 1970s or something. But I quickly got into it. It had a tremendous amount of life and energy and joy, a new way of looking at what I consider to be the best song ever recorded. The show ended at 11:43 p.m., and some of us made our way over to right side of the room to give Phil a high-five as he passed by to the rear of the venue. It was a wonderful night.

Set List

Set I
  1. Tennessee Jed
  2. Pride Of Cucamonga
  3. Jack Straw
  4. Teach Your Children
  5. West L.A. Fadeaway  >
  6. No More Do I
  7. Stella Blue
  8. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad
Set II
  1. Born Cross-Eyed
  2. Playing In The Band
  3. Mountains Of The Moon
  4. Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks) >
  5. Death Don’t Have No Mercy
  6. He’s Gone >
  7. The Other One >
  8. New Speedway Boogie >
  9. Whole Lotta Love >
  10. New Speedway Boogie
  11. Jack O’ Roses >
  12. Terrapin Station >
  13. I Know You Rider 
  1. Ripple
Here are a few photos from the concert:

"Pride Of Cucamonga"
"Teach Your Children"
"Stella Blue"
"Playing In The Band"
"Mountains Of The Moon"
"Mountains Of The Moon"
Phil between songs
Phil urging folks to become organ donors

Friday, January 11, 2019

Taylor Martin: “Song Dogs” (2018) CD Review

Taylor Martin is a singer and songwriter based in Asheville, North Carolina. On his new album, Song Dogs, he delivers a damn good mix of folk, country, rock and pop. The disc contains mostly original material showcasing his songwriting talent, but also a few good choices of covers. Joining him on this release are Matthew Dufon on bass and backing vocals, Richie Jones on drums and percussion, Josh Shilling on keys, Aaron Woody Wood on guitar, Matthew Smith on electric guitar and pedal steel, Aaron Ramsey on guitar and mandolin, Lyndsay Pruett on fiddle, and Amanda Anne Platt on backing vocals.

The album opens with “Little Pictures,” a seriously enjoyable tune featuring some wonderful work on keys, plus a delicious rhythm at its base. Taylor Martin’s vocal delivery has something of a Dr. John rough and cool quality here. “Me, I love to keep my eyes closed/I love it when you close yours too/One so that they think you’re sleeping/While the other one’s looking, baby, right at you.” Toward the end, this track also features some good stuff on guitar. While there is a bit of a bluesy vibe to this song, the following track, “Here Comes The Flood,” has more of a country pop feel. “You’d better run for cover/No better cover than your man/Baby, if I’m him, let me help you to understand.” Amanda Anne Platt provides some backing vocals on this track.

“Eden Colorado” has a wonderful, kind of quiet folk vibe, and features some really good lyrics, with lines like “I make her laugh one time/To leave her memory behind” and “I’m looking for a dream somewhere deep inside of me” standing out. But probably my favorite line is “But out there on these highways every sign it reads do not worry about me.” I also love the guitar work on this track. This is a hopeful song, and is one of my personal favorite tracks.  That’s followed by one of the album’s three covers, Neil Young’s “Music Arcade,” a song from Broken Arrow. Taylor Martin’s rendition has a more cheerful and lively country sound, and features some nice work by Lyndsay Pruett on fiddle. Amanda Anne Platt joins him again on vocals. The fiddle is what makes “Second Sight” so beautiful. Interestingly, this love song also makes use of the image of the two having their eyes closed: “It’s all right, close your eyes/I’m going to close mine too.” A line that stood out for me the first time I listened to this song was “Help me remember when I first saw you again,” with that little pause before “again.”

Debrissa McKinney joins Taylor Martin on vocals on “Hollywood,” which is more of a pop tune with something of a 1970s vibe and some nice stuff on bass. Then Phil Alley joins Taylor Martin on telecaster for “Our Memories,” a song with a relaxed, pretty sound and more sweet work on fiddle. This track also has some nice harmonizing with Amanda Anne Platt. “This old house of earth and wood/Stood longer than we could/It always seemed too big for me/The perfect size for our memories.” That’s followed by the second of the album’s covers, Merle Haggard’s “Kern River.” The sweet nostalgic sound of the pedal steel fits this song so well. And, yes, this track also features some wonderful work on fiddle. Then “Milk And Honey” has a beautiful folk sound, with Aaron Ramsey on mandolin. “We’ll close our eyes and disappear.” I also like these lines, which end the song: “I was born a dreamer/You were born a dream.” The final cover is Bob Dylan’s “Sign On The Window,” a song from New Morning. The album then concludes with its title track, “Song Dogs,” which begins with some nice stuff on piano. This track too has its own beauty, aided by pedal steel and by what is probably Taylor Martin’s best vocal performance on the disc. “Though all the lines we’ve drawn are gone, and still we make it back.”

CD Track List
  1. Little Pictures
  2. Here Comes The Flood
  3. Eden Colorado
  4. Music Arcade
  5. Second Sight
  6. Hollywood
  7. Our Memories
  8. Kern River
  9. Milk And Honey
  10. Sign On The Window
  11. Song Dogs 
Song Dogs was released on November 16, 2018 on Little King Records. By the way, the notes on the back of the CD case are basically impossible to read. I know I’m getting older, but holy moly, you’d have to have some kind of superhero vision to make out the print there below the track list.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story (2018) Book Review

When I first came across the record label Sub Pop in my late teens, I thought the name meant music that is not is pop but is lurking below pop, ready to strike. Or like a joke that the music on the label wasn’t as good as pop, sub-pop in quality or something. I didn’t realize right away that it meant Subterranean Pop, as I hadn’t been aware of Bruce Pavitt’s magazine of that name. But thanks to Gillian G. Gaar’s new book, World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story, I now know the story of the record label that gave the world Nirvana and other influential bands. World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story is the first book in in the RPM Series, books that explore the world of important record labels.

The book was released late last year, the year that saw the label’s thirtieth anniversary. But it begins with a prologue giving some details of the twentieth anniversary celebration of the label, which occurred in Seattle in 2008. It then goes back to the beginning, or perhaps even before the beginning, when Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt heard a new record by the Sex Pistols at a barbecue and noticed the immediate reaction of those who had gathered, saw that “music really had the power to provoke” (p. 1). It is interesting that Bruce began using the name Subterranean Pop very early on, long before the label officially came into being, using it as the name for his radio show, and then for his fanzine (the title of the latter was soon shortened to Sub Pop, and compilation cassettes were released). The evolution of Sub Pop and Bruce’s work is fascinating, especially to those of us for whom music plays such an important role. Clearly Bruce Pavitt is moved by music as much as the rest of us, and his journey is one that speaks to that love of music in all of us.

But of course the story of Sub Pop is not the story of just one man. Label co-founder Jonathan Poneman is also someone who is truly moved by music. This book mentions the first time a song thrilled him. He was ten years old, and the song was “Magic Carpet Ride.” These are folks with a life-long passion for music, and that shows in the way they handled the business, and in the people who were drawn to work for them and with them. The book does include some information on the bands that were part of that Seattle scene, groups like Soundgarden and Nirvana, but of course focuses on their stories in relation to the story of the label. Author Gillian G. Gaar also gets into the stories of several other important employees of the label.

The book contains a lot of information on the label’s financial woes, and how a Mudhoney release and Nirvana’s Nevermind fixed all that. I appreciate the label’s sense of humor, obvious in its motto, “Going out of business since 1988” (a motto that has more than a bit of truth to it, as most good humor does) and its “Loser” T-shirts. I also appreciate the material on the Sub Pop Singles Club, which was aimed at those with the collector gene (I count myself among them, and can’t help but love this marketing strategy – and can’t help but wish I had subscribed, even though I honestly never cared much for the so-called “grunge” music). Other interesting promotional strategies are detailed here, such as having Mudhoney play on top of the Space Needle (a record of that performance was released on vinyl as part of 2014’s Record Story Day). What is also interesting is the way the internet has changed the music industry and the way people approach music, with one of the label’s employees contending that “organic regional scenes can no longer occur” (p. 139). I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment, for I’ve experienced at least one fantastic regional scene in the days since the internet took hold. But certainly things have changed. Yet, Sub Pop has remained and thrived, even branching out into comedy albums. By the way, this book does include a section of photos, including covers of Subterranean Pop magazine and compilations.

World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story was released on November 20, 2018 through BMG Books.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Randy Waldman: “Superheroes” (2018) CD Review

Approximately a decade ago I swore off all superhero movies because they had become pointless, ugly and dull (I was talked into making an exception for Wonder Woman, a decision I immediately regretted because it is among the worst of the genre). But I grew up reading comic books and watching superheroes on television and in movies. When I was really young, it was shows like Super Friends and Wonder Woman, and of course re-runs of the original Batman series (which is still the absolute best superhero program), and I collected Spider-Man and Fantastic Four comic books. Later I enjoyed the first couple of Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies and the first two X-Men films. I still have some affection for these superhero characters, even though Disney has done its best to ruin them all for me (Disney is the great destroyer of good things), and I still enjoy those old programs I grew up watching. So I was excited to hear Randy Waldman’s recent release, Superheroes, in which he delivers jazz interpretations of some of the beloved superhero themes from my youth. The band for this release is made up of Randy Waldman on piano, Carlitos Del Puerto on bass, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Michael O’Neill on guitar and Rafael Padilla on percussion. These tracks also feature several special guests, including George Benson, Wynton Marsalis and Chick Corea.

Randy Waldman opens this disc with “The Adventures Of Superman (TV Theme),” a perfect choice because Superman was the first superhero a lot of us were exposed to as kids. This track does include that famous spoken introduction: “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive…” And some actors you certainly know lend their vocal talents to that section, people like James Brolin, Jeff Goldblum, Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. Pretty cool. And Randy Brecker and Eddie Daniels join the group on trumpet and saxophone respectively, adding some wonderful work. But that fantastic lead on piano is what really excites me about this track. And at the end there is a drum solo, which I appreciate. That’s followed by “Mighty Mouse Theme.” This was a cartoon I adored as a child in the 1970s, and this track is a lively, fun rendition of its theme, with some excellent drumming by Steve Gadd and Vinnie Colaiuta. There is also a nice lead on saxophone by Joe Lovano.

“Spiderman Theme” begins with an a cappella delivery of that familiar and delightful theme performed by vocal group Take 6. This is a superhero theme that has been covered a lot over the years, but somehow always manages to be enjoyable. This version features some great work on saxophone by Chris Potter, and more excellent work on keys (is there just a touch of “Brazil” at one point?), and the vocals pop up from time to time throughout the track. Then George Benson joins Randy Waldman for an interesting version of “Superman” from the 1978 movie. I loved this movie when it came out, and I still enjoy it, though it has perhaps the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen in a film: Superman reversing time by spinning the Earth the opposite way on its axis. Who the hell came up with that asinine idea? Anyway, this rendition features some phenomenal work by George Benson on guitar.

As I mentioned already, the 1960s Batman television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward is the absolute best superhero adaptation for either TV or film. I enjoyed it as a child, and love it even more as an adult. If you haven’t watched it recently, it might be a good idea to revisit it. It is possibly the funniest American television show ever (certainly it is in the top five, along with Arrested Development and All In The Family). I’ve heard some excellent renditions of the show’s theme song, including a recent version by Holland & Clark. This version by Randy Waldman is definitely worth checking out. It features Wynton Marsalis on trumpet, plus some really good work on bass and drums, as well as keys. It is fun, and I love the way it moves. Check out that cool lead on bass toward the end.

The Incredible Hulk was a television show I used to watch with my dad, and I always loved that sad theme at the end when you see Bill Bixby hitchhiking. What we get on this album is a version of the main titles theme, which I had forgotten about, but which is basically a more lively variation of that great ending theme. This track features Chick Corea. “The Incredible Hulk (Main Title)” is followed by “Six Million Dollar Man Theme.” The Six Million Dollar Man was another show I watched with my dad when I was growing up. I have such fond memories of it, but have never revisited it. Does it hold up? Anyway, this is a cool rendition of the theme, featuring some great stuff on drums. Both Steve Gadd and Vinnie Colaiuta play drums on this track. Arturo Sandoval and Wayne Bergeron are on trumpet, while Stephen Szabadi is on trombone and Brandon Fields is on saxophone.

Then we get the theme to the 1989 film version of Batman, composed by Danny Elfman. This track features Michael O’Neill on guitar. There is also more wonderful work on piano. That’s followed by “X-Men TV Theme.” I wasn’t even aware there was an X-Men TV show.  Till Brรถnner plays trumpet on this track, which has an excellent energy. There is also some wonderful work on bass, and then toward the end, some delicious drumming. Then Randy Waldman gives us “Underdog Theme.” I had completely forgotten about Underdog. What a treat it is to hear a new version of that show’s theme, particularly because it features Bob McChesney on trombone and Steve Gadd on drums. The disc then concludes with “Super Chicken Theme,” one I wasn’t all that familiar with. Super Chicken was a segment from the George Of The Jungle show. When this track begins, it sounds to me like Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue.” This is one of the most delightful, enjoyable tracks, moving at a frantic pace, the horns flying. And yes, they throw in a few chicken noises toward the end. Arturo Sandoval is on trumpet, Eddie Daniels is on clarinet, and Bob McChesney is on trombone.

CD Track List
  1. The Adventures Of Superman
  2. Might Mouse Theme
  3. Spiderman Theme
  4. Superman
  5. Batman Theme
  6. The Incredible Hulk (Main Title)
  7. Six Million Dollar Man Theme
  8. Batman Theme (1989 Movie)
  9. X-Men TV Theme
  10. Underdog Theme
  11. Super Chicken Theme
Superheroes was released on September 28, 2018.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Edward David Anderson: “Chasing Butterflies” (2018) CD Review

Edward David Anderson is a singer and songwriter based in Bloomington, Illinois. You might know him from his work with the band Backyard Tire Fire, which he fronted until embarking on a solo career several years ago. In 2014, he released Lies & Wishes, and then the following year released Lower Alabama: The Loxley Sessions. He’s now followed those with a new album, Chasing Butterflies. This album features all original material, written by Edward David Anderson. Joining him on this release are Jimmy Nutt on bass and percussion (he also produced the album), Jon Davis on drums and percussion, Brad Kuhn on keys, Kimi Samson violin, Todd Beene on pedal steel, and Angi Nutt on percussion.

The disc opens with “Harmony,” a joyful, kind of playful number that quickly grew on me. What I like most about this song is the work on guitar, but I also appreciate its pleasant vibe. It begins with the idea of harmony in music, and then expands from there, leading to these lines: “It’d be a beautiful scene/If all human beings could live in/Harmony.” Ah, you can’t argue with those lines. That’s followed by “The Ballad Of Lemuel Penn,” a song that recounts the true story of a black man who was murdered by racists. This story happened in 1964, but anyone who is paying attention could tell you this is still happening. And in these dark days when racists hold the highest offices in the land, this country is in danger of more racially motivated violence, for the bigots now have an official voice. “Lemuel Penn was a good man/And he died because of his own skin.” I love the violin, which is as effective as the lyrics in stirring our emotions.

“The Best Part” is a good folk song featuring banjo, an instrument that always makes me feel happy. And the tune has a good thumping beat through sections of it to help raise your spirits. In this song, he offers a pledge to be the best person he can be for the person he loves, and he knows that “The best part of me is me and you.” Check out these lines: “Without you I’m a stumbling fool/Just trying to play it cool/But I ain’t fooling no one.” “Bad Tattoos” is a cool bluesy number, and Edward David Anderson recently released a video to go along with this one. I am not at all a fan of tattoos, but I am definitely a fan of this song. It describes what could be the source of regrets, but then has these lines: “If I had to choose/I’d do it all over again.” I love the instrumental section; it has something of twisted carnival feel, which I adore, with some really nice work on keys. “It’s like a map to my soul that fades more each day/The lines will blur but they don’t go away.”

“Dog Days” has a sweet, cheerful sound right from the start. Sure, it’s a song about a dog, but it has an innocence and joy that is certainly welcome these days. “He puts up with my fits/We never get into it/And he don’t care who’s president/Not one bit.”  That’s followed by “Chasing Butterflies,” the album’s title track. It has a more serious vibe, and features Todd Beene on pedal steel. I like this song even though it uses that “self”/“shelf” rhyme, which I never care for and wish songwriters would avoid. “Sittin’ ‘Round At Home” is a delightful, relaxed folk tune about not doing much of anything, something many of us would like to do a whole lot more of.  Kimi Samson delivers some wonderful stuff on violin on this track. The CD then concludes with “Seasons Turn.” This one has a surprising opening, sounding dark, ominous, until the acoustic guitar begins to balance out the sound. Still, it produces a kind of uneasy feeling in us as we listen, unsure where it will go. But then the vocals have a sweet tone. This is a really interesting song, and ends up being one of my favorites of the album, in part because of the guitar work. There is a verse for each of the four seasons. “Winter comes, winter goes/Days it’s sunny, days it snows/Winter comes, winter goes/If there’s one thing I know.”

CD Track List
  1. Harmony
  2. The Ballad Of Lemuel Penn
  3. The Best Part
  4. Bad Tattoos
  5. Crosses
  6. Only In My Dreams
  7. Dog Days
  8. Chasing Butterflies
  9. Sittin’ ‘Round At Home
  10. Seasons Turn
Chasing Butterflies was released on October 19, 2018 on Black Dirt Records.

Danny Lynn Wilson: “Peace Of Mind” (2019) CD Review

Danny Lynn Wilson’s new album, Peace Of Mind, is full of engaging, moving and passionate songs, combining folk and blues, often with an intimate feel. All tracks are originals, written by Danny Lynn Wilson. Joining him on this release are Dave Gross on electric guitar, banjo, mandolin, piano, organ, harmonium and percussion; Matt Raymond on bass; and Ray Hangen on drums. There are also several guest musicians on various tracks. This is a disc that I loved the moment I put it on. I felt like it was speaking directly to me, and I have a feeling it will have the same effect on a lot of folks.

The album opens with “When Will The Loving Start.” There is something sad and defeated in Danny Lynn Wilson’s vocal delivery here, which is perfect. The song’s first lines are “This world is no place for a man with a heart/Drag you down, tear you apart/Turn you ‘round, turn you out.” But for me the lines that really stand out are “I don’t know why dreams are so hard/And I don’t know when this lovin’ will start.” It’s a valid question. This country has lost its soul and its heart, and most of us are wondering when it will find them again. But there is still something hopeful about this song. The line “Tell me when will this loving start” implies it will start again. Wouldn’t that be something? And his delivery of that line makes me feel it might be soon. Clare Moses joins him on vocals for this song, adding a gentle beauty to it. That song is followed by “Sympathy For Your Man,” which has a cool vibe, a haunted country blues sound that is completely delicious. Sean Daly plays lap steel on this track.

“Peace Of Mind,” the album’s title track, emerges straight out of “Sympathy For Your Man.” I am totally digging this music. There is something dark about it, but with rays of light ready to burst through at any moment. And check out that wonderful work on violin, rising like a gorgeous voice from the darkness. That’s Charles Burnham on violin. “And I need her every day/Like the sun she goes away/And I hope that someday she’ll find/All this love and peace of mind.” Then “Long Way Home” is a more fun, playful tune with nice work on banjo, plus some cool, prominent percussion. “You know I love you, baby, but can’t you see/That you were head over heels in love/With a fool like me.” This is a completely enjoyable tune, with some sweet backing vocals by Danielle Gross. But, yes, there are still blues here. “Every time I win/You know I lose/I was born and raised/To have the blues.”

“Love Only You” has something of a dark feel, particularly in the percussion. But the weariness in Danny Lynn Wilson’s vocal delivery is matched by the love in his voice, for this is a sweet song in which he sings, “Forgive me for these things that I do/’Cause I love only you.” There is something beautiful about this song, in part because of Clare Moses’ work on cello. That’s followed by “Middle Class Blues,” a tune that makes me smile the moment it starts because of its rhythm, its groove, and because of Danny Lynn Wilson’s vocals. Plus, this track features more wonderful work by Charles Burnham on violin. “We all work our lives away/And we take home half our pay/When they put us in the ground/Like hungry dogs they swarm around.” Yes, I think a lot of folks are going to relate to this one. “Shine Is Off” also has a cheerful sound from its start, which works in contrast to lines like “All I bring to you is pain” and “I fear the light is dying in your eyes/That should be no surprise.” It is almost like he is trying to make everything better with this music, and the optimism in the playing may very well carry him through and make it all right. I believe in the power of music.

Danny Lynn Wilson then gives us a more rocking blues number, “Arkansas Trotter,” with that electric guitar at its start. The song quickly develops a cool, jazzy vibe which works so well with that blues base.  I fall down, I get up again.” Oh yes.  I totally dig Doug James’ work on tenor saxophone. There is also some seriously cool work on keys. That’s followed by “High Water,” which has something of a classic vibe and sound. “Keep on running, don’t you ever look back/If you do, you’ll have a heart attack.” This song is a delight, and I love the backing vocals echoing the title line. Danielle Gross, Dave Gross and Greg Gumpel provide backing vocals. Greg Gumpel also adds some great work on resonator guitar on this track.

“High Water” is followed by “No Walls.” From the title, I thought this song might be an answer to a certain moronic president and his demented desire for a border wall. But it’s actually a kind of sweet tune. Check out these lines: “I’ve got no walls to hold your picture/I got no walls, but that’s okay/Stars in the sky will be my ceiling/And I’ll hold your picture every day.” April Mae joins Danny Lynn Wilson on washboard on this track. “My time here has been so wonderful/But there’s so many places I’ve got to see.” Then “Fuss ‘N’ Fight” has a totally delightful sound, like some happy musicians playing on a back porch. Greg Gumpel plays resonator guitar on this one. “She’s my good loving baby/Knows how to treat me right/She’s the kind of girl/Don’t want to fuss and fight.” I love this song. “Too Many Hounds” has an interesting sound, with Doug James’ baritone saxophone sounding like something from a classic Stax album, but also with some strong folk elements as well, and some unusual percussion. And then there is some electric guitar driving things forward. “When you hear me howlin’/You’ll know the reason why.” The disc then concludes with “Galway Bay,” a soft, pretty, mellower tune, featuring some nice work by Sean Daly on lap steel.  She’ll lie down under the same big sky/Same moon, same heaven.”

CD Track List
  1. When Will The Loving Start
  2. Sympathy For Your Man
  3. Peace Of Mind
  4. Long Way Home
  5. Love Only You
  6. Middle Class Blues
  7. Shine Is Off
  8. Arkansas Trotter
  9. High Water
  10. No Walls
  11. Fuss ‘N’ Fight
  12. Too Many Hounds
  13. Galway Bay 
Peace Of Mind is scheduled to be released on January 8, 2019 on SwingNation Records.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Chad Elliott & The Redemptions: “Rest Heavy: The Sun Studio Sessions” (2018) CD Review

Rest Heavy: The Sun Studio Sessions, the latest release from Chad Elliott & The Redemptions, is an absolutely wonderful album full of soul and delicious vibes. It has elements of blues, country and folk, and features mostly original material, written by Chad Elliott. Joining him on this release are Tommy Lewis on electric guitar, harmonica and vocals; Travis McFarlane on piano, keyboard and organ; Jim Van Dorn on drums; Joseph Cafaro on upright bass; and Kevin Boehnke on trumpet and acoustic guitar.

The album opens with its title track, “Rest Heavy,” and I am on board immediately. I can’t help but love this song’s classic soul sound, and Chad’s vocals really are in line with some of those great 1960s soul numbers. And, hey, it’s a love song, with lyrics about meeting that special someone. “I was so lost before that day/Now with you I know the way.” This track features some really nice work on guitar, plus some great touches on harmonica. “How can we live apart when my heart stays with you?” Good question. The harmonica plays a prominent role right from the start on “Shy Of Shameless,” a tune with a catchy groove and a good dose of blues. And yeah, I can’t help but prick up my ears when Massachusetts is mentioned in a song (I’ve been living in L.A. for two decades, but Massachusetts is still home, you know?). In this song, we get the lines “And I’m on my way/To some Massachusetts town/Well, I woke up shy of shameless/And now nothing can get me down.” And I dig the smile in his voice on the line “We were pretty hard to ignore.” There is some good stuff on keys, and then, holy moly, halfway through the track, the music reaches another level with the addition of horn. Yes, this track just becomes more fun as it goes.

We then go more into country territory with “Hills Of Tennessee.” However, the horn keeps it from straying completely into that land, and gives the song just a bit of a New Orleans flavor. This song has a fun vibe too, a kind of light attitude, with more nice work on keys. “Cadillac Problems, Buick Times” has a playful title and a sound to match it. This one has a cool, jazzy, smoky vibe, in large part because of that delicious rhythm on bass and drums, but of course also because of that wonderful stuff on trumpet. It opens with these lines: “You got your big degree, but you still can’t pay the rent/Would someone tell me just where my money went?” Yup, that’s just about right. “And the rich get rich, and the poor end up on the floor.” There are several lines that had me smiling, even laughing at times. It’s good to be able to laugh at our troubles, don’t you agree? The horn gets the last word here, as it most certainly should.

“Alberta” starts off more in the folk realm, and develops into a powerful and moving number. Chad makes this one breathe, sometimes pulling us in close by creating an intimate space, and sometimes really belting out the lines, like he’s reaching out to whatever force shapes the universe. This is a surprisingly glorious song. “Alberta, I am home again/Long enough to see all my sad mistakes/Oh, long enough to see that it all turned out the way it was supposed to.”  “Dirty River/Catfish Blues” is a playful number with something of a loose, back porch vibe. It also features some good work on harmonica. The line “I can’t sink and I can’t swim” reminds of that line from the Grateful Dead’s “Ship Of Fools”: “And all that could not sink or swim was just left there to float.” “Water Under The Bridge” eases in, and has a lot of soul. I dig that organ. The album then concludes with its sole cover, a seriously cool rendition of “St. James Infirmary.” Everything is working just perfectly here – his vocals, the rhythm, and of course the horn. There is something delightfully dangerous here, you know, like with a dash of voodoo mixed in with the gin, and Chad is the mad doctor administering this wild concoction to us willing patients. Then toward the end there is suddenly a bass solo, followed by a drum solo. Excellent.

CD Track List
  1. Rest Heavy
  2. Shy Of Shameless
  3. Hills Of Tennessee
  4. Shining Stars
  5. Cadillac Problems, Buick Times
  6. Alberta
  7. Slow Again
  8. Dirty River/Catfish Blues
  9. Embarcadero Street
  10. Water Under The Bridge
  11. St. James Infirmary 
Rest Heavy: The Sun Studio Sessions was released on August 10, 2018.

Amelia White: “Rhythm Of The Rain” (2019) CD Review

I was first turned on to the music of Amelia White nine years ago when Anne McCue covered her song “Motorcycle Dream” on Broken Promise Land. That was such a cool song that I felt a need to hear the original, and then wanted to hear more from this Nashville-based singer/songwriter. Amelia White composes songs with a poetic flair, but also a strong sense of character and purpose. There is something fearless about her writing and her delivery, a raw honesty that we need. Her new album, Rhythm Of The Rain, features all original tracks, written or co-written by Amelia White. Her co-writers on this release include folks like Lori McKenna and Anne McCue.

The new album opens with “Little Cloud Over Little Rock.” There are some pop elements to this song, which make it somewhat catchy, but what I really love is her vocal delivery, particularly the way she sometimes hangs onto certain words, like “forget” and “remember” in the line “I won’t forget to remember.” And speaking of vivid characters, check out these lines: “There’s a little smile on the tall bartender/Dyed black hair, earring feathers/She’s gotta put three kids through school/She’s sipping on the sly to keep her cool.”  That’s followed by “Rhythm Of The Rain,” the disc’s title track, which she begins by saying, “Don’t think too much, people.” The song then begins with a steady beat, and establishes a cool vibe. It is an interesting approach, for the song is largely folk, and that beat pushes the song into a different realm. But again it’s her voice that is the focus for me, and she does some playful things with it on lines like “I know that I can’t give him half of what he’s looking for.” This song has a positive feel, even as she sings lines like “Everything is wrong, tonight there is no peace/I’m gonna get down on my knees and let these tears roll down my face.”  As the song begins fades out, she adds thoughts like “The poor get poor, and the rich get richer,” a line that reminds of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows,” and a line that feels particularly apt in these dark days.

Amelia White begins “Free Advice” with these lines: “Somebody told me/As I was getting on stage/Somebody told me/You’re pretty cool for someone your age.” There is something humorous about this, of course, which is what strikes me first. But there is also something sad about it because this song rings true, and I get the sense that all the so-called advice mentioned in this song was actually given to her at some point. And it is depressing to know that people really think these things. “If you put a little lipstick on/Learn to tell jokes in between your songs/Soften your look, toughen your act.” But you can tell from Amelia White’s delivery that she isn’t going to take shit like that too seriously. “Free Advice” was co-written by John Hadley and Amelia White. That’s followed by “Said It Like A King,” a strong and effective song co-written by Lorne Entress, Lori McKenna and Amelia White. This one is timely, focusing on bullies and assumed power in different realms, among children and also in religion and politics. For me, the lines that really stay with me are these: “I heard my little boy talking about the war the other day/He said, ‘if I had a gun I’d blow ‘em all away’/Just child’s words, you say it don't mean a thing/But he said it like a king.” I am hoping that this year will see some serious gun restriction legislation in this country. This track, by the way, also features some wonderful work on violin.

“Sugar Baby” has a great raw vibe, with a bluesy edge and plenty of attitude. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Sugar baby, this is no joke/Stuck in here with the jailhouse ghost/He’s under my skin, he’s been in my bed/He’s pins and needles in my head.” “Mother Of Mine” has a sweeter vibe, though the lyrics are brutally honest, with lines like “But, Mama, you would never let me be/Anything but what you wished to see” and “They didn’t want to see me when I cried/To take care of myself, I learned to hide.”  One of my personal favorite tracks is “Sinking Sun,” which was co-written by Anne McCue, Rich McCulley and Amelia White. “And you feel like a sinking sun, but you’re not the only one/Wait until tomorrow, wait until tomorrow comes.” Ah yes, a song that reminds us we are not alone, which we need. I love this song’s positive vibe, which is of course aided by the presence of banjo. The album concludes with “Pink Cloud,” which was written by Gwil Owen and Amelia White, and is performed as a duet with Will Kimbrough. This is a delightful, optimistic country song. But actually it is not the final song, for there is a hidden track which begins approximately twenty seconds after “Pink Cloud” ends. It’s called “Supernova.” “The soft touch of your fingers barely leaves a trace/Taste the glory that you get when you fall from grace/Sunshine coming through my window/I found something that I wanted… You.”

CD Track List
  1. Little Cloud Over A Little Rock
  2. Rhythm Of The Rain
  3. Free Advice
  4. Said It Like A King
  5. Sugar Baby
  6. Mother Of Mine
  7. How It Feels
  8. Yuma
  9. Sinking Sun
  10. True Or Not
  11. Let The Wind Blow
  12. Pink Cloud
Rhythm Of The Rain is scheduled to be released on January 25, 2019.