Saturday, October 31, 2020

Damià Timoner: “Jerry’s Smilin’: A Guitar Tribute To The Grateful Dead” (2020) CD Review

I can’t believe Jerry Garcia has been gone for twenty-five years. And after all this time, I still miss seeing him. Those days of traveling to see the Grateful Dead perform were some of the best times of my life. In the years since then, many artists have kept the music alive with tributes and concert performances of the Dead’s material. It seems the Dead’s music has been played in every possible musical style, from punk to bluegrass, from full orchestral renditions to children’s lullabies. Guitarist Damià Timoner, from Mallorca, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean, offers his personal take on some Grateful Dead material on his new release, Jerry’s Smilin’: A Guitar Tribute To The Grateful Dead. He makes some interesting and unusual choices of material to cover here, offering versions of songs like “Built To Last,” Blow Away” and “Operator,” which aren’t often performed. That’s exciting for those of us who are big Dead fans. But you don’t have to be a Grateful Dead fan to enjoy this beautiful album. You just need to be able to appreciate excellent and passionate guitar playing.

This disc opens with a sweet, gentle rendition of “Brown-Eyed Women,” a song written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, and one that tells a sad tale of the Great Depression. Damià Timoner lets his guitar express that story, and the results are wonderful and moving. He follows that with another Garcia/Hunter composition, “Ramble On Rose.” This one has a bright, cheerful vibe, a song to get the spirits high. The Dead usually performed it in the first set, and everyone would cheer the line “Take you to the leader of the band,” which people took to be a reference to Jerry himself. Both of these first two tracks were audience favorites in concert, and in fact neither was ever included on a Grateful Dead studio release. Both first appeared on Europe ‘72. We then get a really nice rendition of “Cassidy,” a song written by Bob Weir and John Perry Barlow. This is one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs, and when I had a chance to meet Barlow, it was the song I chose to talk to him about. Turns out it was one of his favorites too.  It was originally included on Ace, which is sort of a Bob Weir solo album (sort of, because, apart from Pigpen, the entire band performs on it), but the version that Damià Timoner takes his inspiration from is that on the live acoustic album Reckoning, recorded in 1980 and released in 1981. His guitar work is particularly pretty here, and this is one of my favorite tracks.

As I mentioned, there are some surprising choices of songs on this album. The first of those is “Built To Last,” the song chosen as the title track for the band’s final studio album, but one they played live for only a short time (approximately a year and a half). I have to admit, it’s not one I listen to, or even think of, all that often. But this rendition by Damià Timoner is giving me a fresh appreciation of it, and I’m going to have to go back and seek out some of the Dead’s performances of it. There is something both comforting and uplifting about this track. That’s followed by “Terrapin Station,” a song that never failed to please the audience, one that, even from its very inception, had an almost magical sense about it. On the studio release, this song, titled “Terrapin Part 1,” takes up an entire album side, and includes pieces that weren’t performed in concert. The Dead basically played the “Lady With A Fan” and “Terrapin Station” sections, and those are what Damià Timoner presents here. On tapes we usually just called it “Terrapin Station” (sort of how that one section from “That’s It For The Other One” – “The Faster We Go, The Rounder We Get” – just became known as “The Other One”). This song is a somewhat surprising choice here, not because it’s rare – it’s not – but because you might not think it would work in a solo guitar setting, being so intricate, with lots of parts. Yet it ends up working extremely well, moving us on the “Inspiration” part just as we would hope.

Another of the disc’s surprises is “Blow Away,” a song written by Brent Mydland and John Perry Barlow, and originally included on Built To Last. I don’t listen to that album very often, but I do listen to live versions of this song, because Brent would often do some wild and delightful vocal riffing toward the end, and the song would take on a fantastic energy. Listen to the version from July 7, 1989 for a great example of that. Damià Timoner’s rendition highlights the song’s beauty, something that you might overlook during the Dead’s more rowdy versions. That’s followed by “Loser,” one of the first songs I remember hearing covered by more mainstream rock acts. Cracker included a version of it on the 1993 album Kerosene Hat. “Loser” was originally included on Jerry Garcia’s first solo album, and later included on the live Dead album Dead Set (released the same year as Reckoning). In the liner notes for Jerry’s Smilin’ it is mentioned that is the Dead Set version that influenced Damià’s rendition.

My favorite album of all time is the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, and from that album Damià Timoner makes another unusual choice, presenting a rendition of “Operator,” written by Ron McKernan, better known as Pigpen. This is a bluesy folk number that the Dead played only four times in concert, all in 1970, and it’s wonderful that Damià Timoner has chosen to include it here. He delivers a good rendition. That’s followed by “Dark Star.” One thing that was sure to get an entire audience excited was the Dead playing those opening notes of “Dark Star.” I saw my first “Dark Star” in Washington D.C. in 1990, and it was a thrilling moment. A more playful time was when the Dead sprinkled “Dark Star” teases throughout a show, yet never played the actual song. That was in New Jersey in 1991. We were loving it. This is one of the band’s most psychedelic numbers, so it is another interesting choice for a solo acoustic guitar performance, and I love the way Damià handles it. This is certainly one of the disc’s best tracks. The album concludes with “Touch Of Grey,” the band’s hit. This was the first song I ever saw the Dead perform, so it remains special to me. Damià Timoner’s version captures the cheerful, bouncy, optimistic sense of this song incredibly well. And these days we need the optimism of the closing lines “We will get by, we will survive,” perhaps more than ever before.

CD Track List

  1. Brown-Eyed Women
  2. Ramble On Rose
  3. Cassidy
  4. Built To Last
  5. Lady With A Fan/Terrapin Station
  6. Blow Away
  7. Loser
  8. Operator
  9. Dark Star
  10. Touch Of Grey

Jerry’s Smilin’: A Guitar Tribute To The Grateful Dead was released on October 9, 2020.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Dan Friese: “Jane Songs” (2020) CD Review

There is a line in the first track of the new Dan Friese CD that jumps out at me: “This whole damn world/Has gone insane.” That perfectly describes the outlook many of us have these days. The last four years we’ve seen people’s worst qualities encouraged, even celebrated by an administration that is devoid of compassion and warmth, that is selfish and soulless. The country has embraced lesser goals and attributes, and is all but unrecognizable. As Dan Friese sings on that opening track, “We gauge our worth/On what we’ve gained.” With the election at hand, we are fearful that our nation may continue along this twisted path, but music has helped us maintain at least a portion of our sanity, our humanity. Dan Friese’s Jane Songs, his first full-length release, is a good companion on this journey, offering reminders of what really is important and how brief this whole thing is. Following his debut EP, Happiness, which came out earlier this year, Jane Songs features all original material, written by Dan Friese. Joining him on this release are Eric Carne on drums, Bill Bambach on bass, and Irina Markevich on violin.

That opening track, “Start Breathing In,” begins almost gently, the harmonica having a somewhat mournful sound. It isn’t long before the song kicks in, taking on something of a rock vibe, and then it isn’t about to hold back, the first lines being “Some hardened hearts/They can’t be saved.” It is a song about priorities, and offers a little advice, “Start breathing in/Or your soul’s gonna suffocate.” “Start breathing in” is good advice, unless of course you’re around someone who isn’t wearing a mask. “Start Breathing In” is followed by “I Can’t Say,” which has a kind of loose folk rock vibe and sound, with a bluesy edge to some of the guitar work. And there is an edge to the vocal performance as well. Check out these lines: “Whoa, I don’t know/What’s on your mind, what’s in your soul/Hey, hey, I can’t say/That I’d wanna know that anyway.”

One of my favorite tracks is “I Thought I Knew,” in large part because of the lyrics, which I think most folks are going to appreciate. “Well, life’s much harder/Than it is in your mind/When your thoughts are all rosy/And everyone’s kind/Reality, it gets you every time.” And there is a great ache in his delivery, an ache that seems to come from experience. Adding to the great appeal of this track is the presence of violin, some beautiful work by Irina Markevich. There is also a positive, hopeful note in lines like “I won’t let my fears imprison me/I won’t let my nervous heart/Be my demise,” and “I’m going to be what I want to be/And you can be whatever you like,” which are repeated at the end. Dan Friese then gets a little bluesy at the beginning of “Streetlight.” This one was released as a single, and it too offers a sense of hope, something I am eager to latch onto. “Don’t need to worry no more/Don’t need to waste any more time.” I also like that bass line. This is a beautiful song with a sweet and gentle vibe, and an earnest and moving vocal performance, another of the disc’s highlights.

“Inner Child” eases in with some good work on guitar. When it kicks in, this track has is something of an acoustic rock vibe. I dig that work on harmonica, but these lines are what really stand out for me: “I stuffed my inner child/Into a holding cell/He released himself/Now everybody thinks I’m slippin’ away.” That’s followed by “Open,” which features a pretty instrumental section that feels warm, like something you can wrap around yourself as you drift off. On this track, Dan Friese uses a marimba plugin to add to the appealing sound. Then some beautiful and somewhat dark work on piano opens “The Beginning.” It has a haunting and somber sound. Nearly halfway through, the guitar comes in, adding another layer to this interesting instrumental track. That’s followed by “The Call,” which also has a dark vibe about it, with something of a raw sound that works well with its lyrics and subject. Check out these lines: “Tie this noose up tighter/‘Til I fall/All my yesterdays/Are filled up with your name/I didn’t know what I needed/Even when it came.”

“Stop Bringing Everybody Down” is a powerful and engaging song with an unusual rhythm and some more beautiful work on violin. It also features some excellent lyrics, such as these lines: “Don’t let it float on past/We’re alive for just a minute/Then it’s back to the ash/Your soul’s on fire/Your righteous path/It might be well-intentioned/But it’s making a mess.” And when you hear the line “You keep bringing everybody down,” who is it that comes to mind? The album concludes with “This Life,” a song about the ups and downs of life, which can feel pretty damn extreme at times. Yet the track has a pretty and comforting sound from its start. In its first line, he tells us “This life is perfect” and I want so much to believe him, but he quickly follows it with “And then it’s hell.” I love the honesty of lines like “How I’ll feel tomorrow/I can’t tell.” This track features some gorgeous and moving work on violin. And here are some lines to take with us into the coming days: “And when this life gets hard/I won't let it fall apart/I won't be so faint of heart/I'll find some joy in the pain.”

CD Track List

  1. Start Breathing In
  2. I Can’t Say
  3. I Thought I Knew
  4. Streetlight
  5. Inner Child
  6. Open
  7. The Beginning
  8. The Call
  9. Stop Bringing Everybody Down
  10. This Life

Jane Songs was released on September 18, 2020.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Mario Romano: “The Journey So Far” (2020) CD Review

Mario Romano is a jazz pianist who was born in Buenos Aires, and is based in Toronto (where he also co-founded a successful real estate development company). His new release, The Journey So Far, is a compilation of some of his previous recordings, the focus being on material that he composed. There is a good mix of instrumental tracks and vocal numbers, the latter featuring several different talented vocalists. There is joy and warmth to Mario Romano’s playing, and the music on this disc provides a much needed respite during this stressful and uncertain time.

The Journey So Far opens with “And If You Please,” a beautiful, romantic number featuring the magnificent Jackie Richardson on vocals. “And if you please/Would you love me forever/Make this dream our endeavor.” In addition to an excellent vocal performance and some pretty and gentle work on piano, this track features a nice lead by William Sperandei on trumpet. There is also a string section, arranged by Jim McGrath. Mario Romano then changes gears with “Dina Dance,” which has a fairly funky opening and a delicious rhythm that seems to tell us things are good. Ah yes, let that Latin rhythm move you onto and across the dance floor and into the night. Larnell Lewis is on drums, and Maninho Da Costa is on percussion. There is also a wonderful lead by Roni Eytan on harmonica. The heart of the piece, however, is Magda Gianoukas’ adorable vocal performance. “And as you wake up to the sound/Of rhythm all around/This song begins to play.” The group jams and grooves on this one, and the results are joyous.

“Those Damn I Love Yous” is a gorgeous number, this one coming from the 2010 release by the Mario Romano Quartet, Valentina. Joining the quartet on this track is vocalist Kristy Cardinali, who delivers a moving and somewhat haunting performance. “The one that made so many dreams come true/And now your love speaks of goodbyes/So sad and blue/This can’t be you.” This track also features some excellent work on piano, helping to make this one of my personal favorites. Then interestingly we get a solo accordion piece, “Encanto De Mi Nina,” the only track on this disc on which Mario Romano plays that instrument. This one has its own particular beauty. You might be surprised by how this accordion piece is able to draw you in. That’s followed by “Si Tu Quesieras,” this one featuring a passionate vocal performance by Adis Rodriguez, and some wonderful and expressive guitar work by Elmer Ferrer.

“Via Romano” is an exciting piece featuring some absolutely fantastic stuff by Roberto Occhipinti on bass. And perhaps that is no wonder, as Occhipinti composed this one. This track comes from the Mario Romano Quartet’s Valentina album, and each of the musicians delivers here. There is a great lead on sax by Pat Labarbera, and of course some impressive work on piano, but I am most taken with Mark Kelso’s work on drums, which keeps this one moving and popping, and keeps us engaged. That’s followed by a cheerful rendition of “You’re My Everything,” the disc’s first cover, having a lighter vibe, and with a certain swing. That lead on piano is a total delight. And check out Robert Occhipinti’s work on bass. There is a lot of joy in the playing. This track in particular ought to help you push aside your worries and fears for a time. This track was originally included on Mario Romano’s 2017 release, Fenyrose Non Dimenticar. It is followed by another track from that album, and another cover, “Non Dimenticar.” This one has such a great feel to it, it has me smiling from beginning to end, and that is just what I need from music these days. I am especially taken with Mario Romano’s lead on piano. The album concludes with an instrumental rendition of its opening track, “And If You Please,” William Sperandei’s beautiful work on trumpet more in the spotlight here.

CD Track List

  1. And If You Please
  2. Dina Dance
  3. Those Damn I Love Yous
  4. Encanto De Mi Nina
  5. Si Tu Quesieras
  6. Via Romano
  7. You’re My Everything
  8. Non Dimenticar
  9. And If You Please (Instrumental Version)

The Journey So Far was released on October 9, 2020 through Modica Music.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Suzzy Roche & Lucy Wainwright Roche: “I Can Still Hear You” (2020) CD Review

Some families seem to have an inordinate, even ridiculous, amount of musical talent. Such is the case with Suzzy Roche and her family. Suzzy and her sisters Maggie and Terre were a group called The Roches, known for their harmonies and original material. And with Loudon Wainwright III, Suzzy Roche has a daughter, Lucy Wainwright Roche, who of course also is a talented singer and songwriter. Together Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche have released a couple of albums, Fairytale And Myth in 2013 and Mud & Apples in 2016. Now they’re following those with I Can Still Hear You, which features mostly original material, beautiful songs that speak strongly to us in these difficult and ugly times. Joining them on this release is Jordan Hamlin, who plays piano, drums, percussion, guitar, bass, French horn, trumpet, banjo, cello, Mellotron, hammer dulcimer and accordion. Holy holy, what instrument doesn’t she play? She also produced and recorded the album. There are also special guests on certain tracks, including The Indigo Girls (Amy Ray and Emily Saliers).

The album opens with its title track, “I Can Still Hear You,” which was written by Lucy Wainwright Roche. This song features some absolutely beautiful vocal work. In these troubling and stressful times, this song reaches out a comforting hand, telling us we are not alone, that we are not forgotten. And in this time of isolation, this is a message we are hungry for. “From all of the people below and above/To all of the things we need to be careful of/From that was a near miss/To where do I sign this/I can still hear you.” That’s followed by “Ruins,” written by Suzzy Roche. This song too has its own particular beauty, in large part because of the vocal work, which is both friendly and ethereal. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers join them on vocals for this track. This is a song of childhood and the mindless destruction that sometimes goes along with it. “I asked my mama yesterday/I asked my daddy too/Why’s a human heart so mean/To do the things that we do.” This child then adds innocently, honestly “I don’t want to ruin anything.” In these days when we see the horror that adult human hearts are inexplicably capable of, it works to look back at the childhood roots of such troubles. It isn’t difficult to imagine the current Republican senators stomping on flowers as children, or even now as adults.

The album’s first cover is a really good rendition of Connie Converse’s “Talkin’ Like You (Two Tall Mountains).” This is an intriguing song, as it seems both playful, almost like a children’s song, and strangely haunting, addressing loneliness. Have you been thinking of mortality lately, or is it just me? It seems the larger questions are forcing their way into our thoughts these days, and the idea of a soul and what it means play a part in the way we are handling the current troubles. And so a song like “I Think I Am A Soul” is quite meaningful and striking. Written by Suzzy Roche, it features lines like “I think I am a soul/Who knows?/I heard that souls can roam the universe/The soul that I am, well, it could’ve been worse/The soul that I am gets lonesome like a million others.” Yes, in this time of isolation, this track too mentions loneliness. Emily Saliers plays guitar on this track. That’s followed by “Duck Song,” also written by Suzzy Roche. This one has something of the feeling of a traditional folk song, though an odd one. It is written as “Swan Song,” with the word “Swan” crossed out, and “Duck” in its place. The line that really stands out for me is its final line, “My strange new heart didn’t even recognize its beat.” Scott Mulvahill is on bass, and Brian Griffin is on drums.

“Factory Girl” is a traditional Irish song that The Roches covered on their second album, Nurds, back in 1980. Now Suzzy is revisiting it with her daughter, delivering a pretty rendition that also has a power, in that percussion as well as the vocal performances. The Indigo Girls join them on this track, Amy Ray on vocals and Emily Saliers on guitar. Perhaps the album’s best track is the gorgeous “Get The Better,” written by Lucy Wainwright Roche and Suzzy Roche, a song of a damaged angel. Check out these lines: “I’m broken in a couple ways/Lost my old halo and all the golden strands/Careful where you dream these days.” Something about this song, its sound, brings me to the edge of tears every time I listen to it. That’s followed by “Little,” a song inspired by E.B. White’s Stuart Little, about seeing things from a child’s perspective, which can be frightening, feeling small and inconsequential. “Life ain’t nothing but a tragic surprise/A whole lot of nothing for a mouse your size/Saw my shadow, mighty tall/Won’t amount to much at all.” This one was written by Suzzy Roche. 

“Joseph D” is an interesting and unusual number about a miserable man. This one kind of sneaked up on me and surprised me with lines like “Baby wants his lollipop/Hates his own guts/Begging on his broken knees/For some god to shut him up.” That’s followed by “Jane,” a song written by Maggie Roche, but one which she apparently never recorded. Maggie died in 2017. “There’s blood on the bed from the night when she said who she was/And I put on a song I thought I could put her in/But she isn’t there.” The album concludes with a cover of “Bein’ Green,” written by Joe Raposo and originally sung by Kermit The Frog, a song that certainly strikes a chord these days. Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche deliver a sweet and beautiful and gentle and hopeful rendition.

CD Track List

  1. I Can Still Hear You
  2. Ruins
  3. Talkin’ Like You (Two Tall Mountains)
  4. I Think I Am A Soul
  5. Duck Song
  6. Factory Girl
  7. Get The Better
  8. Little
  9. Joseph D
  10. Jane
  11. Bein’ Green 

I Can Still Hear You is scheduled to be released on October 30, 2020 on Storysound Records.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Brian Cullman: “Winter Clothes” (2020) CD Review

Brian Cullman is a singer, guitarist, songwriter, and journalist. His latest release, Winter Clothes, is the result of collaboration with friend Jimi Zhivago, who died toward the end of the album’s initial recording sessions in late 2018. Brian Cullman then set the project aside for a long while before feeling able to return to it. And it is fortunate for us that he did complete and release the album, for it is one of the best discs I’ve heard all year. It features all original music, written or co-written by Brian Cullman. Brian provides the vocals and plays guitar; Jimi Zhivago is on guitar, mandolin, organ and piano. Joining them on the initial sessions were Byron Isaacs on bass, backing vocals and drums; and Glenn Patscha on piano, organ and backing vocals. Then rounding out the sound on various tracks are Chris Bruce on guitar and bass, Chris Heinz on drums, Tony Leone on percussion, John Ellis on saxophone, Syd Straw on backing vocals, and Maryasque Fendley on backing vocals.

The album opens with “Killing The Dead,” written by Brian Cullman and Jimi Zhivago. When it kicks in, it reminds me a bit of Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill.” This is a beautiful song, with an undeniable energy and appeal, and some excellent lyrics. Check out these opening lines: “Time passes slowly/When time’s at an end/The hands of the clock start to bend/Time passes slowly/That’s what she said/When she was out killing the dead.” Syd Straw and Maryasque Fendley provide backing vocals on this track, and Tony Leone is on percussion. It is a fantastic and arresting opening track. That’s followed by “Down Down Down,” the song that initially excited me about this release. After like two seconds, it kicks in with a wonderful, delirious passion. Some unusual lyrics near the beginning grab my attention: “When the doctor came by with his broken mandolin/He said there’s lawyers in my basement/Bankers in my hall/And I do believe I’m heading for a fall.” There is a strange and catchy joy to the song’s chorus, aided by the backing vocal work. That leads to the song having a peculiar effect, as some of the lyrics are depressing, such as “It’s written there inside the book/That no one ever reads/That the things you love the most/Will soon be covered up with weeds.”  Those lines destroy me, yet they are followed by the joy of the sound of the chorus, pulling me all over the place emotionally. That’s when I really knew that this album is something special. This song also gives the album its title in the lines “Heaven knows/These winter clothes/Are torn and caked with blood/And if I could/I surely would/Get out of them for good.” Ah, and just when we’re heading for a harsh and disastrous winter.

“Wrong Birthday” is a lot of fun, with some lively work on guitar and keys. Yet these lyrics too offer a description of trouble and desperation. Lines like “No more candles on your cake/That shiny car has got no brakes/You’re at the wrong birthday” and “What did you expect/Your sheets are stained and torn/What did you expect/Your accounts are overdrawn” are ones we can relate to. This is a song that is perfect for these days, when we feel like dancing through oblivion, smiling as we look around and see that everything is wrong. I’ve mentioned this before, but it seems to me that there are more and more songs about aging (or perhaps I’m just noticing them more). The opening lines of “As A Man Gets Older” are “You find as a man gets older/He stops using words like ‘forever’/As the bills start coming due/You might change your point of view, et cetera.” This one has a sweeter, gentler vibe, which works so well. “Time cannot hold, time cannot bind us/Take us away where time cannot find us.” Those lines have tremendous appeal, the song’s beauty increased by Maryasque Fendley’s backing vocals. And this line makes me smile: “And as the girls grow much too young.” This song was written by Brian Cullman and Barry Reynolds, as was the one that follows it, “Someday Miss You.” This one is a mellow, more bluesy tune featuring some good guitar work. “I know someday I’m going miss you/I’m going to cry just like a baby/I know someday I’m going to miss you/But right now, right now, I’m so glad you’re gone.” 

I know we’re all looking forward to New Year’s Eve, just to be finished with this goddamn awful horror show of a year. In the meantime, we can enjoy “New Year’s Eve,” a track with a lighthearted vibe, playing on the word “Eve” in the lines “You can always find me hanging around the Christmas tree/I’m just a New Year’s Adam looking for a New Year’s Eve.” This track also mentions winter: “Now the winter’s here/Summer has passed and gone/Mother Nature left me here to carry on.” There are lots of striking lyrics on this album, so many lines to catch your ear. John Ellis plays saxophone on this track. That’s followed by “Sleep It Off,” another fun number, opening with these lines: “Go sleep it off/You crazy fool/Go back to bed/Go back to school/You know you ain’t so hot/And you ain’t so cool.” This one has a catchy groove, and a classic rock and roll ending. Then “Coffee” has more of folk vibe. And, again, this song features some excellent and memorable lyrics, such as these lines: “First I asked for her attention/Ah, but she was in the bath/Then I asked for her forgiveness/But she could not do the math/Now salvation’s overrated/And eternity’s a drag/But consider all the options/And you’ll see where I’m at.” I also love the line, “It takes an army of indifference to look the other way.” This track also features some good work on guitar.

“Wrong Girl” has a joyous vibe right from the start, reminding me a bit of The Hooters in those opening moments. “I’m in love with the wrong girl/Always seems like the wrong girl/Always seems like I can’t hold on/But I know I can’t let go.” Syd Straw and Maryasque Fendley provide backing vocals on this track. The album then concludes with “Building,” which was written by Brian Cullman and Jimi Zhivago. This one has a pretty, somewhat haunting and yet comforting sound, with a positive, optimistic bent in the repeated line “I will build where I stand.” This song is a great ending to an absolutely wonderful album. I highly recommend checking out this disc. You won’t be disappointed.

CD Track List

  1. Killing The Dead
  2. Down Down Down
  3. Wrong Birthday
  4. As A Man Gets Older
  5. Someday Miss You
  6. New Year’s Eve
  7. Sleep It Off
  8. Coffee
  9. Wrong Girl
  10. Building

Winter Clothes was released on September 11, 2020 through Sunnyside Communications. By the way, the album’s cover photo is one more thing that makes it the perfect disc to listen to this week.

Monday, October 26, 2020

GG Allin Rock And Roll Terrorist Activity And Coloring Book (2020) Book Review

As a companion piece to Reid Chancellor’s new graphic novel on the life of GG Allin, Rock And Roll Terrorist: The Graphic Life Of Shock Rocker GG Allin, a coloring book has been released. Titled GG Allin Rock And Roll Terrorist Activity And Coloring Book, this too tells GG Allin’s story, providing some details not in the graphic novel.

For this one, Reid Chancellor provides a written introduction, rather than including drawings of himself, as he does in the other book. As with the graphic novel, this introduction does contain a warning, but also an appeal to look at the factors that contributed to GG Allin’s personality and on-stage antics, to view him as a human rather than just a spectacle. Reid writes, “I hope that by exposing even some of his worst actions it can help us to understand ourselves, people around us, and how some coping mechanisms, left unchecked, can result in some severely destructive behavior.” In addition to the introduction, Reid Chancellor offers some words at the end regarding GG Allin’s upbringing and mental health: “Sometimes I wonder what GG would have been like if he would have accepted the help that was offered to him multiple times in his life.”

The book contains some of the same art work as the graphic novel, but enlarged so that we can add our own color to it. There is also a crossword puzzle, as well as a maze, but mostly this is a coloring book. On one of the pages, we are encouraged to “Draw in GG’s tattoos,” and on another page to “Create your own flyer for GG Allin,” and on yet another to “Connect the fuckin’ dots.” There is some humor in the way Reid Chancellor tells the story here. For example, he writes: “As Tracy was preparing to become a mother, GG decided he should go to Peoria, IL and shit on stage.” No, this is not a children’s coloring book. As Reid Chancellor jokes at the beginning, “Get your red and brown crayons ready.”

GG Allin Rock And Roll Terrorist Activity And Coloring Book was released on October 13, 2020 through Microcosm Publishing.

Rock And Roll Terrorist: The Graphic Life Of Shock Rocker GG Allin (2020) Book Review

Last year Reid Chancellor released Hardcore Anxiety, a graphic novel dealing with punk music and mental health. Now he’s following that with Rock And Roll Terrorist: The Graphic Life Of Shock Rocker GG Allin, which deals with similar subjects, but focuses on one extreme example. GG Allin was a punk rock vocalist and songwriter known mostly for his outrageous and violent behavior on stage. Clearly a damaged person, he seemed to both confront and court death during his performances, and planned to commit suicide on stage. A graphic novel seems the perfect way to tell his story, for you need both that visual element and the sort of freedom that the medium provides to accurately portray his life and his performances.

Reid Chancellor inserts himself into the beginning of the book, opening with illustrations of himself at his drawing table, issuing a warning that this graphic novel contains some, well, graphic material. “You will see some gross stuff,” he says (p. 3). And then: “There will be times when you ask yourself why. Why is this happening?” (p. 4). Of course, that seems to prove the subject worthy of the telling, doesn’t it? It also shows a bit of Reid Chancellor’s sense of humor. The book then gets going with a depiction of a concert performance, where GG Allin is introduced as “The Scum of the Earth” (p. 8), which incidentally was the name of the fictitious band in an episode of WKRP In Cincinnati. The name of GG Allin’s band at this point is GG Allin And The Murder Junkies, and as GG Allin says during an appearance on The Jerry Springer Show, he is there to “put the danger back in rock and roll” (p. 14).

We are given information on GG Allin’s earlier bands as well, including Malpractice and The Jabbers, when GG was originally a drummer before becoming the front man. I’d love to find copies of some of those early records. But, again, it was what he did on stage, perhaps more than the music itself, that earned him his notoriety. And yes, the book shows him shitting on stage (hey, Reid Chancellor warned us at the beginning). Interestingly, we see him buying Ex-lax before the show, so that first time was nothing spontaneous. He had planned it. GG Allin lived one way, regardless of whether he was on stage or at home, and so his personal life was pretty rocky. Though it was those around him that really suffered, and we see some of that with regards to the women in his life. GG Allin says: “I don’t get off tour and wear normal clothes. This is me. I am GG Fuckin’ Allin year round” (p. 123). Indeed.

The book in some ways moves like a film, and we get flashbacks to his childhood and an explanation of his name. And what a seriously screwed up childhood it was. There was something quasi-religious about GG Allin’s beliefs and rhetoric, and that seemed to stem from his very birth, when he was given the name Jesus Christ Allin by his father. Much more shocking is the image of his father digging graves for the family. But being given the name Jesus Christ had a lasting impact on his life. For example, at one point he is depicted as saying: “My body must be broken for them. They’re coming to witness the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ on that stage” (p. 66). A documentary film was made about GG Allin’s life, directed by Todd Phillips (who would go on to direct Bittersweet Motel, Old School and The Hangover), and the book contains some material about that film, and about GG’s reaction to it. The book also depicts GG Allin’s funeral, and even that was a sort of performance. He lived a wild life, and you certainly don’t need to be a fan of his work to appreciate his story and this book.

Rock And Roll Terrorist: The Graphic Life Of Shock Rocker GG Allin was released on September 1, 2020 through Microcosm Publishing.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Rebecca Angel: “For What It’s Worth” (2020) CD Single Review

This has been a hellish year, a nightmare that has included a pandemic, wildfires, floods, widespread unemployment, the ongoing horror of a racist and mendacious president, and the murders of black citizens at the hands of the police. The protests following the murder of George Floyd resulted in further police brutality, even against reporters, and displayed the systemic racism of our nation for the world to see. My girlfriend and I recently watched a film about the Trial of the Chicago 8 (often referred to as the Chicago 7 because defendant Bobby Seale was removed after a time), and she remarked that the footage of the police attacking protestors looked like it was shot today. Indeed. An earlier (and much better) film about the same trial, Conspiracy: The Trial Of The Chicago 8, uses the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth” during the opening credits sequence. That song has often been thought of as an anti-war song, but it is actually about clashes between the police and demonstrators. It is certainly a fitting song to revisit now.

Rebecca Angel, a young vocalist that I first heard back in 2015 when she released a holiday single, “My Favorite Time Of The Year,” has recorded an excellent new rendition of “For What It’s Worth.” And the song has lost none of its power. Rebecca Angel gives it a bit of a funky edge, which is noticeable right from the beginning, and which works quite well. Her vocal performance is passionate and true. This isn’t the first time Rebecca Angel has addressed social issues in her music. Last year she released a song titled “Thoughts And Prayers,” which was about the ongoing gun violence problem in this country. In that song she sings, “People dying in the street/Have we lost humanity/How much more can we take/Pain and heartbreak.” It is clear the gun issue is important to her. You can hear it in her voice on this new track as she sings “There’s a man with a gun over there/Telling me I’ve got to beware.” This version also features the addition of trumpet, used in certain key moments, and some really nice percussion. Joining Rebecca Angel on this track are Jason Miles on keyboards, Dean Brown on guitar, Dennis Angel on trumpet, Reggie Washington on bass, Gene Lake on drums, Bashiri Johnson on percussion, and Maya Azucena on backing vocals. In the middle of the track, the musicians get a chance to jam, and that ends up being a really cool section. As our nation flirts dangerously with fascism, these lines are chilling as ever: “Paranoia strikes deep/Into your life it will creep/It starts when you’re always afraid/Step out of line/And they’ll come and take you away.”  

CD Track List

  1. For What It’s Worth

For What It’s Worth is scheduled to be released on October 26, 2020.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

As we near the election, with hope of setting the country on a better path, tensions are high. We are worried that if things go wrong, as they did in 2016, that the country might never recover, that this horror show might become our permanent identity. And meanwhile, most of the things we would turn to in times of crisis – family gatherings, concerts, baseball games, theatre – are not available to us, making everything even more difficult and dire. But fortunately musicians continue to release albums that speak to the better parts of us, to what humanity remains inside, uniting us in a real way. Here are some brief notes on a few new jazz releases you might be interested in.

John Daversa Quintet: “Cuarantena: With Family At Home”
– Musicians of all musical realms are addressing these strange and trying times in their individual ways, and can’t help but be influenced by what is happening in the world. From the title of this album, we can tell how trumpet player John Daversa is thinking about the pandemic and the period of isolation. This music is about what many of us have decided, or realized, is most important in life – family, love, relationships, and music itself. John Daversa even speaks to us directly about those themes on one track, “Growing Up In A Musical Family.” Joining John Daversa on this release are Gonzalo Rubalcaba on piano, Carlo De Rosa on bass, Dafnis Prieto on drums, and Sammy Figueroa on percussion, each of these musicians expressing his own sense of the times on these tracks. And each of those musicians also gets a chance to speak on the theme of family and music, which is unusual and kind of wonderful. But of course it is the music itself that speaks most strongly to us. I particularly love the interplay between John Daversa and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, as in that section toward the end of “#22.” And the percussion is often as expressive, as on “El Último Suspiro” and “Puppitas.” It’s a beautiful album, with music that we can easily connect to. If you are unable to be with your family and loved ones during this time, do whatever you can to reach out to them. Call them often, write letters, and play them this music. This album was released on August 28, 2020.

Douglas Olsen: “2 Cents”
– With the election right around the corner, it seems that everyone is throwing in his or her two cents. Can we hope to sway another person’s opinion with our own? I’m not sure. But if anything can sway people to vote with a conscience, perhaps it is music. The two cents that trumpet player Douglas Olsen contributes to the national discussion should be heard and welcomed. The album opens with an exciting and lively track “Tailwind,” which moves swiftly and surely, and features some good work on drums. It is an original composition by Douglas Olsen, as are most of the tracks on this release. The album’s title track features a delicious lead on bass, and some wonderful work by Douglas Olsen. Another of the disc’s highlights is “Rat-Race,” which has a great momentum and pulls us along, the horns feeling like they have the ability to take us right out of the rat race. I also love the warmth of Douglas Olsen’s work on “Una Para Ti,” and the fantastic piano playing on “Passage.” Among the album’s covers is a fun rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Algo Bueno” that features some excellent percussion. Joining Douglas Olsen on this release are Dino Govoni on saxophone, Angel Subero on trombone and guiro, Yaure Muniz on trumpet, Tucker Antell on saxophone, Tim Ray on piano, Dave Zinno on bass, Mark Walker on drums, and Ernesto Dias on congas. This album is scheduled to be released on November 1, 2020 (though apparently it was made available digitally last year).

Scott Routenberg: “(Inside)”
– Pianist and composer Scott Routenberg created the music of his new album, (Inside), while stuck inside during the pandemic. (Sometimes it seems we speak of the pandemic as if it is a thing of the past, when really it is only getting worse.) Much of the music on this album explores different worlds and realms, for in general we are doing most of our traveling these days in our minds, in our hearts, in our dreams. This music should aid you in your travels, opening intriguing landscapes for you. Some of the tracks remain closer to home, a place that people have either come to appreciate more than ever or loathe more than ever. This music is firmly in the more positive category. In fact, one of my favorite tracks is titled “Home Sweet Home,” a track that begins sweetly and then bursts joyfully to another level, featuring excellent work on both violin and harmonica. And check out the excitement of “Meltdown,” something I’m sure we can all relate to. The album closes on a mellower number, “The Day We Went Away,” an introspective piece featuring some wonderful work on saxophone. Joining keyboardist Scott Routenberg on this release are Sofia Kraevska on vocals; Chris Whiteman on acoustic guitar; Howard Levy on harmonica, bamboo flute, and pennywhistle; Jonathan Raveneau on violin; and Phil Doyle on tenor saxophone. This album was released on September 15, 2020.

Jeni Slotchiver: “American Heritage”
– Accomplished classical pianist Jeni Slotchiver presents the work of several American composers on her new release, American Heritage, an album of solo piano pieces. The music includes spirituals, blues, and folk, all performed with passion and heart. This is a beautiful and moving album, and in a time of division and hatred in our country, it provides a welcome look back at some of the diverse composers who have added to the great musical culture of our nation, and might help to restore some pride in our history. Composers whose work is featured here include Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Margaret Bonds, Harry Thacker Burleigh, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Florence B. Price, Robert Nathaniel Dett, William Grant Still and Frederic Rzewski. A lot of the music chosen for this release will be familiar to you, and Jeni Slotchiver gives it a fresh life. This album was released on October 9, 2020.

Jim Waller Big Band: “Bucket List”
– “Rhapsody In Blue” is one of my all-time favorite pieces of music, and the new arrangement of it mentioned on the CD’s cover is what got me interested in this album. But the album contains a lot of excellent original music as well, composed by saxophone player Jim Waller. The opening track, “Samba For Suzell,” for example, is a totally enjoyable number and features a delicious drum solo by Will Kennedy. “New Blue Funk” is a bright and fun piece featuring a wonderful saxophone lead by Jim Waller. “Waltz For Laura” moves really well, and has a joyful sense about it that should rub off on any who listen. “Funksuite 109” is fun and contains another great drum solo by Will Kennedy. And “This Is It,” which closes the album, has a cheerful energy that you might find coursing through your whole body. Big band music certainly has the capability to raise our spirits, something we want more and more from our music these days. The central piece of this album, “Rhapsody In Blue,” delivers what it promises and what I’d hoped, an exciting new arrangement that still keeps intact what we love about the song. This version swings and grooves, and includes a good lead by Jim Waller on tenor sax. There are some other good covers on this release, including a delightful rendition of “I Love Being Here With You,” featuring Jacqueline Sotelo on vocals, performing some good scat. Jacqueline Sotelo also turns in impressive vocal performances on “Georgia On My Mind” and “Why Don’t You Do Right,” and on a fantastic rendition of “God Bless The Child.” This album was released on August 28, 2020.