Thursday, April 30, 2020

Ellis Paul at Home, 4-30-20 Concert Review

As we make our way through this pandemic, and the more moronic states begin softening restrictions on social distancing prematurely, one thing that eases our anxiety and helps us feel connected and human is music. Several artists are performing online, and these concerts help the musicians as much as they help those of us who are listening. Ellis Paul has been putting on shows from his home nearly every day. Most of them are on Facebook, but Thursdays are for those who have signed up for his Patreon page. Today’s show was made up of all requests. Because he’s been playing so often, we’ve been treated to a wider range of material than usual. Ellis has been digging more deeply into his catalogue on a regular basis, and that means that an all-request show is going to contain nuggets you likely haven’t heard in a while.

However, he opened today’s show with the song we’ve heard probably more than any other Ellis Paul song, “3,000 Miles.” Still, I was happy to hear it, for there is a joy to this song, and hearing it immediately takes us to a better place, mixed with memories of many earlier concerts. By the way, the first few songs on Thursdays are also broadcast on Facebook. Ellis said that not being able to go on the road to play shows makes him feel “like a pilot who can’t fly.” He followed “3,000 Miles” with “How You Say Goodbye,” a cover song included on The Storyteller’s Suitcase. This one too has a bright sound. Plus, it uses plenty of baseball imagery, which I appreciate. Will we get to see any Red Sox games this summer? Who knows? Then, with “Rattle My Cage,” Ellis got bluesy. It was so bloody good to hear this one again. This song was my brother’s request.

Ellis then switched off the Facebook feed and continued on Patreon. It’s odd that the sound wasn’t quite as good there as on Facebook, a bit of an issue with compression. But the song choices were excellent, thanks to the requests of fans. He played “Changing Your Name,” another I hadn’t heard in quite a while. After that song he mentioned that when the pandemic is over and he returns to touring, it won’t be the same sort of schedule that he’d been doing in the past, that he’ll continue to do some online shows and remain home more than before. He followed “Changing Your Name” with “New Orleans,” a beautiful song that has a late-night vibe. People certainly put in some good requests. And Ellis was dressed up for the occasion, sporting a suit. “This is a tie,” he said. “I usually only wear this when I’m getting divorced. This is a special night.”

“Never Lived At All” is a song that has always spoken to me, and one that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, as I’ve been smacking myself for not more actively sending out my short stories and whatnot. Ellis seems to have worked up a different guitar part for this one, but it’s been a while, and my memory isn’t always to be trusted. “Better to have lived in hope than to never have lived at all.” He then turned the camera around to show us some of the music awards he has won. Quite a few! He played “Seize The Day,” a song that thematically seems to follow “Never Lived At All” quite well. And, yes, it is another song I hadn’t heard in a long while. He then wrapped up the show with “Did Galileo Pray?” Before saying goodbye, he mentioned that he might do a question and answer session next week, if people have questions regarding specific songs. The show ended at 8:25 p.m. eastern time. Tomorrow night he will be back on Facebook, playing traveling songs, and Saturday night will be a night of romantic songs. See you all then.

Set List
  1. 3,000 Miles
  2. How You Say Goodbye
  3. Rattle My Cage
  4. Changing Your Name
  5. New Orleans
  6. Never Lived At All
  7. Seize The Day
  8. Did Galileo Pray?

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Jon Svetkey at Home, 4-29-20 Concert Review

When will this pandemic end? Well, not until all the idiots start wearing masks when they go out (looking at you, bicyclists and joggers). And so it will likely be a while before we get to attend concerts again. In the meantime, musicians are struggling to pay their bills, and are managing in part through online concerts. Club Passim, in addition to providing aid through the PEAR (Passim Emergency Artist Relief) Fund, is helping to host a series of online concerts, in an effort to keep musicians off the streets. They’re safer that way, and so are we. Today, Jon Svetkey (of End Construction and The Loomers) put on a great set from his home, which certainly helped me deal with this twisted reality that has descended upon us. I’ve been digging Jon’s music since those early days at the Old Vienna Kaffeehaus, and this set took me back to better times.

It took me a moment to get the proper window open for the show. The first page I opened did not have the space to leave comments, and interestingly there was like a five-second difference between that page and the one with comments. So I missed the first moments of the first song, which was “Someday,” a good choice of opener. “Do you believe, do you believe there’s truth in lies?/Do you believe, do you believe you’re really alive?” Jon followed that with “If I Met Me At A Party,” and I loved the little shrug he gave before singing “I don’t know.” Of course, we are not meeting anyone at parties these days. After that song, Jon mentioned that he was performing in his basement version of Club Passim, Club Passim being his home away from home. Behind Jon, there was a homemade Club Passim banner, which was made by Jon’s daughter, setting the appropriate mood. And if I weren’t missing Massachusetts enough already, Jon then played “Oh Massachusetts.” I was supposed to be heading to Massachusetts in a week or so, but no longer. I miss Boston. I miss Fenway. And I miss my family. “Oh Massachusetts, here in my heart.”

One thing about these online concerts is that fans are able to place requests, either in the comments section, or on the artist’s page leading up to the show. Several people did just that, and Jon mentioned that some of those requests he received in the past week were for “She’s A Spark.” On “Oh Massachusetts” and “She’s A Spark,” he played harmonica. Jon then replied to a comment posted during the song, regarding a vinyl copy of Bill Morrissey’s Standing Eight which was visible behind him. So he mentioned that Passim’s Matt Smith had given him that record, and inside it had been a flier from the Old Vienna and a ticket for the Bill Morrissey concert where Jon was the opening act. Then, in introducing “P.T. Barnum Was Right,” he said: “I never thought that this song would be so relevant thirty years after writing it. I never thought it would be a principle of governing our country either.”

I’m going to do a couple of newer ones for you right now,” Jon said, and played “Matchbox Car,” a seriously good song, one I first saw him perform at my brother’s house back in 2016 during an End Construction reunion (well, three-fourths of End Construction). Today he delivered an excellent rendition, and followed that with a much newer one, “Gather ‘Round,” a wonderful song that is particularly poignant during this time of isolation. In this one he sang, “Gather ‘round me, my children/Gather ‘round, old friends of mine/Gather ‘round, my door is open/You are welcome any time/Gather ‘round our basement concerts.” He then played some old favorites – “Big City” and “Dead End Streets.” It was great to hear these songs again. They took me back to those days at the Old Vienna. Great times, those. And actually, before “Big City,” Jon talked about the first time he played the song at that venue. And, yes, it was a bit odd stomping my feet alone at that one point in “Dead End Streets,” but there you have it. In the comments section, I typed “Stomp, stomp, stomp.” What else could I do?

Jon then delivered a really good rendition of “The Vaguely Dylan Blues,” which was even funnier than I’d remembered. He followed that with “I’m Not Down” a beautiful song which, if I were forced to choose, would be my vote for his best song. “I would rather hold your hand on this earth than keep reaching for the stars” is a line that I love. I can’t help it. “Been There, Done That” was next, and is a song that still has that energy and power that it had back in the day. And certain lines now seem to have taken on more meaning, such as “Is this news, I don’t know” and “Is this real, or is this fake?” and “Too many people don’t know what is going on.” Then Jon played “Embrace The Day,” the song The Loomers usually close their shows with, and one that seems to have even more significance than usual. As Jon mentioned, it is a hopeful song. “And it’s true we might not be here tomorrow/And it’s true we take too much for granted.” Heather joined Jon on vocals for the final song of the set, “A Way Of Praying,” a beautiful song, another of Jon’s best. The show ended at 5:10 p.m. eastern time.

Set List
  1. Someday
  2. If I Met Me At A Party
  3. Oh Massachusetts
  4. She’s A Spark
  5. P.T. Barnum Was Right
  6. Matchbox Car
  7. Gather ‘Round
  8. Big City
  9. Dead End Streets
  10. The Vaguely Dylan Blues
  11. I’m Not Down
  12. Been There, Done That
  13. Embrace The Day
  14. A Way Of Praying

Friday, April 24, 2020

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

Things are getting weirder out there all the time, and more and more we are stuck inside our homes and our own heads. Fortunately, there is a lot of excellent music to help us through these difficult and strange times. Here are some brief notes on a few new (and two older) jazz releases you might want to check out.

Enrique Haneine: “Unlayered” – The new album from drummer and composer Enrique Haneine contains eleven original compositions, featuring a good range of styles and moods, with a common theme of deconstruction. It may seem harsh at moments, as it tears at the corners, reaching down and demanding some truth at its core. Among my favorites are “Luculent Jiggle” (which features a very cool bass part) and “Dance Of Endless Encounter” (mostly because of that great work from the horns). Joining Enrique Haneine on this release are Thomas Heberer on trumpet, Catherine Sikora on saxophone, Christof Knoche on bass clarinet, and Jay Anderson on acoustic bass. This album was released on April 3, 2020.

Dave Stryker With Bob Mintzer And The WDR Big Band: “Blue Soul” – On Dave Stryker’s new release, he joins forces with conductor and arranger and saxophone player Bob Mintzer and the WDR Big Band to deliver some original numbers as well as cover some well-known songs in the pop and rock realm. Two of the first three tracks are Marvin Gaye tunes – “Trouble Man” and “What’s Going On,” featuring some nice work by Billy Test on organ. There is also an interesting and lively take on Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” with a wonderful section where Dave Stryker and John Goldsby are racing along together on guitar and bass respectively. That track also features some great stuff by Hans Dekker on drums. One of the coolest and most exciting tracks is “Aha,” composed by Bob Mintzer, who also plays tenor saxophone on it. That tracks features some fantastic work on both saxophone and guitar. Of the Dave Stryker compositions, two of them – “Came To Believe” and “Shadowboxing” – appeared on Steve Johns’ 2015 release Family, an album that Dave Stryker produced. “Shadowboxing” includes a good drum solo. The third is “Blues Strut,” which is a fun and bright tune. I love the way Dave’s bluesy guitar works in the big band setting. This is another of my favorite tracks. This album is scheduled to be released on June 5, 2020.

The Tnek Jazz Quintet: “Plays The Music Of Sam Jones” – Sam Jones was an incredible bass player who might be best known for his work with other artists, particularly Cannonball Adderley. But he also was a composer and band leader, and released several records in the 1960s and 1970s. The Tnek Jazz Quintet pays tribute to this musician on the new release, Plays The Music Of Sam Jones, covering seven of his compositions. This music on this disc is bursting with life, the rhythms exciting, as you’d probably expect. What might surprise you is just how great the horn parts are. Listen to their work on “Bittersuite,” for example. I love the groove of “Some More Of Dat,” which is just a ridiculously cool track, featuring some delicious work on piano and a wonderful bass solo. “Del Sasser” has such a fun, bright vibe. There is also a mellower, gorgeous tune, “Lillie.” The Tnek Jazz Quintet is made up of Kent Miller on bass, Darius Scott on piano, Greg Holloway on drums, Benny Russell on tenor saxophone and soprano saxophone, and Antonio Parker on alto saxophone. This album was released on March 1, 2020.

Eyal Vilner Big Band: “Swing Out!” – If you need some delicious big band tunes to lift you up in these dark days, Eyal Vilner Big Band is here to help. Eyal Vilner plays alto saxophone, clarinet and flute, and did the arrangements. He also composed a couple of the tracks, including the opening number, “Downhill,” which moves and swings and features some wonderful stuff from Vilner, as well as Brandon Lee on trumpet and Robert Edwards on trombone. The entire album is fantastic, but highlights include a wonderful rendition of “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans” (here shortened to “Do You Know What It Means”) and fun versions of “Saint Louis Blues” and “5-10-15 Hours.” Brianna Thomas provides excellent vocal work on this album. Whether she is belting out a lyric or delivering a line more intimately, she is a delight to listen to. And Brandon Bain joins the band on vocals for a sweet rendition of “That’s All.” This album was released on July 12, 2019.

Rich Willey’s Boptism Big Band: “Down & Dirty” – This album features almost all original material, written by Rich Willey (the only exception being a moving rendition of “Old Folks”). If you love hearing new big band music like I do, you are going to dig this disc. This group takes big band music to some interesting places, using elements of funk at times. Highlights for me include “Dancing Hippo” and “Not So Fast!” (the latter of which implements a reggae beat). Rich Willey plays trumpet and flugelhorn, and the whole band has plenty of talent. Thomas Hooten joins them on piccolo trumpet for the album’s title track. This album was released on June 28, 2019.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Daystar: “The Complete Recordings” (2019) CD Review

Daystar delivers rock and pop numbers that have something of a classic feel, songs with excellent harmonies. Based in Portland, this group is made up of Derek Phillips on vocals, rhythm guitar, Mellotron and keys; Joel Roth on guitar and percussion; Nick Foltz on drums, percussion, piano and backing vocals; and Kelly Simmons on bass, cello and backing vocals. The band’s 2019 release, The Complete Recordings, features all original material, the lyrics written by Derek K. Phillips and the music composed by the entire band. There are some guest musicians on these tracks, including some string players. The opening track, “Right At Home,” is a wonderful straightforward rock song with a good beat. This is music that feels like summer to me. Not this summer, perhaps, but a normal summer, a good summer. You know, that positive, fun, youthful, carefree sound that promises warm days, excitement and good times, with guitar work leading the way. Music you want to enjoy with friends outside. Josh Boisvert is on organ on this track.

“A Lot To Love” is a sweet pop number, with pleasing harmonies and some really good lyrics, like “Taking your time when you know it’s running out.” That’s a line you can think about for a while. And “You can change your mind, but not what’s right” is one hell of a good line. It struck me the first time I listened to this album, and continues to do so each time I play it. That line is then followed by these: “Changing your mind in the middle of the night/Walking on out when you’re crazy from the fight.” The song ends on that note. It is followed by “People Get Lonely,” one that ought to get you on your feet, or at least dancing on your chair or in your bed, or wherever the hell you spend most of your time these days. The track rocks, and features more good vocal work, sounding sort of like early Paul McCartney & Wings, that band’s more boisterous songs. And of course the title line is one everyone can relate to in these days of isolation and social distancing, though the line that I relate to most is “Now we get lost in time, forget what’s on our minds.” What the hell was I thinking anyway? That final “Ooh” at the end surprises and delights me each time I hear it.

From the moment “Summer Girls” starts, it has me smiling. This track has a sound designed to lift you up, and it works every time. Again, it takes me back to my younger days (am I already old enough to say such a thing? lord, where did the time go?). Anyway, I just love this song, partly because of its ridiculously catchy rhythm. “And you sing, and you sing, and you sing/But you can’t really hear anything.” That is followed by “Warped Reality.” I had a feeling somehow I’d be able to relate to a track titled “Warped Reality.” I mean, really, isn’t that a perfect song title for what it is we are all experiencing? The first line is “Isn’t it a pity how quickly you can fall apart?” And so, yes, I am relating to it. Of course, with it opening with the line “Isn’t it a pity,” you can’t help but be reminded of the George Harrison song. And indeed, it has a somewhat similar vibe and pace. Adding to this track’s appeal is a string arrangement by Phillip A. Peterson, who also plays cello. Rachael Pearson is on violin. This track ends with the strings. Then “Sunny Golden Side” has something of an early 1970s folk rock vibe that I dig. “Always lost, frustrated/But all this time it’s always been nearby.”

There is something moving about “Angelina.” It’s a song you can sway to, and let carry you off, in part because of the wonderful vocal work.  I’ll be around when you fall from above/When you’re running away, wasting your time/I’ll be around when you’re changing your mind/I’ll be around.” Then, interestingly, he adds, “And I’ll bring you down,” and lets it end there. That’s followed by “The Ballad Of Sister Sadie May.” There is a bird sound effect at the beginning of the track, but almost before you are fully cognizant of it, the song is underway. It has a rather cheerful and totally enjoyable pop sound, with some mid-1960s folk rock influences heard in the guitar work, yet the lyrics tell a more serious tale. “She had a scar on her cheek, she had a rip in her dress/But when she walked down the street, she could hide the rest/‘Cause when you’re down on your knees/There’s no time for rest.” There are birds at the end as well. The album concludes with “Fade Away, Love,” a track that I was curious about because of its title, which seemed the antithesis of the Buddy Holly song “Not Fade Away.”  This beautiful song begins gently, and features another excellent vocal performance, as well as a string arrangement by Philip A. Peterson. Victoria Parker is on violin. This is another of my personal favorites.

CD Track List
  1. Right At Home
  2. A Lot To Love
  3. People Get Lonely
  4. All That You Know
  5. Summer Girls
  6. Warped Reality
  7. Sunny Golden Side
  8. Buttons & Brass
  9. Angelina
  10. The Ballad Of Sister Sadie May
  11. Get Yourself Away
  12. Fade Away, Love
The Complete Recordings was released on October 25, 2019. By the way, this one is also available on vinyl, a choice of black or bright red. (Yes, I want to get a red copy.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Chickenbone Slim: “Sleeper” (2020) CD Review

I was turned onto the music of Chickbone Slim a few years ago when he released The Big Beat. At that time, I felt the country was in need of some fun music, as we were trying to adjust to the dark stink of the Trump administration, and that album certainly did the trick. And here we are, three years later and feeling like at least two dozen years have passed, and the country is in even more desperate need of music to lift us from the anxiety and fear and fury that have made themselves a home here. In addition to the regular horrors of the Trump administration, we are now suffering through a pandemic, something for which the current leader is utterly unequipped to deal with. And here comes Sleeper, another wonderful release from Chickenbone Slim, right on time to aid us in these uncertain and rather terrifying times. This album features all original material, written by Larry Teves (Chickenbone Slim’s real name). The band includes Scot Smart on guitar, Troy Sandow on harmonica, Andrew Crane on bass, and Marty Dodson on drums.

The disc gets off to a great start with “Vampire Baby,” a song that opens with a lie. The first line is ordinary: “I woke up this morning.” Yes, an innocuous enough line, a line you might not even pay attention to, for it’s been used countless times. But when he follows that with “That’s a good lie,” he has you. This is a delicious bluesy rock song about being a vampire, and it features some wonderful guitar work, plus some good stuff on harmonica. “Got to find me somebody to satisfy my appetite” (or is it “some body to satisfy my appetite”?). It’s a totally enjoyable tune, just the thing to take our minds off our troubles for a bit. That’s followed by “Tougher Than That,” which comes in rocking and swinging and shaking, a song with a fun beat, and one whose title line we might all find ourselves singing: “I’m tougher than that.” We’ll see, won’t we? Let’s hope for the best. Meanwhile, a good dose of rock and roll is what the doctor prescribes, particularly as other medicines aren’t easy to come by. Then “The Ballad Of Dick” is a fun number that tells the story of Country Dick Montana, who died while performing on stage. This is an original song, not a cover of Mojo Nixon’s “The Ballad Of Country Dick.” That’s followed by “Strolling With Chickenbone,” which perhaps for now should be re-titled “Strolling Six Feet Apart From Chickenbone.” But this will pass at some point, won’t it? Anyway, this is another enjoyable tune with a groovy rhythm, an instrumental track featuring some great stuff on both guitar and harmonica.

Things then get more deeply into the blues with “My Bad Luck,” a blues title if there ever was one, right? The first line of this one is “Don’t you get too close,” and then a little later he sings “Better keep your distance.” Ah, good advice these days. Of course here he’s offering a warning that those who get too close might catch his bad luck. “I need a voodoo woman/A gypsy or a priest/Someone to break this curse.” Hey, whatever works. That’s followed by “Ride,” one that comes at you like a powerful train. It is that work on harmonica that really stands out on this track, the force that is keeping the engine moving. Then “Helpless” comes as a surprise, being more in the folk realm. It’s kind of wonderful, the vocals having a weary and raw sound, giving this a sort of improvised and immediate feel. “Hopeless, hopeless/Hopeless, I know/I come for your body, I come for your soul/I’m hidden and wanton/Do as you’re told.” This ends up being one of my favorite tracks.

The bass gets “Little Victory” started, and soon this track is rocking, a great force moving along steadily. “Evil spirits and conspiracies/The machinations of my enemies/Holding back the hordes/A long slow steady retreat/I need a little victory.” That’s followed by “Dignity,” a blues tune about being treated poorly by a lover who seems out to not just end the affair but ruin the man in the process. He asks, “Why you gotta hate me/Why you trying to wreck my life?” But don’t worry, this song still has a great groove and won’t get you down. The album concludes with “These Things Happen,” an excellent song addressing a serious subject, the lyrics also seeming to deal directly with what the country is experiencing now, with lines like “The numbers that we’re seeing are way off the chart” and “Somebody must decide who dies or gets to live.” The solution the people are offered of course is no solution at all, “All you do is hold hands and pray.” It’s pretty bleak. Yeah, the album leaves us with something to think about.

CD Track List
  1. Vampire Baby
  2. Tougher Than That
  3. The Ballad Of Dick
  4. Strolling With Chickenbone
  5. My Bad Luck
  6. Ride
  7. Helpless
  8. Little Victory
  9. Dignity
  10. These Things Happen
Sleeper was released on March 3, 2020.

Exit North: “Book Of Romance And Dust” (2019) CD Review

Book Of Romance And Dust, the debut release from Exit North, is an intriguing and unusual album, one you need to listen to without distraction, preferably late at night when your defenses are down and the world is quiet. It is beautiful and haunting, and moves at its own pace. I was captivated from the moment the opening track, “Bested Bones,” began. Lead vocalist Thomas Feiner has a somber and rich voice that seems to resonate in our own chests as we listen. Plus, this track features some alluring, ethereal backing vocals by Fyfe Dangerfield, Robbie Lloyd-Wilson and Hedda Älveby. “Another year/Upon the back/Bygone ghosts/Upon the shoulders.” This song builds into something gorgeous at times, aided by the presence of a string section. The band is made up of Thomas Feiner on lead vocals, trumpet, piano, guitar and harmonium; Steve Jansen on keys, drums, percussion and backing vocals; Charles Storm on synthesizers, guitar, bass; and Ulf Jansson on piano and keys. Joining them on this release are Max Wulfsson on violin, Hanna Eliasson on violin, Tuula Fleivik Nurmo on viola, Jung Hyun Byun on cello, and Hans Adler on double bass, as well as other guests on various tracks.

“Bested Bones” is followed by “Short Of One Dimension.” This music isn’t rushing anywhere. It is like a well that we willingly sink into, let its waters wrap its arms around us, envelop us, immersing us in a warm darkness. Mattias Tell adds some good work on acoustic guitar on this track, and there is also some nice percussion. “Lay your hand across/Rid this mind of thought.” Then electronic sounds mix with the trumpet to create an unusual and fascinating landscape. Hedda Älveby contributes backing vocals. “Sever Me” has a gentle feel at first, a sound tender, yet tentative, with a pain within. The vocals then rise beautifully, while the deeper tones of the strings work gorgeously in contrast. “The hurt I can disguise/The bruises hide/Far below.”

“Passenger’s Wake” begins somewhat softly, but after a minute or so suddenly kicks in with an electronic force, an unexpected change, particularly after the first three tracks. “I’ve been riding this train/And I’ve come all this way/I won’t be heading back home.” This one too then has more relaxed moments, and yet there remains this sense of something crouching and ready to spring forth. It is an exciting track. It leads straight into “North,” a rather pretty instrumental piece led by the piano. This one too moves at its own pace, pulling us into its orbit, its slow rotation. This is the album’s only instrumental piece. Richard Hauer plays guitar on this one.

In “Lessons In Doubt,” Thomas Feiner’s voice reaches out to us from some strange place that is nearby. And then when this track gets going, it becomes undeniably beautiful. “And when the bricks tumble/I’ll send it all falling/And then hope/I leave it behind me/Pray they won’t find me/After all.” This track makes interesting use of silence as well, pauses that we seem to inhabit ourselves. The work on keys is gorgeous, as is the string section. This is one of my favorite tracks. It is followed by “Spider,” which features some wonderful percussion. Then at the beginning of “Losing,” Thomas Feiner hauntingly intones, “Save the world,” and it is difficult to keep from wondering if the world is already gone. Then an angelic voice joins us, possibly to help us save the world, or to ease our passage to another world. Perhaps it is up to us. That is Anna Bylund on vocals. Halfway through this track, it drifts into another space. It is like we are standing still, mute witnesses to some irreversible change. The album concludes with “Another Chance,” which eases in, and gives us the sensation that we are hovering above the world, taking it all in one last time before the inevitable end. Yet there is hope within.

CD Track List
  1. Bested Bones
  2. Short Of One Dimension
  3. Sever Me
  4. Passenger’s Wake
  5. North
  6. Lessons In Doubt
  7. Spider
  8. Losing
  9. Another Chance 
Book Of Romance And Dust was released on CD on April 12, 2019 (and appears to have been released digitally on October 1, 2018).

Monday, April 20, 2020

Doug “Cosmo” Clifford: “Magic Window” (2020) CD Review

After Creedence Clearwater Revival broke up in the early 1970s, drummer Doug “Cosmo” Clifford released a self-titled solo album, featuring music that was somewhat in the same vein as what CCR was doing. He then, along with CCR bassist Stu Cook, joined the Don Harrison Band, and seemed to abandon any sort of solo career. However, now a previously unreleased solo album is making its way into the world, and for many of us, it is our first opportunity to hear him sing. And it turns out he has a pretty damn good voice. These tracks were recorded in 1985, the same year fellow CCR member John Fogerty released Centerfield, to put things into some sort of perspective. This album has quite a different sound and vibe from that album. It features all original material, written or co-written by Doug “Cosmo” Clifford. Joining the vocalist/drummer on these tracks are Russell DaShiell on guitar, synthesizer and backing vocals; Chris Solberg on bass and keys; and – on a couple of tracks – Rob Polomsky on rhythm guitar.

The album opens with its title track, “Magic Window,” which has a strong mid-1980s rock vibe, and is about looking at the world from inside, told from the perspective of someone who seems reclusive and perhaps lonely, though hopeful, the window acting almost like a movie screen, and he being eager to see what scene it will present to him next. “Window, open up your magic/Show me who I’m gonna love/Is it someone coming from a distance/Like a shadow in the moonlight up above.” Watching the world from inside is certainly a subject that people can relate to during this pandemic. “Magic Window” was written by Doug Clifford and Rob Polomsky. Polomsky also plays rhythm on guitar on this one, and on the track that follows it, “Born On The South Side.” This song has a bit more of the sound we might expect from a member of CCR, a bit more of a country element. It’s about the effect of music on someone’s early development, leading to pursuing music as a passion and career, and being out on the road. “I loved the blues, and rock was cool/And country was so fine/I missed a lot of school/I played my records all the time.” This is a totally enjoyable song, one of my favorites. As it continues, it moves from the past to the present, with the line “I’m out on the road” repeated at the end. And as the track fades out, you hear him say, “That sounds pretty good to me.” To us, too.

“Don’t Leave Me Alone Tonight” is a love song, one of several on this album. When it gets going, it has a sweet sound, particularly on the chorus, and features a nice vocal performance. “The kind of moment that you dream about/You want to hold on forever/I fell in love, or is that obvious/I guess you don’t have to be too clever.” This one quickly grew on me. That’s followed by “Somebody Love Me Tonight” and then “Hungry For Your Love,” two tracks with a distinct 1980s sound, and for me the only two weak tracks on the album. “Somebody love me tonight/I don’t need perfection/Just treat me right with a little affection.” Those are followed by one of my favorite tracks, “Just Another Girl,” a love song with a positive, sweet and fun groove, as well as a strong vocal performance. “Suddenly you stood there/With your bright eyes right on me/Then I was your captive/And I’ll be eternally.” I wonder if this would have been a hit had this album been released back in 1985. Seems like it, but the song’s appeal is strong now too. This one was written by Doug Clifford and Rob Polomsky. Then “Love Mode” has more of a rock sound with a steady driving beat.

Love certainly plays a strong part on this album, and is the subject of many of its tracks, including “Fallin’ For You,” a fun, light pop number that is kind of catchy. There is a cheerful vibe about it. “I’m not sure I understand/But I know I want to be your man/It’s nothing that I ever planned/I’m fallin' for you.” We can certainly use more love songs these days (though I suspect that could be said of all times). “Fallin’ For You” was written by Doug Clifford and Chris Solberg. That’s followed by “Don’t Let Go,” another positive number, this one written by Doug Clifford and Russell DaShiell. This song is about holding onto one’s dreams. Check out these lines: “Now the music has changed, are we still the same?/Well, it’s hard to say/Though the years have gone by, the feelings inside haven’t gone away.” Those are lyrics I think most of us can relate to as we’re getting older, no matter what are passions are. I think it would be damn near impossible to dislike this track; the energy, the message, the beat all work to raise our spirits. The album then concludes with another song of love, “You Mean So Much To Me,” written by Doug Clifford and Chris Solberg. “Every day I spend with you is better than the one before.” When I say things like that to my girlfriend, she tells me not to be goofy. I think I’ll just play this song for her, let Doug Clifford say what I mean, though the song is a reminder to tell those we love how we feel.

CD Track List
  1. Magic Window
  2. Born On The South Side
  3. Don’t Leave Me Alone Tonight
  4. Somebody Love Me Tonight
  5. Hungry For Your Love
  6. Just Another Girl
  7. Love Mode
  8. Fallin’ For You
  9. Don’t Let Go
  10. You Mean So Much To Me
Magic Window is scheduled to be released on April 24, 2020.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

John Allee: “Bardfly” (2019) CD Review

Apart from the people I love, the two biggest passions in my life are music and Shakespeare. And those two are combined more often than you might imagine. Music plays an important part in many of Shakespeare’s plays, particularly Twelfth Night and The Tempest. In fact, the very first line of Twelfth Night is “If music be the food of love, play on” (a line which lent itself to the title of an early Fleetwood Mac album). Several artists over the years have covered the music from Shakespeare’s plays, including Paul Kelly and Deborah Shulman. Vocalist John Allee does something rather special on Bardfly, his album of Shakespeare music. He creates a sort of Elizabethan/1950s jazz club, which is hosted by Feste, so you know there is going to be some humor in these tracks. And the music that follows is all played at this club. Joining John Allee on this album are Mahesh Balasooriya on piano, Aaron McLendon on drums, Dominic Thiroux on bass, Javier Vergara on tenor saxophone, and Matt Von Roderick on trumpet.

On the album’s first track, “Bardfly Blues/Samingo,” we are taken to the jazz club and introduced to the place, its host, the other employees and musicians. There is some vivid description, which contains plenty of humor and plenty of references to Shakespeare’s work, such as “Over on Eastcheap Blvd.” and “the back of a Dear Romeo letter” and “remnants of a forgotten Folio” (and the way he delivers the word “Folio” is delightful). This piece also contains a reference to my favorite speech from Macbeth, “Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more,” with John Allee saying “The players hit the stage, ready to strut and fret for an hour’s set.” That is great, especially as this CD is approximately an hour long. Plus, there is a Tempest reference here: “Will melt into air, into thin air.” The track then segues seamlessly into the band’s first number, “Samingo” (from The Second Part Of King Henry The Fourth, which is the play I happen to be re-reading at the moment, so everything is feeling just exactly right). This track features some nice work on piano. Then John Allee delivers a gentle, cool rendition of “Until The Break Of Day,” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the play, it is sung by Oberon in Act V Scene i. Here it includes some gorgeous work on saxophone. That is followed by “Tomorrow Is St. Valentine’s Day,” a song from Hamlet. It is sung from the third person, rather than from Ophelia’s perspective, so “And I a maid at your window,/To be your Valentine” becomes “And there a maid at the window/To be his Valentine.” Once this track gets going, Ophelia cuts loose and gets funky. Oh, if only the poor girl could have been swinging like this, she might have enjoyed a different fate. There is more nice work on keys, and I love that horn, particularly at the end. We return to A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a delightful, cool and loose rendition of “Philomel,” the song the Fairies sing at Titania’s request. This one contains a bit of playful scat, and is combined with “Hold Thy Peace,” from Twelfth Night. Yup, it’s a groovy medley, and it ends with John Allee saying “Hush up,” which works for both songs. After all, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titania is going to sleep.

One of the most famous songs in Shakespeare’s canon is “O Mistress Mine,” here titled “Mistress Mine.” This is also from Twelfth Night, and is sung by Feste, who asks if the others would like a love song or a song of good life. Sir Toby Belch calls for a love song, with Andrew Aguecheek seconding it, saying “I care not for good life.” This rendition by John Allee has something of a beautiful late-night vibe, that horn calling out in the darkness, as the gentle work on piano eases us into a dream world. So sad, the line “Youth’s a stuff will not endure.” Indeed. Then from Much Ado About Nothing, John Allee gives us a sweet, thoughtful rendition of “Sigh No More.” Has the phrase “Hey nonny nonny” ever sounded so solemn? Here his vocals are supported by piano. Then approximately halfway through, the rest of the band comes in, the horn leading the way into a wonderful instrumental section.

One of my favorite tracks is the totally delicious and ridiculously cool rendition of “The Hungry Lion,” setting Puck’s speech from Act V of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to music, the lyrics delivered almost like spoken word, the bass setting the tone, and the horns adding some absolutely wonderful stuff to this hip and stylish take. Oh yes, you can just see Puck moving slyly along the stage, delivering his speech in such a fashion. That’s followed by a beautiful rendition of Desdemona’s song from Act IV of Othello, “Green Willow” (also known as “The Willow Song”), certainly one of the saddest and most moving of the songs from Shakespeare’s works. A sad and lonely horn sounds at the end, a perfect touch. The bass then leads us into a rather touching rendition of “Full Fathom Five” (also known as “Ariel’s Song”), from The Tempest. That’s followed by a lively version of “Heigh Ho The Holly” from As You Like It. “This life is most jolly,” indeed! This track features more wonderful stuff from the horn section, and then an excellent lead on piano.

John Allee presents another of Feste’s songs from Twelfth Night, “Come Away Death,” which is sung at Orsino’s request in Act II Scene iv. This is a pretty rendering, with a tender vocal performance. I also love the lead on bass. That’s followed by another sad song of death, “Never Come Again,” which is sung by poor Ophelia in Act IV Scene v of Hamlet. This song was recorded by Marianne Faithfull as “How Should I Your True Love Know,” and by Caroline MacPhie as “Ophelia’s Song.” In this version by John Allee, the drums at the beginning signal a death, a funeral. John’s vocals are supported mainly by gentle work on piano. The album concludes, most appropriately, with Feste’s final song from Twelfth Night, “The Wind And The Rain.” After all, he has been our host, right? Here we get a cool, stylish take on the song, with a fantastic instrumental section in the middle. This is certainly one of the disc’s best tracks. The song’s last lines get a slight change, from “But that’s all one, our play is done/And we’ll strive to please you every day” to “That’s all one, our record’s done/And we’ll strive to please you ever day.” Indeed! This album is pleasing from beginning to end.

CD Track List
  1. Bardfly Blues/Samingo
  2. Until The Break Of Day
  3. Tomorrow Is St. Valentine’s Day
  4. Philomel/Hold Thy Peace
  5. Mistress Mine
  6. Sigh No More
  7. The Hungry Lion
  8. Green Willow
  9. Full Fathom Five
  10. Heigh Ho The Holly
  11. Come Away Death
  12. Never Come Again
  13. The Wind And The Rain 
Bardfly was released on October 11, 2019 on Portuguese Knees Music.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Jim Infantino at Home, 4-18-20 Concert Review

There have been some hideous rumors of late, some rumblings that live music might not get back into gear until 2021. That is some news I just can’t digest. It has been forty-two days since I last attended a concert, and I’m already sensing the first steps of a descent into madness. Who can manage the rest of the year without seeing bands perform? It is an appalling future that no amount of alcohol can make palatable, though lord knows I’m trying. However, in the meantime, I am enjoying online performances by some of my favorite artists. Today Jim Infantino continued his “Solo In Isolation” concert series with an excellent set of original material, playing mostly requests from other music fans trying to stave off the inevitable delirium. Here’s to us all!

At 4:55 p.m. east coast time, Jim did a short soundcheck, which was basically asking those of us who arrived five minutes early how the sound was. Yes, we are all sound people these days. “I am here in a quiet and secluded location,” he said. “It’s actually my office. Nobody else comes here.” He opened the show with “Red Motorcycle,” the song he chose to open the last show of his that I actually attended, back in November. The song was a request. As with previous weeks, fans sent Jim requests via Facebook. There is something delightfully sweet about the sound of this song, and it raised my spirits considerably, for which I am grateful. “Oh you ran up and kissed me/Oh you couldn’t resist me/Oh you said that you missed me.” Folks typed the word “Applause” after the song, in the comments section to the right of the video on You Tube, because that’s how it’s done these days. Weird, right? But still kind of nice, I have to say. Jim tuned a bit, to get things just exactly right for us, then played “Free (And On Our Own).” This is such a good song. “It’s not like what I thought it’d be.”  After that, Jim took things up a few notches with “Background Vocals.” It was odd hearing this one without the band, but still wonderful. “I got this gig/I like to show up late/I like to show the sound person/All my hate.” And the folks watching added the “La la la” in the comments section and probably – like me – were singing along in their respective homes. “That is a weird one to do without the band,” Jim said afterward. “I miss the band.” He then asked if fellow End Construction member Jon Svetkey was watching, and of course I looked to the comments section to see if indeed he was present. Nope. And so Jim soldiered on.

This is an old one,” Jim said in introducing “Love Everybody.” It had certainly been quite some time since I’d heard him play that one, and it made me happy, just as it did back in the days when it was a regular part of the set list. It is hard to love everybody these days, but we probably should continue to try. Jim followed that with “The World Of Particulars,” and this was shaping up to being a beautiful and moving set. After that song, he mentioned how Dar Williams sang backing vocals on the original version of that song, and how Aimee Mann was there during the recording of the song. He then asked again if Jon Svetkey was watching, but again there was silence from Jon’s end. Today is Jon Svetkey’s birthday, and as a gift, Jim had written a song for him. “I wrote it about two hours ago,” Jim said, and then played it. It had jokes about Jon being left-handed, and also a reference to how he runs a concert series.

All the songs requested this week were very sad,” Jim said. “With a couple of exceptions, sad songs. Maybe we’re feeling sad. This is now month two. We’re a week into month two of this craziness.” It feels like month five, at least. And like the tenth year of suffering under the dipshit administration. How much longer can we all keep it together? I don’t know. I guess we’ll see. Jim delivered a beautiful rendition of “Down Here,” and teared up while singing it. “Tomorrow morning we'll be strong/We'll be what we need to be/Until then stay/Down here/With me.” I had requested one of the exceptions to the sad songs, “Can’t Stop Fooling Around,” and Jim attempted it. “Here is one I cannot remember,” he said before the attempt. After a few lines of the song, he stopped to say that it was lifted from a children’s song. And then, well, that was that. But I imagine it will be continued in a future isolation show. Instead, this time he played another not-so-sad request, “Little Miss Communication,” which ended up being quite a lot of fun. He followed that with “Angry White Guy,” saying “Here’s one I want to play.” This one had a false start, as Jim struggled to remember the opening stanza. My brother, who was watching on the other side of the country from me, helped him out in the comments section. Once it got going, this was a really good rendition. “All things being equal/They’re not.”

“The Ballad Of Barry Allen” is one of my favorites, and Jim gave us an excellent version today. In this one, he sings “And you say that time goes rushing by/It seems so slow to me,” lyrics that more people might appreciate these days. As musicians are struggling during this time of canceled tours, Club Passim is helping out with the PEAR Fund, and Jim mentioned to those watching that twenty-five percent of any tips he received would be donated to that fund. He also said he’d love for people to read and review his novel, which led to him humorously playing a bit of The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” He followed that with an energetic version of “Cheat To Lose,” one of only two songs repeated from last week’s show. “I don’t keep score/I’m not playing your way anymore/I cheat to lose.” Toward the end of this one, he sings “There’s a party at my house/And you’re all invited.” Yes! Well, sort of. He followed “Cheat To Lose” with “Stress.” This is a song that is always appreciated, but especially these days when we are all feeling stress and anxiety. As he did a couple of weeks ago, he changed some of the lyrics to fit with these bizarre times, again using the line “Sometimes I just stick my thumb in a peach and they arrest me,” and also adding “I mean, I’d love to do these things if it wasn’t for COVID-19” and “And the sand fleas don’t carry COVID-19/And the sharks don’t carry COVID-19.” And: “Everybody’s thinking about disease.” Last week Jim closed his set with “Just Like Me,” and he chose that song to end this week’s show too. And really, it is the perfect closing number, probably for any time, but especially for now. “So have a little compassion/Have a little bit of empathy.” The show ended at 6:15 p.m. eastern time.

Set List
  1. Red Motorcycle
  2. Free (And On Our Own)
  3. Background Vocals
  4. Love Everybody
  5. The World Of Particulars
  6. Jon Without An H
  7. Down Here
  8. Can’t Stop Fooling Around
  9. Little Miss Communication
  10. Angry White Guy
  11. The Ballad Of Barry Allen
  12. You Can’t Always Get What You Want
  13. Cheat To Lose
  14. Stress
  15. Just Like Me 
If you missed the show, I believe you can still watch it on Jim Infantino’s You Tube page. Enjoy!

Friday, April 17, 2020

Grant Dermody: “My Dony” (2019/2020) CD Review

Is there anyone out there that doesn’t have the blues right now? It’s hard to imagine, what with the loneliness of isolation, and the anxiety and worry about those we love, and the fury directed at a president who cares more about his own ratings and his golf game than he does about American lives. Hang in there, folks. We will get through this, with the help of some excellent music. The blues often have that nearly magical ability to lift us from the mire by putting our troubles into song. Singing the blues is like an exorcism of sorts, expelling the demons by naming them, taking away their power through music. Grant Dermody’s new album, My Dony, should be able to push away whatever demons are plaguing you. Based in Seattle, Grant Dermody is one hell of a good harmonica player as well as vocalist. Joining him on this release are Dirk Powell on guitar, keys, mandolin, and backing vocals (Dirk also wrote a few of the tracks); Jason Sypher on bass; and Jamie Dick on drums.

This album opens with its title track, “My Dony,” which was written by Dirk Powell. This song has a good groove and some really nice work on harmonica. Throughout the song, there are certain lines that Grant Dermody stresses through repetition. One of them is “Come and see me soon,” and as he repeats that line, he raises his voice. Ah, we all feel that need, don’t we? It will likely still be a while, but this music is helping keep us company during these hard times. He also repeats “You’re all too young to know” and, at the end, “I hang my head and cry.” By the way, there is also some excellent, classic-sounding work on guitar on this track. That’s followed by a cover of Clifton Chenier’s “One Step At A Time,” a tune with a delightfully fun sound, with that great Louisiana zydeco vibe, a sound seemingly designed to ease our troubled souls. A good deal of that sound is due to the presence of Corey Ledet on accordion and rub board. “Let’s take one step at a time/Honey, don’t fall too fast/Yeah, don’t wear yourself out, woman.” And of course there is more superb work on harmonica, and I love how it comes blasting in with a great blues force. “Give me your love/That’s all I want from you.” Grant Dermody then gives us a cover of “It Hurts To Be In Love,” a song written by Julius Dixon and Rudy Toombs, and recorded by Annie Laurie back in the late 1950s. I’m digging this track’s groove. Ah, maybe love hurts at times, but none of us would trade it for anything.

This cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Springtime Blues” has that great classic blues groove, and wastes no time before delivering some glorious, passionate playing on harmonica. This track’s sound, particularly that excellent guitar work, makes it feel like it could have been recorded decades ago, and its appeal is timeless. Plus, it features a really good vocal performance. This one becomes a damn fine blues jam. Just sink into this one and let it hold sway. “Maybe I might see you, baby, in the fall.” Yup, that timeline seems just about right. That’s followed by “Real Time Man,” a song written by Grant Dermody. Corey Ledet plays on this track, rocking that accordion. This track also features a nice jam, with a thumping rhythm to get you moving. “No matter where I go, sweet woman/You ain’t too far off my mind.” Then “Too Late To Change Your Mind” has a raw blues sound, and features more great work on harmonica. This one was written by Dirk Powell, who also sings on this track.

“Corner Strut,” a tune written by the full band, is some delightful funky Cajun blues. If you’re feeling down, this one will get you on your feet. Yup, this one ought to do the trick, indeed. Corey Ledet again joins the group on accordion and rub board. And the line “Wait a minute, what, hold on” is one I find myself saying quite frequently these days. That’s followed by “I Can’t Turn Back Time,” a song written by Dirk Powell, with an easygoing groove and a soulful vocal performance. Just try to remain unmoved by lines like these: “When I close my eyes/It don’t seem like you’re gone/If I don’t open them soon/I’ll never move on” and “I can’t trade all my memories for today.” Kelli Jones provides some backing vocals on this track.

We then get into a little gospel with a cover of “Great Change.” From the moment this one starts with those smooth, gorgeous backing vocals, I am crazy about it. It feels like it is reaching out, clasping our hands and easing us into some other world. Then when it suddenly kicks in, it picks up the pace to become a joyful number. Of course, the lines “People that I used to see, I don’t see no more/Places that I used to go, I don’t go no more” have a different connotation these days. Rhiannon Giddens and Allison Russell provide those excellent backing vocals. This track also features some wonderful work by Dirk Powell on mandolin. That’s followed by another traditional number, “Morning Train,” with Corey Ledet’s accordion and Grant Dermody’s harmonica sounding so good together. I love that zydeco. The group jams on this one too, picking up the pace a bit as they go, increasing the energy, and simultaneously increasing our joy.

“Come On Sunshine,” written by Grant Dermody, has a delicious, slow groove, and features good backing vocals by Kelli Jones. “The spirit keeps me moving with a brand new song/And the music shines down, guides me on my way/Takes me home.” This is one you might find yourself singing along with before the end. It is a song that I like more and more as it goes. That’s followed by “35-59,” one written by the entire band, about a relationship with something of a significant age difference (which might or might not matter). “She’s 35, I’m 59/I’m kinda hoping she don’t mind.” The album then concludes with “Hometown Blues,” another original composition by Grant Dermody, a song about how things sometimes change even when you don’t want them to. “Don’t it feel so lonesome when all you know don’t look the same.” Oh yes, I think we’ve all been in touch with that sensation at one time or another. They say you can’t go home again, but it is hard when the place you feel a strong tie to is, in one sense or another, no longer there.

CD Track List
  1. My Dony
  2. One Step At A Time
  3. It Hurts To Be In Love
  4. Springtime Blues
  5. Real Time Man
  6. Too Late To Change Your Mind
  7. Corner Strut
  8. I Can’t Turn Back Time
  9. Great Change
  10. Morning Train
  11. Come On Sunshine
  12. 35-59
  13. Hometown Blues 
My Dony is scheduled to be released on May 8, 2020 on Thunder River Records, though it seems to have received at least a limited release on October 18, 2019.

Terry Klein: “Tex” (2019) CD Review

Terry Klein is a singer and songwriter based in Austin, Texas. Last year he released his second full-length album, Tex, which features all original material. Many of the songs on this album deal with themes of family and the various familial relationships. And in these days of anxiety and fear, most of us are paying a little more attention to these important relationships, and not taking anything or anyone for granted. Joining Terry Klein on this release are Bill Small on bass, John Chipman on drums, Bart De Win on keys and accordion, and Kim Deschamps on steel guitar. Jaimee Harris and Walt Wilkins provide backing vocals (Walt Wilkins also produced the album). There are also several guests on various tracks.

I can’t help but love the album’s opening track, “Sagamore Bridge,” partly because I’m from Massachusetts, and when I was growing up we would cross that bridge every summer on the way to the Cape. Wasn’t there a Friendly’s right before you’d get to it? Is that still there? Anyway, being from Austin or not, Terry Klein certainly seems to know his shit about Cape Cod, and there are some wonderful little details in this song, such as “Provincetown saltboxes shimmer” and “the rich folks from Chatham” and “And on Labor Day weekend, locals stand on the bridges/Waving goodbye at the folks on Route 6.” There is such a strong sense of place in this song, and it is taking me back to my childhood. This song features some sweet work on fiddle by Warren Hood. And John Bush adds some percussion. The first lines of the song are “Well, they took out the circle/But the traffic’s no better/Sixty millions dollars just pissed away.” Wait, did they get rid of the rotary? I didn’t even know that. I get all my news from music.

Well, Terry Klein takes us from Massachusetts to “Oklahoma,” one of the songs in which family plays a strong part. “And my sister said that Dad could use a visit/I said I don’t know what good that would do.” There are a lot of lines that stand out. “See, I’ve been drinking, depressed, and kind of useless.” Well, if that isn’t a line to perfectly describe how many of us feel these days, I don’t know what is. There are some wonderfully depressing lyrics in this song, such as “She said I need you to try and be there for your daddy/I know it’s hard for you, just do the best you can/She was gone just a few short hours later/Dad refused to let go of her hand,” lines that had me in tears. Ron Flynt plays keyboard on this track, and on the one that follows it, “Every Other Sunday,” another song in which family plays a central role.  And I practiced feeling nothing/It worked to keep the tears out of my eyes/Every other Sunday.” There is some really moving work on fiddle on this track. This is a song that works its way straight into your heart.

Organ features prominently at the beginning of “Too Blue To Get That Far,” setting a somewhat different tone. There is also some great work on steel guitar, and I love that deliciously sad sound, fitting my mood perfectly. “If I broke every dish in the sink/Pounded my fists on the shards/There’d be blood and cracked porcelain everywhere/And I’m too blue to get that far.” Oh man, those are some great lyrics, and this song is getting right to me. “And the doctor says I don’t need medicine/But these days, honey, I ain’t so sure.” I love that he gets quieter at the end of that line, which just makes it all the more powerful, because it makes it believable, like he’s worried, and doesn’t want to worry her. What a fantastic vocal performance. This track is one of my personal favorites. It’s followed by “Anika,” and the first line of this one made me laugh aloud, which I certainly appreciated, needing a bit of a lift at that point. The first line is “If I had a wooden leg, you’d steal it.”  Another line that stands out for me is “It’s strange I have this stubborn wish you were right here with me now.” This track features some sweet backing vocals, and some nice work on accordion. Ron Flynt plays piano on this one. Then in “Andalusia,” the lines that stand out for me are “And I write for three hours every morning/You know I sit there with my hands in my lap/Just hoping I ain’t nowhere close to used up.”

“Straw Hat” has a lively groove. This is a song that makes me smile the moment it starts, something I certainly appreciate in these days of anxiety and fury, and it features some really nice work on keys. “Dark-haired beauty sitting next to me/A blue sky far as I can see/I’m a well-heeled fellow/Yeah, I’m dressed to kill.” There is something playful about this one. That’s followed by “Daddy’s Store,” which has a softer and gentler sound, the focus being on the story the lyrics tell. Again, family plays a part. “In his eyes, I see fog, fear and age/Good days, he asks me, son, how’s that store doing/Bad days, he can’t remember my name.” Yes, some heart-wrenching lyrics, those. Then “When The Ocotillo Bloom” has a pleasant vibe. There is something pretty and uplifting about it. Robert Casillas plays accordion on this track, and his work plays a central role. There is also some good stuff on steel guitar. The album concludes with “Steady Rain,” which has a kind of cool, slow, bluesy groove, the lyrics delivered almost like spoken word. The line about “Anitta” with the extra T in her name made me laugh out loud the first time I listened to this track, and then each time he revisits her as the song continues I found myself laughing more. Corby Schaub plays electric guitar on this one. There is a false ending, after which there is some spoken word by Arianne Knegt.

CD Track List
  1. Sagamore Bridge
  2. Oklahoma
  3. Every Other Sunday
  4. Too Blue To Get That Far
  5. Anika
  6. Andalusia
  7. Straw Hat
  8. Daddy’s Store
  9. When The Ocotillo Bloom
  10. Steady Rain
Tex was released on January 25, 2019.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Laurie Jane & The 45s: “Late Last Night – Elixir Of Sara Martin” (2018) CD Review

If you are suffering from anxiety during these frightening and infuriating times and are looking for music to make you feel like part of the human race again, one album you ought to give a listen to is Late Last Night – Elixir Of Sara Martin, the 2018 release from Laurie Jane & The 45s. The music is blues, but a fun brand of blues that features some wonderful female lead vocals. This album follows their 2017 release, Midnight Jubilee, and finds them paying tribute to Sara Martin, a tremendous voice in blues, born in Louisville, the same city that Laurie Jane & The 45s call home. Several of the tracks on this disc were written or co-written by Sara Martin, who put out a lot of great records in the 1920s.

The album opens with a grooving rendition of “Late Last Night,” the title track, a song written by Sara Martin. This version is driven by the guitar, and features some nice work on saxophone, the music having a modern feel. “Late last night when I took morphine/I took it to ease my pain/If it had not have been for the doctor, oh lord/I’d been in my grave today.” That’s followed by a seriously fun version of “Achin’ Hearted Blues,” a song written by Clarence Williams, Spencer Williams and Clarence Johnson, and recorded by Sara Martin in 1923. Laurie Jane Duggins gives a strong and totally enjoyable vocal performance. Yet, as good as that vocal performance is, it is nothing compared to what Laurie Jane gives us next on “Blind Man Blues.”  This is such a delicious track, in large part because of her fantastic vocal performance. Wow, she completely inhabits and owns this song. Plus, there is some gloriously expressive work from the horn, and it’s like a duet between Laurie Jane and the horn. And if that’s not enough for you, there is also some good work on both piano and guitar. This is my favorite track on the album.

On “Strange Lovin’ Blues,” they give the track a scratchy effect to make it sound like an old recording, like Sara Martin’s original recording from the mid-1920s. But that is so unnecessary. This band has captured the vibe and excitement and sound of the earlier times without needing to resort to this rather obvious device. Anyway, they deliver a nice raw rendition of this song, which was written by Sara Martin. That scratchy old record sound effect is used again on “Pleading Blues.” I understand the appeal and the desire to use it, but again it’s just unnecessary. Plus, I thought the idea was to bring this music to the present, to deliver it as a living thing, like it is happening right now. The effect is also used on “Atlanta Blues,” and here it seems even more dominant, making Laurie Jane’s vocals fight it for our attention. At the end, there is even the sound of the needle being lifted from the record, which is silly.

Things get popping and rocking with Laurie Jane & The 45s’ version of “Sugar Blues.” “Have you heard these blues?” she asks, and the saxophone answers for us. And when she sings that these are the sweetest blues we’ve ever heard, ain’t nobody gonna argue with her. This is a lot of fun. It’s followed by “My Man Blues.” This track has a cool, sly style and vibe, along the lines of what Sara Martin did on her original rendition. I love it, even though it contains the dreaded “self”/”shelf” rhyme. And I love that instrumental section halfway through, with some nice work on both guitar and piano. “Can’t Find Nobody To Do Like My Daddy Do” is another fun track, with a delicious rhythm. I love the drums and bass here. “Oh, how it hurts when he says goodbye,” Laurie Jane sings, and yet she has a delightful energy and joy about her. And isn’t that a great thing about the blues? You can sing of heartache, of troubles, and feel so goddamn good doing it. This track rocks and moves, one to get you on your feet, or at least dancing in your chair. The band’s rendition of “I’m Gonna Be A Lovin’ Old Soul” is a rocking blues number, another fun track featuring some good work on piano. “If you don’t like my peaches, let my peach tree be/And if you don’t like my loving, honey, stay away from me.” The album then concludes with “‘Tain’t Nobody’s Bu’ness If I Do,” which has that scratchy record effect, but fortunately only for the first few moments. After that, we are right there with the music. This rendition is a total delight. It is fun and playful, and by the end it is like a celebration. A celebration of music, of life, of freedom. I love the horns. This track fades out, giving us the impression that the celebration continues.

CD Track List
  1. Late Last Night
  2. Achin’ Hearted Blues
  3. Blind Man Blues
  4. Strange Lovin’ Blues
  5. Sugar Blues
  6. My Man Blues
  7. Joe Turner Blues
  8. Can’t Find Nobody To Do Like My Daddy Do
  9. Pleading Blues
  10. Atlanta Blues
  11. I’m Gonna Be A Lovin’ Old Soul
  12. ‘Tain’t Nobody’s Bus’ness If I Do
Late Last Night – Elixir Of Sara Martin was released on October 13, 2018.

Bruce Cockburn: “Crowing Ignites” (2019) CD Review

In 2005, accomplished singer and songwriter Bruce Cockburn released an album of instrumental tracks titled Speechless, which was a compilation of new and previously released material. He has now followed that up with a second instrumental album, this time with all new material titled Crowing Ignites. On some tracks, he performs solo. On others, he is joined by a few musicians. All tracks feature his superb and passionate guitar work. Bruce Cockburn takes us to a lot of different places on this album, each track with its own distinct style and feel. While we are stuck inside our homes during the coronavirus pandemic, this album provides a way to do a little traveling.

The album opens with “Bardo Rush,” with a pretty and bright feel to some of the guitar work, while that steady groove keeps things moving forward with a sense of urgency. While Bruce Cockburn’s guitar is the dominant instrument, on this track he is joined by Bo Carper on shakers and Janice Powers on keys. The work on keys adds an interesting atmospheric texture, and creates a more expansive landscape. That’s followed by “Easter,” this one performed by Bruce solo. This is a good time to be listening to this track, obviously. In the disc’s liner notes, he indicates that he came up with the idea for this tune on Easter of 2018. This one has a sweet, relaxed feel at first, and for me conjures up images of family gatherings, which is wonderful particularly for those of us who miss our families during these frightening times. There is a change partway through, with the guitar picking up the tempo a bit, adding more excitement to the piece. There is a good deal of cheer to the playing, and this track should raise your spirits. “April In Memphis” is also performed by Bruce Cockburn solo. He plays chimes as well as guitar on this one, and the chimes have a spiritual feel, adding an interesting layer to the track. This one pulls us in and takes us on something of an emotional journey, at times having a pretty, even delicate sound, and other times adding just a bit of blues. This track also breathes, creating these interesting spaces where we might anticipate the next step.

Blind Willie Johnson sang and played the blues, and is known for the recordings he did in the late 1920s. The track “Blind Willie” is named after him, and on it we certainly get a heavier dose of blues, but blues with a good groove. Bo Carper is again on shakers, and Colin Linden joins Bruce Cockburn on dobro on this track. There is a delightful energy to this one, and it becomes a wonderful little jam that I wish would go on a bit longer. Bruce Cockburn then switches gears with “Seven Daggers,” which features kalimba. In addition to 12-string guitar and kalimba, Bruce plays sansula (which actually is a variation of a kalimba), charango (which is a type of lute), dulcimer, chimes and bells. He is joined by Colin Linden on baritone guitar. This one has a strange, otherworldly vibe at its core, mysterious and spiritual. There is something beautiful and intriguing about this track. Things then get jazzy with “The Mt. Lefroy Waltz,” with Ron Miles on cornet, Robert Occhipinti on bass, and Gary Craig on drums. This track eases in, and once it gets going it feels like it is taking place at some secret club where the music goes all night while other unusual activities are happening.

We then get “Sweetness and Light,” and, boy, “Sweetness And Light” is the perfect title for this track. That’s exactly what it sounds like, a tune to make us all feel a bit better. Things are rather stressful, and as some of us enter our second month of unemployment and the money is beginning to run out, we need music like this to ease our minds, to lift us up. There is a welcoming sound to this track. This is one that Bruce Cockburn performs solo on guitar. That’s followed by “Angels In The Half Light,” another solo performance. It is interesting, for this one has a rather earthly groove. If these are angels, then they have become flesh and blood, and are right here in the room with us, with pulses and appetites, some fairly dark. But it feels that we will all pull through. We then go back to the blues realm with “The Groan,” which has a steady groove. In addition to guitar, Bruce Cockburn plays some percussion on this track. He is joined by Colin Linden on mandolin. Bruce, Colin, Janice Powers, Daniel Keebler, Celia Shacklett and Iona Cockburn also provide handclaps on this one, an interesting and unexpected element. Bruce Cockburn plays guitar and dulcimer on “Pibroch: The Wind In The Valley,” and is joined again by Janice Powers on keys. This one takes us to the rocky and green mountains of Scotland. This wonderful album then concludes with “Bells Of Gethsemane,” a track with an air of mystery to it, like something breaking open in the dawn, a dream-like presence that the tune is hoping to gain some control over, like a snake charmer or something. This is a solo performance. In addition to guitar, Bruce Cockburn is on singing bowls, Tibetan cymbals, gong and chimes. This becomes a fascinating and exciting track as it builds, particularly that guitar work.

CD Track List
  1. Bardo Rush
  2. Easter
  3. April In Memphis
  4. Blind Willie
  5. Seven Daggers
  6. The Mt. Lefroy Waltz
  7. Sweetness And Light
  8. Angels In The Half Light
  9. The Groan
  10. Pibroch: The Wind In The Valley
  11. Bells Of Gethsemane
Crowing Ignites was released on September 20, 2019 on True North Records.