Friday, May 31, 2019

Woody Guthrie All-Star Tribute Concert 1970 DVD Review

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

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

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

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

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

Special Features

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

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

Thursday, May 30, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CD Track List

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

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 27, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

CD Track List

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

Sunday, May 26, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 24, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Yale Strom’s Broken Consort: “Shimmering Lights” (2019) CD Review

Happy Hanukkah, everyone! No, it’s not anywhere near Hanukkah yet. And no, I’m not Jewish. But neither of those things matter when listening to the new album from Yale Strom, Shimmering Lights. The music is not only excellent and at times gorgeous, but it’s also needed right now. We are living in a dark time when racism and anti-Semitism are once again on the rise, when one of the two major political parties in this country has essentially become the Nazi Party. We need to reach out to the human qualities that everyone (well, nearly everyone) possesses, and this music does just that. I don’t speak Hebrew or Yiddish, but the disc’s extensive liner notes provide English translations of the lyrics. However, the first time I listened to this album, I didn’t look at those translations. I just let the music itself, including the vocals, and the passion of those vocals, speak to me, and it was a truly moving experience. I recommend it. Yale Strom’s Broken Consort uses quite a wide range of styles in these tracks, and the music, while mostly traditional, feels both fresh and vibrant. The musicians on this album include Yale Strom on violin, Fred Benedetti on acoustic guitar, Sara Caswell on violin, Alexander Greenbaum on cello, Amos Hoffman on oud and electric guitar, Jeff Pekarek on contrabass, David Wallace on viola, and Elizabeth Schwartz on vocals.

The album opens with “Maoz Tzur,” a beautiful piece featuring some absolutely phenomenal and moving playing by Amos Hoffman on oud. There is a nice instrumental section before the vocals come in. Then the strings have a strong and glorious (and at times intense) voice of their own. This track takes us on an intriguing journey, to the point where I was surprised when the vocals came back in. They sort of pulled me back to Earth in a way. That’s followed by “Khanike, Oi, Khanike,” which has a very different style and vibe, more of a folk vibe. It is a playful, totally enjoyable tune, this one driven by the vocals, at least during the first section. Listening to it, I imagine a large room of people listening with me. It feels odd to be alone listening to this track. There is more wonderful work on strings during the instrumental section. At the end, the lyrics are sung in English. “And while we are playing/The candles are burning low/One for each night, they shed a sweet light/To remind us of days long ago.”

“Kita’l Tas” begins with some beautiful and impressive work on violin, and features more incredible playing throughout. It has a somewhat more serious tone. This track has a tremendous power, particularly as it builds toward the end, transporting you to another realm, a more meaningful place, of beauty and devotion. Then “Latkes” has a sweet, pretty sound at the start, a sound that makes me feel good, relaxed. The track takes a turn when the vocals come in, a steady rhythm on strings backing the vocals, slowly building. This section is totally enjoyable, and I can’t help but love the vocals, which have a somewhat playful vibe. But the strings during the instrumental sections are really the stars of this track. There is also a really nice lead on electric guitar. That’s followed by “Azeremos La Merenda,” an intriguing track with different sections. The first time I listened to this album, this track struck me as taking a more serious or somber approach. But after reading the English translation of the lyrics, I have to alter my thoughts on it.

“Beshir Mizmor” is a beautiful instrumental track that works carefully, slowly to draw us in and ease our tensions. This is an original composition by Yale Strom. Then suddenly the strings take over in a strong, almost forceful way, taking the track in a different direction, raising us up. There is cheerful vibe to their playing that I appreciate. Then it eases into another gorgeous section. That is followed by “Akht Kleyne Brider,” which is a delight from its opening. This jazzy tune features some wonderful stuff on guitar, and a cool vocal performance. What a pleasure it is to listen to this track. The excellent, joyful playing is perhaps just what we need to lift us from the dark mire that has taken over the country. “La Fiesta De La Hanukia” features more wonderful work on strings, and is a fun and enjoyable track. That’s followed by “L’Chvod Chanukah.” Right from the start, there is an energy to this song that promises some excitement, and it delivers. I enjoy just letting this track carry me away. It is one of my favorites. Toward the end, the lyrics are sung in English. The disc then concludes with an original tune, “The Fool Over Yonder,” written by Yale Strom and Elizabeth Schwartz. This one has kind of a cool, jazzy vibe from the start, and its lyrics are sung in English. “The world has enough for mankind’s need/But never enough for mankind’s greed/If the link is broken the whole chain breaks/Got to work together or repeat mistakes/Come on, children, come on.”

CD Track List
  1. Maoz Tzur
  2. Khanike, Oi, Khanike
  3. Kita’l Tas
  4. Latkes
  5. Azeremos La Merenda
  6. Beshir Mizmor
  7. Akht Kleyne Brider
  8. La Fiesta De La Hanukia
  9. L’Chvod Chanukah
  10. The Fool Over Yonder
Shimmering Lights is scheduled to be released on CD on June 15, 2019 (though apparently it has been available as an import since last October).

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Suzanne Lavine: “Crystal Clear” (2019) CD Review

Suzanne Lavine is a singer and songwriter based in Pennsylvania. Her new release, Crystal Clear, signals her return to music after quite a long absence. This EP contains all original material, written by Suzanne Lavine, who takes some inspiration from some of the 1960s folk-rock bands, and perhaps a bit from the paisley underground bands of the 1980s as well. She has a good group of musicians backing her on this release, including Marc Seligman (whom you might know from Fools On Sunday) on bass, Seth Baer (whom you might know from his work with The Original Sins and The Ben Vaughn Quintet) on drums, and Cliff Hillis (whom you might know from his own solo career) on guitar and keys. Cliff Hillis, Deena Shoshkes and Jon Fried provide backing vocals.

The EP opens with “Hangin’ Around,” a cool and interesting tune. There is a bit of a folk feel to it, but with a solid rock style, a good groove, and some nice touches on keys. And of course, the lyrics have a pop feel: “Just hangin’ around in the afternoon/It’s such a cold day, will you be here soon/Just hangin’ around in the afternoon/Waiting for your call, won’t you follow through.” There is a light, kind of breezy, fun vibe to this tune. That’s followed by “Hurry Up And Kiss Me,” which has something of a similar style, a cheerful folk-rock vibe with 1960s influences, a bit of a Byrds thing happening. It is a catchy and sweet tune. “You’re running all the time/I’m asleep by nine/So hurry up and kiss me/Please tell me that you’ll miss me.”

“Crystal Clear,” the EP’s title track, has some delicious, trippy touches. It might at first seem like a sweet-sounding pop song, but the lyrics have something of a bite, which I like. “Can’t explain what I mean/Is this real or just a silly dream/Seems crystal clear/I don’t want you near.” Ah, yup, the person she is addressing seems a bit daft, and at the end she has to repeat “It’s crystal clear/It’s crystal clear.” This is one of my favorite tracks. And it is followed by my other favorite, “Bridges.” I really dig this song’s groove, which is strong from the start. Later, the song returns to this opening bit, which sounds like it could fit into some 1970s detective show, a scene in an alley close to the show’s climax. You know? Anyway, it’s a totally enjoyable song, with some playful work on backing vocals. “Don’t get me wrong/How was I to know you might be gone/For so long.” Then “Comfortable Chair” is a slower pop tune, with a pretty vocal performance. “I often wonder/But it makes no sense/Because we are here/And we’re living in the present tense.” The EP then concludes with “Lucky Charm,” which is also a slower one, an unusual sort of love song. “My eyes are set on you/And the beautiful things you do/You fell into my arms/Now you’re my lucky charm.” It then starts to build, feeling like it might burst into another level, and features some oddly soothing backing vocals toward the end.

CD Track List
  1. Hangin’ Around
  2. Hurry Up And Kiss Me
  3. Crystal Clear
  4. Bridges
  5. Comfortable Chair
  6. Lucky Charm
Crystal Clear was released on May 4, 2019.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Paula Harris: “Speakeasy” (2019) CD Review

The blues can make us feel good, and though all conscious people in this country are currently suffering from some serious blues, this music can help lift us up a bit, particularly when delivered by a powerful female voice. Paula Harris is a vocalist of tremendous power and style, knowing just when to be smooth and when to let it rip. Her new album, Speakeasy, features a lot of original material, though it is full of classic vibes and sounds. Joining the vocalist on this release are Nate Ginsberg on piano, Rich Girard on acoustic bass, and Derrick “D’Mar” Martin on drums, as well as special guests on a few tracks. It is a thoroughly enjoyable album, and a perfect choice to help pull us all out of this country’s bleak and miserable mess, at least for a while.

The disc kicks off with “Nothing Good Happens After Midnight,” and right away this music establishes a wonderful groove. Paula Harris’ vocal approach is at first intimate, even conspiratorial, pulling us in before she then begins to belt out the lyrics. Oh yes, she has us in her hands straight away, and not a one of us wishes to escape. You can tell from her delivery that a whole lot of good stuff is going to happen after midnight. After, before, during, just so long as we stick with this woman. This song was written by Paula Harris and Nate Ginsberg, and features some wonderful stuff on piano by Nate. That’s followed by “I Wanna Hate Myself Tomorrow (For Raising Hell Tonight),” also written by Paula Harris and Nate Ginsberg. A funky, cool bass line gets this playful track off to a great start. “I’m gonna party with my friends/Like the world ain’t going to end/And act like there ain’t no sorrow/Because, baby, that can come tomorrow.”

Then Paula Harris delivers a gorgeous and moving song titled “Haunted,” another original number. And “haunted” is right; I am haunted by her vocal performance here. She is good. “And you’ll be haunted with thoughts of me/Haunted by my memories/Haunted, haunted, haunted/Wait and see.” Yeah, she is sure of herself here, and so she should be. Is there any question but that the man will be thinking of her? And when she sings that she can make it on her own, I have no doubt that that’s true. This is such a great song. “Soul-Sucking Man” is a fun, lively number. And when Paula sings “I know what’s good for me and baby it ain’t you,” I want to dedicate this song from the good people of America to Donald Trump and the entire Republican Party. “And I’m hip to your game/And I know temptation is your middle name.” Christopher “Kid” Anderson plays bongos on this one. “A Mind Of Her Own” is another fun tune, this one written by Scotty Wright. It features some cool stuff on keys. The line “You want to dislocate his head” made me laugh out loud the first time I listened to this album. And these lines strike a strong chord especially these days: “A woman is not a possession/She acts by her free will/And she knows just what to do/When she’s got a need to fill.” The line “Well, baby, those days are dead and gone” is not so certain anymore. This country is taking giant leaps into the terrible past with regards to women’s rights and equality.

There is something sexy and sly about “Something Wicked,” particularly that horn. That’s Bill Ortiz on trumpet. And of course Paula Harris’ vocals are fantastic, so seductive and wonderful. “Black hair and eyes of green/All my thoughts turned obscene.” This song’s title and title line are references to Macbeth, so I love this track even more. And suddenly in the middle, another vocalist comes in, Big Llou Johnson, delivering a strange poetry section that feels like something to be played at the sexiest of Halloween parties. And he ends that section with the line from Macbeth, “Something wicked this way comes.” Delicious! And that trumpet is so bloody cool. This is one of the album’s best tracks. I just completely love it. And they are clearly having a lot of fun with it. That’s followed by “Trouble Maker,” a track that rocks and sways. It comes on strong and doesn’t let up, the piano being the driving force. I love the way Paula delivers certain lines, like “You can’t fall in love without risking a heartbreak” and “Trouble maker, irresistible to me.” Then there is even a bit of scat. Yup, it’s a cool track from beginning to end.

“You Don’t Look A Day Over Fabulous” is a delightful and playful tune. The lines “You don’t look a day over fabulous/And you’ll be beautiful until the day you die” express just exactly the way I feel about my girlfriend. Somehow as she gets older she is becoming even more beautiful. I don’t know how she does it. This track features some delicious work on bass and some wonderful touches on keys. This is a song that makes me smile every time I hear it. “He thinks I’m perfect/I think he’s sweet.” Another delicious groove gets “Do Me Good” going. As bright and cheerful as the sound is, in this one she expresses doubts about her man, about her relationship. Well, based on the sound, which makes me feel optimistic, I think it’s all going to work out just fine. After all, how can things go wrong when you’re dancing and moving to this beat? There is a nice little jam toward the end. The instruments sound like they’re smiling, don’t they? I feel like that bass line is going to buy me a beer. And then Paula belts out some lines. Ah, so nice.

The rest of the tracks on this disc are listed as bonus tracks, apparently only available on the CD (so not digitally?). It still strikes me as odd to label a track a “bonus track” on an album’s initial release, but no matter. The first of these tracks is a cover of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.” Written by Al Kooper, this song appeared on Blood, Sweat & Tears’ 1968 LP Child Is Father To The Man. Paula Harris does an excellent job with it, and when she dips into her lower registers, I get shivers. Her voice rises to some spectacular heights on this track too. There is so much passion in her voice when she sings “I love you more than you’ll ever know,” leaving no doubt whatsoever that what she says is true. That is followed by “Forever And A Day,” with Bill Ortiz joining the group again on trumpet. Then “Scratches On Your Back” is a song about an infidelity that is obvious, but the man still offers denial after denial. I do, however, appreciate the man’s explanation for the unfamiliar panties wrapped up in the woman’s sheets. “You say it’s a secret that you keep/Because you get kinky all alone/And you put those panties on.” The disc concludes with a delicious cover of Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” featuring some wonderful stuff on piano.

CD Track List
  1. Nothing Good Happens After Midnight
  2. I Wanna Hate Myself Tomorrow (For Raising Hell Tonight)
  3. Haunted
  4. Good Morning Heartache
  5. Soul-Sucking Man
  6. This Love Is Gonna Do Me In
  7. A Mind Of Her Own
  8. Something Wicked
  9. Trouble Maker
  10. ‘Round Midnight
  11. You Don’t Look A Day Over Fabulous
  12. Do Me Good
  13. I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know
  14. Forever And A Day
  15. Scratches On Your Back
  16. Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby
Speakeasy was released on May 1, 2019.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Meghan Hayes: “Seen Enough Leavers” (2019) CD Review

Meghan Hayes is a talented and engaging singer and songwriter based in East Nashville, her music combining elements of folk, country and pop. Her new album, Seen Enough Leavers, is her third, following Snow On The Waves and Go And Give The Guard A Break. A lot of time has passed since the release of those first two albums, and during those intervening years Meghan Hayes clearly went through some stuff. This new album follows the end of a long marriage, and in some ways feels like a return to the world, or perhaps was itself the way back. The music here is passionate and sincere, and features some excellent lyrics. Joining Meghan on this album are Audley Freed on electric guitar and 12-string acoustic guitar; Goffrey Moore on acoustic guitar; Thayer Sarrano on pedal steel and piano; Dex Green on bass, guitar, piano, organ, mellotron and backing vocals; and Tommi Rautiainen on drums. There are also some guests on certain tracks.

Meghan opens her new album with “Georgette,” which begins as a simple and haunting folk song, and then starts to build from there, featuring some nice work on pedal steel. “One light bulb is enough to burn this lamp, Georgette/Start burning two or three, you’ll drown yourself in debt/You like to say we’re dying but we ain’t dead yet.” That last line grabs me every time I listen to this disc. It’s an arresting line, full of sadness and hope, characteristic of the style and poignancy of Meghan Hayes’ lyrics. That’s followed by the album’s title track, “Seen Enough Leavers,” which has a faster pace and a more lively sound, but still with a certain haunting aspect to the vocal performance. Something about her voice takes hold of me. And the older I get, the truer these lines become: “Time’s the fastest thing I know/It’s run away with everything I’ve had to show.”

“Burley” features another striking vocal performance, as well as more moving work on pedal steel. “Plenty of people want to call this suicide/But you can’t kill something that ain’t there.” That’s followed by “Potholes,” an interesting, unusual song. The line that stood out from this track the first time I listened to this disc was “The first fucking Noel fills my shopping cart.” That’s a great line. But again, her songs are filled with excellent lyrics. Take these, for example: “Year turns, I can’t learn/The simple equation to force your return/The half dozen reasons I made you squirm.”

“A Birthday In The Pawnshop (Morristown)” is one of my personal favorites. In fact, even before I first put this disc on, I was digging the track’s title.  Check out these lyrics, which open the song: “Lightning turned the leaves on the trees around/Every night that summer down in Morristown/Thunder shot curses across the sky/By morning not a single blade of grass was dry.” Those lines do such a great job of giving us a feel of the place, setting the tone. Here is another excellent line from this one: “And tried on lives we’d never see.” This song has a vibrant sound, though its story is told from the perspective of someone who is dead. Apparently, this song was released on a compilation back in 2006, The Other Side: Music From East Nashville, though on the track list for that disc it is titled simply “A Birthday In The Pawnshop.” Also, just so you know, a video for this song has been released.

Another track that stands out for me is “Next Time Around,” a song about a home that is no longer a home after the end of a relationship. “You swore we’d die in this place/I bet the people we bought it from/Once said exactly the same.” It’s a sad song, of course, but somewhere deep in there, there is still hope, “Maybe we all get more chances the next time around.” Yeah, it’s not much, but we have to cling to whatever scraps of hope we can get these days. Mando Saenz joins Meghan on vocals on this one. The album concludes with “Story Of My Life,” with Meghan on acoustic guitar, accompanied only by Derry DeBorja on accordion. “I’ve been offered nothing/Nothing will suffice.” The album ends with the line “That’s the story of my life,” and indeed, listening to this disc, it feels that we’ve been treated to a very personal experience.

CD Track List
  1. Georgette
  2. Seen Enough Leavers
  3. This Summer’s Sleeper
  4. Burley
  5. Potholes
  6. Cora
  7. A Birthday In The Pawnshop (Morristown)
  8. Second To Last Stand
  9. Next Time Around
  10. Story Of My Life
Seen Enough Leavers is scheduled to be released on CD on May 31, 2019.

Burning Manilow at Genghis Cohen, 5-18-19 Concert Review

Burning Manilow performing "I Can't Go"
I may have mentioned this once or twice before, but those nights at The Peak Show Compound back in 2003, 2004 were some of the most enjoyable nights of my life. The vibes were right, the people were good, and the music was fantastic. Since then, I’ve tried to keep up with all the projects the members of The Peak Show have been involved in. So far, none of them have steered me wrong. Guitarist Derock Goodwin is now a member of Burning Manilow, which up until last night somehow I had missed seeing perform. But they did a gig at Genghis Cohen, which ended up being a whole lot of fun, and was a serious family celebration. More on that in a moment.

I arrived a bit early (even after stupidly getting off the 101 at Highland and working through the bloody Hollywood Bowl traffic), and when I got there, a talented kid named Garrett Podgorski was playing some classical pieces on guitar, a nice surprise. He chose some gorgeous, famous pieces, and my anxiety over the state of the world was put on hold for the duration. He finished just after 8:15 p.m., and his crowd exited, and a different crowd entered – the Burning Manilow crowd. It had been a while since I’d been at this venue, and I’d forgotten just how tiny a room it is. What I like is that the benches are padded, and there is a little shelf in front of each bench where you can put your drinks (or recording equipment, as the case may be). Lena Embry took the stage at 8:36, and did a really nice set of original material. Her brother joined her on stand-up bass for a song. I mentioned this was a family affair. Well, Lena’s parents are both members of Burning Manilow, as is her brother. Her brother also plays drums with Lila Forde Group, who closed out the night. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Lila Forde joined Lena on harmony vocals for a song, while Lena switched from guitar to keys. By the way, this was Lena’s thirteenth birthday, and everyone sang happy birthday to her. It really was a family celebration. She finished her set at 9 p.m.

No time was wasted, and Burning Manilow was on stage and ready to play less than ten minutes later. They opened the show with “Old Shoes,” a tune with a nice groove, a good vocal performance from Laura Embry, and some wonderful touches on keys by Andrew Hindes. Then toward the end Derock let loose on guitar for a bit. Yeah, it was definitely a good start to the set. After just the slightest of pauses, they began their next song, Niko Embry establishing a good groove on drums to start it off, the crowd shouting out his name in encouragement. Then Darren Embry’s bass line got things pumping. But the main energy of this song came from Laura’s vocals. Afterward she said, “It’s hot in here.” She then added, “We warmed up the room.” Indeed!

One of my favorite tunes of their set was “Don’t Think.” Derock started this one on guitar, holding onto a note and creating a cool atmosphere. I dug the interaction between guitar and keys near the beginning. But it was when the song kicked in for the chorus that things got really good and funky. This one featured some great stuff on drums, as well as some delicious stuff on keys, and became a very cool jam. This was exactly what I went there for. The only shame was the lack of space to dance. Then Lena Embry and Lila Forde joined the group on backing vocals for “The Truth Inside,” a slower, pretty tune with kind of a 1970s vibe. There was even a wonderful section with just vocals and drums, the vocals having a good amount of soul. Afterward, they noticed that a microphone cord had knocked over Laura’s glass, and she sent her daughter out to the bar to replace her drink, which was only a soda anyway.

“Crawl” was a new song, a slow, groovy tune with an excellent, engaging atmosphere. Darren and Derock provided backing vocals. That was followed by another strong and soulful number, “Afraid.” “I don’t want to close my eyes/And I don’t want to be afraid of the truth.” Oh yes, this was one you could really sink your teeth into, and it built wonderfully toward the end. As it ended, Niko started to go directly into “Gimme A Chance” before realizing they had another song before that. The band then went into “I Can’t Go,” another of my personal favorites, a song with a very cool vibe. Darren and Derock again provided backing vocals. They closed out their set with “Gimme A Chance,” another highlight. The saxophonist from Lila Forde Group, Ben Lindenberg, joined them on this fun, funky jam, another tune you want to dance to. It was a perfect ending to their short, but excellent set.

Burning Manilow Set List
  1. Old Shoes
  2. Forever Project
  3. Don’t Think
  4. The Truth Inside
  5. Crawl
  6. Afraid
  7. I Can’t Go
  8. Gimme A Chance
The Lila Forde Group then closed out this family celebration. And what a talented group of young musicians this group turned out to be, delivering an absolutely delicious combination of jazz and funk, powered by Lila Forde’s fantastic voice. Their set was mostly original material, and totally enjoyable.

Here are a few photos from the night:

Lena Embry
"Old Shoes"
"The Truth Inside"
"The Truth Inside"
"The Truth Inside"
"The Truth Inside"
"Afraid" 
"Gimme A Chance"
Lila Forde Group

Genghis Cohen is located at 740 N. Fairfax Ave. in Los Angeles, California.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Rj Cowdery: “What If This Is All There Is” (2019) CD Review

Rj Cowdery is a singer and songwriter based in Columbus, Ohio. Her new album, What If This Is All There Is, is full of beautiful, moving, emotionally engaging songs that feel designed to help pull us through these unsettling times and our own personal troubles. She provides a sweet and friendly voice, like a hand reaching out to us in the darkness. Most of the songs here are originals, written by Rj Cowdery. Joining her on this release are Thomm Jutz on acoustic guitar and electric guitar; Mark Fain on upright bass; Lynn Williams on drums; Jen Gunderman on keys; and Justin Moses on banjo, fiddle and mandolin. Ingrid Graudins, Melissa Greener and Amy Speace provide backing vocals. Amy Speace also produced the album.

Rj opens this new disc with “Somewhere A Place,” and her voice immediately draws me in. This song is beautiful and engaging, with an earnest and honest vocal performance. Check out these lines: “Trouble seemed to follow you around/You took some beatings into the arms of another town/Disappearing without a sound/ Somewhere a place, somewhere in time/Two hearts embrace what was left behind.” This track also features some nice work on keys. That’s followed by the album’s the title track, “What If This Is All There Is,” one of my favorites, in large part because of the song’s lyrics. Here is a taste: “Gotta figure out where I’m going/Maybe I’m not going anywhere/Are these miles that I drive, lines that I ride/Just a hopeless love affair/Because what if this is all there is/What if this is all the love I’m ever gonna give/And the ladder that I’m on/Standing on the highest rung/I’m ever gonna stand/What if this is all there is.” We all ask ourselves these questions, don’t we? And Rj’s delivery is full of passion and truth and life. This is a gorgeous and moving song.

“Secrets Of My Dreams” has something of a sweet and gentle folk sound, and I like Justin Moses’ work on both mandolin and fiddle here. “In the morning when I cry, I think about all that I am given/I think about everything I had, all the good and all the bad.” Then suddenly we get a song that comes on with more volume, more energy, more attitude, titled “Broken Wheel.” Its lyrics of course are just as compelling as those of the previous tracks. Check out these lines: “Life goes on even though you’re stuck/Your feet won’t move and your mind won’t heal/Everything’s a wreck, you’re a broken wheel/You told yourself so many times/If it got this bad you’d end it by/Popping of a gun, pushing of a pill/Make a big splash rolling down that hill.” That’s followed by a more intimate-sounding song, “Don’t Give Up,” in which Rj sings “Don’t you give up on this love/Don’t go racing the wind/Because it will blow, oh, but we can mend/We’re not broken if we bend.” She gives us another beautiful vocal performance here.

How often do we find ourselves saying there is no time these days? And as we get older, and time moves more quickly, it feels more and more difficult to find the time to do things like see friends, relax, read a book, and just feel good. In “Is There Time,” Rj Cowdery addresses this topic, singing “And I just don’t know what happened/Life keeps flashing by/If I could only take this moment.” She reminds us to take those moments, that time is there for us to use: “There’s time for just about anything that you can think of/There’s time in the morning when the sun is on the rise.” That’s followed by “Shotgun Rider,” which features some nice work on banjo, and then “Girl In The War,” the only song on the album not written by Rj Cowdery. It was written by Josh Ritter, and is the opening track on his 2006 album, The Animal Years. Rj does an excellent job with it, delivering a moving vocal performance. “I got a girl in the war, Paul, the only thing I know to do/Is turn up the music and pray that she makes it through.”

“Get Out Of Here” is a pretty and intimate and gentle song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Maybe now is not the time to talk about the past/But I sure miss those days of wonder, I sure wish they would have lasted/Just a little bit longer, a few more years/Long enough to claim my innocence I hid behind the tears/I used to think I’d save the world with the words that I’d write down.” I also really like the work on acoustic guitar. This entire album is strong and engaging. It concludes with “Lost And Found,” which also has an intimate sound. I feel like Rj doesn’t hide anything; her voice, and her approach to a song make us feel that she opens herself. There is something so appealing about this song, in part because of lines like “And oh what a journey, such a hurry/Let’s slow this whole thing down” and “I think we’ve finally earned the time to sit back and exhale.” Here she again reminds us to take our time and enjoy our lives, for soon it will all be gone. This is another favorite of mine, and it features some beautiful stuff on fiddle.

CD Track List
  1. Somewhere A Place
  2. What If This Is All There Is
  3. Secrets Of My Dream
  4. Broken Wheel
  5. Don’t Give Up
  6. Is There Time
  7. Shotgun Rider
  8. Girl In The War
  9. Get Out Of Here
  10. Lost And Found
What If This Is All There Is was released on May 17, 2019.