Friday, August 23, 2019

Kelly’s Lot: “Can’t Take My Soul” (2019) CD Review

The first Los Angeles band I saw perform after moving to this city was Kelly’s Lot. This was in the late 1990s, more than twenty years ago. Bugger me, how time gets away from you. But Kelly’s Lot has continued to produce great blues music, sometimes venturing into other realms as well, as they did on their 2012 release Plain Simple Me, but essentially unruffled and unimpaired by the passage of time. Hell, the blues is eternal, right? And Kelly’s incredible voice has something of that eternal quality to it. That power comes from something unaffected by time passing; it tears through time, combining youth and immortality to create a force that the grim reaper can’t touch. This music is alive. It is thriving. You can hear that clearly on the band’s new album, Can’t Take My Soul, the title itself a little jab at death and its inability to hold dominion here. The material is all original, written by Kelly Zirbes and Perry Robertson. The band has gone through several changes over the years, and is currently made up of Kelly Zirbes on vocals and acoustic guitar, Perry Robertson on guitar, Matt McFadden on bass and Mike Sauer on drums. There are also several special guests on various tracks.

The album gets going with “All I Ever Want Is The Blues,” a blues tune that boogies and rocks. There is a lot of joy here, and isn’t that something, how the blues can make you so damn happy? It’s been said many times before, but still it strikes me, that seeming contradiction. This song is also a love letter to the blues, calling out some famous artists of the genre by name, folks like Muddy Waters and B.B. King and Etta James. There is some really good work on electric guitar too, particularly in the second half. That’s followed by “All Hope Ain’t Lost,” which has a more serious blues sound, with a nice rhythm and some cool sounds on organ. That’s Bobby Orgel on keys. This one begins with some of the usual woes heard in the blues, such as “Times are tough I hear too many say/Greed and money getting in the way.” But then the song turns to let us know “All hope ain’t lost.” And the way Kelly repeats that title line, giving it more power each time, we are all feeling optimistic before long. Her voice speaks with such confidence, such knowledge here, as well as power, that we can’t help but believe. “Don’t give up,” she tells us, something a lot of folks need to hear these days when things have become quite dark out there. And Kelly’s Lot addresses that darkness in the line “Ain’t nothing good about it/When you build a great big wall.” I love and appreciate this song.

Kelly gives a deliciously varied vocal performance on “Alyssa,” and I dig that rhythm, as it moves us back and forth. “She was never behind, but one step ahead of the blues.” This one offers some advice and a reminder: “Take a deep breath and throw away your fears/‘Cause it will all be gone before you know that you’re here.” Ah, the ephemeral quality of life, of everything, something we need to keep in mind so as not to let little things destroy us, but not to keep in mind so much that we fall into despair or apathy. Then “Woe Is Me” has such a ridiculously cheerful sound and vibe, something you might not expect from its title. This is a song about dealing with someone who is down all the time, and how it affects you too. It is so difficult to pull someone out of his or her gloom, and these days it proves more difficult than usual. Perhaps this song will work to that effect, as it is a lot of fun, with a bit of a Cajun vibe. Eddie Baytos plays both accordion and washboard on this track. The album then takes another turn with “Safe And Warm,” which has a sweeter, beautiful sound with a country vibe. Kelly’s voice sounds so smooth at moments. We are so used to that tremendous raw power that she seems to call forth effortlessly, that it’s a delight when she changes gears and calms things down a bit. But don’t worry, she finds moments to allow that power to burst through the surface here too. This one ends up being one of my favorite tracks of the album.

Jean-François Thomas joins the band on vocals for “Rise Up (Lève-Toi),” their voices combining to an interesting effect. Jean-François has a wonderfully raspy and rough quality that makes Kelly’s voice even at her rawest and wildest sound so smooth. Rob Zucca plays lead guitar on this track, and delivers some excellent stuff. Then “Broke Myself” comes on strong, with a good tight rhythm. I seriously dig that bass line. Kelly’s vocals here begin with a rather intimate sound, but then of course rise and have plenty of attitude. “But nothing compares/To what a heart can do/I broke myself loving you.” And when she sings that she may be in trouble, we believe her, because there is a wild, unhinged quality to her approach here, which works so well. Frank Hinojosa adds some wonderful touches on harmonica on this track, the instrument like a witness to the pain. That’s followed by “Let It Breathe,” a pretty acoustic number. There is love and concern in Kelly’s delivery as she sings “There’s a light in my heart for you/Let it guide you back to me/While you’re gone/I hope you find peace of mind/And you learn to let it breathe.” This track contains another reference to walls (it’s difficult to keep from reading political meaning into such references these days), “You need to tear those walls down.” This track also features some nice stuff by Bobby Orgel on keys.

“Dirt” is a powerful song that begins with its first several lines sung a cappella. The band then eases in. This song stood out for me the first time I listened to this disc, especially lines like “When the pain makes you feel better” and “When a hand feels like a thorn/And your cage feels safe and warm.” This is an empowering and hopeful song about a serious subject. “They’ll keep you straight/When you bend/So the broken pieces can mend.” Michael Mason plays drums on this track. That’s followed by “Little Bit Of This,” an acoustic song with a sweet, pleasant folk sound. Then “Can’t Take My Soul,” the album’s title track, also begins with its first lines delivered a cappella. It soon kicks in to become a delicious bluesy country rocker, a fun, positive number, a song to get folks dancing. There is even a section with hand claps and percussion. The cheer of this track is infectious. Then we’re suddenly transported to a French café for “Mon Ami,” the disc’s closing track. What a delightful surprise, and it treats us to yet another aspect of Kelly’s vocals. Jean Paul Monshè offers some wonderful work on accordion here, and there is also a whistling section. Yes, this song is making me ridiculously happy. “Thank you for your open arms.”

CD Track List
  1. All I Ever Want Is The Blues
  2. All Hope Ain’t Lost
  3. Alyssa
  4. Woe Is Me
  5. Safe And Warm
  6. Rise Up (Lève-Toi)
  7. Broke Myself
  8. Let It Breathe
  9. Dirt
  10. Little Bit Of This
  11. Can’t Take My Soul
  12. Mon Ami
Can’t Take My Soul was released on May 17, 2019. By the way, Kelly’s Lot is planning a special concert to celebrate twenty-five years as a blues force. The show is scheduled to take place on November 1, 2019 at The Mint in Los Angeles.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Nocona: “Long Gone Song” (2015) Vinyl Review

A few years ago, Jay Souza organized a tribute to The Kinks, and at that gig I was turned on to a couple of bands I hadn’t previously heard. One of my favorite groups that night was Nocona. They have a new album coming out soon, so it seems like a good time to give a listen to their 2015 release, Long Gone Song, particularly as it is available on vinyl. I get so much more excited opening a record than a CD. There is something still magical in that moment when you put a needle in the groove of a new record, that moment just before the music starts when maybe you’re not sure what you’re going to hear, or hell, even when you know exactly what you’ll hear. Records also demand more of your attention, require more of a commitment, when you listen, so you’re more involved. And this album opens up like so many records of my youth did, offering more photos inside. And the label at the center of the record has a classic look, in black and gold. Everything about it feels right. But of course it’s the music that matters, and this album is excellent from it’s opening track to its final tune. All the songs are originals, written by Chris Isom. The band, by the way, is made up of Chris Isom on vocals and guitar, Adrienne Isom on guitar and vocals, Annie Rothschild on bass and vocals, Justin Smith on drums, and Elan Glasser on harmonica. There are also a couple of special guests on certain tracks.

Side One

The record opens with its title track, “Long Gone Song,” a fast-paced, raw, rocking gem with some good, powerful work on harmonica. This tune moves along at a good clip, and we get caught up in its momentum. These guys aren’t kidding around, but burst out of the speakers into our homes, our lives, announcing themselves and making themselves at home, drinking whatever they might find in the cabinet or refrigerator. And check out these lyrics: “Whiskey and willow, love and destitution/A little schizophrenic mental pollution/Ghosts in the attic, the trees where they stand/You know the beast ain’t nothing but a man.” That’s followed by “Toothless Junkie,” which has a slower groove, with a strong bluesy element. The “I ride around town like a fucking asshole” line makes me smile. And the song’s final two lines seem like a playful comment on the band’s sound: “Well, Nashville don’t like my soul/Tell me something I don’t know.”

“All The Victories Of The World” has a sweeter, gentler sound at first, but this song still certainly has bite. Plus, it features a strong vocal performance, at times taking me back to my youth, to certain 1970s rock tunes. There is something big about this song, you know? Something larger than us, the way music felt to me when I was a kid and everything was new. “Watching your life implode/Getting your ass kicked at the rodeo/Someone’s got to find out/Might as well be you and all your doubt.” There is also a strange beauty to this song. It’s one I find myself wanting to listen to over and over. Carl Byron, a musician I’ve learned to pay close attention to, joins the group on keys on this track. That’s followed by “Beelzebub Is Still The King,” which has a more easygoing groove at the beginning. “When you’re sleeping/When you can’t remember your dreams/In a universe that’s so obscene.” It takes on a country sound, thanks to Greg Leisz’s work on pedal steel. Carl Byron is on keys on this track too. Then “Knives & Cologne” closes out the first side. There is this wonderful moment when this song kicks into a different gear; something clicks, and then bam, we suddenly get this fantastic instrumental section with a strong 1960s vibe. The whole song is cool, but it’s that moment that I keep returning to.

Side Two

“Beverly Hills Blues” begins with a steady, strong beat almost like it’s going to become some standard rock song, but don’t fear, there is nothing standard about this band. Sure, there is a bit of a pop feel to this tune, but also an unusual timeless vibe. Partly it’s the vocals, which feel like they’re coming from a slightly altered reality. “And when you’re underwater, could you stay/For just another minute or two.” This track features a very cool, vibrant instrumental section, with an engine roaring to life, and more wonderful work from Carl Byron. That’s followed by “It’s Just,” a great dose of outlaw sounds. You know, some blues, some country, but a lot of raw and powerful energy, with cool stuff on harmonica and a good rhythm both on drums and to the vocal line. This song is like a road trip where your vehicle is on fire and that detail just seems to attract birds of prey that follow at a less-than-respectful distance, eager to see what will befall you. And how are things going to turn out? Even as your tires burst into flames, you’re in control, so all is well.

“Ahh Lovey” has such a cool vibe. “This ain’t the first time I’ve gone without sleep.” Oh yes, we’re entering that strange territory where sleep is a distant, vague concept, and something else is in control. This group sounds like it’s riding in from the desert to give us some information and thrills, get us dancing a bit, then leave us branded and ecstatic, if not tipsy and with a reality blurred by snake poison. “Prehensile Soul” seems to want to take us down a darker path at first. “Why won’t you believe? Why won’t you believe?” I believe, and surrender to the insistent beat, which hypnotizes and becomes my pulse. The record then concludes with “Outside The Lines.” This one is just a fucking delight right from the moment it starts. Its opening lines are “Nothing is heavy/The world is just putrid.” And of all the songs on this record, this is the one that makes me think of The Kinks, particularly the vocals. Plus, both Greg Leisz and Carl Byron join the group again on this track. Yeah, it is one of my favorites. But really, this entire album is excellent.

Track List

Side One
  1. Long Gone Song
  2. Toothless Junkie
  3. All The Victories Of The World
  4. Beelzebub Is Still The King
  5. Knives & Cologne
Side Two
  1. Beverly Hills Blues
  2. It’s Just
  3. Ahh Lovey
  4. Prehensile Soul
  5. Outside The Lines
Long Gone Song was released on October 2, 2015 on Henrietta Records.

Ian & Sylvia: “The Lost Tapes” (2019) CD Review

I first became aware of Ian & Sylvia when I was in my teens and getting into folk music. There was plenty of great folk music in Massachusetts in the late 1980s, both in the coffee houses and on the radio. And while I was excited about the current local artists, I was also drawn to the 1960s folk artists, and it wasn’t long before I was introduced to Ian & Sylvia through “You Were On My Mind,” “Four Strong Winds” and their version of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain.” The duo wrote their own material, but also covered other artists’ work as well as traditional folk songs, also venturing into country and even blues at times. The Lost Tapes is a two-disc set which contains recently found live recordings of some of their most beloved songs and interesting covers. I do wish this release contained more extensive liner notes, listing the dates and locations of the concerts from which these recordings were pulled, and listing the other musicians who perform on these tracks. What we are told is that the recordings are from the early 1970s, toward the end of their career as a duo and as a couple, and that they were discovered by Sylvia Tyson herself (she is also credited as executive producer of this release). Even though information is rather lacking, the music is really good.

Disc One: Classics

The first disc opens with a sweet and delightful rendition of the traditional folk song “Keep On The Sunny Side,” with some country elements. This track should put a smile on your face. It is followed by a gentle version of “Darcy Farrow,” their vocals sounding gorgeous. This song was written by Steve Gillette and Tom Campbell, and was originally included on Ian & Sylvia’s Early Morning Rain LP. They then deliver a rousing country version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.” And check out those deep bass vocals on these lines: “Well, I followed close behind her/Tried to hold up and be brave/But I could not hide my sorrow/When they laid her in the grave.”

One of my favorite tracks on the first disc is “Four Rode By,” one of the few Ian Tyson-penned tunes to be included. It was originally included on their Northern Journey album, and is one of those folk songs that tell tales of outlaws. “They shot him with a rifle and they took his watch and chain/When the posse found them, they were in the lonely cabin/Hunger took their fight away and no one else was slain.” This rendition features some great guitar work and energy. “Four Strong Winds” is one of Ian & Sylvia’s most widely known and beautiful songs. It was written by Ian Tyson, and he gives us an excellent vocal performance on this recording, nuanced and moving.

There is a bit of stage banter before “Little Beggarman,” as Ian introduces the song, mentioning that he originally learned it from the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. (The banter, though introducing the song, is actually included at the end of the previous track). This track is another of the disc’s highlights. It’s a whole lot of fun, and features some wonderful guitar work by Red Shea (Ian mentions him in the song’s introduction). The last of the original songs to be included on this disc is “Summer Wages,” a song from the duo’s So Much For Dreaming album. This is a strong and totally enjoyable song written by Ian Tyson. The first disc closes with a really nice rendition of “I’ll Fly Away,” with a bass line that I totally dig.

Disc Two: Previously Unreleased

The second disc is titled “Previously Unreleased,” though it is my understanding that all the music on both discs was previously unreleased. From what I can gather, these are songs that weren’t recorded for any other Ian & Sylvia record, live or studio album. They are all covers, mostly country tunes. This disc opens with “After The Fire Is Gone,” a delicious country number written by L.E. White and originally recorded by Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. Ian & Sylvia do a great job with it, the first lines of their rendition delivered a cappella by Sylvia. That’s followed by another country song, “Heartaches By The Number,” the lyrics delivered with just the right amount of heartache in their voices. “Now I’ve got heartaches by the number/Troubles by the score/Every day you love me less/Each day I love you more.” Ah yes, that there is some trouble indeed. They continue with another popular country tune, “Sweet Dreams,” this one written by Don Gibson. As they begin it, they mention the Faron Young version. This is one of those gorgeously sad country tunes, and Ian & Sylvia give us a moving performance.

They then switch from country to blues with a good rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen,” the first several lines delivered a cappella, sounding so good. The band then kicks in. I dig the way they approach this tune, giving it a bit of a honky tonk vibe while maintaining its blues base. It’s a lot of fun. They stick with the blues (well, country blues), following that with “Jimmie’s Texas Blues,” a song written by Jimmie Rodgers. I particularly like Ian’s vocals on this track, and his performance helps make this one of my favorites of the second disc. This track has such a good vibe. Sylvia then gives us a sweet and beautiful vocal performance on “How Long.” That’s followed by an uplifting country version of Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing On My Mind,” a song I never tire of. “Are you going away with no word of farewell/Will there be not a trace left behind/I could’ve loved you better, didn’t mean to be unkind/You know that was the last thing on my mind.”

Sylvia is joined by Lucille Starr on vocals for a really good rendition of Buck Owens’ “Crying Time.” Their voices sound gorgeous together, with a lot of passion. There is some stage banter at the end of this track, though it’s the introduction to the next track, “Starting All Over Again.” This disc then finds them covering a second Buck Owens song, “Together Again,” with Ian singing lead on this sweet tune. Lucille Starr joins Sylvia again for a nice, energetic rendition of “Silver Threads And Golden Needles.” The disc concludes with an excellent rendition of the Utah Phillips song, “The Goodnight Loving Trail,” featuring a wonderful vocal performance by Ian. This is a song that Ian Tyson would later revisit, including it on his 1984 self-titled album.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Keep On The Sunny Side
  2. Darcy Farrow
  3. Will The Circle Be Unbroken
  4. When First Unto This Country
  5. Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies
  6. Four Rode By
  7. Nancy Whiskey
  8. Four Strong Winds
  9. Little Beggarman
  10. The French Song
  11. Summer Wages
  12. Crazy Arms
  13. I’ll Fly Away 
Disc Two
  1. After The Fire Is Gone
  2. Heartaches By The Number
  3. Sweet Dreams
  4. Come On In My Kitchen
  5. Jimmie’s Texas Blues
  6. How Long
  7. The Last Thing On My Mind
  8. That’s The Way Love Goes
  9. Crying Time
  10. Starting All Over Again
  11. Together Again
  12. Silver Threads And Golden Needles
  13. The Goodnight Loving Trail
The Lost Tapes is scheduled to be released on September 6, 2019 on Stony Plain Records.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Ehud Ettun: “Deep In The Mountains” (2019) CD Review

Every day I need an antidote for the poison being issued forth from our nation’s capital. We all do. A daily dose of humanity is necessary to combat the racism and mean-spiritedness of the man pretending to be president and of his horrid little followers who seem to have permanently cast off whatever better qualities they may have once possessed. It is impossible to remain unaffected by the toxic fumes rising from the White House. So, as to not become infected by them, we look for a remedy, something that possesses the opposite qualities in order to neutralize the effects. I find it in conversation with friends, in physical connections, and in music. And it flows in abundance throughout the tracks that make up Deep In The Mountains, the new release from bassist Ehud Ettun. Joining him on this album are Daniel Schwarzwald on piano and Nathan Blankett on drums. Some of the material they choose to present here will be familiar to you, tunes such as “Old Devil Moon” and “It Could Happen To You,” which are given a fresh life. There is also some original material, composed by Ehud Ettun.

The disc opens with a delightful rendition of “Secret Love,” written by Sammy Fain. This track works like a gentle embrace, full of love, full of kindness, just what the world needs. The bass and the piano seem to be engaged in a playful romance. That’s followed by Ray Noble’s “Cherokee.” There is a gentle spirit to this track as well. At its center is a wonderful lead on bass. There’s a loose vibe to this one that seems to say that the world is a good place, with great diversity but a common passion. Ehud Ettun then delivers a cheerful and exciting rendition of “Old Devil Moon.” I particularly like Nathan’s work on drums here. The track seems to bubble and pop, like it’s cooking in some great big pot out in the hills, surrounded by dancing sprites and nymphs, which Daniel’s lead on piano seems to represent. Wonderful stuff here. Things settle just a bit leading to Ehud’s lead on bass.

“Deep In The Mountains,” the album’s title track and one of its original compositions, has a thrilling vibe right from its start, with that great work on bass. This track then takes us on a journey, seeming to breathe with us, relaxing when we need it, then pushing forward, onward and upward, rising to heights, then pausing to look out at the beauty below, a beauty that is pulsing with life, a beauty that moves. This is one of my personal favorites. It’s followed by “Alfonsina Y El Mar,” a beautiful piece written by Ariel Ramirez, played with tenderness and heart, particularly that lead on piano, which is powerful at moments. We then get a truly fun and totally enjoyable rendition of “It Could Happen To You,” each of the musicians grooving and cooking. Ah yes, listening to this track makes me think it will happen to us all. “Arirang” has a sweet vibe. It is a Korean folk song, and it affects us in that place that all the great folk songs do, speaking to something timeless within us. “Arirang” features more wonderful work on bass, though the piano seems to be the heart of this track. That’s followed by a thoughtful rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” (written for On The Town), which then builds wonderfully.

We then get more original material, beginning with “Matcha Green,” which gets off to a great start with drums. Then the piano and bass dance along at a quick clip. This track is a total delight, and I’d be shocked if it failed to bring a smile to your face. It has a lot of character. That’s followed by “Keep Calm.” I have to remind myself several times a day to calm down, and this track seems to acknowledge both the need to keep one’s calm, and also the reasons why it might be difficult to do so. It has a calming quality at times, then moves to busier sections where one feels a need to rush along, getting caught up in that ceaseless river of activity and drama. The disc then concludes with “Stork.” I find it rather funny that even now in my forties, the word “stork” immediately conjures thoughts of babies, particularly cartoon images of babies being delivered. This is a lively number that finds its own peaks and valleys, but never settles, and features an excellent lead on bass.

CD Track List
  1. Secret Love
  2. Cherokee
  3. Old Devil Moon
  4. Deep In The Mountains
  5. Alfonsina Y El Mar
  6. It Could Happen To You
  7. Arirang
  8. Some Other Time
  9. Matcha Green
  10. Keep Calm
  11. Stork 
Deep In The Mountains was released on May 1, 2019 on Internal Compass Records.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Odds Lane: “Lost & Found” (2019) CD Review

Odds Lane is a St. Louis blues rock band, the project of two lifelong friends and songwriters, Doug Byrkit (vocals, guitar and bass) and Brian Zielie (drums). Joining them on their newest release, Lost & Found, is Mike Zito on slide guitar. Mike Zito also produced, engineered and mastered the album. Lost & Found features all original material, written by Doug Byrkit and Brian Zielie.

This disc gets off to a powerful start with “Don’t Give It Away,” a tune with a heavy blues rock sound and a catchy groove that I can’t help but enjoy. This track is pure raw power, a song that seems able and likely to drive away, or maybe scare away, whatever might be bugging you (and isn’t there a whole lot of shit bugging you these days?). Yeah, we need tracks like this. It’s followed by “Seven States,” a rockin’ tune that comes straight at you and is fun, driven by the guitar. This is a good one to have with you the next time you hit the road, particularly if you have a lot of gigs in a short period of time. “Five days and seven states.” The first couple of lines of “Ain’t Missing You” are straight out of the John Waite song “Missing You”: “I ain’t missing you/No matter what my friends say.” While we never quite believe the character in the John Waite song when he says he doesn’t miss that person (for clearly he does), in this song the protests seem more sincere, more serious, at least for a while. “And I’m so glad that you’re gone.” I dig that lead guitar part in the second half of the song.

“Lost & Found,” the album’s title track, has more of a pop feel, with a punchy and cheerful beat, and some cool work on guitar. This is one I think a lot of folks will be able to immediately relate to. Its opening lines are: “I’ve been trying to get myself up off the ground/I’ve been trying to get myself up off the ground/Every day seems the same/And there’s no one else to blame.” Yet, this song has such a positive vibe, which I totally appreciate. “If I can get lost, baby, I can get found.” This is one of my favorite tracks, with a sound that I always associate with summer. That’s followed by “Moth To A Flame,” a song that is exciting from the moment it starts, with a wild and totally delicious rhythm. It’s blues, it’s rock, it’s a bit of country, and it’s a lot of fun, a tune you can let loose to, and – yes – another of my favorite tracks.

“Hard Rain” begins with a simple but effective rhythm, the bass being prominent. It then builds, becoming a harder rocking blues number. “Because there’s only so much evil that a man can do before it all comes back to you.” Oh yes, we are all expecting a hard rain to fall on certain folks, and the sooner the better, for the country can’t take much more of their shit. “Spare Change” is a rocking tune with a full sound and a driving rhythm. It begins with a request for change, and touches upon some of the normal blues subjects, as his wife has left him and he’s lost his job. He’s looking for a little help. Hey, aren’t we all? There is something catchy about “A Little Too Late,” especially its groove. It is somehow heavy and light simultaneously. Plus, there is some good work on guitar. There are moments when this track reminds me of Santana, and other moments when I think of Cream. The album then concludes with “White Castle Blues.” I had never heard of White Castle until I went to a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show when I was in my teens. One of the crowd responses was a reference to that place (“What’s white and sells hamburgers?”). Anyway, this song is a lot of fun, a rocking tune that might get you dancing and shaking. As the song is ending, there is a line kind of tossed in, “Don’t forget my milkshake.” Is there anything more pleasing than a good milkshake?

CD Track List
  1. Don’t Give It Away
  2. Seven States
  3. Ain’t Missing You
  4. Lost & Found
  5. Moth To A Flame
  6. Hard Rain
  7. Blood On The Van
  8. Spare Change
  9. What’s Your Name
  10. A Little Too Late
  11. White Castle Blues 
Lost & Found was released on June 7, 2019 on Gulf Coast Records.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Yonder Mountain String Band at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 8-16-19 Concert Review

Yonder Mountain String Band performing "Just The Same"
At some point in the mid-1980s I learned about existence of the Red Rocks Amphitheatre through photos of the Grateful Dead performing there. I thought, holy shit, that place looks incredible. It seemed like the perfect venue to see the Dead play. Well, I never made it there to see the Grateful Dead. The last time they played at Red Rocks was the summer of 1987, several months before my first show. And when Jerry Garcia died in 1995, I stopped thinking about going there altogether. At least for a while. Then years later Yonder Mountain String Band began playing at that venue, and my interest in the spot rose again. But year after year one thing or another kept me from being able to make the trip. This year I was determined to go. As so finally, on August 16th of 2019 I visited Red Rocks.

And yes, the place is incredible. My girlfriend and I saw it from the road the day before the concert when we visited Dinosaur Ridge, and even at that distance it had a cool, even magical vibe. Then on the day of the show we got there early and parked in the south lot. The view in every direction was remarkable, and we knew we were in for a treat. It was a hike up to the venue from there, and along the way I posed for a photo in front of a John Denver statue. Doors opened a little after 5 p.m., and we had time for a drink or two before the opening set by KT Tunstall, who went on at 6 p.m. She performed solo, mostly on acoustic guitar, creating percussion loops by tapping on the guitar and clapping her hands and so on. She dedicated her second song, “Other Side Of The World,” to people who fall in love with someone who lives in a different place from them, and Theresa and I then felt an even stronger connection to the music and to the evening. For ten years we’ve been traveling back and forth across the country to see each other. KT Tunstall then asked the crowd if any of them had traveled a long way to get there. Theresa and I both raised our hands. That song, “It Took Me So Long To Get Here, But Here I Am,” was probably my favorite song of her set.

Yonder Mountain String Band took the stage at 7 p.m., coming out to John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back,” the song that was the theme to Welcome Back, Kotter. Ben then welcomed the audience: “Hello, Red Rocks. How the heck are ya?” Jacob and Allie had switched positions on the stage since the last time I saw the band, and it was Jacob who started the evening with a cover of Tom Petty’s “I Need To Know.” It was interesting that they kicked off the set with a rock tune, setting a certain tone, for they’d end up playing a few other rock tunes during the set, perhaps as a way of drawing in the John Butler fans in the audience (the concert was a double bill of Yonder Mountain and John Butler Trio). Anyway, it was an excellent rendition, with Jacob delivering some wonderful, fast-paced work on mandolin, and Allie basically setting her fiddle on fire with that bow. Fantastic stuff! If the goal was to draw in the audience, mission accomplished. Ben then followed that with “40 Miles From Denver,” a song that goes all the way back to the band’s first album. I had a feeling they might play this one, what with the show being so close to Denver and all. It was my first time in Denver (not counting all my layovers at that crazy airport), and this song definitely energized me. As Ben sang, “Life is better there,” I certainly felt that life was pretty damn good right where I was.

Dave then led the band in a seriously fun rendition of “Black Sheep,” the title track from the group’s 2015 studio release. By the way, there is a music video for this tune that is so simple and so silly that I can’t help but love it. Check it out when you have a moment. That was followed by one of my personal favorites, “Left Me In A Hole,” from the band’s first album, Elevation. Adam sang lead on this one, and delivered some excellent work on guitar. One of the set’s highlights for me. Ben then delivered a fast and delicious “Black Truck.” That song got an enthusiastic response, leading Ben to say to the crowd: “Well, cheers, everybody. It sounds like at the very least you can tolerate bluegrass music.” He introduced the band, then mentioned Jeff Austin’s passing, sending the next song, “Half Moon Rising,” out to his spirit. Adam sang lead on the first verse, and then Ben took over for the second verse. That was followed by “Just The Same” and then “Bad Taste.” The band then got back into the rock numbers with “Bored Again,” an instrumental number with a heavy, electric sound, and then a completely wild version of Led Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop,” with Allie ripping things up with her stunning lead vocal performance. Seriously, she was on a whole other plane at that point.

“Nowhere Next” was another highlight, with lyrics that I always appreciate, and featuring an excellent bass and mandolin jam. They followed that with “Traffic Jam,” a song that never fails to excite the audience. This rendition began with a short bass solo, Ben even joking about getting the opportunity to do that at Red Rocks, and then featured a fantastic lead on guitar, which led to a nice spacey jam. Allie’s fiddle then exploded out of that, raising everything up several levels. It was an excellent version from start to finish, and I was little bummed when Ben announced that they had time for just one more song. He said they were going back to their high school roots, and they started “Fade To Black.” Yes, they ended their set with another rock song, this one by Metallica. I love the way they built it up, and by the end the band had the crowd completely under their spell and wanting more. But there was no encore.

Set List
  1. I Need To Know
  2. 40 Miles From Denver
  3. Black Sheep
  4. Left Me In A Hole
  5. Black Truck
  6. Half Moon Rising
  7. Just The Same
  8. Bad Taste
  9. Bored Again
  10. Misty Mountain Hop
  11. Nowhere Next
  12. Traffic Jam
  13. Fade To Black 
Here are a few photos from the show:

"Black Sheep"
"Black Sheep"
"Left Me In A Hole"
"Half Moon Rising"
"Half Moon Rising"
"Just The Same"
"Misty Mountain Hop"
"Nowhere Next"
"Traffic Jam"
"Fade To Black"
Red Rocks Amphitheatre is located at 18300 W. Alameda Parkway in Morrison, Colorado. By the way, I did catch some of John Butler Trio’s set, but I was backstage drinking and catching up with folks at that point, and not paying enough attention to write about it.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Those Pretty Wrongs: “Zed For Zulu” (2019) CD Review

I have a passion for the works of William Shakespeare, and I find references to those works everywhere – in books, in films, in songs, and even in band names. Those Pretty Wrongs take their name from the first line of Sonnet 41: “Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits.”  Those Pretty Wrongs are the duo of Jody Stephens, whom you likely know as the drummer of Big Star, and Luther Russell, whom you probably know from his solo career (his latest album, Medium Cool, was released earlier this year). The duo put out their first album in 2016, a self-titled release. Their new album, Zed For Zulu, features all original music, written by Jody Stephens and Luther Russell. They also play most of the instruments on this album, though there are some special guests on a few tracks. The music is pop with strong folk elements and wonderful harmonies.

The album opens with “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight,” a sweet-sounding acoustic song. Its first line is “You’ve been down, down again,” and I can relate. Who can’t relate to that line these days? It seems we constantly bounce among despair, fury and disgust. Yet there is something so wonderfully hopeful about the track’s title line, “Tonight, tonight, tonight.” Ah yes, it offers the promise of something. And the way the line is delivered makes me feel that things are about to get really good. Or, hell, is it possible that they already are? The friendliness of the voice seems to indicate they are. “Close your eyes for a moment/You know you’re not alone.” By the way, this track features some special guest musicians, a gorgeous string section. Leah Peroutka is on violin, Aubrey Kessel is on viola, and Leah Gibson is on cello. The string arrangement is by Chris Stamey. “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” is followed by “Ain’t Nobody But Me,” which has more of a pop vibe from the start, a vibrant rhythm and a bit of a 1960s feel to the guitar. “A little help is all I need.” We are all reaching out, we are all in need of some help these days. I feel that some help is sent to us in the form of songs like this one. I am still confident that music will pull us through.

This album contains a lot of excellent lyrics. From “Time To Fly,” one of the lines that stood out for me the first time I put on this album was “Of happiness with no address.” It’s an intriguing phrase. Then in “The Carousel,” lines that grab my attention include “As I lay me down to sleep/I convince myself to keep moving on, moving on” and “There’s a world out there, and I can’t make sense of it.” It certainly is difficult to make sense of the world today, particularly when truth in large part has died, and so much meaning has been lost. We can piece things together ourselves, but what has happened to our shared reality? It seems gone. One of the most interesting tracks of the album is “Hurricane Of Love.” There is something of a 1960s sensibility here, right? Like some of Donovan’s more unusual and exciting material. Anyway, this one grabbed me immediately. “It’s uncertainty that rattles me, my love.” There is some surprising and wonderful work by Jim Spake on clarinet on this track.

When “You And Me” starts, it sounds like a folk song, but when it kicks in, it shows some delicious pop sensibilities, with a bit of a paisley underground influence. The song is actually a sweet love song, with them repeating, “I’ll be there with you.” “Undertow” is a fun tune, another of the disc’s highlights, with a timeless quality and a delightful style. I dig the piano and the vocal line. Danny De La Matyr provides some backing vocals on this track. “Hey, when the tale is told/We’ll give it a chance/And risk our broken hearts again.” The album then concludes with “It’s About Love,” a timely and needed song reminding us that “It’s about love and happiness.” Check out these lines: “It’s not about walls to separate/Ways we can humiliate/It’s not about views that isolate/Or hopes and fears that suffocate/It’s not about blame or pointing fingers/It’s not about shame or pettiness.”

CD Track List
  1. Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
  2. Ain’t Nobody But Me
  3. Time To Fly
  4. The Carousel
  5. Hurricane Of Love
  6. You And Me
  7. Life Below Zero
  8. A Day In The Park
  9. Undertow
  10. It’s About Love
Zed For Zulu is scheduled to be released on September 6, 2019 on Burger Records, and apparently will be available on CD, vinyl and cassette (really, cassette, is that right?).

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 31” (2019) CD Review

We recently celebrated what would have been Jerry Garcia’s 77th birthday, and then a couple of days ago marked the 24th anniversary of his passing. Early August is always a mixed bag for Grateful Dead fans old enough to have actually gone on tour (these days I meet a lot of younger fans who never once saw the band, which is cool and strange). The release of the new volume in the Dave’s Picks series is certainly something to be excited about, and will delight a lot of folks. It contains the complete show the band played at the Uptown Theatre in Chicago on December 3, 1979, when Brent Mydland was still relatively new to the group, bringing a fresh energy to the stage.

Disc 1

The first disc contains the first set. The band opens with “Alabama Getaway,” which was a new tune at the time, just a month old. When I was first getting into the Dead, around the age of 12 or 13, this was one of my favorites. It has a cheerful and pure rock and roll feel, so was easily accessible to me at that time. I still dig it now. It’s a good tune to start a show, to get things moving. And almost immediately Brent is making his presence felt on keys. “Alabama Getaway” would open Go To Heaven, which is one of the first Grateful Dead albums I purchased. It has some fantastic material, but probably the worst cover of any Grateful Dead record. What were they thinking with that photo? Anyway, “Alabama Getaway” leads straight into “Promised Land,” which works well, from one pure rock and roll tune to another. The band seems determined to get the crowd dancing and smiling right out of the gate. It’s certainly getting me dancing in my tiny apartment. Close my eyes, and I can sense several thousand others grooving all around me. This is a particularly good “Promised Land.” It’s followed by a good, cheerful rendition of “Brown-Eyed Women,” featuring some nice stuff on guitar. “El Paso” has something of a relaxed feel at first, but soon builds in energy, especially in the vocals. “Ramble On Rose” very quickly gets off the ground, basically the moment Jerry starts singing. His voice really drives this version. “The leader of a band,” indeed!

Then we get a really delicious version of “It’s All Over Now.” I love the way they handle it here, the strong groove having a cool vibe as it bops along. And the guys jam on it, with Brent in particular delivering some great stuff on organ. This isn’t one you’d expect to be a highlight of the set, but there you have it. A phenomenal rendition. Jerry then leads the band into a nice “Jack-A-Roe,” and Bob gives us “Lazy Lightning” into “Supplication,” which features the best jamming of the first set. That’s followed by “Althea,” which was relatively new at the time, another song that would end up on the follow year’s LP, Go To Heaven. This is a fairly mellow, but cool version. The band then wraps up the set with “The Music Never Stopped,” a fun tune to keep everyone pleased and energized through the set break.

Disc 2

Any set that begins with “Scarlet Begonias” is going to be good. That song never fails to excite the crowd, and you feel that excitement as the song kicks off the second set here. And this is a really good version. Jerry’s voice sounds a bit rough at times, but somehow that only adds to the track’s appeal. The band began the first set with a lot of energy, and they likewise get the second set off to an energetic start. Interestingly, the jam has a soft, low-key beginning, like creating a little space to breathe, to see where things will go. And this somewhat relaxed jam goes into some unusual places, a rather trippy “Scarlet” jam, which I love. And it of course eventually leads into “Fire On The Mountain.” Though it took me more than thirty shows before I saw my first “Scarlet”/”Fire,” the band paired these two rather frequently. The transition here is smooth and wonderful, and this “Fire” features plenty of good jamming. There is one moment where the sound gets weird, like it goes from soundboard to audience recording, and then back to soundboard. It’s jarring. But this is a seriously good “Fire On The Mountain.” It’s followed by “Samson And Delilah,” with its powerful thumping groove.

We then get into magical territory with “Terrapin Station,” which is gentle as it begins, taking us by the hand and leading us into another world, not wanting to scare us off. It is pretty, almost delicate, with some delightful moments where the guitars and keys are working together, reporting back from those outer realms, telling us everything is all right, not to worry. This song takes care to deliver us safely. It leads straight into “Playing In The Band,” a vibrant sunrise, firm ground, and joy all around. This one too then takes us up and out, and yet the farther out we go, the deeper we are inside ourselves. But there is nothing frightening here, within or without. The jam gets a bit odd toward the end, strange electronic voices from distant regions piping in. Then “Drums” takes over, and it is here we venture into some darker territory, though with some innocence and love bursting through. And that is where the second disc ends.

Disc 3

The third disc picks up with a short “Space,” which then leads directly into “Lost Sailor.” This is another song that would be included on Go To Heaven. It’s a good and mellow version, taking its time, not rushing anywhere, and is paired with “Saint Of Circumstance,” also from Go To Heaven. This version contains slightly different lyrics. At the beginning, Bob sings “Yes, this is heaven/A station on the line/You must be an angel/What else could be so fine.”  I’ve always loved this tune, the way it builds as well as its lyrics. One of the Grateful Dead T-shirts I wore often was a Calvin And Hobbes “Saint” T-shirt, which I bought in the parking lot before a show. “Saint” is followed by a moving and passionate rendition of “Wharf Rat,” an appropriate weariness to Jerry’s vocal delivery at times. There is something spiritual about this version, in the vocals and Brent’s organ. It’s unusual and gorgeous, and I love when the song bursts up to another level. “I’ll get up and fly away.” Oh yes, nothing can stop them. That leads straight into “Truckin’” and though this show hasn’t had a whole lot of exploration, it’s good to get this solid jam to pull everyone together at the end of the set, its tales of being on the road (figurative and literal) something all of us can relate to. And man, before it ends, the band offers a surprisingly wild bit of jamming. The encore is a classic rock and roll number, “Johnny B. Goode,” to send the crowd dancing out into the night.

The third disc contains some filler from the following night’s show, also at the Uptown Theatre. First we get a really nice version of “Estimated Prophet,” with a cool groove to the jam. Then “Franklin’s Tower” emerges from that, which is unexpected, as that song usually follows “Slipknot!” (though at my first show the band played “Franklin’s Tower” on its own in the first set). This song is always fun, and the version here is delightful. It leads to a totally enjoyable jam that is here presented as a separate track. As it fades out, you can hear that the “Drums” segment is about to begin.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Alabama Getaway >
  2. Promised Land
  3. Brown-Eyed Women
  4. El Paso
  5. Ramble On Rose
  6. It’s All Over Now
  7. Jack-A-Roe
  8. Lazy Lightning >
  9. Supplication
  10. Althea
  11. The Music Never Stopped 
Disc 2
  1. Scarlet Begonias >
  2. Fire On The Mountain
  3. Samson And Delilah
  4. Terrapin Station >
  5. Playing In The Band >
  6. Drums
Disc 3
  1. Space >
  2. Lost Sailor >
  3. Saint Of Circumstance >
  4. Wharf Rat >
  5. Truckin’
  6. Johnny B. Goode
  7. Estimated Prophet >
  8. Franklin’s Tower >
  9. Jam 
Dave’s Picks Volume 31 was released in late July 2019. My copy arrived on July 27th. It is a limited edition of 20,000 copies.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Ginger Cowgirl: “Ginger Cowgirl” (2019) CD Review

Ginger Cowgirl is a group based in Nashville that plays its own special brand of country music, taking inspiration from several other musical styles. The group recently released its self-titled debut EP. Interestingly, this disc features two distinct bands. The first three tracks have Bob Britt on guitar, Justin Schipper on pedal steel, Keio Stroud on drums, and Dave Roe on bass. The other three tracks feature Paul Sgroi on electric guitar, Danny Muhammad on pedal steel and acoustic guitar, Joe Reed on bass, and Toby Caldwell on drums. The one common element is vocalist Stacy Antonel on vocals, who also wrote most of the EP’s tracks.

The opening lines of “6 Weeks In Nashville,” the disc’s first track, are kind of delightful and playful, and also feel honest, personal: “Six weeks in Nashville/I ain’t got a gig yet/I’ve got folks on the west coast/Wondering if I’m big yet.” Of course the main line also has a playful and humorous quality: “It’s a drinking town with a music problem.” And how could I dislike a song that mentions Guinness? This track also boasts some nice work on guitar. The line “And every day I’m swinging between hope and desperation” is about trying to make it in the music business, but it could apply to basically whatever endeavor you’re attempting. That’s followed by “It Was Love,” which has a sweeter, pleasant country vibe with more nice work on pedal steel. There are also plenty of good lyrics, such as these lines: “One final round/Of the fight you knew you’d never win.” There is something so sad about the lines “It was love/It just wasn’t meant to last,” although they are delivered with acceptance, even fondness. “I’m Gone” is a truly pretty and yet powerful country number, the opening lines of which refer to being a musician: “I’m tired of writing songs about you/I’m tired of being wrong about you.” I love her vocal delivery. I laughed out loud the first time I listened to this disc when she sang “Mamas, don’t let your sons be assholes.” Good advice, really. That line caught me by surprise, which I appreciated. This track also features more wonderful work on pedal steel.

This Nashville group offers two songs on this disc with the city’s name in the titles. The first was the opening track. The second, “Nashville,” has a sweet, appealing sound, particularly in the vocal line, and features some nice percussion. “Nashville got me hooked on country music/It also got me over, it also got me over, it also got me over you.” That’s followed by the album’s only cover, which is actually two covers, both with the same song title, “Crazy.” First, we get a cool, jazzy rendition of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy,” with an absolutely wonderful vocal performance by Stacy Antonel. And then Ginger Cowgirl delivers a good version of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” with the group transitioning seamlessly from one to the other, going from admitting “I’m crazy for feeling so lonely” to asking “Does that make me crazy?” At the end, they return to the Willie Nelson song. It’s a cool idea combining two songs of the same title. I always thought it would be fun for a band to do a medley of songs titled “Let The Good Times Roll.” There are a lot of them. It could take up a whole set. The EP then concludes with “Douchebag Benny,” a fun, swinging number, featuring more delicious work on pedal steel and guitar. “He told me straight that he was looking for a real romance/But then he told me who he’d have if he got the chance/Well, he told me that his dream/Was a girl still in her teens.” Those lines make me think of at least a couple of real douchebags who have been in the news lately – Jeffrey Epstein and Donald Trump. By the way, I dig that bass line.
                             
CD Track List
  1. 6 Weeks In Nashville
  2. It Was Love
  3. I’m Gone
  4. Nashville
  5. Crazy
  6. Douchebag Benny
Ginger Cowgirl was released on June 7, 2019.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Beth Bombara: “Evergreen” (2019) CD Review

Beth Bombara is a singer and songwriter based in St. Louis, Missouri. She has been performing for more than a decade, and has released several CDs during that time. Her new album, Evergreen, features original music, most of it written by Beth Bombara and Kit Hamon. The music is combination of pop and rock, but with some folk and country elements, and a singer/songwriter’s sensibilities and attention to lyrical content. The band backing her includes Samuel Gregg on electric guitar and backing vocals; Mike Schurk on drums and percussion; John Calvin Abney on piano, organ and harmonica; and Kit Hamon on bass, backing vocals, percussion and synthesizers.

The album opens with “I Only Cry When I’m Alone,” a good pop song with shades of Aimee Mann in the vocal style. Check out these lines, which begin the song: “Been holding this inside/Try to keep my head high/Breaking down behind the door/When I can’t hide this anymore.” I have a feeling this song is going to speak to a lot of people. Despair and depression abound these days, and I feel one of the best instruments to battle these things is music. Perhaps I’m foolish, but I honestly think songs like this help a great deal. That’s followed by “Upside Down,” which features some nice work on electric guitar and a good bass line. Beth Bombara sings, “Leave behind your could’ve beens/And we’ll get going somewhere else.” It’s difficult, though, isn’t it? The past and the mythical present are always with us, and it’s hard to refrain from comparing our reality to what we believe our reality should be. “Upside Down” was written by Beth Bombara, Seth Porter and Kit Hamon.

One of my personal favorite tracks is “Anymore.” I bet we can all think of an occasion or two when we want to sing – or shout – these lines: “I didn’t choose your game/And I’m not gonna play anymore.” This song features a sweeter vocal performance, with a bit of country to the style at times. And check out these lines: “Blinded by the unseen/Am I losing my mind?/Watch an elusive dream/Disappearing on the horizon.” Then “Tenderhearted” has more of a country flavor to the music, and a more positive vibe. “It’s never gonna be perfect/But I’m still gonna try.” Also, I dig that harmonica. “Growing Wings” is another of my favorites. I like the work on bass and on keys, but Beth’s vocal performance is really what makes this track special. It’s a powerful performance, one that is beautiful and emotionally engaging. And she has plenty of excellent lyrics to sing, such as these lines: “Nothing lasts, and that’s okay” and “Try not to hold on too tightly/‘Cause the strain ain’t gonna do you no good” and “All this progress, but nothing new.” Man, that last line really feels dead-on, doesn’t it?

Another of the disc’s highlights is “Good News,” which has a rock feel and a really cool bass line. Lines that stood out for me the first time I listened to this album were “Wasn’t it enough to feed your ego/Without feeding my despair?” Her vocal performance here has something of an edge. “Why can’t it be good news?/I need some good news.” Yes, we all could use some good news. Every day I read the news to see what else has gone wrong, what new racist shit Donald Trump and his Republican hacks have uttered, what new environmental disaster has occurred, how many more have lost their lives to gun violence. It seems we are just completely fucked as a nation. We need some good news, and we need it immediately. “Good News” is followed by the album’s title track, “Evergreen.” Maybe I’m mad, but the vocal delivery of the first line reminds me of Olivia Newton-John’s “Xanadu.” But then there is something of a country thing to this track as well. “When the chaos is taking over/You said letting go is easy.”

“Criminal Tongue” is another powerful track, more of a rock tune with a bluesy edge at times. There is a play on one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines, with Beth singing “All the world’s a cage.”  The disc then concludes with “All Good Things,” which was written by Kit Hamon. The first lines are “Do you get the feeling/That everything is broken/And every word that’s spoken/Is lying through its teeth.” Yup, that’s about the size of it. This is yet another of my favorites, and is one I think basically everyone I know (and everyone I would want to know) is going to appreciate. It has more of a raw and immediate sound, her vocals supported by piano. This song directly addresses the horror occupying the White House in lines like “If this is great again/Then where did we begin?” This is such an excellent song, and it nearly has me in tears today. In the line “All good things must end” could she be referring to democracy, or to our country itself?

CD Track List
  1. I Only Cry When I’m Alone
  2. Upside Down
  3. Anymore
  4. Tenderhearted
  5. Growing Wings
  6. Does It Echo?
  7. Good News
  8. Evergreen
  9. Criminal Tongue
  10. All Good Things
Evergreen is scheduled to be released on August 9, 2019. By the way, in addition to CD, it will be released on yellow vinyl. I admit, I am a sucker for colored vinyl. Who is to say music can’t look cool as well as sound cool?