Saturday, February 29, 2020

Michael Doucet: “Lâcher Prise” (2020) CD Review

Michael Doucet, founding member of the excellent Cajun band BeauSoleil, has now released a new solo album. Titled Lâcher Prise, which translates to “Let Go,” this disc contains a mix of covers and original material. Much of this music is designed to push away your cares and get you dancing. But it is the album’s more serious-sounding tracks that move me most. In keeping with the theme of the album’s title, there is a delicious freedom to this music, and it is different from what you hear Doucet do in BeauSoleil. Joining the vocalist and fiddle player on this album are Chad Viator on guitar, Sarah Quintana on guitar and vocals, Chris French on bass, and Jim Kolacek on drums. There are also several special guests on various tracks, including Reese Wynans on keys and Jim Hoke on saxophone and pedal steel.

This is Louisiana music, so it might not come as a surprise to anyone that it opens with a song about floods, “Water, Water.” This original number has a delightful Cajun vibe, but also a good solid country rock sound. Yeah, it’s a fun track, and features – as you’d expect – some nice work on fiddle. “Water here, water there/Water, water, water everywhere/No land here, no land there.” Chad Huval plays accordion on this track. Sarah Dugas and Andrina Turenne provide some backing vocals. That’s followed by a cover of Boozoo Chavis’ “Lula Lula Don’t You Go To Bingo.” Michael Doucet’s rendition has a strong beat that I love, and also something of a southern rock style. I also really like Sarah Quintana’s vocal work. Chad Huval contributes some wonderful work on accordion. In addition to all that, this track includes horns. So, yeah, this is a fun version. Then “Dites Moi Pas” has a sweeter, pretty sound right from the start, with that nice work on fiddle. This is an original song, sung in French, and having a comforting, beautiful, friendly vibe. It features some wonderful work on fiddle, especially during that lead section halfway through. Following that section, Sarah Quintana takes over on lead vocals, and the song somehow becomes even prettier.

Can a Louisiana album exist without at least some mention of Mardi Gras? I’m not sure. On this disc, Michael Doucet gives us “Walking On A Mardi Gras Day,” which is certainly not your typical Mardi Gras song. This is a slower, moodier, darker, more somber song than you’d expect, and it’s pretty damn cool. “Listening to that brass band, they sure can play.” This one was written by Michael Doucet and Susan Werner. “Abandonne” also has a more solemn feel, with some gorgeous and moving work on fiddle. The vocals don’t come in until more than halfway through, and then when they do, they have a haunting and deep sound, the lyrics sung in French. This is an excellent and engaging vocal performance. And then when Sarah’s gorgeous vocals join the violin toward the end, I am mesmerized. It is like a beckoning to the other side. This is a tremendous piece of music, one of my favorite tracks. That’s followed by a cover of “Bad Woman,” a track with a totally cool vibe, a gypsy sound that I love. “That bad woman, that bad woman, that bad woman took my heart and she threw the pieces away.”

Michael Doucet then returns to more upbeat Cajun fare with “Marie Catin,” an original song to get you on the dance floor, the delicious fiddle work prominent. That’s followed by a cover of Bobby Charles’ “He’s Got All The Whiskey,” which has a nice, dark, bluesy sound from the start. Then the fiddle rises above that cool bluesy base. The backing vocals echoing “He’s got all the power” give the track a bit of a gospel vibe. Then Michael Doucet delivers a wonderful cover of “Chere Emelie” that features some great percussion. Michael Doucet plays mandolin on this track. That’s followed by “Cajun Gypsy,” which begins with a beautiful string section performed by Turtle Island Quartet (David Balakrishnan on violin, Alex Hargreaves on violin, Benjamin von Gutzeit on viola, and Malcolm Parson on cello). This instrumental track takes a turn nearly halfway through toward gypsy jazz, and then more toward country for a moment. The disc then concludes with an extended version of “Lula Lula Don’t You Go To Bingo,” approximately a minute longer than the first version.

CD Track List
  1. Water, Water
  2. Lula Lula Don’t You Go To Bingo
  3. Dites Moi Pas
  4. Walking On A Mardi Gras Day
  5. Abandonne
  6. Bad Woman
  7. Marie Catin
  8. He’s Got All The Whiskey
  9. Chere Emelie
  10. Cajun Gypsy
  11. Lula Lula Don’t You Go To Bingo (Extended Version) 
Lâcher Prise was released on both CD and vinyl on February 14, 2020 through Compass Records (the vinyl version does not include the extended version of “Lula Lula Don’t You Go To Bingo”).

Friday, February 28, 2020

Sarah Morris: “All Mine” (2020) CD Review

Sarah Morris is a singer and songwriter based in Minneapolis. She’s been performing and recording for nearly a decade, and her new release, All Mine, features all original material. The songs of this album show her talent for writing excellent lyrics, lyrics that she delivers with a voice that is appealing and strong and honest. Joining her on this album are Thomas Nordlund on guitar, Andrew Foreman on bass, and Lars-Erik Larson on drums and piano (the three collectively known as The Sometimes Guys). There are also several special guests on various tracks.

The album opens with its title track, “All Mine,” and about ten seconds into it, Sarah is already offering us some gems in the lyrics. “A whisper that the cards I need are already in my hand” is a really good line. I appreciate its optimistic bent, something most of us need these days. Sarah’s voice here is like a companion, or even guide, on this journey we’re on, as we each stumble. “I get lost, but I don’t mind/As long as the story I find/Is all mine.” This track features several special guests, including Joe Peterson on organ, Shane Akers on lap steel, and Haley Rydell on violin. This song deals with being a songwriter: “If I’m lucky the words will come out right/In phrases at once simple and sublime/And as long as they are true I don’t care if they rhyme.” Yeah, I think she’s succeeded there.

“Stir Me Up” begins with a cool rhythm, one that immediately works its magic on me. And soon Sarah’s voice comes in with a style to match it, and it’s clear from those opening moments that this song is going to be something special. It builds in energy as it goes, gathering others up in the process so that soon we have some wonderful backing vocals. “You look like the kind of trouble I could use/So won’t you stir me up and shake me loose.” Oh yes! Tommy Barbarella is on organ. That’s followed by “Mendocino,” a pretty song, her vocals having a more intimate quality. “Even when you’re nowhere near me/You always find a way to mess me up/And no matter where I run/It’s never far enough.” This is one I like more and more. “Their tiny hearts beating/So fast, trying to be free/Is that how you see me?” Joe Peterson is on organ, and Matthew French provides backing vocals on this track.

“Don’t Come Clean” also has an intimate sound to her vocal delivery. This is a beautiful and honest song, my personal favorite of the album, and one of the best songs I’ve heard so far this year.  Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Don’t come clean, don’t come perfect/Don’t come shiny and new/I want to see behind the curtain/Show me every speck of dust that makes up the whole of you/Come a little messed up, come broken.” And Haley Rydell’s work on violin adds to this song’s beauty. At one point in the song Sarah sings that she is “wide open,” and that is exactly how it sounds, that she has opened herself up here in a completely engaging and wonderful way, a way in which we all hope to open ourselves to someone. This is an excellent song.

There is a sweet quality to “There, There.” I love the lines “Once again your heart is haunted/By the ghost of a dream that might have been” and “Certain no one knows how lost you feel/‘Cause if they did, wouldn’t somebody be looking for you.” Annie Fitzgerald provides backing vocals on this one. As I mentioned, Sarah Morris can really write a lyric. Every song has lines that stand out, lines I want to remember. From “The Promise Of Maybe,” one line that stands out for me is “Don’t stop when you get dizzy, that’s a sign you’re almost there.” Joe Peterson adds some nice work on organ to this track, and to the track that follows it, “Two Circles On The Kitchen Table,” with the line “I wish I didn’t wish that you were still here” standing out for me. This is another pretty song with a passionate and moving vocal performance. She opens herself up here too. “Please don’t ask how I’m doing/When you know damn well.” That’s followed by “How I Want To Love You,” which has a sweet, adorable vibe and sound. I kind of melt when she sings the song’s title line, “That’s how I want to love you.” And of course the line “Building walls – I’d rather watch them fall” stands out. Later in the song, Sarah sings “I remember, do you remember/When time and energy weren’t such commodities/I know you’re tired ‘cause baby I am tired.” Those lines certainly strike a chord with me. This is another of my favorite tracks, and it features Shane Akers on lap steel, and David Feily on mandolin.

There is a bit of a bluesy edge to “I’m A Wreck,” aided by Joe Peterson’s work on organ. I love Sarah’s vocal performance here, which is captivating. “I don’t like being so exposed/Raw nerves under useless clothes/I’ve whispered secrets you shouldn’t know/In hopes you’d just leave me alone.” Jasper Nephew plays electric guitar on this track. That’s followed by “Things You Can’t Tell By Looking At A Picture,” which draws us in almost immediately, her vocals clearly the focus here. And what a wonderful and engaging vocal performance, the lyrics coming at us almost like a poetry reading at moments, then her voice rising in glory. And that guitar work below her voice adds to the song’s gripping quality. The album then concludes with “Higher,” another beautiful song featuring some nice work by Shake Akers on lap steel. Eric Mayson adds some good work on piano. “And oh, there’s the sweetest moment/When I don’t know where I’m going/Then gravity pulls me back down.” The backing vocals by Annie Fitzgerald seem to lift her up, and gently bring her down, as if accompanying her and keeping her safe, and thus keeping us safe too. The song ends with “Higher and higher,” a line offering seemingly limitless possibilities, a good place to leave us, so we remain positive, optimistic.

CD Track List
  1. All Mine
  2. Stir Me Up
  3. Mendocino
  4. Don’t Come Clean
  5. There, There
  6. The Promise Of Maybe
  7. Two Circles On A Kitchen Table
  8. How I Want To Love You
  9. I’m A Wreck
  10. Things You Can’t Tell By Looking At A Picture
  11. Higher 
All Mine was released on February 21, 2020.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Val Starr & The Blues Rocket: “Lighter Side Of The Blues” (2020) CD Review

Val Starr & The Blues Rocket are a fun, energetic blues band based in the Sacramento area, performing original blues. Their new album, Lighter Side Of The Blues, features mostly original material, written by Val Starr (with just one exception), blues designed to lift our spirits. The band is made up of Val Starr on vocals and rhythm guitar, John Ellis on bass and slide guitar, Timothy Brisson on lead guitar, Frankie Munz on harmonica, and Paul Farman on drums. This release features some special guests, including saxophone players on a few tracks.

The disc kicks off with “Say Goodbye To The Blues (Like You Mean It),” an upbeat, fun, positive blues tune. I’m guessing we could all use something like this right now, and I’m hoping the country’s blues will be lifted after the next election. This track features some wonderful stuff on saxophone. Danny Sandoval and Saxophone Zot play sax on this track. Plus, there is some nice work on keys. This song is largely a jam, and a damn fine jam at that. It also includes an earnest vocal performance that makes me believe it’s possible to say goodbye to these blues. “Don’t waste today and tomorrow away.” Yeah, I need this sort of reminder, and this sort of optimism, particularly now when the country is falling to tyranny and morons are cheering the destruction of democracy. “Leave your troubles behind.” That’s followed by “Sactown Heat,” a playful tune, certainly on the lighter side, with lyrics about high temperatures, nothing too serious, and a groove that adds to its appeal. “My poor dog’s a-hiding, he won’t even go out and play.” Hmm, a song about high temperatures and traffic that isn’t about Los Angeles? Crazy. “I’m counting the days ‘til the end of September.” I like the guitar work during the instrumental sections.

“If She Can Get A Man (Anyone Can)” is a song about a flawed woman, told from the perspective of another woman who offers her own attributes as contrast. She begins, “I always try to treat my man with honor and respect/I let him think that he’s the boss and tell him he’s the best.” She then describes the other woman: “She’s never really happy, and mostly just unkind/She treats her man like dirt and gets away with hell/Her man still thinks she’s quite a catch.” It’s interesting, because it’s almost as if she is upset at herself for being good to her man when clearly it’s not necessary. Then “Lighter Side Of The Blues,” the album’s title track, is a seriously fun tune, with that great harmonica blowing right from the beginning. This song has a good groove, one designed to get you on your feet. Dance away those blues. It’s a song about not suffering for the blues, about a life that isn’t all that hard, pointedly quite a bit different from a lot of blues tunes. What is also cool is that the song seems to offer a hand to others who might not have it so easy. I really dig this track.

Val Starr And The Blues Rocket slow things down a bit with “All Or Nuthin’ Man.” “You want me to change, baby/But I’ve changed enough for you.” Those are the opening lines, and from those you might think here is a woman who has been wronged in some way by a man who doesn’t appreciate her for who she is. But then she sings, “You know, I’ve given up my evil ways and I’ve made you happy too,” an unexpected and interesting twist. This track features some nice work by Todd Morgan on keys, plus more good stuff by Frankie Munz on harmonica. Then “Can’t Get Sad Tonight” comes thumping in with a beat to keep you from slipping into despair. No one will get sad tonight if this tune is playing. “I can’t get sad tonight/The blues make me smile/I can’t get sad tonight/So won’t you stay awhile?” “Lift A Finger” has a heavier blues vibe with some delicious work on guitar. What I love most about this track is Val Starr’s vocal performance, which is just dripping cool from the moment she starts. Though it has a heavier sound, its subject is still light, about a woman tired of her man not helping out at home. “If you ever lift a finger/To help clean up at home/I’ll have to take a picture/And make damn sure it’s shown/Because, baby, I’m so tired/Of doing it on my own/Now won’t you be the man/That every woman wants to clone.”

“Mister Bassman” is a love song to bass players everywhere, and is certain to have a lot of appeal among that strange group of people. That’s followed by “Movin’ On,” which features some more excellent work on saxophone from special guest Danny Sandoval. This one has something of a 1960s pop vibe. In “24 Hours Blues,” Val Star sings about being a mess and being depressed, and sounds happy doing it. This is another tune you can move and dance to, and features some nice stuff on both guitar and keys. That’s followed by “Big Boss Man,” the one song on this album that is not original. However, Val Starr has added her own original lyrics to it: “Big boss man/Keep your big hands off of me/I’m so tired of all your groping/And your infidelity.” This is a song we can get dedicate to Donald Trump (except for the “big hands” bit), Harvey Weinstein and other assholes who use their positions of power and wealth to attack women and girls. Turn it up! I love that harmonica. Then “Shame On You” is a rocking and thumping blues number, a track I am seriously digging. The album then ends with “The Blues Doesn’t Pick Or Choose,” another lively tune featuring more great work on harmonica and guitar. Plus, Danny Sandoval contributes delicious stuff on saxophone.

CD Track List
  1. Say Goodbye To The Blues (Like You Mean It)
  2. Sactown Heat
  3. If She Can Get A Man (Anyone Can)
  4. Lighter Side Of The Blues
  5. All Or Nuthin’ Man
  6. Can’t Get Sad Tonight
  7. Lift A Finger
  8. Mister Bassman
  9. Movin’ On
  10. 24 Hour Blues
  11. Big Boss Man (#MeToo)
  12. Shame On You
  13. The Blues Doesn’t Pick Or Choose 
Lighter Side Of The Blues was released on January 2, 2020.

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.