Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Drunken Hearts: “Wheels Of The City” (2019) CD Review

The Drunken Hearts are based in Colorado, creating music that is a combination of rock, country and folk, with some excellent and captivating vocal work. The band’s latest release, Wheels Of The City, features original material. It was produced by Tim Carbone, who also plays on several tracks. The band is made up of Andrew McConathy on guitar and vocals, Cody Russell on steel and dobro, Jon McCartan on bass, Kory Montgomery on guitar and vocals, and Alex Johnson on drums.

The album gets off to an excellent start with “Fire In A House,” which has kind of an eerie and odd opening, with some unusual percussion and a wind blowing in from some dark place. But once the vocals begin, the song sort of stabilizes. The first line “Love is just a wrecking ball” is striking. But it is that voice which really grabs me. There is something both raw and experienced about that voice, a voice that is emotionally fueled and ready to tear things apart. “Fire In A House” is followed by “Shining Eyes,” which begins like a folk tune with a steady beat. But then that beat grows in power, and when the song kicks in, there is something of an urgency to its sound and vibe. It becomes more of a rock song. There are interesting touches on guitar throughout the track. “You were coming back/And I was on my knees/Across the railroad track/And behind the old smokestack.”

“Alive ‘N’ Free” has more of a sweet folk vibe. “Fly across the stars/Alive and free/Fly across the stars, you and me.” That sounds so appealing, particularly these days when people are turning ugly, and we look for escape everywhere. And “When the world shows you traces of who you want to be” is an excellent line. Tim Carbone adds some nice work on violin. Interestingly, this song changes halfway through, taking us on a more serious journey. “I’ll hold you in my arms as we crash into the deep blue sea/Into eternity.” Toward the end, this track returns to that folk sound. “Sometimes this world shows you how to be free/Alive and free.” That’s followed by “Run It All Together,” this one having a bright, upbeat country feel, and featuring some nice work on steel guitar. “I never saw you go/And I know that’ll haunt me forever/I tried to grow/But I never meant to grow away from you.” Then “Unrest” comes on strong, with some good work from Tim Carbone on piano. Its opening line “Just getting up is getting me down” certainly stands out, and I think is one that a lot of folks will be able to relate to. The song ends with the line “It’s a long, long road ahead, lord, but all I want is sleep.” Then the first word of the next song, “Wheels Of The City,” the album’s title track, is “Asleep,” which is interesting. I love when the order of an album’s tracks presents a certain flow, be it thematically or musically. And of course these lines really stand out: “Let’s build a bridge and not a wall/Something to bind us and not divide us all.” This track also features a horn section, a wonderful addition that gives the song a brighter sound. Sam Hoyt is on trumpet, Sam Burris is on trombone, John Devivo is on French horn, and Jay Rattman, who is responsible for the arrangement, plays saxophone, flute and clarinet.

Jay Rattman is also responsible for arranging the string section on “Passchendaele.” Yes, halfway through this track there is suddenly a gorgeous section with a string quartet, a delightful surprise. Their sound is uplifting and comforting. Stephanie Bell is on violin, Chris Souza is on violin, Marsha Cahn is on viola, and David Moulton is on cello. Sheryl Renee provides some pretty backing vocals. That’s followed by “Two Hearts (On A Limb),” a song that begins with a good, positive groove. “The tears we’re crying are wearing thin/I miss the feeling of my hands on your skin.” This one too takes an interesting turn. So many of these tracks hold surprises like that. Then “In The Middle” has a funky groove that I love. “Here we are, dancing in the middle, spinning around like fools.” This track also features some nice work on guitar. That’s followed by “Dream Of Waiting,” which establishes an easygoing vibe before the vocals come in like a minute into it. “In a world full of traffic/Cars all over the road/Flashing lights, the reds and blues/There’s no place we can go” are lines that are particularly meaningful for those of us in Los Angeles. And “Maybe someday I’ll finish one thing that I started” is a line that should pack an emotional punch for a lot of folks, a line many of us can relate to. The album then ends with an odd track, “The Cave.” This one features a new voice, that of Tim Carbone, delivering the lyrics as spoken word. It then turns into an instrumental track, with a harder edge and elements of prog rock. This track doesn’t really fit with the rest of the album, and is the only track I don’t care for.

CD Track List
  1. Fire In A House
  2. Shining Eyes
  3. Alive ‘N’ Free
  4. Run It All Together
  5. Unrest
  6. Wheels Of The City
  7. Passchendaele
  8. Two Hearts (On A Limb)
  9. In The Middle
  10. Dream Of Waiting
  11. The Cave 
Wheels Of The City was released on October 18, 2019.

Ted Russell Kamp: “Walkin’ Shoes” (2019) CD Review

I’ve been enjoying Ted Russell Kamp’s music for several years, both his solo work and those times when he’s backed other artists. I’ve had the chance to see him sit in with other musicians several times, and I am always excited to see him perform. He manages to adapt his playing to many different styles of music, and it is sometimes a surprise to see him jamming with one artist or another. But it is his own material that I enjoy most. In addition to being a fine musician and an engaging vocalist, he is a talented songwriter. His 2019 release, Walkin’ Shoes, contains all original material, written or co-written by Ted Russell Kamp. Known perhaps most for his bass playing, he has mastered quite a few instruments, and on this release plays bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, organ, piano, trumpet, trombone and percussion. And on this disc he has some special guests sitting in with him, including Sam Morrow and Jaime Wyatt.

The album opens with “Home Away From Home,” and right away Ted Russell Kamp delivers music to make us feel good. “Every place I go is a home away from home,” he sings here. How is that for a positive attitude? The track is a fun, rockin’ country number, and it sounds like the band is having a good time. John Schreffler is on guitar, Dan Wistrom is on guitar, Jamie Douglass is on drums, and Brian Whelan provides backing vocals. “I just hope it makes you smile every time you hear my name.” I’ll tell you what, I smile whenever I see his name on the bill. The lyrics of this song provide the album with its title. The fun continues with “Paid By The Mile.” Sam Morrow, who co-wrote the song, joins him on this one, adding to the energy of the track. Both Brian Whelan and Danny Echevarria play guitar on this one. “I’d take my time/And I’d go in style/If I only got paid by the mile.”

“This Old Guitar” has a sweet country sound, and features some nice work by Dan Wistrom on pedal steel. By the way, this is an original song, written by Ted Russell Kamp and Ed Tree, not to be confused with the John Denver song of the same name. “She knows just what I’m thinking/And she plays just what I feel/It’s like there is a part of me that’s made of wood and steel.” Then “We Don’t Have To Be Alone” has more of a rock vibe. “Don’t fight it/Don’t try to hide it/And don’t try to prove me wrong/Believe me/It could be this easy/We don’t have to be alone.” Rich McCulley, who co-wrote the song, plays electric guitar on this one. Ted Russell Kamp then returns to a sweeter vibe with “Heart Under Pressure.” This one has a pleasant sound, a sound that lifts my spirits, eases my mind. Sometimes music is able to comfort you like a trusted friend, and Ted Russell Kamp is particularly good at achieving that vibe, that feel. “You got a weight on your shoulder/Trouble on your mind/And the nights are getting colder/And you’re hoping now’s your time.” Jaime Wyatt joins Ted Russell Kamp on vocals. “And you never felt as close/As close as you do now/To being what it is you want to be.” This is one of my personal favorites. It was written by Ted Russell Kamp and Mark Webb.

Then “Tail Light Shine” has more attitude, coming on strong with a good, slow thumping beat. This is a goodbye-and-good-riddance type of song, sounding like flipping someone off in your rear view mirror. “And you can watch my tail light shine.” Oh yes, this sort of song is appreciated. But I think his mellower, more introspective numbers I appreciate even more. “Highway Whisper” is one of my favorites, and this one is a solo effort, just Ted Russell Kamp on vocals and bass, like on his album The Low And Lonesome Sound. “If you listen, you can hear it in the distance/That highway whisper all around/Now the cars, they don’t know just where they’re going/And the stars don’t need to know they light the way.” This is one I plan on adding to my road trip play list; it’s a perfect late-night driving song. “Won’t you whisper so I know I’m not alone.”

The first line of “Get Off The Grid” is “Life keeps getting crazier.” So true. This is such an appealing track, both for what it says and for its delightful energy. I particularly dig the work on keys. “The president is lying through his teeth, and we all know/The anchor man just toes the party line/It’s all a show.” Yes, we all know, but the imbeciles who support him just don’t care. Horrible people, every last one of them. Yes, this is another of my favorite tracks; it’s a song we can relate to and appreciate. Who hasn’t toyed with the idea of getting off the grid? Who hasn’t made himself or herself a promise to do it someday? This song is also fun, a track you can dance to, while making your decision. That’s followed by “Written In Stone,” which has more of a rock vibe. “People like to talk, and no one likes to listen/After all the chatter, there is still something missing/Meaning gets lost when the words get scattered.” Emily Zuzik joins Ted Russell Kamp on vocals. Then both Emily Zuzik and Jaime Wyatt sing on “Freeway Mona Lisa,” a song co-written by Eric de Vries. And Andi Zack-Johnson joins him on “Just About Time For A Heartache.” “Oh, waiting on a broken heart is like waiting on the world to fall apart.”

Then he gives us “Less Thinkin’, More Drinkin’,” a New Orleans-flavored number about drinking, something we’ve all been doing a lot of since November of 2016. As you might guess, this is a fun track, and it features horns. It also features John Schreffler on vocals, and Eric Heywood on pedal steel. “With a little bit of liquor/I forget you much quicker/And it all goes down just fine/Less thinkin’, more drinkin’/I’m gonna get you off my mind.” Yeah, we could dedicate that one to all the members of a certain political party here in the U.S., one that is taking up too much of our thoughts. The disc then concludes with another high-energy tune, “Roll On Through The Night,” a song about hitting the road, moving on, even when you’re not sure where you’re going. It is another of the disc’s many highlights. “I can’t find the truth, I can’t shake these voices/It’s time to make some better choices.” By the way, the disc’s liner notes refer to a mysterious fourteenth track, but it’s not here.

CD Track List
  1. Home Away From Home
  2. Paid By The Mile
  3. This Old Guitar
  4. We Don’t Have To Be Alone
  5. Heart Under Pressure
  6. Tail Light Shine
  7. Highway Whisper
  8. Get Off The Grid
  9. Written In Stone
  10. Freeway Mona Lisa
  11. Just About Time For A Heartache
  12. Less Thinkin’, More Drinkin’
  13. Roll On Through The Night

Walkin’ Shoes was released on March 15, 2019.

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Nine Seas: “Dream Of Me” (2020) CD Review

Singers and songwriters Liz Tormes and Fiona McBain are the duo The Nine Seas. These two extraordinary voices have been performing together for many years in the group The Big Bright, and are now releasing their first album as The Nine Seas. Titled Dream Of Me, this album is a gorgeous collection of engaging and moving songs. It was produced by The Nine Seas with Jim White, who also joins them on most of the tracks.

The album opens with an original song, “Am I Still Your Demon?” That is probably my favorite song title so far this year, and it’s an excellent song, featuring beautiful harmonies and a sweet folk sound. Then the horns come as a delightful surprise, adding another layer to the sound. That’s J. Walter Hawkes on trombone. The song is addressed to an ex-boyfriend. “When years have passed/And it’s too late/I know you so well/You’ll blame it all on fate.” That’s followed by “I Never Will Marry,” a traditional song that has been covered by Linda Ronstadt and Joan Baez, among others, with variations on the lyrics. This rendition by The Nine Seas is gorgeous, their voices rises gloriously and mournfully above that soft strumming on acoustic guitar. There is something angelic about their harmonies, voices coming to you from above, but gently, perhaps to help, perhaps to lead you to the beyond. “She plunged her fair body/In the water so deep/Closed her pretty blue eyes/Forever to sleep.” Yes, there is death here, but it is like a drifting away. And when death comes, I hope it comes with voices and sounds like these. Jim White plays banjo, and Glenn Patscha plays piano on this track. The Nine Seas then turn to folk gospel with a cover of “Trials, Troubles, Tribulations,” a song written by Estil C. Ball. Again, they deliver a beautiful rendition. I love the work on banjo and percussion, both by Jim White.

They then return to original material with “Go To Sleep,” written by Liz Tormes. This one has a friendly, almost magical, folk sound, and sounds like a sort of lullaby, a song offering advice. “Don’t let the years pass you by.” Yet it comes from a serious and darker place, a place of death and ghosts. But it ultimately has a comforting and uplifting vibe, almost like some playful sprites have joined them to guide us all on. That’s followed by “I Really Want You,” a song written by Fiona McBain and Jeff Riedel, a gorgeously sad song, a sort of ethereal waltz that oddly reminds me just a bit of “He Needs Me,” that beautiful song from Popeye (which was also used in Punch-Drunk Love). “So tell me that this heart is mendable/That the love can be dependable/I really want you.”

The Nine Seas deliver an unusual and engaging rendition of Charlie Rich’s “Midnight Blues,” slowing it down a bit and giving it an interesting and kind of haunting sound, part blues and part folk.  I just can’t help but feel a little insane/Every time I hear you call my name/Been blaming you for all the bad things I’ve done/Still, I must admit every once in a while it was fun.” It is a truly interesting track, and something about it keeps me on edge, though their voices have a soothing quality. Oliver de la Celle adds some nice work on electric guitar. That’s followed by a traditional song, “Down In The Willow Garden.” This one has a beautifully simple sound, so that the focus is squarely on their voices. It is kind of eerie hearing these gorgeous voices singing of committing murder. Glenn Patscha plays pump organ on this track, and Tony Leone is on drums. Fiona McBain plays piano on “Where He Rests,” a beautiful and moving song she also composed. It is a song of the tragedy of September 11th, 2001. There are some heartbreaking lines in this song, such as “Some said goodbye/I know that he would have tried” and “But never again will he whisper my name/No, never again can I call him to save me.”

They then offer a cover of “Midnight,” a song written by Boudleaux Bryant and Chet Atkins, and recorded by Red Foley. This is the second song on the album with “Midnight” in its title, a time that conjures the darkest and loneliest thoughts. This song certainly creates a sense of loneliness, even desolation, though it has also a sweet quality here. One thing I love about this album is its combination of bright and dark sounds and moods. “Midnight/What a lonely time to weep/I ought to know/Midnight/I should have been fast asleep/Hours ago/Still, I’m crying/I’m crying ‘cause I miss you so.” That’s followed by a cover of “Sea Of Heartbreak,” a song written by Hal David and Paul Hampton, and recorded by Don Gibson. They put their own spin on this famous song, by having their voices accompanied by just percussion, including hand claps. This gives it something of a playful quality, and seems to urge us to sing along on the chorus.

The album then concludes with different renditions of two earlier tracks – “Trials, Troubles, Tribulations” and “Midnight Blues.” Both tracks feature just guitar and their vocals. In this rendition of “Trials, Troubles, Tribulations,” the gospel element seems stronger. But that might be because it reminds me of a singer/guitarist who used to perform at the church I went to when I was growing up. Both Liz and Fiona play acoustic guitar on this track. Then on “Midnight Blues,” Fiona plays electric guitar. Both tracks are wonderful, but I especially like this rendition of “Midnight Blues.”

CD Track List
  1. Am I Still Your Demon?
  2. I Never Will Marry
  3. Trials, Troubles, Tribulations
  4. Go To Sleep
  5. I Really Want You
  6. Midnight Blues
  7. Down In The Willow Garden
  8. Where He Rests
  9. Midnight
  10. Sea Of Heartbreak
  11. Trials, Troubles, Tribulations
  12. Midnight Blues
Dream Of Me is scheduled to be released on April 3, 2020.

Strangely Attractive at Mal’s Bar, 2-20-20 Concert Review

Strangely Attractive performing "Seven Nation Army"
It had been a long time since I’d last seen Strangely Attractive, so long in fact that the band is now almost entirely different. Gone is vocalist Jupiter Amaya, now replaced by Bella Luna. Gone, in fact, are all the old members with the exception of Chris Gongora on bass. Chris, of course, was always the center of the band. And now he’s incorporated his passion for magic into the band’s live performances. Strangely Attractive, in its new configuration, plays at Mal’s Bar once a month, generally on the third Thursday, and features not only music, but magicians and burlesque dancers. It makes for a seriously enjoyable time.

Last night, after a reunion set by Bullied By Strings, Strangely Attractive took the stage at 9:35 p.m. “We are Strangely Attractive, and this is what we do,” Bella said as they got ready to start. After a moment, since things weren’t quite set yet, she added, “We drink whiskey and we stall, that’s what we do,” which got a laugh from the crowd. “By the way, this is my birthday show,” she then announced. “I turned 42 last week, which means I am now the answer to everything in the universe.” Yup, a little Douglas Adams reference. Everything was ready then, and they got things hopping with “No Plan B,” a fun rock tune with a seriously cool bass line. This is a tune from the old days, one that Jupiter used to sing with the band. It speeds up at the end with a delicious punk energy.

Chris then started the bass line of “Seven Nation Army,” while a tap dancer set up her board on the stage. The band then played the song, and she did a tap dancing routine, adding another layer of percussion to it. “Did you guys notice that the more you clapped, the more clothes she took off?” Bella asked the crowd afterward. “That’s going to come in handy later. Just remember that.” She then left the stage, and Christopher T. Magician took over, backed by bass and drums. And, yeah, in his wild routine he ended up taking off more clothes than the tap dancer. In fact, he got completely naked, as the King of Hearts card overpowered the room, and was even printed on his ass cheeks. “That just happened,” Bella remarked as he left the stage. The band then did a cover of “Purple Haze,” while a burlesque dancer named Brandy Snifter performed, dressed in purple (well, at least at the start of the song). As Bella sang the line “Help me, help me,” Brandy mouthed the words to Kristen, who was standing off to the side of the stage, asking for her help in taking off her clothes, a nice and humorous touch.

David Rodgers then delivered a good drum solo, accompanied by Dana Benedict, the tap dancer, the two engaging in a percussion duet. Yeah, it was pretty damn cool. David played not only his kit, but also the wall, and then joined the dancer, playing on her board. The band followed that with “Extraordinary,” an original number that seriously rocks. Christopher T. Magician joined them partway through the song, the band jamming as he performed a crazy bit that featured a volunteer from the audience, a dime and a roll of toilet paper. The band then finished the song when he was done. A second burlesque dancer joined the band, the adorable Ruby Champagne, for the song “Lasso The Moon,” featuring perhaps the best vocal performance of the set. Brandy Snifter then joined the band on backing vocals for the closing number, a song that Bella called a guilty pleasure. It was one I didn’t recognize, and I had to ask another guy what the name of it was. It was called “Into The Unknown,” and is a song from Frozen II (which explains why I had never heard it before). The set ended at 10:23 p.m.

"No Plan B"
"Seven Nation Army"
drum solo
drum solo
the performers after the show
Mal’s Bar is located at 2331 S. Hill St., in Los Angeles, California.

Bullied By Strings at Mal’s Bar, 2-20-20 Concert Review

Bullied By Strings performing "Reach Out"
Eight years had passed since Bullied By Strings last performed, and so it came as a fantastic surprise when the notice went up that they’d be doing a reunion show. Of course, with Gabe and Kristen being married, it probably wasn’t all that difficult to get them together. Still, these songs hadn’t been performed in nearly a decade, songs I missed hearing. These guys could always be counted on to provide an excellent, powerful, high-energy show, and I was excited about this concert from the moment it was announced. However, the show almost didn’t happen. Gabriel “Front Row” Rowland was suffering from vertigo, and there was a moment when they thought they’d have to cancel. But, not surprisingly, he decided to power through. This is, after all, the guy who once continued playing while his head was bleeding so much that blood was dripping onto his snare drum.

They took the stage at Mal’s Bar at 8:37 p.m. (which had to be the absolute earliest this band ever played – I remember them starting a show at The Landing Party at 2:30 a.m., which seemed about right). The “Bullied By Strings” light revolved in Gabriel's kick drum, and seeing it told me for sure we were back in Bullied land. They got the show off to a great start with “L.A. Me.” And that energy, that magic, that groove were all present straight away. It was as if no time had passed whatsoever. That wild beast had been lurking just below the surface, waiting for the moment when it would be summoned. And when it was finally summoned, it burst up with a wonderful force to take over once again, taking possession of not only the musicians but the audience. And what a great tune to open the show, to get us all moving. That rhythm is so damn cool.  Bullied By Strings, eight and a half years later,” Kristen said after that first song. Clearly, she could sense that everything was just exactly right, that the passage of time had diminished nothing. They then went straight into “Big Mouth.” “Oh man, we tell the truth, we tell the truth, we tell the truth.” Oh yes, indeed!

“Line Of Fire” has a mean, thumping groove, and packs an even harder punch than it did eight years ago, Kristen belting out the lyrics. Then “Georgee” featured some cool percussion, with Kristen grooving to it. That was immediately followed by a slower number, “Wrong Way,” a song that seems to stalk you in the dark, creeping up on you. Then “What If I Like It” exploded gloriously with a great dance beat. This was always one of my favorites, and it still has that strong effect, throwing my body into motion, getting me to shout out the chorus. Ah, it is so fucking good to hear these songs again, to let them take over. That was followed by “Unnecessarily Rude,” with Kristen prowling about the stage at the beginning, ready to attack. And then suddenly, bam, she explodes into the chorus. Fantastic! “Why don’t you dry up and blow away/Thank you very much and have a nice day.” After the short “Kapt Kirk,” they launched into “Reach Out,” another powerful and totally enjoyable number. And, man, Kristen had certainly lost none of her acrobatic talent in the intervening years. We were then caught off guard when, after that song, they left the stage. Their set was so short, less than thirty minutes. I was craving more.

Gabe said afterward that the strobe lights got to him at one point during their set, but we in the audience had no idea because there was no sign of trouble. These guys delivered on every song. Though it was a short set, it was excellent. Now that they’ve resurrected these songs, will another show be on the horizon? Gabe at first said it was likely a one-time thing, but Kristen later expressed the desire to do a few more shows. I can’t imagine they could keep this beast silent for very long, not after it was let loose like that last night.

Set List
  1. L.A. Me
  2. Big Mouth
  3. Line Of Fire
  4. Georgee
  5. Wrong Way
  6. What If I Like It
  7. Unnecessarily Rude
  8. Kapt Kirk
  9. Reach Out
"L.A. Me"
"Big Mouth"
"Line Of Fire"
"Wrong Way"
"Wrong Way"
"Reach Out"

Mal’s Bar is located at 2331 S. Hill St., in Los Angeles, California.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Tami Neilson: “Chickaboom!” (2020) CD Review

Tami Neilson is a glorious force on the music scene, with a voice that seems able to do just about anything. You can hear that range, that power on her new release, Chickaboom! This disc features all original material, most of it written or co-written by Tami Neilson, a lot of it dealing in one way or another with the profession of a musician. Joining her on this release are Jay Neilson on rhythm guitar and bass, Delaney Davidson on lead guitar, and Joe McCallum on drums, along with a few special guests on certain tracks. We are in need of some kick-ass female energy in this country, and Tami Neilson is here to provide it.

This disc opens with “Call Your Mama,” which quickly establishes a good, mean groove, preparing us for Tami Neilson’s regal entrance. Her voice has power, authority and attitude, a voice to whip us into shape, a voice to make eager masochists of us all. “I don’t got time to give my time of day.” She is clearly having a good time, and so are we. “Head in the clouds like you’re some kind of king.” That’s followed by “Hey, Bus Driver!” a fun tune that pops and swings. It’s a song of being a musician out on the road, and a song of heading home, missing that special someone. “Fall asleep looking at your picture/Wake up saying your name/Wringing tears out of my pillow, go, go going insane.” It’s a fun tune, but things get even better with “Ten Tonne Truck.” This one has a deliciously raw sound, a back porch sound, but where the porch is attached to a house of dancing demons. This one too is related to working as a musician. “Drove with nothin’ but our clothes and guitars/Right down to Nashville/Gonna be big stars.” Oh man, I love her delivery here, which is playful and yet also commanding. And that “ha ha ha ha” is great, full of confidence and somewhat demented. “When the pie gets bigger, everybody wants a slice/What I been cookin’ since back in ’89.” This track is a total delight.

“Queenie Queenie” is an interesting track, with the vocals backed by percussion. It’s an original tune, but it sounds like some classic childhood rhyme sung on dirt playgrounds, that sense helped by a couple of kids on backing vocals. It’s actually very cool. This one is also about being a musician: “Mama’s gotta hustle, do another show/Cause they won’t play a lady-o on country radio.” That’s followed by “You Were Mine,” which is my personal favorite. This one features a wonderful groove. And I love the way she belts out the lyrics, like some kind of voodoo sorceress, the power of the universe in her fingers. There is also some delicious percussion backing her as she gets wild, a sound that is classic and fucking fantastic. Oh yes, I love it when she is completely unleashed. She can take us all through concrete walls if she so desires. Brett Adams (who played on Tami Neilson’s Sassafrass!) is on lead guitar on this track.

On “16 Miles Of Chain,” Tami Neilson shows us that she rules over a twisted country realm. This is another of the disc’s strongest and most exciting tracks. What a cool sound the musicians create for this one. I particularly like that steady percussion. “Come on down from the roof, my dear, see what I have found/Into that chest that I love best, I pushed that black heart down.” This one was written by Tami Neilson and Delaney Davidson. Then “Tell Me That You Love Me” is lighter fare, a fast-moving and fun tune in which she demands “Tell me that you’ll kiss me and you’ll do it real slow.” Hey, who is anyone to deny this woman? Who would dare? Delaney Davidson provides some vocals on this track, making it a wild sort of duet.

Tami Neilson then turns to a sweeter number with “Any Fool With A Heart,” a genuine love song. “I tried to flirt, lipstick and skirts/But I don’t know the art.” Ah, it is crazy, but after all those earlier tracks, here she actually sounds somewhat vulnerable (it must be a trick). There is something endearing and beautiful about this song. Then she gives us a touch of gospel with “Sister Mavis.” “Make me moan, make me cry/Stand up and testify/Send for Sister Mavis, send for Sister Mavis.” The disc concludes with a lovely lullaby titled “Sleep,” the only track not written or co-written by Tami Neilson. It was composed by Delaney Davison, and is sweet and pretty. “Sleep, baby, sleep/Sleep away the heartache.”

CD Track List
  1. Call Your Mama
  2. Hey, Bus Driver!
  3. Ten Tonne Truck
  4. Queenie, Queenie
  5. You Were Mine
  6. 16 Miles Of Chain
  7. Tell Me That You Love Me
  8. Any Fool With A Heart
  9. Sister Mavis
  10. Sleep
Chickaboom! was released on February 14, 2020, a Valentine’s Day gift to the world. It is available on both CD and vinyl.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Al Gold: “Al Gold’s Paradise” (2020) CD Review

Al Gold’s Paradise is my paradise too, a place where we can groove to some excellent music in the blues and roots realm, a place where talented musicians gather to create something special for those of us in need of a community with soul, those of us in need of a break from the political horror show that’s been dominating our thoughts and discourse. And the musicians playing on Al Gold’s new album are indeed talented, and include folks like Tom Rice on electric guitar, Dave Stryker on guitar, Mitch Eisenberg on guitar, Anthony Tramburro on acoustic guitar, V.D. King on bass and guitar, Terry Hemmer on bass, Jared Gold on organ, Eric Heilner on piano and organ, Johnny Sansone on harmonica, Baron Raymonde on saxophone, and Jerry Cordasco on drums. The album features all original material written or co-written by Al Gold.

The disc gets off to a great start with “That’s My Baby,” a song that is ridiculously cool, sounding like some delicious old bluesy record from decades ago, some gem you somehow missed because its label had a small printing or something. But now here it is, and it is a groovy force to move us. The song has a steady rhythm, some delicious work on keys, and a raw and real vocal performance. I love that sax toward the end. The band jams, and that horn takes the lead, leading us in some dance through the darkness. That’s followed by the album’s title track. Well, one of them, for there are two tracks on this disc titled “Paradise.” This one, “Paradise (Down Home),” kind of eases in and then develops a sort of back porch vibe. Close your eyes, and let this music wash your blues away. Al Gold’s voice has such a rich tone, a voice that is friendly and experienced and wise and true. “Summer breeze blows, and makes you feel so nice.” Oh yes. This one too becomes a good jam, featuring some wonderful work by Al Gold on guitar. There is also some nice stuff by Johnny Sansone on harmonica throughout the track.  I love this music.

There is something exciting, perhaps even dangerous going on in “Tramps Take Linden.” You get the sense of it as the song begins. And Al Gold’s voice is so low, it sneaks up on you, rising up from the darkness, sounding like it might be the bass at first, a very cool effect. “The people of Linden got no sleep last night.” Then “Mr. Banker” comes at you like a train, rumbling along the tracks, and you just want to jump on at the next stop. But, baby, this train makes no stops, you just have to hop on, take your chances. Don’t worry, everyone makes it. This is a song of financial woes, but it sounds so good. When he sings “Now you want to take my home, make me leave this town,” you get the sense that there are probably better places on the horizon for him. This song was written in reaction to the banking crisis from a decade ago (Al Gold was kind enough to include some brief thoughts on each of the songs in the liner notes). Then “Ramblin’ Pony Blues” has a delicious heavy blues rock sound, like early Fleetwood Mac (which to my ears is still their best stuff). “That’s it, as far as I’m concerned,” he says with some satisfaction as the track comes to a close. “That’s it.” Indeed, it is.

I dig that harmonica at the beginning of “Boogie In The Dark,” which starts off as a cool little jam, loose and raw. I also love the backing vocals echoing the title line, just wonderful. That is Cassidy Rain (of The Outcrops), and after a bit, she then begins to be a more prominent force in this song, as it becomes more of a duet. That’s followed by “Got A Mind,” and from the moment this track begins, I am feeling that the world is a great place. That stuff by Eric Heilner on piano is wonderful. The song kicks in to become a rockin’ celebration, with some excellent work on saxophone, helping to give this a classic sound. This one ought to get you dancing. Toss your troubles aside, kick off your shoes, and twirl your partner round the room. “I’ve got a mind to travel/Got a mind to travel on.” Then some bluesy guitar work starts “Won’t Sleep Tonight,” like some lonely prayer from deep in the night. And when the song kicks in, Al sings, “You don’t know how I feel/Words came out all wrong.” Oh yes, this is blues through and through, and features some good work on organ as well as guitar. We then get the second of the two “Paradise” tracks, this one “Paradise (Uptown),” a sort of joyous swinging blues number that features Dave Stryker on guitar. This one also has some nice stuff on organ. The album concludes with another dance number, an instrumental track titled “Maplehood Limbo,” which features some wonderful work on percussion, including a short solo.

CD Track List
  1. That’s My Baby
  2. Paradise (Downhome)
  3. Tramps Take Linden
  4. Mr. Banker
  5. Ramblin’ Pony Blues
  6. Boogie In The Dark
  7. Got A Mind
  8. Won’t Sleep Tonight
  9. Paradise (Uptown)
  10. Maplehood Limbo
Al Gold’s Paradise is scheduled to be released on March 6, 2020.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Don Dokken: “Solitary” (2020) CD Review

I was turned onto the hard rock band Dokken in the 1980s when they recorded a song for the third Nightmare On Elm Street movie. If my memory serves, I had an EP of that music on cassette, and listened to it quite a bit. Now I have to admit I have not been keeping up with whatever changes this band must have gone through over the years, and maybe if I had, the new solo album from Don Dokken wouldn’t have come as such a surprise to me. But Solitary is not at all what I was expecting from the lead singer of that rock band. This is a beautiful and passionate album, featuring music that has something of a haunting folk vibe at times. Most of the tracks are originals, written by Don Dokken. But the covers are probably what surprised me the most. But we’ll get to that in a bit. Joining Don Dokken on this release are Michael Thompson on guitar and bass, Steve Ornest on guitar, Wyn Davis on guitar and bass, Tony Franklin on bass, John Schreiner on piano and synth, John Keane on piano and synth, Frank Lentz on drums, Gary Ferguson on drums, and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. Interestingly, this album was released earlier as a limited edition disc, with slightly different cover artwork, and three fewer tracks (the three covers). Now it is getting a proper release, as it so rightly deserves.

The album opens with “In The Meadow,” a song whose beauty is striking right from the beginning, with that nice guitar work. Don Dokken’s vocal performance is touching and moving. “By my side, you are with me/In my mind, we walk in the morning.” This song is like a folk tale, or like an Irish ballad. That’s followed by “I’ll Never Forget,’ which begins with an eerie, ethereal sound. “Never let you go/Always let you know/You’re the shadows round my soul.” Then “Where The Grass Is Green” has a bit more of a rock sound when it kicks in. Kelly Keeling provides backing vocals on this track. “Where did all the people go/That I used to know?” There is a passion behind Don Dokken’s vocal delivery, and it is that passion that we are drawn to here. Then in “Jealous,” he gives us a gorgeous vocal performance. Seriously. Here he is backed by keys. This is the first of the album’s covers, written by Josh Kear, Natalie Hemby and Timothy McKenzie, and originally recorded by Labrinth. Don Dokken delivers a moving rendition, certainly in line with the spirit of the original. “‘Cause I wish you the best of all this world could give/And I told you when you left me, there’s nothing to forgive/But I always thought you’d come back/Tell me all you found was heartbreak and misery.” This track was not included on the initial 2008 release of Solitary.

“Ship Of Fools” features some nice percussion. “Please don’t take my world/In the blink of an eye.” That’s followed by “You Are Everything,” which has a pretty and uplifting vibe right from the start, and develops a kind of sweet pop sound. “Try to understand who I am/I wish that someone would show me how/Try to escape, not accept my fate/Stop the crying/It doesn’t matter to me/What they say or believe/You are everything to me.” Then “Venice” has a bright, inspiriting sound, especially the guitar work as the track opens. This song makes Venice Beach sound like a sweet, enjoyable place to be; Don’s gentle, friendly vocal delivery certainly aids in that. I also really like the guitar work on this track. That’s followed by “Sarah,” which has an intriguing opening, a mysterious vibe and mood. “You are forever/Never be forgotten/Your wind surrounds me/Never be forsaken/The sky beneath me/I am forever.” That haunting sound pulls me in, and this song builds in intensity. “Everyone has a Sarah.” What could he mean by that, I wonder. After a couple of minutes, it takes on the sound of a hard rock song, if only momentarily.

Earlier when I mentioned the surprising choices of cover material, mainly what I was referring to was “My Heart Will Go On.” Yes, Dokken covers Celine Dion. What are we to make of this? And what’s crazy is that it is a beautiful rendition of the song from Titanic. Now, to be clear, Celine Dion didn’t write the song. It was composed by James Horner and Will Jennings, and Don Dokken was friends with James Horner, so the track is a tribute to him (James Horner died in 2015). And yes, I actually prefer this version, thinking it better than the original; it is grounded, yet magical. I am surprised by how much I like this track. That’s followed by “The Tragedy,” a strange sort of lullaby. “Go to sleep so you can fly/To that place where the children don’t cry.” This might be my favorite track, in large part because of Don Dokken’s heartfelt and passionate vocal delivery. But also the music here seems capable of transporting us to some other land, which fits so well with the lyrics. It’s a beautiful song.

A line from Steve Owen’s “Longing To Be” that has always stayed with me is “It’s a different kind of cursing, but ‘someday’ is the dirtiest word.” But “someday” is a word that also weirdly holds a lot of appeal. The original release of this album concluded with “Someday,” a song with an undeniably uplifting and comforting quality. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Someday you will see/Deep inside of me/What could have been/How much heart I have.” Then this expanded edition concludes with a cover of “All That Love Can Be,” another song composed by James Horner and Will Jennings. This one was featured in the film A Beautiful Mind. On the soundtrack it is listed as “All Love Can Be” (rather than “All That Love Can Be”), and it is sung by Charlotte Church. As much as I am digging this Don Dokken album, he can’t complete with Charlotte Church’s vocals. Still, this is a nice take on the song. “I would watch in the night/Hold you in my arms/Give you dreams where no one would be/I would watch through the dark/‘Til the morning comes.”

CD Track List
  1. In The Meadow
  2. I’ll Never Forget
  3. Where The Grass Is Green
  4. Jealous
  5. Ship Of Fools
  6. You Are Everything
  7. Venice
  8. Sarah
  9. My Heart Will Go On
  10. The Tragedy
  11. Someday
  12. All That Love Can Be
Solitary was released on January 31, 2020 through Deadline Music, a division of Cleopatra Records. There was also a vinyl release – on bright red vinyl – but that version is missing the two James Horner compositions.

Holland Greco at The Mayfair Hotel, 2-13-20 Concert Review

It is Valentine’s Day, and to help us celebrate, Holland Greco has released a new single, “Listen For My Love,” a fun and sweet dance tune which she recorded with Funk LeBlanc. And last night she and her band (which includes a horn section) put on a totally enjoyable show at The Mayfair Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. The set featured original material, including – of course – the new tune. The venue is beautiful, by the way. Finding a parking space is a challenge, but once you’re inside, the place’s good vibes will take over, put you in the right mood. This is the spot where Holland had scheduled her previous single release party last September, but a power outage in the neighborhood that night put a halt to it. Anyway, spirits were pretty high last night, and the music got the crowd dancing. Hell, folks were dancing even during the soundcheck.

At 9:17 p.m., members of Holland’s band began taking the stage, and soon things were popping as the band opened the set with “I Found Fun,” a song with a wonderful groove. Holland opened her show at Gold Diggers last October with this one, and it’s a good choice for set opener. It gets things moving, and promises a fun set. Holland followed that with “Lovestruck,” that thumping bass keeping things in motion. This one is a disco gem. Is it any surprise that the audience was dancing? She dedicated “Toast To Life” to a guy named Mitch, then said “This is about having a good time and enjoying the moment.” In these twisted days, it is important to remember to enjoy ourselves. Life is short, and it’s not going to get longer by us dwelling on all the horrible stuff going on out there. The song’s dance beat certainly helps us have a good time. This tune also featured some nice work on guitar. Holland then picked up a tambourine for “What Is Dark,” telling the crowd the song “is a little more in the soul vein.”  As is the case with all of Holland’s material, it featured an excellent vocal performance, and this one last night also featured some nice harmonies.

“We Could Still (Get It On)” was the last single that Holland Greco released (it is available on vinyl). As they began it last night, Holland introduced the band. This tune has such a positive feel to it, and it is one of the songs that got people dancing during the soundcheck, as well as during the set. Holland followed that with an older gem, “Flashback,” with its gentle, cool groove. Then Holland played the new song, “Listen For My Love.” “It’s a song that I wrote and recorded with Funk LeBlanc, and the single is coming out tomorrow,” she told the audience, who cheered in response. “So you’re hearing it first. And, I don’t know, this is probably the first time it’s really been played in public.” I am always excited to hear new material from Holland Greco, and this song certainly has an uplifting and positive vibe. Early on in the tune, Holland sings, “When skies are grey, I’m coming in with the gift of sunrays.” Oh yes! Though this tune did not feature the horns, it still had a fun vibe. (By the way, you can check out the song here.) The horn section returned for “Real Love,” a song that kept the positive vibes going. The set then concluded with “Guilty Pleasure Zone,” an older favorite, with Holland on electric ukulele. The crowd called out for an encore, but that was it. Leave ‘em dancing and wanting more, right? 

Set List
  1. I Found Fun
  2. Lovestruck
  3. Toast To Life
  4. What Is Dark
  5. We Could Still (Get It On)
  6. Flashback
  7. Listen For My Love
  8. Real Love
  9. Guilty Pleasure Zone 
Here are a few photos from the show:

The Mayfair Hotel is located at 1256 W. 7th St., in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Coachella Valley Trio: “Mid Century Modern” (2020) CD Review

The Coachella Valley Trio consists of Doug MacDonald on guitar, Larry Holloway on bass, and Tim Pleasant on drums. The group’s new album, Mid Century Modern, contains a mix of covers and original material written by band leader Doug MacDonald. Doug MacDonald is one heck of a good guitarist. He has played in various band configurations (including quartets and big bands), and always finds a way to get things swinging, his playing having a lively and positive sound. He, Larry Holloway and Tim Pleasant have been jamming at a venue called AJ’s On The Green, located in Palm Springs, every Wednesday. And now Mid Century Modern gives those of us who don’t often out to Palm Springs a chance to enjoy a bit of the magic these three musicians create together. Joining the trio on several tracks of this album is Big Black on djembe.

The album opens with a cover of “My Shining Hour,” a song written by Harold Arden and Johnny Mercer for the film The Sky’s The Limit. This rendition has a wonderful groove, and some delicious guitar work that sounds like the instrument is dancing, and it all works to put a smile on my face, and remind me that humanity still exists in some positive form. When you get down about all the horrible things people are doing these days, it’s good to remember that people are also creating music like this. Halfway through, there is a good lead on bass. And there are also some brief drum solos, which I enjoy. But it is the guitar that really gets things moving. “My Shining Hour” is followed by an original composition, “Lance Or Lot.” Okay, yes, that’s a goofy song title, but I love the feel of this one. It has a bit of a laid-back groove and temperament, yet with also a certain confidence, creating a cool style and sound. It isn’t long before the bass takes over, and that lead section is one of my favorite parts of this track. It has this youthful, jolly kind of vibe that makes me think things are fine. You know? That’s followed by another original composition, “Cat City Samba,” which has a nice Brazilian rhythm and feel. The track’s title, I assume, is referring to Cathedral City, which is located in the Coachella Valley. This is one of the tracks to feature Big Black on djembe, and the percussion is a large part of this track’s charm, no question.

“Tram Jam” has something of an easygoing sound, particularly as it starts, like one out for a stroll. Then Doug MacDonald’s guitar takes off from there, following its own flight of fancy and taking us along with it. Things remain delightfully loose, and there is also a nice lead on bass. This is another original tune, written by Doug MacDonald. The trio then returns to cover material, beginning with a sweet rendition of “What’s New,” written by Bob Haggart and Johnny Burke. This track begins with just a bit of solo work by Doug MacDonald on guitar before the others come in. I like the charming, pleasant feel of this version. The bass and drums have a relaxed, late-night vibe, while the guitar lightly dances above them. The trio then delivers a cover of “Give Me The Simple Life,” a song written by Rube Bloom and Harry Ruby. It’s a cheerful number that features some fun, playful work on guitar. Big Black joins the group on djembe. Big Black also plays djembe on a cool rendition of “Stranger In Paradise,” a song from the musical Kismet. The rhythm created by Big Black and Tim Pleasant is largely what makes this track so enjoyable.

One of my favorite tracks is the trio’s wonderful rendition of Ray Noble’s “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You.” This one too features some really catchy work on percussion (Big Black again is on djembe), and I love that lead on bass. But it is the guitar work that really delights us on this one. The guitar has a friendly vibe, and dances about playfully. The instrument seems to have a life of its own, a personality, one you’d like to get to know. That’s followed by a version of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody ‘N You” that moves and swings, and features some excellent and impressive work on guitar. There are short percussion solos, which I love. Big Black is again on djembe. The song’s title is sometimes listed as “Woody ‘N’ You,” which you’d think would make more sense, but the title uses Woody Herman’s name as a sort of play on the phrase “Wouldn’t you” (and is sometimes listed as “Woody’n You”), rather than meaning “Woody and you.” The last track to feature Big Black is also the album’s final original tune, “Bossa Nueva.” This tune has a delicious rhythm, and it is this rhythm that gets the track going. The album then concludes with “The Way You Look Tonight,” a song that I love. This rendition moves at a quicker pace than usual, and swings, and features some exciting work on guitar. I also seriously dig that bass line. And with the inclusion of a short drum solo, it is no wonder that this is one of my favorite tracks. A great way to end the album.

CD Track List
  1. My Shining Hour
  2. Lance Or Lot
  3. Cat City Samba
  4. Tram Jam
  5. What’s New
  6. Give Me The Simple Life
  7. Stranger In Paradise
  8. I Hadn’t Anyone Till You
  9. Woody ‘N You
  10. Bossa Nueva
  11. The Way You Look Tonight 
Mid Century Modern was released on January 28, 2020.