Monday, November 30, 2020

Sonny Green: “Found! One Soul Singer” (2020) CD Review

In the 1960s and 1970s, singer Sonny Green released several singles, but never an LP. That is, until now. In his late seventies, this incredibly talented vocalist has released his first album. Titled Found! One Soul Singer, this album features some seriously enjoyable soul music, mostly covers, including one that he originally released as a single back in 1971 and is revisiting now. Joining Sonny Green on his debut LP are Kid Anderson on guitar, Jim Pugh on organ, Chris Burns on clavinet and piano, Endre Tarczy on bass, Ronnie Smith on drums, Mariachi Mestizo on violin, Mike Rinta on trombone, Jeff Lewis on trumpet, and Aaron Lington on saxophone, along with a few special guests on certain tracks.

The album opens with “I’m So Tired” a funky and delicious song that Bobby “Blue” Bland released as a single in 1972. Sonny Green’s version features a raw and powerful vocal performance, plus some good work on horns and keys. I especially enjoy that lead on keys halfway through the track. “But farther on down on the road you’ll find another jewel/And I’m so tired, I’m so tired of being your fool.” And I love the way this version builds to its climax. That’s followed by a cover of Little Milton’s “If Walls Could Talk,” a song written by Bobby Miller. This one immediately announces itself as a fun number, even before that howl Sonny delivers before the song’s first lines. This tune has a great groove, and some cool work on guitar, but it is that vocal performance that drives this one forward. Sonny Green really digs into this one, ripping it open and dancing on its entrails. Is this guy really almost eighty years old?

Sonny Green gets into deeper blues territory with his version of “I Beg Your Pardon,” a song written by Rick Estrin and originally recorded by Little Charlie And The Nightcats. This track features some wonderful work on keys, and a vocal performance that is both passionate and playful. Yes, this guy certainly is talented. I hope I get the chance to see him in concert when this damn pandemic is over. “I Beg Your Pardon” is followed by an absolutely beautiful and moving rendition of “Are You Sure,” written by Buddy Emmons and Willie Nelson, and originally recorded by Ray Price back in 1963. This country song works so well as a soul number. Sonny Green’s approach is so honest, so true. “But just look around you/And take a good look/Just between you and me/Are you sure this is where you want to be?” His delivery of that last line is powerful and heartfelt, helping make this song one of my personal favorites on this album.

Things then get funky again with Terry Hanck’s “Cupid Must Be Stupid,” a song he wrote with Jojo Russo and Kid Anderson, and one that was included on his 2008 album Always. Terry Hanck himself plays sax on this track, delivering a bright and cool lead halfway through. And Kid Anderson, in addition to playing guitar, produced this album. Anyway, this track is a whole lot of fun. I love that little laugh that Sonny Green gives early in the song, and also that great and groovy bass line. The band delivers a delicious jam on this track. And then, holy moly, Sonny Green really displays his vocal chops at the beginning of “Blind Man,” supported just by some nice work on guitar. Then the song kicks in, taking on a good groove. “People try to tell me to stop crying/Find me someone new/Because when the good lord made one woman/Hallelujah, you know he made two.” This song was written by Joseph W. Scott, Don Robey and Deadric Malone, and famously recorded by Bobby “Blue” Bland. That’s followed by a fun and funky rendition of Syl Johnson’s “Back For A Taste Of Your Love.” “Here I come,” Sonny sings, and indeed, we are thankful for his presence, and for these seriously enjoyable tracks.

The back of the CD case lists “If You Want Me To Keep On Loving You” as the eighth track, but actually “Trouble” comes first. “Trouble” is funky and exciting, one to get you dancing, and features Alabama Mike joining Sonny Green on vocals.  Now Frankenstein’s scared of fire, and the mummy’s scared of the curse/A sick man running, trying to avoid that hearse/I ain’t looking for no trouble, but you never know where trouble’s gonna be.” Indeed. Hey, this is a song for 2020, isn’t it? This song was written by Jojo Russo, Michael Benjamin and Kid Andersen, and this recording marks the song’s first appearance on an album. Then we get “If You Want Me To Keep On Loving You,” a song that Sonny Green released on a single on Hill Records in 1971. Here he revisits the number, written by Miles Grayson and Bobby Lexing. This new rendition is strong and features a passionate vocal performance and some excellent work on guitar. That’s followed by “I Got There,” an original number written by Kid Andersen and Rick Estrin. This is a lively, cheerful tune. I love that lead on saxophone by Gordon Beadle. “And it took a long time to find out the truth/Oh, but I got there.” Amen to that. The album concludes with “Be Ever Wonderful,” a mellower, soulful song written by Joseph Wade Scott, Jean Matyka and Don Robey, and originally recorded by Ted Taylor And His Band in 1959. Ted Taylor then used the song as the title track to his 1963 LP, and later re-recorded it for his 1978 album Keepin’ My Head Above Water, and again used it as a title track to a 1984 release. And why not? It’s a beautiful song. Sonny Green delivers an excellent rendition here, a great choice for closing track. “And be ever wonderful/Just stay sweet and true/And be ever loving me/As I love you.”

CD Track List

  1. I’m So Tired
  2. If Walls Could Talk
  3. I Beg Your Pardon
  4. Are You Sure
  5. Cupid Must Be Stupid
  6. Blind Man
  7. Back For A Taste Of Your Love
  8. Trouble
  9. If You Want Me To Keep On Loving You
  10. I Got There
  11. Be Ever Wonderful

Found! One Soul Singer was released on CD on October 30, 2020, but was made available digitally on September 10th.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Amber Weekes: “The Gathering” (2020) CD Review

It seems that this year even more Christmas albums are being released than usual. And perhaps that’s because this year we desperately wish to celebrate. Celebrate something, anything. It has been one hell of a crummy year, and we need a release. Sure, the election results were a cause of some relief, but even the election revealed a depressing, dark side to this country, that there are more than seventy-three million racist cretins among us. So, even though the holiday is going to be a scaled down affair this year, so many of us are looking forward to it, looking forward to that sense of peace and warmth that is associated with the time. Holiday music can help put us in that place early, and help us remain there longer, and perhaps that’s why so many holiday albums are coming out this year. I’ve heard that lots of folks are putting up decorations early this year, probably for the same reason. Amber Weekes’ new album, The Gathering, presents some classic holiday material, designed to give us that warm and hopeful feeling, something we crave more than usual.

The album opens with “The Christmas Waltz,” a song written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, and originally recorded by Frank Sinatra. It has a pretty, romantic sound, and Amber Weekes’ delivery is full of love. “It’s that time of year/When the world falls in love/Every song you hear/Seems to say merry Christmas/May your New Year dreams come true.” Ah, so sweet. Josh Nelson provides some wonderful work on piano. And I love Andrew Carney’s lead on trumpet in the second half of the track. Amber Weekes switches to an intimate, playful whispering at the end. She then gives us a somewhat unusual take on “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” which was a hit for Bing Crosby. This song certainly has a greater relevance this year, when most of us will not in fact be home for Christmas, except in our dreams. And shame on those who are traveling despite the pandemic. Amber Weekes sings those extra lines at the beginning that Johnny Mathis and The Carpenters included in their versions. This version also includes some nice percussion by Munyungo Jackson, and some good work on guitar by Paul Jackson, Jr. That’s followed by “My Romance,” which isn’t really a Christmas song. It was composed by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for the musical Jumbo. But Amber Weekes gives it a holiday vibe, even including a little nod to “Jingle Bells” at the beginning. Her version also has a dreamlike quality, and features strings.

“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is a rather goofy song, but Amber Weekes delivers a truly delightful and cool rendition. It features a really good, popping bass line by Adam Cohen and some nice work on saxophone by Rickey Woodard, but it is her vocal performance that makes this version so enjoyable. She completely sells it. There is even a playful spoken word section at the end. “Well, folks, I’ve got to go/My mother is giving me that look.” This might be the best version I’ve heard. She changes gears with “Some Children See Him.” The instrumental introduction to this track is beautiful, and is something that can transport you, which I love. That is my favorite section of this song. Ernie Fields, Jr. is on bagpipes on this one. Then I love what Jacques Lesure does on guitar at the beginning of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” a song written by Frank Loesser, and originally recorded by Margaret Whiting. Amber Weekes’ vocal performance is playful and seductive and romantic, just the exact thing we want as we approach the New Year. Just listen to the way she delivers the lines “Maybe I’m crazy to suppose/I’d ever be the one you chose.” A couple of minutes in, we get more wonderful work on guitar, a lead that I completely love. This is my personal favorite of the disc’s tracks. At the end, there is a spoken word section, offered in a sort of whisper: “How about a great big party? What do you think? No?” No, not this year, sadly.

There is a whole lot of joy to the classic holiday number “Winter Wonderland,” particularly the way Amber Weekes delivers it. I dig those touches by Rickey Woodard on saxophone. And, hey, who is Parson Brown anyway? Interestingly, near the end she also includes the revamped lines about pretending the snowman is a circus clown. That is followed by “Silent Night,” which is probably the most beautiful song associated with Christmas. Here Amber Weekes offers an interesting rendition that begins like a lullaby, and then develops a kind of pop vibe. “Let It Snow” is such a cheerful track. How can you keep from getting in the holiday spirit when hearing Amber Weekes’ wonderful rendition of this song? I really like that instrumental section too, particularly Andrew Carney’s work on trumpet. The album concludes with its title track, an original number with lyrics by Amber Weekes. It’s kind of an odd pop song, though with a positive message. And I really like Mark Cargill’s work on violin.

CD Track List

  1. The Christmas Waltz
  2. I’ll Be Home For Christmas
  3. My Romance
  4. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
  5. Some Children See Him
  6. What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve
  7. Winter Wonderland
  8. Silent Night
  9. Let It Snow
  10. The Gathering

The Gathering was released on October 1, 2020.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Time Between: My Life As A Byrd, Burrito Brother, And Beyond (2020) Book Review

Chris Hillman is known for being a founding member of the both The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers, and in his new autobiography, Time Between: My Life As A Byrd, Burrito Brother, And Beyond, he recounts his experiences in both bands, as well as in Manassas, The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band and The Desert Rose Band. The book’s title comes from a song he wrote while in The Byrds, a song that was included on Younger Than Yesterday. Obviously, music plays a huge part in his life, and so it does in this book too, but this book is also about family and about a spiritual awakening. It is written in a fairly straightforward, friendly manner, and as a result is a rather quick read. The book interestingly begins in 2017 when Chris Hillman and his wife had to suddenly evacuate their home because of a wildfire. Firefighters were able to save most of their house, but it was a close call. As he mentions in the book’s introduction, what was most important was that he and his wife were all right. Of course an event like that gets one to thinking about his own mortality and what he has done, and what he’d like to do with his time on this planet. And it is with that perspective that Chris Hillman begins to look back at his life as a musician.

His earliest memory, it turns out, also involves a fire, this one at his childhood home. The book largely goes in chronological order, and we get a sense of his childhood, and how some events and people from that time later influenced his music.  For example, a man from the town where he grew up named John Robertson would provide the subject of the Byrds song “Old John Robertson,” which was included on The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Chris Hillman provides some interesting information about his family as well, that his father started his own local weekly newspaper and created various characters to use as his own bylines. Regarding music, he writes: “The best part of that era was rock and roll, which changed our whole culture. Our hormones weren’t only firing off in every direction, but we even had our own soundtrack for it” (p. 32). Chris Hillman then got into folk music in 1959, when rock started getting tame, and his sister turned him on to records by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. It is wonderful reading about his passion for the records that came before his own work, for it connects us to him in our passion for the records that he contributed to our culture. He also describes the first guitars he owned, and his early musical endeavors. (I need to find a copy of that Scottsville Squirrel Barkers record.)

The story of how The Byrds came together is, of course, fascinating, including the choice of the band’s name and its spelling, and it’s wild that Miles Davis had a hand in getting the band signed to Columbia. It’s also interesting that Jim (later, Roger) McGuinn was the only member to play an instrument on their first single, “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The rest were studio musicians, including Leon Russell on piano and Hal Blaine on drums. The Monkees got so much shit for that, but so many other bands at the time did the same thing. Speaking of The Monkees, Chris Hillman says that “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” is not “a jab at The Monkees” (p. 93), perhaps finally putting an end to a rumor that has persisted for decades. He also talks about the minor controversy surrounding the song “Eight Miles High,” and tells plenty of great anecdotes, such as Henry Fonda once asking the band to turn the volume down at a party. I also enjoyed reading about their performance at the Grand Ole Opry, and Skeeter Davis’ kind words to the band afterward. He does mention Jim McGuinn changing his name to Roger McGuinn, but doesn’t get into it all that much, saying, “I don’t think the change had any real impact on us as a band” (p. 97). That might be the book’s only weakness. I sometimes found myself craving more detail. There are lots of great stories here, but some are only hinted at. He mentions The Byrds’ cover of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” but not the famous lyric flub which later Dylan joked about in his own recording of the song. As he writes later regarding The Desert Rose Band, “There were many wonderful moments, and enough stories to fill three books” (p. 191).

As interesting as the material on The Byrds is, the book contains equally fascinating tales from his time with The Flying Burrito Brothers, including his personal recollections of the show at Altamont, where the Burrito Brothers played. It’s also interesting to hear about the impact of the Manson murders on the culture and the mood of the city, with Chris Hillman writing “it suddenly seemed crazy to have unknown people coming and going from your house” (p. 124). As was the case with The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers had several different members at various times, and it’s wild that Emmylou Harris sat in with them, but turned down a chance to join the band. Chris Hillman also recounts his time playing with Stephen Stills in Manassas, and in The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band and in The Desert Rose Band, and also his solo work. Somehow before reading this book, I had missed that Chris Hillman covered “Ripple,” which is my all-time favorite song (I must get a copy of that Morning Sky album). Toward the end of the book, Chris delves more into the religious areas of his life, and talks about his battle with Hepatitis C, and about the importance of family. While the tales of his musical pursuits will likely hold the most interest for the readers, it will probably be the material on family that people will most strongly connect to, particularly in this strange time when everyone’s priorities have been re-evaluated.

Time Between: My Life As A Byrd, Burrito Brother, And Beyond was released on November 17, 2020. Note: the copy I read was an uncorrected advance reader copy, so some of the lines I’ve quoted, as well as the page numbers, could be different from the final edition.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

As we now begin to approach the end of this twisted year, feeling hopeful again after so much darkness and despair, musicians are here to help guide us safely into whatever world tomorrow will bring. Here are some brief notes on a few new jazz releases that you might want to check out. 

Noah Bless: “New York Strong – Latin Jazz!”
– The opening track of the new release from trombonist Noah Bless is titled “Chasing Normal,” a title I think we can all appreciate these days. And who in 2015 would have predicted that the word “normal” would soon carry such weight, and that its return would produce such joy and relief and optimism? This is an original composition by Noah Bless, and it creates a pleasant and spirited atmosphere, perhaps just what we need as we finally near the end of this disastrous and ugly year. And before the tune’s conclusion, there is a delicious joy and excitement in the air, and the track features some great work on piano. It is one of two pieces written by Noah Bless on this disc, the other being “The Key,” an interesting piece that in some of its livelier sections feels like part of a theme to some wonderful 1970s television program or film. Most of the other tracks explore Latin jazz compositions, beginning with Rudy Calzado’s “Ganga,” featuring some wonderful percussion that will keep your body moving. Then check out that excellent bass work on “Canto De Ossanha.” This disc also includes a beautiful rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Ligia,” Noah Bless’ work here being gorgeous and moving. Probably the most surprising choice of tunes here is James Taylor’s “Fire And Rain,” with Noah’s trombone taking the vocal line. The group on this album includes Noah Bless on trombone, Mike Eckroth on piano, Boris Kozlov on bass, Pablo Bencid on drums and Luisito Quintero on percussion, with Alejandro Aviles joining them on flute for two tracks. This album was released on October 23, 2020.

Marty Elkins & Mike Richmond: “‘Tis Autumn”
– Vocalist Marty Elkins and bass player Mike Richmond deliver wonderful and intimate renditions of some classic material, beginning with “Old Devil Moon,” which features a rather sexy vocal performance and an extended bass solo. Then on “In A Mellow Tone,” Marty Elkins gives us some playful, rather sweet scat, something that is certain to help improve even the worst mood. I love Marty Elkins and Mike Richmond’s approach to the album’s title track, “‘Tis Autumn,” which has a friendly and light vibe. This track is charming and engaging, though then again that can be said of the entire album. On “Stairway To The Stars,” Mike Richmond plays both bass and cello, and the presence of cello helps to make this a moving and beautiful rendition. Of course, Marty Elkin’s gorgeous and passionate vocal performance also leads to this being one of the disc’s highlights. Mike Richmond also plays cello on their captivating and pretty version of “My Mother’s Eyes,” another highlight. “Honeysuckle Rose” features some delightful scat and an excellent bass solo. Then Marty Elkins’ vocal delivery on “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues” is undeniably sexy, making this track a favorite of mine. So delicious. This album is scheduled to be released on CD on January 15, 2021.

Max Haymer: “Whirlwind: Live At Sam First”
– Max Haymer’s new album, his first as a leader in twelve years, features mostly original material. However, the pianist opens the disc with an exciting rendition of Cole Porter’s “So In Love,” which contains some wild and wonderful work on piano. This version has a tremendous power at times, and will likely give you a fresh look at the familiar song. The trio for this live album (which, by the way, was recorded before the pandemic began) is Max Haymer on piano, David Robaire on bass, and Dan Schnelle on drums. “Whirlwind,” the album’s title track, takes us on a delightful journey that is warm and contains some surprises. This track features some excellent work on bass, as well as some wonderfully catchy themes on piano. “Proof Of Evil,” another original composition, has its own sort of excitement, and is dramatic at times. And in its rapid pace the track itself seems to be engaged in a battle against evil, and seems to be winning. This album is certainly never dull. All the tracks are vibrant, and every note seems to have purpose, like a line moving a story forward. Even the mellower, more romantic-sounding “Welcoming” and “Passed Time” draw us in and keep us completely engaged. Whirlwind opens with a Cole Porter song, and it likewise closes with one, “Love For Sale.” The energy is high right from the start, with some excellent work on drums, and this track moves at a great pace, with things flying right along. Halfway through, there is a really good drum solo. This album was released on October 15, 2020.

Frank Kohl: “Solitude”
– This has been an insane and troubling year, but now at long last we can relax a bit, knowing a great change is coming to our country in January. Jazz guitarist Frank Kohl offers some beautiful and comforting solo guitar pieces on his new album, Solitude, the perfect thing as we approach the colder and lonesome days of winter. There is warmth to his playing, and this being a solo album, it feels like the guitar is addressing us one-on-one, working to combat the loneliness many people feel this time of year, particularly this year with the pandemic. This disc features mostly original compositions, and opens with a pretty and soothing original number, “Dreams In Color.” And in “Solitude,” the album’s title track, Frank Kohl is reaching out a hand, or lending his shoulder. He also seems to be saying that much can be accomplished in those moments of solitude, that those moments have their usefulness, and so we should not despair. “A Call For Peace” is a track that feels completely in line with what Joe Biden had to say in his victory speech, to bring the country together again after four years of division. It’s going to be difficult, but this music makes it feel possible, doesn’t it? Another highlight is “Still Missing You,” which has a sweet and sad beauty, and fits with the album’s theme of solitude. There are also a few covers on this album, including a good rendition of Duke Ellington’s “I Got It Bad” that at times has an improvised feel, and a wonderful version of Oscar Peterson’s “City Lights.” This album was released on October 30, 2020.

Deborah Silver: “Glitter & Grits”
– “Who could ask for anything more?” Deborah Silver asks in “I Got Rhythm,” the opening track of her new album. In the moments before I put on this disc, I could have listed off dozens of things in response to that question, but once this delightful music starts, my needs seem to evaporate. Perhaps this music is taking care of everything, or perhaps it is putting things into perspective. At any rate, the music is excellent. That opening track features some wonderful work by Ray Benson on electric guitar. And Deborah’s vocal performance is lively and fun. And that track sets the tone for the album, which features completely enjoyable renditions of classic numbers like “That Old Black Magic,” “Get Happy” and “Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home.” One of my personal favorites is her delicious rendition of “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter,” which features some nice work on fiddle and piano, as well as a totally adorable vocal performance. Perhaps the best vocal performance of the album is that on “After You’ve Gone,” another of the disc’s highlights. She varies her delivery throughout the track, sometimes sounding intimate and seductive, other times taking on more energy. That track also features some excellent work on fiddle. Deborah Silver and Ray Benson have a lot of fun on the duet of “Ballin’ The Jack,” a playful number, and Deborah also delivers a nice version of “Fly Me To The Moon.” Joining Deborah Silver on this release are Floyd Domino on piano, David Sanger on drums, Josh Hoag on bass, Dennis Ludiker on fiddle and mandolin, Eddie Rivers on steel guitar, Ray Benson on electric guitar and acoustic guitar, Rick McRae on electric guitar, Mickey Raphael on harmonica, and John Mills on saxophone and clarinet. This album was released on August 7, 2020.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

A Gulf Coast Christmas (2020) CD Review

No question about it, a lot of folks are going to have the blues this Christmas. Unable to be with family and friends because of the pandemic, people are going to be lonely and down. So why not listen to some Christmas blues to help keep you company? A Gulf Coast Christmas is a collection of holiday-themed blues songs by artists like Mike Zito, Albert Castiglia and The Proven Ones, and the tracks are a mix of covers and original material.

The album opens with a good, raw dose of blues rock in Mike Zito’s “All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues.” This one tells a classic blues story, that of a man whose woman has left him. But it is particularly cold to leave someone during the holidays, and that is what this woman has done.  Christmas is supposed to be the time for giving, but here she has taken everything. “Only thing I got left is poor little ol’ me/You picked a fine time, baby, to give me the sad, sad news/Yeah, you got you another man/All I got for Christmas is the blues.” And is her new man Santa Claus himself? This track has a good, solid groove, and features some nice work on both keys and guitar. I particularly like that jam in the middle. And I couldn’t help but laugh at the line “Yeah, you are out running around like Santa’s new ho ho.” That’s followed by Albert Castiglia’s cover of “Somebody Stole My Christmas,” which was the title track to Lefty Dizz’s 1979 album. This is such a cool song about being lonely during the holiday, and Albert Castiglia does a really good job with it. “It’s the 25th of December/I’m as lonesome as a man can me/You know it’s Christmas all over the world/But it’s just another day for me.” This track also features a good jam, led by that great and expressive work on guitar.

A theme is certainly developing on this album, that of men who, for one reason or another, are missing their women on Christmas. Kevin Burt gives us “Please Mr. Santa Claus,” in which he sings “Mr. Santa Claus, there’s just one wish for me/Please, Mr. Santa Claus, bring my baby back home to me.” For me, those lines conjure a strange image of Santa Claus kidnaping a woman, wrapping her up and leaving her under this guy’s tree. This track has a fun groove, and some delicious work on harmonica, and a somewhat playful vocal approach. The album’s theme then changes a bit with Billy Price’s “Christmas Comes But Once A Year,” in which the man is going leave the woman. This one begins with a spoken word section, in which he says he has made a decision to leave his partner after she’s done him wrong. “All this jive you’ve been putting down/I’m just going to let you do it with somebody else/I’m going to move on.” There is yet more good work on guitar on this track. That’s followed by The Proven Ones’ rendition of “Blue Christmas.” This is probably the most rocking rendition of this song I’ve heard. No wallowing in misery for these guys. No way. Instead, they are going to rock those blues right out the door.

Jimmy Carpenter gives us a lively, joyous cover of Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa,” a song about a man who brags about delivering his goods to married women, a different sort of holiday song. There is nothing subtle in the lines “I ain’t like old Saint Nick/He don’t come but once a year.” Then we finally get a woman’s perspective with Kat Riggins’ excellent “It Ain’t Christmas,” one of my personal favorites from this disc. This is a sexy track. “I know I should be happy/Because the season is here/I can’t see happiness/Through my tears/It just ain’t Christmas/If I can’t be with you/It ain’t Christmas/Without somebody singing the blues.” In addition to that moving and powerful vocal performance, this track features a good jam with exciting leads on guitar and organ. That’s followed by a version of “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’” by Tony Campanella. This one was released as a single by Albert King back in the mid-1970s, and here Tony Campanella does a good job with it. There is something kind of sweet about this song, about trying to steal a romantic moment on Christmas Eve while the kids are asleep.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Merry Christmas Baby,” and on this disc, that classic is done by John Blues Boyd, Lisa Andersen and Kid Andersen. It begins with a spoken word introduction from Lisa Andersen, and then is performed as a duet. I dig that work on piano, as well as that bass line. This is a good rendition. It’s followed by Diana Rein’s “Ring The Bells,” a cheerful tune, with a pop flavor, particularly on the chorus. “We’ve got a box of decorations for the Christmas tree/We’ve got some cookies in the oven if you need a treat.” Then Mark May and  Miss Molly give us “The Bluest Christmas,” a fun song about being lonely on Christmas, delivered as a duet. It is that lead on guitar during that instrumental section that really stands out. Will this be the bluest Christmas? I fear that for many people, it will. That’s followed by “Who Da Baby Daddy?” by LeRoux. Despite that completely obnoxious title, this song is totally enjoyable, and the title is something of a joke anyway, as the song is about Joseph asking Mary just who it was that got her pregnant. “But she told Joe the story/He just shook his head/He said, hell Mary, mother of god/I think we’ve both been had.” It is a funny recounting of the Jesus myth. This is a live track. Then the funky “Christmas Is Cancelled” by Tom Atlas (not to be confused with the Long Blondes song of the same name) touches upon that same subject in the lines “Who’s the baby’s father/That’s what they’ll say/Don’t look like Joseph/That angel’s gotta pay.”

Odds Lane delivers a good version of “Santa Claus Is Back In Town,” a song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and originally recorded by Elvis Presley. This is a heavier take on the tune, with more of an edge, heard in lines like “You’ve been a real good little girl.” That’s followed by a cover of Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home For Christmas” by Sayer And Joyce. This is a passionate rendition. The album then concludes with Mike Zito’s cover of “Run Rudolph Run.” Yes, Mike Zito gets to both open and close this collection. Last year Mike Zito And Friends released Rock ‘n’ Roll: A Tribute To Chuck Berry, but did not include this song on it. So now Mike has a chance to show us what he can do with this one. And, yeah, it has a ton of energy, a track to keep you rocking throughout the holiday.

CD Track List

  1. All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues – Mike Zito
  2. Somebody Stole My Christmas – Albert Castiglia
  3. Please Mr. Santa Claus – Kevin Burt
  4. Christmas Comes But Once A Year – Billy Price
  5. Blue Christmas – The Proven Ones
  6. Back Door Santa – Jimmy Carpenter
  7. It Ain’t Christmas – Kat Riggins
  8. Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’ – Tony Campanella
  9. Merry Christmas Baby – John Blues Boyd/Kid and Lisa Andersen
  10. Ring The Bells – Diana Rein
  11. The Bluest Christmas – Mark May And Miss Molly
  12. Who Da Baby Daddy? – LeRoux
  13. Christmas Is Cancelled – Tom Atlas
  14. Santa Claus Is Back In Town – Odds Lane
  15. Please Come Home For Christmas – Sayer And Joyce
  16. Run Rudolph Run – Mike Zito

A Gulf Coast Christmas was released on November 13, 2020 on Gulf Coast Records.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Byron Dowd: “High Road” (2020) CD Review

Byron Dowd is a singer and songwriter from Texas. He released his first album back in 2012, and soon after that took a break from music to raise his son. Now he has released a new EP titled High Road. This disc features all original material, written by Byron Dowd, showcasing his talent as a lyricist. The music is largely in the country realm, but with some folk influences as well. Joining him on this release are Milo Deering on fiddle, acoustic guitar, dobro, steel guitar and banjo; Larry Rolando on electric guitar and acoustic guitar; Kerry Huckaba on bass; George Anderson on upright bass; Tyler Withrow on acoustic guitar and vocals; Jay Brown on keys; Joe Mansir on percussion; and Josh Rodgers on percussion.

The EP opens with “A New Way,” which has a kind of sweet, lonesome, wistful feel when it begins. Byron Dowd sings, “And I know you don’t miss me/And you know that I feel the same way,” and there is just the right amount of ache in those lines. Immediately following those lines, the band kicks in. “As we grow older/With more weight to shoulder/Those dreams kind of slip by the side/No, life, it ain’t easy as it should be/It’s so often the case/It’s a pawn shop guitar/That won’t take you too far/When you play them old strings the same way.” And then when that fiddle comes in to take that short lead, ah yes, things are good. And later in the song the lines change to “A pawn shop guitar/It can take you real far/If you play them old strings a new way,” and that is a good way of looking at things now, isn’t it? Those are lines you can apply to whatever it is you have, and whatever it is you want to do. That song is followed by the EP’s title track, “High Road,” a song that offers advice from one generation to the next, connecting us all by experience. And there is something wonderfully comforting in the sound of this song, and in the lines “It won’t be easy, though it won’t last long/Keep the faith and family around/Stick to that high road, and I promise you/That the truth, it always finds its own way out.” Yes, this is a song we need now, and is one that is going to be a good companion in the coming weeks and months. It certainly isn’t easy to always take the high road, particularly these days when most of us have completely had it with a certain twisted faction in this country, and wish those people would just disappear. I have certainly failed multiple times, but this song provides a gentle and kind reminder to do our best to take the high road.

Byron Dowd then turns to more of a bluegrass sound at the beginning of “Raindrop.” There is something sweet about this song. There is warmth and cheer, making it another track that I appreciate. And it features some really good playing as well. And the lines about being seated in rocking chairs carry a certain optimism, even just in the idea that we’ll still be here, that we’ll live that long. “Many years from now/Glasses and grey hair/Lines on our faces from the laughs that we all shared/Sitting on the back porch, sipping beer.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Then “Gasoline” begins with some pretty work on fiddle, and soon kicks in to become a more serious and powerful number, telling a tale of justice, or vengeance, depending on your point of view, I suppose. Either way, “For your youngest daughter, she’s going to sleep real safe tonight.” The EP then concludes with “Millertone,” which establishes a happier, more pleasant tone at the beginning. This one recounts an interaction between a server and a musician, and is about connections, between people, and between people and musical instruments, and between the present and the past. And in the conversation, the musician learns something about his own instrument and its history.

CD Track List

  1. A New Way
  2. High Road
  3. Raindrop
  4. Gasoline
  5. Millertone

High Road was released on November 3, 2020 on Panther Creek Records.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Buck Owens And The Buckaroos: “A Merry ‘Hee Haw’ Christmas” (1970/2020) CD Review

In 1965, Buck Owens And His Buckaroos released a holiday album titled Christmas With Buck Owens And His Buckaroos. And then just three years later, they released a second Christmas record, this one titled Christmas Shopping. Both albums featured mostly original material, which means Buck Owens was writing a whole lot of holiday tunes at the time. In 1970, the two albums were released together as a double LP titled A Merry “Hee Haw” Christmas, because by then the television show Hee Haw was up and running. For some reason, two songs were cut from each album for this double LP. Now Omnivore Recordings has re-issued the double album on a single CD, reinstating the four missing tracks, and also including two bonus tracks that were originally issued on a promotional single. By the way, if that wasn’t enough Christmas music, the following year, Buck Owens re-recorded some of the songs from this double album with Susan Raye, releasing the results as Merry Christmas From Buck Owens And Susan Raye. So there. A Merry “Hee Haw” Christmas has been remastered for this special reissue.

Christmas Shopping

It’s interesting that this double album begins with the 1968 release, Christmas Shopping, rather than with the 1965 release. Anyway, that album opens with its title track, a song written by Casey Anderson, about that task that people look forward to each year, buying gifts for everyone in the family. “I read the kids’ letters to Santa Claus/I read ‘em over one by one/And I’d surely like to get my hands on the fellah that said Christmas shopping’s fun.” Well, don’t worry, because this song is a lot more fun than its subject. That’s followed by a sweeter number, “Christmas Time Is Near,” written by Don Rich and Buck Owens. This one features some really nice work on guitar. The pace then picks up with “The Jolly Christmas Polka,” a fun instrumental number composed by Buck Owens. “All I Want For Christmas Is My Daddy” is about a child missing his father during the holidays. It was written by Buck Owens and Jimmy Snyder. Check out these lines: “Too young to understand why Daddy said goodbye/Christmas time is almost here/And Daddy won’t be home this year/The little boy looked up at Mommy and he cried/All I want for Christmas is my Daddy.” This is one of the songs that were cut from the original issue of this double album. That’s followed by another sweet song, “Merry Christmas From Our House To Your House.” These songs are about the importance of family, and lines like “May all of your loved ones be near you/And may all of your spirits be bright” have a more somber vibe in this year of the pandemic when many of us will be unable to visit our families. This song is so pretty, and it nearly had me in tears because of those lines. This is going to be a tough holiday for a lot of folks.

“One Of Everything You Got” is a playful and totally enjoyable song about a boy’s Christmas list, sung from the perspective of the kid’s dad who has discovered the letter. “Just so there won’t be a mistake/Well, here’s a list of everything I’ll take/I want some of this and some of that/Some cowboy boots and a cowboy hat/A choo choo train and a baseball bat.” This one was written by Bob Morris and Buck Owens. My favorite lines are “Well, I’m gonna quit acting like a kid/I’m six years old, and it’s time I did.” Adorable, right? And speaking of adorable, you have to check out “Christmas Schottische,” another instrumental tune composed by Buck Owens. This is a lighthearted, enjoyable number. The second song cut from the original issue of this double album is “It’s Not What You Give,” which is a kind of charming song about family and about the spirit of the day, with the children giving their dad their favorite toys. “It’s not what you give that really matters/Or how much money you may pay/It’s that feeling of giving to others/That’s what makes Christmas such a pretty day.” Christmas Shopping concludes with “Tomorrow Is Christmas Day,” a kind of goofy but pleasant children’s song that mentions Santa Claus and Rudolph.

Christmas With Buck Owens And His Buckaroos

The 1965 album Christmas With Buck Owens And His Buckaroos begins with one of its best tracks, “Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy (Daddy Looked A Lot Like Him),” which was also included on the 2013 compilation Buck ‘Em: The Music Of Buck Owens (1955-1967). The subject is obviously similar to that of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” but this one is a lot more fun. It was written by Buck Owens and Don Rich. “Santa put his arm around Mama/And Mama put her arm around him/So if Santa Claus ain’t Daddy/Then I’m gonna tell on them.” That’s followed by “Blue Christmas Lights,” a song that is a play on the popular song “Blue Christmas,” and features some playful moments, particularly when he stops to deliver part of a line as spoken word. Then “Christmas Ain’t Christmas,” touches on the same subject, that being how the holiday just isn’t the same without that special someone. In this song, he ends up confiding in a snowman, so clearly things are not going well for him. “I talked to a snowman, and to my surprise/When I spoke of you, he started to cry/Now that’s pretty sad to see a snowman turn blue.” Indeed. I love that wonderfully sad work on pedal steel. We then get an instrumental rendition of “Jingle Bells.” When covering that song, instrumental is the best way to go, because the lyrics are terrible.

“All I Want For Christmas Is You” is the first of two songs cut from Christmas With Buck Owens And His Buckaroos for the original release of this double album. It is a pretty song written by Buck Owens and Don Rich, and is not to be confused with the later song of the same title by Mariah Carey that was used in Love Actually. This one features some good work on fiddle. “Oh, how happy I would be/To find you underneath my tree/For all I want for Christmas, dear, is you.” This album gave us “Blue Christmas Lights,” and it also gives us “Blue Christmas Tree,” another wonderfully sad number, this one featuring some nice stuff on fiddle. “You took the happiness God gave you and me/And all you left for Christmas is a blue Christmas tree/Beneath it sits a package/Addressed to me from you/That I’m afraid to open/I know it contains the blues.” “Christmas Morning” is a delightful instrumental number written by Buck Owens and Don Rich. That’s followed by the second of the tracks from this LP to be cut from the original release of the double album, “It’s Christmas Time For Everyone But Me,” a beautifully sad song. “It’s the season of good cheer/How I wish that you were here/For it’s Christmas time for everyone but me.” Christmas With Buck Owens And His Buckaroos then concludes with “Because It’s Christmas Time,” written by Buck Owens and Red Simpson. “Now is the time to hang mistletoe/Now is the time to run through the snow.”

Bonus Tracks

This new edition includes two bonus tracks, both of which were included on a promotional single from 1972. They are two spots recorded by Buck Owens for the Toys For Tots campaign. The first is longer and includes more of the song. “You can bring Christmas joy/To some little girl and boy/If you’ll only give a toy for a tot.”

CD Track List

  1. Christmas Shopping
  2. Christmas Time Is Near
  3. The Jolly Christmas Polka
  4. All I Want For Christmas Is My Daddy
  5. Merry Christmas From Our House To Yours
  6. Good Old Fashioned Country Christmas
  7. One Of Everything You Got
  8. Home On Christmas Day
  9. Christmas Schottische
  10. A Very Merry Christmas
  11. It’s Not What You Give
  12. Tomorrow Is Christmas Day
  13. Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy (Daddy Looked A Lot Like Him)
  14. Blue Christmas Lights
  15. Christmas Ain’t Christmas
  16. Jingle Bells
  17. Al I Want For Christmas Is You
  18. Santa’s Gonna Come In A Stage Coach
  19. Christmas Time’s A-Comin’
  20. Blue Christmas Tree
  21. Here Comes Santa Claus Again
  22. Christmas Morning
  23. It’s Christmas Time For Everyone But Me
  24. Because It’s Christmas Time
  25. Toys For Tots (Version 1)
  26. Toys For Tots (Version 2)

This special re-issue of A Merry “Hee Haw” Christmas was released on CD on November 13, 2020 through Omnivore Recordings.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Duran Duran: “Dreaming Of Your Cars: 1979 Demos Part 2” (2020) CD Review

A few years ago, we were treated to some early demos by Duran Duran, featuring vocalist Andy Wickett, who fronted the group before the addition of Simon Le Bon. Now a new EP of 1979 demos has been released, and it is clear from these recordings that Duran Duran was something special even before the majority of us heard the band for the first time in 1981. This EP features four songs recorded in September of 1979 at Bob Lamb’s studio in Birmingham, England. The band at this point was made up of Andy Wickett on vocals and piano, John Taylor on guitar (and, I assume, bass), Roger Taylor on drums, and Nick Rhodes on keyboards.

The EP opens with its title track, “Dreaming Of Your Cars,” a seriously cool tune with a wonderful and interesting bass line. Again, though no bass player is credited in the liner notes, I assume it’s John Taylor, since Simon Colley’s name is not listed. The style and groove at the beginning reminds me of some early work by The Police. I love that drum beat, and actually I like the whole vibe of this song. It was written by Andy Wickett, and he performed it with T.V. Eye before joining Duran Duran. The T.V. Eye version is certainly more firmly in the punk realm, but the Duran Duran rendition does retain some of that punk feel. “See how we glide/See how we fly/Feel how we move/See how we shine beneath the sky.” That’s followed by “Love Story,” which has kind of an odd, unusual vibe, though with another good groove. As its title promises, this one does tell a story. “It’s such a sad story/It’s got the movie house in tears.”

And then “X Disco” is, in fact, a disco song, or at least uses disco elements. It was the late 1970s, remember. As a result, this is a fun one to dance to. Toward the end, Andy Wickett does some different things vocally, and that for me is when the song starts to get exciting. But then suddenly the song is over.  I wish it went on a little longer in the direction it seemed to be going. The EP then concludes with “To The Shore,” which has a darker sound and feel. This is probably the most interesting of the EP’s tracks, creating a strange and intriguing landscape, and featuring an excellent vocal performance. This song would be reworked by Duran Duran and included on the band’s self-titled debut release (though not on the original U.S. version). This early version of the song is quite different and, in my opinion, superior, though also notably shorter.

CD Track List

  1. Dreaming Of Your Cars
  2. Love Story
  3. X Disco
  4. To The Shore

Dreaming Of Your Cars: 1979 Demos Part 2 was released on both CD and colored vinyl on October 30, 2020 through Cleopatra Records.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 36” (2020) CD Review

In 1987, the Grateful Dead had their big hit, “Touch Of Grey,” and suddenly pop music fans were aware of the band. This didn’t seem to have much of an effect on the way the Dead conducted things. They continued on just as they had. But it was weird to see music videos by the band playing on MTV. The album came out in the summer that year, but the songs on it had been in rotation at their concerts for several years. In March that year, during the spring tour, the Grateful Dead made a stop in Hartford, Connecticut. Dave’s Picks Volume 36 contains the two complete shows the Dead performed in that city, on March 26th and March 27th. Yes, it is something a bit different for Dave’s Picks. Usually, there is one complete show and possibly some filler on three disc. This one contains two complete shows on four discs.

Disc 1

The first disc contains the complete first set from March 26, 1987. And the show kicks off with a bang, a rocking rendition of “In The Midnight Hour.” You can hear how much the crowd is into it. The party is certainly underway. It’s not a long version, that’s for sure, but it’s a fun way to open the show. And I love the vocal play between Bob Weir and Brent Mydland. That’s followed by another crowd-pleaser, “Cold Rain And Snow.” The audience is present in the mix, by the way. Jerry Garcia really belts out the “chilly winds” line, getting a reaction, and from that moment until the end, the energy is seriously high. Two songs in, and the band is already cooking. Bob then leads the band in a groovy version of “C.C. Rider.” That reminds me of a tape I had, one of the first of my collection, that listed “CC Rider,” though what that person had meant was “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know You Rider.” People had their own ways of labeling tapes. I personally didn’t abbreviate anything. Anyway, Brent delivers some nice work on keys on this version of “C.C. Rider,” and then the band jams on it. They follow that with a sweet rendition of “Row Jimmy,” featuring some wonderful work by Jerry on guitar. And that ending, oh yes!

We then get a couple of songs that would end up on In The Dark, though the first, “My Brother Esau,” was only included on the cassette version, not the CD. I always liked the line “Shadow boxing the apocalypse.” That’s a great image. The second is “When Push Comes To Shove,” and this is a fun, bouncy version. I’m digging this song more now than I never did back in the day. Bob follows that with Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” The line “The circus is in town” gets an appreciative, playful reaction from the crowd. Yeah, that’s how it was. We all knew how things seemed, and it was like a circus. This is a really good “Desolation Row,” mostly because of the way Bob tackles it vocally, and it leads straight into “Bird Song.” This is a strong version right from the start, with the passion in Jerry’s voice setting the tone. But it is the jam that is really special here, taking the song and us to some completely wonderful and surprising places. This is a fantastic version, one of the best I’ve heard. The band then wraps up the first set with “Promised Land,” rocking everybody once more before the set break.

Disc 2

The second disc contains the complete second set and encore from March 26th. The band starts the second set off with “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know You Rider” (hey, another “CC Rider”). Yes, the band comes out of the set break ready to fly, for this is a damn good rendition of “China Cat,” moving with both power and joy, and the audience is totally on board. It slides right into “I Know You Rider,” with the crowd clapping along. I love how Bob belts out the line about the sun shining in his back door. And then, holy moly, Jerry tops him on the “headlight” line. What a great moment. Bob then eases into a pretty rendition of “Looks Like Rain” that has its own power, particularly as it reaches its climax. That’s followed by a cheerful version of “He’s Gone.” Jerry sings, “Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile,” and I am doing nothing else throughout the entire song. So good! I love the vocal section toward the end, and when Jerry starts belting out the lines, could life be any better?

“He’s Gone” leads into “Drums,” which begins with a good steady pounding beat, something to keep your feet moving. And Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart keep that energy rolling along for several minutes. Then that thumping begins rattling your rib cage as well as your legs, and you know you’re into it now. There is not a clear line between “Drums” and “Space” at the show, with the drums continuing to pound partway into “Space.” “Space” gets interesting at times, particularly in those surprisingly mournful moments. And what is Phil Lesh doing? Holy moly! “Space” leads into “I Need A Miracle,” taking that thumping energy into it. The band then eases into “Black Peter.” This song sometimes hits me harder than other times, and now those lines where Peter says he wants “a friend or two I love at hand” for his death are more heartbreaking than usual, what with the pandemic causing people to die without their families being allowed near them. And this is a pretty good rendition. Listen to the way Jerry delivers the line “That a man can be as poor as me.” “Black Peter” leads straight into “Around And Around,” and the band is not done rocking, for they then go right into “Good Lovin’” to keep everyone up and shaking. The encore is “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo).” “Everybody’s in despair/Every girl and boy/But when Quinn the eskimo gets here/Everybody’s gonna jump for joy.”

Disc 3

The third disc contains the complete first set from March 27, 1987, and the first three songs of the second set. As with the previous night, this show gets off to a good start with a rock song, this time “Alabama Getaway.” I love it when the band is in gear right from the moment they hit the stage. Jerry has some fiery energy, and Brent is rocking the keys. And when you think the song might be ending, instead they take it up another notch. And it leads straight into “Greatest Story Ever Told,” keeping the energy high, a Friday night energy. They follow that with “West L.A. Fadeaway,” another of the songs that would be included on In The Dark. This version has a good groove, and Jerry tears into it vocally. The band then gets into the blues with “Little Red Rooster,” and from the moment it starts you just get the sense it’s going to be a good rendition. The groove is mean and delicious, and you can feel the heat behind it. And then, bam, approximately four minutes into it, Brent explodes on keys, which is probably what we were all expecting, and the rest of the band has to respond in kind. This is certainly a highlight of the first set.

Jerry then leads the band into a strong version of “Brown-Eyed Women.” This one has a little more power than usual, and the crowd reacts to it. It seems everything the band is doing in this first set has an extra kick to it, you know? That’s followed by “Beat It On Down The Line,” with a whopping twenty-seven-beat intro for those who care about such things. And with that kind of start, you know this version is going to have a little extra energy. Then, to keep everyone on the edge of total bliss, the band goes into “Tennessee Jed.” Oh yes, everything is as close to perfect as we can get on this silly little planet, a phenomenal rendition. If you don’t find yourself dancing to this one, well, hell, I don’t know what to say. See a doctor, I guess. Maybe a psychiatrist. So how do you wrap up a set that’s this good, that has this kind of energy, that has everyone dancing? With “The Music Never Stopped,” of course. The audience is clapping along at the start, long before Bob sings, “Come on children, come on children/Come on, clap your hands.” What a fantastic first set, and yet the real magic is still to come.

The second set opens with what is widely considered to be the best version of “Touch Of Grey” ever played. And, yeah, it lives up to the hype. There is a tremendous joy to it almost from the moment it starts, certainly from the moment Jerry starts singing. You can feel the entire venue start to lift off the ground. Wow. Then they go from lifting the building up to tearing it down, following “Touch Of Grey” with “Samson And Delilah,” which begins with a great extended drum section, just to get everyone on the same page, you understand. The energy remains strong as the band drives its way through this one. They follow that with a bouncy “Cumberland Blues” that moves at a great pace. Holy moly, the band is seriously cooking now. I love the way they deliver the line “You kept me up ‘til four.” It has a slightly different feel than usual. And this version features some really cool stuff on guitar.

Disc 4

The fourth disc contains the rest of the show from March 27th. It opens with “Estimated Prophet” into “Eyes Of The World,” probably my favorite pairing of songs in the band’s repertoire. In “Estimated,” the energy gets high around the time Bob sings “I’ll call down thunder and speak the same.” And from there, it just takes off, particularly during that jam. The transition here isn’t as smooth as some versions I’ve heard, but “Eyes” quickly gets going, moving at a fast pace. The band is clearly operating on some higher gear at this show. It’s not the best “Eyes” the band ever did, but the joy is there, particularly in the playing, and it should keep you on your feet, and the jam after the last verse features some truly wonderful stuff by Jerry on guitar. I wish that jam went on a little longer. It gives way to “Drums” prematurely, but this is a seriously fun “Drums.” At one point they do a little “Not Fade Away” beat, and the audience immediately reacts and starts clapping along. “Space” follows, and has some interesting moments. I like when “Space” finds an area or theme to explore, and that happens here. And to then lead into “Uncle John’s Band,” well, that seems the perfect choice. So much joy and excitement to this show. “I can hear your voice,” indeed! The jam has more power than usual. And when the band segues into “Morning Dew,” the crowd erupts. Yes, after all that joy, the band gets serious with “Morning Dew,” a song about two people after nuclear war. The power is there, of course, but now it has a harder, more mournful edge, and Jerry delivers, both vocally and on guitar. You can tell he is completely going for it. There are some stunning moments here. This is a fantastic ending to a seriously enjoyable second set. The band then chooses to rock the audience once more with a spirited rendition of “Johnny B. Goode” for the encore. I especially love Brent’s work on keys. From beginning to end, this is a really good show, certainly one of the best of the 1980s.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. In The Midnight Hour
  2. Cold Rain And Snow
  3. C.C. Rider
  4. Row Jimmy
  5. My Brother Esau
  6. When Push Comes To Shove
  7. Desolation Row >
  8. Bird Song
  9. Promised Land

Disc 2

  1. China Cat Sunflower >
  2. I Know You Rider
  3. Looks Like Rain
  4. He’s Gone >
  5. Drums >
  6. Space >
  7. I Need A Miracle >
  8. Black Peter >
  9. Around And Around >
  10. Good Lovin’
  11. The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)

Disc 3

  1. Alabama Getaway >
  2. Greatest Story Ever Told
  3. West L.A. Fadeaway
  4. Little Red Rooster
  5. Brown-Eyed Women
  6. Beat It On Down The Line
  7. Tennessee Jed
  8. The Music Never Stopped
  9. Touch Of Grey >
  10. Samson And Delilah >
  11. Cumberland Blues

Disc 4

  1. Estimated Prophet >
  2. Eyes Of The World >
  3. Drums >
  4. Space >
  5. Uncle John’s Band >
  6. Morning Dew
  7. Johnny B. Goode

Dave’s Picks Volume 36 was released in early November, 2020. My copy arrived on November 6th. This four-disc set is limited to 22,000 copies.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Fuzztones: “NYC” (2020) CD Review

The Fuzztones are celebrating their fortieth year as a band with a new tribute to New York, the city where the band formed in 1980. The new album, titled simply NYC, is a celebration of New York and the music that has come from that city, with the band covering the material of other New York artists, including the Ramones, The Cramps, New York Dolls and The Fugs. The band has gone through several changes in the four decades of its existence, and is now made up of Rudi Protrudi on lead vocals, guitar and harmonica; Lana Loveland on organ, piano and vocals; Marco Rivagli on drums and vocals; and Eric Geevers on bass and vocals.

NYC opens with a seriously good and original take on “New York, New York,” the song originally recorded by Liza Minelli, but most famously done by Frank Sinatra. Interestingly, Frank Sinatra recorded his rendition in 1980, the year the Fuzztones were formed. It seems like an older song, doesn’t it? Anyway, this rendition by the Fuzztones has a fantastic energy, and is delivered with a steady beat holding things together and moving everything forward. I also dig that serious, passionate vocal performance. These guys are honestly celebrating New York, even if the track begins and ends with the sounds of sirens. Hey, that makes it real, right? The band follows that with a cover of Wayne County’s “Flip Your Wig,” a seriously enjoyable tune. I think that “flip your wig” is an expression we should use more. Fuzztones do a great job with this song, giving it a bit more of a 1960s sound. As with the original version, the instruments grow quiet for the line “You’re wearing everything but a lampshade.” And I like how the drums support the line before it, “I can’t believe you walk the streets like that.” This track is a lot of fun. Then Fuzztones give us a cool rendition of The Cramps’ “New Kind Of Kick,” a song included on that band’s 1983 album Off The Bone. It opens with the line, “Life is short, filled with stuff.” Indeed. I really like the bass line of this version, and of course that organ. “I’m looking, I’m looking, I’m looking for something I ain’t had before.”

Fuzztones deliver a completely wonderful version of The Ramones’ “53rd & 3rd,” a song about a popular spot to pick up male prostitutes in New York. Fuzztones give it more of a delicious 1960s sound. The backing vocals repeating the song’s title remind me of some of the early work by The Who. And that psychedelic guitar near the end reminds me a bit of Tommy James & The Shondells’ “Crimson And Clover.” In addition, the lead vocals are just exactly perfect. This for me is one of the disc’s highlights. I absolutely love what these guys do with this song. That is followed by “Psilocybe,” which has a wonderfully frightening and twisted vibe, a darker sound. Then “Skin Flowers” comes bursting in with a wonderful and bright energy. This is a song by the Fugs, from early in their career, originally appearing on that band’s 1966 self-titled LP. This is another fantastic track, featuring some good stuff on harmonica. And then at one point there is a rock and roll guitar part that would make Chuck Berry smile. Pure fun, this one.

Fuzztones also give us an interesting rendition of Dead Boys’ “High Tension Wire,” giving it more of a garage sound than the original punk recording. Though Dead Boys were part of the New York scene, the members of this band were actually from Cleveland. That’s followed by a cover of New York Dolls’ “Babylon,” from the 1974 album Too Much Too Soon (originally titled In Too Much Too Soon). This one feels like a fairly straightforward rock song, with a heavy groove. And then we get what is probably the most surprising choice of the album, “Transmaniacon MC,” a song by New York band Blue Öyster Cult, but about the ill-fated Altamont concert in California. This song opened Blue Öyster Cult’s first album, a self-titled LP, and it’s a pretty damn good song. I haven’t listened to Blue Öyster Cult lately, and don’t own that first album, but based on this song, I might have to pick up a copy at some point. This track has a good deal of hard rock power. That’s followed by “The Man In Me,” a song originally recorded by John Collins Band, and included on the compilation 1976 Max’s Kansas City, a record that also included Wayne County’s “Flip Your Wig.” Then we get a good, solid rendition of Mink DeVille’s “Let Me Dream If I Want To (The Amphetamine Blues),” here titled “Let Me Dream.” I appreciate this song’s repetition of its title line, “Let me dream if I want to,” a line that has a lot of appeal to me.

It’s been more than twenty years since I’ve done LSD, and I’m not sure it would be such a good idea in this current climate, but there are certainly times when I just want to see a different reality. Anyway, “Microdot” is an interesting song. It’s a variation of “Chinese Rocks,” which was written by Dee Dee Ramone and Richard Hell, and originally recorded by The Heartbreakers, and then later by The Ramones. In this version by Fuzztones, which has more of a 1960s vibe, Chinese rock becomes microdot, with the lines “I’m living on a Chinese rock/All my best things are in hock/I’m living on a Chinese rock/Everything is in the pawn shop” becoming “I’m tripping on a microdot/Can’t tell what’s real and what’s not/I’m tripping on a microdot/Everything is in the head shop.” Fuzztones then give us a second song by Dead Boys, “Not Anymore,” which is actually from the same album as “High Tension Wire,” Young Loud And Snotty. This one has some serious lyrics, such as these lines: “I’m so hungry, I don’t care/Let me lay down for a little while/In a warm dry place/Give me a quarter for the movies all night/I gotta keep awake/Afraid of sleeping and freezing to death.” The Fuzztones’ version is a bit breezier, seeming to be delivered at a quicker pace, with more energy. I really like what they do with it. That’s followed by a fun rendition of “You Gotta Lose,” a song written by Richard Hell, and recorded by both Richard Hell And The Voidoids and The Heartbreakers. I particularly like the organ on this version by Fuzztones. This album then concludes with a cool cover of Patti Smith Group’s “Dancing Barefoot,” originally included on the 1979 album Wave.

CD Track List

  1. New York, New York
  2. Flip Your Wig
  3. New Kind Of Kick
  4. 53rd & 3rd
  5. Psilocybe
  6. Skin Flowers
  7. High Tension Wire
  8. Babylon
  9. Transmaniacon MC
  10. The Man In Me
  11. Let Me Dream
  12. Microdot
  13. Not Anymore
  14. You Gotta Lose
  15. Dancing Barefoot

NYC was released on CD and vinyl on October 16, 2020 on Cleopatra Records.