Sunday, January 31, 2021

Katie Knipp: “The Well” (2021) CD Review

Katie Knipp is an incredibly talented singer, songwriter and musician, with a powerful and distinctive voice. In 2018, she released an outstanding album titled Take It With You, and she now somehow tops that with her new EP, The Well. This release contains all original material, written by Katie Knipp. Katie, in addition to providing those exceptional vocals, plays piano, organ, and dobro. Joining her on this one are Zack Proteau on electric bass and rhythm guitar, Neil Campisano on drums and percussion, Chris Martinez on electric guitar, and Otis Mourning on saxophone and clarinet. There are also a few special guests, including Justin Au on trumpet and Brandon Au on trombone, on certain tracks.

The EP gets off to a great start with “Sad Eyed Lover,” a cool song overflowing with attitude. This track has a delicious pounding beat, a fantastic bluesy edge, and some rock and jazz elements. It is a thrilling song, for all these reasons, but mainly because of Katie Knipp’s vocal performance, which is fierce and sexy, a performance that indicates she is not going to take shit from anyone. “You’re a clever creature, but you ain’t got my sympathy/Sad-eyed lover, you think the world is against you.” And then that horn section! Oh yes, this is an absolutely phenomenal opening track. Katie then takes things down a few notches for the beginning of “The Gospel Of Good Intentions,” her voice here at first soothing and soulful. It is not long before she is belting out some of the lyrics, while still somehow easing us in some way. This track features a strong bass line, which at times is the main instrument supporting her, an interesting and effective choice, giving the song a sort of immediacy and putting the focus on the lyrics, on what she needs to tell us, for there does seem to be a need here. And that, as much as anything else, really draws us in. “We try to drop it, we try to drop this/But the anchor just swings in the deep/Nothing can stop this/I dive off the bow, feel the cold surround me.” And then there are wonderful touches and swells from the horns. I also like the work on keys.

At the beginning of “Better Me,” her voice is supported by a steady pounding, a raw beat that matches the raw quality of her vocal approach here. Then as the other musicians come in, there is an element of menace, of danger, and you get the feeling something could break open at any moment. A warning to watch your footing as you proceed though this territory. And there is no denying the power of lines like “Makeup on the bruises so maybe I’ll even forget” and “I’ll control the tears the way he controls me/And maybe in the morning, I’ll be a better me.”  The song ends the way it began, with that pounding beat under her vocals. “Better Me” is followed by “Chamomile And Cocaine,” obviously my favorite song title of the album. This one is a true delight, with a totally cool groove. Here she gives us a very playful and sexy vocal performance. It is also captivating, feeling like a live performance, like she is living this, sweating this right in front of us. Yes, Katie Knipp is quickly becoming one of my favorite singers. Keith Cotton joins her on organ on this track. And I love that saxophone. The EP concludes with “Bullet Train,” this one beginning more in the folk realm, with some really nice work by Mick Martin on harmonica. “Your love’s coming at me like a bullet train.” And soon the song kicks in with a good beat, driving forward into whatever may come next.

CD Track List

  1. Sad Eyed Lover
  2. The Gospel Of Good Intentions
  3. Better Me
  4. Chamomile And Cocaine
  5. Bullet Train

The Well is scheduled to be released on March 12, 2021.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

The demented sociopath has finally been removed from the White House, but his cult of racist imbeciles continues to pose a threat to the country. While we as a nation try to move forward to a calmer, more sane and intelligent place, it’s great to have some good music to help us get there. During the pandemic and throughout these troubling times, musicians have been putting out some excellent albums. Here are some notes on a few new jazz releases (well, one of them isn’t quite as new as the others) you might be interested in.

The 14 Jazz Orchestra: “Cartoon Bebop”
– The 14 Jazz Orchestra is a big band under the direction of arranger Dan Bosanti. Including Bosanti, there are fourteen members, so there you have it. However, on the group’s new album, Cartoon Bebop, there are also several guests. That is in part because the album was recorded during the pandemic, and some members of the band were not set up to record at home, and so other folks had to sit in for them. The album opens with its title track, “Cartoon Bebop,” an original composition by Dan Bosanti (one of two on this release). As you might guess from its title, this track has a playful quality. It is a lively number, and while listening, you can imagine your own animated film taking place all around you. Jason Cardner’s work on trumpet stands out here. That’s followed by “Misturada,” written by Airto Moreira, a percussionist I learned about through his work with Mickey Hart. This track of course features some good and prominent percussion, including some excellent work by Lee Levin, and I love what Kemuel Roig does on keys. Then check out saxophonist Ed Calle’s delicious lead on “Dayride.” This album includes two compositions by Chick Corea, “Got A Match?” and “Duende,” both from LPs released in the 1980s. “Got A Match?” is a wild ride, featuring some phenomenal work by El Calle on tenor saxophone, by Ed Maina on piccolo, and by Nicky Orta on bass. “Duende” is a mellower tune that has something of a theatrical vibe, feeling like it tells a story populated by some interesting characters. The album concludes with its second original number, a fun track titled “A Day Tripper’s Blues Buffet.” Though it is an original composition by Dan Bosanti, it is large part an adaptation of The Beatles song. This track features more excellent work on saxophone by Ed Calle, and a really good lead on guitar by Lindsey Blair. This album was released on January 15, 2021.

Jason Foureman And Stephen Anderson: “Duo”
– This recent album from bassist Jason Foureman and pianist Stephen Anderson features mostly covers from a fairly diverse group of writers, along with a couple of original numbers composed by Foureman. The album opens with “Falling Grace,” a piece written by Steve Swallow. This rendition has a gentle, introspective vibe at the start, and then builds from there to feature some exciting and vibrant work on piano. There is also a lively, pulsing lead on bass in the second half. That’s followed by a cover of saxophonist Phil Woods’ “Reet’s Neet” which has a good energy right from its opening, and a jubilant feel throughout, helping to make this one of my personal favorites.  There is a whole lot of impressive work on this track, and enough energy to power a small city. We then get the first original composition of the album, Jason Foureman’s “Through And Through,” which has a sweeter, more relaxed sound, working to ease our minds a bit. They then turn romantic with a wonderful and dynamic rendition of Helmy Kresa’s “That’s My Desire,” another of the disc’s highlights. And speaking of romance, the duo also covers Ray Noble’s “The Touch Of Your Lips,” giving it a gorgeous late-night vibe, and then “To Each His Own,” this version popping and moving. Though the most emotionally engaging track on this release is the duo’s excellent rendition of “I’ll Close My Eyes.” The album concludes with its other original composition, “Ultra Blues,” a cool and spirited number. This album was released on June 12, 2020.

Doug MacDonald Duo: “Toluca Lake Jazz”
– Guitarist Doug MacDonald and bassist Harvey Newmark present some delicious renditions of standards as well as some original material composed by MacDonald. The disc opens with a cool, swinging rendition of “Flamingo,” a tune written by Edmund Anderson and Ted Grouya, and recorded by Duke Ellington. I love the way this track moves; there is a joy to their playing, and a natural flow. They then get into a bossa nova style with “My Little Boat.” They take “Baubles, Bangles, And Beads” from the musical Kismet and make it move as well, picking up the pace. The track features some excellent and exciting work from both musicians. Another highlight of the cover material is the duo’s rendition of “If I Had You,” which swings and grooves with something approaching glee. The first of the original compositions on this album is its title track, “Toluca Lake Jazz.” Both musicians are based in southern California, and Toluca Lake is a nice, but rather expensive section of Los Angeles. I used to see jazz there occasionally at a cool club on Riverside Drive, Money Tree (which then became Lucy’s 51, and now is something else). Money Tree is gone, but this track is bringing to mind some excellent evenings I spent there soon after moving to Los Angeles. There is a great sense of fun about this one, a relaxed kind of fun. “Is This It?” echoes a question many of us find ourselves asking. Another original composition, this short track finds Doug MacDonald working alone. That’s followed by “Desert Jazz,” with MacDonald and Newmark playing the opening and closing sections together. The duo dips into the blues with “De-Ha,” another cool and totally enjoyable original track. I particularly love that bass work. The disc closes with another original number, “New World,” featuring some fantastic play between the two musicians. This album is scheduled to be released on February 5, 2021.

Mike Scott: “Collecting Things”
– The new album from guitarist Mike Scott, founding member of the Los Angeles Jazz Collective, features almost all original material. It begins with a solo guitar piece, “Sol Minor Prelude,” which very quickly draws us in with its beauty and strong emotional core. The band then joins him on “Sol Minor.” The band is made up of Joe Bagg on piano and organ, Darek Oles on bass, and Jake Reed on drums. “Sol Minor” is an interesting piece, with some catchy elements, as well as places to breathe, and it features some excellent leads on guitar and piano. That’s followed by “Now And Later,” one of my personal favorites, in part because of that striking work on bass. This track creates an unusual space, with a sort of funky vibe. Mike Scott then gets into the blues with “Jack’s Dilemma,” a track that begins with some solo guitar playing and features some cool work on organ. “Boom Diddle It” swings, and features some fantastic work on drums, as well as a good lead on bass, and of course some excellent guitar playing, but it is that piano lead in the second half that I love most. This is one of my personal favorites from the album. The album’s sole cover is “On A Clear Day,” which has a good groove and a somewhat laid-back feel to the guitar work. That’s followed by “Dark Bossa,” which has a pretty and rather haunting sound. I love the way the guitar and piano interact, creating a compelling world. “Rondo” is a dramatic number that makes me want to take dance lessons. Then “Coda” has a kind of easygoing vibe. The disc wraps up with “49,” composed on Mike Scott’s forty-ninth birthday. It has a strong, steady beat, and some thoughtful guitar work. Well, that is an age to give anyone pause, isn’t it? This album was released on January 22, 2021.

Dave Stryker: “Baker’s Circle”
– On Dave Stryker’s new album, the guitarist is joined by Walter Smith III on tenor saxophone, Jared Gold on organ, and McClenty Hunter on drums, with Mayra Casales on percussion on a few tracks. The music here is a mix of original material and covers, and the album begins with three originals written by Dave Stryker. The first is “Tough,” which moves at a great pace and features a delicious lead on guitar that both pops and flows. Jared Gold’s lead on organ takes the track to a wilder space, with an intense and exciting vibe. Then “El Camino” has a Latin groove, with Mayra Casales sitting in on percussion, and features some colorful and vivid work by Walter Smith III on sax. “Dreamsong” has more of a bluesy vibe, and yet seems to stroll into the room, aware of its own cool power. And that lead on organ is particularly interesting. The final composition by Dave Stryker is the album’s title track, which has a somewhat relaxed vibe, and includes some good work on guitar. There is also a piece written by Jared Gold, “Rush Hour,” which begins with a somewhat frantic, busy sense, and features some exciting work, particularly by Walter Smith on saxophone. I also really like McClenty Hunter’s drum solo. As for the covers, this album includes a good rendition of Cole Porter’s “Everything I Love” that features some excellent guitar work, and an easygoing version of “Superstar,” written by Leon Russell, Bonnie Bramlett and Delaney Bramlett, and most famously recorded by The Carpenters. The group gets kind of funky with a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” featuring Mayra Casales on percussion. That’s followed by the sweet and mellow “Love Dance,” and then “Trouble (No. 2),” which is a fun, groovy number that features more great work on guitar. This album is scheduled to be released on March 5, 2021.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Wayne Alpern: “Jukebox” (2021) CD Review

Wayne Alpern continues to surprise and delight me with his arrangements of standards and popular songs. I love that his interests seem to cover the spectrum, and his new album, Jukebox, includes classical, jazz, pop, show tunes, and rock songs. That is one heck of an unusual jukebox. The musicians performing on this release are the Dorian Wind Quintet, made up of Gretchen Pusch on flute, Gerard Reuter on oboe, Benjamin Fingland on clarinet, Karl Kramer-Johansen on horn, and Adrian Morejon on bassoon.

Jukebox opens with “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,” here listed as “Accustomed To Her Face.” This rendition of the My Fair Lady song has both a sweet and a somewhat lonesome vibe, as he’s reflecting for the moment on this woman and the impact she’s made on his world. You really do get the sense that he will miss her, and this track ends up being quite moving. It is followed by “All The Things You Are,” which has a lighter, more joyful vibe from the start, in large part due to the work on flute. It becomes even more playful approximately halfway through, each of the instruments adding its voice, its observations. Somehow this music seems to lift the cares and weights from our shoulders. Things become a bit more serious with “Bartok Chorale.” I was a teenager when I was turned on to the music of Béla Bartók, and it was because of a novel I was reading at the time, Richard Bach’s The Bridge Across Forever. As I recall, Bartók’s music played some significant part in the story, and so, curious, I purchased an album of his compositions. That’s followed by “Beauty And The Beast.” I don’t care much for Disney, particularly the way that company declaws the tales it chooses to adapt, but this music, as presented here, is really good.

Wayne Alpern included a rendition of “Blue Moon” on Skeleton, which was released just a year ago. And on this new release, he presents the song again. The approach is similar to the previous version, including the presence of finger snaps, but the instruments are different, and so has a different feel. Anyway, this track is a total delight. It is a happy, peppy version, with innocence and excitement. It might explain a bit about my musical background that whenever I see “Do-Re-Mi” listed on a CD I automatically think it will be the Woody Guthrie song. It usually isn’t. Not in this case, anyway. Wayne Alpern offers an enjoyable, whimsical rendition of the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from The Sound Of Music (a musical I still have not seen). Then, to my delight, the musicians turn to Journey for a wonderful rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’.” What is it about this song? It just always works, and it seems that even people who dislike Journey (crazy people) love this one. This isn’t the first time Wayne Alpern has covered this song. It appeared on Standard Deviation, which was released on CD last April. But, as with “Blue Moon,” the instruments on this new album are different, and so this new version has a different vibe. Also, the previous version included some vocal work, which is absent here. And though this new version is quite a bit shorter, I think I prefer this one.

Downtown Abbey is a television series that has been recommended to me, but one that I haven’t yet had time to watch. On this album, Wayne Alpern delivers a pretty rendition of some of the music from that program. He then turns to baroque music with “Handel Allegro.” It is interesting that even though the music on this album comes from all sorts of different realms, it works quite well together. From “Handel Allegro,” the musicians go to Rodgers and Hart for a quirky, enjoyable (and quite brief) rendition of “Have You Met Miss Jones.” That’s followed by a beautiful and effective version of Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood,” for me another of the disc’s highlights. We then get “Nutcracker Suite,” or at least a couple of minutes of it, followed by a good cover of Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology.”

On Skeleton, Wayne Alpern presented his own arrangement of “If I Only Had A Brain” from The Wizard Of Oz. On this new album he gives us a wonderful arrangement of “Over The Rainbow.” There is something fanciful about this interpretation, and we get the feeling that perhaps we can fly, that perhaps our wishes will come true. The tone changes a bit in the second half, becomes a bit more somber for a few moments, but over all there is an optimistic sense to this rendition. It has a rather sudden ending. Wayne Alpern takes us from The Wizard Of Oz to The Beatles, with a rendition of “Penny Lane.” There is a light aspect to this take on the song, like a butterfly in the sunshine with a whole field of flowers to choose from, and some interesting changes. That is followed by “Send In The Clowns,” one of the best Stephen Sondheim songs. This group of musicians delivers a really good rendition, one that is perhaps more cheerful than a lot of renditions, even including finger snaps at a few points. That is followed by a cheerful rendition of “Surrey With The Fringe On Top,” here titled “Surrey With The Fringe,” and then Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy,” here titled “Wonderful Guy.” The album concludes with a song more in the folk vein, “You’ve Got A Friend,” written by Carole King, and a hit for James Taylor. While the main theme remains central in this version, there is a sense of play, the instruments sort of dancing around that theme.

CD Track List

  1. Accustomed To Her Face
  2. All The Things You Are
  3. Bartok Chorale
  4. Beauty And The Beast
  5. Blue Moon
  6. Borodin On Broadway
  7. Do-Re-Mi
  8. Don’t Stop Believin’
  9. Downtown Abbey
  10. Handel Allegro
  11. Have You Met Miss Jones
  12. In A Sentimental Mood
  13. Nutcracker Suite
  14. Ornithology
  15. Over The Rainbow
  16. Penny Lane
  17. Send In The Clowns
  18. Surrey With The Fringe
  19. Wonderful Guy
  20. You’ve Got A Friend

Jukebox was released on January 15, 2021.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Allen Ginsberg: “At Reed College: The First Recorded Reading Of Howl & Other Poems” (2021) CD Review

It was in my teen years that I first found myself drawn to a lot of the writing and music of the 1960s, and particularly the San Francisco scene from 1965 to 1968. Interest in that time and place led me, quite naturally, to the writers of the so-called Beat Generation, especially as several of them had settled in San Francisco, and had quite an impact on the culture there. Neal Cassady, who was the inspiration for Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, showed up in the Grateful Dead’s “The Other One,” after being the main driver of Furthur, Ken Kesey’s psychedelic bus (read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test for a fantastic account of those travels). Allen Ginsberg had loose tied to the Dead as well, both having performed at the Human Be-In in 1967. And apparently at one point Phil Lesh began setting “Howl” to music (I would love to hear that). It was Allen Ginsberg that really first got me excited about poetry. As I recall, a teacher in high school had us read “A Supermarket In California,” and the language and rhythm of that poem grabbed me. That poem is one of several included on Allen Ginsberg At Reed College: The First Recorded Reading Of Howl & Other Poems, being released by Omnivore Recordings. Of course the main draw of this release is, as its title indicates, the very first recording of Ginsberg’s most famous poem, “Howl.” It was first read in October of 1955, but no one recorded that reading. The recording here is from February 14, 1956 at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. The disc includes liner notes by Dr. Pancho Savery, professor at Reed College. It is a pleasure to read Ginsberg’s poetry, but, in part because of the strong influence of jazz on his work, hearing it is so much better.

Allen Ginsberg begins with a poem titled “Epithalamion,” which would later be published as “Love Poem On Theme By Whitman” in his book Reality Sandwiches. It is an exciting and sexy piece, singing of a gloriously bisexual experience, and it must have been so freeing to hear it spoken in public in the mid-1950s, a time that seems to us now to be in large part repressive. And though he was fairly young at the time, Allen Ginsberg sounds confident. There seems nothing nervous in him. In all the recordings I’ve heard and footage I’ve seen, he has always seemed so composed, so natural. In 1969, Allen Ginsberg testified at the Trial Of The Chicago Eight (then Seven, once Bobby Seale had been removed). During the cross-examination, he was asked by one of the prosecuting attorneys to recite lines from a few of his poems and, for some reason, to explain the religious significance of each one (which led to a humorous moment regarding “The Night Apple”). “Epithalamion,” by then under the title “Love Poem On Theme By Whitman,” is one of the poems that he was asked to recite. As much as it must have been wild to be at this reading in 1956, I think it would have been even more thrilling to be in that courtroom. “Epithalamion” is followed by “Wild Orphan,” which was included in the book Howl And Other Poems. I love that we can hear the paper being shuffled after the poem, helping us to feel like we are there. And during “Over Kansas,” we can hear a door close in the background. This poem displays some of Ginsberg’s humor, and a line like “Someone who should collect my insurance” draws laughter from the audience. The rhythm of his work seems like the way I imagine all the Beats spoke in normal conversation.

Allen Ginsberg pauses at the beginning of “A Dream Record,” and there is some laughter. I wonder what happened, but he responds, “I don’t want to corrupt the youth.” He starts again, and actually again after mentioning phrases are separated by colons. This poem mentions William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, recounts a conversation. That’s followed by a short piece titled “Blessed Be The Muses,” and then “A Supermarket In California,” the poem that really got me excited about poetry, and which also led me to want to read Walt Whitman and to wonder who Garcia Lorca was (I was soon to learn). There is some humor here too, in the line “Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes! – and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?” I think if I can memorize a few lines of this and keep them in mind whenever I have to do grocery shopping, it will make the whole excruciating routine much more manageable, even enjoyable. Ginsberg then reads “The Trembling Of The Veil,” which would later be published as “Transcription Of Organ Music.” I love this poem, in part because of the lines “My books piled before me for my use/waiting in space where I placed them, they haven’t disappeared, time’s left its remnants and qualities for me to use – my words piled up, my texts, my manuscripts, my loves.”

“Howl” is presented in four tracks on this disc. The first is the poem’s introduction. It is interesting, for Allen Ginsberg seems to at first plan on reading a different poem, but changes his mind, and someone asks, “You got time for ‘Howl’?” Allen replies, “I don’t really know if I’ve got the energy.” He also asks the time, and inquires whether anyone in the audience hadn’t been at the previous night’s reading. I love that all this is included. And then, in the disc’s next track, he begins “Howl,” that famous first line as powerful as ever – “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked.” And here, unlike the readings of the other poems, his voice raises, becoming more dramatic, a prophet, a spiritual and carnal leader. Some of the lines here are different from the published version, and the order of lines changes too at times. Some phrases elicit laughter from the crowd, such as “investigating the F.B.I.” and “passing out incomprehensible leaflets” and “waving genitals and manuscripts” (that last one a personal favorite of mine). And for some reason the phrase “contemplating jazz” always stands out for me. This track cuts at a certain point just before the end of the first part of the poem, as apparently the tape ran out and needed to be switched. So in the next track he figures out where he was, starts again at a point a bit before that, and finishes the first part of the poem. The second section of the poem, the “Moloch” section, is then presented as a separate track. Interestingly, Ginsberg stops before finishing it, saying he doesn’t feel like reading anymore, that he’s run out of steam. And that’s how the disc ends.

CD Track List

  1. Epithalamion
  2. Wild Orphan
  3. Over Kansas
  4. A Dream Record
  5. Blessed Be The Muses
  6. A Supermarket In California
  7. The Trembling Of The Lamb
  8. Introduction
  9. Howl
  10. Line Pick Up
  11. Howl (Part II)

At Reed College: The First Recorded Reading Of Howl & Other Poems is scheduled to be released on April 2, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings, and is going to be available on both CD and vinyl.

Melbreeze: “I Love Paris” (2021) CD Review

Melbreeze is a jazz vocalist who has a talent for taking familiar material and giving it a new style, a new breath, a whole new life, and thus getting us excited about the songs all over again. On her new album, I Love Paris, she delivers excellent renditions of songs by Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Styne and Cahn, and others. Joining her on this release are Scott Kinsey on keyboards and Trilian bass (Kinsey also co-produced the album), Tim Hagans on trumpet, Pedro Martins on guitar, Yotam Silberstein on guitar, Hadrien Feraud on electric bass, Tim Lefebvre on bass, Gergő Borlai on drums, Gary Novak on drums, Brad Dutz on percussion, and Mer Sal on backing vocals, along with some guests on certain tracks.

The album opens with “Autumn Leaves,” a song written by Joseph Kosma, with English lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Melbreeze delivers an unusual and captivating rendition, with some surprising vocal play at the beginning, and a line delivered as spoken word as a sort of introduction. Melbreeze casts her spell on us with this opening track. There is a seductive quality to this rendition, and not just in her vocal performance. Tim Hagans’ work on trumpet likewise has a cool allure. Toward the end, there is some pretty work by Scott Kinsey on keys, and some vocal work that has an improvised feel, adding a certain sense of excitement to the track. That is followed by “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn. This rendition has an odd beginning with that percussion and a sound that reminds me of a large ship’s horn (perhaps a nod to Anchors Aweigh, the film for which this song was written). Then the trumpet leads the way out of that introduction, and when the Melbreeze starts to sing, the song takes on a strong rhythm. It is the work on drums and percussion that dominates this track, seeming to determine its path, and at one point Melbreeze’s vocals have a percussive quality, the way she punctuates individual syllables, like she inhabits the land of this rhythm, and her vocals are her way of contributing to its landscape, and to take part in a sensual dance.

Melbreeze’s rendition of “Dat Dere” also makes interesting use of percussion. This is a playful number about a child asking a series of questions about the world, which at times can annoy the parent, the repeated question being a request for a big elephant the child sees in the distance. But the questions also make the parent see the world in a fresh way, as she tries to come up with the answers. “As life’s parade goes rushing by/She’ll need to know some reasons why/I don’t have all the answers/But I’ll try best that I can.” Pedro Martins adds a nice lead on guitar in the second half. That’s followed by “Sentimental Journey,” this version beginning with the sounds of a train. Then when it kicks in, Melbreeze’s voice is the focus. There is something completely lovely about this version; it has a cheerful sense about it. And I totally dig that lead on saxophone. That’s Doug Webb sitting in on this track. This song provides a delicious ride, and is one of my personal favorites. The sound of the train returns at the end.

Melbreeze then tackles Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain,” leading us into a cool, magical club. The percussion at times feels a bit busy, but this is a good version, and it features a wonderful guitar lead. Melbreeze’s vocal performance is rather playful at moments, which actually works well with the lyrics. That’s followed by the album’s title track, Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris.” Someday I will get to Europe and get to enjoy these places of song. Is there anyone on this planet who believes he or she wouldn’t love Paris? Anyway, as you’d expect by now, Melbreeze offers an unusual and exciting take on this beloved song. There is a spoken word section in the middle which has an improvised feel. Then we get a cool rendition of “My Funny Valentine,” featuring excellent work by Josh Smith, who plays guitar on this track, and by Travis Carlton, who plays bass. This track has a bit of swing to it.

The presence of cello on this version of “Yesterdays” gets me excited about this track soon after it starts. That is Artyom Manukyan on cello. The rhythm and the percussion are once again important elements. Melbreeze creates a vibrant space in these tracks, diving in and inhabiting the material. This track concludes with the cello, which I love. What a great moment. “Yesterdays” is followed by “Whatever Lola Wants,” here listed as “What Lola Wants.” I’ve always found this song kind of goofy, but I like that work on trumpet. And speaking of inhabiting the material, Melbreeze has particular fun in the role of Lola, the devil’s assistant. This album then concludes with “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” a song that was inspired by a Don McLean concert performance of “Empty Chairs,” and was a hit for Roberta Flack in 1973 (though I prefer the original version by Lori Lieberman). Melbreeze delivers a good rendition. It has a different vibe from those other versions, in part because of the percussion and the trumpet. I love that bass work by Hadrien Feraud, and this track makes interesting use of the backing vocals repeating the song’s title line.

CD Track List

  1. Autumn Leaves
  2. I Fall In Love Too Easily
  3. Date Dere
  4. Sentimental Journey
  5. Don’t Explain
  6. I Love Paris
  7. My Funny Valentine
  8. Yesterdays
  9. What Lola Wants
  10. Killing Me Softly With His Song

I Love Paris was released on January 22, 2021 on Blue Canoe Records.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders: “Garcia Live Volume 15” (2020) CD Review

When I first was getting into the Grateful Dead, an entire new world seemed to be opening up before my ears, and I was continually excited by each new song I heard, each new concert tape I got. This was in 1985, and there was just so much music to enjoy, so many records to acquire, not just Grateful Dead official albums and bootlegs, but Jerry Garcia records too. And it was around 1987 or 1988 that I first heard of the Keystone albums, live recordings of Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders at the Keystone Berkeley. As I remember, the first two volumes were available as a double album and as two separate records, and then later there was Keystone Encores, all of which were recorded in 1973, which was also a phenomenal year for the Grateful Dead. And this music was so different from what I was hearing from the Dead, but equally exciting. While listening to those recordings, I began picturing what the venue must have looked like, felt like, smelled like. I wanted to go there. But of course by then both Keystone Berkeley and the smaller Keystone Korner no longer existed. The latest volume in the Garcia Live series, Volume 15, presents the show that Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders performed at Keystone Korner on May 21, 1971 (except the show’s encore, “Deal”).

Disc 1

The first disc contains the complete first set. The show opens with “Man-Child,” a tune written by Merl Saunders and Ed Lewis. It has an unusual opening, and becomes a jazzy and bluesy jam, a kind of low-key, relaxed and very cool number. And Merl’s organ is really the driving force behind this one, providing most of the tune’s character. It’s interesting, opening the show with an instrumental number. It shows these guys were into creating a loose atmosphere where they could just jam. And jam they do. They even get into delightfully strange, spacey territory during this piece, and you get the feeling of being deep in the second set, the way they’re playing toward the end, and yet it’s just the first song. There is some appreciative clapping at the end, but it is clearly a small crowd (I read the capacity was two hundred). What must it have been like to see Jerry Garcia play in a venue of that size? Jerry and Merl follow that with “One Kind Favor,” and now we’re into the blues. Jerry’s using that great mournful quality of his voice to great effect. And now his guitar matches that tone, that feeling, that passion. “One kind favor I ask of you/See that my grave is kept clean.” Sometimes it seems to me that Jerry was at his absolute best when singing of death, like he was in touch with a piece of the great beyond, that he was experiencing, in part, a sort of transition, like a dress rehearsal, whenever he addressed the subject. This is a song that the Grateful Dead played at the beginning of the band’s career. A bit of tuning follows, and then they ease into “I Know It’s A Sin,” another delicious blues tune, and another that the Grateful Dead played a few times in the 1960s. Merl’s organ really takes this one to some other glorious level, some place between here and there, a place where the magic can happen.

They then offer a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made To Love Her,” performing this rendition as an instrumental with some good, loose jamming. Martin Fierro sits in on saxophone, and things are getting seriously good. The sax is wailing, reaching some fantastic heights, while that great groove keeps moving. They follow that with another instrumental piece, a wonderful jam titled, appropriately enough, “Keystone Korner Jam,” featuring more nice work by Martin Fierro on saxophone, and a rhythm to keep you on your feet, and a completely joyous vibe. It is like the musicians said to each other, let’s see if we can scale the heights of happiness with this tune. And yet it also has these wonderfully relaxed moments. Everything is just flowing so easily, so well, and no one seems to be leading it. Then like six minutes in, things start to get weird, and soon we are in a great, jazzy place, with the music kind of gently swinging. From there, the jam gets wilder, and these guys are cooking. You might find yourself completely immersed in this piece of music. The first disc then wraps up with a cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” with a passionate vocal performance from Jerry.

Disc 2

Martin Fierro is again sitting in on saxophone at the beginning of the second set, which opens with “Save Mother Earth,” composed by Merl Saunders and Ed Lewis. Yes, as with the first set, Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders open this one with a cool instrumental number, a groovy, jazzy tune. By the way, apparently John Kahn didn’t play with them on the May 1971 dates, so the bass sound must be coming from Merl. The energy builds during this number, and is let loose, particularly during Martin’s lead on saxophone. And even at that point, it’s like they’re only just getting started. Within this piece they find spots to breathe, some spots to drive forward with abandon, and plenty of moments to explore their surroundings. The track is twenty-five minutes, after all. The audience there reacts, knowing it has experienced something special. The band then turns to the blues again, following “Save Mother Earth” with a cover of Jimmy Rogers’ “That’s All Right,” Jerry’s voice sounding smooth at moments, but it is his guitar work that is even more expressive here. Martin remains on saxophone for this tune, delivering some great stuff, particularly during his leads, though I also love those touches he adds while Merl is leading the group.

Then we get a rarity, a cover of David Crosby’s “The Wall Song,” performed almost a year before David’s studio version was even released. Jerry Garcia plays electric guitar on the album version, as well as on David Crosby’s 1971 LP If I Could Only Remember My Name. This is an interesting song, with a vocal line that is unusual for Jerry, and partially because of that I find myself nearly mesmerized by this track. There is something seriously cool about it. And then Martin’s saxophone rises above the rhythm to spin and fly and wrap the air in spirals before gently letting things unwind. His later sax lead, for a time, seems to be following the vocal line of The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life.” The second set then concludes with “Mystery Train.” As I recall, the first version I ever heard was that included as a bonus track on the re-issue of one of the Keystone albums in the late 1980s, so I’m always going back to Jerry and Merl’s take on this great Junior Parker/Sam Phillips song, and comparing other recordings to it. And here they deliver a totally enjoyable rendition, with a fun groove featuring plenty of good work by Bill Vitt on drums during the jam. Jerry then introduces Merl Saunders, Bill Vitt and Martin Fierro. And that’s how the disc ends.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. Man-Child
  2. One Kind Favor
  3. I Know It’s A Sin
  4. I Was Made To Love Her
  5. Keystone Korner Jam
  6. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

Disc 2

  1. Save Mother Earth
  2. That’s All Right
  3. The Wall Song
  4. Mystery Train

Garcia Live Volume 15 was released on December 4, 2020.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Nalani Rothrock: “The Rock House Sessions” (2021) CD Review

The pandemic has put a lot of plans on hold, with concerts and entire tours postponed or canceled. Vocalist and songwriter Nalani Rothrock had started recording what was intended to be a full-length album last March, just before everything went to hell. We are going to have to wait for that album, but Nalani and her musical partner, guitarist Joshua Lamkin, have decided to release the three songs that had been completed before the pandemic halted the recording process. And that is excellent news, for these tracks are pretty damn good. Titled The Rock House Sessions, because the music was recorded at Kevin McKendree’s Rock House studio in Tennessee, this EP contains all original material, written by Nalani Rothrock and Joshua Lamkin. Kevin McEndree, in addition to recording and producing this release, also plays keyboards on these tracks. Also joining Nalani Rothrock and Joshua Lamkin are Steve Mackey on bass, and Kenneth Blevins on drums. Nicole Boggs and Jonell Mosser provide backing vocals.

The first thing that strikes me about the opening track, “How Long,” is Nalani Rothrock’s voice. It is powerful and soulful, with a good amount of country in her delivery. This song also has a good groove, one that gets me smiling. There is something of a timeless vibe, all of the elements working so well together, including some delicious work on keys. But it is her voice that really drives this song into our hearts. “I’m wondering if I still drive you wild,” she sings at one point. Oh, no question about it. “How long, darling/We can’t keep living like this.” That’s followed by “Try.” The guitar work at the very beginning makes me think we’re about to drop into some heavy blues, but as the song kicks in, the drum work has the feel of a march, giving it a sort of New Orleans vibe. And there is a bright energy to this song. “I don’t care if the mountain’s too high/Baby, don’t you want to try.” Hell yes! That is exactly the attitude we all need to have as we get into 2021. While this song may be on a more personal level, about a relationship, it has the power and spirit to work on a larger scale as well. Hers is a voice that should inspire and motivate people to put in their best effort, regardless of what it is they’re working on. The EP concludes with “Every Time I Close My Eyes,” which has a completely delicious groove and a wonderful, soulful vocal performance. “Was there something else that I could have tried/I’m doing the best I can to keep my head up high/I keep searching for the reason why/Every time I close my eyes.” This track also features some cool work on keys, plus some excellent backing vocals.

CD Track List

  1. How Long
  2. Try
  3. Every Time I Close My Eyes

The Rock House Sessions is scheduled to be released on February 5, 2021. And a full-length album will follow at some point.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Last Year’s Man: “Brave The Storm” (2020) CD Review

I was curious about Last Year’s Man, in large part because there is an excellent Leonard Cohen song by that title, and any Leonard Cohen connection naturally gets me interested. Last Year’s Man is the project of singer and songwriter Tyler Fortier, who is based in Eugene, Oregon. Brave The Storm, the debut album from Last Year’s Man, features all original material written by Tyler Fortier. And, as you’d expect from someone brave enough to risk soliciting comparisons to Leonard Cohen, Tyler Fortier clearly has a talent for crafting compelling lyrics. In addition to the vocals, Tyler Fortier plays acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano and keyboard on this release. He is joined by several other musicians on various tracks.

The album opens with its title track, “Brave The Storm,” a pretty and pensive number, with a gentle approach, as if not wanting to disturb someone who has at long last found a peaceful moment. “Now there’s rain at your window/It’s waking you up at dawn/Louder than the trains at night/That rattle in your head.” And then when Tyler’s voice is joined by that of Anna Tivel, the song becomes even more beautiful, offering comfort to us. “We can brave the storm,” they tell us, and I believe them. Anna Tivel also adds some gorgeous work on violin. Milo Fultz is on bass, and Lex Price is on tenor guitar. Then Erin Flood Fortier joins Tyler Fortier on vocals for “No Eye On The Sparrow,” a cool song with a somewhat darker, more somber atmosphere and a sense of impending trouble, particularly with the lines “There’s a storm coming” and “And the hammer is coming down.” Toward the end, the song takes on a greater energy or force. Bart Budwig adds some work on trumpet, which is interesting, for the lyrics include these lines: “The watchmen and their trumpets/Are not making a sound.” Jeremy Burchett is on drums, and Peter Perdichizzi is on electric guitar. Then the steady drum beat gives “My Own Ghost Town” a more positive, confident vibe, seeming to promise a favorable outcome even for those who might be troubled and “Burdened by the truth.” This track also features some nice work by Philippe Bronchtrin on pedal steel. Anna Tivel offers more beautiful work here as well. “And I told you stories you believed/There’s no looking ahead/With yesterday’s eyes.”

Tyler Fortier then offers us a love song, “Guide You Back To Me” It may not be an overly cheerful one, but is a true love song. “And I know that time is not our friend anymore/And our hearts too heavy/I will try to find you through the miles and miles away from home/And when you’re lonely/I will guide you back to me.” Erin Flood Fortier provides some gentle and tender backing vocals. Ehren Ebbage is on drums on this track. Both Erin Flood Fortier and Christopher Porterfield provide backing vocals on “Wild, Wild Heart,” a song with some striking lyrics, such as “Where the moon hung worthless/Like a burned-out bulb” and “If time is my captor/And the night is a thief/The past is the past/And the arrow of time is a one way street.” I also love the pretty guitar work.

“The Dark End Of The Road” begins softly, but soon builds in power, like it is determined to rouse us, to pull us together, and help us see how things can be better. There is still hope, as long as are able to move, even if we are going the wrong way. “But it got us where we need to be/It took our heart, our home, and stole our pride/From the dark end of the road to the other side.” Jesse Terry provides backing vocals on this one. That’s followed by “Feet Of Clay,” a love song with a pretty and uplifting sound. The lyrics, of course, are not completely straightforward, keeping things interesting. “She’s like a wild river/Always promising the sea/She’s never where she’s going/And I’m not where I’m supposed to be.” There is some moving work on violin by Erik Berg Johansen. Kati Claborn and Luke Ydstie provide some good backing vocals. The album concludes with “The Valley Of Jehoshaphat,” which features a set of lyrics that will likely capture your attention, particularly if you’ve been following the crazy events in the news. “So grab your guns, your bullets, and your hats/Grab your whiskey and your bible.”  And I am reminded of another Leonard Cohen song in the lines, “The god that they pray to won’t rest your soul/These birds on the wire are from days of old.”

CD Track List

  1. Brave The Storm
  2. No Eye On The Sparrow
  3. My Own Ghost Town
  4. Guide You Back To Me
  5. Wild, Wild Heart
  6. The Dark End Of The Road
  7. Feet Of Clay
  8. The Valley Of Jehoshaphat

Brave The Storm was released on November 13, 2020.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Loz Speyer’s Time Zone: “Clave Sin Embargo” (2019) CD Review

Loz Speyer’s Time Zone is a London-based group that formed in 2003. They released a self-titled album the next year, and followed it with Crossing The Line in 2011. The group has gone through some personnel changes since then, and for the latest release, Clave Sin Embargo, is made up of Loz Speyer on trumpet and flugelhorn, Martin Hathaway on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, Stuart Hall on guitar, Dave Manington on double bass, Maurizio Ravalico on congas, and Andy Ball on drums. The music is jazz, with heavy Cuban influences, a focus on rhythm, and a vibrant sound led by some phenomenal work on trumpet. Clave Sin Embargo features all original material, composed by Loz Speyer.

The album opens with “Stratosphere,” which when it begins feels like it’s already in progress, in motion. It features a great groove and some fantastic work from the brass players. It is their work that lifts this track up to a more glorious level – yes, up to the stratosphere. Yet the percussion, the element keeping us more grounded, is what I find most appealing about this track. It makes me want to take dance lessons. I’m from the completely unschooled group of dancers, just letting the rhythm move my body however it wishes, but music like this makes me wish I could move my partner across the floor, and right up into the air. There is a wonderful sense of movement and freedom and excitement to the playing. That’s followed by “Mood Swings,” and from the moment it starts I am in love with this track. That opening section has a sexy style and a whole lot of character, and it is delivered over a good rhythm. This is a piece that was with this group from the beginning, appearing on the debut album, where it was played by mostly different musicians. As you might guess from the title, the piece goes through several sections. For a time it feels like each instrument has a different mood, something different to say, taking the others in a new direction when it gets a chance to lead. There is something almost theatrical about it. You can imagine each instrument as a different character on stage, and each lead like that character’s main monologue. I particularly like that guitar part. And then that percussion section is absolutely fantastic. And even though at ten minutes, this is the album’s longest track, it seems to be over all too soon.

“Lost At Sea” has a different vibe, yet also seems to tell a story. After a minute, it takes a turn, picking up the pace, and the excitement, almost like it hurries for a block or two, then slows again when reaching a certain spot. Or it could be heard as a conversation between two people of different constitutions, different gaits. It’s funny, because for me it conjures a city environment, not what I was expecting from its title. But of course, one can certainly feel lost at sea in the middle of a city. Loz Speyer and Martin Hathaway really drive this one forward. Interestingly, approximately halfway through, it seems to be reaching a conclusion. Then that lone horn sets a different tone, pulling us together, and soon we are moving again, figuring out our way, and throughout this section there is a bright energy, a sense of optimism. Then “Full Circle” creates a more romantic, relaxed atmosphere at the beginning, and soon develops a light, almost bouncy vibe. There is something rather playful about this one at times. The track features some wonderful work on saxophone, and a guitar lead that is several shades of cool, especially the way it partners with the bass to create a sound and atmosphere that get me smiling each time I listen. Then the guitar begins “Checkpoint Charlie,” leading everyone into a rather pleasant, enjoyable tune, with a good groove. Checkpoint Charlie is, of course, the name of the most famous crossing point at the Berlin Wall, a spot with a rather serious history, but this track has a bright, cheerful sound and vibe. After all, that wall is a thing of the past. I’m looking forward to the destruction of the little bit of wall that racist sociopath Donald Trump put up in our country. This track gives us the sense that all is possible, and that things are going to be all right, and toward the end when the horns back off, we get the sense of taking part in the removal of pieces from the wall itself. That is a great section with guitar, drums and bass. That is followed by “Guarapachangeuro.” Though the horns play a major part in setting the tone, and in establishing a sense of excitement, this one is all about the rhythm, which carries us through, shows us how to move through whatever space it is we occupy.

The second album by Loz Speyer’s Time Zone was, as I mentioned, titled Crossing The Line. While that release did not have a title track, it now gets one belatedly on this album. “Crossing The Line” begins with some interesting play between saxophone and guitar. Then after a minute or so, a rhythm is established, a slower, unusual groove. Loz Speyer’s trumpet rises above that groove. Nearly halfway through, things seem to fragment, and we enter a different section, each instrument finding its own way through, in little spurts and jumps. Then we ease into the next section, which is kind of beautiful, though that beauty is almost immediately played with, before a rhythm is established again. There is some excellent work on bass. This is probably the album’s most interesting composition. Then when the album’s final track, “Dalston Carnival,” begins, it sounds like a party, just the sort of thing we need to raise our spirits in these dark and twisted times. The tune is a good time in itself, with a good deal of cheer. The guitar lead is probably the most surprising element of this track, and then there is a percussion section, something that should get your entire body shaking and moving.

CD Track List

  1. Stratosphere
  2. Mood Swings
  3. Lost At Sea
  4. Full Circle
  5. Checkpoint Charlie
  6. Guarapachanguero
  7. Crossing The Line
  8. Dalston Carnival

Clave Sin Embargo was released on October 2, 2019 on Spherical Records.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Richard Hell And The Voidoids: “Destiny Street Complete” (2021) CD Review

Richard Hell And The Voidoids released two studio albums back in the day – 1977’s Blank Generation and 1982’s Destiny Street. Richard Hell (Richard Meyers), who was also a member of Television and Johnny Thunders And The Heartbreakers, was apparently never really satisfied with that original release of Destiny Street, and in 2009 released a different version of the album, called Destiny Street Repaired, with new vocals and guitar parts. That too did not quite meet his expectations or desires for this particular album, so when most of the original masters were found, Richard Hell went back to work on them, and we now have, as a result, Destiny Street Remixed. All three versions are included in the new two-disc set Destiny Street Complete, along with a bunch of demos and a booklet of liner notes. At the beginning of that booklet, Richard Hell writes: “I have to smile and roll my eyes when I think of this, this package, but I was determined to do it. Nobody made me, or even asked me. I take full responsibility for it. Three plus versions of the same album. It’s ridiculous, but I’m glad.” I’m glad too. And anyone who is a fan of punk music will likely share that feeling.

Disc 1

The first disc contains the original album and Destiny Street Repaired. The songs on both versions are in the same order. The album opens with “The Kid With The Replaceable Head,” an odd and totally enjoyable song that is somewhere between punk and pop, a song you can dance to even if you don’t pay attention to the lyrics. But if you do pay attention to the lyrics, you’ll enjoy it all the more. Check out these lines: “(Look out!)They say he's dead, he's my three best friends/(Look out!) He's so honest that the dishonest dread/Meeting the kid with the replaceable head.” What does it mean? I can’t say for sure. But it’s refreshing listening to something this goofy and fun, especially as it provides a needed escape from the present troubles. The version from Destiny Street Repaired might be clearer, but I’m not sure if it’s better. It features additional guitar work by Marc Ribot. That’s followed by the first of three covers on the album, The Kinks’ “I Gotta Move,” a song that was originally included on the All Day And All Of The Night EP. Richard Hell And The Voidoids do a good job with it, mixing that cool garage sound with punk, and this features some excellent rock and roll guitar work. The second cover is Bob Dylan’s “Going Going Gone,” a song from his Planet Waves album. This is a slower tune, and I like the way these guys approach it. “I don’t really care what happens next/I’m going, I’m going, I’m gone.” Bill Frisell plays guitar on the Destiny Street Repaired version.

“Lowest Common Dominator” is of course a song title that I completely love, a play on “lowest common denominator,” an expression I have found myself using more and more. During the 2016 election, it seemed to be in the air, right? But “Lowest common dominator” would have also been completely apt during that election, and since then. This is a fun song, as you’d probably guess, with a delicious beat. I love that bass line. And when it opens, it feels like a punk version of The Monkees’ “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” What I love about the version from Destiny Street Repaired is the backing vocal work by Ruby Meyers-McEnroe and Sheelagh Bevan. There is a very playful vibe about it, and because of it, I prefer this version. “Lowest Common Dominator” is followed by “Downtown At Dawn,” one of my personal favorites. I recommend listening to it with headphones, for there are lots of little touches and elements that kind of surround you, creating a fuller landscape. It’s sort of a pop song, and these guys kind of jam on it too. It’s nearly six minutes, pretty long for a punk record, but it never drags, never feels repetitive, and it’s over before you know it. And again, Richard Hell writes some unusual lyrics, such as these lines: “By indolence and insolence, the lovers realize/Yeah, only dropout dancehall offers love so undisguised/That you just get all de-civilized/And coalesce, you feel your best, and think about it less and less.”  The version on Destiny Street Repaired is actually like a minute and a half shorter. I prefer the original, longer version.

In the liner notes, Richard Hell includes some brief thoughts on each of the album’s tracks, and about “Time” he writes, “I was hoping Linda Ronstadt would pick it up.” That made me laugh out loud when I read it. But, you know, I thought about it for a moment, and she could totally have done this song justice. She would have nailed it. It’s another of the album’s best songs. Bill Frisell plays guitar on the Destiny Street Repaired version. “Time” is followed by “I Can Only Give You Everything,” the third and final cover of the album, this one originally recorded by Them. This is another cool song, and Richard Hell’s rendition retains a lot of that great garage rock sound. Plus, it has one of my favorite vocal performances of the album. I even love the way it falls apart at the end. Marc Ribot adds some guitar work to the version on Destiny Street Repaired. Then “Ignore That Door” comes on strong with a heavy pulse and a scream that get this one pumping and moving along. “And the only human warmth comes/From decomposing whores.” The scream at the beginning is dropped from the Destiny Street Repaired version. Ivan Julian adds some guitar work to this version.

There is a guitar intro to “Staring In Her Eyes,” and then the song kicks in with a good beat. There is something oddly sweet, even pretty, about this song. “No one could stand feeling that way for long/So I, I chose to regard all the world as the wrong/And to, and to make my own long assertions in song/I decided I just didn't care/That I'd look and I could see nothing there.” Plus, this song includes the line “And stare like a corpse in each’s eyes.” The guitar intro has a slightly different vibe in the version on Destiny Street Repaired, and the line “I chose to regard all the world as the wrong” becomes “I chose to regard the whole world as the wrong.” The final song of the album is its title track, “Destiny Street,” which has a certain funky flavor. The lyrics are delivered sort of as spoken word, which works well with the story he’s telling us. This is another of my favorite tracks. “Yes, I seduced myself/I took me home.” On Destiny Street Repaired, Richard Hell still presents the lyrics as spoken work. It’s interesting, the way those opening lines about age feel different as delivered in this version. This track is significantly longer than the original version, two and a half minutes longer, becoming a jam with lots of interesting guitar work toward the end.

Disc 2

The second disc contains the new remixed version of the album.  Before Destiny Street Repaired, Richard had wanted to remix the album, but discovered that the company had misplaced the original masters. But in 2019, those masters were found. Well, three of the four original tapes were found, anyway. And so Richard went back to work on the album, remixing it from those tapes. So this version of the album contains the original guitarists again, at least for the most part. For the three tracks contained on the one tape still missing, he used the Destiny Street Repaired versions, remixing those. Those songs are “Lowest Common Dominator” (so this version has those great backing vocals), “Downtown At Dawn” and “Staring In Her Eyes.” Anyway, the album sounds fantastic. Mission accomplished.

In addition to the songs from the original album, those tapes contained one previously unreleased track, “Don’t Die,” written by Richard Hell and Ivan Julian, and that track is included on this disc. It’s a seriously cool and strong song (another version of it had been released). The rest of the second disc is made up of demos and single versions, beginning with the single of “The Kid With The Replaceable Head,” in which Richard sings “They say he’s done” instead of “They say he’s dead.” This single was released in the late 1970s. The flip side, “I’m Your Man,” is also included here. This totally fun song was also included on Richard Hell’s 1984 compilation, R.I.P., as well as the 2002 compilation Time. That’s followed by demos of “Crack Of Dawn” and Bob Dylan’s “Going Going Gone.” I particularly like the demo of “Going Going Gone,” because of Richard Hell’s vocals. Oddly, this might be my favorite version contained in this two-disc set. The demos of “Funhunt” and “Smitten” were previously included as bonus tracks on Destiny Street Repaired.

Another highlight of this disc is the demo of “I Lived My Life,” the Fats Domino song. It has that familiar Fats Domino groove, and so has quite a different feel from the rest of the tracks in this two-disc set. This song was previously included on Richard Hell’s R.I.P. album. That’s followed by the demo of “Ignore That Door,” which features some really good work on guitar. Also included is the single version of “Time.” Hey, I’ll take as many versions of this song as I can get. That’s followed by the single version of “Don’t Die.” As much as I like the other version of “Don’t Die” included on this disc, this version is even better. I love those backing vocals by Kitty Summerall, as well as that guitar work. There is something seriously delicious about this track. This disc contains two more previously unreleased tracks – the demo of “Staring In Her Eyes” and a live version of “Time” recorded in 2004 at the memorial for guitarist Robert Quine.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. The Kid With The Replaceable Head
  2. I Gotta Move
  3. Going Going Gone
  4. Lowest Common Dominator
  5. Downtown At Dawn
  6. Time
  7. I Can Only Give You Everything
  8. Ignore That Door
  9. Staring In Her Eyes
  10. Destiny Street
  11. The Kid With The Replaceable Head
  12. I Gotta Move
  13. Going Going Gone
  14. Lowest Common Dominator
  15. Downtown At Dawn
  16. Time
  17. I Can Only Give You Everything
  18. Ignore That Door
  19. Staring In Her Eyes
  20. Destiny Street

Disc 2

  1. The Kid With The Replaceable Head
  2. I Gotta Move
  3. Going Going Gone
  4. Lowest Common Dominator
  5. Downtown At Dawn
  6. Time
  7. I Can Only Give You Everything
  8. Ignore That Door
  9. Staring In Her Eyes
  10. Destiny Street
  11. Don’t Die
  12. The Kid With The Replaceable Head (Radar single version)
  13. I’m Your Man (Radar single version)
  14. Crack Of Down (demo version)
  15. Going Going Gone (demo version)
  16. Funhunt (demo version)
  17. I Lived My Life (demo version)
  18. Ignore That Door (demo version)
  19. Smitten (demo version)
  20. Staring In Her Eyes (demo version)
  21. Time (Shake single version)
  22. Don’t Die (Shake single version)
  23. Time (live)

Destiny Street Complete is scheduled to be released on January 22, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Harry Dean Stanton With The Cheap Dates: “October 1993” (2021) CD Review

I am a big fan of Harry Dean Stanton’s acting work (especially in films like Paris, Texas and Alien and even Pretty In Pink), but I didn’t really become familiar with his music until several years ago when Partly Fiction was released, a soundtrack I love. The world lost Harry Dean Stanton in 2017, but now, thanks to Jamie James and Omnivore Recordings, we are getting a new CD release of his music. October 1993 contains two different sections, the first being studio recordings and the second being some live recordings from a gig at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. Harry Dean Stanton provides lead vocals, and plays acoustic guitar and harmonica on these tracks. The Cheap Dates include Jamie James on guitar and backing vocals, Slim Jim Phantom (from the Stray Cats) on drums, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (from The Doobie Brothers) on pedal steel, and Tony Sales (from Chequered Past and Tin Machine) on bass and backing vocals.

Studio Recordings

The album begins with four studio tracks, the first being a cover of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.” The first version I remember hearing was that by Rita Coolidge, which I still love. This version by Harry Dean Stanton With The Cheap Dates is more of a rocking country number. Harry Dean’s voice sounds so smooth, so good. I love the way these guys approach this song, particularly vocally. There are some interesting little surprises with the way they handle certain sections, especially on the lines “You won’t regret it/Take your shoes off, do not fear.” As on Dylan’s original recording, there is some nice work on pedal steel, which is prominent throughout the track. They follow that with a really good cover of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” a song that was also included on Partly Fiction. This version is different from the one on that album, this one being a full band country rock version. There is a whole lot of energy here. When they deliver the song’s final lines, and they do so with great gusto, the track is only a little more than halfway through. After that, the band jams and Harry Dean delivers some strong work on harmonica. Then they return to the last couple of stanzas to wrap it up.

This disc also features a wonderful rendition of William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Unlike Bell’s original recording, Harry Dean Stanton begins his version with the song’s title line, featuring some nice harmonizing. The acoustic guitar is more prominent on this one, and there is some beautiful work on harmonica. The final studio track is a cover of “Across The Borderline,” a song written by Ry Cooder, Jim Dickinson and John Hiatt. Harry Dean Stanton and The Cheap Dates deliver a pretty and moving rendition. “‘Cause when you reach that broken promise land/Every dream slips through your hand/And you know it’s too late to change your mind/‘Cause you paid the price to come so far/Just to wind up where you are.” Those lyrics still pack a punch, don’t they? They could have been written in the last four years. By the way, in 1993 Willie Nelson also covered this song, using it as the title track to an LP.

Live At The Troubadour

The live tracks begin with another Chuck Berry song, “You Never Can Tell,” sometimes referred to as “C’est La Vie” and here shorted to “Never Can Tell.” Harry Dean Stanton asks the crowd how they’re doing, then launches into the song, providing some great work on harmonica before getting into the lyrics. They have fun with this one, growing softer for a moment for the line “But when the sun went down, the rapid tempo of the music fell.” There are some other playful touches. That’s followed by “Spanish Harlem,” written by Phil Spector and Jerry Leiber, and originally recorded by Ben E. King. This version has a sweet, romantic vibe, and features some truly wonderful vocal work. The track ends with a little banter about the band’s name.

Jamie James takes over on lead vocals for Warren Smith’s “Miss Froggie,” a fun rock and roll song. This track boasts some great stuff on harmonica and of course some cool work on guitar. Jamie James cuts loose vocally too. By the way, you might know him from his work with The Kingbees, and Harry Dean Stanton mentions that at the end of the track. The group then gets into the blues with a cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City,” this version mixing blues and country elements. This song has of course been covered by country artists, most notably Sonny James. The album concludes with “Canción Mixteca,” and at the beginning of the track Harry Dean Stanton mentions that it was featured in Paris, Texas. By the way, if you are not familiar with that movie, you really should make an effort to see it. Harry Dean Stanton also sings this song on Partly Fiction. The version here is excellent, and rather beautiful.

CD Track List

  1. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
  2. Promised Land
  3. You Don’t Miss Your Water
  4. Across The Borderline
  5. Never Can Tell
  6. Spanish Harlem
  7. Miss Froggie
  8. Bright Lights, Big City
  9. Canción Mixteca

October 1993 is scheduled to be released on February 12, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Joyann Parker: “Out Of The Dark” (2021) CD Review

The album title Out Of The Dark carries an optimistic and positive message, one we can all appreciate, for we are all seeking a way out of the darkness that has enveloped the land, a darkness brought by both the pandemic and the existence of a cult of racist and violent imbeciles who have now attacked the U.S. Capitol. We can sense a light coming on January 20th, but that will be just a start. We have a lot of work ahead of us. Music will help us through. Music will be a companion on this crazy journey, and it will help us maintain at least a portion of our sanity. We need music like vocalist Joyann Parker’s new album, Out Of The Dark. This follows her 2018 release, Hard To Love, and like that album, this one contains all original material written by Joyann Parker and Mark Lamoine.  Lamoine also plays guitar on these tracks. Tim Wick once again joins her on piano and organ, and Brad Schaefer is on bass, and Bill Golden is on drum and percussion. The album also features several guest musicians.

The album opens with “Gone So Long,” which eases in with a beautiful vocal section, a soulful humming that pulls us in and unites us, reminding us of the power of the human voice, even apart from language. It is a wonderful way to start the album. This song is a blues tune about how trouble follows us around, and good things can turn bad as we sometimes lose our way. I think we’re all in touch with that feeling. This song, because of Joyann Parker’s vocal performance, has the power of a gospel number. Toward the end, there is a section where her vocals are supported by the kick drum, which is very cool. There is also some good work on guitar. “I’m gone so long/I can’t find my way back home.” It feels that in one way or another we are all trying to find our way back home, particularly these days. “Gone So Long” is followed by “Carry On.” There is a cool, funky edge to this one, but again the power is in the vocals, in the way she delivers a line. Plus, the song has an uplifting vibe in lines like “‘Cause there’s no mountain too high to conquer/No sea too wide to swim/No valley that can’t be forged through.” Hey, we could all use some support and encouragement these days, eh? And some companionship. This track includes some really good backing vocal work too, by Laycey Dreamz and Patricia Lacy. There is a beautiful section with just vocals toward the end.

In the last four years, we have seen the absolute worst this country has to offer, and it has brought out the worst versions of everyone. I had never been so full of hatred and anger as I have been during this administration. So right away I was ready to relate to a song titled “Bad Version Of Myself.” There is a strength in Joyann Parker’s voice even as she sings about maybe one day being strong, and as she delivers lines like “I don’t want to act this way/Feel like I have to change/Why should I care what you have to say.” Another thing I especially love about this track is that work on harmonica by Rory Hoffman. These lines also stand out, for reasons I assume are obvious to everyone by now: “But it’s hard to know what’s true/When my mind is clouded by lies/For now I just keep on this way/Hoping for the day/When I see you for who you really are/You twist reality/Manipulate what I see/So I believe I can only be/This bad version of myself.” Then “What Did You Expect” has a lighter, more fun vibe from the start, and so I’m surprised by the lyrics, such as “Did you think there was a chance I wouldn’t break your heart.” That’s followed by a mellower, prettier number titled “Either Way.” Oh, what a voice Joyann Parker has. There is a moment in this song where she summons more power to deliver the line “Do you need me, I asked,” and at that point I am completely swept up in the music. Isn’t it wonderful when an artist can have that effect? Paul Mayasich plays slide guitar on this track.

We enter a delicious, jazzy realm at the beginning of “Predator,” a song that provides a warning about a particular type of man. “He’s the evilest kind/Comes on so sweet/A devil with an angel’s face/And he’ll distract you with pretty words and a warm embrace.” Dave Foley provides some wonderful stuff on trumpet, contributing a lot to the flavor and style of the track. And in the second half, there is nice lead on keys. That’s followed by “Dirty Rotten Guy,” but this one isn’t a warning about another crummy man. In this totally fun number, she is actually looking for a rotten guy. Part of the fun of this one is Dave Budimir’s presence on trombone. That work on piano is also part of the track’s great appeal, but the song’s main strength is Joyann’s boisterous and spirited vocal performance. Check out these lines: “I’m going to find me a no-good, low-down, dirty rotten guy/He’ll buy me drinks ‘til I’ve had my fill/And he’ll dance with me all night/He’ll have all the good looks, but none of the class.” But by the end, she’s rethinking her desire for a rotten guy. Then “Come On Baby (Take Me Dancing)” has more of a classic rock and roll vibe, fitting for the subject of going out dancing, something I miss tremendously. I can’t wait for this damn pandemic to come to an end so we can go out dancing to live music. This track features a wonderful lead by Rich Manik on saxophone.

“Fool For You” has a good, strong groove. In this one, Joyann Parker sings “I’m a fool/And I made my own hell/By loving a man who’s got somebody else/I’m a fool, I’m a fool for you.” Ah, even someone with such a strong and powerful voice can make mistakes, I suppose. There is the question of whether we do actually learn from our own mistakes. “Don’t know if I like where you’re taking me/But I sure am enjoying the ride.” Those lines are a sort of variation on the Grateful Dead’s “I may be going to hell in a bucket/But at least I’m enjoying the ride.” That’s followed by “Hit Me Like A Train,” a tune that rocks, both in its groove and in that vocal delivery. It’s a whole lot of fun. “Hit me so hard, you knocked me off my track/Thought I knew what I was thinking, now I’m rethinking that/Things that used to make sense now I just don’t understand.” The disc then concludes with its title track, which begins with a more somber, introspective tone. “Trouble breathing/Air is getting thin/Back is breaking/Weight is too great to hold.” It is a song about trying to escape, about getting out from one’s own darkness. “So tired of feeling helpless/Sick of being weak.” This album has largely been a fun ride, but she leaves us with one to think about, one that we can connect to on both an emotional and intellectual level. She offers a positive message here: “Forgive yourself for your past/When you were too weak to stand/Let go of the anger/‘Cause there’s a bigger plan/You’re no longer beholden/To what once held you down/And you don’t have to be afraid anymore.”

CD Track List

  1. Gone So Long
  2. Carry On
  3. Bad Version Of Myself
  4. What Did You Expect
  5. Either Way
  6. Predator
  7. Dirty Rotten Guy
  8. Come On Baby (Take Me Dancing)
  9. Fool For You
  10. Hit Me Like A Train
  11. Out Of The Dark

Out Of The Dark is scheduled to be released on February 12, 2021.