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.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Jesus People Music Volume 1: The End Is At Hand (2020) Vinyl Review

I love music from the late 1960s and early 1970s, and in particular the more psychedelic-sounding recordings of that period. It was certainly a period of exploration, inside and outside of music. Some of that exploration understandably turned to the spiritual realm, and the Jesus Freaks were born. Or born again, I should say. And some of those Jesus Freaks had bands. Doors were being blown open at the time, and everything was worth looking into and checking out. For who knew where the answers would come from? Even the Grateful Dead sang “I love you, oh, but Jesus loves you the best” on their 1969 album Live Dead.  Jesus People Music Volume 1: The End Is At Hand is a compilation of music from that time, from artists you might not be familiar with. The music has that delicious psychedelic rock sound, with folk elements as well. You certainly don’t have to be a believer to dig these tracks. I love that this first volume is called The End Is At Hand. Let’s start at the end. Why not? This compilation is being released on beautiful translucent aquamarine vinyl, as part of Black Friday Record Store Day.

Side A

The album opens with “Creation, Lord I Saw You Cry,” a song from a band called Azitis. This psychedelic number eases in and begins to build. Then suddenly it breaks into more of a folk rock style, and features some nice vocal work. “And the sun had yet to come/And the storming gave no warning/Darkness fell on everyone.” In the middle of the track, the band delivers a good, but short jam. There is something loose, and yet kind of beautiful about this track. It was the lead track from the band’s 1971 LP Help, and is a great choice to begin this compilation. That’s followed by Frank Starr’s “Jesus.” This one comes on stronger, with a good, wild beat. This song basically calls out to Jesus, and Frank Starr stretches out his name, holding onto it, and you feel like Jesus himself might come down to join in the dance, to bless the music and the band. The band, by the way, is The Wilson-McKinley Jesus Rock Band. And the next track is from the Wilson McKinley album Heaven’s Gonna Be A Blast! “Almighty God” is the closing track from that album, and is a mellower psychedelic number, a song that makes me want to get really high. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you hear it. It features some excellent vocal work, a cool bass line, and some interesting stuff on guitar, and is certainly a highlight of the album.

“Deeper Than The Mighty Rolling Sea” is one that will get you dancing barefoot in a park with arms reaching up to the heavens, or perhaps just out to the nearest good-looking reveler, whichever you prefer. This is by a group called Maranatha, and it was included on their 1971 album Soon. By the way, the opening track from that LP, “Do You Know My Jesus,” includes the lines “I’m a fool for Jesus/Whose fool are you,” which made me smile. Oh, one other note about that album: On it, there is a song titled “Maranatha,” which puts this band on that list of bands that have a song sharing the band’s name, along with groups like Black Sabbath, They Might Be Giants, Bullied By Strings and I See Hawks In L.A.  Anyway, “Deeper Than The Mighty Rolling Sea” is a seriously enjoyable song. If this kind of music had been playing at the church I attended in my youth, I might have stuck with religion a little longer. This music really feels like a celebration, like a party. Then U.S. Apple Corps delivers a powerful, heavy rendition of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” a track from the band’s 1970 self-titled debut. This is a wild and exciting rendition. The first side wraps up with a pretty and sweet number, Bob Desper’s “The World Is Crying Out For Love,” which was released on a single in 1972. This song has a dreamlike quality, and it feels right for our depressing and divisive time. The world could certainly use a strong dose of love right now, heavenly or earthly, we’ll take whatever you’ve got.

Side B

The second side opens with Pitch & Spice’s “Hallelujah,” which begins with some passionate, groovy drumming. It is a rousing rock song, and those “Hallelujah” backing vocals have a gorgeous gospel sound. This is a live track, and has a great raw and spontaneous feel. It’s followed by “Walk On The Water,” which has a heavier sound, more of an early hard rock thing, especially that guitar work. The vocals have a raw sound, like the man has been shouting the good word over blaring guitars for some time. This band jams here, and this track has a lot of energy. It was recorded in 1972, but not released until 1993 on The Celebration Club Session. Then Earthen Vessel’s “Life Everlasting” surprised me, with that great, powerful voice suddenly coming in. Is Sharon Keel’s voice reaching up to heaven, or coming down to us from some mountain? I’m not sure, but the vocal work here is captivating, and this song has its own peaks and valleys, taking us on a journey. “Now that I know him, I have joy/Now that I follow his road/I only wish that you knew him too.” Man, I think that voice could convince me of anything, so full of passion it is, and so certain of its message. This song was written by Sharon Keel and John Sprunger, and is one of my personal favorites.

“The Right Way,” by a group called The Messengers, has more of a folk rock sound. “What have I done to deserve all this/I hated god so selfishly/But praise the lord, he still loved me.” This song was originally included on the 1971 album Born Again, which featured both The Messengers and Good News (each band had a side). These guys jam on this song. That’s followed by Jim Valley’s “All Is Well,” which begins gently on guitar, and features a kind, friendly, and really good vocal performance, that voice then at times building in power. This song, which is from Jim Valley’s 1971 album Family, contains what I assume is a reference to the war in Vietnam: “Baby’s crying/Somewhere there’s young men dying, lord/But there’s a peace I feel/And I know his love is real.”  This excellent compilation concludes with “Into The Light,” the title track from Rebirth’s 1970 album. This is an interesting and exciting song, going through a few changes before the vocals come in. This is a delicious track featuring some good vocal work, particularly on the line “Out of the night and into the light of Jesus.” There is joy and power behind those vocals.

Record Track List

Side A

  1. Creation, Lord I Saw You Cry – Azitis
  2. Jesus – Frank Starr
  3. Almighty God – Wilson McKinley
  4. Deeper Than The Mighty Rolling Sea – Maranatha
  5. Will The Circle Be Unbroken – U.S. Apple Corps
  6. The World Is Crying For Love – Bob Desper

Side B

  1. Hallelujah – Pitch & Spice
  2. Walk On The Water – Out Of Darkness
  3. Life Everlasting – Earthen Vessel
  4. The Right Way – The Messengers
  5. All Is Well – Jim Valley
  6. Into The Light – Rebirth

Jesus People Music Volume 1: The End Is At Hand is scheduled to be released on November 27, 2020 through Org Music, as part of the Black Friday Record Store Day celebration. It is limited to either 1,000 copies (as indicated on the sticker on the shrink wrap) or 1,200 copies (as listed on the official Record Store Day website).

Friday, November 13, 2020

Adolescents: “Russian Spider Dump” (2020) CD Review

Okay, I admit it, the album’s cover art is what got me interested in Russian Spider Dump, the new release by Adolescents. Like most people in this country, I have been unable to turn away from the horror show in the nation’s capital. The last four years have been a total mess, and the recent election, though having the outcome we needed, taught us that there are more than seventy million assholes in this country, which is depressing as hell. So I was ready and eager for some solid, angry punk directed at that racist prick and all the pathetic sycophants who have their tongues firmly inside the scoundrel’s filthy ass. On Russian Spider Dump (a great title, by the way), Adolescents don’t give us new material that directly addresses our current troubles, but rather reach back to choose covers of songs that seem to work really well for our strange and troubled time. Adolescents are a hardcore punk band that formed in southern California, and most of the bands they choose to cover here are also from southern California, including The Dickies, The Humpers and Germs. This is the first album Adolescents have released since the death of bass player and founding member Steve Soto in 2018. That leaves lead vocalist Tony Reflex as the only remaining original member. The rest of the band is made up of Dan Root on guitar, Mike Cambra on drums, Ian Taylor on guitar, and Brad Logan on bass.

What better way to open this album than with a song titled “Fuck You.” This song is by The Subhumans (the Canadian band, not the British band), and is one that should be blasted into Donald Trump’s prison cell for as long as the bastard remains alive. “We don’t care what you say/Fuck you.” That’s followed by a good cover of Germs’ “Lion’s Share,” and then The Dickies’ “Just Say Yes.” You might recall Nancy Reagan’s ridiculous “Just Say No” slogan during the so-called “War on Drugs.” Well, here we have “Just Say Yes,” a song that obviously plays on that slogan. Yet it itself carries an anti-drug message, with lines like “You’re the very reason why they call it dope” and “Waiting by the phone for a new kidney/Wishing it didn’t hurt to take a pee.” Then we get The Dils’ “Class War.”  You know, it no longer seems like class is necessarily the thing dividing us, particularly as some of the poorest people threw their support to a man who has a gold toilet, for fuck’s sake. What is up with that, America? But the song still packs a punch. Wouldn’t we all love to see Trump Tower come tumbling down? By the way, D.O.A. also covered this one.

The Flyboys are a band I’m not all that familiar with. They were one of the early southern California punk bands, and here Adolescents choose to cover their “Crayon World,” which was released as a single in 1979. It’s a good song, some of the guitar work reminding me a bit of the Buzzcocks. That’s followed by “Dirty Bomb” by The Dragons, another band I don’t know much about. They were another southern California band, but active mainly in the 1990s. This song is from one of their last albums, Sin Salvation, released in 2003. This track really rocks, mixing punk and hard rock elements. Then, from Red Kross, Adolescents cover “Pink Piece Of Peace,” an exciting track that moves quickly. That’s followed by a cover of The Humpers’ “Fast, Fucked And Furious,” another track that seriously rocks, one you are going to want to furiously dance to. “Here is a clue, if you’re curious/We’re fast, fucked and furious.” This is a wild and energetic rendition, one of my personal favorite tracks on this disc.

The Toxic Reasons’ “God Bless America” begins with the guitar playing a bit of “America (My Country ‘Tis Of Thee),” then it kicks in with a delicious force. This is such a great song, full of anger and energy, and Adolescents do a fantastic job with it. This song has some excellent lyrics, such as “God bless America, the suicide rate/Now there’s a way out, ain’t that great” and “We got a missile for every day of the year/God bless America, this is God’s country/Land of the free, home of the slaves.” I also love that this song refers to New York City as “the asshole of the world.” This is another of the disc’s highlights, and one that feels just exactly right for our time, and one I just want to blast wherever republicans gather, scare them back into their bunkers. That’s followed by another of the disc’s best tracks, “Home Is Where,” a classic hardcore punk number originally recorded by The Middle Class. I fucking love that bass. Some lines really stand out now, particularly “This is someone else’s dream” and “Home is where we hide.”  Then we get another classic punk song, “I Like Drugs,” this one by the Simpletones. This one has kind of a playful vibe, like in the way the backing vocals echo the word “loser” after the line “Everyone tells me that I am a born loser,” and in the song’s main lines, “I like drugs, I like drugs/Don’t ask me why, don’t ask me why.”

The most striking and surprising choice of covers on this album is Spirit’s “I Got A Line On You,” a rock song from the late 1960s, and not a punk song at all. And apparently, this was the song that got this whole album started. According to the disc’s liner notes, the band started playing around with this song a few years ago. I suppose one thing that makes this song fit is the fact that Spirit was a southern California band. Anyway, Adolescents’ version has a tremendous amount of energy, as you’d expect. That’s followed by “Not Going Back Home,” a song originally done by F-Word, another southern California band, and one I don’t remember listening to before. And then we get a great rendition of “Not With You,” originally recorded by Electric Frankenstein in the 1990s. This for me is another highlight of the disc. The album concludes with a strong version of Muletrain’s “Back Door.”

CD Track List

  1. Fuck You
  2. Lion’s Share
  3. Just Say Yes
  4. Class War
  5. Crayon World
  6. Dirty Bomb
  7. Pink Piece Of Peace
  8. Fast, Fucked And Furious
  9. God Bless America
  10. Home Is Where
  11. I Like Drugs
  12. I Got A Line On You
  13. Not Going Back Home
  14. Not With You
  15. Back Door

Russian Spider Dump was released on both CD and vinyl on October 23, 2020 on Cleopatra Records.

Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters: “Rise Up” (2020) CD Review

I’m always excited to hear whatever new material Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters decide to release. Rise Up, the band’s new album, is interesting in that it mixes some live recordings from last year with material recorded during sessions at Ronnie Earl’s home back in March (just before the pandemic started getting serious) and other material recorded at the studio in Acton, Massachusetts. The tracks are also a mix of instrumentals and vocal numbers, original compositions and covers. And the music here addresses the state of our country in this strange and ugly and yet hopeful year of 2020, with tracks titled “Blues For George Floyd” and “Black Lives Matter.” The band is made up of Ronnie Earl on guitar, Dave Limina on piano and organ, Diane Blue on vocals, Forrest Padgett on drums, Paul Kochanski on bass, and Peter Ward on guitar. There is a whole lot of great blues on this disc, nearly eighty minutes of it, in fact.

The album opens with a gentle, yet strong instrumental rendition of “I Shall Not Be Moved” performed on guitar, a good choice for this troubled year. The band then comes in on a live version of “Higher Love,” an original tune written by Ronnie Earl and previously included on his Father’s Day album. This one has an easygoing groove and some fantastic stuff on keys, the song becoming a good jam. Though at the heart of this track is the vocal performance by Diane Blue, which is powerful. The lyrics mention “a love supreme,” which was the title of a John Coltrane album, and at the end include the line “Your love is lifting me higher,” a little nod to the Jackie Wilson song “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher.”

This country has had a serious case of the blues for the last four years, and this year in particular has been a damn horror show, with trouble upon trouble, each day bringing more heartache. Many things went horribly wrong, one of the worst being George Floyd’s murder by the police. Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters give us “Blues For George Floyd,” a tune that addresses and expresses the pain of the nation and in some way works to relieve it. Some good work on organ begins this track, which is another original number written by Ronnie Earl. And that lead on guitar is wonderful, each note deliberate and meaningful. This instrumental is an excellent, slow blues number, blues you can sink into, blues you can wrap around yourself. That’s followed by a cover of Fenton Robinson’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” a live track featuring Diane Blue on vocals. I love the way she delivers the lines “I’d be a fool to say it’s over/His beautiful picture still enters my mind.” That passion is irresistible. We then get another delicious blues instrumental, “Blues For Lucky Peterson,” composed by Ronnie Earl. That guitar has a lot to say, and is given the space necessary to say it. At more than ten minutes, this live track is a wonderful exploration dedicated to another excellent blues guitarist. You can hear how that guitar work impresses the crowd. And then toward the end the organ gets wild. Oh yes, this is one delicious tune.

Diane Blue gives us a playful performance on the cover of Eddie Taylor’s “Big Town Playboy.” Yeah, she totally owns this one. Just listen to the way she delivers lines like “Then all you want to do, darling, is fuss and fight/You go ahead, boy, that’s one thing I don’t enjoy.” The energy is just right on “Albert’s Stomp,” another original composition. It is an instrumental, though nearly halfway through, the audience is addressed: “Are you feeling good this evening, ladies and gentlemen?” Oh man, remember going to see live music? I miss the hell out of it. For once, I want to be asked how I’m feeling by musicians, and I want to respond with a joyful shout. That’s followed by a cover of Lil Green’s “Romance In The Dark,” here titled “In The Dark.” Diane Blue’s delivery here is cool and seductive. “We’re going to dance/And we’ll find romance, lord, in the dark.” Oh, I don’t doubt it. This track seems almost able to deliver that romance on its own. Close your eyes, and you can immerse yourself in it.

Magic Sam’s “All Your Love” features another tasty blues groove, with Diane Blue delivering the goods vocally again. And Ronnie Earl’s guitar is singing too, matching that style, that passion, and stretching out. This track is more than eight minutes. These guys are in no hurry to get there, because the journey is so fine. I like the play between the two guitars. That’s followed by a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Lord Protect My Child.” Bob Dylan has certainly written a lot of songs. This is one I had forgotten about. It was included on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1 – 3, which was released in 1991. Here we get some bluesy gospel vibes, with Diane Blue’s passionate vocal approach and that great work on organ. Then things start hopping and rocking on a totally enjoyable rendition of “Mess Around,” featuring some absolutely wonderful stuff on piano that is certain to raise your spirits. That’s followed by “Talking To Mr. Bromberg,” the last of the original instrumental tracks to pay respects to specific musicians, in this case David Bromberg. This track features yet more excellent work on guitar.

One thing that has been made painfully clear to everyone this year is the country’s systemic racism, something that must be addressed by the next administration (because obviously the white supremacist in the White House now isn’t going to do anything about it). Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters offer a seriously good and soulful blues number titled “Black Lives Matter,” co-written by Diane Blue, who is as passionate here as ever. “Baby, when will I see you again?” she asks. The lyrics at first may not seem to directly address the topic, but then in the second half there is a spoken word section, which includes the line “Black lives matter.” We then get a cool rendition of “Blues For J,” with a delicious bass line. This is one of those bass lines that make you feel like a cooler person just for listening. And as you would expect from this tune, there is also some really nice work on organ. Then, when you think the track can’t get cooler, there is a bass solo, and that’s followed by a good drum solo that gets the audience hollering. Yeah, this is a live track. The disc then concludes with an instrumental track titled “Navajo Blues,” which Ronnie Earl wrote with Peter Ward. And, as you might predict of a tune written by those two, there is plenty of great guitar work on this one.

CD Track List

  1. I Shall Not Be Moved
  2. Higher Love
  3. Blues For George Floyd
  4. You Don’t Know What Love Is
  5. Blues For Lucky Peterson
  6. Big Town Playboy
  7. Albert’s Stomp
  8. In The Dark
  9. All Your Love
  10. Lord Protect My Child
  11. Mess Around
  12. Talking To Mr. Bromberg
  13. Black Lives Matter
  14. Blues For J
  15. Navajo Blues

Rise Up was released on September 11, 2020 on Stony Plain Records.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Simone Kopmajer: “Christmas” (2020) CD Review

I was turned onto Austrian vocalist Simone Kopmajer a couple of years ago when she released Spotlight On Jazz, an excellent album combining standards and original material. She has a wonderful and warm voice, and now applies her talent to holiday material on her new album, Christmas. One thing I love about this album is that she includes some Austrian songs here in addition to the usual fare, and those tracks help make this album something truly special. Also, a few of the songs here are presented as duets.

The album opens with “Santa Baby,” one of my personal favorites among the usual Christmas songs. And from the moment this rendition starts, I love it. This version has a romantic flair, and Simone’s vocal approach is part sweetness, part sexiness, which is perfect. I’m not sure what to ask Santa for this year, as this country already got the best gift in Joe Biden’s victory, but I certainly wouldn’t turn down a sable, so slip one under the tree for me. I also love that piano work on this track. That’s John Di Martino, who earlier this year released a tribute to Billy Strayhorn titled Passion Flower. “Santa Baby” is followed by “Jingle Bells.” I’ve mentioned this before, but “Jingle Bells” is not one of my favorite holiday songs. However, Simone delivers a fairly cool rendition here, one that moves with a good energy and includes a bit of scat. I appreciate the scat, especially as the song’s lyrics are rather lame. This track features some delightful work by Boris Kozlow on bass, keeping things bopping along.

As I mentioned, on this album Simone Kopmajer sings some songs from Austria. The first of these is “Leise Rieselt Der Schnee,” which is a gorgeous number, in part because of those excellent backing vocals by The Schick Sisters, giving the song something of a gospel sound. That’s followed by “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” I love this song, and the so-called controversy surrounding it in recent years is absolutely ridiculous (and John Legend’s rewrite is atrocious). Viktor Gernot takes the male part in this fun and delightful duet, and during that wonderful lead on piano, Simone and Viktor do a bit of vocal riffing. In the second half, Simone’s delivery of “The answer is no” made me laugh aloud. This is a really good rendition, and it ends with Viktor telling her seductively, “You’d better stay.”

I don’t think anyone can dispute that A Charlie Brown Christmas is the absolute best television holiday special, and that is due largely to the music composed by Vince Guaraldi. On this album, Simone Kopmajer delivers a pretty and warm rendition of “Christmas Time Is Here.” She then delivers an original number, “The Most Wonderful Time,” a song more in the pop realm, with a bright sound, and with some lyrics that seem very fitting after Donald Trump’s defeat: “It is wonderful, something like a miracle/The world is celebrating – all our troubles fading.” On this track, she is joined by Anna Catharina. Simone follows that with a sweet and loving rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” putting us in the right frame of mind for the holidays, the track’s vibe and execution being romantic and gentle and passionate. There is also more nice work on piano, and I dig that bass line at the heart of this version.

We then get our second Austrian song, “Es Wird Scho Glei Dumpa,” which translates as “It Will Soon Be Dark.” As I understand it, this song is usually presented as a lullaby. This version by Simone has something of that gentleness, but also a bit of a pop energy. That’s followed by “Driving Home For Christmas,” a rather recent addition to the holiday catalogue, written and originally recorded by Chris Rea in the 1980s. What I love about this rendition is that saxophone. And the lines “Take a look at the driver next to me/He’s just the same, he’s just the same” provide a good reminder when the stress of the holiday takes over. And this year, if you are planning on going home, driving seems to be the best method of travel. Who wants to be stuck on a plane during a pandemic? Be safe out there, folks.

“The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)” is delivered as a duet with Allan Harris, giving it more of a romantic vibe. I also really like the rhythm section here. Simone Kopmajer then delivers a pretty cool rendition of “Feliz Navidad,” the bass having a strong presence. This version features some interesting work on piano. That is followed by “My Grown-up Christmas List,” another recent Christmas song, this one composed by David Foster and Linda Thompson-Jenner. That adult Christmas list includes “No more lives torn apart/That wars would never start/And time would heal all hearts.” Simone also gives us a delightfully cheerful rendition of “White Christmas,” featuring a nice lead by Dominik Fuss on trumpet. “Oh Heiland, Reiss Die Himmel Auf” is one that I don’t recall ever hearing before. It has a more somber tone, with some exciting moments. This is another duet, this time performed with Willi Resetarits. That’s followed by “Is Finsta Drausst,” a beautiful number, and another that I don’t think I’d heard before, but one that deserves a spot on my holiday play list from now on. The album concludes with a rendition of “Silent Night” that is sung in both English and German. It has an unusual introduction, and then the lyrics are delivered gently, lovingly. It ends up being a beautiful rendition, with some wonderful backing vocals. And I love that work on dulcimer in the second half. This is an excellent track with which to wrap up the album.

CD Track List

  1. Santa Baby
  2. Jingle Bells
  3. Leise Rieselt Der Schnee
  4. Baby, It’s Cold Outside
  5. Christmas Time Is Here
  6. The Most Wonderful Time
  7. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
  8. Es Wird Scho Glei Dumpa
  9. Driving Home For Christmas
  10. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)
  11. Feliz Navidad
  12. My Grown-up Christmas List
  13. White Christmas
  14. Oh Heiland, Reiss Die Himmel Auf
  15. Is Finsta Drausst
  16. Silent Night/Stille Nacht

Christmas is scheduled to be released on CD on November 20, 2020.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers: “Volume 1” (2020) CD Review

Now that the ugly orange cloud is lifting from our nation, the blues sound different, don’t they? I mean, take Volume 1, the first album from New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers, for example. The first track sounds like some kind of celebration to me. Is it just me? I don’t think so. We’ve all had the blues for four years, four years that felt like forty years, and the music had a certain weight, just as everything did. Now our ears are ready to hear things differently. Our hearts can accept joy again. This group might not be familiar to you, but its members certainly are. The band is made up of Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica and vocals; Alvin Youngblood Hart on guitar, mandolin and vocals; Jimbo Mathus on guitar and vocals; Jim Dickinson on piano and vocals; Luther Dickinson on guitar, mandolin, bass and vocals; Cody Dickinson on drums, washboard and vocals; Chris Chew on bass; and Paul Taylor on tub bass. Now that is a band! The music here was recorded back in 2007, but not released until now. It was recorded in a relaxed style, apparently with the musicians all in a circle, taking turns leading the others. Clearly, these folks were having a good time, and the music has a lighthearted, joyful sound as a result. It may have been recorded more than a decade ago, but it feels exactly right for our time now.

The album opens with Charlie Musselwhite’s “Blues, Why Do You Worry Me?,” here listed as “Blues, Why You Worry Me?” From the moment it begins with that great work on harmonica, this song is a joy. It’s got a good beat, some delicious guitar work, and a vocal performance that has a cool and friendly tone. “I used to drink to keep from worrying/Now I ride from town to town/Don’t the highway look lonesome/When the sun is sinking down.” And the musicians jam on this track, opening it up and adding to that joyful sense. That’s followed by a cover of “Pony Blues.” There is more of a back porch vibe at the start of this one, which I love, and the track maintains a great loose vibe, particularly through that percussion. It feels like any of us could join in if we wished. Just grab something to bang on and bang away with joy and abandon. And really, that’s the feeling now, isn’t it? Let’s join together and let joyous music fill the air, for tyranny and racism and stupidity have been voted out of the White House.

Jimbo Mathus then leads on “Night Time,” which he wrote. This one establishes a seriously cool vibe and sound. Yes, it sounds like how you want the night to sound, how you imagine it sounds when maybe you’ve had a few drinks and feel you’re looking your best as you walk the city streets. That’s followed by “Come On Down To My House,” a track that is fun from the moment it begins. I can’t help but smile while listening to it. It also seems to invite us to join in, to sing along. There is certainly something of a party atmosphere here, even if the party is small. “Come on down to my house/Nobody home but me/Come on down to my house/And keep me company.” There is a bit of banter at the end, adding to the loose vibe of the recording. We then get a nice, relaxed rendition of “K.C. Moan,” with more good work on harmonica. This is just so damn good. There is a bit of banter at the end of this one as well.

“Let’s Work Together” comes pounding in beautifully, and the energy is just exactly right for the moment, lifting us up, making us feel that everything is possible. And, yes, things are possible again. Isn’t it great to be getting rid of that mendacious prick and his entire awful family? It is like we have a renewed vigor, a renewed joy, a renewed power. Just think of everything that is going to be accomplished now that we don’t have to spend all our days watching the news, worried about what that imbecile is going to do next. “Come on now, people, let’s get on the ball/Let’s work together/Come on, come on, let’s work together/Now, now, people/Because together we will stand/Every boy, girl, woman and man.” That’s followed by Charlie Musselwhite’s “Strange Land,” in which he sings, “Nobody knows me, nobody knows me, nobody knows who I am/Well, I‘m just a stranger in a strange land.” No, this song has nothing to do with the Robert Heinlein novel, but it is making me think I should revisit that book. I remember really loving it when I was in my teens. Anyway, this is a groovy blues number that features some great work on guitar, and is a seriously enjoyable jam, that drum beat keeping things moving like a train. I love when this group stretches out like this.

“Shake It And Break It” is another delight, and again, it feels like we are celebrating. A sort of timeless celebration, cheering on everything that is good about life. Yes, it is time to dance again. And everything about this track is fun. Things then get a bit more rowdy with a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Stone Free,” and I’m digging this too. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to this song, and perhaps I had forgotten how damn good it is. Well, this rendition is a great reminder, featuring some more excellent work on harmonica. This wonderful album concludes with “Stop And Listen Blues,” which begins with a good instrumental section and features some nice percussion.

CD Track List

  1. Blues, Why You Worry Me?
  2. Pony Blues
  3. Night Time
  4. Come On Down To My House
  5. K.C. Moan
  6. Let’s Work Together
  7. Strange Land
  8. Shake It And Break It
  9. Stone Free
  10. Stop And Listen Blues

Volume 1 was released on September 4, 2020 on Stony Plain Records. I am looking forward to Volume 2, which will be released in the spring.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

3D Jazz Trio: “Christmas In 3D” (2020) CD Review

Yesterday the nation got the best early Christmas gift ever, and we are all celebrating as if Santa Claus dropped checks for a million dollars down all our chimneys. It feels like Christmas, doesn’t it? A time of joy and cheer and love, a time when strangers suddenly act friendly toward one another. When my girlfriend and I got to the bar yesterday morning at 10:30 or so for some mimosas, Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” was playing. Perfect. Well, if you want to maintain that sort of mood, but wish to move in the direction of holiday songs, you should check out Christmas In 3D, the new album from the 3D Jazz Trio. This group takes some classic holiday fare and makes it pop and groove, and there is a tremendous amount of joy to the playing. Christmas has come early, and now you have the music to go along with it. The 3D Jazz Trio is made up of Jackie Warren on piano, Amy Shook on bass, and Sherrie Maricle on drums. This is the second album they’ve released this year, following May’s I Love To See You Smile

The album opens with a totally delightful rendition of “Winter Wonderland.” It feels like a celebration. Spirits are high, the alcohol is flowing, and the piano is dancing. And then there is a wonderful lead on bass, followed by some great stuff on drums. This is a seriously enjoyable and cheerful rendition of the holiday classic, a great track to get things going. Then “Up On The Housetop” opens with a cool drum solo. What a fun and surprising way to start this song. For some reason, I remember this one as being “Up On The Rooftop,” but, whatever, it is the same place, isn’t it? And actually the word “rooftop” seems redundant in itself. Anyway, the joy is abundant in the playing on this tune too, and there is certainly a playful aspect, as even the drums play the melody, sort of. This track features some excellent and impressive work on piano, and another good lead on bass. Interestingly, it is after that lead on bass that the song gains more energy, particularly on drums. That’s followed by “Greensleeves,” a beautiful song that of course isn’t really a Christmas song. “What Child Is This?” simply ripped off the tune, but as this is an instrumental rendition, it doesn’t really matter. This version has a good groove, a good bit of swing to it, taking the inherent beauty of the tune and spicing it up, making it dance and shake.

Things are hopping with 3D Jazz Trio’s version of “O Christmas Tree,” which has a salsa rhythm. Like the other tracks, this one is nearly bursting with joy, making this album just the thing to keep our spirits high as we finally near the end of this horrible year. The 3D Jazz Trio then turns to country with a cover of “Please, Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas),” picking up the song’s pace and delivering a swinging rendition, with Amy Shook playing fiddle as well as bass and totally shining on both instruments. This track is a whole lot of fun. The song was written by William T. Danoff and Taffy Nivert (both of the Starland Vocal Band, of “Afternoon Delight” fame), and recorded by John Denver. That’s followed by a totally cool rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” that begins with bass and drums. I love this approach to the song. After a minute or so, the piano comes in, and somehow the song gets even cooler. Oh yes, this trio is rocking this song, making it swing and fly, and toward the end it gets really exciting.

“I Wonder As I Wander” is one I wasn’t as familiar with, a song written by John Jacob Niles. It is a mellower tune, but the 3D Jazz Trio makes it interesting by giving it a Brazilian rhythm. This track features more good work from all three musicians, particularly Jackie Warren on piano. That’s followed by a rendition of “White Christmas” that moves at a good clip, certainly a bit breezier than you might be used to. There is a section of bass and drums, with the drums responding to the bass. We then get a pretty rendition of “Silent Night” that begins as a soulful piano solo. The bass and drums come in after a minute or so. I particularly love that work on bass. The album ends with a swinging and joyful version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” with an extended lead on bass and a drum solo. Thanks to music like this, and thanks to the election results, I am beginning to think that we will in fact have a merry little Christmas this year after all.

CD Track List

  1. Winter Wonderland
  2. Up The Housetop
  3. Greensleeves
  4. O Christmas Tree
  5. Please, Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)
  6. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  7. I Wonder As I Wander
  8. White Christmas
  9. Silent Night
  10. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Christmas In 3D was released on October 16, 2020.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 35” (2020) CD Review

Dave’s Picks Volume 34
contains a show from 1974, and for Volume 35, we go forward a decade to a show from 1984, the one performed on April 20th (yeah, yeah, 4/20, I know). This three-disc set contains the complete show the Grateful Dead performed on that date at the Philadelphia Civic Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, along with some filler from the previous night at the same venue (more on that later). I know most fans prefer shows from the 1970s, but it’s great to hear some stuff from the Brent Mydland years, and these three discs contain some phenomenal playing.

Disc 1

The first disc contains the complete first set. The band open the show with “Feel Like A Stranger,” one of my favorite choices for first set opener, what with the lines “You know it’s going to get stranger/So let’s get on with the show” and “It’s going to be a long, long, crazy, crazy night.” This version includes some nice vocal play surrounding the latter of those lines. But it is the jam that stands out, particularly Jerry Garcia’s work on guitar. The jam has a good funky groove, certain to get you dancing, and is a great way to kick off the show. And it’s followed by another crowd-pleasing first set number, “Cold Rain And Snow.” On this version, Jerry’s voice has something of a different tone, which is one thing that keeps it interesting. Also, the energy is there, building at all the right moments. There is a false start to “Beat It On Down The Line,” but this is a fun version (with a ten-beat intro, for those keeping track of these things). That’s followed by another totally fun number, “Cumberland Blues,” one that keeps your body moving just the way you want it to. Things then take a bluesy turn with “Little Red Rooster.” This one has a cool, slow start that I totally dig, because, yeah, that little red rooster is on the prowl. Sounds like it’s sneaking around, doesn’t it? Brent delivers some delicious stuff on keys, but Jerry’s work on guitar is what surprises me most about this rendition, and makes this one of the best I’ve heard. That’s followed by a nice version of “Brown-Eyed Women.” Jerry’s voice might be a bit rough here at times, but it works.

I love the way “My Brother Esau” begins. I was totally into it before I even realized what song it was. This is one I never saw them perform in concert. It was included on the cassette version of In The Dark, but not the original CD, which was totally weird. Jerry then eases into “It Must Have Been The Roses.” Again, his vocals are a bit rough, but work well for the song, giving a sense of heartache to it. That leads into “Let It Grow” to wrap up the first set. And this is an excellent version, with some phenomenal work by Jerry on guitar. This rendition is already impressive just a few minutes in, and the guys are only just getting going at that point. The jam never falters, never drags. The track is fifteen minutes of excellence.

Disc 2

The second disc contains the first half of the second set, along with some filler from the previous night. The Dead kick off the second set with “Scarlet Begonias,” a song that never failed to please the crowd. Even the strain in Jerry’s voice doesn’t much mar this version, because there is a lot of joy to the playing, and the jam goes in some interesting directions, with all the parts working so well together. Sometimes the magic happens, and it does here. And the transition to “Fire On The Mountain” couldn’t be better. I’m not sure if this is the best “Scarlet”/“Fire” the band ever played (probably not, because of the vocals), but that is certainly the best transition from one song to the other. This “Fire” is seriously good too, by the way, with a great rhythm and more excellent jamming. And check out that strange and effective echo of “Fire” approximately twelve minutes into it. The band then immediately launches into “Samson And Delilah,” which has a good thumping force inside it, and leads straight into “Drums.” This is a good “Drums,” beginning with a beat you can dance to and becoming quite a monster before long, and then moving into weird territory. That leads into “Space,” or at least a portion of it. “Space” is actually divided between discs two and three, an odd choice. And filler is inserted in the middle of “Space,” essentially.

I have mixed feelings about filler. On one hand, I say give me as much music as possible. On the other hand, I hate breaking up the flow of a show. So I guess if it were up to me, I would include filler, but only on the last disc, at the end of the main show. What we have on the second disc of this set is the last three songs of the second set from April 19, 1984. Actually, it begins with the end of “Space” from that show, and then leads into “The Wheel.” So we go from the beginning of “Space” from April 20th to the end of “Space” from April 19th. Anyway, this is really good version of “The Wheel.” I always thought “The Wheel” was a great choice to come out of “Space,” the song’s perspective seeming the perfect thing to pull us out of whatever weirdness we might have experienced in “Space.” Reminding us we don’t really have much control, but, hey, we’re still “Bound to cover just a little more ground.” Often, the band would quickly and rather abruptly move out of this song and onto the next thing, but here they jam a bit at the end, before transitioning into a fairly powerful and moving “Wharf Rat.” It gets pretty heavy by the end, and then “Sugar Magnolia” emerges from the darkness. It feels a bit fast, a bit messy, but is still enjoyable.

Disc 3

The third disc contains the rest of the second set, as well as more filler from the second set of the previous night. It picks up partway through “Space.” This is a pretty good “Space,” by the way, seeming to have more direction and cohesion than a lot of versions, and actually gets more interesting as it goes. The band then goes into “I Need A Miracle.” Oh yes, who isn’t looking for a miracle these days? The jam is cooking, but then mellows as the band prepares to slide into “Morning Dew.” And here the worn quality of Jerry’s voice that night works so well. And still he belts out certain lines, finding that emotional power. This is a song he nearly always delivered on, and this version will certainly not disappoint anyone. Forceful at some moments, almost delicate at others, and with plenty of engaging and beautiful work on guitar, this rendition gives you all you could want from this song. That leads directly to “Around And Around,” which is a bit awkward at the start, but then becomes pretty good. Interestingly, it leads straight into another Chuck Berry song, a high-energy rendition of “Johnny B. Goode” to wrap up the set. The encore is the much maligned “Keep Your Day Job.” I never saw the band play this one, and don’t dislike it the way many folks did. It’s a good, straight-forward rock song, with a kind of playful sense about it. I never thought they meant it all that seriously.

As I mentioned, this disc contains some filler from April 19, 1984. While the second disc contains the end of the second set from that show, this disc contains the beginning of the second set. So all we end up missing from that set is the “Drums”/“Space” segment. The first of these tunes is “China Cat Sunflower,” a groovy version that really moves. The jam cruises along with an undeniable joy, and soon we are into “I Know You Rider,” that energy increasing as it goes. This is a seriously enjoyable “China”/“Rider.” The band is cooking here. They follow that with “Estimated Prophet,” which has its own wild sort of energy for a time, Bob leading it in that direction with some of his vocal work. They then jam on it for a while, and things start getting interesting. “Terrapin Station” rises out of it. This is a song that is all but guaranteed to have at least a bit of magic. The magic in this version comes leading up to the line “Since the end is never told we pay the teller off in gold.” Wonderful stuff. This version also has a really interesting and unusual section at the end.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. Feel Like A Stranger
  2. Cold Rain And Snow
  3. Beat It On Down The Line
  4. Cumberland Blues
  5. Little Red Rooster
  6. Brown-Eyed Women
  7. My Brother Esau
  8. It Must Have Been The Roses >
  9. Let It Grow

Disc 2

  1. Scarlet Begonias >
  2. Fire On The Mountain >
  3. Samson And Delilah >
  4. Drums >
  5. Space
  6. The Wheel >
  7. Wharf Rat >
  8. Sugar Magnolia

Disc 3

  1. Space >
  2. I Need A Miracle >
  3. Morning Dew >
  4. Around And Around >
  5. Johnny B. Goode
  6. Keep Your Day Job
  7. China Cat Sunflower >
  8. I Know You Rider
  9. Estimated Prophet >
  10. Terrapin Station

Dave’s Picks Volume 35 was released in August, 2020. This three-disc set is limited to 22,000 copies.