Sunday, September 15, 2019

Ronnie Earl And The Broadcasters: “Beyond The Blue Door” (2019) CD Review

Ronnie Earl And The Broadcasters have been putting out fantastic records for a few decades now, dishing out delicious blues filled with soul and power and passion. Their new album, Beyond The Blue Door, features a good mix of original material and covers. The band has gone through some changes in personnel over the years, and now includes Ronnie Earl on guitar, Dave Limina on piano and organ, Diane Blue on vocals, Forrest Padgett on drums, and Paul Kochanski on bass. Plus, there are some special guests joining the band on this release, including Kim Wilson on harmonica and David Bromberg on acoustic guitar.

The album opens with a great cover of “Brand New Me,” featuring Diane Blue on vocals. She has a gorgeous, powerful voice, giving the track has a bluesy, yet cheerful sound. How good is life when she hits those high notes? Plus, this track features horns. Mario Perrett is on tenor saxophone and Scott Shetler is on baritone saxophone. Yes, I feel like I can take the world so long as there is music like this in it. And toward the end we get some really nice moments from Dave Limina on keys and Ronnie Earl on guitar. Things then get a whole lot deeper into the blues with a cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Baby How Long.” Kim Wilson (of The Fabulous Thunderbirds) joins the group on vocals and harmonica, adding some wonderful and passionate work. And, oh, that guitar really sings over the good groove during that great lead section. It is that guitar part that really stands out on this track, though there is also plenty of nice stuff on keys throughout. That’s followed by a cool instrumental rendition of Henry Glover’s “Drown In My Own Tears” that is packed full of emotion. There is some great playing from everybody, but I am particularly moved by the lead on tenor saxophone by Greg Piccolo. When you think that lead might be over, it’s not. And then the saxophone and guitar interact, which is wonderful.

We then get the first original composition of the album, “Alexis’ Song.” This short instrumental track is a pretty and thoughtful number, and again features some excellent work by Greg Piccolo on saxophone. That’s followed by “The Sweetest Man,” another song written by Ronnie Earl, this one featuring Diane Blue on vocals. In this song, we hear of a man who is not treating his woman right, and she’s telling him that she can’t take it anymore. As you listen, you want him to do better, and you think maybe he will, but apparently fails, for at the end she sings “You are the only man I love/You were my lover and my friend/But you just can’t stay here no more.” This track contains another good groove and plenty of great guitar playing. Peter Ward joins the group on guitar on this one. I also really dig that stuff on keys. Ronnie Earl then delivers a very cool and unusual rendition of Bob Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry,” featuring David Bromberg on guitar and vocals. I love what these guys do with this song, giving it a kind of slow, relaxed vibe that is bloody delicious.

I love “A Soul That’s Been Abused” from the moment it starts. It has a mean, sexy, dark vibe, and Diane Blue really digs into your heart here. And there is a whole lot of excellent work on saxophone. Mario Perrett, Scott Shetler and Greg Piccolo all play on this one. Plus, there is some great stuff on organ. Really, every instrument is moving here, and what I like is that there are moments that are almost delicate. This track, written by Ronnie Earl, is one of my favorites. “Still, after all we’ve been through/I stand accused/From a soul that’s been abused.” Ronnie Earl And The Broadcasters’ cover of Little Walter’s “Blues With A Feeling” has some classic blues sounds, and features Kim Wilson on vocals and harmonica. Both Peter Ward and Scott MacDougal join the group on guitar. That’s followed by a couple of cool instrumental tracks, “T-Bone Stomp” and “Wolf Song,” both composed by Ronnie Earl.

“Bringing Light (To A Dark Time)” has a catchy groove, and some wonderful work on guitar, as well as another excellent vocal performance from Diane Blue. “Time to bring some light to a dark time,” she sings. Amen. This one was written by Paul Kochanski and Diane Blue. “Silence ain’t golden/It’s complicit in the crime/It don’t bring any light into a dark time.” Yes, this track is a blues gem addressing our times. And speaking of our times, the album concludes with a track titled “Blues For Charlottesville.” This one is an instrumental composed by Ronnie Earl.

CD Track List
  1. Brand New Me
  2. Baby How Long
  3. Drown In My Own Tears
  4. Alexis’ Song
  5. The Sweetest Man
  6. It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry
  7. A Soul That’s Been Abused
  8. Why Can’t We Live Together
  9. Blues With A Feeling
  10. T-Bone Stomp
  11. Wolf Song
  12. Peace Of Mind
  13. Drowning In A Sea Of Love
  14. Bringing Light (To A Dark Time)
  15. Blues For Charlottesville 
Beyond The Blue Door was released on August 30, 2019 on Stony Plain Records.

Randy O: “Coming Home” (2019) CD Review

Randy O is the lead singer of hard rock band Odin, a group that gained fame from The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, which interestingly came out as the band was breaking up. That group has since reformed with all the original members and occasionally plays gigs at places like Whisky A Go Go, rocking just as hard as they did back in the 1980s. And somehow Randy O’s voice still has the same power and control as in the early days, which is remarkable. Now Randy O has released a solo album. Titled Coming Home, it is something of a departure from his work with Odin. The music has a bit more of a pop flavor to it, more of a straight rock sound that may have a broader appeal, and still led by that great vocal talent. Joining Randy O on this release are Rodger Carter (who has played with Glen Campbell, Berlin, Lita Ford and many others) on drums (Carter also co-produced the album), Toshi Yanagi  (from Jimmy Kimmel Live) on guitar, Matt Bissonette (who plays with Elton John) on bass and backing vocals, Lance Morrison (who plays with Don Henley) on bass, Rick Sailon on violin, Will Hollis (who plays with The Eagles) on keys, Patrick Regan on horns, Chariga Bissonette on backing vocals, and Kudisan Kai (who has sung with Elton John and Chaka Kahn) on backing vocals.  

The album kicks off with “I’m Feeling Good,” a song that is so aptly titled, for this is one of those delicious rock songs that feel like summer. It’s the kind of music I grew up with, the kind of song that puts me back in touch with those days, so that we never grow old. This track even has a bit of whistling (that’s Randy’s son Patrick providing the whistling). It is one of my favorite songs on the album. “No, I’m not looking back/I’m just going to keep on dancing.” Amen. That’s followed by “Black & White Don’t Matter.” A couple of years ago when I began hearing the tracks that would make up this album, “Black & White Don’t Matter” was a stand-out for me, both lyrically and musically. Lyrically, this one has something to say, but the song has also got a catchy hook. It opens with some “do-do do-do-do” vocals. “Can’t you see what they’re doing to you and me/Don’t you know that they’re stealing away our dreams.” I also dig the electric guitar work on this track.

“It’s The Same Old Day” is another delicious rock tune that feels like summer and youth, especially the chorus, with those excellent backing vocals, which make me smile every time I listen to this song. This is a really good solid rock song, with more great stuff on electric guitar. Then when “Holding On” kicks in, it has an early 1980s thing, with some surprising pop elements such as the echoing of “my eyes” and “I cried” halfway through. “Hold on for one more day/Hold onto these dreams of mine.” It is interesting to me that the idea of holding onto one’s dreams is a recurring element on this album, because the album itself was apparently a dream that Randy O had for quite some time. “Pop’s Song” is a reworking of an earlier song, “Lonely Man,” from the Lostboys’ 1990 album Lost And Found. A line from this song provides the album with its title, and interestingly this line was not in “Lonely Man.”  This is a slower song, with some pretty moments. It is followed by “I’m Changing.” By the way, on the CD case, “I’m Changing” is listed before “Pop’s Song,” which is the intended order. But apparently the first hundred copies of the disc have the incorrect order. It is likely that if you purchase the album now, the order will be correct on your copy. At the CD release party, Randy O opened his short set with this song, which felt appropriate. After all, this album is quite a change from the music of Odin, which is what most of us know of Randy’s sound. “Is there any time for changes/Is there any place left to hide/I can’t believe that we fell apart/Is there any time left for changes.” Interestingly, this song also includes the album’s title in its lyrics: “It doesn’t seem that long ago /Tell me please you’re coming home.”

“Joy Joy Joy” is mellower, pretty song featuring violin, another of this album’s surprises. “All she ever wanted was a little love/All she ever wanted was one little hug.” That’s followed by “LTWA.” A really good groove gets this one going, and will likely get you moving. I absolutely love that work on bass. And then there are horns. This song has such a wonderful and positive vibe. “It’s a new day/Yeah, the hell with the old ways/I’m tired of falling down.” And this song has a totally catchy chorus: “I’ve been dreaming for a long time/Such a long, long time/I’m just learning to walk again.” So “LTWA” stands for “Learning To Walk Again,” and not, say, The Library Of Tibetan Works And Archives. This one ends up being another of my favorites. The album then concludes with “Hanah’s Song,” which also has a good groove. Hanah is Randy’s daughter, and so “You loved that eighties metal/That your friends just thought it was noise” is an interesting line, because of course Randy was in a metal band in the 1980s. Hanah is still a big fan; at the Odin concerts I’ve attended, she has been front and center in the audience. By the way, she created the artwork for this album.

CD Track List
  1. I’m Feeling Good
  2. Black & White Don’t Matter
  3. It’s The Same Old Day
  4. Holding On
  5. Pop’s Song
  6. I’m Changing
  7. Joy Joy Joy
  8. LTWA
  9. Hanah’s Song 
Coming Home was released on September 1, 2019.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Pearring Sound: “Nothing But Time” (2019) CD Review

Pearring Sound is an innovative and expressive jazz group led by saxophone player Jeff Pearring, who is actually the only steady member, the band’s configuration changing with each project. For the new release, Nothing But Time, the group is the trio of Jeff Pearring on alto sax, Adam Lane on acoustic bass and electric bass, and Tim Ford on drums. The music here (with one exception) was improvised and recorded live in the studio, without overdubs, and takes the listeners on intriguing journeys through some strange landscapes. Right from the start of the first track, “Plugin Heavy,” the music has an exciting and unusual sound. This track has a heavy (as its title suggests), cool, kind of funky vibe with a spacey element as well. Fans of jam bands will dig this. Then “Gather And Go” starts rather tentatively, as if the musicians are gathering their thoughts, their instruments greeting each other, reaching out. Then after a couple of minutes Jeff Pearring’s sax says it’s time to get moving, and there is a kind of intense build in the second half of the track, as if the rocket is amassing energy and is about to explode into space. Then it relaxes as it winds down at the end.

The track that was not completely improvised is the album’s sole cover, a rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Blue Pepper (Far East Of The Blues).” Adam Lane begins this one on bass, and soon Tim Ford comes in on drums. Then when the sax comes in, it becomes a kind of sexy, sly, delicious number; the horn could charm snakes or people or any other object of some interesting desire as it dances over that wonderful groove. I love Tim Ford’s work on drums. Then “Through Step” has a somewhat eerie, ominous sound, like traveling down a dark alley in an alien world fraught with danger. This is partly because of the use of electric bass, but also the strange sound of the cymbals. Then at the end, the bass drops out for a brief, odd section of drums and sax. That’s followed by “The March Of The Aggressive Pedestrian.” First of all, I love this track’s title. It really informs the way I hear the tune, as the steady drums and bass seem in no way willing to back down, but will propel themselves forward through any obstacle. Then the saxophone speaks, and it is part dance, part warning to others to move, here I come, get out of the way. I totally dig this track. At the end, the track mellows, so perhaps this person has reached his destination.

We then get “Sweet Sci-Fi Suite.” On the back of the CD case, it is listed as one track, the sixth track, but actually the three parts to the “Sweet Sci-Fi Suite” are presented as three separate tracks. Each is fairly short. As you might guess from the title, it has a spacey kind of vibe from the start of its first part, “To The Stars.” As it builds, you get the sense that there is life out there. There is something bright and optimistic about the sound, right? The second part, “Parallel Engines Grind,” has a more industrial electronic sound, with things whirring. There is a hurried sense about it, like something has perhaps gone wrong. The suite concludes with “Interstellar Dust,” which comes at us like a voice reaching across the galaxy, the message itself becoming garbled as we try to make sense of it.

“Talking Outside Time” begins with percussion. Then the horn comes in, as if asking questions, making inquiries at first. The track is like an odd conversation among the three instruments, looking for some common ground, trying to make sense of their surroundings, their circumstances, to get their bearings. And they seem to do so, as the sound becomes more powerful toward the end. Then “Sunday” has a mellower sound, the saxophone feeling more relaxed, allowing for pauses, perhaps even introspection. The drums and bass develop a good, pleasant groove, and by the end, this track has me feeling good. There is something cheerful and fun about this one. That’s followed by “Effective Translation,” which immediately establishes a funky groove. The trio explores that groove, working on it and within it. This is another fun track. The disc began with “Plugin Heavy,” and it concludes with “Plugin Light.” This one too develops a strong, steady groove, and seems a bit looser, the saxophone taking short, delightful flights above that groove before really going for it.

CD Track List
  1. Plugin Heavy
  2. Gather And Go
  3. Blue Pepper (Far East Of The Blues)
  4. Through Step
  5. The March Of The Aggressive Pedestrian
  6. Sweet Sci-Fi Suite: To The Stars
  7. Sweet Sci-Fi Suite: Parallel Engines Grind
  8. Sweet Sci-Fi Suite: Interstellar Dust
  9. Talking Outside Time
  10. Sunday
  11. Effective Translation
  12. Plugin Light
Nothing But Time is scheduled to be released on CD on October 4, 2019. It was apparently released digitally on August 29, 2019.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Dime Box Band: “Happy” (2019) CD Review

The Los Angeles music scene is pretty damn good these days, with a lot of bands worth your attention. One of the groups you should check out is Dime Box Band. I recently saw Dime Box Band on a bill with Russ Tolman, and was taken by their harmonies and their energy and overall vibe. At that show, they focused on material from their new album, Happy, their second full-length release (following Five And Dime Waltz, which came out a decade ago). That material was really good, so I figured it was about time I reviewed the album. Dime Box Band is made up of Kristi Callan on guitar and vocals; Lyn Bertles on violin, mandolin, viola and harmony vocals; Nick Vincent on drums, organ, piano, electric guitar and harmony vocals; Alex Vincent on bass and cello; and James Nolte on guitar. They have several special guests joining them on various tracks.

The album opens with “All Of Nothing,” a lively country number that has more than a bit of a rock flavor. This was also the track they chose to open their show when I saw them perform in July, and it’s a good one. “I’ve been watching and waiting/I don’t want to make the first move/We both got a set of plans/We know what we’d like to do/But you might laugh/And you might leave/But then again/Maybe you need me.” There is bright, joyful vibe to this one. That’s followed by “As The Crow Flies.” With lyrics like “But the road is long/It dips and winds/You take a wrong turn/And lose some time” and “And all the shortcuts take you back to start,” I’m thinking this song should be added to my road trip play list. And I love the mandolin, which adds greatly to the track’s cheerful sound.

Don’t sweat the small stuff/Just let it go,” Kristi sings in “What Went Wrong?” This is a song about wondering what went wrong with a relationship, where the feelings went. But everything about this song sounds exactly right. Matthew Downs plays pedal steel on this track, and I really dig the way it sounds with the violin. This album should put a smile on your face. One of my personal favorites from this album is “Close Your Eyes.” This is a pretty and passionate and effective song with something to say about those who stand by and don’t get involved. Check out these lyrics: “You must conform/Or pay the price/Play along/And make nice/Don’t deviate/It’s a mistake/And you’ll never win.” Yes, it’s clearly a song for our time, with lines like “Close your eyes/Look away/There’s nothing you can do anyway/Keep to yourself/Don’t get involved/It’s always been this way.” Adding to this song’s beauty and appeal is Alex Vincent’s work on cello, an instrument that I always appreciate.

“Happy,” the album’s title track, is an energetic number about reaching toward that elusive happiness. “The grass is always greener on the other side/And everyone’s got so much to hide/‘Cause no one wants to hear how hard it is/To work two jobs and raise four kids.” I love the violin work, particularly that lead part in the second half. Probyn Gregory plays banjo on this track, and North Vincent is on trumpet. That’s followed by “Spilt Milk,” a song that opens with the lines, “I’m not thin enough/I’m not rich enough/Pretty enough/Smart enough for you/I haven’t done enough/I’ve wasted time.” I think we’re all in touch with that kind of thinking at times. This tune has something of a catchy country groove, and features more nice work on violin. “Life is too short to have no commitments” is an interesting line. It grabbed me the first time I listened to this disc. “Detour” is a totally fun country number, and another that should find a place on my road trip play list. Danny McGough plays accordion on this track, and Ana Callan provides some vocals.

There is a lot of horrible stuff happening in our country right now, more than one person could possibly keep track of. Every day we hear more from that sub-human garbage heap named Donald Trump. One of the many horror stories is the Keystone pipeline, and that is addressed in Dime Box Band’s “Keystone,” a powerful song that contains a nod to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” They then sing, “Let’s take it back.”  There is some seriously good stuff on guitar in the second half of the song. By the way, the latest from that front is that the bloody Trump administration is trying to get a legal case from Native American tribes dismissed. That’s followed by “Felix Felicis,” a song that at times strongly reminds me of Dolly Parton’s “9 To 5.” “Every day is the same old struggle/Trying not to get lost in the daily shuffle/And hang on to yourself.” Probyn Gregory plays banjo on this one. The album then concludes with “Everybody Lies.” It’s a fun number, though it makes me sad, this idea that everybody is dishonest, even if it’s only about little things. I cannot abide dishonesty (one of the many reasons I detest Donald Trump and all his little Nazi minions). “And you don’t have to lie to me/I can take the truth/But only if you tell me just what I want to hear.”

CD Track List
  1. All Of Nothing
  2. As The Crow Flies
  3. What Went Wrong?
  4. Going My Way
  5. Close Your Eyes
  6. Happy
  7. Spilt Milk
  8. Butterflies
  9. Detour
  10. Keystone
  11. Felix Felicis
  12. Everybody Lies
Happy was released on July 1 (or possibly July 8), 2019.

Randy O’s “Coming Home” Album Release Party

Randy O, lead singer of rock band Odin, celebrated the release of his solo album Coming Home last night at Rainbow Bar And Grill on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. Before the album played, Amber Lynn introduced Randy, who then spoke of how the album was something he’d been wanting to do for twenty years, a “bucket list thing.” The event was something of a family affair too, with Randy’s wife, son, daughter and mother all in attendance. His son presented him with a plaque commemorating the album’s release. His daughter is responsible for the cool artwork on the album’s cover. The music itself is really good, some of the tracks sounding like that great timeless rock and roll I always associate with summer. It is different from what you know of Odin, though that vocal power remains a key component and draw. After the album played, Randy O did a short three-song set, and was joined by Odin band mate Aaron Samson on bass. The first song, appropriately enough, was titled “I’m Changing.” Randy O followed that with “Pop’s Song,” which interestingly is a re-working of “Lonely Man,” a song from the Lostboys album, Lost And Found. He then wrapped up the set with “Black & White Don’t Matter,” one of my personal favorites from the new album.

Here are some photos from the night:

Rainbow Bar And Grill is located at 9015 Sunset Blvd., in West Hollywood, California.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Diana Panton: “A Cheerful Little Earful” (2019) CD Review

I don’t have children, so I don’t listen to a lot of children’s albums. However, my girlfriend and I were both so delighted by the first track we heard from Diana Panton’s new album A Cheerful Little Earful that I just needed to hear the rest of it. Just because it may be appropriate for children doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed by adults. Good music is good music, right? And there is a whole lot of good music coming out of Canada these days. Vocalist Diana Panton is based in Hamilton, Ontario. She has received two Juno awards, first for her jazz album Red, and then for her first children’s album, I Believe In Little Things. On that album, she covered songs like “The Rainbow Connection” and “Sing.” Now she is following that with A Cheerful Little Earful, an album that is thoroughly enjoyable. Of course, part of the reason this album works so well for both adults and children is that most of the songs Diana Panton chooses are not strictly children’s songs. Joining the vocalist on this album are Reg Schwager on guitar, and Don Thompson on bass, piano and vibes.

The album opens with a wonderful rendition of “Happy Talk,” a song written by Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers for South Pacific. You know this song. It’s the one with the lines, “You’ve got to have a dream/If you don’t have a dream/How you gonna have a dream come true?” Good advice for people of all ages, right? Diana’s voice is so cheerful, so friendly. And this track features some bright and excellent work on keys. That’s followed by “It’s A Most Unusual Day,” which was written for the 1948 film A Date With Judy.  Diana Panton delivers a sweet, joyful vocal performance, with some minor lyrical changes. For example, “There are people greeting people” becomes “I hear birdies greeting birdies.” I love the guitar work. “‘A’ You’re Adorable” is a goofy, wonderful tune, also from the late 1940s, delivered with a sense of fun. And yes, it’s an alphabet song, but it’s also a love song, and it features some totally enjoyable piano work, almost like children have taken over a speakeasy.

“Red Red Robin” is a perfect choice for a children’s album. It is the bass line that I mostly latch onto when listening to this track. That’s followed by “I Don’t Want To Live On The Moon,” a children’s song written by Jeff Moss for Sesame Street (in the show, it is sung by Ernie). I really like these lines: “I’d like to visit the jungle, hear the lions roar/Go back in time and meet a dinosaur/There are so many strange places I’d like to be/But none of them permanently.” That “permanently” line delights me every time I listen to this track.  We then get “Cheerful Little Earful,” the album’s title track, which was composed by Ira Gershwin, Billy Rose and Harry Warren for the musical Sweet And Low. Diana Panton’s vocal performance is just so adorable. Toward the end, when she sings “Make me happy, you can do it” she already sounds perfectly happy.

The title “If You Feel Like Singing, Sing” of course reminds me of Cat Stevens’ “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out.” Don’t let anyone silence your voice (unless you’re in a movie theater or something, in which case please shut up). There is a light quality to this track that is endearing. That’s followed by “Music And Me.” A Michael Jackson song on a children’s album? Might seem an odd choice these days, but he didn’t write “Music And Me.” It was composed by Michael Cannon, Don Fenceton, Mel Larson and Jerry Marcellino, and it is a good choice to follow “If You Feel Like Singing, Sing.” “Grab a song/And come along/You can sing your melody.”

The first part of “Look To The Rainbow” is delivered a cappella, showcasing Diana Panton’s beautiful voice.  Diana delivers an enjoyable rendition of Cole Porter’s “Experiment,” a song that offers some good advice for both children and adults: “Experiment/Be curious.” That’s followed by “Aren’t You Glad You’re You?” This is such a deliciously goofy and wonderful song, and Diana delivers it with a youthful vibe and innocence. The first lines always make me smile: “Every time you’re near a rose/Aren’t you glad you’ve got a nose?” I also really like the bass line. The album concludes with “Hush-A-Bye Island,” a song to help us drift off to a better land in our dreams.

CD Track List
  1. Happy Talk
  2. It’s A Most Unusual Day
  3. “A” You’re Adorable
  4. Red Red Robin
  5. I Don’t Want To Live On The Moon
  6. Cheerful Little Earful
  7. If You Feel Like Singing, Sing
  8. Music And Me
  9. Pocketful Of Miracles
  10. Look To The Rainbow
  11. All In The Golden Afternoon
  12. Experiment
  13. Aren’t You Glad You’re You?
  14. Sing A Rainbow
  15. Hush-A-Bye Island 
A Cheerful Little Earful is scheduled to be released on October 18, 2019.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Lyn Stanley: “Favorite Takes: London With A Twist: Live At Bernie’s” (2019) CD Review

I love Lyn Stanley’s voice and her style, and have from the moment I first listened to her several years ago. I also appreciate her choices of material to cover. On her newest release, Favorite Takes: London With A Twist: Live At Bernie’s, she delivers wonderful renditions of some familiar songs. The album’s title might be a bit misleading, for this isn’t a typical live album; it’s not a concert recording. The songs were recorded live, directly to analog disc rather than using magnetic tape, leading to an excellent sound quality. This was done at a studio, not a concert venue. So the “Bernie’s” in question is not a club. Rather, Bernie Grundman is the sound mastering engineer, so the “Bernie’s” in the title is effectively the studio where he was working his magic. Joining Lyn Stanley on this release are Otmaro Ruiz on piano, Mike Lang on piano, John Chiodini on guitar, Chuck Berghofer on bass, Aaron Serfaty on drums, and Luis Conte on percussion. These tracks were recorded over a two-day period, January 19 and 20, 2019.

This album opens with a cool and playful rendition of “Route 66,” the delicious bass line playing nearly as prominent a role as the vocals. There is even a bass solo halfway through. Plus, there is some really nice work on guitar. However, the coolness of the track comes mainly from the drum beat and those touches on keys. And the playfulness is mostly in Lyn Stanley’s vocal approach. Just listen to the way she delivers lines like “Just take my way, it’s the highway that’s the best” and “It winds from Chicago to L.A.” (the way she holds onto the word “winds”). We are off to a great start. Lyn Stanley follows that with a version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac” that swings and grooves. She is clearly having a lot of fun with this sexy song. The track shakes and moves well, and features some delicious stuff on keys. Of course, whenever a woman tackles this song, it becomes a lesbian song, which adds to the fun of it. She then gives an intimate and at times breathy delivery on “Lover Man,” a song written for Billie Holiday. This rendition features a sort of intoxicating, sexy instrumental section.

Lyn Stanley gave us a good rendition of “Blue Moon” on London Calling: A Toast To Julie London, her previous release. Now she delivers another excellent version, with a cool, somewhat relaxed late-night vibe. Yeah, it feels like it is last call and we’re spying that special someone we’ll be taking home. A nice slow dance, and then to bed. She also gives us an unusual, interesting take on Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” (a song that is sometimes listed as “C’est La Vie”). There is something really hip about this rendition, particularly in the guitar work. There is also some really nice stuff on keys and on percussion, the track having a strong pulse. That’s followed by “Goody Goody,” another song that was included on London Calling: A Toast To Julie London. Again she is having a fun time with it, as are the musicians backing her. I particularly like the bass line. One of the best and most stirring vocal performances of this album is on “Love Letters.” That track also features a wonderful lead on piano.

On London Calling, Lyn Stanley presented a version of “Bye Bye Blackbird” that featured her vocals supported by just bass. Now on this album she delivers another cool rendition, this one beginning with bass (and later including a good bass solo), but soon adding drums and piano and guitar. Lyn’s vocal approach includes delightfully playful readings of certain lines, such as “Here I go, singing low” and “Sugar’s sweet, so is he.” I love the gorgeous and intimate vocal performance she delivers on “Body And Soul.” This track also features a soulful lead on bass, supported by some percussion. Lyn Stanley then wraps up the album with a Cole Porter tune, “In The Still Of The Night.” This version cooks along, pushed forward by some groovy work on drums and bass. Her voice, in contrast, has a relaxed quality at times, creating an interesting effect. And I love that lead on guitar.

CD Track List
  1. Route 66
  2. Pink Cadillac
  3. Lover Man
  4. Blue Moon
  5. Let There Be You
  6. You Never Can Tell
  7. Goody Goody
  8. Love Letters
  9. Bye Bye Blackbird
  10. I’ve Got You Under My Skin
  11. Body And Soul
  12. In The Still Of The Night
Favorite Takes: London With A Twist: Live At Bernie’s was released on June 30, 2019.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Olivia Frances: “Orchid” (2019) CD Review

Olivia Frances is a talented, young singer and songwriter (apparently she just graduated from Clark University, in my home city of Worcester, Mass.), mixing pop and folk elements to create a fairly positive and cheerful sound, music that should raise your spirits. Her latest full-length album, Orchid, her third, features all original material, written or co-written by Olivia Frances. Joining her on this release are William Ellis on drums, Pat Lassiter on bass, Mike Holmes on keys, Will Doughty on keys, Mike Durham on guitar, and Shayne Hill on guitar.

The album opens with its title track, “Orchid,” a good pop song with a well-drawn central character. When it kicks in, this tune has something of an early 1960s vibe, which I dig. “Now she’s on her own, living in the city/Working hard and singing little ditties.” “Orchid” was written by Olivia Frances and Michael Astrachan. That’s followed by “Moon To My Sun,” a wonderful song with a pleasant pop sound. Her vocal delivery has a sweet, almost dreamy quality here, and yet the song has a strange power. “Oh, darling, I think I love you/I’m not sure what you’re made of/But I must be made of it too.” I also like the percussion on this track.

“Porcelain” has a straighter pop sound, particularly during the chorus. This one creates another vivid character, opening with these lines: “She sits alone in a pink chair/By the window of a cafĂ©/She sips hot tea off a tray/Every weekday/Like she’s on display.” That’s followed by “Flowers For Myself,” which goes a bit too far into the pop realm for my taste. I prefer the next track, “It Just Takes One.” Sure, it is ridiculously positive, but it seems we need this sort of thing these days, more than at any other point I can recall during my lifetime. I mean, things are screwed up out there, and we want to feel like we can effect some change, both in our own lives and in the world at large. This song reminds us that it is possible, that we are not powerless. “It just takes one smile to brighten someone’s day/It just takes one laugh to chase the blues away/If someone’s feeling down and out/Lend a hand, help him out.”

“Once In A Blue Moon” is for me one of the album’s highlights. It has a sweet, pretty, delightful and engaging folk-pop sound, a sound you can drift away upon. “‘Cause once in a blue moon/He buys her flowers/Takes her by the hand/And looks into her eyes/Once in a blue moon/He holds her tight/Whispers in her ear/And kisses her good night.” There is something pretty about “The Bee & The Rose” too, which has an enchanting vibe and a wonderful vocal line. This song has what is probably the album’s best vocal performance.

There are more positive vibes in “Do You Know?” with Olivia asking us “Do you know just how lovely you are?” and “Do you know just how special you are?” But of course it’s the “Do do do do” vocal part that is the most positive and totally catchy. You might not want to like this song, particularly if you’re feeling cynical and pessimistic, but you will probably end up enjoying it. She follows that with a mellower folk tune, “Cocoon.” While most of the album was recorded in Nashville, this track was recorded in Amherst, Massachusetts. The CD then concludes with “Makin’ Room For You.” On the CD case, it is listed as a bonus track, but no one has yet adequately explained to me how an album can have a bonus track on its initial release. Anyway, it has a pleasant vibe with something of a 1970s influence. I dig the saxophone toward the end of the track. That’s James Zavala on sax. “I’m getting rid of the old/And getting ready for new/Oh baby, I’m making room for you.”

CD Track List
  1. Orchid
  2. Moon To My Sun
  3. Porcelain
  4. Flowers For Myself
  5. It Just Takes One
  6. Once In A Blue Moon
  7. Lettin’ Summer Shine
  8. The Bee & The Rose
  9. Do You Know?
  10. Cocoon
  11. Makin’ Room For You 
Orchid was released on June 14, 2019.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Rob Laufer: “The Floating World” (2019) CD Review

There is a whole lot of fantastic music coming out of Los Angeles these days, which of course is thrilling for me, since I reside in this city. One of the groups I have yet to see, but keep hearing about, is the Wild Honey Orchestra, a collection of well-known L.A. musicians who put on benefit concerts (they did one earlier this year featuring the music from The Kinks’ Are The Village Green Preservation Society). The man behind these concerts is Rob Laufer, a singer and songwriter who has produced albums for other artists as well as released a few albums of his own. The last one, Excruciating Bliss, came out nine years ago, and he’s finally followed that up with The Floating World. While he is joined on certain tracks by some special guests, this is basically a solo album, with Rob Laufer playing most of the instruments. He also wrote all the tracks.

The disc kicks off with “Avalanche,” a cool pop tune with folk elements. Check out these lyrics: “We could disappear without a sound/They found her belongings/Strung between the lake and a swallow’s nest/She writes from the new world/Buried is how I remember best.” Dave Pearlman plays pedal steel on this track, as well as the one that follows it, “Highway Machine,” which is one of my favorites. I love this music; it has everything I want: excellent lyrics and a sound that is its own, somewhere in the middle of rock, pop and folk, a full sound that carves its own reality and invites us inside. Plus, there is a string section, which I always appreciate. I am a sucker for cello. Matt Fish is on cello, and Lyn Bertles is on violin. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Would you opt for lore and illusion/To the exclusion of the spark/Sure, it’s sad pulling reasons by the roots/And sure, it’s sad packing monkeys into suits/But naming’s just a form of persuasion.” Rob Laufer then changes gears for “Bolt Of Blue,” a fun, upbeat number. This one is dominated by some great sounds on keys. Eric Drew Feldman is on organ and horns; Danny McGough is on Wurlitzer. “Holy robes and clever sayings/Never held much sway for you/So why is your TV on that channel/The first thing that you tune it to.”

“Floating World,” the album’s title track, has a pretty sound (with just a touch of a John Lennon vibe, right?). And again, this album features some excellent lyrics, such as these lines: “And the floating world was her own/No sailor could hold onto her/Harpoons, torpedoes, valentines/All seemed to pass right through her.” That’s followed by “Space And Time,” another of the disc’s highlights. Its nice, strong, prominent beat brings a smile to my face, this track reminding me a bit of T. Rex, mostly in the vocal approach. Yeah, there is definitely a late 1960s feel to this, with a bit of a trippy vibe at moments. Lyn Bertles and Matt Fish return on violin and cello respectively. I seriously love this track. “Don’t be afraid to come alive/Nothing will leave you satisfied.”

As I mentioned, this album boasts some tremendous lyrics. From “Fence,” I really like the line “She’d dress herself in clouds.” That was one that stood out for me the first time I listened to this album. That line, almost on its own, creates a vivid character. Then Carl Sealove joins Rob Laufer on bass for “This River.” As “The Holding Sea,” opens, the vibe is similar to some of Aimee Mann’s music, which of course I love. “As Long As You Belong” has something of a 1970s sound, and features Nick Vincent on conga drum. “Why’s it gotta be so hard/When they say all you gotta do is whistle.” The album then concludes with “Hippie Love.” I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one, based solely on its title. When I had hair (oh, those long gone days) I was sometimes called a hippie (though I was much too young to actually be a part of that movement), so I tend to bristle at the use of the word, which often seems to be used with disdain. There has always been something derogatory about the word. And in this song, is Rob Laufer’s attitude toward the couple condescending or affectionate? Seems to be a bit of both. You’ll have to decide for yourself when you listen to it. The song has a cheerful vibe, in part because of its beat. Nick Vincent plays conga on this one too. “Come away, come away with me/Paradise is just around the bend/We’ll hide from the man/We won’t have a plan.”

CD Track List
  1. Avalanche
  2. Highway Machine
  3. Bolt Of Blue
  4. Floating World
  5. Space And Time
  6. Fence
  7. This River
  8. The Holding Sea
  9. As Long As You Belong
  10. Hippie Love
The Floating World was released on August 23, 2019. By the way, for those living in Los Angeles, Rob Laufer is playing at the next Mimosa Music Series concert on September 29th.