Sunday, September 29, 2019

Ellis Paul at McCabe’s, 9-29-19 Concert Review

McCabe’s has an ongoing Sunday Morning Kids Concert Series, and today Ellis Paul took part, delivering a completely delightful set of both originals and classic children’s songs, directly engaging both the kids and their parents. He performed the set unmiked and in the audience, pulling up a chair to create a more intimate setting. As he started his set, he spoke with each of the kids, getting their names, which he would use in an improvised song at the end of the set.

He kicked off the set just after 10:30 a.m. with “The Cat Came Back,” a song he used to perform back in the End Construction days. I remember End Construction doing some fantastic and hilarious renditions, with a ton of energy. This version was mellower, but still quite funny. He asked those in the audience to add some cat noises, and not only did the kids take part, but so did Darryl Purpose, who had opened Ellis Paul’s show last night. Then as people added their own “meow” sounds, Ellis asked, “You know what this is called?” He then answered, “It’s called s-catting.” A moment later he added, “I’ll be here all morning, thank you.” He followed that with an original number, “Because It’s There,” which was on his first children’s album, The Dragonfly Races. The song’s positive vibes were appreciated by adults as well as by children.

Ellis then brought out his harmonica holder, and asked the kids if they knew what it was. One kid guessed, “A necklace.” Ellis told them it was a bagel holder. “I put a bagel in here and I eat it when I’m on the freeway.” He then demonstrated the harmonica by playing a bit of “Oh! Susanna” before going into “Wabi-Sabi,” another sweet track from The Dragonfly Races. He followed that with a cover of Tom Paxton’s “Goin’ To The Zoo.” Rather than doing most of the lyrics, he asked individual kids to pick an animal he or she might see at the zoo and then had them all imitate a noise that animal might make. This rendition included joking references to Kung Fu Panda and The Wizard Of Oz. That was followed by a cover of “This Land Is Your Land,” a song that Ellis plays sometimes at his regular shows. The version he played today did not include all the verses (the “no trespassing” verse was missing, as was the “shadow of the steeple” verse). It did, however, include some hand movements for the children to take part in during the chorus.

Ellis recited the poem “I Opened My Mouth And My Mother Popped Out,” and had the children snap their fingers at the end rather than clap. He then played a medley of “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad” and “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain,” turning it into a sort of game, telling the kids to freeze in place whenever he stopped playing. One kid unexpectedly took charge of the game. Each time Ellis would stop, the kid would wait a moment and then tell him, “Go!” And Ellis obligingly would start the song again. The children had a lot of fun with that one, but afterward one of the children shouted that he wanted to go to the park. Ellis said he would play just one more song, and improvised a song using all the children’s names, and included lyrics about going to the park. The show ended at 11:10 a.m.

Set List
  1. The Cat Came Back
  2. Because It’s There
  3. Oh! Susanna
  4. Wabi-Sabi
  5. Goin’ To The Zoo
  6. This Land Is Your Land
  7. I Opened My Mouth And My Mother Popped Out
  8. I’ve Been Working On The Railroad >
  9. She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain >
  10. I’ve Been Working On The Railroad
  11. The Name Song 
McCabe’s is located at 3101 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica, California.

Ellis Paul at McCabe’s, 9-28-19 Concert Review

Ellis Paul is currently touring the west coast, and last night delivered an excellent set at McCabe’s in Santa Monica. He focused on material from his new album, The Storyteller’s Suitcase, and in fact actually told the crowd early in the set that he wouldn’t be playing the old songs. “I am here to play new songs,” he told them. “I know a lot of you want to hear the old songs. I’m not going to do it, and I just want you to know that up front. There will be no refunds. Now listen, the reason why I’m doing that is because I’ve been doing this for thirty years, and I feel like my best stuff is yet to come.” That’s great for someone like me who is always eager to hear new material from my favorite artists. And indeed, most of the set was made up of new material, songs from his twentieth album. It was probably the only show I’ve seen him do in many years that did not include either “3,000 Miles” or “Maria’s Beautiful Mess.”

After a really good opening set by Darryl Purpose (with David James joining him on mandolin), Ellis Paul took the stage at 8:45 p.m., kicking off his set with “I Ain’t No Jesus,” a sweet song, and one that I love more each time I hear it. He has been opening his shows with it for a while, and it really is a great way to start the night, setting a loving tone. It is also the song that he chose to lead off the album. McCabe’s is one of my favorite spots in Los Angeles to see live music, and it is a favorite place for musicians to play. “I love this place,” Ellis said after “I Ain’t No Jesus.” “It’s partly because of you,” he told the audience, “but I think it’s because I buy guitars here, and I end up spending more than I make at a show.” He also thanked a couple that had sent a bottle of excellent Scotch to him backstage before the concert. “Thank you for that. You’ve ruined the show, but thank you.” He then described the time in Big Sur that provided the inspiration for “Slingshot.” Ellis played harmonica on both “I Ain’t No Jesus” and “Slingshot.”

“Five Alarm Fire On The 4th Of July” is always a fun one to hear, and last night in particular was enjoyable, for the crowd got really into it. In fact, one woman finished a line for Ellis. The line is “Uncle Buck is rolling somethin’ he calls a monster doobie,” and he draws out the last two words, “mon-ster doo-bie.” A woman finished the line by singing “bie.” “Thank you,” Ellis said to her. The audience also sang along with the “We Are Family” section at the end. While he offered introductions to most of the songs in his set, Ellis just jumped right into “Election Day” without a single word of introduction. It was a good rendition, and a song that the audience appreciated. We are all eager for the next election and the end of this corrupt and incompetent administration. He followed that with another timely and powerful song, “The Battle Of Charlottesville,” and then “The Innocence And The Afterlife,” one of my personal favorites from the new album. It is a song inspired by a conversation he had with his daughter when she was five years old, a conversation about death. After those songs, Ellis promised the audience the music would be happy from there on out. “Well, that’s a lie,” he corrected himself after a moment. “It’s folk music.” Yet the next song was a happy song. He delivered a great, mean, fiery rendition of “Kick Out The Lights,” with audience participation, of course. This was the first song of the set that was not from the new album, but it was after that one that he showed the audience the contents of the deluxe edition of The Storyteller’s Suitcase.

Ellis then switched to piano for a really good and passionate version of “Scarecrow In A Corn Maze.” He followed that with a couple of tracks from The Hero In You, one of Ellis Paul’s children’s albums, first mentioning that he would be doing a children’s show in the morning. He started with “Thomas Edison,” and followed that with the title track, which was actually a request and dedicated to a guy in the audience who was celebrating his birthday. Ellis stepped off the stage to perform it unmiked in the audience. Interestingly, he followed that with “You’ll Never Be This Young Again,” perhaps a perfect song for someone having a birthday, a song reminding us that it’s not too late to chase our dreams, and urging us to start now. He concluded his set with “The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down.” “It’s my most well-known song, and it’s also about not wasting time,” Ellis said in the introduction to the song. He performed this one unmiked and in the audience, the crowd singing it with him. And that was how the concert ended. There was no encore. The show ended at 10:11 p.m.

Set List
  1. I Ain’t No Jesus
  2. Slingshot
  3. Five Alarm Fire On The 4th Of July
  4. Election Day
  5. The Battle Of Charlottesville
  6. The Innocence And The Afterlife
  7. Kick Out The Lights
  8. Scarecrow In A Corn Maze
  9. Thomas Edison
  10. The Hero In You
  11. You’ll Never Be This Young Again
  12. The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down

McCabe’s is located at 3101 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica, California.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

David Hasselhoff: “Open Your Eyes” (2019) CD Review

Recently David Hasselhoff released a music video for “Open Your Eyes,” the title track from his new album. It seemed a perfect song for these days, with the line “Open your eyes, see the lies right in front of you.” Yet the song actually came out in the early part of the Reagan years, another frightening time politically, when it was performed by The Lords Of The New Church. On Open Your Eyes, David Hasselhoff offers renditions of some popular songs, covering a surprisingly wide range of musical genres, including hard rock, new wave, pop, country and folk. He also has special guests joining him on nearly every track. Most of the songs he has chosen are from the 1980s, a decade that gave us a whole lot of fun music, as well as the decade that David Hasselhoff came to our attention in Knight Rider. It was also the decade that he began releasing records. Yeah, David Hasselhoff has released more albums than you’re likely aware of, certainly more than I was aware of, including a Christmas album. This CD includes a “Hoff Army” patch, which made me laugh and which my girlfriend refuses to wear. I think once she hears this entire disc, she will change her mind.

Open Your Eyes begins with its title track, a powerful song that seems to speak directly to our times. Check out these lines: “Violence rules within our nation's midst/Well, ignorance is their power tool/You only know what they want you to know.” David delivers a passionate, earnest rendition that captures the strength of the original. James Williamson (from The Stooges) joins David on guitar on this track. “They scare us all with threats of war/So we forget just how bad things are.” That’s followed by “Head On,” a fun tune with a delightful 1980s sound. It was written by William Reid and Jim Reid, and originally recorded by The Jesus And Mary Chain. “Yeah, the world could die in pain/And I wouldn't feel no shame/And there's nothing holding me to blame/Makes you want to feel, makes you want to try/Makes you want to blow the stars from the sky.” David Hasselhoff delivers a seriously good vocal performance here, and is joined by Elliot Easton (from The Cars) on guitar. Then Steve Stevens (Billy Idol’s guitarist) joins him on a rendition of Modern English’s “I Melt With You,” a song I love. Actually, that entire Modern English album, After The Snow, is excellent, and should be a part of your music collection. This version features some wonderful touches on guitar, and it is those moments that really distinguish it from the original, giving it a slightly harder edge.  I love the way David sings the lines, “I made a pilgrimage to save the human race/Never comprehending the race has long gone by.” There is a bit of sadness to his delivery, matching what a lot of us are feeling these days. David follows that with another 1980s pop song, “Lips Like Sugar,” delivering a cool version of the Echo And The Bunnymen tune. He is joined on keys by Mike Score (of A Flock Of Seagulls).

David Hasselhoff then dips into the 1970s with a wonderful take on David Bowie’s “‘Heroes’,” singing a portion of the lyrics in German. This song was from Bowie’s Berlin period, and he himself released a version in German. The song is closely tied to the Berlin Wall, perhaps a reason why David Hasselhoff chooses to cover it. You might recall him singing “Looking For Freedom” at the rubble of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Gil Sharone plays drums on this version of “‘Heroes’” (you might know him from his work with Stolen Babies and Marilyn Manson). That’s followed by “Here I Go Again.” I have to admit I loved this song when I was a kid, and listened to that Whitesnake cassette quite a bit. But then I moved on, and hadn’t listened to it in decades. Well, it is fun to revisit it here. Tracii Guns (of L.A. Guns) plays guitar on this version. Then Todd Rundgren joins David Hasselhoff for “Jump In My Car,” a song originally done by Ted Mulry Gang. This track is a total delight. There is something completely lovable about David Hasselhoff. He seems to have never taken himself too seriously, and has a good time with whatever projects he is involved in. That is evidenced, for example, in his cameo in John Waters’ A Dirty Shame (my vote for best cameo ever in a film), and in this wonderful track. David Hasselhoff released this song as a single more than a decade ago, putting out a rather goofy music video to accompany it (if you watch it, be sure to watch it to the end). This new version ends with him asking “What was I thinking in the first place?

At the beginning of “Rhinestone Cowboy,” David Hasselhoff dedicates the song to Glen Campbell, who had recorded it in 1975. David had recorded this song before, including it on his Sings America album. On this new rendition, he is joined by Charlie Daniels on fiddle. This version has more of a pop vibe. What I love is that David really throws himself into each of these songs, singing each with conviction while simultaneously enjoying himself. He follows “Rhinestone Cowboy” with an unusual take on Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind,” giving it a bit of an electronic pop sound. His vocal performance is heartfelt, and he is joined by Ava Cherry on vocals. David then throws himself into one of the silliest and catchiest of bubblegum pop songs, “Sugar Sugar,” a song originally done by cartoon darlings The Archies. Here he is joined by Steve Cropper on guitar. Is this version fun? You bet! But it’s not as fun as “Mit 66 Jahren,” a song by Udo JΓΌrgens, here delivered partly in German, partly in English. “Life begins as 66/I’m having a wonderful time/Life begins at 66/And everything is fine/Life begins at 66/The best is yet to come.” This is probably my favorite track. I fucking love it. Patrick Moraz (of The Moody Blues) plays keys on this track. “People try to tell me I should be slowing down/I’m putting on my dancing shoes and heading for the town.” Amen!

Coming from Massachusetts, I have a special love for Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” It is a song that is in the air there, and it is played at every Red Sox game in the eighth inning. David Hasselhoff’s rendition of “Sweet Caroline” has a strange, industrial sound. He is joined by Ministry on this one. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an approach quite like this before. It is likely not the only industrial pop version of a Neil Diamond song, but it is the only one I think I’ve heard. So good, so good. David Hasselhoff wraps up the album with “That’s Life,” a song associated mainly with Frank Sinatra. This is the one track of the album not to feature a special guest. David delivers a totally enjoyable rendition, featuring some good work on keys. This is a song that feels like some kind of blessing in these twisted times, a song we need to keep in mind and in heart. “Each time I find myself flat on my face/I pick myself up and get back in the race.”

CD Track List
  1. Open Your Eyes
  2. Head On
  3. I Melt With You
  4. Lips Like Sugar
  5. “Heroes”
  6. Here I Go Again
  7. Jump In My Car
  8. Rhinestone Cowboy
  9. If You Could Read My Mind
  10. Sugar Sugar
  11. Mit 66 Jahren
  12. Sweet Caroline
  13. That’s Life
Open Your Eyes was released on CD and vinyl (red vinyl!) on September 27, 2019 on Cleopatra Records.

Friday, September 27, 2019

HeavyDrunk: “Holywater” (2019) CD Review

HeavyDrunk is a band based in Nashville that delivers some great raw soul and blues music. Their new album, Holywater, features mostly original material, written or co-written by singer and guitarist Rob Robinson. And, yes, the fact that there is no space between “Heavy” and “Drunk,” nor one between “Holy” and “Water” does bug me a bit, but it certainly doesn’t keep me from enjoying the excellent music on this disc. Though the first time I listened to it, I wasn’t sure initially what to make of the opening track, “If I Loved You Hard Enough.” I mean, its opening lines are at first violent then seriously goofy: “I grabbed her by the hair of her head/And drug her across the Piggly Wiggly parking lot/She lost her hot pink flip flop/In the disabled parking spot.” But approximately a minute in, I fell for it. Those fantastic soulful backing vocals certainly didn’t hurt, and I loved the horns, of course, but the lyrics and his vocal delivery also became strangely endearing, and soon I was totally grooving to this bluesy song. So, yes, by the end of the first track, I was firmly in the grip of this album.

“Walking To The Mission In The Rain” has a delicious groove and features more good work from the horn section. Yeah, the title at first reminded me of the Jerry Garcia song “Mission In The Rain,” but this song sounds nothing like that one. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “You’re reaching back where there ain’t no reaching back/It’s all uphill from here/Burning out, nothing left to feel.” I love that guitar lead in the second half of the song, particularly the way it starts, that one note held long enough to tease us and draw us in, get us ready for whatever might be coming our way. This one was written by Rob Robinson, Will Beeman and Joseph Shackelford. That’s followed by “HeavyDrunk Holywater,” a slower, soulful number with a moving vocal performance. “The only thing they left standing was her old piano/I am playing for you now.” How can those words not affect you? I wasn’t expecting a song this beautiful. Yes, that’s right, it’s beautiful. This is one of my favorite tracks. I’ve been keeping a list of bands that have a song whose title is the name of the band (such as Bad Company, Night Ranger and They Might Be Giants). This one doesn’t quite make the list, but it’s the only song I can think of whose title is the name of the band combined with the name of the album. Anyway, this sort of thing might only be interesting to me, but there you have it.

Just give me one dancing fool/Just give me one dancing fool/And we can change the world together” are the first lines of “One Dancing Fool.” Oh yes, I love it. Then the song kicks in to become a glorious, funky tune. Fantastic! And yes, I think music can change the world. Just imagine a protest that involved everyone dancing, like two million people dancing in Washington D.C.  Mike Pence’s brain would fucking explode. And isn’t that what we all want? “High On Love” is another soulful, moving song featuring a wonderful vocal performance. I also really dig that bass. The jam toward the end has an introspective feel, a mellow sound that will carry you along if you let it. It’s pleasant sometimes to let the music take hold of your brain and relax you. Then “Memphis” begins like a soulful folk song before the horns come in to give it a classic sound. “Just like that winding river/Her love is overflowing.” That’s followed by “Somebody’s Got To Take Them Panties Off.” This is an odd one, because it has this sweet, romantic soul sound, and then the main line seems to work in contrast to that. It is like a wooing happening before our ears, as he sings “I want to be whatever you need.” But then suddenly we get the real thrust of his romantic overtures. “It’s not all about you/It’s not all about me/But I’ve been thinking about it/And it occurred to me/Somebody’s got to take them panties off, babe.”

As I mentioned, most of the tracks on this album are originals, written or co-written by Rob Robinson. Only two tracks are covers, and they are presented back-to-back just before the end of the disc. First, we get a cool cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Slave,” a song originally included on Tattoo You, the last really good Stones album (which itself was made up of tracks recorded for earlier albums). It might seem a strange song to cover, as there aren’t many lyrics apart from the main line and a bit of odd spoken word. But it’s a good jam and features saxophone, making it perhaps perfect for HeavyDrunk. Plus, I love hearing HeavyDrunk’s backing vocalists singing “Do it, do it, do it, do it, do it.” HeavyDrunk adds more lyrics to this rendition. That’s followed by a cover of Tedeschi Trucks Band’s “Midnight In Harlem,” a song included on that band’s debut album, Revelator. HeavyDrunk does a good job with it, remaining faithful to the original. The disc then concludes with another number full of soul and beauty, “Shine On.” This song makes me feel good, makes me feel that humanity is actually a worthwhile thing. Certainly we need that right now.

CD Track List
  1. If I Loved You Hard Enough
  2. Walking To The Mission In The Rain
  3. HeavyDrunk Holywater
  4. One Dancing Fool
  5. I Can’t Be Satisfied
  6. Keeping Up With The Kid
  7. High On Love
  8. Memphis
  9. Somebody’s Got To Take Them Panties Off
  10. Pick You Up Along The Way
  11. Slave
  12. Midnight In Harlem
  13. Shine On 
Holywater is scheduled to be released on October 4, 2019.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Holland Greco’s Record Release Show Was Canceled

Things were weird in part of downtown L.A. tonight, where Holland Greco was scheduled to have her record release party. My first clue that something was off was the stop-and-go traffic on the 101 freeway all the way from Hollywood Blvd. to the 110 South. At that hour and in that direction, things should have been moving. Then when I got off the freeway at 8th, I came into total darkness. The only lights were from the fire trucks which were blocking the right turn I was supposed to take. Traffic light after traffic light was out, and no one seemed to have any idea what to do. And every third block had a fire truck blocking a road. And there was no parking anywhere. It took me approximately thirty-five minutes to find a spot, and I got that by driving half a block in reverse after seeing someone pull out in my rear view mirror. There was a strange energy in the air, crackling between people, and I got the feeling it could turn bad at any moment. So I hurried to The Mayfair Hotel, a cool venue where I’d seen Holland & Clark play once before, last November.

When I arrived, the hotel lobby was full of people. They all seemed to be waiting for something, and not for the concert. As I made my way around everyone to the back of the lobby toward the Library Bar where the show was to happen, an employee stopped me. “It’s not open yet,” he told me. That was strange, since the show was scheduled to start at 9 p.m., and at that point it was 8:40 p.m. “But that’s where the Holland Greco concert will be, right?” I asked. “It’s not going to happen,” he said. Apparently, some transformer blew nearby, or some such thing, and the hotel was running on its backup generator. That’s why all those folks were hanging around in the lobby. Their rooms had no power. I looked around the room for familiar faces, and, seeing none, I made my way to the other set of doors to the venue. Through those doors I saw Holland Greco and Megan Jacobs, and went inside. There was no security guy on that side to stop me. And Holland confirmed the show was canceled. “I had a good show planned,” she said. Undoubtedly. Holland Greco has never delivered anything less than a stellar performance. And this show was to celebrate the release of her new single, and on clear vinyl at that. It was definitely going to be a fun time. The one good thing about the evening was that I was able to pick up a copy of the record, which has “We Could Still (Get It On)” on one side and “Reach For Me” on the other. And did I mention it’s on clear vinyl?

The show will be rescheduled soon, so everyone will have a chance to dance to some great tunes. See you there!

Ellis Paul: “The Storyteller’s Suitcase” (2019) CD Review

It has been thirty years since I first saw Ellis Paul in concert, and in the time since then he has performed all over the country and has released several tremendous albums featuring excellent material. He embodies the best of the folksinger tradition. That is to say, in addition to having a distinct and appealing voice, he is one hell of a storyteller. Anyone who has ever seen him in concert can attest to that. And of course it is not simply the stories he tells during performances, but the stories his songs tell us. His new release is full of such stories, full of such songs, and its title directly refers to his vocation as storyteller. Many of the songs that make up The Storyteller’s Suitcase tell of significant and memorable days in his life. By the way, in addition to the regular CD release, there is a deluxe edition of this album which comes in its own little suitcase and contains (in addition to the CD) a poster, a flask, a journal, a pen and – most importantly – a USB containing nearly all his previous releases (I believe the only one missing is the Tree Full Of Crows album, which to this date has only ever been released on cassette). It’s an instant Ellis Paul collection. Ellis Paul has several musicians joining him, including Radoslav Lorkovic on keys, Craig Akin on upright bass, and Ryan Hommel on pedal steel.

The CD begins with “I Ain’t No Jesus,” a song Ellis Paul has been playing in concert for several years now, often opening his shows with it. It’s a sweet song, and it has a gentle and intimate sound here. Adding to its beauty on this recording is the presence of Eric Lee on fiddle. What I’ve loved about this song since I first heard it is the tenderness and also wonder in Ellis Paul’s voice and in the lyrics, particularly in the lines “The only miracle I’ve seen/Is you walking down the aisle to me.” Laurie MacAllister provides some really nice backing vocals. That’s followed by “You’ll Never Be This Young Again.” This version has a cheerful, delightful sound, particularly because of the work on keys. This song should have a lot of appeal, because most of us can relate to the ideas here. Who hasn’t thought his or her life was going to be more magical? Don’t lose that drive to make it happen, for it’s not too late. But, bloody hell, get started because life is short, “The mountain top/Ain’t gonna wait forever.” “You only get so many heartbeats/You only get so many first kisses/So sweet/Dreams don’t come easy/And they don’t come cheap.”

“Kiss Me ‘Cause I’m Gone” is a song I first heard at the CD release show in Boston. It’s a song Ellis co-wrote with Abbie Gardner, and is a song about pursuing your dreams, regardless of what others might say. It’s also a perfect song to add to your road trip play list. “No more waiting for lights/That are slow to change/I’m gone/Chasing the white lines/Down the old highway.” That’s followed by “Scarecrow In A Corn Maze,” another song that he’s been performing for several years, and one he plays on piano rather than guitar. “Scarecrow in a corn maze/Tryin’ to find some way out/Storm clouds are comin’/Take shelter in the bar/Let the twister just spin out.” “Slingshot” has a delightfully cheerful sound, and is another that I first heard at the album release party. I love the positive feel of this one, a song about possibilities. Listening to this song makes you feel empowered in a way, that you can realize your dreams. And the lines “The world could use a hero/’Cause the lunatics/Are running the shop” feel particularly apt these days. “The Storyteller’s Suitcase,” the album’s title track, was written after Ellis Paul had already decided on a title for the album. It’s a song about being a traveling musician. While a lot of songs tackling that subject speak of loneliness, motels, playing in bars, and being away from home, this one takes a lot of those elements and gives them a positive sound. This is not a singer looking for sympathy; he’s not decrying his profession, but celebrating it. “A song is just a skeleton key/That can open any palace door,” he tells us. Mark Dann plays mandolin on this track.

Ellis Paul does not include a lot of material by other people on his studio releases, but here he covers “How You Say Goodbye,” a good song written by Kyle Hancharick which appeared on his 2018 release Breathe. Baseball is by far my favorite sport (though I despise these new rules that remove the human element; pitchers should have to throw the four pitches in an intentional walk), and this song uses imagery from that great game. And no, the Red Sox won’t be in the playoffs this year, but relax, it was only a year ago that they won the World Series (the fourth time in my lifetime, which is incredible). That is followed by “The Innocence And The Afterlife,” one of my personal favorites from this album. This song affected me strongly the first time I heard him play it in concert, and seems to affect me even more each time I listen to it. It’s a beautiful and moving song about explaining death to his daughter. He doesn’t have the answers (no one does), so he tells her the various things people believe about the afterlife. The lines about her asking to come back as a puppy often reduce me to tears. You need to hear them. I would include this song among Ellis Paul’s very best. And this version features some gorgeous work by Mairi Chaimbeul on harp.

“Five Alarm Fire On The 4th Of July” is a fun song about a day from Ellis Paul’s youth, when the farmhouse caught fire at a family reunion and burned down. No one was hurt, so the song has a pleasant and humorous vibe. As he does with the song in concert, Ellis includes a nod to “We Are Family” at the end. That’s followed by a song that tells of a very different day, when someone was certainly hurt. Ellis Paul has been living in Charlottesville for a while, and so that horrible day affected him perhaps even more than it did the rest of us. The song “The Battle Of Charlottesville” is the result, and it’s a powerful track. “Lives blown out like a candle/The president must love a scandal/He wouldn’t take a side/Though people died/And Heather Heyer got mowed down.” Kyle Hancharick plays guitar on this one.

“Mammoth” is a beautiful song of longing and memory. Ellis co-wrote this one with Seth Glier, who plays piano and provides backing vocals on this track. Jenna Moynihan adds some wonderful stuff on violin. That’s followed by “Heaven.” In the CD’s liner notes, Ellis explains that this song came about when a friend asked him to compose a song for his brother who had died. It’s a beautiful song about goodbyes. The disc then concludes with “Election Day.” The opening lines of this song, “I can feel a new day coming/Change is on the way,” feel particularly right today, when maybe, just maybe we are seeing the beginning of the end of the horror show in the capital. The corrupt scoundrel in the White House is getting nervous. Anyway, it is a great song. Interestingly, this is actually a cover. It was written by Michael K. Brown. “You have tried to keep me quiet/But I have things to say/I’ve got a voice and it won’t be silent/You’re gonna hear in on Election Day.”

CD Track List
  1. I Ain’t No Jesus
  2. You’ll Never Be This Young Again
  3. Kiss Me ‘Cause I’m Gone
  4. Scarecrow In A Corn Maze
  5. Slingshot
  6. The Storyteller’s Suitcase
  7. How You Say Goodbye
  8. The Innocence And The Afterlife
  9. Five Alarm Fire On The 4th Of July
  10. The Battle Of Charlottesville
  11. Mammoth
  12. Heaven 
  13. Election Day
The Storyteller’s Suitcase was released on May 31, 2019.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Robert Hunter (1941 – 2019)

No group has had a greater impact on my life than the Grateful Dead. Known perhaps primarily for their extended exploratory jams, a good deal of the appeal of their music for me has always been the lyrics. The group had two main lyricists, John Perry Barlow, who wrote mostly with Bob Weir, and Robert Hunter, who wrote mostly with Jerry Garcia. We lost John Barlow last year. And now I am incredibly sad to say we’ve lost Robert Hunter too. Hunter was responsible for the lyrics to such fantastic songs as “Dark Star,” “Stella Blue” and “Brokedown Palace.” He also penned the lyrics to my all-time favorite song, “Ripple.”

I was fortunate enough to meet the man once. He gave a poetry reading at the University of Oregon in the early 1990s, when I was a student there. I got to the auditorium early (I am always early to everything), and grabbed a seat in the front row. There was an open door next to the stage leading outside, and through that doorway I spied Robert Hunter standing there, smoking a cigarette. I could see only him, not whoever might be accompanying him. I grabbed my copy of A Box Of Rain from my backpack and went outside to see about possibly getting an autograph. Turned out he was by himself out there. That surprised me. I assumed he’d have a group of friends and maybe some fans around him. But he was alone. So I had a chance to talk to him to a bit. And he signed my book. I was struck by how relaxed he was, how friendly and completely natural and genuine he was. He put me at ease immediately.

Meeting him meant a lot to me, but the lyrics that he wrote of course mean so much more. These are the songs I sing to myself when I’m driving, when I’m worried, when I’m confused about the world, when I’m sad, and when I'm happy. These are the songs that are with me whatever I’m doing. So many of Robert Hunter’s lyrics deal, in one way or another, with death itself, and I have a feeling these songs will be with me when I go. At least, I hope so. As Jerry Garcia sings in “Ripple,” “Let there be songs to fill the air.”

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Carolyn Lee Jones: “Close Your Eyes” (2019) CD Review

Carolyn Lee Jones is a jazz vocalist based in Dallas, Texas. Her full-time music career started only a little more than a decade ago, and in that time she has released several albums and singles. Her latest, Close Your Eyes, finds her singing material covering the many facets of love. Joining her on most tracks of this release is Brad Williams on piano, synthesizer and organ. He also arranged several of the tracks. Sergio Pamies, the other pianist joining her on this album, arranged a couple of the other tracks. Carolyn Lyn Jones has an array of other talented musicians joining her on various tracks.

Close Your Eyes opens with its title track, which features some delicious work on bass, including a truly expressive solo. The bass is really a second voice on this track. That is Jonathan Fisher on upright bass. There is also some really nice work on keys, particularly in the second half. Carolyn Lee Jones’ vocals have a romantic, somewhat soothing quality, but there is also a youthful excitement to her delivery at times. “Close your eyes/When you open them, dear/I’ll be near/By your side.” She whispers the last line, “I can feel you next to me,” a line I don’t recall hearing in other versions. Then Andrew Griffith starts the following track, “No Moon At All,” on drums with some gentle playing. And for a moment Carolyn Lee Jones’ voice is supported just by drums, before the bass and piano come in. There is something sexy and also playful about this rendition, a song to bring you closer to that special someone. This track features some wonderful work by Brad Williams on piano. Interestingly, Carolyn Lee Jones whispers the last line to this one too, “Kiss me,” which I also don’t remember being in other versions.

“The Nearness Of You” begins with some beautiful work by Sergio Pamies on piano. Soon Daniel Pardo joins on flute, giving this version a light quality, a quality which Carolyn’s vocal approach emphasizes. Pepe Valdez joins Carolyn Lee Jones on acoustic guitar. Young Heo plays bass on this track, and Lupe Barerra is on drums. Things then get snappy and fun with a good rendition of “That Old Black Magic,” which has a touch of funk. Also, this track has a horn section, adding to the joy of the sound. Dave Pierce is on trombone (he also arranged this one), and Dave Monsch is on saxophone. Joe Lee plays electric guitar on this track. Jeff Plant is on electric bass, Dennis Durick is on drums, and Arno Lucas adds to the groove on percussion.

Carolyn Lee Jones delivers a sweet, smooth, sexy vocal performance on “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” which also features Daniel Pardo again on flute. Pepe Valdez is on acoustic guitar. Sergio Pamies gives us some wonderful work on piano. It is a cheerful rendition, if perhaps a bit mellower than some versions I’ve heard. Then “When I Found You” has more of a big band sound, with that horn section of Dave Pierce on trombone, Pete Clagett on trumpet and Dave Monsch on saxophone. Matt Young is on drums, and Joe Lee is on electric guitar. Brad Williams plays organ on this one. Carolyn Lee Jones’ vocals have a delightful energy and cheer. “All Night Long” is a late-night romantic number written by Curtis Lewis, featuring some gorgeous work on horns. Pete Clagett is on trumpet and Dave Monsch is on saxophone. Jeffrey Eckels plays upright bass. Carolyn Lee Jones delivers another beautiful and alluring vocal performance here, pulling us in. “When I sleep, he tells me he’s in love with me/And how much he needs me to be near/But at best a dream is just a fantasy/When I touch his hand, he just disappears.” The disc then concludes with a kind of dreamy rendition of “I Only Have Eyes For You.” Brad Williams plays both piano and synthesizer on this track. As she did on the first two tracks, Carolyn Lee Jones ends this one with a whispered line, a breathy “I love you.”

CD Track List
  1. Close Your Eyes
  2. No Moon At All
  3. I Was A Fool
  4. The Nearness Of You
  5. That Old Black Magic
  6. Love After Midnight
  7. Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You
  8. When I Found You
  9. Confession
  10. My Foolish Heart
  11. All Night Long
  12. I Only Have Eyes For You
Close Your Eyes was released on September 15, 2019.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Jennifer Saran: “Smoky Nights” (2019) CD Review

Jennifer Saran is a vocalist and songwriter who works in a variety of musical realms, dipping into soul and pop on earlier releases, and now delving into jazz with her delicious new EP, Smoky Nights. This CD features all original material, written by Jennifer Saran and Narada Michael Walden. Narada Michael Walden also produced and arranged these tracks, as he did for Jennifer Saran’s previous releases Walk With Me and Wake Up. Narada Michael Walden also plays drums, bass and keys on this release. The other musicians joining Jennifer Saran on Smoky Nights include Tammy Hall on piano, Jim Reitzel on guitar, Rich Armstrong on trumpet, Daniel Casares on saxophone, and Charles McNeal on saxophone. Jennifer delivers some gorgeous and exciting material here, and is not shy about addressing some of the topics troubling our nation today.

The EP opens with its title track, “Smoky Nights,” a sexy, late-night jazzy gem, Jennifer Saran’s voice having a sultry quality. “I turn down the lights/You’re still fooling me/Smoky nights.” And the way those horns rise up from the darkness is fantastic. This track features some good work on keys as well. The whole thing works like a spell gliding around us, gathering us in, enchanting us. “Wrap your arms around me/'til your charm surrounds me/Hold me forever more/Smoky nights.” That’s followed by “Love Is Now Gone.” This one too seems to be emerging from a dark, mysterious place, the keys pushing open the door and tempting us inside, the saxophone offering little observations and glimpses into this world. Of course, it is Jennifer’s voice that is queen of this land, gorgeous and strong and commanding. Her voice gathers all around her, and she tells us her woeful tale. “Love is now gone/All happiness, I see/Will no longer be/Plans we made/The music we played/Where did it go?” Her voice grabs hold of us, seemingly without effort, pulling us into the darkness, or perhaps making us aware of the darkness already surrounding us. “Loneliness always comes/Everyone’s life’s undone/Love cannot survive/With stories or lies/You know what you’ve done.”

“Let The Waves Wash Over” is a somewhat more energetic number, mostly because of its rhythm. Yet it touches on a serious subject: rape. It was written after the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, when people like Susan Collins and Jeff Flake voted to confirm a rapist to the Supreme Court. It opens with these lines: “I fought him off/I cried out and no one came/I live with the shame.” Yet this song has an empowering and positive message: “It is time for a change/Vote them out in my name/Let the waves wash over me/No more time should go by/Daughters, sisters and wives/Let the waves wash over me.” Let’s hope that every last person that voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh is removed from office through the voting process. “Let The Waves Wash Over Me” is followed by “Don’t Forget My Name,” which has a pretty sound. “Have you loved me for the last time?/I cannot see, I cannot see/Have you touched me for the last time?/It cannot be, it cannot be.” Those short instrumental sections are powerful, and the track builds wonderfully.

The EP concludes with “Get Over Yourself,” which, though recorded in the studio, has the feel of a live track, with some background sounds as it opens. It begins with a groovy bass line, and once that is established, Jennifer’s vocals come in, followed soon by the rest of the band. This is a seriously cool tune, in part because of the bass. Plus, I’m glad to hear a jazz singer taking on that mendacious criminal in the White House and the entire corrupt Republican Party. “Give me a break/I know you can tell/What you’re saying is fake/Get over yourself.” The track then bursts open in the second half, and sounds fantastic. This is such a good tune. “From the president on down/Y’all screwing up/Y’all screwing up everything.” Indeed.

CD Track List
  1. Smoky Nights
  2. Love Is Now Gone
  3. Let The Waves Wash Over
  4. Don’t Forget My Name
  5. Get Over Yourself 
Smoky Nights was released on September 20, 2019 on Tarpan Records.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Conrad Merced: “Tender Beats” (2019) Vinyl Review

Conrad Merced is a singer and songwriter based in Chicago. He was a member of The Red Jacket and Shoplifter, and last year, after a long absence from music, released a two-song EP in tribute to Shel Silverstein titled, appropriately enough, A Tribute To Shel Silverstein. He has now followed that with his first full-length solo album, Tender Beats, which is available on vinyl as well as digitally. This album is truly a solo effort; Conrad Merced plays all the instruments and provides all the vocals. He also wrote all the material, songs that are emotionally engaging, with good, honest lyrics. The music is largely folk, but with some atmospheric work on synths giving it a different sound and mood.

Side A

The record opens with its title track, “Tender Beats,” which has a gentle, pretty, and sweet sound. There is a loving, yet sad vibe to Conrad Merced’s vocal approach. He returned to music after the unexpected death of his mother, and this touching song in particular feels informed by that loss. Some lines like “Is it cold where you are/And do I seem that far?” are surprisingly heartbreaking. It’s a gorgeous and moving song. That’s followed by “Thirty Five” (yes, without the hyphen). This is one that really grew on me. There is beauty to this track, particularly in that instrumental section in the middle, which is then revisited at the end. “We’ve got no demons to fear/And we can ride together throughout the years.” Another line that stands out for me is “And when the song is over, we can hit rewind.” That line takes me back to my childhood, when a lot of my music was on cassette. Do kids today know what “rewind” means? There is a bit of a pop flavor to “Before The Storm,” in part because of the use of drum machine. “You can leave me lying right beside her/When Southern California was always on fire.”

There is something intimate and moving about this music, particularly a song like “Don’t Stop Here,” which is one of my personal favorites. This track includes theremin and xylophone, though neither becomes too prominent in the mix, but rather adds to the atmosphere of the song. “Forget your name/And I’ll do the same” Interestingly, Conrad Merced returns to that idea in the next song, “Against The Grain”: “And I’d still tend to you/Even if you forget my name.” And the lines “But it’s all right now/And we’ll be all right somehow” make it feel like a love song for our times. That is as much optimism as we can expect, and it feels like enough. This track also features a really nice lead guitar part. Then some pretty guitar work begins “Dragonfly,” the final song of the first side of the record. This is another song of love, another song that feels intimate. “And if the world around us starts changing/We wouldn’t care anyway.” And check out these lines: “Feels like no one’s around when I’m with you/And we can take it day by day/And if the skyscrapers start falling/We wouldn’t have to get out of the way.” I really love the guitar on this track, helping to make this song another of my favorites. This music itself seems to create a place where the outside world can’t harm us, where it has no effect on us.

Side B

The second side opens with “Dog In The Fight,” a song with a happier sound which is surprising, particularly as it begins with a mention of war: “In 1990 and 1991 my father fought in a war called Operation Desert Storm.” This is a song about growing up, being different from those around him. He sings, “And I thought, Is this the American dream/Is this what we look forward to.” Yet, the song is not cynical. Rather, it is surprisingly positive, with lines like “And I don’t have a single regret” and “Fond memories and good times I had back then.” It’s an interesting track. That’s followed by “I Just Wasn’t Wired That Way.” There is a strange beauty to this one, a song in which he reaches out to someone. “When you left that day/I could have asked for you to stay/But I just wasn’t wired that way.” I love how this music creates its own atmosphere, its own world, just different enough from the regular world that we feel safe within it. You know? Once you’re inside, you feel a desire to drift along within, and with eyes closed or open, you’ll see the same things, experience the same sensations.

Then “Ghostwalking” surprises me by opening with an electronic beat, a steady pulse in an otherwise dreamy atmosphere. The tone then changes, as the acoustic guitar takes over and the pulse takes on a more natural sound. Then it is like these two sounds are combined, and all that is before the vocals come in. Conrad Merced creates the mood and an unusual landscape before offering the lyrics, an interesting approach that works so well for this track. “You always asked me if I was warm/When you called me on the phone/Chicago winters are relentlessly merciless/Freeze you to the bone/And I can’t feel my hands tonight/I’ve been ghost walking in your footsteps lately/Down a cold and darkened path.” Then as the other instruments recede, the beat – the pulse – remains a moment longer. There is a flow to the music on this album, sometimes lyrically, like the repeating of the idea of forgetting one’s name that I mentioned earlier. Also, “Ghostwalking” mentions winter, and the next song, “The Bittersweetness,” opens with these lines: “The bitter sweetness comes and goes/I always think of you when it snows.” There is certainly something beautiful about this song. The record then concludes with another sweet tune, “Still Can’t Walk Away,” a song that seems to me to address Conrad’s absence and return to music, to approach artistic inspiration as a relationship. “And when you came to me, you made my fingers bleed/When we argue, we put it on display/But after all this time, I still can’t walk away.”

Record Track List

Side A
  1. Tender Beats
  2. Thirty Five
  3. Before The Storm
  4. Don’t Stop Here
  5. Against The Grain
  6. Dragonfly
Side B
  1. A Dog In The Fight
  2. I Just Wasn’t Wired That Way
  3. Ghostwalking
  4. The Bittersweetness
  5. Still Can’t Walk Away 
Tender Beats was released digitally on July 23, 2019 and on vinyl on August 15, 2019. It’s a beautiful album that I’ll likely be returning to often.

Mark Winkler: “I’m With You” (2019) CD Review

Mark Winkler is a talented vocalist and lyricist, many of his songs having been recorded by other artists as well as appearing on his own albums. However, his latest release, I’m With You, is a tribute to songwriter Bobby Troup. Mark certainly had quite a lot of excellent material to choose from when putting together the track list for this album, for Bobby Troup wrote many beloved songs, including “Route 66” and “The Girl Can’t Help It” (the latter of which was featured in John Waters’ Pink Flamingos). I’m With You is actually Mark Winkler’s second album of Bobby Troup songs. The first, Sings Bobby Troup, came out more than fifteen years ago. Interestingly, Mark Winkler here chooses to include a few of the tracks from that earlier album, such as “Three Bears” and “Hungry Man.” Joining him on the new tracks are Rich Eames on piano, Gabe Davis on bass, Dave Tull on drums, and Grant Geissman on guitar. Those musicians also backed him on his previous release, Eastern Standard Time, which was a joint effort by Mark Winkler and Cheryl Bentyne.

I’m With You opens with a cool rendition of “Route 66,” one of Bobby Troup’s most famous compositions. It has been covered by a tremendous amount of artists with a wide range of styles. This rendition has a wonderful vocal performance by Mark Winkler, with some interesting phrasing (I really like the way he delivers the lines “Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty,” for example). There is also a seriously good instrumental section featuring some excellent work on guitar. That’s followed by a smooth, somewhat cheerful version of “Please Belong To Me.” The way Mark sings it, with an optimistic sound, you feel he will certainly find that right someone. The piano helps to drive the track, and there are also some excellent touches on bass. Then halfway through, we are treated to a delicious lead on saxophone by Ricky Woodard.

“Triskaidekaphobia” is a delight. This rendition is appropriately playful, particularly in Mark’s vocal approach. He is clearly having a great time with this one, and as a result it is a fun track. This track also features a wonderful bass line, and even includes some finger snaps. So there.  People have a lot of fears and phobias, some of them quite strange, including triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13. I think it absurd when hotels and other buildings skip floor 13. All that means is that the fourteenth floor is actually floor 13. Interestingly, this disc has but twelve tracks. Hmm…

“I’m With You,” the disc’s title track, is another fun one. Mark Winkler delivers a lively rendition. I particularly dig the drums on this one. And Jamieson Trotter adds some great stuff on organ. Trotter also arranged this one. “Who needs the Cadillacs/The mink coats, the income tax/But, baby, I’m with you.” “I’m With You” was written by Bobby Troup and Johnny Mercer. Mark Winkler then changes gears with “It Happened Once Before,” a slower, romantic number, Mark Winkler’s passionate vocals supported just by piano. That’s Jon Mayer on piano on this track. “If I were only sure/You’d love me more and more/Not less and less/The way it happened once before.” “Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring” is a pretty number, here Mark’s voice being supported just by guitar. Anthony Wilson plays guitar on this one.

“Hungry Man” is another playful number, featuring an energetic vocal delivery, with Mark Winkler belting out some of the lines. Like “Route 66,” it mentions different cities of this country, but this time each place is mentioned in relation to the specific food you can get there. There is some wonderful work on keys. This is one of the tracks from Mark Winkler’s earlier Bobby Troup tribute album, and the band is made up of Jon Mayer on piano, Kevin Axt on bass, Roy McCurdy on drums, and Bob Sheppard on saxophone. Mark ends this track with the line “Feed me, baby, feed me,” reminding me of the musical version of The Little Shop Of Horrors. As you might guess from the title of “Snootie Little Cutie,” this one is also playful. It features Ann Patterson on flute, plus some great stuff on drums. We then return to food with “Lemon Twist.” Mark delivers another enjoyable vocal performance on this track, and Joe Bagg joins him organ. Mark Ferber plays drums on this one. The disc concludes with another version of “Hungry Man,” this one with different lyrics written by Mark Winkler, this set of lyrics related to Halloween, which is without question the best holiday. So you can add this fun track to your holiday play list. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I got this call from my friend Frankie/Yes, Frankenstein, he sure is cranky/His cafe is gonna close/They say he’s serving toes/I’m not so hungry, man.” It ends with Mark singing, “Don’t feed me, baby, don’t feed me,” which doesn’t remind me of Little Shop Of Horrors at all.

CD Track List
  1. Route 66
  2. Please Belong To Me
  3. Triskaidekaphobia
  4. I’m With You
  5. It Happened Once Before
  6. Three Bears
  7. Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring
  8. Hungry Man
  9. In No Time
  10. Snootie Little Cutie
  11. Lemon Twist
  12. Hungry Man (Halloween Version)
I’m With You was released on August 9, 2019 on Cafe Pacific Records.

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.