Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Warren Storm: “Taking The World, By Storm” (2019) CD Review

Warren “Storm” Schexnider is a wonderful force out of Louisiana, and has been recording excellent music since the 1950s. At age 82, he is still doing what he does best. His new album, Taking The World, By Storm, finds him revisiting some material he recorded earlier in his career, and proving he still has the vocal power and flair to make these songs work. Seriously, there are some fantastic vocal performances on this album. The band backing Warren “Storm” Schexnider includes Eric Adcock on piano, Roddie Romero on electric guitar, Derek Huston on saxophone, Chris French on upright bass, and Gary Usie on drums. There are also a few guest musicians and vocalists on certain tracks.

The album opens with “Long As I Can See The Light,” one of my absolute favorite CCR songs (second in my mind only to “Someday Never Comes”). It’s an interesting choice to open the album, for it has always felt more like a late-night tune to me, something to play toward the end of a night; also, the song has a different feel from most of the rest of the material on this album. Warren Storm delivers a really good version of it, with a heartfelt vocal performance. And I love that moment when the sax comes in.  So nice. And on this track Warren is joined on vocals by none other than John Fogerty, so you know he got it just exactly right. This is something special, no question. He follows that with “Mathilda,” a song written by George Khoury and Huey Thierry, and originally recorded by Cookie And His Cupcakes back in the late 1950s. This new rendition by Warren Storm has a delicious early rock and roll vibe, the piano taking a deservedly prominent place. Marc Broussard joins him on vocals for this one. This track also features some really cool work on slide guitar by guest musician Sonny Landreth.

Warren Storm continues in that general vein with a delicious version of Earl King’s “Lonely Nights,” his vocals sounding so damn good. “If you would only come back home/Let me take you in my arms/Yes, you know I could be so happy/I wouldn’t be so all alone.” I also dig that instrumental section, with the piano again driving things forward. There is a bit of silliness at the end of the track. Then we get a groovy rendition of Fats Domino’s “Let The Four Winds Blow.” It’s always a good time to listen to some Fats Domino tunes, and this version has a slightly relaxed vibe, with that distinct New Orleans feel, and features some nice stuff on sax. Things then turn sweeter with a pretty rendition of Bobby Charles’ “Tennessee Blues,” featuring Beau Thomas on fiddle and Richard Comeaux on pedal steel. This is for me one of the disc’s highlights because of Storm’s emotionally powerful and moving vocal performance. Warren Storm had recorded this one before, releasing it as a single in 1983.

“Mama, Mama, Mama” is a lot of fun. This song is one he released as a single back in 1958, the flip side to “Prisoner’s Song,” and in 1983, coupling it with “Tennessee Blues.” On this new version he is joined on vocals by Yvette Landry, who also produced the album. Landry also wrote the album’s liner notes, explaining how the project came about. In addition, she has written a book titled Taking The World, By Storm: A Conversation With Warren “Storm” Schexnider, The Godfather Of Swamp Pop (the cover of which uses the same photo gracing this album’s cover). I need to pick up a copy of that book. Warren Storm follows “Mama, Mama, Mama” with “In My Moments Of Sorrow,” another tune he had recorded in the late 1950s, using it then as the flip side to “Troubles, Troubles.” This new rendition features Willie “Tee” Trahan on tenor saxophone, and that moment when the saxophone begins its lead is one of my favorite parts of the track. That is followed by “Prisoner’s Song,” an enjoyable tune that should get you swaying, if not dancing.

What a fitting choice to follow “Prisoner’s Song” with a Merle Haggard tune. “My House Of Memories” features another seriously good vocal performance. It is incredible that this guy is 82. This is a song that Warren Storm has recorded before, including it on his Night After Night LP, as well as on the Warren Storm And Bad Weather album At Last.  At the end of this version, he asks “Was that any better?” Indeed! I think this version is better than the previous two. There is something playful and fun about “Troubles, Troubles,” making it another of the disc’s highlights for me. Also, Willie “Tee” Trahan joins him on tenor saxophone on this track. Warren Storm wraps up the disc with “Raining In My Heart,” which features yet another fantastic and moving vocal performance. The first time I put this album on, my girlfriend reacted audibly to the lines “If you would only come back home/There’d be no need for me to cry,” being moved by his delivery just as I was.

CD Track List
  1. Long As I Can See The Light
  2. Mathilda
  3. Lonely Nights
  4. Let The Four Winds Blow
  5. Tennessee Blues
  6. Mama, Mama, Mama
  7. In My Moments Of Sorrow
  8. Prisoner’s Song
  9. My House Of Memories
  10. Troubles, Troubles
  11. Raining In My Heart 
Taking The Word, By Storm is scheduled to be released on December 13, 2019 on APO Records.

Marinho: “Tilde” (2019) CD Review

A couple of months ago I heard the song “Freckles” by Filipa Marinho, and was immediately struck by the honesty and vulnerability of her voice. There was both pain and strength behind that vocal performance, and that song made a home for itself in my head. There is something surprisingly and undeniably catchy about it, particularly in its rhythms. So of course I was eager to hear more from Marinho. Her debut album, Tilde, features some excellent original material, including “Freckles.”

The disc opens, appropriately enough, with “Intro,” a short track that creates a strong atmosphere, from which Marinho’s voice rises in triumph to tell us “There will be no pain at all.” It is a comforting promise, and an intriguing opening. Marinho follows that with “I Give Up And It’s OK,” a title I absolutely love. This one quickly establishes a rather cheerful beat and pop sound. What happens when we realize that our ideal image of ourselves is perhaps far from the reality? “Just don’t know how to give up my ways/And as I try to stand out/I give up and that’s okay.”  Then “Ghost Notes” has more of a gentle folk vibe to start, on acoustic guitar, before moving more into the pop realm, but its own distinct section of that realm, somewhere near that of Aimee Mann. “The things you didn’t say/The notes you didn’t sing/And I was left with all the songs that I wanted to play.” This is a gorgeous and moving song, featuring some excellent lyrics. “All parts of me wanting to love you, they’ve fallen asleep/I’ve fallen asleep/And now dreams are the only place where my feelings survive.” And I love her vocal delivery here. This is one of my favorite tracks.

There is a cool jazzy element to “Not You,” as well as compelling lyrics. Her vocal delivery is interesting, for at times there is a sweet and gentle element to it, an almost ethereal quality, while at other times there is an edge to it, it being more grounded. “And after pain comes clarity/You see, in my all my years/I’ve been collecting fears.” That’s followed by “Window Pain,” the title playing on the homonyms “pane” and “pain.” Pretty work on guitar begins this one. The track then takes on a bright folk-pop sound, with a sort of bouncy rhythm. Here she sings, “I don’t remember feeling any pain,” reminding us of the repeated line from “Intro.” Another line from this song that stands out for me is “That the memory of pain, it can turn into a good time.” Yeah, she certainly has her own distinct style, particularly lyrically, and that is a great part of the appeal of this album and of Marinho as an artist.

“Joni” has a cool folk-rock sound, which feels right for a song inspired by Joni Mitchell. This track features some really good work on drums. That’s followed by “Freckles,” the song that initially excited me about this release, and one that remains one of my personal favorites. It is about accepting life and the changes it takes you through. It reminds me a bit of early Liz Phair (her first couple of albums were so good). This song also provides the album with its title: “And life is like a tilde sign/With ups and downs, not a straight line.” The album then concludes with “Outro.” The first time I saw “Outro” printed on an album was when I was kid, on the live Rolling Stones album Still Life. It struck me as goofy then, and still does. This track has a raw, immediate sound, like Marinho is playing in our living room. Here she revisits the lines from the first track. “There will be no pain at all.”

CD Track List
  1. Intro
  2. I Give Up And It’s OK
  3. Ghost Notes
  4. Not You
  5. Window Pain
  6. Joni
  7. Freckles
  8. Outro
Tilde was released on October 18, 2019 on Street Mission Records.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Rebecca Angel: “Santa Baby” (2019) CD Single Review

Christmas may be the least sexy of all the major holidays, yet there are a few Christmas songs that are undoubtedly sexy. Probably at the top of that short list is “Santa Baby,” a song written by Joan Javits, Philip Springer and Anthony Springer, and originally recorded by Eartha Kitt (a woman so sexy herself that she was cast as Catwoman). “Santa Baby” is also quite playful, which helps place it among the best Christmas songs. Now vocalist Rebecca Angel has chosen it for her new single. I first heard Rebecca Angel when she released another holiday single, “My Favorite Time Of The Year,” back in 2015. That song was written by her father, Dennis Angel, who also played flugelhorn on that track. He joins her again on flugelhorn on this new recording. Also backing Rebecca Angel on her new single are Jason Miles on keys, Jonah Prendergast on guitar, Reggie Washington on bass, and Brian Dunne on drums.

Rebecca Angel delivers an absolutely wonderful rendition of “Santa Baby.” Reggie Washington gets it started on bass, and when the rest of the band kicks in, Rebecca offers a bit of gentle scat before delivering the song’s first line. I love that line, by the way: “Santa baby, slip a sable under the tree for me.” Santa had better hurry if he plans on getting me a fur coat because soon he won’t be able to purchase one here in California. Rebecca’s voice has a sweet element to it, an innocence mixed with some excitement, delivered with an intimacy that is perfect for this song. “Santa Baby, I want a yacht/And really that’s not a lot/I’ve been an angel all year.” Well, Santa can’t argue with that, can he? I appreciate how Rebecca’s last name adds another level of playfulness to that line.

CD Track List
  1. Santa Baby
Santa Baby is scheduled to be released on November 29, 2019 on Timeless Groove Records.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Steven Keene: “By Your Side” (2019) Single Review

Steven Keene is a talented singer and songwriter based in New York. He’s been performing and recording since the early 1990s, putting out albums like No Alternative with material that focuses on the craft of storytelling, certainly one of his strengths. He is soon to release an EP titled It Is What It Is, but is first releasing the tracks as singles. The latest single to be released is “By Your Side,” which he wrote. Joining him on this track are Rich Scannella on drums, Joseph Chiarolanza on bass, Matt O’Ree on guitar, Joseph Napolitano on pedal steel, Arne Wendt on keys, and Layonne Holmes on backing vocals.

“By Your Side” is a beautiful and moving song of lost love. In it, he addresses the person directly in lines like “Didn’t I give all I had to give/Didn’t I love all I could love/And wasn’t I always there by your side?” Steven gives an excellent vocal performance here, the heartache and confusion and longing all present, as he struggles to understand and come to terms with the loss. It is so effective, that his ache becomes our own. This song manages to get inside us, largely because of his vocals, but also because of the work on keys. “And you – is it the same for you/Or have you found someone new?

CD Track List
  1. By Your Side
By Your Side was released on November 8, 2019.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Royal Hounds: "Low Class Songs For High Class People" (2019) CD Review

If you are in the mood for some fun, lively, not-too-serious music played by talented musicians, you should check out The Royal Hounds' new album, Low Class Songs For High Class People. It is full of songs that should make you smile, even laugh, songs you can also dance to. Some of these songs are certainly on the goofy side, and that is just fine with me, particularly these days when reality has turned ugly. But don't worry, there is an intelligence behind this music. These are not dumb songs. Based in Nashville, this group is the trio of Scott Hinds, Matheus Canteri and Scott Billingsley. The disc features mostly original material, the majority of it written by Scott Hinds. There are also some guest musicians on this release, including Rory Hoffman on accordion and organ, Eddie Lange on pedal steel and Robert Gay on trumpet.

"The Walk," the disc's first track, opens with a bang and then very quickly becomes a rather silly tune poking fun at the rock and roll tradition of songs that introduce new dance sensations. These lyrics should give you an idea where these guys are coming from: "You put your left foot forward/Then you follow with the right/You repeat the thing again with all of your might/You can walk to the kitchen/Or walk down the hall/Walk across the dance floor/To lean against the wall." This one makes me laugh out loud, particularly those lines. Yeah, it's a dance song for people who don't or can't dance. I'm curious how the fans approach this one at shows. Do they stop dancing and just walk around? I hope to see this band in order to investigate and report back to you all. Well, "The Walk" is followed by "Whackity Do," and when it opens it seems like another goof on a dance craze. But "Whackity Do" is not a new dance trend. Rather, it seems to be about another of our favorite pastimes, drinking.

My personal favorite track on this album is "The Parthenon," which recreates the temple as a brothel and dance club. And why not? It's populated by "a hundred thousand girls who will be yours 'til dawn/If you last that long." I love this track's vibe. It is ridiculously fun, and it features some totally wonderful work on guitar. Plus, it has a wild and engaging vocal performance, like a carnival barker pumped on some cocaine cocktail. And then like halfway through there is the addition of some delightful backing vocals. And let's not forget the accordion. I love this song. It's followed by cool instrumental tune (well, instrumental except for shouts of "Hey") titled "Pororoca." What is it about those surf instrumentals? Have you ever heard a bad one? Me neither.

Then we're back to goofy material with "Tweakers From Outer Space," about a different sort of cheesy low-budget science fiction creature, described here as having "matted hair and a hungry stare." When Scott Hinds shouts out "Brothers and sisters" toward the end, as the song dives into its silliest, most delightful section, for a moment I'm reminded of that live version of Neil Diamond's "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show" from Hot August Night. But don't worry about that. What you need to worry about are the aliens who are "coming to raid your medicine cabinet" for "anything that just happens to start with the letter P." And, oh man, that section even includes a nod to a Kenny Loggins hit from the 1980s.

"Pizza Party" is a short, enjoyable song about eating pizza. Or could it be a euphemism, what with him saying they'll "pound and pound and pound the dough" and all? This track features more good work on guitar. "I'll ruin your mascara with a squirt of marinara." The Royal Hounds dip more into the country realm with "Road Scholar," the title obviously a play on Rhodes Scholar. It's a song about being a trucker and having intimate and extensive knowledge of the nation's roads. Then "Manteiga Braganca" comes on strong and doesn't let up, at least not for a minute and forty-four seconds. It's a delicious, fiery instrumental number featuring some fantastic guitar work. Short, but oh so good. That's followed by "Herbie The Butterfly," a lively number with some good changes to keep things interesting. This one reminds me of the first time I drove into California, when dozens and dozens of butterflies ended up perishing on the front of my van. There was no way to avoid them. Actually, it's a depressing thought to revisit. Thanks, Hounds.

"Chinese Buffet" is a goofy and enjoyable country number about eating Chinese food. "We can have it all again if we wait about an hour." This one was written by Bill Cabage. The album then ends with a cover of "Ghost Riders In The Sky." On the back of the CD case, it is listed as a bonus track, but once again I argue there can't be a bonus track on an album's initial release. It just doesn't make sense (unless the vinyl release is missing that particular track). Anyway, it's a fun, rockin' rendition that becomes a very cool jam. Again, I love that guitar. That jam leads into part of "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" before returning to "Ghost Riders In The Sky."

CD Track List
  1. The Walk
  2. Whackity Do
  3. The Parthenon
  4. Pororoca
  5. Tweakers From Outer Space
  6. Pizza Party
  7. Road Scholar
  8. Manteiga Braganca
  9. Herbie The Butterfly
  10. Chinese Buffet
  11. Ghost Riders In The Sky
Low Class Songs For High Class People was released on August 2, 2019.

Josh Lederman And The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars at The Plough And Stars, 11-9-19 Concert Review

Josh Lederman is largely responsible for my meeting the Love of my life. He and The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars have had a residency at The Plough And Stars in Cambridge for more than ten years, and at the very beginning of that residency, my brother and I went to see them. We had been big fans of Josh Lederman's previous band, Josh Lederman Y Los Diablos, and were excited to see what sort of joys the new configuration would bring us. Well, that show brought me more than a couple hours of great music. It introduced me to the woman who would change my world for the better. I had invited my friend Margot to that show, and she had invited her friend Nancy, and Nancy had invited her friend Theresa. When I saw Theresa, everything changed. If I hadn't fallen in love with the Josh Lederman Y Los Diablos album It's A Long And Lonely Time Until The Train Will Bring You Home, I wouldn't have been at The Plough And Stars that day to fall in love with Theresa. My brother reminded me of this when he and I went to see Josh Lederman And The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars on November 9th. See, it was my brother that turned me onto Josh Lederman Y Los Diablos in the first place. He's the one who gave me It's A Long And Lonely Time Until The Train Will Bring You Home. So, you know, he's partly responsible too.

I try to see Josh Lederman And The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars every time I visit Boston. It's one of my favorite things to do in that city, even more fun than having lunch at Life Alive or trying on old furs at Buzzy's Bazaar, which I also love to do. I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but the band's lineup changes from show to show, depending on who is available. That keeps things fresh and interesting. For the show on the 9th the band featured acoustic guitar (that's Josh himself, of course), drums, harmonica, accordion, sousaphone and saxophone (and clarinet for certain songs). Because of Mark Earley's presence on harmonica, the group sprinkled in some bluesy numbers. Josh and Mark have their own duo, The Country Pleasures, where they cover a lot of great old blues tunes, and some of that material found its way into the set lists at this show. Songs like "You'd Better Mind," "Cornbread, Peas And Black Molasses," "Sugar Mama," and "Outside Woman Blues" were played during the two sets. Josh also included some songs from the band's two albums, Seven Years A-Roaming ("Pretty Babe") and Seven Shining Stars ("Summer Days," "Will I Miss The City?"). "Summer Days" featured a great lead on saxophone, and "Sugar Mama" featured some wonderful blues clarinet work.

I couldn't help but notice that Josh put his pint on the rail right next to the sign that reads "Please No Drinks On The Rail." Ah, that rebellious rapscallion! At this show he shared vocal duties with a couple other members of the band, including the accordion player, who sang lead on "Diggy Liggy Lo," a song I don't recall hearing the band perform before. And of course all the band members got plenty of opportunities to shine, particularly as they kept things loose, improvising and taking turns at leads like a jazz band. Josh Lederman And The Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars are at The Plough And Stars every other Saturday afternoon from around 4 p.m. to around 6 p.m.  If you live in the Boston area, and have not yet seen them, I highly recommend checking them out. What better way is there to spend a Saturday afternoon than drinking Guinness and enjoying some fun music in a friendly atmosphere? And, hey, you might meet the love of your life.

Here are a few photos from the show:

The Plough And Stars is located at 912 Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Svetlana: "Night At The Movies" (2019) CD Review

It's interesting to me how closely tied music and film often are. Sometimes a song that we'd heard all our lives will be featured in a film and from then on it is difficult to divorce the film's images from the song. I think particularly of "Stuck In The Middle With You" as it was used in Reservoir Dogs and "Without You" in The Rules Of Attraction. And of course films are responsible for bringing us a great number of original songs, including many that are now considered classics. Vocalist Svetlana Shmulyian, on her new album Night At The Movies, performs some of that excellent material, choosing songs from the 1930s all the way up to current cinema.

This wonderful album opens with "Moonlight," a song from the 1995 remake of Sabrina, where it is performed by Sting. Svetlana delivers a pretty rendition featuring a vocal performance that is warm and gentle. This track also contains some really nice work by Chico Pinheiro on guitar. Svetlana follows that with another song from the 1990s, but one with a sound and style that gives it the feel of belonging to an earlier time, which makes sense, as it is from Dick Tracy, which has a 1930s feel. The song, "Sooner Or Later," was written by Stephen Sondheim and originally recorded by Madonna. Svetlana gives us an excellent rendition. I love her seductive, exciting and yet also sweet delivery of lines like "I'm going to love you like nothing you've known." Oh yes! This track features some beautiful work by Sullivan Fortner on piano, particularly during that instrumental section. Svetlana then really goes back to the 1930s for a rendition of "Cheek To Cheek," here presented as a duet with Wycliffe Gordon. Wycliffe has something of a Louis Armstrong style to his voice, so this track reminds me of that great Louis Armstrong/Ella Fitzgerald rendition of this song. This is a cheerful rendition, particularly because of Svetlana's vocal approach, which is joyful and sweet. Yes, life is good. The instrumental section is so upbeat, so positive that it seems to permanently push away the world's troubles. And I absolutely love the work on horns. Wycliffe, in addition to providing vocals, plays trombone on this track.

Svetlana then moves into the 1970s with "Pure Imagination," a song from Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, where it is sung by Gene Wilder. Here it is given a cool rhythm. Rogerio Bocatto plays percussion on this track. Rob Garcia is on drums. "Wanna change the world? There's nothing to it." Well, let's get to it! Svetlana delivers a beautiful, gentle, dreamlike rendition of "Moon River." It is almost like a lullaby, holding us and keeping away the monsters. This track features some pretty and impressive work on guitar by Chico Pinheiro. That's followed by "Happy," a song I only recently heard because of an instrumental version by Wayne Alpern. The original rendition by Pharrell Williams has a catchy, cheerful sound, but is terribly repetitive (I could take only two minutes of it the first time I gave it a go). This rendition by Svetlana is another duet with Wycliffe Gordon, and has a delicious bit of swing to it. These guys are having a good time with this tune, especially John Chin on keys and Rob Garcia on drums. That wonderful instrumental section keeps the track from becoming repetitive and suffering the same failings as the original. I especially love Wycliffe's work on trombone.

"When You Wish Upon A Star" begins with some nice work on piano by Sullivan Fortner. This rendition has a delicious late-night vibe, with Svetlana's vocals supported by piano. There is an almost magical quality to it, making us think perhaps all our dreams will come true. That's followed by "Watch What Happens," a song from The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg. I like it when this one kicks in, taking on an interesting combination of styles, including that cool rhythm. I also love the way that horn rises out of nowhere as if spontaneously bursting into song. The next couple are songs I wasn't really all that familiar with. First we get "Remember Me," a song from the 2017 movie Coco. I haven't seen that movie yet, but this is a rather pretty song, with more nice work on piano. It is also the most recent composition chosen for this release. "I sing a secret song to you/Each night we are apart/Remember me, though I have to travel far/Remember me each time you hear a sad guitar." Irony Of Fate is another film I haven't seen, and on this album Svetlana performs "No One's Home," singing it in Russian.

I love the song "Smile," from the 1936 movie Modern Times. The music was composed by Charlie Chaplin, and the lyrics were added later. This version Svetlana presents as a duet with her daughter, Isabel Braun. It's a rather sweet rendition, and features some good work by Pasquale Grasso on guitar. That's followed by a pleasant, passionate rendition of "It Might Be You," a song from Tootsie, and then Randy Newman's "Almost There," from a movie titled Princess And The Frog (another I haven't seen, and one I have no intention of seeing). Randy Newman was one of the coolest guys around until Disney put a leash on him and had him declawed. But this is a fun number, delivered with joy and cheer, and I love the horns. Wycliffe Gordon joins her once again on trombone. Svetlana wraps things up with a rendition of the beloved "Over The Rainbow," one of the most famous songs written for the movies. She gives us a cool, jazzy version, her vocals supported by Pasquale Grasso on guitar.

CD Track List
  1. Moonlight
  2. Sooner Or Later
  3. Cheek To Cheek
  4. Pure Imagination
  5. Moon River
  6. Happy
  7. When You Wish Upon A Star
  8. Watch What Happens
  9. Remember Me
  10. No One's Home
  11. Smile
  12. It Might Be You
  13. Almost There
  14. Over The Rainbow
Night At The Movies was released on September 20, 2019 on Starr Records.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Jason James: "Seems Like Tears Ago" (2019) CD Review

At a certain point in my life (my late teens, early twenties) I said that I hated country music. It wasn't exactly true. I loved Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and those folks. What I didn't care for was that bland country pop that seemed dominant at the time. That music felt false to me, more of a pose than coming from the heart, and lacking integrity. And so for a while I steered clear of new country music. But fortunately those days are gone, and there is a whole lot of great country music being recorded and released. And some of it has more of a classic style that I've always loved, like Jason James' new album, Seems Like Tears Ago. Featuring all original material, written by Jason James, this album can hold its own alongside the those great country classics. Even the album cover has something of a nostalgic quality, both in the style of printing of his name and in the photo on the back, where he is pictured with stacks of records. Joining Jason James on this release are Cody Braun on fiddle, T Jarrod Bonta on piano, Chris Cook on rubboard, John Evans on electric guitar and jaw harp, Jacob Marchese on standup bass, Geoff Queen on steel guitar and electric guitar, Rich Richards on drums, and Patrick Herzfeld and Sara Stein on backing vocals.

The album kicks off with its title track, and immediately I fall for its classic sound, which feels both familiar and fresh. It is Jason James' voice that really sells this track. It is authentic and true, and so timeless. Hey, honesty never goes out of style. "It killed me to see you go/But you said it had to be so/It seems like tears ago." I also really like the backing vocals, and that sweet fiddle. "You left these arms of mine/You find more comfort in the warmth of the wine." "Seems Like Tears Ago" is followed by "I Miss You After All," a song about pretending to move on after a relationship, one of those perfect topics for a country song. "I even tell myself tomorrow's a brighter day/But every night when the teardrops fall/I can't fool myself/I miss you after all." Still, it is not a depressing song; it has a rather cheerful vibe. And hey, there is something positive about self-awareness, right? This track features some really nice work on steel guitar.

"Move A Little Closer" has a bit more of a rock element, and Jason James employs a different vocal approach here. It's fairly steady and in control. "When I start a-talking, it's best you start a-listening/'Cause honey baby this aint' right/You'd better move a little closer before I say it's over." Even though of course it is the woman who is really in control, as we learn when he sings of sleepless nights and so on (and listen to how his vocal approach changes on those lines, a nice touch). I also love that lead on fiddle halfway through. We then get "We're Gonna Honky Tonk Tonight." Honky tonk as a verb? Well, maybe. This one has that delicious classic style, with that old rhythm and plenty of great stuff on steel guitar, and just a bit of twang to his vocal delivery. There is a sweet and innocent vibe to this one that I appreciate. That's followed by "Achin' Takin' Place," one of those great sad country numbers of deceit and a hurt heart, featuring a moving and effective vocal performance. So good. Plus, I am really fond of that piano work. This is one of my favorite tracks.

When a song opens with the line "Everywhere I go, there you are," it can go one of two ways, right? Either that's a wonderful, beautiful thing, or it is the cause of perpetual heartache and annoyance. Being a country song, you'd likely expect it to be the second. But no, "Simply Divine" is a country love song. "Hand in hand, we walk as one/And it's good to know we'll always be together/Until our days here are done." Ah yes, this is a song that looks right into a partner's eyes and sees a lifetime stretching both into the past and future. A wonderful thing, to be sure, and a beautiful song. Jason James then moves in the other direction with "Coldest Day Of The Year," a song about life after the end of a relationship, with him singing "I never got over her saying goodbye/And every passing day is colder than the last/How I thought with time my heart could heal/As time drags on, I start to fear/Every day she's gone is the coldest day of the year."

The music turns more upbeat with the fun "Cry On The Bayou." It may seem odd to dance around to someone singing, "I'm gonna cry, I'm gonna cry," but this song has that Louisiana thing that always makes life seem like a party. "Now I'm as lonesome as a boy can be/Even my shadow's done run off on me." That's followed by "Foolish Heart," a song of love for someone who isn't good for you. Most of us have experienced that at one time or another. "Foolish heart/Play the part/Of the fool for her/That you will always be." I love those touches on piano. The album then concludes with "Ole Used To Be," which has a relaxed, easygoing sound. "I'm trying to make the best of a bad situation/Though troubles weigh heavy on my mind/An ole used to be has come back to town/And the last few nights you ain't been around." Uh-oh. "I hope your ole used to be is still him, not me."

CD Track List
  1. Seems Like Tears Ago
  2. I Miss You After All
  3. Move A Little Closer
  4. We're Gonna Honky Tonk Tonight
  5. Achin' Takin' Place
  6. Simply Divine
  7. Coldest Day Of The year
  8. Cry On The Bayou
  9. Foolish Heart
  10. Ole Use To Be
Seems Like Tears Ago was released on October 4, 2019 on Melodyville Records.

Jim's Big Ego at Second Friday Coffee House, 11-8-19 Concert Review

Jim's Big Ego performing "International"
It is always a treat when Jim's Big Ego puts on a show. And on November 8th, folks were treated to a double dose of Jim Infantino. On Thursday, November 7th, Jim posted on Facebook that Hannah Siglin, the scheduled opening act, was no longer able to make it, so he'd be opening for himself. Solo Jim opening for Jim's band. This was great news for people like me, who are always wanting more Jim. The venue itself is a church auditorium where they were about to open a production of Newsies, and in fact that production's set was already up, hidden behind the thick burgundy curtain that separated the set from the band. The place had a really good vibe to it, most of the audience seated at tables, with a couple of rows of chairs at the back, close to the merchandise and concession tables. Fellow End Construction member Jon Svetkey runs the concert series there, and there was some talk of Jon performing at least one song with Jim. Well, not so much talk as a request by fans online. Of course, we knew whatever songs were played, the concert was going to be a good time.

Jim's Big Ego did a rather lengthy soundcheck, which ended up being almost a set in itself, and included several songs that were then not performed during the actual show, including a Tom Waits cover. The audience started entering during that song, as it was then 7 p.m., leading Jim to say, "We should do covers now, don't want to give anything away." But they actually followed that with "Hate Street," a song they would end up choosing to close the show. I noticed that it was an older crowd, but then remembered that I'm older now too. So I suppose I was among my own people. When did this happen? Who was responsible? Inquiries will be made, rest assured.

At 7:45 p.m., Jon Svetkey introduced opening act Jim Infantino. Jim then joked, "They only gave me five songs for the opener, so I'm going to choose wisely." He began his set with "Red Motorcycle," a song he wrote with his daughter, then followed it with a song from the early days, "Trust This Face." Thirty years have passed since the first time I saw him perform this one, and the song still makes me laugh. A good deal of the song's enjoyment comes from watching Jim's facial expressions. This song featured a bit of audience participation at the end. That was followed by "Always Thus," with lyrics about a king not deserving to wear the crown. I could guess the name of the person most folks were thinking of while he played it. So the audience burst out laughing when afterward Jim said, "Thank you, that was a song about King Friday." Jim then played "Everybody Gets The Blues," the song that was requested online, the song which during the End Construction days featured a wonderful four-part vocal section. At this show this song featured a soft, gentle, almost delicate delivery. But Jon Svetkey did not join him. Jim then wrapped up his opening set with "Prince Charming," first telling the crowd, "I'm working on a cassette," which once again brought us back to those early days when his releases were available only on tape. The first set ended at 8:14 p.m.

After one of the shortest set breaks I've ever experienced (eight minutes), Jon Svetkey returned to the stage to introduce Jim's Big Ego. Jim then, playing up the opening act angle one more time, said, "Let's hear it for Jim Infantino," adding that the guy was showing some promise. He also, before starting the set's first song, mentioned the stack of napkins on stage. Those were then passed out to the audience as he explained the game for "Napkin Poetry." "If you have a thought, write it down," he said. He also introduced his band, which includes Josh Kantor on keys, Jesse Flack on bass, and Dan Cantor on percussion. Red Sox fans will recognize Josh Kantor as the organist at Fenway. Then the band kicked off the set with "Background Vocals," a song from their 2008 album Free. They followed that with that album's title track, "Free (And On Our Own)," a tune with a sweeter vibe. "I'm lonely but I'm not alone." This version featured some nice stuff on keys. After "The Ballad Of Barry Allen," a song from They're Everywhere, Jim asked that people start passing the napkins toward the stage. Soon there was a hefty stack of thoughts for Jim to sift through and sing. But first he played "In My Cult," the lead-off track from Stay, which was released in 2012. He lost his place for a moment during that song, and someone in the audience shouting something out to him. "Do you know the lyrics?" Jim asked the person. The guy did not, apparently. Jesse Flack used a bow on "In My Cult." After it, Josh told the audience, "We wrote that song to play at Jim's church." He added that he thought they had now outdone themselves by playing it another church that benefits a third church. The concert series at Second Friday Coffee House raises money for various charities each year, and the funds raised at this show were set to benefit another church. "In My Cult" was followed by "Everything Must Go," a song whose joyful vibe always surprises me. After all, this is the one that includes the line, "Yeah, we're all going to die, and we don't know when."

Jim gathered all the napkins from the stage, and the band developed a seriously cool groove while Jim put the napkins in some sort of order. Then, when everything was just right, he began to sing the phrases and lines he found on each napkin, and so the band and audience created a song together. It is interesting to me how themes do emerge from this process, that it doesn't feel entirely random. Partly that is because there are certain notions plaguing our collective consciousness, and so, yes, several of the lines at this show referred to the scoundrel currently occupying the White House and the hope for his impeachment and removal. And partly this is because Jim chooses certain lines to return to throughout the song. And actually, the other band members will latch onto certain phrases and echo them when it seems right. It is a remarkably satisfying experience, as it brings the audience together. And it might surprise you to learn that the song that emerges is quite good. As the song progressed, Jim would let the napkins fall to the stage, and so afterward he said: "The set list is completely covered. I don't know what we're playing." What they chose to play next was "Big Old Dark Green Car," a song from the early days that was revisited on Stay.

Jim's Big Ego has certain songs that always please the crowd, and they followed "Big Old Dark Green Car" with a couple of them. "She's Dead" was the first, and Josh provided some delightful moments on keys that made me laugh. The second was "Stress," which now had a bit of funk to its rhythm. My friend Margot was particularly excited to hear "Stress." Jim then mentioned he wasn't sure how much time he had left in the set, and mused that at some point people will start leaving. "That will be the hint," he said. "But I won't take it." The band then played "The World Of Particulars," which apparently had not been performed by the full band before. It was followed by a really nice rendition of "Los Angeles." Jim read a few sentences from his novel, The Wakeful Wanderer's Guide To New New England & Beyond, while the band provided a little jazzy backing music. "That's how I want to do the whole audio book," he said afterward. The band then went into "You're Delicious," the wonderful zombie love song. Why hasn't The Walking Dead used this song yet? That would certainly help the show avoid getting too stale. Jim's Big Ego wrapped up the set with a rousing rendition of "International" and a reprise of "She's Dead." The encore was "Hate Street." The show ended at 9:46 p.m.

  1. The World Of Particulars
  2. Everything Must Go
  3. Smells Like Teen Spirit/Kumbaya
  4. Slow
  5. Way Down In The Hole
  6. Hate Street
Set I
  1. Red Motorcycle
  2. Trust This Face
  3. Always Thus
  4. Everybody Gets The Blues
  5. Prince Charming
Set II
  1. Background Vocals
  2. Free (And On Our Own)
  3. The Ballad Of Barry Allen
  4. In My Cult
  5. Everything Must Go
  6. Napkin Poetry
  7. Big Old Dark Green Car
  8. She's Dead
  9. Stress
  10. The World Of Particulars
  11. Los Angeles
  12. You're Delicious
  13. International
  14. She's Dead (Reprise)
  1. Hate Street
Here are a few photos from the show:

soundcheck: "The World Of Particulars"
"Red Motorcycle"
"Trust This Face"
"Background Vocals"
"The Ballad Of Barry Allen"
"In My Cult" 
"Napkin Poetry"
Second Friday Coffee House is located at 404 Concord Ave. in Belmont, Massachusetts.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

John Basile: “Silent Night” (2019) CD Review

It’s that time of year again, when department stores assault us with Santa displays, tinsel and “Jingle Bells,” when we must be cheerful or suffer the wrath of the mysteriously appointed holiday angels. It is enough to drive even the sanest of us into fits of rage and despair. But in the middle of the maelstrom, there is some peace to be found. Of the fourteen million new Christmas albums released each holiday season, some are actually quite good. Jazz guitarist John Basile’s new release, Silent Night, can be counted among them. Most of the songs that he chooses to cover are traditional fare, but he delivers good instrumental renditions. And he kindly avoids “Jingle Bells.” He also includes one original tune on this album. It is a solo album, with John Basile not only playing guitar, but also using MIDI guitar technology to fill out the sound. He also did all the arrangements.

The album opens with an interesting version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” the pace just a bit faster than you might be used to. Still, it has a pleasant and fairly mellow vibe, and features some nice guitar playing, particularly when he departs from the regular line of the song. That’s followed by “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” It’s an instrumental version, so it won’t offend those idiots who want to change the song’s lyrics (yes, I’m talking to you, John Legend and Kelly Clarkson, you nincompoops). This version features a pretty introduction before getting into the body of the song. The vocal lines are performed by two guitars speaking to each other in duet. It’s an enjoyable rendition.

We then get the album’s sole original number, “Lulladay,” which eases in, and has a peaceful and somewhat mystic vibe, setting a certain mood. It also features some of my favorite guitar work of the album. John Basile follows that with “Silver Bells,” a song written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. This one moves at a fairly quick clip, and features a rhythm that is unusual for this song. “Silver Bells” is certainly one of the better Christmas songs, and I like this bright and joyous rendition. John Basile also gives us an unusual and pretty version of “Silent Night,” another track that establishes and explores a certain mood. That’s followed by “Toyland,” a song composed by Victor Herbert for the musical Babes In Toyland. John Basile delivers it with a different rhythm than is normally present.

“O Tannenbaum” (here presented as “Oh Tannenbaum”) is another of my favorites. This is a holiday song that I have mostly enjoyed over the years, and this version has a cheerful vibe, the guitar keeping things bright and clear. “What Child Is This?” follows. I’m always tickled when an artist delivers an instrumental rendition of this song and calls it “What Child Is This?” After all, the music is “Greensleeves.” “What Child Is This?” is a hymn set to the music of that song, and so any instrumental version is simply “Greensleeves.” But no matter. I’ve always loved this music, and this rendition is quite good. That’s followed by a more recent piece, “A Child Is Born,” composed by Thad Jones. This track has a pretty sound, with the guitar work at times uplifting.

I’ve said it before, but A Charlie Brown Christmas is absolutely the best television holiday special, and a large part of its appeal is Vince Guaraldi’s music. On this album, John Basile covers “Christmas Time Is Here,” delivering a rendition that has a happier sound than the original. It should fill you with warmth and good cheer and optimism. That’s followed by a really good version of “The First Noel,” which is at its best when it strays from the song’s usual line. The album concludes with “Auld Lang Syne,” because a new year closely follows Christmas. Let’s hope this will be a good year, full of joy and compassion and intelligence.

CD Track List
  1. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  2. Baby It’s Cold Outside
  3. Lulladay
  4. Silver Bells
  5. Silent Night
  6. Toyland
  7. Oh Tannenbaum
  8. What Child Is This?
  9. A Child Is Born
  10. Christmas Time Is Here
  11. The First Noel
  12. Auld Lang Syne
Silent Night was released on October 1, 2019.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Wayne Alpern: “Skeleton” (2019/2020) CD Review

Wayne Alpern is a composer and arranger based in New York. His new release, Skeleton, finds him mostly arranging the material of other composers, including some well-known and beloved pieces such as “Take Five,” “Blue Moon” and “If I Only Had A Brain,” and mixing in more modern tunes too. In fact, there is only one original composition on this disc, which also happens to be one of the best tracks. The group assembled for this album includes Noah Bless, Mike Boschen, Michael Davis, Nick Grinder, Jason Jackson, Matt McDonald and James Rogers on trombone; Sam Hoyt and David Smith on trumpet and flugelhorn; Billy Test on piano; Evan Gregor on bass; and Josh Bailey on drums.

The CD opens with a cover of “Domino,” a song by Jessie J. When the track begins, there is the noise of a crowd, and it seems like a live album, but that background noise soon dies away as the song gets going. This tune is a fun combination of jazz and disco, music to get your toes tapping and your body swaying. I love the way the horns fly over that strong disco bass line, particularly that section in the second half of the track. I hadn’t heard Jessie J’s original rendition before, but I have now, and I certainly prefer this version by Wayne Alpern. Toward the end, we hear the crowd again, which feels odd. That’s followed by a good version of Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology,” which is basically all horns. It has a cool, loose, almost improvised vibe, which gives it a fun feel. There is some nice, unobtrusive drum work below the horns.

The first jazz album I ever owned was The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out, which features that fantastic recording of “Take Five.” It’s probably impossible to beat Dave Brubeck on that tune, but Wayne Alpern’s arrangement here is excellent. The horns have most of the power in this version, driving things upward and outward at times, and there is also plenty of great work on drums. Something I’ve always loved about this tune is that intriguing beat, the room the drummer has to get a bit creative, and Josh Bailey delivers some wonderful stuff here. That’s followed by a completely delightful and unusual take on “Blue Moon.” It feels almost like a totally vocal rendition, except that the voices are horns. Seriously, it’s like an arrangement for an a cappella group. There are even finger snaps at times. I love this.

This group of musicians then delivers a seriously fun and groovy version of “Mercy Mercy Mercy,” a tune written by Joe Zawinul and originally recorded by Cannonball Adderley. I really like this version. Everyone is grooving here, but it is Billy Test’s work on piano that really makes this rendition something special. It has a different ending than usual, surprisingly concluding with drums. Things take a romantic turn with a nice rendition of Frank Loesser’s “I’ve Never Been In Love Before.” Ah yes, this is how I felt when I met the love of my life. I thought I had known love, but it was nothing like this. Things were different, and still are now, ten years later. I’m still in “this helpless haze.” I particularly like the bass on this track. There is also a whimsical character to some of the work of the horns, which I enjoy.

We then get the album’s one original track, and it is an absolute delight. Titled “Blue Bones,” it immediately sets itself apart with its sense of humor and its style. There is something theatrical about it, like it should back a routine by some beloved comedian of a bygone time, or should be featured in a period film. This is one of my personal favorites on this album. It is followed by “Happy,” a song written by Pharrell Williams, and one I was not previously familiar with. Apparently, it was featured in a children’s animated movie. It has a rather cheerful rhythm and vibe, appropriate for its title, and includes a brief bass solo. Wayne Alpern chooses to follow that modern song with Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old Fashioned,” a playful choice, as it begins with the line “I am not such a clever one about the latest fads.” I really like this rendition, its pacing, the way it progresses, and its energy. It has a sudden ending.

Wayne Alpern delivers a sweet and light and cheerful rendition of “At Last.” I’m not sure I’ve ever heard this song approached quite like this before, but it works surprisingly well. It has a rhythm that will likely have you smiling before long, and then the horns at times blast over that. This is a completely enjoyable rendition. “Life is like a song,” indeed! That is followed by another fun track, a goofy and playful take on “If I Only Had A Brain.” What a pleasure it is to listen to this rendition. The disc then takes another unexpected turn, toward the classical, with a track titled “Handle With Care,” music by George Frideric Handel. “I.G.Y.” is a song from Donald Fagen’s first solo album, released in 1982 (following the breakup of Steely Dan). This rendition has something of a reggae rhythm. The album then closes with a sweet rendition of Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring,” featuring the horn section.

CD Track List
  1. Domino
  2. Anthropology
  3. Take Five
  4. Blue Moon
  5. Mercy Mercy Mercy
  6. I’ve Never Been In Love Before
  7. Blue Bones
  8. Happy
  9. I’m Old Fashioned
  10. At Last
  11. If I Only Had A Brain
  12. Handle With Care
  13. I.G.Y.
  14. Joy Spring
Skeleton is scheduled to be released on CD on January 1, 2020. It is available digitally now.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters: “Christmas On A Greyhound Bus” (2019) CD Review

Try as we might to deny it, the holidays are upon us. And so it is time for a new group of Christmas records and CDs to be released. But do not fear, for some of these releases are actually quite good. Such is the case with Christmas On A Greyhound Bus, the new EP from Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters. I was turned onto this band a few years ago, with the release of On The Ropes, an album that featured mostly original material and also an unusual take on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” That album was followed by a self-titled disc in 2017, and then a live album. And now we’re treated to this holiday EP, which features a mix of originals and covers. The band is made up of Amanda Anne Platt on vocals and acoustic guitar; Matthew Smith on pedal steel and electric guitar; Evan Martin on drums, keys and vocals; and Rick Cooper on bass, acoustic guitar and vocals.

One thing I appreciate about this album is the choice of cover material. You’ll find no blasted “Rudolph” or “Jingle Bells” here. The disc opens with “Pretty Paper,” a song written by Willie Nelson and originally recorded by Roy Orbison. Willie Nelson then released his own version, using it as the title track to his 1979 holiday LP. Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters’ rendition has a sweet and gentle country vibe, with some nice touches on pedal steel. What I really love about it, however, is Amanda Anne Platt’s beautiful and heartfelt vocal performance. “There he sits all alone on the sidewalk/Hoping that you won’t pass him by/Should you stop, better not, much too busy/You’re in a hurry, my how time does fly.”

The band follows that with an original number, “Christmas On A Greyhound Bus,” the EP’s title track, written by Amanda Anne Platt. There are few places I can think of that would be worse to spend a holiday, or any day for that matter, than a Greyhound bus. But this is a really good song, about leaving a marriage during the holiday and hitting the road. “Now I’m spending Christmas on a Greyhound bus/Drinking tequila from a paper cup/Put all my money on the sun coming up.” They then change gears with a cover of “Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy,” a tune written by Buck Owens and Don Rich. I’ve been listening to a lot of Buck Owens music lately, what with the release of that ten-disc boxed set The Bakersfield Sound, and I haven’t quite gotten my fill yet. This is a fun, playful number, and Amanda Anne Platt gets the right tone, keeping things a bit loose. There is even a bit of a laugh in her voice at moments, which is perfect.

The band then delivers another original song, “One For The Ages,” a gorgeous and moving song that takes place on Christmas Eve. When people talk about that holiday spirit, this is the kind of thing I imagine. It has a warm and passionate sound. Cuddle up next to the twinkling lights, the fire, or whatever it is that gives you pleasure, that gives you that safe and secure feeling, and listen to this song. Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters conclude the EP with a good rendition of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding,” a song I’ve always associated with Elvis Costello, but which was actually written by Nick Lowe. It is a song that once again feels timely. If you’re not familiar with it, here is a taste of the lyrics: “As I walk on/Through troubled times/You know my spirit gets so downhearted sometimes/Where are the strong?/Who are the trusted?/Where is the harmony?

CD Track List
  1. Pretty Paper
  2. Christmas On A Greyhound Bus
  3. Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy
  4. One For The Ages
  5. (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love And Understanding 
Christmas On A Greyhound Bus is scheduled to be released on November 22, 2019.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Big Beat: “Sounds Good, Feels Good” (2019) CD Review

Big Beat is a big band that incorporates soul and funk into its sound, and into its style, with some incredibly enjoyable results. The group was founded by bassist Charlie Dougherty, saxophone player Phil Engsberg, trombone player Caleb Rumley and pianist Ryan Tomski, and has since grown into a nineteen-piece monster of a band, featuring a whole hell of a lot of horns. These guys have put out a couple of EPs, and now have released their debut full-length album. Titled Sounds Good, Feels Good, this disc features mostly original material, along with a few cool covers. And what an apt album title, for these tracks sound so good and make me feel good too. I’m guessing they’ll have the same effect on most people. Gather some friends, put this album on, and enjoy.

The CD opens with “I Wanna Talk With You,” a delicious, kind of funky dance tune featuring horns and positive vibes. It was written by the band’s vocalist, Allison McKenzie. She sings, “All I really want is to be with you.” Well, all right then! I dig that section with percussion and that horn, reminding me of Honk! Festival back in Boston. This music has that feel, you know, like a celebration of humanity. We could use some sort of celebration these days, right? Things then turn mellower with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Knocks Me Off My Feet,” a soulful pop tune from his Songs In The Key Of Life album. Caleb Rumley did the arrangement for this rendition, which focuses on Allison’s vocal performance and includes some great touches on horns. That’s followed by a cover of The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back.” It’s a good version, with some nice play between Allison’s voice and the horns. My favorite part of this track, however, is that instrumental section in the second half which features some great stuff from the horn section, particularly on saxophone, as well as some excellent work on drums.

“Just Too Much” is a delicious jam to get you on your feet, composed by trombone player Caleb Rumley, who also conducted the band on this release. This is groovy, funky, and a serious amount of fun. Tremendous playing by all musicians, and oh man, that bass is making my world better. Then we get this cool section toward the end that has a looser vibe. This track has some great drumming, even a brief solo at the end, helping to make it one of my personal favorites on this album. I could listen to this all day. Then “It’s Love” begins tentatively, like the song is sneaking in. The first line is, “They say I’m crazy,” and, yeah, that explains the sneaky vibe. This crazy woman is not supposed to be here. But then she tells us, “It’s love.” Maybe, maybe. But maybe a restraining order is necessary. “They say I’m losing it/Just can’t seem to keep my grip.” This track is a cover, written and originally performed by Jill Scott. “I’ll Be Burning For You” follows. The horns are in control at the start of this one, then ease back for the entrance of Allison’s smooth vocals. I dig that section with just vocals and drums; that sort of thing has appealed to me since I was a kid, when pop songs by law had to include such a section. This track was written by Allison McKenzie, and arranged by Charlie Dougherty.

“All The Love” is a mellower, romantic number, also composed by Allison McKenzie. It features some nice work on flute, and builds in energy toward the end. Things then get kind of funky with “A Penny For Your Thoughts,” composed by Phil Engsberg. This track has a loose, kind of playful style, like it’s ready to try different avenues, and it features more great drumming, which I love. And then at a certain point in the second half it starts to rock, to really come together and move forward with a wonderful force. It does then relax again a bit as the track goes in another direction. The album closes with “Miss America,” a song about the opposing ways we feel currently about the country, and an undeniable need for change. I like the comparison of a certain segment of the population with vultures. Allison McKenzie wrote this song. “And I don’t know what to say/I don’t even know how to change it,” she sings at one point, voicing the frustration so many of us feel these days. But the song is positive, optimistic: “America, you’re beautiful/You’ve got work to do.”

CD Track List
  1. I Wanna Talk With You
  2. Knocks Me Off My Feet
  3. I Want You Back
  4. Just Too Much
  5. It’s Love
  6. I’ll Be Burning For You
  7. All The Love
  8. A Penny For Your Thoughts
  9. Miss America 
Sounds Good, Feels Good was released on September 27, 2019.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Mike Zito And Friends: “Rock ‘n’ Roll: A Tribute To Chuck Berry” (2019) CD Review

Sometimes I forget just how many great songs Chuck Berry was responsible for. But blues guitarist Mike Zito is here to remind us with his new album, Rock ‘n’ Roll: A Tribute To Chuck Berry, which features twenty famous songs that Chuck Berry wrote (with one exception). Mike Zito, while playing guitar himself on every track, is also joined by guest guitarists on each song. Folks like Robben Ford, Luther Dickinson and Tommy Castro lend their talents to this project. The band backing Mike Zito includes Matthew Johnson on drums, percussion and vocals; Terry Dry on bass, percussion and vocals; and Lewis Stephens on piano and organ. Here is a chance to get reacquainted with some fantastic songs.

Interestingly, the album opens with the song that Chuck Berry did not write, “St. Louis Blues,” an older song that was composed by William C. Handy. This is a song that Chuck Berry included on his 1965 LP Chuck Berry In London. Here Chuck Berry’s grandson Charlie Berry III joins Mike Zito on guitar, which is cool, a great way to start this disc. That’s followed by a lively and delicious rendition of “Rock And Roll Music” that features Joanna Connor on guitar. She has a new album coming out herself, and Mike Zito is a guest on that release. Man, “Rock And Roll Music” is a whole lot of fun, and I’m having a good time revisiting it. We then get “Johnny B. Goode,” one of Chuck Berry’s most famous songs, one the Grateful Dead used to cover fairly often. On this version, Walter Trout joins on guitar, delivering some spirited playing, particularly during that instrumental section. Things are seriously rocking at this point.

Chuck Berry is known for being a pioneer of rock and roll, but he also gave us some fantastic blues tunes. “Wee Wee Hours” is one of those blues tracks, and here Joe Bonamassa joins Mike Zito for a powerful rendition driven by their guitars. These guys seriously jam on this one, and it’s great. That’s followed by the always-fun “Memphis, Tennessee” (here titled “Memphis”) with Anders Osborne. I still remember the first time I heard this song when I was a kid, and being surprised by the song’s final lines. It’s one of Chuck Berry’s best, and this version is really good. We get another tune from Chuck Berry In London, “I Want To Be Your Driver,” featuring Ryan Perry. And then Robben Ford joins Mike Zito for “You Never Can Tell,” a song that is sometimes listed as “C’est La Vie,” a tune that regained popularity after it was featured in the film Pulp Fiction (who doesn’t love that dance scene?). This track is certainly one of the highlights of this release. In addition to some wonderful work on guitar, it features some delicious stuff on keys.

Eric Gales joins Mike Zito for a dynamic rendition of “Back In The USA.” These days you don’t hear a lot of folks saying “I’m so glad I’m living in the USA,” but this song will take you back to the days when it made some sense to say that. That’s followed by “No Particular Place To Go,” one of my favorite Chuck Berry songs. This rendition features Jeremiah Johnson on guitar, and is a lot of fun. Also fun is this version of “Too Much Monkey Business,” which features Luther Dickinson. It is another of the disc’s highlights, and is one to get you dancing and bopping, wherever you may be. I dig the playful vocal delivery. Things then slow down just a bit for a cool version of “Havana Moon,” with Sonny Landreth on guitar.

“Promised Land” is another song that I saw the Grateful Dead perform several times. This is a great, solid rock and roll tune, and this version moves along at a perfect clip. Tinsley Ellis joins Mike Zito for this one, and they both are clearly having a good time with it, and I’d be shocked if anyone listening didn’t also have a good time. That’s followed by “Down Bound Train,” one of Chuck Berry’s coolest songs. Alex Skolnick joins Mike Zito on this bluesy version. Then Richard Fortus joins Zito for “Maybellene,” which was Chuck Berry’s first single and another of his best. This version rocks and features plenty of good stuff on guitar. That’s followed by another great rock and roll song, “School Days,” featuring Ally Venable. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard this one performed as a duet before, but it totally works. “Drop the coin right into the slot/You gotta hear something that’s really hot/With the one you love, you’re making romance/All day long, you’re wanting to dance/Feeling the music from head to toe/Round and round and round we go.”

Both Kirk Fletcher and Josh Smith join Mike Zito for a good rendition of “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.” Then Tommy Castro performs on a groovin’ version of “Reelin’ And Rockin’.” That’s followed by “Let It Rock,” featuring Jimmy Vivino. And, hell yeah, this version certainly does rock. Albert Castiglia plays on “Thirty Days,” another of Chuck Berry’s best songs. This track is a hell of a lot of fun, another of the disc’s highlights. They really let loose here. The album concludes with Chuck Berry’s silliest and most suggestive song, “My Ding-A-Ling,” this rendition featuring Kid Andersen. What an interesting choice to wrap things up. I love it. “Once I was swimmin' across Turtle Creek/Man, them snappers all around my feet/Sure was hard swimmin' across that thing/With both of my hands holding my ding-a-ling-a-ling.”

CD Track List
  1. St. Louis Blues
  2. Rock And Roll Music
  3. Johnny B. Goode
  4. Wee Wee Hours
  5. Memphis
  6. I Want To Be Your driver
  7. You Never Can Tell
  8. Back In The USA
  9. No Particular Place To Go
  10. Too Much Monkey Business
  11. Havana Moon
  12. Promised Land
  13. Down Bound Train
  14. Maybellene
  15. School Days
  16. Brown Eyed Handsome Man
  17. Reelin’ And Rockin’
  18. Let It Rock
  19. Thirty Days
  20. My Ding-A-Ling
Rock ‘n’ Roll: A Tribute To Chuck Berry was released on November 1, 2019 on Ruf Records.