Saturday, August 31, 2019

Johnny Shines: “The Blues Came Falling Down: Live 1973” (2019) CD Review

Everybody I know has the blues these days. If you are paying attention at all, it is difficult to avoid them. Fortunately, the blues can sound so good, as they do on this live album from Johnny Shines. Johnny Shines was the real deal. Born in 1915, he began playing in the early 1930s, a great time for the blues, and he toured with Robert Johnson for a while during that decade. The Blues Came Falling Down: Live 1973 is, as its title promises, a live recording of a concert Johnny Shines performed in 1973 at Washington University in St. Louis. This was a fairly active time in his career. In addition to touring, he put out several albums in the early 1970s. This CD is mostly a solo performance, with Leroy Jodie Pierson joining him on guitar on a few tracks. Most of the songs on this disc were written by Johnny Shines, but there are also a few Robert Johnson tunes.

The album opens with “Big Boy Boogie,” a wonderful acoustic blues tune. The way Johnny Shines speaks in introducing the song, he sounds like a folk performer, reminding me just a bit of Arlo Guthrie in the way he says “about this time.” Is it just me? This is an instrumental tune, but with Johnny offering some comments on the music at different points, giving us a bit of biographical information, and even a bit of a music lesson. There is some joyful playing, which I appreciate. And from the audience’s applause at the end, it’s clear they appreciated it too. He seems so modest, softly saying “I hope you like it” as he begins “Seems Like A Million Years.” It begins with some good work on guitar, and then his voice suddenly comes in, a voice with a tremendous power and a whole lot of passion, sort of in contrast to what we’ve heard of his speaking voice. “Seems like a million years since I sat down and wrote to you/Now and then I wonder why I love you the way I do.” And, holy moly, listen to the power behind that voice as he begins “Have You Ever Loved A Woman,” delivering that first line a cappella, and stretching it out, like an announcement that the blues are here, and are here to stay. This track is fantastic, mainly because of his vocal performance.

Johnny Shines introduces “Stay High All Day Long” as an old song, and I love the humor of his introduction. “Oh, I guess it was wrote way back when, you know.” He has such a good rapport with the crowd. This track finds him doing some interesting stuff with his voice as well as with his guitar, and is a totally engaging song. I love the way he holds onto the word “down” in the line “Well, society bring me down.” And, hey, sometimes staying high all day long seems the right way to go, the right way to handle the current political horror show. Toward the end, this song mentions Chubby Checker and James Brown: “I don’t do the Chubby Checker, James Brown or no one else/Well, the good lord made us all, and I just be myself.”

With “Happy Home,” I like that he takes a moment to feel his way into the song on guitar, then finds that cool rhythm. It’s interesting that this song is paired with “Someday Baby Blues,” because in this one he also sings the words “Someday baby” several times. “Someday Baby Blues” is a cool, slower blues gem. “Well, someday baby I won’t have to worry over you.” That’s followed by “They’re Red Hot (Hot Tamales),” which is so much fun. He tells the audience they should know this song, that it just came out “the day before yesterday.” It moves at a quick clip, and is a joy to listen to. It’s a short number, and it ends rather abruptly. In his introduction to “You’re The One I Love,” Johnny Shines tells the audience: “I don’t care who you are, where you come from, you’re going to have the blues. Sooner or later, you’re going to have the blues. You know, if you didn’t have them yesterday, you’ll have ‘em tomorrow.” That gets the audience laughing. Half the track is the introduction, and yet the introduction flows so well into the song that it feels that these things are not separate, He gives a kind of sweet, gentle vocal performance here, then belts out lyrics at certain moments, as when he sings “God knows I love you.”

“Sweet Home Chicago” is a song that never fails to delight me, and clearly the audience feels the same way, for the moment this tune begins, the folks there start clapping along. This is a good rendition, and it features Leroy Jodie Pierson on guitar. Pierson also joins him on guitar on “The Blues Came Falling Down,” the disc’s title track. “Let me hear you, Leroy,” Johnny Shines says a little more than halfway through, and we are treated to a delicious guitar section. Then “Big Star Falling” begins with the two guitarists giving us a cool little jam. This is another fun number. That’s the last track to feature Leroy Jodie Pierson, but Johnny Shines then borrows Leroy’s guitar for “Tell Me Mama.” There is a bit of tuning and joking at the beginning of this one, with Johnny saying “And when I tell a joke, everybody laughs whether they want to or not.”  This track is another of the disc’s highlights. “Now won’t you tell me mama, what in the world is wrong with you/It just don’t seem like I can please you, woman, no matter what in the world I do.” That’s followed by “Ramblin’,” which seems to be a variation of “Walkin’ Blues.” Before “It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” he thanks the audience. He introduces that song as one of his mother’s favorite songs, and delivers a very cool rendition. I particularly like his choices on guitar for this one.

CD Track List
  1. Big Boy Boogie
  2. Seems Like A Million Years
  3. Cold In Hand Blues
  4. Kind Hearted Woman Blues
  5. Have You Ever Loved A Woman
  6. Stay High All Day Long
  7. Stand By Me
  8. I’m A Steady Rollin’ Man
  9. Happy Home
  10. Someday Baby Blues
  11. They’re Red Hot (Hot Tamales)
  12. You’re The One I Love
  13. Sweet Home Chicago
  14. The Blues Came Falling Down
  15. Big Star Falling
  16. Tell Me Mama
  17. Ramblin’
  18. It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine
  19. Goodbye Boogie
  20. How You Want Your Rollin’ Done
The Blues Came Falling Down: Live 1973 was released on May 3, 2019.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Eva And The Vagabond Tales: “Uncharted Ocean” (2019) CD Review

I love music that is able to transport me in some way, and such is certainly the case with Uncharted Ocean, the new album from Eva And The Vagabond Tales. Though based in Riverside, California, this group has a beautifully timeless sound that would seem right at home in some European café. That sound has a tremendous appeal, and it is led and shaped by Eva Mikhailovna, who not only provides the vocals and composes the songs, but also plays the majority of instruments, including acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, bass, accordion and ukulele. Jacob Pflum is on drums and percussion, Alan Arteaga is on banjo and bass, and Jasmine Capitulo is on accordion. Charles Newman is on keys, and also co-produced the album with Eva Mikhailovna. There is also a string section adding to the beauty and emotional impact of many of these tracks. It is composed of Claudia Chopek on violin and viola, and Christian Dupree on cello. As the album’s title suggests, the ocean is a thematic element running through several of these tracks, as you can see from a glance at the track list, with songs like “Sea Will Return You,” “Shallows Of The Sea” and “The Lighthouse.”

Eva Mikhailovna’s voice is of course the first thing that strikes you as the album begins with “Demur.” There is something adorable about her voice; it has an innocence, a youthful curiosity and excitement, as well as an undeniable beauty. And the first line establishes the ocean theme: “Like a ship with no sail.” The music too is delightful, and features some nice work by Jasmine Capitulo on accordion. And then, holy moly, there is even some yodeling. There is just a hint of it a couple of times early on, but then there is some real yodeling toward the end. “Won’t you please always remember.” That is followed by “Please Keep Me,” which has a more serious tone. There is something so engaging and earnest about this music, and here she seems to be singing for everyone who is reaching out for a connection, or reaching in. “And I, I know I’m confused/But tell me what to do/Don’t leave me/I, I learned how to find/What I lost inside/Please keep me.” The lyrics to this song are so good, so touching. “And I, I stayed up every night/To see who I was inside/Am I no one?

“Silent Creatures” is one of my personal favorites. There is something so beautiful about this song, and something familiar about it. It very quickly made a home in my brain, in my heart, and I feel all the better for it. And I’m beginning to suspect that Eva Mikhailovna is one of the most talented songwriters working today. Check out lines like “If I am cursed, then aren’t we all/We’re all the same shadows falling over everyone” and “How I wish I had something/That would make me feel complete/I don’t like how you say please/’Cause it can still take everything/Even though I have nothing/That you’d ever want from me.” This song also features some wonderful work on strings. This is an album that I love more and more as it goes, and one that affects me more each time I listen to it. Jack McLoughlin plays electric guitar on this track. “Silent Creatures” is followed by “Tomorrow Comes Too Soon,” which has a fairly straightforward folk sound at the start. Then when her vocals come in, there is an endearing quality. You just want to embrace her voice, or have it embrace you. “Hold me closer/Let me know/You’re not leaving me alone.” I also love the cello.

“Thoughts” is gorgeous right from the start, sounding like it comes from a slightly different reality, slipping into our lives at night through our open windows, through our dreams. Then after a minute or so, it takes a turn, as the percussion comes in with a cheerful and unusual rhythm. There is something magical about this sound, this music. It seems to create its own space, its own universe, and invites us to drift along with it. “Sea Will Return You” has an interesting opening section, dominated by the vocals. It then kicks in to become a pleasant, bright song with a pop vibe, featuring some nice work by Alan Arteaga on banjo. Then “Heart Still Beats” begins with some ethereal vocals, then takes on an intriguing and appealing timeless otherworldly quality. Yet there is also a playful aspect to this song. The line that stood out the first time I listened to this album was “I’m going to burn down every place we were.”

The strings at the beginning of “If You Hide Me Away” are gorgeous and moving. This song too has a timeless, magical quality, and it is gentle, loving with us. “Why did we have to be so afraid/If you hide me away/I’ll wait every day/Not afraid.” Logan Coale plays upright bass on this track, and on the following track, “Shallows Of The Sea.” “Shallows Of The Sea” features another beautiful vocal performance. “You just take what you want and then you let me go/Take what you want and then you let me go/Take what you want and then you let me go/‘Cause that’s what I deserve.” Cameron Baldeon joins the group on lap steel on this track. This album then concludes with “The Lighthouse,” a song that grabs me from the moment it begins. “There’s a ball in the lighthouse tonight/Let’s have a drink with friends and foes.” I love this band’s style, its sound; it takes inspiration from the past and from some alternate present that I want to visit much more often.

CD Track List
  1. Demur
  2. Please Keep Me
  3. Silent Creatures
  4. Tomorrow Comes Too Soon
  5. Thoughts
  6. Sea Will Return You
  7. Heart Still Beats
  8. If You Hide Me Away
  9. Shallows Of The Sea
  10. The Lighthouse
Uncharted Ocean was released on CD and vinyl May 17, 2019. (Apparently the vinyl is colored sea green, which means I need to get a copy for myself.)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

I See Hawks In L.A. at The Federal Bar, 8-25-19 Concert Review

I See Hawks In L.A. performing "Hills On Fire"
The Mimosa Music Series continued today with a wonderful show by I See Hawks In L.A. Yup, morning with The Hawks. How can you beat that? Unfortunately, Paul Marshall wasn’t able to make it to this show, as he is recovering from eye surgery. A line-drive shot to the eye a few months ago hasn’t dampened his spirits at all, but the surgeries have kept him from a few shows, including Friday night’s gig at Mr. T’s Bowl (or whatever it’s called now) and today’s at The Federal Bar. So Kip sat in on bass, and Richie Lawrence joined the group on accordion. And everything sounded just exactly right.

The show got off to a really good start with an opening set by The HawtThorns, who took the stage at 11:45 a.m. and focused on tracks from their debut album, Morning Sun. I especially enjoyed that album’s title track and “The 405,” the latter a love song dealing with the highway most dreaded by those of us living in Los Angeles. “We got nothing between us but the 405,” KP sings in that one. You might think that would be enough to doom the relationship. I also really enjoyed “Give Me A Sign,” a fun, energetic number. They closed their set with another highlight, “Lucky Charm,” which is completely adorable.

After a short break, KP returned to the stage to introduce I See Hawks In L.A., saying the Hawks are celebrating their twentieth year as a band. The band then started with “Hope Against Hope,” a nice, easygoing opening number, featuring some excellent work by Paul Lacques on electric guitar, some wonderful stuff on accordion, and a good little jam toward the end. After that song, Rob Waller told the audience it was good to see everybody “on a Sunday morning in the valley before it gets too hot.” (And indeed, it was pretty damn hot walking out after the show.) “Hope Against Hope” is from Grapevine, but the band focused their set mainly on songs from their two most recent releases, 2018’s Live And Never Learn and 2019’s Hawks With Good Intentions. They followed “Hope Against Hope” with “Singing In The Wind,” from Live And Never Learn. And it struck me just how good this music makes me feel. Rob sings, “All that trouble/All that worry,” but whatever troubles and worries I may have seem to melt away when this band plays. Some bands just have that power, and these guys are undoubtedly masters of good, positive vibes. “Singing In The Wind” featured a nice lead on accordion. Rob then mentioned that it was good having Kip sitting in, and that Paul Marshall “got a new lens put in his eye a couple of days ago, so he’s going to be seeing good again soon.” They then played another song from Live And Never Learn, “Planet Earth.”

Victoria Jacobs stepped out from behind her drum kit to sing lead on “Hills On Fire,” a song from Hawks With Good Intentions. This was a beautiful rendition. “There's no shelter from a burning sky.” Following that song, Rob talked a bit about the new album, letting folks know it was available at the “merch” table in the back of the room. He then joked about his own use of the term “merch.” “For many years, we swore off saying ‘merch,’ we refused to say ‘merch.’” They then played a song that is actually on both the new album and Live And Never Learn, “White Cross,” a song I completely love. And they delivered an excellent, totally enjoyable rendition today. After wishing a longtime fan in the audience a happy birthday, they played another song from the new album, “Flying Now.” So sweet, so beautiful, and one I wasn’t expecting to hear, for on the album the lead vocals are done by Peter Davies of The Good Intentions. The album is a collaboration between the two groups.

The Hawks then returned to Live And Never Learn for “Poour Me,” a fun country number. These lyrics made me laugh this morning: “It's been a hard week/I know that ain't unique/My boss is a freak/The ‘80s was his peak.” The line that made my girlfriend laugh was “Wednesday I ate a bad burrito.” They followed that with “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulet,” a song that was included on Shoulda Been Gold. Kip then sang lead on “Andalusia,” a nice mellow number. When introducing it, Kip told the crowd that on the chorus “Just sing ‘Andalusia’ with us and everything will better in the world.” Well, all right then. The Hawks wrapped up the set with “Good And Foolish Times,” a song that never fails to raise my spirits. This version included a good jam at the end, with some wonderful interaction between accordion and electric guitar. It was a fantastic way to end the set, a perfect song with which to send folks off into their day. The show ended at 1:36 p.m.

I See Hawks In L.A. Set List
  1. Hope Against Hope
  2. Singing In The Wind
  3. Planet Earth
  4. Hills On Fire
  5. White Cross
  6. Flying Now
  7. Poour Me
  8. Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulet
  9. Andalusia
  10. Good And Foolish Times
Here are a few photos from the show:

"Hope Against Hope"
"Singing In The Wind"
"Hills On Fire"
"Flying Now"

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

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Mike Pachelli: “High Standards” (2019) CD Review

On his new album, High Standards, guitarist Mike Pachelli seems determined to raise our spirits, an admirable goal, and one he achieves with the help of Tony Levin on bass and Danny Gottlieb on drums. The songs he chooses here are standards with positive vibes, played with joy and pleasure. Some music just seems designed to cheer you up, and this is certainly the case here, the album opening with a rendition of Joe Goodwin’s “When You’re Smiling,” this version having such an easygoing vibe, the notes on the guitar flowing so naturally, while the bass holds everything together wonderfully. How can you help but smile? There is even a wonderful bass solo that contains the main line of the song, leading so well back into the body of the tune. This track has a bit of an early rock and roll ending, a surprising touch. I’m feeling better already, and that’s just the first track.

“When You’re Smiling” is followed by “There Will Never Be Another You,” which also has a pleasant sound. How could so many horrible things be going on in the world while this music plays? It’s difficult to reconcile the joy and beauty of this music with the absolute horror show the world is suffering through at the moment, whether it’s the purposeful destruction of the rain forest or the confirmation of a rapist to the Supreme Court. How can these two extreme worlds coincide? I don’t know, but I am grateful for this music. I dig the loose, swinging style of the drum beat and that wonderful guitar work. Let the world of this music take over. There are some seriously impressive moments on guitar on “Skylark,” as well as another good lead on bass. That’s followed by “Whistle While You Work,” a tune that might seem a bit of a goofy choice. I mean, can things be good enough to get away with slipping this one in? Maybe. The drums get this one going, something that helps me get on board. Plus, there is a bit of a swing to the rhythm, and it’s not long before I find myself swept up in it, grooving to it. And listen to the way the guitar itself dances above that rhythm. You may find yourself whistling before too long; and if not, the trio itself provides some whistling toward the end of the track. So there.

“Sweet Georgia Brown” is a tune I am always pleased to hear. For me, it still conjures images of the Harlem Globetrotters performing delightful feats on the basketball court, so takes me back to my childhood and the innocence of the world as I saw it then. This is a lively, vibrant rendition with some absolutely wonderful work on guitar, plus a cool drum solo. I particularly love the way the guitar and bass are sometimes a team, right in step with each other, creating a delicious effect. Yes, it’s a whole lot of fun, just as you’d want and expect it to be. That’s followed by “Yardbird Blues,” which is surprisingly even more fun than “Sweet Georgia Brown.” I love the way it moves and breathes and rocks. It’s also the one original composition of the album, written by Mike Pachelli. It features some playful touches on guitar, a fantastic bass line and a short but enjoyable drum solo. Keb’ Mo’ joins Mike Pachelli on guitar for this one, adding to the great vibe, the two guitars joyfully interacting.

Mike Pachelli then mellows things out a bit with a nice rendition of the beautiful “What A Wonderful World.” That’s followed by “Put On A Happy Face.” It can be difficult to put on a happy face these days. Sometimes we wonder if we even should be happy, with all the mass shootings, and the fires destroying the rain forest, and immigrant children dying in cages, and the corruption and incompetence and malevolence of the current administration. But the world, despite all of the current troubles, is a wonderful place, and we can’t give in to despair. So it’s all right to put on a happy face, and this music may just do the trick for you. You just have to hit “Play” on your CD player, and let Mike Pachelli, Tony Levin and Danny Gottlieb do all the work. “These Are Soulful Days” is a kind of slow, but swinging number, featuring more delightful work on guitar and a good lead on bass. There is also an interesting drum solo; at the beginning of it, the guitar is still adding thoughts, sort of quietly in the background, not completely yielding. The album then concludes with “Cute,” a fun, cheerful tune. There seems to be a lot of joy in the performance, and it transfers to us as we listen. Can we ask for anything more?

CD Track List
  1. When You’re Smiling
  2. There Will Never Be Another You
  3. Skylark
  4. Whistle While You Work
  5. Sweet Georgia Brown
  6. Yardbird Blues
  7. What A Wonderful World
  8. Put On A Happy Face
  9. These Are Soulful Days
  10. Cute
High Standards is scheduled to be released on CD on September 1, 2019 (apparently it was made available digitally in July).

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?).