Saturday, March 30, 2019

Kevin Daniel: “Myself Through You” (2018) CD Review

Singer and songwriter Kevin Daniel recently released a seriously good new single, “Pour Me A Drink.” It’s a song that I’ve been digging, in part because of its lyrics. Check out these lines: “Pour me a drink as sweet as the sunset/As sweet as the day you were born/And pour it softly like the winds that blow through me.” This song is from his upcoming debut full-length album. While I’m looking forward to that CD, I wanted to check out his previous release, an EP titled Myself Through You. A few of the folks joining him on this disc are people that play on the new single, such as Judson Nielsen on organ and piano, Irene Blackman on vocals, and Roman Urbanski on vocals. Also joining him on this EP are Ben Rice on guitar, Billy Pearson on bass, Renee Hikari on drums, Daniel Ieadan on steel guitar, Bennett Sullivan on banjo, Eli Chalmer on flugelhorn and trombone, and Adam O’Farrill on trumpet. Kevin Daniel, by the way, not only sings and plays guitar, but also plays saxophone.

The EP opens with its title track, “Myself Through You,” which begins with a gentle folk sound. Then when it kicks in, it takes on a brighter sound, in part because of the presence of banjo, a sound that lifts my spirits. There is a joy to the sound. As with the new single, this song boasts some damn good lyrics. Here is a taste: “Don’t call me blind, don’t call me weak/Call me just another man at your feet/If I had to choose who to be/Well, I guess I’m choosing me/I’m seeing myself through you/‘Bout time I saw your shade of blue/I’m watching myself stumble too/Inside, I won’t let go of you.” Not bad, eh? And there is a section with just vocals and percussion, which brings me back to my childhood, when it seemed every song had such a section. That’s followed by “Golden,” which has a somewhat more serious tone. I love that there is banjo and steel guitar, and yet a considerable amount of soul to this track as well. Somehow it all works really well. “Forget the past and the future and live for today/For too long, for too long/For too long, I have been broken.” It ends beautifully.

“Born A Preacher” is an emotionally stirring number with a bit of blues and a bit of soul, and with a powerful vocal performance. “I was born a hater/With anger that burns within/And I’ll die and I’ll die buried with sins/And when I’m down and out rock bottom in the street/I’m singing out with ill defeat.” This track also features some nice work on guitar. That’s followed by “Faded Red,” which has a more cheerful sound from the start. “My demons are left in the past, but they’re coming undone/If you wanna wake up, wake up/If you wanna break down, break down.” Those lines of course remind me of Cat Stevens’ “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out.” Plus, the presence of banjo reminds me of Harold And Maude, the film that introduced the world to that song (that also happens to be my favorite film). This song makes me happy, and features some good stuff on keys. And then toward the end, we are treated to a brief but wonderful section with horns leading the way. The EP then concludes with “Hardcore Medicine,” providing a good dose of country soul. I love the organ and steel guitar. There is a sweetness to this track too that I appreciate. “It’s been too long since I’ve tried/It’s been too hard since you’ve died/Look at all this love/I like to act like I’m not/One who has hit a hard spot/Hey, look at all this love.” 

CD Track List
  1. Myself Through You
  2. Golden
  3. Born A Preacher
  4. Faded Red
  5. Hardcore Medicine 
Myself Through You was released on March 16, 2018.

The Mekons: “Deserted” (2019) CD Review

Like a lot of people here in the United States, I was turned on to The Mekons through the documentary film Revenge Of The Mekons. Watching that movie, I fell completely, madly and irrevocably in love with the band, and needed to begin collecting their albums immediately. I had several decades’ worth of music to catch up on (they’d been recording since the late 1970s). Why hadn’t someone turned me on to this band sooner? Well, my collection is still far from complete, but last night I was able to add to it, when the band released its new album, Deserted. I went straight from work to Amoeba Music, where the album was available on both CD and vinyl. I couldn’t make up my mind which format was preferable, so I did the only logical thing and bought both. Before I even began listening to it, the album made me smile, for I saw on the inside of the CD case that the band members had adapted their names to fit its desert theme, with Jon Langford becoming Joshua T. Landfrog and Sally Timms becoming Sahara Timms. This band can rock you, it can move you, and does both with a good sense of humor. I expected great things of this album, and the band certainly delivered. All of the tracks are originals.

Deserted begins with “Lawrence Of California,” which bursts open with a great, bright and palpable energy, and immediately takes over with that delicious, powerful folk punk rock, all with a healthful dose of humor, the track’s title obviously a play on Lawrence Of Arabia. “Stubborn silence grows/Flat on your back in the dark/Red thorns burst through fossil bark/To clutch and to cling.” The song has the atmosphere of a party out in the wilderness where there is a certain amount of danger, which is likely part of the appeal. There is some great stuff on violin, and at the end the track trails off into electric guitar land. Hey, do these guys yell “Scooby dooby doo” at one point, or am I crazy? The desert theme then continues with “Harar 1883,” which has a cool vibe and takes its inspiration from a portion of Arthur Rimbaud’s life. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Back home they think I’ve disappeared/Yes, it’s true that I deserted/That Dutch army in the east/I was not troubled in the least.”  Interestingly, this one kind of trails off at the end too. Then “In The Sun/The Galaxy Explodes” establishes a really good punk vibe right at the start, with a bass line that I love, and after a minute some sweet-sounding vocals are layered over that, creating a wonderful texture and appeal. There is a kind of dance pop thing here too; the music is exciting and fresh. “Into the edges of forever.”

“How Many Stars?” is a beautiful song, one that was released online in the days leading up to the album’s release, and one of the many reasons I was excited to pick up this disc. As beautiful and moving as this song is, there is still humor in a line like “For I am pickled, I am done.” Yeah, it’s a folk song about death. Oh, poor sweet William, he never survives a song, and he’s not the only casualty here. That’s followed by “In The Desert,” a strange and compelling song, part industrial, part ethereal, and totally wonderful. A few lines of this one were taken from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias.” By the way, this album was recorded just outside the Joshua Tree National Park, a fitting location for an album of songs in which the desert plays an important role. Or did that location inform the music? “Mirage” is raw and exciting. This track takes no prisoners, but completely obliterates the landscape, and I just want to dance in the destruction. I love the shouts of “Where are you hiding?” I respond, but so far they haven’t found me. Come find me! “This is as good as it’s going to get/Between the mirage and the sunset.”

“Weimar Vending Machine/Priest?” rises from the smoldering surface of the world to survey the survivors. It has a dark and haunting sound, but with humor, as in the line “Iggy pops up in Berlin.” It also makes a direct reference to “Alabama Song” (also known as “Moon Of Alabama”), a song that The Doors covered. David Bowie also performed this song, and this track has a definite David Bowie vibe. And then suddenly we’re in a goofier land, a delightful twist that makes me happy every time I listen to this album. (By the way, in keeping with the desert theme, I should mention that the song’s title reminds me of one of my favorite moments from Head – where Micky Dolenz is in the middle of the desert, delirious from thirst, and comes upon a soda vending machine, which then turns out to be empty.) We then get “Andromeda,” which has a more cheerful, pleasant, happy, easy-going sound. I particularly love the work on violin, which makes this one of my favorite tracks. The album concludes with “After The Rain,” a track that was released in advance of the album, and is another favorite of mine. This beautiful song is more in the folk realm, and is oddly comforting. “Come back later, come back (come back again)/You should see us after the rain.” This track includes a trippy instrumental section.

CD Track List
  1. Lawrence Of California
  2. Harar 1883
  3. In The Sun/The Galaxy Explodes
  4. How Many Stars?
  5. In The Desert
  6. Mirage
  7. Weimar Vending Machine/Priest?
  8. Andromeda
  9. After The Rain 
Deserted was released on March 29, 2019 on Bloodshot Records.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Terry Robb: “Confessin’ My Dues” (2019) CD Review

Terry Robb can play the hell out of a guitar. And he can cover a decent range of musical genres while doing so, including blues, country, ragtime, jazz. He’s received a lot of awards for his talent, and deserves them all. It’s really a joy to listen to him play. And isn’t that what we’re looking for these days, a little joy? His new album, Confessin’ My Dues, features original material, with Terry Robb playing acoustic and resonator guitars and providing the vocals. Joining him on this release are Dave Captein on standup bass, and Gary Hobbs on drums.

The album kicks off with “Butch Holler Stomp,” a delicious, totally enjoyable guitar instrumental with some fantastic playing, all but guaranteed to raise your spirits. And isn’t that the order of the day? Every day, really. Just sit back and let this great guitar work obliterate your troubles. That’s followed by “Still On 101.” Ah, of course a tune titled “Still On 101” would have to be blues. Still it has movement, this song does; after all, it’s not called “Still on 405.” Though Terry Robb is likely referring to the part of 101 that is in Oregon, since that is where he resides, and not the stretch here in Los Angeles (we sometimes forget that roads actually leave Los Angeles). Anyway, this is another excellent guitar instrumental track. I am totally digging this music, and it’s difficult for me to imagine someone not digging it.

“How A Free Man Feels” is a blues song that moves at a good clip. “I wish I could know how a free man feels/I would do anything to know how a free man feels/I would brave the darkest night, fight an angry sea/Walk a thousand miles, crawl back home on my knees.” The song seems to be getting somewhere, going in a different direction at the end, but is suddenly over. Then “It Might Get Sweaty” thumps its way in with a good groove. This is an instrumental with a strong pulse, and more wonderful work on guitar. It might get sweaty, indeed! Things get a little crazy on guitar for a bit, and I am enjoying every moment. That’s followed by a good heavy blues number, “Heart Made Of Steel.”  Sometimes a man should cry/Don’t try to hold back your tears/Sometimes I wish/That my heart was made of steel.” A good topic for a blues number, don’t you think? For with a metal heart, you wouldn’t have any blues, right? Ah, but the blues is what makes you feel better. And, guess what, this track features more impressive work on guitar. I just love hearing this guy play, and, holy moly, it just gets better and better. “Now Vestapol” is another fantastic guitar instrumental, with some interesting changes. This one was written by Terry Robb, John Fahey and Robert Wilkins.

“Darkest Road I’m Told” is a good blues tune about Highway 61 (re-revisited?).  That 61 highway, it is the darkest road, I’m told/But there will be no highway to go down that road alone/Don’t need to leave your doorway to be surprised at what you do.” That’s followed by “Three Times The Blues,” a totally delicious blues tune with a steady rhythm, the guitar just dancing and flying over it, the bass holding it all together. Then suddenly, the tune takes a turn and begins to rock, if only briefly, as it did in the track’s opening, before making another turn to a late-night blues vibe, with the bass taking the lead. So good, so good. This is a powerful and exciting instrumental number. Then “Confessin’ My Dues,” the album’s title track, is a lively number with some pep. “Church bells ringing in the morning/Been up all night confessin’ my dues/Rain outside been pouring/Lookin’ for the sun to come bustin’ through.” Oh, those nimble fingers, just listen to them play during that instrumental section.

“Death Of Blind Arthur” begins as a slower, somewhat more relaxed, but emotionally moving instrumental track. Terry Robb then suddenly picks up the pace, and this tune becomes totally fun. I like the way these songs take turns, and even a drastic change seems so natural, so right. That’s followed by “High Desert Everywhere,” a great, raw blues instrumental track. Then “Keep Your Judgment” goes in a different direction, and might be the oddest song on the album, just because it’s so unlike the others, with more of a country feel, and even a bit of an early rock and roll thing. “Keep your judgment for another day/Don’t want to hear another word you say.” Adam Scramstad plays electric rhythm guitar on this track. This disc concludes with another cool guitar instrumental, “Blood Red Moon.”

CD Track List
  1. Butch Holler Stomp
  2. Still On 101
  3. How A Free Man Feels
  4. It Might Get Sweaty
  5. Heart Made Of Steel
  6. Now Vestapol
  7. Darkest Road I’m Told
  8. Three Times The Blues
  9. Confessin’ My Dues
  10. Death Of Blind Arthur
  11. High Desert Everywhere
  12. Keep Your Judgment
  13. Blood Red Moon
Confessin’ My Dues is scheduled to be released on May 31, 2019 (though apparently there was a limited release on March 1st in Portland).

Marton Juhasz: “Discovery” (2019) CD Review

Jazz can take us to some unexpected and interesting places, as drummer and composer Marton Juhasz proves on his excellent new release, Discovery. Marton Juhasz is from Hungary, and has studied in London and Boston, and performed throughout Europe. In addition to his work as leader, he is part of the Alan Benzie Trio and Euro-African Playground. So, yes, he has some experience. The musicians playing with him on Discovery include Sergio Wagner on trumpet and flugelhorn, Paco Andreo on valve trombone, Enrique Oliver on tenor saxophone, Szymon Mika on guitar, Olga Konkova on piano, Danny Ziemann on upright bass, and Yumi Ito on vocals.

This unusual jazz album gets off to an appropriately unconventional start with “Sea Of Uncertainty,” which is an interesting vocal piece that feels like the spiritual warm-up at an alien church at the edge of reality. A strange way to start the album, to be sure, particularly for a drummer. But it has an arresting sound, working to pull us in and leave off whatever else is going on around us. This short piece is followed by “The Curve,” which starts off as a pleasant, smooth tune, and soon becomes exciting, almost dangerous, as the horns take us into another place, until you’re not certain what’s around the bend. What peril are those horns summoning, bringing upon us? There is plenty of great work on drums, as well as some wonderful stuff on keys. It is interesting how on this album the vocals are used as another instrument, expressing much, but not in words, particularly on a track like “Little Prayer.” This one is beautiful, especially that stunning section with vocals and bass. The song then builds again from there, going in another direction, the horn becoming the dominant voice, taking us on a journey. And then we’re in some distant, dark area of the ocean with “Levian,” a track with a lonesome quality, and I am unsure whether we’re drowning or floating. I love those deep bass notes, vibrating in my chest, and I’m hopeful.

“Industry” is a strange and compelling track. When it begins, it feels nothing like its title, but rather like an organic celebration on a beach or somewhere, with a strong human quality. But then other elements are added, and seem to intrude, an eerie combination of sounds and realms. I love the juxtaposition. It feels like it’s shifting into nightmare territory as it continues, as it becomes unhinged, as it comes apart, and we fall into the holes left behind, warped and lost. Then “Stino” establishes a groovy and delicious rhythm on bass and drums. This one feels like pure fun, perhaps to bring us all back together after the previous track, and it features some nice vocal work. That is followed by “Wolves Gather Under A Winter Moon,” a track that warns of the possibility of danger, reminding us we are out of our element.

“Spellbound” is the only track on this album to have lyrics, yet interestingly has an improvised feel. The words come slowly, with a dreamlike quality, fitting the song’s title: “In the night/When the darkness surrounds her/She slowly descends from the stairs/That lead to the ballroom.” This song takes on a romantic sound when the horn leads, its beauty holding us close. That’s followed by “Camels In The Sky,” which at first like it could be the theme to some cool 1960s detective television program. And then it just gets better from there, sometimes with a wonderfully loose vibe. The vocals in “Strange Glow” have an odd, unsettling feel, and work in contrast to the bass, which keeps us grounded in some semblance of normalcy, creating an interesting dynamic. The album concludes with “Run,” which takes tentative steps into an uncertain world, though the brushes on the snare somehow keep us moving forward, not as frightened or worried as we might be otherwise. Onward!

CD Track List
  1. Sea Of Uncertainty
  2. The Curve
  3. Little Prayer
  4. Levian
  5. Industry
  6. Stino
  7. Wolves Gather Under A Winter Moon
  8. Spellbound
  9. Camels In The Sky
  10. Strange Glow
  11. Run 
Discovery was released on January 23, 2019.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

James Houlahan: “The Wheel Still In Spin” (2018) CD Review

The most foul year on record is 2016, a year that gave Donald Trump the presidency and took Leonard Cohen from the world. Yet, there was a lot of excellent music released that year, including James Houlahan’s Multitudes, an album which showcased his talent as both singer and songwriter. Late last year he followed that extraordinary album with The Wheel Still In Spin, confirming again his power as a songwriter and vocalist. Most of the material on this album is original, written by James Houlahan. Joining him on this release are Fernando Perdomo on keys, bass and acoustic guitar; Danny Frankel on drums and percussion; and Esther Clark on vocals.

The album’s first track, “Let It Go,” opens with the lines, “I’m losing sleep/And listening to/A hopeful broken sign,” and I am immediately on board. There is something beautiful about this song, and something gentle, as he sings, “Let it go, let it go/Let it go, let it go,” with Esther Clark on backing vocals. And check out these excellent lines: “The winds that blow/Through this place/Moan between the stones/They carry you and carry me/Beyond our cage of bones.” This wonderful song features Fernando Perdomo delivering some nice work on keys. Fernando Perdomo, by the way, co-produced the album with James Houlahan. He also released his own excellent CD late last year, Zebra Crossing. “Spirit/Music” then takes us to a more serious, stranger realm from the start, with voices reaching to us across several dreams. Linda Perhacs joins James on vocals for this track. The acoustic guitar works somewhat in contrast to these sounds, providing something of a grounding in a recognized reality. I like that he is taking chances here, venturing into interesting territory. The lyrics for this one were written by James Houlahan and Linda Perhacs, based on the poem “Spirit” by Gregory Curso.

“Faded” has a bit of a Beatles vibe, in the guitar work, and features a passionate and exciting vocal performance. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “A gorgeous moment gone insane/With echoes of a pale design/All these faded dreams/Breaking in my heart/All these faded scenes/Tearing me apart.” I also really like the bass. That’s followed by “All I’ve Got.” There is something haunted about this music, a sound that grabs hold of me, a sound that feels right. Perhaps it’s because of the despair that seems to pervade the country. Even a line about the sunset, “A tranquil sea swallows the sun,” seems to speak to this feeling that it’s all too much and we are powerless to fix it. “All I’ve got is a song for you,” James tells us. Well, that might be enough. It is what seems to help the most these days. “Father Song” is a strange one, for it has a happy, cheerful sound, but is about an impending death. “And down in the sand/I will bury your heart/And scatter your name.” There is a surprising moment in the second half of the song when things fall apart briefly, before that rhythm is restored. I love how this song creates conflicting emotions in me. This is a good song.

The album’s only cover is “Indian Cowboy,” which was written by Joe Ely and was originally included on Ely’s 2007 release Silver City. James Houlahan’s version has a very different feel from Joe Ely’s original rendition (and from Guy Clark’s version). Here we are immediately ushered into a dark and exciting and delicious carnival, fitting with the song’s lyrics. “It was a cold night in Oklahoma/The show was about to begin/And the animals, they were all restless/When the star horse, she broke from her pen.” Does the circus even exist anymore, or has our warped and artificial political landscape replaced it? “Indian Cowboy” is followed by “Stuck In Between,” in which James Houlahan sings “No more games left to play/Optimism had its day.” Yeah, that’s how I feel too. This song is so gorgeous and sad and wonderful and moving. “Make our only dream come true/Do what I can to see you through.” We need to help each other, as best we can, with whatever meager abilities we possess, even if “It’s not enough/It’s not enough.” This song is having a strong effect on me, and is one of my favorites. “Not much sense in looking back/Looking back.”

“Memories Of Outer Space” has a more cheerful sound right from its opening moments, and has an oddly comforting quality. “We hoard all the waste/In terrible haste/And sink the dreams from out the sky.” Then the acoustic guitar in “Circus Dream” seems to emerge from a haze above a lake. I feel calm, like I could drift away on the light wings of this song. Interestingly, just as he sings the word “dream,” the song seems to take on more substance, become more solid, tangible. There is something pretty about “Sunday Song,” the acoustic guitar, those wonderful backing vocals, the gentle percussion. This music seems to speak directly to something deep within us, affecting us on a level that a lot of music never reaches. Then “Taking To The Road” comes on strong, like a slightly twisted band in a roadside joint where the beer is tainted and the women carry knives. Yeah, it’s fun. The album then concludes with “California,” which utilizes the old line “I’m going where the weather suits my clothes.” That line is of course is fitting for a song titled “California.” Honestly, I always figured California is where they were heading when singing that line in songs like “Everybody’s Talkin’” and “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” (in the latter, it’s “where the climate suits my clothes”). However, by the end of this song, he is saying farewell to California. “Then it’s goodbye to sweet California/Farewell to all the ones I’ve loved/I’ll fade away into this very song/Disappear into the air above.” James Houlahan’s voice here is moving, sounding like he really is about to step away from the world, and his harmonica sounds so haunting and ethereal.

CD Track List
  1. Let It Go
  2. Spirit/Music
  3. Faded
  4. All I’ve Got
  5. Father Song
  6. Indian Cowboy
  7. Stuck In Between
  8. Memories Of Outer Space
  9. Circus Dream
  10. Sunday Song
  11. Taking To The Road
  12. California
The Wheel Still In Spin was released on September 21, 2018.

New Wave: Dare To Be Different DVD Review

When I was growing up in Massachusetts, the main way to learn about new music was the radio. Radio stations had identities, and you developed your own identity partly through the music you enjoyed. Each station had its own flavor, its own style. There were cool stations (WBCN and WAAF) and uncool stations (WXKS and WSRS), and on the way to school you’d do your best to get the bus driver to switch to one of the better stations. We were excited when we heard something new that moved us or rocked us. I remember, for example, hearing Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” for the first time when I was nine years old and needing to hear it again and again. The DJs seemed to be just as excited about the music as we were. New Wave: Dare To Be Different is a documentary film about WLIR, 92.7 FM, an influential station in Long Island, a station whose employees were clearly excited about the music they were playing, music that was not being played on other stations.

Interestingly, the film begins with footage of the final moments of WLIR, as the station was going off the air. Then we hear a snippet of a U2 concert at Nassau Coliseum where Bono mentions the radio station, receiving a big cheer from the crowd. Ah, from the sad end to the wonderful heights of the station’s peak, all in the film’s opening moments. WLIR was a station with a somewhat weak signal and a completely loyal fan base. It is a station that introduced its audience to a lot of new bands, such as U2, The Pretenders, The Smiths and XTC. Seymour Stein (founder of Sire Records) says, “If I had found LIR when I was thirteen, I would have felt that I found Disneyland, but it was a radio station.” Well, that’s it exactly, except the station was so much better than Disneyland.

Many of the station’s disc jockeys are interviewed, including John DeBella, Ben Manilla and Andy Geller. They talk about the old, crummy equipment the station had, which forced them to be creative. And though they talk about how the place was a shithole, it’s all said with a tremendous amount of affection. Fans of the station mention some of the work that was involved just to get the station in, as the signal would go in and out. Denis McNamara, the program director, who started working there at the age of 22 in the mid-1970s, provides a bit of the history of the station. He also talks about hearing music coming out of England, and how it was difficult to get the records and to fit them in with the rock the station was playing at the time. But big radio stations were taking away advertising dollars, so WLIR switched to a different format on August 2, 1982.

As excited as the DJs and listeners were about the station, some of the biggest love comes from musicians whose music was played there. This documentary interviews a whole lot of musicians, including Nick Rhodes, Joan Jett, Billy Idol, Thomas Dolby, Tom Bailey, Howard Jones, Debbie Harry, Katrina Leskanich, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth and Fred Schneider. Nick Rhodes is kind of adorable as he talks about his first trip to New York. And Howard Jones’ description of the station made me miss working on radio (I would love to be a DJ again, and wish I could just create a station out of my tiny apartment). What is cool is that the documentary also includes interviews with a couple of musicians whose music stopped being played on WLIR when the format changed. Eric Bloom, of Blue Oyster Cult, says, “It was sort of a stab in the heart for our kind of music, because we had a great relationship with LIR, and it just went out the window.”

The film gives us a tour of the location of the station, and provides a lot of great anecdotes about promotions and so on. There is material about new wave music, and what the term means, and why the station didn’t use the term. Plus, this documentary includes so much good music. If you love music, you’ll love this documentary. For it’s not only a love letter to a radio station, but to the music that was played there. And the closing credits sequence features a new song from Joan Jett, “Dare To Be Different.” Very cool!

Special Features

The DVD includes some bonus material, including more with Denis McNamara, who shows some memorabilia from the station. And there is more footage from interviews with some of the musicians, including Lol Tolhurst (about the beginning of The Cure), Billy Idol (about the problem of having a punk image back then), Nick Rhodes (about WLIR playing Duran Duran’s music and about the video for “Girls On Film”), Curt Smith (about a fan), and Eddie Lundon and Gary Daly of China Crisis (about a particular concert that was recorded by WLIR), plus Ed Steinberg, founder of Rockamerica. The special features also include more from the interviews with the station’s DJs, featuring a lot of great anecdotes and details of life at the station. There is also a brief message from the film’s director about how she got interested in the story of WLIR.

New Wave: Dare To Be Different was directed by Ellen Goldfarb, and was released on DVD on December 7, 2018 through MVD Visual.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Will Kimbrough: “I Like It Down Here” (2019) CD Review

Will Kimbrough has a fairly impressive and busy career, having played with folks like Jimmy Buffett, Amy Rigby and Emmylou Harris, as well as in the bands Daddy (with Tommy Womack) and Willie Sugarcapps. He’s also produced other artists’ albums. And then of course there is his solo career and his songwriting credits (his songs have been covered by artists like Little Feat and Todd Snider). His new solo album, I like It Down Here, features all original material, written or co-written by Will Kimbrough. Besides lead vocals, Will Kimbrough plays the majority of the instruments on this release, including guitar, keys, harmonica and even bass on one track. Joining him on this release are Chris Donohue on bass, and Bryan Owings on drums and percussion, along with several guests joining him on certain tracks.

The album gets off to a good start with “Hey Trouble,” a cool tune with something of a laid-back folk rock vibe and vocals that have a wonderfully experienced quality, a voice of someone that has seen some troubles, but who will likely make it through, and perhaps pull us through too. Isn’t that what we’re looking for? A line near the beginning of this song grabbed my attention the first time I listened to this disc: “A black cat crossed my mind.” How is that for trouble of one’s own making? And is that the kind that is perhaps least escapable? These lyrics are blues through and through. Dean Owens joins him on vocals on this track. “Hey Trouble” is followed by the disc’s title track, “I Like It Down Here,” which also has a cool, somewhat relaxed vibe. I dig the rhythm, and the way the vocal line is part of that rhythm. This track also features some nice backing vocals by Lisa Oliver-Gray (there is something almost beautiful about the way the song’s title line is delivered). And there is a certain humor to this one, in lines like “I like a wake-up call at half past one/If I had a job, I’d get her done” and “I want a woman with a face like a question mark/Who cleans up good when it’s nice and dark.” But perhaps my favorite element of this song is the work on guitar, especially during that instrumental section in the second half of the song.

“Alabama (For Michael Donald)” begins with a stripped down sound, and tells the true story of the murder of Michael Donald by members of the terrorist organization Ku Klux Klan in 1981. It is told from Michael Donald’s perspective, and has an appropriately somber sound. In these horrible days of renewed racism in this country, when the president himself is a racist asshole, it is important to let the racists know their views are not welcome, to let them know their actions will not be tolerated. We can’t be silent. As Elie Wiesel once said: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” A song like “Alabama (For Michael Donald)” is important in reminding people of the terrible results of racism left unchecked. It seems that this country is right on the edge, flirting dangerously with white supremacy. Yes, the events of this song occurred nearly four decades ago, but if we’re not careful, this story will soon be current again. “Took me to the woods/Beat me bloody/I begged them for my life.” We then stay in dark territory with “Buddha Blues,” a wonderfully raw and haunting blues number featuring some excellent stuff on guitar and a powerful vocal performance. Interestingly, this one is told from the perspective of a murderer, its opening lines being “I killed a man to get in here/Here I’ll be for life.” Brigitte DeMeyer joins him on vocals for this one. Brigitte and Will have collaborated on several albums over the years, including Mockingbird Soul, their first release as a duo.

Will Kimbrough then picks things up, lifts us with “I’m Not Running Away,” a country tune which has a kind of pop energy. “I’m not running away, I’m just running/I never could sit still for very long.” There is a very positive feel to this track, which features Anthony Crawford on pedal steel and vocals, and Savana Lee Crawford on vocals. “It’s A Sin” is one of my favorite tracks, in part because of its overall vibe, which has a good deal of soul, but also because of the presence of saxophone. That’s Jim Hoke, by the way. Lisa Oliver-Gray provides wonderful backing vocals, and this track also features more good stuff on guitar. “It’s an old town/It’s a tired old town/Few know the right from the wrong.” “Anything Helps” has a pleasant folk sound right from the start, with harmonica. Will Kimbrough sings, “It’s not always been like this/Took a swing at life and missed.” What a great line, “Took a swing at life and missed.” It’s both funny and sad. This is a good song, a reminder that we are all in this thing together, whatever it is, and we can all use some help, and can all offer help as well. Dean Owens, who co-wrote the song with Will Kimbrough, adds his voice to this track. The album then concludes with “Star,” a beautiful and friendly song. “I think I saw your star as I laid my head to rest/In all the things you knew/And what you ain’t found yet/In the beat of your heart against my empty chest/I think I saw your star, you gave me all your best.”

CD Track List
  1. Hey Trouble
  2. I Like It Down Here
  3. Alabama (For Michael Donald)
  4. Buddha Blues
  5. I’m Not Running Away
  6. When I Get To Memphis
  7. It’s A Sin
  8. Salt Water & Sand
  9. Anything Helps
  10. Star
I Like It Down Here is scheduled to be released on April 19, 2019 on Daphne Records.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Scott Ramminger: “Rise Up” (2019) CD Review

Scott Ramminger is a singer, a songwriter and a tenor sax player, and on his new release, Rise Up, he delivers some delicious bluesy, jazzy, funky original tunes. All the tracks on the album were written by Scott Ramminger, who also produced the album. Joining him on this disc are Wes Lanich on keys, Shane Theriot on guitar, Paul Langosch on bass, and Emre Kartari on drums.

The album opens with “Thinking About You,” an enjoyable song with a good rhythm and a playful attitude. And its main line, “I spend a lot of time just thinking about you,” is just about exactly how it is with me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Scott also gives us some wonderful work on tenor saxophone. That’s followed by “88 Reasons,” which has a fun, classic rhythm and vibe, and features some truly nice stuff on keys. There is nothing too serious here, this music basically being a good time. “She gave me 88 reasons for telling me goodbye/Every time I think about it, it makes me want to cry.” The line that makes me smile every time I listen to this album is “She wrote them all down so I would not have to guess.” How thoughtful! The tune has a nice little jam in the middle, which I dig.

“Lemonade Blues” begins with some cool, sexy work on saxophone, accompanied by delicious touches on keys. And then, well, there is an important command: “Think about citrus.” Sure, that would be a strange thing to ask someone to do at the beginning of a song, except that this song is about lemonade. It has that old line about what to do if life gives you lemons, but then twists it a bit, combining it with that bluesy complaint of lack of sugar: “I got no sugar in my cupboard, so the stuff don’t taste that great.” This track utilizes that reliable blues rhythm, and features more great stuff on keys. That’s followed by the album’s title track, “Rise Up,” which has a good, funky rhythm. It’s fun, no question, but this song tackles some serious current subjects, such as gun violence, bigotry and poverty, its first line being, “Another school shooting and it barely makes the news.” And check out these lines: “Prejudice and bigotry are gaining every day/Too many folks just shrug it off and look the other way/We’ve got to stop this madness before it’s too late/Nothing will get better if we sit around and wait/Come on, people, enough is enough.” Amen.  Then this track becomes a cool jam. This is one of my favorite tracks. Without calling out that whiny baby in the White House by name, the song makes it clear to whom it refers in lines like “Tyranny is on the rise” and “We’ve gotten used to hearing lies from the leaders of our land/Integrity gets laughed at/It’s time to take a stand.” I’m not sure if this song is recommending actual revolution or not, but it’s something I’ve been thinking might turn out to be necessary. It’s kind of a frightening prospect, but someone has to bring a halt to this horrid wave of fascism and stupidity. Interestingly, Scott Ramminger follows that with a cute, harmless love song, “Daisy.” Yes, a switching of gears. “She’s been to hell, but she’s back again/Daisy, you’re driving me crazy.”

“The Feeling When I’m Falling” is another delightful and playful tune, with a cheerful vibe. I love these lines: “I know it’s just a matter of time before it all heads south/But I’m going to enjoy the ride until she figures me out.” I also dig the saxophone, and the way it works with the organ. It is an enjoyable song, and is followed by yet another of the album’s highlights, “Ice Cream.” This one is a joy, and has a classic, jazzy sound and vibe, with some good stuff on both bass and guitar, and featuring a cool vocal performance. “It’s hard to stay steamed, it’s hard to be blue/With a cone in your hand purchased just for you.” Could that be the answer? Could it be as simple as getting ice cream cones for everyone, including the fascist bastards? Sure, this song’s scope is smaller, but why couldn’t this idea be just as effective on a larger scale? “All Done” follows it so well, in part because of the great bass right at the start, but also because of the presence of the word “ice cream” in its first line, “I ain’t going to think about the ice cream, I ain’t gonna think about the cake.” This one has a cool sound. I especially love that sax. “Wishing and hoping ain’t got me nowhere.”

CD Track List
  1. Thinking About You
  2. 88 Reasons
  3. Lemonade Blues
  4. Rise Up
  5. Daisy
  6. The Feeling When I’m Falling
  7. Ice Cream
  8. All Done
Rise Up was released on March 4, 2019.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Chris Jones & The Night Drivers: “The Choosing Road” (2019) CD Review

Chris Jones & The Night Drivers are an excellent bluegrass band, delivering some warm and meaningful songs. Their new release, The Choosing Road, features mostly original material, most of that written or co-written by guitarist and lead vocalist Chris Jones. Beside Chris Jones, the band is composed of Mark Stoffel on mandolin and backing vocals, Gina Furtado on banjo and backing vocals, and Jon Weisberger on bass. Joining them on this release are Tony Creasman on drums, David Johnson on fiddle and pedal steel, Liz Carroll on fiddle, Megan Lynch Chowning on fiddle, and Tim Surrett on dobro.

I’m happy that bluegrass seems to be gaining popularity again, because this music raises my spirits, makes me feel that the world is a decent place, despite all evidence to the contrary. These instruments have a cheerful sound, and this album’s opening track, “Your Remarkable Return,” has an optimistic bent that I appreciate. “I’ll admit I dreamed about you/But I swore I wouldn’t dwell on things that couldn’t be/I thought time was a healer/And I believed that I was free.” “Your Remarkable Return” was written by Chris Jones and Jon Weisberger. It’s followed by “Letters To Brendan,” which has a more serious tone and subject, a tale told from the perspective of a young soldier, and features some nice harmonies. “I miss you more than you’d ever know/Not a sign this war is ending soon/I didn’t know Virginia nights could be so cold/More often now my thoughts have turned to home.” This one was written by Chris Jones, Thomm Jutz and Jon Weisberger.

“Looking For The Bridge” is an emotionally engaging song that moves at a good pace, and features some great playing. “And I’m finally giving in and admitting to the truth/Instead of just pretending that I’m not losing you.” Still, there is optimism here; I think that is inherent in these instruments. “And if I stare off in the distance, seeming kind of lost/Just know that I’m looking for the bridge.” Chris Jones begins “I Can’t Change The Rhyme” with some cool stuff on guitar. I dig his vocal performance here, particularly those moments when he dips low. The more I listen to this album, the more I enjoy this track in particular. The band really shines in that wonderful instrumental section at the end, a very cool little jam that hints at what this band must be like in concert.

The album’s only cover is Steve Winwood’s “Back In The High Life Again.” It’s an interesting and unexpected choice, though the original does include mandolin. David Johnson plays fiddle on this track. This rendition is giving me a fresh appreciation of this song. That’s followed by “Nyhan’s Regret.” My body and spirit have always responded to Irish music (for what are probably obvious reasons), and this wonderful instrumental tune lives and thrives in that common ground between bluegrass and Irish folk music. I absolutely love this track, which was composed by Mark Stoffel and Gina Furtado, and features Liz Carroll on fiddle. Then Megan Lynch Chowning joins the band on fiddle for “I’ll Watch Her Sail,” a song with more good harmonies. “And she’ll sail on an easterly wind/The same wind that blew her to me/And I know I can’t stand in her way/So I’ll just watch her sail out to sea.”

“Bend In The Road” is a cheerful-sounding tune to raise our spirits, its opening line reminding us “Sometimes a journey takes a little patience.” There is optimism, there is strength, there is a brighter tomorrow. We all need this now. That’s followed by “I Shouldn’t Even Be Here,” another tune that really works for me, perhaps because of these lines: “The board is clear, let’s start a brand new game/So pop the cork, make a toast/Drink in every drop of this new day/Everything from here on out/Is just another gift that came my way/I shouldn’t even be here.” Perhaps we can adopt that attitude without having to nearly lose everything. I try to refrain from taking things for granted, and am grateful for music like this that helps us through these dark times. There is a whole lot of good in this world, but we need to remind ourselves of that, for sometimes it’s not as apparent as it could be. You know?

“Who You Want Me To Be” has a kind of pretty, sweet vibe right from the start. And there is a humor to this one, its first line being “Somewhere in some other life I mastered almost everything I’ve tried.” I love the honesty of this song, and I love the work on banjo. “I can’t be who you want me to be/I can’t be who you want me to be.” This one was written by Gina Furtado and Chris Jones. Then “Own The Blues” has a kind of laid-back country vibe, with more nice harmonies. This is another of my personal favorites, in part because David Johnson adds some wonderful stuff on pedal steel on this track. And check out these lines: “I know too well those days are gone/In good time, I’ll move along/For now please just allow this dream to last.”  The disc concludes with “Glimpse Of The Kingdom,” which features Tim Surrett on dobro. “When I see someone reaching out to help a stranger/I get a glimpse of the kingdom.”

CD Track List
  1. Your Remarkable Return
  2. Letters To Brendan
  3. Looking For The Bridge
  4. I Can’t Change The Rhyme
  5. Back In The High Life Again
  6. Nyhan’s Regret
  7. I’ll Watch Her Sail
  8. Bend In The Road
  9. I Shouldn’t Even Be Here
  10. Who You Want Me To Be
  11. Own The Blues
  12. Glimpse Of The Kingdom
The Choosing Road is scheduled to be released on March 29, 2019 through Mountain Home Music Company.

Colin Linden & Luther Dickinson: “Amour” (2019) CD Review

Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson are two talented guitarists with impressive credits, and they’ve now teamed up for Amour, an excellent and totally enjoyable album of covers that focus on romance and love (as its title suggests). The band backing them, called The Tennessee Valentines, is made up of Dominic Davis on bass, Bryan Owings on drums, Fats Kaplin on violin and accordion, and Kevin McKendree on piano and organ. Plus, this album features several special guests, including vocalists Rachael Davis and Ruby Amanfu. This isn’t the first time Luther Dickinson has been involved in a project covering some classic material. Just a couple of years ago he was part of that wonderful tribute to Sun Records, Red Hot. In addition to guitar, Colin Linden plays electric dobro on this release, and produced the album. It’s clear that these guys took a lot of pleasure in this project, and I’m guessing I will be far from alone in taking great pleasure in listening to it.

The album opens with an interesting bluesy instrumental rendition of “Careless Love.” It begins with a sort of haunting atmosphere, creeping up on you like daylight in the desert, and halfway through develops into a strange and strangely pleasant back porch sound. Seriously, by the end it will probably make you happy, something you might not have expected when it began. That’s followed by a cool rendition of Jesse Stone’s “Don’t Let Go.” I first heard this song at a Jerry Garcia Band concert in 1989, and immediately loved it. The rendition these guys deliver has the right amount of rock, the right dose of blues, a great measure of soul, and a lot of pep. It’s fun and loose, turning into a good jam that has at least a couple of people laughing by the end. Rachael Davis and Ruby Amanfu provide vocals on this track.

Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson give us an absolutely wonderful rendition of Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do,” its appeal due in large part to Rachael Davis’ vocals, which have a timeless quality and rise beautifully over that steady blues rhythm. “Don’t you know that I love you/Honest I do/Oh, I’ve never placed no one above you/Please tell me you love me/Stop driving me mad.” And damn whoever it was that made her feel “so bad.” The album then returns to “Careless Love,” which is an unusual and interesting choice. This time it has a sweet and easy folk vibe right from the start, and features a gorgeous and moving vocal performance by Rachael Davis. This track is a total gem, with some wonderful stuff on both guitar and violin.

Then Sam Palladio joins them on vocals for a bluesy rendition of “Crazy Arms,” which retains a certain country charm and sweetness in this raw and delicious treatment. At the end, it seems to be going into another song, but then fades out. That’s followed by “For The Good Times,” a song written by Kris Kristofferson. This version establishes a beat before the guitars and bass come in. Then when Ruby Amanfu’s vocals come in, they have a powerful intimacy. She pulls us in as if without effort. “Let’s just be glad we had this time to spend together.” Indeed. Oh, she can melt your defenses, and move even the most soulless of men. This track is another of the disc’s highlights. Both “Crazy Arms” and “For The Good Times” were number one hits for Pay Price.

Things get hopping with a delightful rendition of “Lover Please,” a song that was a hit for Clyde McPhatter in 1962. It was written by Billy Swan, who joins Colin Linden and Luther Dickinson on vocals for this version. What a treat, and reason enough to add this CD to your collection! Rachael Davis provides backing vocals. Then Ruby Amanfu delivers another intimate and passionate vocal performance on “What Am I Living For,” a song written by Art Harris and Fred Jay, and originally recorded by Chuck Willis. This rendition has that classic sound, and features some absolutely wonderful stuff on guitar. That’s followed by a version of Bo Diddley’s “Dearest Darling” that has a great raw vibe, almost like a rehearsal or improvised number. I like music that feels immediate, real. Colin Linden provides vocals on this one. The album concludes with an interesting rendition of “I Forgot To Remember To Forget,” which was written by Stan Kesler and Charlie Feathers and recorded by Elvis Presley. This rendition has a strange, dreamlike quality, which perhaps works well with the idea of forgetting to remember to forget. It’s like a lullaby being sung to one’s self in a science fiction realm, perhaps just before machines put you to sleep permanently, a final and lasting memory. Jonathan Jackson provides the vocals on this one.

CD Track List
  1. Careless Love
  2. Don’t Let Go
  3. Honest I Do
  4. Careless Love
  5. Crazy Arms
  6. For The Good Times
  7. Lover Please
  8. What Am I Living For
  9. Dearest Darling
  10. I Forgot To Remember To Forget
Amour was released on February 8, 2019.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Cleverlys: “Blue” (2019) CD Review

Like the Ramones, the members of The Cleverlys have all taken the name of the band as their last name; and so we have Digger Cleverly on acoustic guitar and vocals; Ricky Lloyd Cleverly on upright bass, kick drum, vocoder and vocals; Sock Cleverly on fiddle and vocals; DVD Cleverly on banjo and vocals; and Cub Cleverly on mandolin and vocals (okay, I’m beginning to think their first names might be invented as well). Supposedly they’re based in Arkansas, but who knows? I mean, with these fake names, can we trust any of their biographical information? But none of that matters, for the music is totally enjoyable. It is bluegrass with a sense of humor, as the band delivers bluegrass versions of pop and rock tunes. Yeah, the songs are covers, but some of the material is new to me, as I haven’t heard the originals. So I could take those tracks sort of at face value. You know? Like the first track, for example.

The album opens with “Baby,” a song originally done by Justin Bieber. I have to admit, the first time I listened to this disc, I had no idea that this was a cover. While I had heard of Justin Bieber, I’d never actually listened to him (and no one has given me a convincing reason to change that). My guess is that his version couldn’t possibly be as cool and surprising as this bluegrass rendition by The Cleverlys. When all their voices join in, the song is lifted to a wonderful place, and then that “baby, baby, baby” part is sweet, almost gorgeous. Seriously. That’s followed by another song I hadn’t heard before, “Milkshake,” which was originally done by someone named Kelis Rogers. While writing this review, I attempted to get through the original version, but could stand only thirty or forty seconds of it. However, I am totally digging The Cleverlys’ take on it. They deliver a playful rendition, featuring some nice work on fiddle. I haven’t had a good milkshake in a while, and I am developing a craving.

I love the fun vocal play in their version of “Blue (Da Ba Dee),” the disc’s title track (and a song I feel I might have heard once before, as the chorus feels familiar). There is something delightfully silly about this, and it is certainly raising my spirits. I appreciate the joy and humor behind this cover, and behind this entire project. Plus, this song features some nice stuff on mandolin. “I have a girlfriend and she is so blue.” That’s followed by “She’s Not There,” the first song on this album that I actually already knew and loved. This was always one of my favorite Zombies songs, and these guys do a wonderful rendition of it. Then they give us a cover of “Wait A Minute,” a song by bluegrass band The Seldom Scene. Yeah, it’s the first song on the album that was originally bluegrass, though the disc’s liner notes strangely credit the song to the people who wrote that awful Pussycat Dolls song, also titled “Wait A Minute.” Anyway, there is something undeniably beautiful about this rendition, a slow country bluegrass song, particularly the work on fiddle.

“Party Rock Anthem” is another song I wasn’t at all familiar with. I’m guessing I would hate the original (it is by a group called LMFAO, a name I completely despise), but here it is kind of goofy and enjoyable, with a nod to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” That’s followed by BeyoncĂ©’s “Irreplaceable.” Yeah, it’s silly, and I can’t help but laugh as this song begins, but the thing is, these guys can play, these guys can sing. Now I wonder if they can write too. I’d love to hear some original material on their next release. Anyway, they follow “Irreplaceable” with a good rendition of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up,” a song I liked from the moment I first heard its original version back in college. That’s followed by another song that I love. The Proclaimers’ Sunshine On Leith is still one of my absolute favorite albums. The most famous (but not the best) track on it is “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” in part because of its use in Benny & Joon. Here The Cleverlys deliver a fun rendition. Sure, it takes me a moment to get used to the lack of that drum beat, but this version totally works and features some great stuff on fiddle.

Things then get really weird. They cover “Oh Death,” a traditional song most famously done by Ralph Stanley. But whereas the band gives us bluegrass renditions of pop songs, here they give us a strange pop rendition of a folk song. They stand the tune on its head, and give us some kind of electronic pop version, giving us a sound completely unlike everything else on the album. These guys clearly like surprising us. The disc then concludes with “The End Of The Record,” which is not a song at all. It is just the guys fucking around, imitating characters from various movies and television shows. It is totally pointless, and something I would have cut. I recommend taking the disc out before this track.

CD Track List
  1. Baby
  2. Milkshake
  3. Girl In The Sky
  4. Blue (Da Ba Dee)
  5. She’s Not There
  6. Wait A Minute
  7. Party Rock Anthem
  8. Irreplaceable
  9. What’s Up?
  10. I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)
  11. Oh Death
  12. The End Of The Record
Blue is scheduled to be released on March 22, 2019 through Mountain Home Music Company.

Mitch Woods: “A Tip Of The Hat To Fats” (2019) CD Review

If you love music, then you undoubtedly love Fats Domino. There’s just no way around it. The man possessed that special, magical, undefinable something, and there was a lot of joy to his music. On A Tip Of The Hat To Fats, pianist Mitch Woods celebrates The Fat Man’s music. However, the album doesn’t limit itself to Fats Domino tunes, and is a celebration of Domino’s home town, New Orleans, as well. In the disc’s liner notes, Mitch Woods talks about his love for that city. This is a live album, recorded at The New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival on April 29, 2018, six months after Fats Domino’s passing. In addition to songs done by Fats Domino, it includes original material like “Solid Gold Cadillac” and “Mojo Mambo.” The band on this album includes Amadee Castenell on tenor saxophone, Brian Cayolle on tenor saxophone, Roger Lewis on baritone saxophone, Cornell Williams on bass, John Fohl on guitar, and Terence Higgins on drums. By the way, the brief banter between songs is presented as separate tracks, so it’s possible to program your player to just play the music should you desire to do so, something I appreciate.

The album opens with “Solid Gold Cadillac,” which was the title track to a 1991 release by Mitch Woods And His Rocket 88’s. The tune is just a joy, with lots of energy and plenty of good playing, particularly on keys, as you’d expect. Hey, we could all use “a little leg room” and “a bar in the back.” You can hear the crowd getting excited. The Blues Tent must have been rocking. Things keep moving with a hopping rendition of “Down Boy Down,” a song written by Henry Glover and Fred Weismantel, and recorded by Wynonie Harris. This track features some great stuff on sax, and a playful vocal performance. Oh yes, this album should get you feeling good. Then we get “Mojo Mambo,” an original tune dedicated to Professor Longhair.  If you want to have a ball, you gotta go to New Orleans.” Yeah, it certainly does feel like a Mardi Gras celebration. Mitch Woods plays to the crowd a bit, calling out “Are you with me, New Orleans, Louisiana?” And clearly everyone was with him, as the music is a whole lot of fun. Both “Down Boy Down” and “Mojo Mambo” were included on the 1984 Mitch Woods And His Rocket 88’s release Steady Date. ‘Mojo Mambo” is followed by “Crawfishin’,” a tune that swings and grooves, with some wonderful work on guitar. It’s a party, to be sure. In my mind, the sound of this song is the constant sound of New Orleans, day or night. Maybe that’s because the only time I was ever in that city was for Mardi Gras, but I just have the sense that people there basically dance their way through their lives, a smile on their faces even when they’re mourning. The way life should be, you know?

Mitch Woods then gets into the Fats Domino material, first mentioning that the festival is dedicated to Fats, who had died the previous year. He also says that Fats Domino was an inspiration to him. “So we’re gonna do a whole bunch of Fats for you, You ready for that? Because he will live on forever.” They start with a delicious, faithful rendition of “Blue Monday,” the horns sounding just exactly right. Man, I just love this song, and today in particular this song is striking a chord with me because of its lines “I’ve got to get my rest/’Cause Monday is a mess.” Tomorrow is Monday, and I have to get up at 3 a.m. for work, on a show that attempted to shoot at this same location twice before with no results. Will Monday be a mess? Oh, you can count on it. The crowd appreciates Mitch Woods’ rendition, and so do I. The party continues with “Jambalaya,” a song I always associated with Fats Domino, as Mitch Woods clearly does, but was written by Hank Williams. Mitch Woods delivers an energetic version that pops and moves, and features more great work on saxophone. Yeah, it turns into a fun jam. Mitch adds some lines at the end: “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine/Baby, I’m so glad that you are mine/Two, four, six, eight, ten/Baby, please don’t leave me again.” “Walking To New Orleans” is another song that always makes me smile. I dig its casual yet totally catchy groove, and Mitch Woods does a wonderful job with it.

Mitch Woods delivers a rockin’ rendition of “Rocket 88,” a song written by Jackie Brenston and recorded by Ike Turner & His Kings Of Rhythm. This of course is a fitting choice of covers, as Mitch Woods’ band is called The Rocket 88s. This version features plenty of fun stuff on keys. Mitch Woods keep things jumping with “The House Of Blue Lights,” which wraps up the disc. “Everybody, let’s get up and dance,” Mitch shouts out at one point. Oh yes, that there is some advice I can gladly follow.

CD Track List
  1. Solid Gold Cadillac
  2. Spoken: Welcome
  3. Down Boy Down
  4. Spoken: Gonna Have A Ball
  5. Mojo Mambo
  6. Spoken: Thank You
  7. Crawfishin’
  8. Spoken: Fats Dedication
  9. Blue Monday
  10. Spoken: Band Introductions
  11. Jambalaya
  12. Spoken: More Band Introductions
  13. Walking To New Orleans
  14. Spoken: Intro To Rock 88
  15. Rocket 88
  16. Spoken: Intro To The House Of Blue Lights
  17. The House Of Blue Lights 
A Tip Of The Hat To Fats is scheduled to be released on April 19, 2019 on Blind Pig Records.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Luca Kiella: “Figure It Out” (2019) CD Review

Luca Kiella is a pianist based in Chicago, his music a combination of blues, soul and pop. Figure It Out, a five-track EP, is his debut release, and it contains some original material as well as a couple of covers. He plays piano and organ on these tracks, and provides the vocals. Joining the pianist on this EP are Dave Forte on bass, Rick King on drums, and Aaron Weistrop on guitar.

Figure It Out opens with “Ten O’ Clock Blues,” a delicious, lively, jumping instrumental number, driven by the piano. This is a tune that will put a smile on your face and might get you dancing too. It rocks and swings and moves, a tune to drive away your blues. That’s followed by a cover of Jon Cleary’s “Unnecessarily Mercenary,” a song that was also recorded by Bonnie Raitt. This one too has a good energy. The opening lines are “Well now, you’re just into looking after number one/Only thing you worry about is having your fun.” I’m not sure what to make of my tendency to relate anything negative to the man pretending to lead our country, but looking out for number one certainly applies to that cretin (though obviously he is not what the song is about). I can’t wait until that mendacious, incestuous traitor can be buried and forgotten. Anyway, my favorite part of this track is that lead on keys in the second half. Great stuff.

The EP’s title track, “Figure It Out,” has a delightfully cheerful sound, especially to the vocals. The lyrics have a bit of a nostalgic quality, to be sure, which probably has more appeal these days than ordinarily. I mean, don’t we all want to look back to a better time? Here is a taste of the lyrics: “No reason to worry/A smile on my face/Every day was happy/No trouble to chase.” The song also has a positive groove, and the instrumental section halfway through begins with a somewhat sweeter vibe that I dig, and builds from there toward a strong finish. That’s followed by the EP’s second cover, Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” a song made famous by Ray Charles and recorded by a whole lot of artists over the years. Luca Kiella delivers a groovy bluesy rendition. However, his voice sounds so positive that when he sings lines like “Those happy hours that we once knew/Though long ago, they still make me blue,” I don’t necessarily believe him. He needs a little more hurt in his voice. This track provides a chance for Aaron Weistrop to shine on guitar. There is also some fun stuff on organ. “I can’t stop loving you/I’ve made up my mind/To live in a memory of the lonesome times.”

The EP concludes with “So Many Questions.” This one has a different feel right from the start, in its more thoughtful, introspective sound. And that’s even before the vocals come in. Luca Kiella also gives us something different vocally in large sections of it, imbuing the song with a good deal of soul. “I crossed the ocean/Went far from where I’m from/Left my home, my love and my best friend.” It’s a blues song with something of a pop vibe, and it has personal truth and relevance, as Kiella moved from Italy to the United States. The band does not back him on this track; it is just vocals and piano, and is quite effective. “Things don’t change/I just don’t understand/Why this sadness just won’t go away.”

CD Track List
  1. Ten O’ Clock Blues
  2. Unnecessarily Mercenary
  3. Figure It Out
  4. I Can’t Stop Loving You
  5. So Many Questions 
Figure It Out is scheduled to be released on April 10, 2019.

Kenny Carr: “Departure” (2018) CD Review

Kenny Carr is a talented guitarist based in New York. You might know him from his work with Ray Charles (you can hear his playing on Just Between Us and see him on the DVD Live At Montreux 1997). Since Ray Charles’ death, Kenny Carr has been enjoying a solo career, featuring his own compositions. His most recent album, Departure, contains all original material, with Carr playing both guitar and guitar synthesizers. Joining the guitarist on this release are Donny McCaslin on saxophone, Hans Glawischnig on bass, and Kenny Wollesen on drums.

The CD opens with “Intervals,” creating this delicious alternate reality, where the entire world is a cool, exciting city, pulsing with music and desire and joy, with the saxophone flying around above us, and the bass inviting us to some specific magnetic establishment, where the guitar can then intoxicate us, so we reach that point where everyone else already seems to be, all the while the drums keeping us moving. What a wonderful track to get things going. It’s followed by “Time Change,” which has a slightly darker, more serious tone at the start. But there is still movement here, the world sliding beneath us, as the sax seems to tell us to climb above so that we can better see what’s happening on the ground. This is exciting music, keeping us on our toes, unsure what is around the corner; the pulse quickens, with the tune’s rhythm, and soon we are all situated on some new plateau, almost without being aware of the entire climb. And, hey, things are good up here.

“Tell Me I Can’t” begins with a strong, funky bass line that I love. It holds everything together, and keeps us propelling forward into some delightful realm. While the bass grooves, the guitar then dances above it. This is one to get your entire body moving. It is fun, with some wonderful stuff on saxophone. Toward the end, the guitar seems to rise like giant flowers bursting through concrete, changing the landscape. Things then mellow out a bit for “Warmth,” which has a more romantic bent at the beginning. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t going to be some interesting and exciting work on guitar. Plus, this track features a cool lead on bass. Yeah, the track may begin in a mellower place, but it certainly does not remain tame or restrained. As it approaches its climax, it gets wild, especially the saxophone. That’s followed by “D&P,” which has a delicious groove featuring more wonderful work on bass and some great stuff on drums. The saxophone seems to sing joyously above that great beat, moving and breathing, like some large, wondrous electric animal weaving its way among skyscrapers and dodging meteorites.

“Departure,” the album’s title track, is a mellower tune with something of a romantic feel. The guitar has a dreamlike quality at times, making you wish it could just carry you away into the night. When “Bear Call” begins, it has almost a progressive rock sound, in that brief moment before the sax comes in. The sax then takes it to a different level. I really dig the drums on this track. This one at times brings to mind a busy street, with the hustle and activity and energy. The disc then concludes with “Parallels,” which has kind of a light vibe at the start. It becomes a good jam, with plenty of nice stuff on guitar and a cool bass lead a little more than halfway through.

CD Track List
  1. Intervals
  2. Time Change
  3. Tell Me I Can’t
  4. Warmth
  5. D&P
  6. Evolutions
  7. Departure
  8. Waiting
  9. Bear Call
  10. Parallels
Departure was released on November 1, 2018.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Chocolate Watchband: “This Is My Voice” (2019) CD Review

Before I even removed the plastic wrap from the CD case, I was appreciating This Is My Voice, the new release from Chocolate Watchband. And that’s because of its cover, which includes that insane quote from monster Rudy Giuliani, “Truth is not truth!” (actually, he said, “Truth isn’t truth!”). That single line really sums up the entire Trump administration, doesn’t it? And right next to that line is a photo of a woman holding a sign that says “Me Too.” The CD cover’s artwork addresses several other important issues, including authoritarianism and climate change. And the music, though it often has something of a classic psychedelic vibe, also addresses this strange and disturbing reality we all find ourselves struggling against these days. The album features mostly original material, along with a few excellent choices of covers. It’s something of a feat that this band is still composing and recording worthy and relevant material. This is an album I’m going to be listening to a lot.

The album opens with “Secret Rendezvous,” which comes on strong, a solid rock song written by David Aguilar. The band, by the way, is David Aguilar on vocals, harmonica, synths, and guitar; Tim Abbott on vocals, guitar, synths, sitar and harmonica; Gary Andrijasevich on drums, percussion and vocals; Alec Palao on bass and acoustic guitar; and Derek See on guitar and vocals. “Secret Rendezvous” is kind of a fun rock tune. “See me when I’m back in town/See me when you’re done with that clown.” Things then get more interesting with “Judgement Day,” also written by David Aguilar. This is a raw, bluesy, mean tune with some cool, atmospheric work on harmonica. The vocals have a wonderfully angry and worn sound, singing about how things these days aren’t going well. “I need a miracle here today/I feel like I’m going to be swept away.” Ah, yes. Halfway through, the tune kicks things up a notch, becoming more powerful. Check out these lines: “Something in America just ain’t right/I feel like I got to punch someone tonight.” I know the feeling, and I hope I never run into anyone wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap, because those Nazis all deserve a severe beating, and I’m not sure I could hold back. And, man, I am so tired of being so angry. This song itself delivers a great pounding, a raw, thumping rhythm. It is a fantastic track.

“This Is My Voice,” the disc’s title track, has something of a classic psychedelic sound, mixed with a bit of a 1980s new wave vibe, but with lyrics that address our current ugly reality, with lines like “It’s easier to lie today/Facts don’t get in the way” and “It’s easier to hate today/Be invisible and troll away.” And yet there is optimism to this track, a positive bent that I really appreciate. This one was written by David Aguilar and Tim Abbott. It ends with percussion. We then get the album’s first cover, a cool rendition of Frank Zappa’s “Trouble Every Day” (here listed as “Trouble Everyday”), a song from the first Mothers Of Invention LP, Freak Out!  This song is certainly still pertinent, its opening lines being “Well, I'm about to get sick/From watchin' my TV/Checking out the news/Until my eyeballs fail to see.” Seriously, if you didn’t know, you’d think this was a new song. Well, some of the lyrics have been updated a bit. Check out the telling changes to the original lyrics in these lines: “And all the mass stupidity/That seems to grow more every day/Every time Fox News brays/Because the color of your skin/Don't appeal to them.” Daryl Hooper joins the band on keys, and Alby Cozzette plays electric guitar on this song.

“Take A Ride” has a Bo Diddley beat, which always works for me. Of course, I could do without the sound effect of the engine at the beginning, but no matter, as it’s a fun track. That’s followed by the album’s second cover, “Talk Talk,” a song by The Music Machine, and one I don’t recall hearing very many artists cover (other than Alice Cooper, anyway). I used to listen to the original rendition on one of those Baby Boomer Classics 1960s compilation cassettes. Chocolate Watchband does a good job with it, and I particularly like that brief instrumental section toward the end, with its delicious psychedelic edge. Then “Bed” is one I think a lot of folks are going to relate to, its first lines being “I’ve gotta get out of this bed/I’ve gotta get out of this bed/I’ve gotta get out of this bed/But I can’t do it, I can’t do it.” It’s difficult these days, isn’t it? It’s like we’re exhausted before we even begin. Another line that stands out each time I listen to this song is “My breath smells like I’m dead.” There is something catchy about this tune, and something kind of playful, though the snoring sounds at the end are unnecessary.

“Bombay Pipeline” is a cool, psychedelic instrumental tune (its title being a nod to that famous rock instrumental by The Chantays). This one was written by Tim Abbott. That’s followed a nice rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” a song I saw the Grateful Dead perform several times, and then a groovy cover of The Seeds’ “Can’t Seem To Make You Mine.” The album concludes with “‘Til The Daylight Comes” (which is erroneously printed as “Til’ The Daylight Comes” on the CD case).  This track opens with a bit of that frightening “Make America Great Again” song from one of Donald Trump’s twisted ego-driven celebrations of himself. Do you remember this? It was performed by a full choir at the official Independence Day celebration in 2017, honoring Trump rather than the nation or any of its ideals. My brain had done me the favor of temporarily forgetting I’d ever heard it, for it’s not only a terrible song, but a terrifying one. There is then a sound snippet from Trump, reminding people that what they are seeing and reading is not what’s really happening. Oh hell, if only that were true! Anyway, this is a seriously good song. There is something incredibly appealing about it, in large part because it is hopeful, which is a wonderful way to conclude the album. The daylight can’t get here soon enough.

CD Track List
  1. Secret Rendezvous
  2. Judgement Day
  3. This Is My Voice
  4. Trouble Everyday
  5. Take A Ride
  6. Talk Talk
  7. Bed
  8. Bombay Pipeline
  9. Desolation Row
  10. Can’t Seem To Make You Mine
  11. ‘Til The Daylight Comes 
The release date for This Is My Voice is different depending on the source you turn to. The press release I received lists the date as February 22, 2019. Bandcamp has the date as February 28th. Amazon claims it will be released on CD on April 26, 2019. And Discogs says it was released in 2018. At any rate, this album is or will be available on both CD and vinyl, and it follows the band’s 2015 release, I’m Not Like Everybody Else