Sunday, June 30, 2019

Chris Stamey: “New Songs For The 20th Century” (2019) CD Review

I am always interested in whatever Chris Stamey is working on, from The dB’s to his solo career, from his albums with Peter Holsapple to his guest appearances on the albums of other artists, and his work as a producer. His new double album, New Songs For The 20th Century, is an unusual offering. For this one, he has composed new songs that sound like standards from the past century. And to give the songs even more of a standard flavor, Chris Stamey has invited several different vocalists to deliver the lyrics. So this two-disc set really feels like a collection of standards. The music is a combination of jazz and pop, with both male and female lead vocalists, and plenty of excellent guest musicians, including Branford Marsalis and Bill Frisell. This is a good opportunity to leave the present behind (something that certainly holds a lot of appeal for most of us), and enjoy some damn fine music.

Disc 1

The first disc opens with “Manhattan Melody (That’s My New York),” which is so cool right from the start. This is a bright jazzy pop number featuring Django Haskins on vocals and the incredible Branford Marsalis on saxophone. Ah, that sax sounds so good, particularly during the delightful lead section in the second half of the track. There is also some really good work by Jim Crew on piano. This tune almost makes me feel positive about New York. Almost. That’s followed by a mellower number, “It’s Been A While,” with Django Haskins again on vocals. There is a nostalgic quality not only to the sound, but in the lyrics, as he’s looking backward to a perhaps better time after running into someone from his past. Doing that always makes us take stock of our present lives, doesn’t it? And it offers an opportunity to make comparisons. This track too features some good work on saxophone, this time by Elijah Freeman. Stephen Anderson is on piano, and delivers a cool lead halfway through.

Caitlin Cary sings on “I Don’t Believe In Romance,” a pretty song that features more nice work by Stephen Anderson on piano. I love his lead part that begins around the halfway mark. There is also a good bass line to this one. Will Campbell is on sax, and there is some wonderful work from the string section. This one has a catchy element, and has really grown on me, becoming one of my favorite tracks of the first disc. As with many of the songs on this release, the lyrics feature someone looking into the past. “Those days are gone, like yesterday’s songs/I hear the words you say/But nothing could make me sway.” Bill Frisell plays guitar on “What Is This Music That I Hear,” a song that mentions Gershwin in the present tense, taking us back to that time with its lyrics as well as with its sound. “And Gershwin is five thousand miles away.” This track features some excellent stuff by John Brown on bass, and Will Campbell provides another good lead on sax. Kirsten Lambert provides a gentle, sweet vocal performance.

Accomplished vocalist Nnenna Freelon joins Chris Stamey on “Occasional Shivers,” her performance having both a sexy and wistful quality. “I must admit, when I’m near you/I still feel occasional shivers.” This track has a gorgeous, late-night vibe. Will Campbell is on saxophone, and there is also some good work from the string section. That’s followed by “On The Street Where We Used To Live,” which has kind of a bright feel, though lines like “There’s the bookstore where we first met, now a new internet café” and “On the street where we used to live, nothing remains” are completely depressing. This has been on people’s minds lately, how the quirks of different cities are disappearing, and everything is turning indistinguishable. Streets are losing their identities. Sure, some of this could be called progress, but it’s so sad when you look for your past and can’t find it anywhere. This track features some cool percussion and a good vocal performance by Brett Harris.

“Your Last Forever After” is one of the disc’s most beautiful and moving songs. This one struck me the first time I listened to this album, and I love it more each time I listen to it. It features a memorable vocal performance by Caitlin Cary. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I am your last forever after/I am your first glimpse of the moon/I am the memory you’ve forgotten/Your sudden déjà vu.” Josh Moore provides harmony vocals on this track. That’s followed by “There’s Not A Cloud In The Sky,” a fun, cheerful tune featuring an excellent vocal performance by Ariel Pocock. And check out Stephen Anderson’s work on piano. The first disc concludes with another of its most compelling tracks, “I Am Yours,” featuring Millie McGuire on vocals. I saw her perform this song with Chris Stamey back in February at The Federal Bar. It’s a gorgeous song, and was one of the highlights of her set at that concert. This is an excellent track to wrap up the first CD.

Disc 2

The second disc, labeled “Volume 2,” then opens with another song featuring Millie McGuire on vocals, “I Fall In Love So Easily.” This is a gorgeous, romantic piece, with Stephen Anderson accompanying Millie’s delicious vocals on piano. Elijah Freeman adds some nice work on sax. This was another that Millie performed at that concert in February. That’s followed by “Beneath The Underdog,” a song with a very different feel. It opens with some cool work by Matt Douglas on saxophone, with hand claps backing him. And soon the song develops a kind of funky, lively rhythm. Providing vocals for this one are Marshall Crenshaw, Don Dixon and Django Haskins. Sometimes this song strikes as me as a tune that could be in a musical. “In-tox-i-cho-cli-fi-ca-tion” also could be from a musical, though it has a different style. It’s kind of a goofy tune, a love song to chocolate, with Django Haskins providing the vocals.

“The Woman Who Walks The Sea” is a mellow tune with a relaxed vibe. Kirsten Lambert provides the vocals, and Jim Crew is on piano. “Lover, Can You Hear Me?” is a passionate, romantic number featuring Skylar Gudasz on vocals. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “And the day stretches out like it will never end/Far away from the reverie of night/But I pray that the dusk will bring you back again/To my arms.” That’s followed by “Pretty Butterfly (In My Dream),” a sweet song sung by Millie McGuire. This track features Mark Simonsen on vibes, and Laura Thomas on violin. The lyrics to this one also touch on night and day, and relate the coming of night to the return of a lover: “When the night has wrapped its arms around me/And the day’s a distant memory/I know you’ll be back again.” “And I Love Her” is another sweet, pretty tune, this one with Kirsten Lambert on vocals. I love her performance here. This track also features some wonderful stuff by Will Campbell on saxophone, and by Jim Crew on the piano, giving it a late-night vibe.

A few of the songs on this release mention famous musicians from earlier times. I noted that “What Is This Music That I Hear?” mentions Gershwin. So does “Unpredictable”: “Unpredictable, like April showers/Like a Gershwin tune.” However, this one takes place a little later, as the people in this song are seeing Jules et Jim, which was released in 1962. Then “I Lost Track Of Time” mentions Benny Goodman. Django Haskins sings this one. “And I lost track of the time/Back when you were mine/I wish I could somehow find/A way to make the hands rewind.” Again, there is a yearning to return to an earlier time that is present in many of these songs. The second disc then concludes with “Occasional Shivers.” It is listed on the CD as a reprise, but it’s actually the full song again, but with a different singer. This time Presyce Baez takes on the vocal duties. And Dave Finucane is on saxophone.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Manhattan Melody (That’s My New York)
  2. It’s Been A While
  3. I Don’t Believe In Romance
  4. What Is This Music That I Hear?
  5. Occasional Shivers
  6. On The Street Where We Used To Live
  7. On An Evening Such As This
  8. Your Last Forever After
  9. There’s Not A Cloud In The Sky
  10. Dear Friend
  11. Insomnia
  12. I Am Yours
Disc 2
  1. I Fall In Love So Easily
  2. Beneath The Underdog
  3. In-tox-i-cho-cli-fi-cat-tion
  4. In Spanish Harlem
  5. The Woman Who Walks The Sea
  6. For A Muse
  7. Love, Can You Hear Me?
  8. Pretty Butterfly
  9. I Didn’t Mean To Fall In Love With You
  10. Life Is But A Dream
  11. And I Love Him
  12. Unpredictable
  13. I Lost Track Of The Time
  14. Occasional Shivers (Reprise)
New Songs For The 20th Century was released on June 28, 2019 through Omnivore Recordings.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Mark Doyle: “Watching The Detectives: Guitar Noir III” (2019) CD Review

In 1999, guitarist Mark Doyle released Guitar Noir, his first solo album. Then in 2011, he revisited the idea with In Dreams: Guitar Noir II, with all of the tracks dealing with dreams (and nightmares). These albums featured some original material, along with covers. Now Mark Doyle is again returning to the series with Watching The Detectives: Guitar Noir III, an instrumental album featuring interesting renditions of popular themes from television, as well as some original compositions. There are also a couple of covers of songs that are outside the detective theme, including Frank Zappa’s “America Drinks And Goes Home.” In addition to guitar, Mark Doyle plays keyboards and bass on this album. Joining him is Josh Dekaney on drums and percussion. There is also a string section made up of Ally Brown, Shelby Dems, Jonathan Hwang, Joe Davoli, and Kate LaVerne.

The CD begins with a medley titled “Detectives Medley.” An unusual way to kick off an album, right? The first song of this medley is Elvis Costello’s “Watching The Detectives,” a song originally released in 1977. This version has a cool, somewhat eerie pulse. It isn’t long before Mark Doyle segues into a tune from the 1960s, that great theme from the television series Get Smart. This version feels a bit heavy, but works well. Mark then goes back just a few more years for another television theme, Nelson Riddle’s theme to The Untouchables. Those three tunes make up the medley, but of course Mark Doyle is not finished with television themes, following the medley with “Kojak Theme,” taking us back into the 1970s. This rendition certainly retains a strong 1970s vibe, in the rhythm and so on, while the guitar work seems appropriate to that decade but not restrained by it. Then Mark Doyle gives us the theme from The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a fun choice, and a television theme that I always thought was cool. I like the percussion on this one, and there is plenty of guitar.

One of my favorite tracks is “Lost Letter,” written by Andre Previn, who died earlier this year. This is a moodier piece that features the string section. It has a bluesy groove, a cool vibe and some interesting and unusual percussion. That’s followed by Elmer Bernstein’s theme for Johnny Staccato. I love John Cassavetes, but somehow have never seen this show. Mark Doyle’s take on the theme combines rock and jazz. As I mentioned, there are two tracks that stray from the album’s theme. Apparently, these two were recorded before the theme had been chosen. The first of those tunes is Frank Zappa’s “America Drinks And Goes Home,” a seriously strange and delightful choice. Mark Doyle’s rendition has a mellow, kind of sweet vibe, feeling almost like a lullaby at first before taking on a late-night jazz feel. I am particularly fond of Doyle’s guitar work on this track. And in the second half of the track, the strings are prominent.

We then get into the album’s original compositions. The first, “Thirteen Crimes,” in some ways feels like a slightly twisted television theme, like to a show that didn’t make it beyond the pilot stage because its main character was too disturbed to appeal to a mainstream audience. Perhaps it is the detective himself who is committing these crimes, or is enjoying them in some fashion, not really wanting to catch the criminal. It also has a somewhat manufactured feel, an artificial vibe that actually adds to its weirdness, to its unsettling quality. That’s followed by the disc’s other original composition, “Noir Alley,” which has a cooler, sly style, and features a totally enjoyable bass line. This is another of my personal favorite tracks. The main character of this one is a guy you can’t help but like, perhaps even want to emulate. His style, his movement. Then there is a strange, haunting vibe to it nearly halfway in, because the case the guy is on is anything but straightforward. An element of the supernatural, perhaps? Or maybe it just seems that way for a bit, before the pieces fall into place. Because then when the guitar leads the piece, it feels more grounded, more certain. We then get Dave Grusin’s theme to “It Takes A Thief,” which is another of the album’s highlights, in large part because of the work on strings. I am always a sucker for cello, and Kate LaVerne’s work on cello is prominent early on. Then the track takes a turn, becoming a funky number. The album concludes with “Everytime,” the other track outside of its theme. This one was written by Louis Cole, and is a fairly mellow tune.

CD Track List
  1. Detectives Medley (Watching The Detectives, Get Smart, The Untouchables
  2. Kojak Theme
  3. Man From U.N.C.L.E.
  4. Lost Letter
  5. Johnny Staccato
  6. America Drinks And Goes Home
  7. Thirteen Crimes
  8. Noir Alley
  9. It Takes A Thief
  10. Everytime
Watching The Detectives: Guitar Noir III is scheduled to be released on August 6, 2019.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Boo Ray: “Tennessee Alabama Fireworks” (2019) CD Review

These days, seeing the word “Alabama” in print makes me cringe. And if you have been paying attention to the news, it probably has the same effect on you. But don’t let that keep you from listening to Tennessee Alabama Fireworks, the latest release from Boo Ray, a singer and songwriter originally from North Carolina. He delivers some damn good songs, with a powerful, honest, somewhat gritty sound, the sound of someone in motion, the sound of heat, the sound of real connections. This album features all original material, written or co-written by Boo Ray. Joining him on this release are Matt Workman on guitar and backing vocals, Sol Philcox-Littlefield on guitar, Paul III on bass and vocals, Justin Cromer on drums, Smith Curry on pedal steel, and Jon Coleman on keys. The album was produced and mixed by Noah Shain, who also produced his 2016 release Sea Of Lights.

“A Tune You Can Whistle,” the disc’s first track, starts off with a kind of sweet sound. But it isn’t long before the song kicks in to become a very cool country tune, with energy and attitude. “Ain’t nobody at the wheel,” Boo Ray repeats, but his voice is certainly at the wheel of this track, driving us all forward. Where exactly are we going? There is weirdness all around, so the options all seem mad. “One nation under the influence/Of a cellphone computer screen.” This track’s lyrics provide the album’s title. Then suddenly there is a slower section, the first lines of this part delivered as spoken word. When it kicks in again, the song features some nice work on guitar and then pedal steel. “A Tune You Can Whistle” was written by Boo Ray and Noah Shain, and is followed by “Don’t Look Back,” which has a somewhat mellower vibe to start. “How about we just keep going/How about we don’t look back.” Oh yes, those lines hold a lot of appeal. That idea always did for me. This is a song I plan on adding to my road trip play list. It feels about time for a road trip, doesn’t it? “We could call the highway home.”

“Gone Back Down To Georgia” has a brighter sound, almost a party atmosphere. He sings, “I should’ve never gone back down to Georgia.” Yup, that’s how a lot of folks feel about Georgia these days, what with that hateful law against women and their health. If that law goes into effect in January, businesses should be pulling out of the state. There are more fun vibes in “20 Questions,” which has a bit of a classic sound that I dig. I am particularly fond of that bass line. There is also some nice stuff on keys. “What’s the point in asking me questions/If you know the answers I’m gonna say.” That’s followed by “She Wrote The Song,” which has a more serious, somber and sober tone. “I didn’t stand a chance, she didn’t have a choice/It’s the pain pills that took away my sweetheart.” This is a really strong track. Then “Dee Elle” is a short instrumental track with a pretty country sound. I love that pedal steel.

“Outrun The Wind” opens with what is a cliché, “If you don’t stand for something, you could fall for anything,” but is also a line that feels particularly apt these days. It continues to amaze and disgust me that a third of the country could fall for a shameless swindler, and it is even more shocking that these morons are still under his spell. Anyway, this song has some good lyrics, and a compelling vocal line. I like the rhythm of the vocal line, particularly in lines like “Just let go/Let love show you/What you don’t know/About your own soul/Just slow down/Hear the sweet sound/Of the right here/And the right now.”  By the way, on the CD case, the order of the songs is incorrect. It lists “Outrun The Wind” before “We Ain’t Got The Good,” when actually it comes after it. A glance at Boo Ray’s arms will tell you that he has a genuine appreciation for tattoos. So it’s no surprise that he concludes this album with a song about tattoos, “Skin & Ink.” I am not into tattoos at all, but I can appreciate and enjoy this tune. “She was looking at the naked girl peeking out beneath my sleeve/She said, damn, that girl there on your arm, it should be me.” He then tells her, “There might be a little room on the other arm for you.” Ah, love.

CD Track List
  1. A Tune You Can Whistle
  2. Don’t Look Back
  3. Gone Back Down To Georgia
  4. Honky Tonk Dream
  5. 20 Questions
  6. She Wrote The Song
  7. Dee Elle
  8. We Ain’t Got The Good
  9. Outrun The Wind
  10. Skin & Ink
Tennessee Alabama Fireworks was released on February 15, 2019.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Gretje Angell: “… In Any Key” (2019) CD Review

Gretje Angell is a jazz vocalist based in Los Angeles. A love of music clearly runs in her family, as both her father and grandfather were jazz drummers. Gretje has sung with several groups, and is now releasing her solo debut full-length album, …In Any Key, a disc that is a total delight. The music she has chosen to cover here is mostly classic, well-known fare, and she gives these songs a fresh and lively vibe. Her vocal work is vibrant and friendly and endearing. Joining her on this release are Dori Amarilio on guitar, Kevin Axt on bass, Gabe Davis on bass, Steve Hass on drums, Kevin Winard on percussion, and some other guests on certain tracks.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this once or twice, but you can never go wrong with Gershwin. Gretje Angell chooses a wonderful Gershwin tune to open this album, “(Our) Love Is Here To Stay,” a song from the 1938 film The Goldwyn Follies. And she delivers a delightful and sweet rendition, with a pleasant groove, and even a bit of scat partway through. The song’s opening lines now seem perhaps more pertinent than ever: “The more I read the papers, the less I comprehend/The world and all its capers, and how it all will end/Nothing seems to be lasting, but that isn’t our affair.” In these twisted days, our personal relationships are more important than ever, as the larger world has grown stupid and horrid, and this song – after briefly mentioning the troubles of the world – focuses on a relationship. And so it is a positive tune. We all return to love, recognizing that it is the most important thing. And even if love might drive us crazy from time to time, it is also the only thing that will keep us sane. Dori Amarilio delivers some nice work on guitar here. Gretje follows that with another song written for a film, Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old Fashioned,” from the 1942 movie You Were Never Lovelier. She gives us some bright, cheerful-sounding scat at the beginning of this one. I absolutely love her vocal approach to this song. There is something cool, yet friendly and familiar about her voice. Plus, this track features some wonderful work on guitar. And there is some swing to this track. It’s one of my personal favorites.

Gretje Angell has an interesting approach to “Fever.” This version has a somewhat fuller sound than some of my favorite renditions, with a different and prominent Latin rhythm, giving it a Santana-like sound. Yet, Gretje’s vocals still have an intimate feel. Quinn Johnson plays keys on this track. Gretje then turns romantic with a beautiful and tender rendition of “Deep In A Dream,” which features Michael Hunter on trumpet. Chuck Berghofer plays bass on this track. Another favorite of mine is “One Note Samba.” She begins this one with some beautiful, heavenly scat delivered a cappella, before getting into that rhythm and the lyrics. I love that approach. Here she is accompanied only by Dori Amarilio on guitar, and his work is excellent. Dori, by the way, also produced, arranged and mixed the tracks on this disc. That’s followed by “Tea For Two,” written by Vincent Youmans. This is a song that I’ve always considered a kind of goofy, playful tune. But Gretje’s take on it is rather pretty and sweet, and features more good work on guitar. As with “One Note Samba,” Dori Amarilio’s guitar provides the only accompaniment to Gretje’s voice. This version is giving me a new appreciation for this famous song. The album then concludes with “Them There Eyes,” Gretje providing a lively vocal performance, with some scat, accompanied by some cool jazzy guitar. This is a wonderful and playful track, a great way to finish her debut release.

CD Track List
  1. (Our) Love Is Here To Stay
  2. I’m Old Fashioned
  3. Fever
  4. Deep In A Dream
  5. Berimbau
  6. Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
  7. One Note Samba
  8. Tea For Two
  9. Them There Eyes 
…In Any Key is scheduled to be released on July 25, 2019.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Michelle Allen: “Safe From The Storm” (2018) CD Review

Michelle Allen is a singer and songwriter based in Colorado. You might know her from her work with Tupelo Honey, a band that came to a sudden and sad end when Nancy Thorwardson succumbed to breast cancer in 2017. Late last year Michelle Allen released a solo album, Safe From The Storm, which features all original songs. In addition to the vocals, Michelle plays rhythm guitar and banjo. Joining her on this release are her son Jason Allen on upright bass and charango; Eric Thorin on upright bass and backing vocals (Thorin also produced the album); Taylor Simms on acoustic guitar, electric guitar and backing vocals; Natalie Padilla on fiddle, banjo and backing vocals; Russ Meissner on drums and percussion; and Eric Moon on piano and accordion. There are also some special guests on certain tracks.

The album gets off to an excellent start with “Deaf Dumb & Blind,” a tune that is somewhere between folk and country, with a groovy, cheerful vibe. “No matter how I try, I can’t understand you/It’s only through your touch that the meaning comes through.” Ah yes. This track features a nice little bluegrass jam with some good work on banjo. I bet this song will have you smiling before long. That’s followed by “Dark Eyes,” which has a somewhat more somber tone, and features some nice work on guitar. “You come knocking on my door/Well, I ain’t got the strength no more/To balance on the edge and not fall.” Then “Safe From The Storm,” the album’s title track, is a sweeter, pretty folk song featuring some wonderful harmonies. It has a gentle, friendly style and approach. This is a song designed to make you feel less alone in the world. “I still recall/The old front porch swing/And the tunes Grandpa played in the dark/As we lay in our beds/Half asleep in a dream/Home kept us safe from the storm.”

I absolutely love the jazzy, cool vibe of “Man In The Moon” the moment the track starts. This is one of my favorite tracks, and it features more wonderful harmony vocals, as well as a delicious timeless gypsy flavor. There is some excellent stuff on bass, and check out that great work on piano! “And since I met you under the stars/I’ve been trying to figure out who you are/The moon casts shadows long and dark.” That’s followed by another of the disc’s highlights, “Surrender.” Jessie Burns plays fiddle on this one, delivering some gorgeous, moving work. This track also features Jon Sousa on guitar. “My defenses are low/And the white flag is flying/Surrender is the best I can do.”

“Waiting For A Latte” is a fun, somewhat playful number featuring more good work on piano. I seriously dig this tune’s vibe and style. “I looked him in the eye/Dressed him down and sized him up/I smiled in his direction/And I called his bluff.” It becomes a cool jam in the second half, and I like that loose drumming. That’s followed by “Uncommon Weather,” a kind of sweet tune. “I know to be together means to be apart.” Michelle Allen plays banjo on this track. Then “Love Is Blind” is a wonderful, adorable song, with some delightful backing vocals. It is for me another of the disc’s highlights. “After forgetting what I once knew/Here I am falling, falling for you.” The album concludes with “Howling Wilderness Saloon,” with a good western rhythm. “Oh, that woman, she drove him mad/He dreamed most nights she was lying in his bed.” I could do without the crowd noise at the beginning and end, but I still enjoy this song. “He needed a good square meal/And one strong drink/At the Howling Wilderness Saloon.”

CD Track List
  1. Deaf Dumb & Blind
  2. Dark Eyes
  3. Safe From The Storm
  4. Say It Like It Is
  5. Man In The Moon
  6. Surrender
  7. Cool Water
  8. Waiting For A Latte
  9. Uncommon Weather
  10. Love Is Blind
  11. Howling Wilderness Saloon 
Safe From The Storm was released on December 6, 2018.

Ellis Paul at City Winery, 6-8-19 Concert Review

Ellis Paul performing "I Ain't No Jesus"
Ellis Paul celebrated the release of his new album, The Storyteller’s Suitcase, with an excellent show at City Winery in Boston on June 8th. Joining him for this concert were Abbie Gardner on dobro and backing vocals and Seth Glier on piano and backing vocals. However, he started the show solo, taking the stage just after 8 p.m., coming out with a glass of wine. He asked the audience if any of them had the new album already, and a lot of folks cheered. The Storyteller’s Suitcase had been released a week earlier, so folks had a chance to become familiar with the material before this show. Of course, anyone who had been seeing Ellis over the past couple of years had likely heard several of the album’s tunes performed live already. The song he chose to open the show, “I Ain’t No Jesus,” is one he has been playing for a few years now. And he delivered a sweet rendition at this show.

He followed that with “Slingshot,” another song from the new album, but one I don’t think I’d heard before. When he announced the song, one guy in the audience cheered, and Ellis said, “Thank you, and I mean you.” In introducing the song, Ellis said it was a song about having nothing but wanting it all. It was after that song that Abbie Gardner and Seth Glier joined him on stage. And actually they joined him a few moments after he started his next song, “3,000 Miles.” This is the song I’ve seen Ellis perform more than any other, and this rendition featured a really nice lead by Seth on piano. That was followed by another crowd favorite, “Kick Out The Lights.” Ellis told the audience it was a crowd participation number, and that he’d be watching to make sure they participated. “Unfortunately, I can only see this table,” he added, pointing at a table directly in front of him. This song is always a lot of fun in concert, and the audience at this show knew its parts. Seth delivered some more delicious work on piano, and then Abbie added some great stuff on dobro.

The concert was in Boston, and Ellis mentioned that he lived in Boston for twenty years (which predictably received a cheer from the crowd), but now resides in Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville is most known these days for the Nazi rally that took place there in 2017, and Ellis Paul wrote a song about that day. Titled “The Battle Of Charlottesville,” it is included on The Storyteller’s Suitcase, an album of songs about specific days in Ellis’ life. It’s a powerful and moving song, and when Ellis finished it, the audience at City Winery gave it a lot of applause. By the way, if you don’t already own the new album, there are two versions of it available. The deluxe edition comes in its own little suitcase, with plenty of goodies inside, including a flask, a journal, a pen, and a USB containing all of Ellis Paul’s earlier releases (with the exception of the Tree Full of Crows album, which was only ever released on cassette). He showed the audience the contents of the deluxe edition before playing “Five Alarm Fire On The 4th Of July,” a fun song that includes a bit of “We Are Family” at the end. That was followed by “The Innocence And The Afterlife,” one of my favorites from the new album. The lines about his daughter asking about coming back as a puppy affect me every time I hear this song. Ellis then wrapped up the first set with “Alice’s Champagne Palace,” another crowd favorite. The first set ended at 8:54 p.m.

Abbie Gardner is a member of the group Red Molly (named after the Richard Thompson song “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”), and Ellis began the second set by mentioning that he was going to be playing at City Winery again in a few days, opening for Red Molly. He took the stage at 9:24 p.m., and started the second set, as the first, with a couple of songs performed solo. The first was the sweet “Rose Tattoo,” on which he played harmonica. “If I ever lost you/I would be lost too.” He then switched to piano for “Scarecrow In A Corn Maze.” Abbie and Seth came back out for a truly wonderful rendition of “Maria’s Beautiful Mess.” This is one of my favorite songs, and it is one that Ellis has played a lot over the years. It was great to hear a somewhat different take on it, with both Seth and Abbie contributing some good stuff. That was followed by “Election Day,” a cool and optimistic song written by Michael Brown, and then “You’ll Never Be This Young Again,” both of which are included on The Storyteller’s Suitcase.

“Mammoth” is a song that Ellis wrote with Seth Glier, and in introducing it Ellis said, “It just might be my favorite song on the record.” He read the lyrics from the liner notes of The Storyteller’s Suitcase, and was accompanied by Seth on piano (with Abbie providing some backing vocals). Then Ellis left the stage for “If I Could Change One Thing,” a song by Seth Glier. He said this was to give the audience a chance to really hear Seth and Abbie’s vocals. I don’t recall Ellis doing that at any other show (though my memory is at times questionable). He did return near the end to sing backup on this beautiful song. That was followed by “Kiss Me ‘Cause I’m Gone,” a song that Ellis wrote with Abbie Gardner, and one that had been performed only once prior to this show. The second set then concluded with “The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down.” The encore was a cover of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” with Abbie and Seth each taking a verse, and the audience singing the chorus. The show ended at 10:25 p.m.

Set List

Set I
  1. I Ain’t No Jesus
  2. Slingshot
  3. 3,000 Miles
  4. Kick Out The Lights
  5. The Battle Of Charlottesville
  6. Five Alarm Fire On The 4th Of July
  7. The Innocence And The Afterlife
  8. Alice’s Champagne Palace
Set II
  1. Rose Tattoo
  2. Scarecrow In A Corn Maze
  3. Maria’s Beautiful Mess
  4. Election Day
  5. You’ll Never Be This Young Again
  6. Mammoth
  7. If I Could Change One Thing
  8. Kiss Me ‘Cause I’m Gone
  9. The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down 
  1. This Land Is Your Land
Here are a few photos from the show:

"3,000 Miles"
"Kick Out The Lights"
Ellis showing the contents of the suitcase
"Rose Tattoo"
"Rose Tattoo"
"Rose Tattoo"

City Winery is located at 80 Beverly St. in Boston, Massachusetts.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 7, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Set List

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

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

Sunday, June 2, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Record Track List

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