Thursday, February 25, 2021

Sundae Crush: “Kiss 2 Death/Long Way Back” Video Premiere

Sundae Crush is a band based in Seattle and made up of Jena Pyle on lead vocals, guitar and flute; Emily Harris on guitar and vocals; Daniel Shapiro on drums and vocals; and Izaac Mellow on bass and vocals. They released their first full-length album late last year. Titled A Real Sensation, it is available on CD, vinyl and cassette, which totally takes me back to high school, when music was routinely released on all three formats. The album is pretty damn fantastic, calling to mind some of the early work of Velvet Underground. Sundae Crush has created a music video for the first two tracks on the album – “Kiss 2 Death” and “Long Way Back.” “Kiss 2 Death” is a seriously cool instrumental track that feels like something Quentin Tarantino would be eager to use in a film. And then “Long Way Back” combines elements of pop and punk, putting it in the same general realm as music by groups like Dressy Bessy and Tuscadero. Yeah, it’s great. “No one can be like a puzzle piece/You don’t want to do the work/I’m not a half ... I’m whole/You need to show up and do the work/‘Cause it’s a long way back.”

It is my pleasure to premiere the video for “Kiss 2 Death/Long Way Back.” Enjoy!

 


 Check out the band's website.

Steven Keene: “Them & Us” (2020) CD Single Review


Last year singer and songwriter Steven Keene demonstrated a great talent for tapping into the longings, fears and needs that many people have been experiencing, his music connecting with people in a meaningful way. He did it on the album It Is What It Is, which was released in January of 2020, and then on the single “Save Yourself” a few months later.  And he continued that with his most recent single, “Them & Us,” a song that deals with racism and yet has a beautiful and hopeful sound. It is the title track from his new album.

Early on, this track contains a reference to “Abraham, Martin And John,” the song released by Dion in 1968 about Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. And there is the strong sense that those recently killed as a result of racism are also present in this song. The last four years have shown us that racism and division are as much a problem in this country as ever before. “Ol’ Jim Crow, the hood and white robe/Forever blame, forever shame/Now a knee to the head, and a poor soul’s dead/Some things never change.” The fact that a racist ended up in the White House emboldened many citizens to celebrate their worst qualities. We are beginning to emerge from that darkness now with the new administration, but there is clearly a lot of work to be done to solve the problem, heal the wounds and bridge the divide. In this song, Steven Keene asks, “How wide’s the divide between them and us?” But again, this song has a hopeful, even optimistic sound. It reaches out, from one heart to another, sharing the feeling that we can and must rise to the occasion. Joining Steven Keene on this track are Joseph Chiarolanza on bass, Jeff Levine on organ, Joseph Napolitano on pedal steel, Matt O’Ree on guitar, Rich Scannella on drums, and Arne Wendt on organ and piano. Lisa Testa and Jessie Wagner provide some excellent backing vocals. Check out their work, particularly at the end, the way their voices rise up as in the best gospel music. By the way, proceeds from sale of this single are being donated to organizations that combat discrimination.

CD Track List

  1. Them & Us

Them & Us was released on August 28, 2020.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Grateful Dead: “Three Nights In Worcester 1988” (2020) CD Review


On April 7th, 1988, a month after my sixteenth birthday, I went to my first Grateful Dead concert. Since 1985, when I was thirteen, I’d been asking my parents for permission to go see them, and they, filled with misconceptions and fears about what the Dead were about, said no. So in 1988, I didn’t ask. I got the tickets without their help or knowledge. I remember a classmate questioned my excitement about the tickets, saying to me “They probably won’t even play ‘Touch Of Grey,’” as if that song were the reason for my excitement. Such a strange thing to say. And, as it turned out, he was wrong on that score as well. Shortly after the concert, a friend gave me tapes of the show, but those tapes had some sound glitches, mostly in the second set. Back in the day, if you didn’t manage to get a ticket to a Dead show, you could listen to the radio broadcast. That’s right, the Dead let public radio stations broadcast the shows for those who were left without tickets. And several of those radio broadcasts have since been unofficially released on CDs. Several years ago, my first show was released in a six-disc boxed set titled The Centrum, Worcester, Massachusetts April 7, 8, 9 1988, but that set went out of print before I was able to get a copy. So when another company released it late last year as Three Nights In Worcester 1988, well, I had to order a copy. Six discs contain the three shows.

Disc 1

The first disc contains the complete first set from April 7, 1988. And, yes, the band opens the show with “Touch Of Grey.” The sound is not great, having a bit of a hiss just like the old tapes. Clearly, these recordings were not remastered for this release. But I’m happy to be able to revisit my first show. And “Touch Of Grey” does always manage to lift my spirits. “We will survive.”  The sound glitch toward the end of the song that was on my cassette is present here too. Weird, and disappointing. But I suppose it makes it clear after all these years that the tapes I was given were from the radio broadcast and not from an audience recording. Anyway, Bob Weir follows “Touch” with “Feel Like A Stranger,” and this is when things start getting really good. This version has all the right energy, and when Brent starts singing “It’s going to be a long, long, crazy, crazy night,” you can hear the crowd react. That is just what we were there for, after all. And the jam after that section pops and grooves. I had forgotten just how good this “Stranger” is. After the briefest of pauses, Jerry Garcia leads the band into “Franklin’s Tower.” Usually “Franklin’s” followed “Help On The Way” and “Slipknot,” but not on this night. It’s a good choice to follow “Stranger,” keeping the energy high and cheerful, keeping us all dancing.

We then get “New Minglewood Blues,” with Bob singing that after a couple shots of whisky, “Worcester fillies start looking good.” And during the jam, this one turns up the energy as well. Things get a bit mellower with a sweet rendition of “Row Jimmy,” with a passionate vocal performance from Jerry making this a highlight of the first set. Bob then turns to Dylan, with a cover of “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.” Maybe Bob forgets the lyrics for a moment near the beginning, or perhaps his microphone was off, but this is a strong and fiery rendition nonetheless, particularly because of the way Bob sings it. He is right out there on the edge, where the band often did their best work. “Big Railroad Blues” then gets things hopping. This is a fun rendition, and I love when Jerry belts out those lyrics toward the end. Bob keeps the rock and roll vibe going with a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Around And Around,” which wraps up the first set, with Brent delivering some great stuff on keys. Bob thinks there might be more lyrics at the end, then realizes there aren’t, and tells the crowd the band will be back in a little bit.

Disc 2

The second disc contains the complete second set and encore from April 7, 1988. The band kicks off the second set with “Sugar Magnolia,” which of course gets everyone excited. And this version cooks right from the moment they start it, sounding like a celebration, like they want to tear the roof from the building and let the lights from the stage answer whatever celestial questions might be shining down on the city. That leads straight into “Scarlet Begonias,” a song that is always appreciated. And, that’s when those awful sound glitches return, the ones I recall from my tapes. Damn. Still, those harsh sounds aren’t going to much lessen my enjoyment of this song, particularly when the band is moving like it is here. The jam gets interesting without losing the main groove. Instead of “Fire On The Mountain” (it would take many more shows before I’d catch a “Scarlet”/“Fire”), the band goes into “Estimated Prophet,” and there are more harsh sound glitches at the beginning of this one. These glitches were why I rarely listened to my tapes of this show back then, preferring the tapes of my second show, July 2, 1989. Anyway, glitches aside, this is a good version of “Estimated Prophet,” with Bob really tearing into it. The band segues into “Eyes Of The World,” and the glitches at the beginning are particularly bad. “Eyes” was always one of my favorites to see the band perform, right from my first show. A good song to dance to, with positive and uplifting vibes.

When it gives way to “Drums,” the electronic sounds the drummers use are present from the beginning, in rather sharp contrast to the more fluid sounds of “Eyes.” There are sound glitches here too. The first half of the second set is really marred by those sounds. This “Drums” sounds like beasts toiling away inside a volcano, heaving fuel into the fire, in some twisted attempt to effect destruction on an epic scale. It leads to “Space,” which continues that strange, dark vibe. “The Wheel” emerges from that, one of my favorite choices of songs to take us out of “Space.” The band follows that with covers of “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “All Along The Watchtower.” They then ease into a nice rendition of “Black Peter” that seems to end rather abruptly. The second set then concludes with “Sunshine Daydream.”  The encore is “Box Of Rain,” a sweet way to send us off into the night. Bobby says “Mañana” before the band leaves the stage. But, for whatever reason, I wasn’t there the next night.

Disc 3

The third disc contains the complete first set from April 8, 1988. The band kicks it off with a nice version of “Jack Straw,” and the sound is much better for this one, no harsh glitches. Jerry’s voice might be a bit weak, but the vibe is perfect, and the jam has some power behind it, giving the impression the boys are going to go for it on this night. Always a good thing. They follow that with “West L.A. Fadeaway.” It’s not bad, but feels a bit flat, never really taking off. Then Bob leads the group in a cool “Little Red Rooster,” with the crowd howling at the right moment. This version features some good stuff on guitar, and some passionate work by Brent on keys, and it just gains more and more energy during the jam, making it a highlight of the first set. Jerry follows that with “Stagger Lee,” which delights the crowd. Jerry seems to be having a fine time with this one. Just listen to his vocal delivery of “How the hell can I arrest him, he’s twice as big as me,” for example. And then he belts out the final line, catching the crowd by surprise. This is a really good rendition, another highlight of the first set.

Bob Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately” follows. At moments they try to infuse it with a little fire vocally, and it ends up being a decent version. We then get a passionate “Loser,” Jerry doing his best to push through the cold he apparently had at the time. And that quality in his voice works for this song anyway. “Loser” leads straight into a wonderful rendition of “Let It Grow,” which develops a bit of a Spanish flavor at one moment, a nice surprise. And here at the end of the first set we finally get some serious jamming.

Disc 4

The fourth disc contains the second set and encore from April 8, 1988. And what a short second set it is! Including the encore, this disc is just under an hour long. Weird. They kick off the set with “Playing In The Band,” so you’d think it’s going to be a set full of jamming, and though they begin the song with a good deal of energy, things get a bit messy and the jam is strangely abandoned after only a few minutes, before they can stretch out and explore, as Jerry leads everyone into “Crazy Fingers.” “Playing” is never finished. This has to be one of the shortest versions of “Playing In The Band” every performed. Well, “Crazy Fingers” has a sweet sound, even if Jerry is struggling vocally at times. “Gone are the days we stopped to decide/Where we should go, we just ride.” And the jam at the end is really good, if short. That leads straight into “Uncle John’s Band,” which has an awkward start, but ends up being an enjoyable rendition with a bright energy. There is the usual trouble with the lyrics, but no matter. And what are those weird electronic sounds during the jam? They seem out of place. For a moment it seems like they might attempt to go back into “Playing In The Band,” and then things get a little stranger. And suddenly we’re in the “Drums” segment of the show. And again, the guys are into the electronic sounds from the start. This is an odd “Drums.”

As it segues into “Space,” we get that weird electronic sound again. Almost from the moment “Space” begins, we get hints of “The Other One,” which is interesting. It is almost like “Space” is part of “The Other One,” which I actually really dig. It gives “Space” direction and gets us excited for “The Other One.” And then, oddly, it sort of eases into the song rather than exploding into it. “The Other One” was always one of my favorites to see the band perform, because it was handled so many different ways. Even so, this is an especially unusual take on it, for sure. A kind of chaotic and dark version, with Bob’s vocals being distorted. It soon gives way to “Black Peter,” which surprises the audience. Two nights in a row? Did Jerry forget? Or was death just on his mind because he wasn’t feeling good? I remember word at the time was he seemed upset with himself when he realized, but was already into it, so figured might as well go on. The band then wraps up the second set with “Turn On Your Lovelight.” It’s fun, but of course nothing like those early versions with Pigpen on lead vocals. The encore is “Black Muddy River,” a song I love and one I never got to see the Dead perform. “I will walk alone by the black muddy river/And sing me a song of my own.” There is a radio station identification at the end. I wonder why they didn’t just fade it out before that.

Disc 5

Onto the third show of this three-night run, the final time the Grateful Dead would play the Worcester Centrum. The fifth disc contains the complete first set, as well as the first two songs of the second set. They begin the show with “Big Boss Man,” an interesting choice. This is a song that Pigpen used to sing lead on back in the early days, and here Jerry delivers a really cool version. He sings the original line about wanting a “drink of water,” whereas Pigpen changed it to whisky. Bob chooses “Walkin’ Blues” to follow it, an excellent choice thematically. And it’s a solid rendition. By the way, the sound is really good here, so it’s just the April 7th show that has sound problems. Brent then gets a turn to sing lead with “Far From Me,” delivering a pretty good version. He always brought a good deal of passion to whatever he sang, and that lent a little more excitement to the material, as it does here, particularly toward the end of the song. Jerry follows that with “Candyman,” the audience cheering when Jerry sings that the “Candyman’s in town.” This version features some really good work by Jerry on guitar. And he reaches some heights vocally too toward the end, making this song stand out. Bob then chooses “Me And My Uncle,” and delivers a rather exciting rendition, going straight into “Mexicali Blues.” This first set has a really good vibe about it, feeling well-crafted with regards to theme. Sometimes things just happen to come together, you know? And this is a fun version of “Mexicali Blues.” Then “Tennessee Jed” gets the crowd excited, as it tended to do. And Jerry seems excited about it too, giving a strong performance. And who is there to doubt him when he sings he’s going to “rock all night”? With this kind of energy, it seems inevitable. This is the main highlight of the first set. At each of these three shows, Bob played one Dylan song during the first set, and on this night he chooses “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” a song I find myself singing somewhat regularly, mostly because of the lines “Someday everything is gonna be different/When I paint my masterpiece.” And this is an excellent version, with Bob totally into it. The band then concludes the first set with “Deal,” which is completely fitting. The energy is high as they leave the crowd for the set break.

This disc, as I mentioned, contains the first two songs from the second set. They open the set with a rousing rendition of “Hell In A Bucket.” Ah yes, no energy has been lost during the set break. This is a fiery, thumping version, and I have to imagine everyone there was enjoying the ride. It leads straight into “Iko Iko,” a song to get everyone shaking his bones and clapping along. And listen to Jerry tearing into it! And then Brent on keys! Oh, this is a whole lot of fun. Fantastic rendition.

Disc 6

The set’s final disc contains the rest of the second set and encore from April 9, 1988, beginning with “Looks Like Rain.” It used to strike me as strange when Bob chose to follow “Iko Iko” with this pretty song, but it doesn’t take us long to switch gears and get into this one, especially as Bob’s passion for it is so clear. Jerry then leads the band into “Terrapin Station,” a fan favorite. And, yeah, maybe Jerry’s voice is a bit rough here, but this is “Terrapin,” and there is always an amount of magic in this one. That leads to the “Drums” segment, which this time begins with a solid beat, and takes a moment before things get into stranger territory. And there is that odd electronic sound again from the previous show. This “Drums” is like some alien life form is slicing into our reality, pulling our strings, curious as to how we function. And their strong pulse becomes ours. Where does one end and the other begin anyway? No matter, just keep moving forward, that’s the thing, even through the fires, the explosions, even into those pockets of nothingness, where a single thought can hold sway and dominate a universe. And, yes, we are now into “Space,” at first a lonely void, but soon light divides the darkness, makes it palatable, gives us something to strive toward. The light is coming from a vessel driven by an entity that is part spirit, part fire, but without intending harm. Still, there is something behind it, pushing it, powering it, encouraging it. And it seems capable of moving in infinite directions all at once, though we, being limited, have to pick a single direction. And so we do. And soon we are going down that road, feeling good, cooking along, and far from alone. We find everyone else has chosen this same road, and it becomes a party. Oh yes, we’re all in this together, and so everything is lighter for each of us. Still, that doesn’t mean we are without our needs. “I need a woman about twice my age/A lady of nobility, gentility and rage,” Bob sings. And that sounds just about right. The road has become train tracks, and this freight train is burning across the landscape. “I need a miracle every day.” And that leads naturally to “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” with Brent as some kind of spiritual guide taking us over the hill and around the bend. “Hey Jude” eventually emerges. It has the feeling of a climax, but the band isn’t done yet. Bob leads them into “Throwing Stones.” The band goes at it full force. “Full of hope, full of grace, is the human face/But afraid we may lay our home to waste.” And when Bob shouts “On our own,” you know he means it. That leads straight into “Not Fade Away” to wrap up the second set on a positive, optimistic note. “You know our love will not fade away.” So great to hear the crowd singing that at the end. The encore is “One More Saturday Night.” Well, it was a Saturday, after all.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. Touch Of Grey
  2. Feel Like A Stranger
  3. Franklin’s Tower
  4. New Minglewood Blues
  5. Row Jimmy
  6. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
  7. Big Railroad Blues
  8. Around And Around

Disc 2

  1. Sugar Magnolia
  2. Scarlet Begonias
  3. Estimated Prophet
  4. Eyes Of The World
  5. Drums
  6. Space
  7. The Wheel
  8. Gimme Some Lovin’
  9. All Along The Watchtower
  10. Black Peter
  11. Sunshine Daydream
  12. Box Of Rain

Disc 3

  1. Jack Straw
  2. West L.A. Fadeaway
  3. Little Red Rooster
  4. Stagger Lee
  5. Queen Jane Approximately
  6. Loser
  7. Let It Grow

Disc 4

  1. Playing In The Band
  2. Crazy Fingers
  3. Uncle John’s Band
  4. Drums
  5. Space
  6. The Other One
  7. Black Peter
  8. Turn On Your Lovelight
  9. Black Muddy River

Disc 5

  1. Big Boss Man
  2. Walkin’ Blues
  3. Far From Me
  4. Candyman
  5. Me And My Uncle
  6. Mexicali Blues
  7. Tennessee Jed
  8. When I Paint My Masterpiece
  9. Deal
  10. Hell In A Bucket
  11. Iko Iko

Disc 6

  1. Looks Like Rain
  2. Terrapin Station
  3. Drums
  4. Space
  5. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad
  6. I Need A Miracle
  7. Dear M. Fantasy
  8. Hey Jude (Finale)
  9. Throwing Stones
  10. Not Fade Away
  11. One More Saturday Night

Three Nights In Worcester 1988 was released on October 13, 2020 through Stray Cat Records.

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

The country seems to be moving forward to a more compassionate and sane existence, though clearly without the help of Republicans, who remain tied to that mendacious and soulless sociopath. As we hope to reach a place where we can actually reach out to each other again, musicians continue to put out excellent albums, some of which address our social concerns. Here are some notes on a few new jazz releases you might be interested in.


Jack Brandfield: “I’ll Never Be The Same”
– Saxophonist Jack Brandfield’s debut album, I’ll Never Be The Same, contains mostly standards, along with one original composition. The tunes chosen are delivered with love and joy by the fantastic trio of Jack Brandfield on tenor saxophone, Randy Napoleon on guitar, and Rodney Whitaker on bass. The album opens with a sweet and romantic rendition of Jerome Kern’s “Nobody Else But Me,” Jack Brandfield’s saxophone singing merrily and warmly. Halfway through there is a vibrant guitar lead, followed by a strong lead on bass. The trio then delivers a delightful rendition of Hank Jones’ “Vignette,” the pleasant work on saxophone at the beginning immediately lifting my spirits. The album’s sole original composition is “Where Leaves Change,” a beautiful piece that has a nostalgic and wistful quality. People here in Los Angeles sometimes say they miss the seasons, and indeed there is something undeniably wonderful about autumn in New England, something romantic about it, that tugs at our hearts. This track captures some of that sensation, some of that warmth. There is a timeless vibe about it, as with the best of the standards. And speaking of that, Jack Brandfield follows his original tune with a rendition of “Lover Come Back To Me” that begins tenderly and gently, then picks up in energy and becomes a joyful number. “I’ll Never Be The Same,” the album’s title track, also has a charming warmth. There is something friendly and endearing about these tracks, particularly on something like “On A Slow Boat To China,” which features some excellent work on guitar. Randy Napoleon sits out “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” so the track focuses on Rodney Whitaker’s work on bass, including a good solo, and the way the bass interacts with the saxophone. Then “Over The Rainbow” features just Jack Brandfield and Randy Napoleon, this pretty rendition beginning with a guitar solo and including a saxophone solo near the end. This album is scheduled to be released on April 2, 2021.


Bruce Brown: “Death Of Expertise”
– The title track, which opens vocalist Bruce Brown’s new album, does a perfect job of immediately setting the tone. The song gently swings, and also has a good sense of humor, addressing an amusing and somewhat dangerous aspect of our current culture, its first lines being “I pulled my own teeth out/I replaced my own hips/Just me and Dr. Google/Dishing out some safety tips/Here’s to the death of expertise.” Interestingly, Bruce Brown delivers it in a straightforward manner, without a hint of sarcasm, which makes it all the more effective. It is an original composition, as are all the tracks on this release. “They’re Everywhere” addresses, in a gentle manner and bossa nova style, sexual harassment: “Time’s up, so guys beware/That slightly off remark that led to your excitement/Is now the spark that leads to your indictment.” I like that it also addresses the related subject of the proliferation of cameras and surveillance.  And I love that lead on saxophone. The musicians backing Bruce Brown on this disc are John Harkins on piano, Brendan Clarke on bass, Andrew Dickeson on drums, Steve Brien on guitar, Steve Crum on trumpet, and Glen Berger on saxophone and alto flute. Some of these songs are about different aspects of love. Check out these lines from “Love Makes Us Who We Are”: “But there’s a space in my heart/In the shape of you/No one could ever replace.” That track also features some sweet and pretty work on piano. And in “Love Always Wins,” which was co-written by Roger Frankham, Bruce sings, “With every glorious day that begins/Love always wins.” I appreciate that optimism. “Back In The Day” is a fun number that tackles some of the recent and not-quite-welcome changes we have all been dealing with. I especially like these lines: “Back in the day you hit the road on a bike/You didn’t sit around and hit ‘Like’/And friends were people you actually knew, the way I remember it/Back in the day a phone was up on a wall/When someone gave you a call back then/The conversation wasn’t blasted on full display.” Ah yes. What has happened to us? That track is followed by “Doreen,” which had me laughing out loud several times. The disc concludes with a thoughtful and tender love song, “The Music Plays Again.” “Every heart hears the music that sings to it/And my heart hears the beauty in yours/However far away you are/However long it’s been/I just think of you and the music plays again.” Beautiful. This album is scheduled to be released on CD on February 26, 2021.(It was apparently released digitally last year.)


Ian Charleton Big Band: “A Fresh Perspective”
– The new release from Ian Charleton Big Band features a good mix of original compositions and beloved standards. It opens with a few original numbers, beginning with “West 67th Street,” which features some wonderful work by Bart Kuebler on piano and a delicious bass line by Ryan Persaud. It has a lively, breezy vibe, and then the horns come in with a bright burst. Then “Sunday Morning” has a more relaxed vibe at its start, fitting with its title. It creates a pleasant atmosphere, one in which we just want to reside for as long as possible. Bart Kuebler again shines on piano, and this track also features a cool bass solo. That’s followed by “A Fresh Perspective,” the album’s title track, which has a strong sense of movement, and highlights the work of Richard Garcia on soprano saxophone and Kerry Moffit on flugelhorn. I love the way this track builds and grows and breathes. And there is a delicious drum solo by Bob Habib in the second half. We then get into the standards with a fun rendition of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s “Everything I’ve Got” (often written as “Ev’rything I’ve Got”), featuring Emily Charleton (Ian’s wife) on vocals. Emily’s delivery contains plenty of joy and attitude as she sings lines like “I’m not yours for better, but for worse.” She also joins the group on vocals for an interesting and enjoyable rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies.” That’s followed by a fresh take on “Tea For Two,” the song slowed down a bit, featuring some romantic piano work and a good lead on trumpet. The album concludes with its fourth original composition, “Party On Park,” a cheerful number featuring a good groove and a wonderful lead by David Fatek on baritone saxophone. It’s interesting that two of the four original tracks are named after streets in New York. This album is scheduled to be released on March 16, 2021.


Tivon Pennicott: “Spirit Garden”
– These are difficult times, no question. And Tivon Pennicott’s new album provides an otherworldly sojourn, inviting us to step into a different reality. The presence of an orchestral string section greatly contributes to this sense, right from the album’s first track, “Spring Storm,” which has a strangely peaceful, yet dark quality, as if the storm has completely taken over the landscape yet presents no personal danger. And that work on saxophone is gorgeous and captivating. Then “Fermented Grapes” brings us back to a more normal state, the saxophone having a more relaxed vibe. Philip Dizack’s trumpet blends beautifully with Tivon’s sax, and I dig Yasushi Nakamura’s work on bass. I like the way things start to feel loose, particularly with that cool work by Joe Saylor on drums. Interestingly, when the tune feels like it has reached its conclusion, the strings come in, at first presenting a somber tone, then suddenly swelling, carrying us up with the sound. In “Celery Juice,” a good groove is established, and then the strings begin to rise from that groove, and take over at the end. “Shameless Shame” seems to move in the opposite direction, beginning with some intriguing work on strings, then suddenly giving way to the horns, and soon things begin to cook, propelled by that great work on bass. Then there is something sweet and beautiful about “Galatians Five Twenty Two.” I had to look it up, but the passage indicated reads, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.” And this track seems to take us there, particularly at the very end. And the joy of “Jump For Joy” is nearly palpable, though it is a relatively calm, gentle sort of joy. There is something playful at times about the pretty “Rain Dance.” It leads right into “If I May Say So Myself,” which has a cool vibe from its start and moves at its own pace. No need to hurry. The album concludes with a short piece on strings titled “Thank You Note.” This album was released on December 30, 2020.


Schapiro 17: “Human Qualities”
– Named because there are seventeen band members (in the same way The 14 Jazz Orchestra is named for having fourteen members), Schapiro 17  is a big band based in New York. Human Qualities is the group’s second release, this one consisting of almost entirely original material composed by Jon Schapiro. Its opening track, “Count Me Out,” has a classic sound and vibe at the start, taking us to a different era, or perhaps bringing that era forward to us, and that saxophone lead is totally delicious. There are some interesting, unexpected valleys and turns to this track as well. Then things get sexy at the beginning of the simply named “Tango,” a tune that moves at times with grace, at times with a cool, kind of sly attitude, and then with a surprising excitement. “Hmmm” gets going with a good rhythm, and things start swinging and popping, and – yeah – life is pretty good. I love the way that work on piano feels like it’s holding everything together, keeping it grounded yet moving. The album’s title track tells an engaging tale, creating a vivid atmosphere and taking us down its streets and through its alleys. That’s followed by “Hallelujah,” which has a haunting and compelling quality. “A Bounce In Her Step” is a brighter number, with some cool work on bass. Then “House Money” surprisingly has something of a Bo Diddley rhythm happening, and is a fun track. The album’s only cover is an unusual rendition of Ewan MacColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” There is an unexpected element of intrigue to this track, and yet it works. This album is scheduled to be released on March 12, 2021.

The Walk-A-Bout: “Afterglow” (2021) CD Single Review


The Walk-A-Bout is a rock band based in New York that put out its first album in 2017, and followed that self-titled debut with Things Are Looking Up in 2018 and 20/20 in 2020. The band’s new single is a cover of “Afterglow,” a song written by Andrew Farriss and Desmond Child as a tribute to Michael Hutchins, and originally released by INXS in 2005, several years after the death of that band’s original lead singer.

The Walk-A-Bout delivers a beautiful rendition of “Afterglow,” featuring some nice vocal work and hints of a late 1960s vibe, with a bit of a folk-rock sound. There is also a string section, which adds to the beauty and emotional impact of the track. I was never a fan of INXS. Something about their sound in the 1980s irritated me, and I didn’t listen to any of their output after that. But I really like this song, particularly the way The Walk-A-Bout approaches it. “Touch me and I will follow/In your afterglow/Heal me from all this sorrow/As I let you go/I will find my way when I see your eyes/Now I'm living in your afterglow.”

The second track on this single is an acoustic version of “Hero,” a song from 20/20 that was written by guitarist Dave Christian. I prefer this new version over the original album track. It is somehow more engaging. “It’s getting harder to see all the good intentions that led us here/It’s getting harder to fight all of the anger and all of the tears/Seems like a lifetime watching you change.” This track also features some good work on guitar.

CD Track List

  1. Afterglow
  2. Hero

Afterglow was released on February 5, 2021 on Shred The Evidence Records.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Hailey Brinnel: “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” (2021) CD Review


With a title like I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, this album can be expected to contain some fun music, songs to lighten the mood and make us smile. And indeed, vocalist and trombone player Hailey Brinnel delivers wonderful renditions of some classic material, music to pull us away from our troubles and deposit us on some swinging cloud where life is joyous. Her voice has warmth, energy and passion, seeming capable of leading us to a sweeter, kinder, more enjoyable place. Joining Hailey Brinnel on this release are Joe Plowman on bass, Silas Irvine on piano, and Dan Monaghan on drums, along with a few special guests on certain tracks. This is Hailey Brinnel’s debut album as bandleader.

She opens the album with “Orange Colored Sky,” a song whose title for some reason or other I tend to forget. I expect the title to be “Flash, Bam, Alakazam.” But it just never is. Anyway, Hailey Brinnel has fun with this one, particularly vocally. I love the cheerful sound of her delivery. This version also features some really nice work on piano, a cool lead on bass, and even a drum solo in the second half, all of which make this an excellent opening track. Hailey Brinnel follows that with the album’s title track, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles,” which has kind of a dreamy vibe at first that seems to have equal parts innocence and melancholy (“They fly so high, nearly reach the sky/Then like my dreams they fade and die”), the piano sounding like something from a fairy tale. Then, after a minute and a half or so, this version suddenly takes off, starting to swing and move. Gone is the air of melancholy. Now we are in a joyful place, and when the horns come in, we are suddenly transported to New Orleans, dancing down the streets. Well, all right! Andrew Carson is on trumpet, and Sam Bishoff plays clarinet. This track just gets better and better. Then we return to that slower, softer section, almost like the song is putting us to bed, tucking us in, particularly that bass. This track is just so damn good, and is one of my personal favorites.

The bass begins this version of “Give Me The Simple Life,” and soon Hailey’s vocals come in, supported just by the bass, which is great, making this rendition a groovy duet, a sort of dance. Check out the smile in her voice particularly in lines like “Just serve me tomatoes and mashed potatoes” and “Sounds corny and seedy, but yes indeedy.” And here she offers a bit of playful scat too. This track is a delight. Then Hailey Brinnel gives us a beautiful, magical rendition of “Stardust,” her voice at first supported just by piano. When the rest of the band comes in, the late-night vibe of the track becomes stronger. And what a gorgeous vocal performance! I especially love those moments when she dips to her lower register. Then halfway through the track, she picks up the trombone and delivers a moving lead. That’s followed by a lively, fast-paced, and totally fun rendition of Cole Porter’s “Easy To Love.” I love that bass, and Andrew Carson returns to deliver some great stuff on trumpet. In addition, Hailey Brinnel gives us some more scat, and this track features a good drum solo. What more could you want?

“What’s The Use Of Getting Sober” is a great title, and a great question, though now that we’ve finally got that mendacious racist out of the White House, being sober doesn’t sound quite as bad as before. Anyway, this track features a totally playful and delightful vocal performance. “I love my whisky and I love my gin/Every time you see me, I’m in my sin/So what’s the use of getting sober/If you’re going to get drunk again.” Indeed. Avoid hangovers by staying drunk. And in the world of this song, there doesn’t seem to be any worry of negative consequences. I love Hailey’s work on trombone, which has a sort of inebriated quality itself, its movement having that kind of happy-drunk vibe. Then Dariel Peniazek joins Hailey Brinnel on guitar for a gorgeous, romantic rendition of “You Go To My Head.” The album concludes with “Show Me The Way To Go Home,” a song I will always associate with Jaws. It was in that film that I first heard it, and even as a child I was drawn to it and would sing it, without knowing any lines other than those sung by Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw and Roy Scheider. Anyway, Hailey Brinnel delivers an absolutely wonderful rendition, which takes on a New Orleans flavor once those horns come in and the drummer turns to a sort of march. It is all so delicious, but it might be the piano work that I love most about this version. Then at the end, Hailey encourages everyone to sing along. And who could refrain from joining her? Goodbye, troubles!

CD Track List

  1. Orange Colored Sky
  2. I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles
  3. Give Me The Simple Life
  4. Stardust
  5. Easy To Love
  6. What’s The Use Of Getting Sober
  7. You Go To My Head
  8. Show Me The Way To Go Home

I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles is scheduled to be released on March 5, 2021.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Natalie D-Napoleon: “You Wanted To Be The Shore But Instead You Were The Sea” (2021) CD Review


Natalie D-Napoleon (Natalie Damjanovich-Napoleon) is a singer and songwriter who fronted the Australian band Bloom in the 1990s, and then Flavour Of The Month, before beginning a solo career. She is also a poet, and in 2018 was awarded the Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize, and then in 2019 published First Blood.  Now she has returned to music, releasing You Wanted To Be The Shore But Instead You Were The Sea, her first full-length album in eight years. It features all original material, and as you’d expect from someone who has won accolades for poetry, she creates some memorable, meaningful and moving lyrics on these tracks. She is joined by Dan Phillips on piano, celesta, cajon, percussion and backing vocals; Jim Connolly on bass and backing vocals; Doug Pettibone on electric guitar, mandolin and pedal steel; Angus Cooke on cello; and Laura Heminway on piano accordion. Freya Phillips, Susan Marie Reeves and Hazel Chevitarese provide backing vocals. Jesse Rhodes mixed the album, and provided additional instrumentation.

The album gets off to an excellent start with “Thunder Rumor.” There is an undeniable power behind this song, a power that draws us in and commands our attention. Check out these opening lyrics: “Set fire to your clothes on the front lawn/You said babe I can find any port in a storm/The phone is telling me that you’re coming home/And every time it rings, my blood turns cold.” This track is haunting and compelling, and also strangely gorgeous, in part because of the presence of cello. That’s followed by “How To Break A Spell.” One line that stands out from this one each time I listen is “I wrote down everything I knew to forget it all.” That’s a great line. Sometimes we write things in order to not forget, and sometimes we write things in order to allow us to let them go, to put them into the past. “This is how you break a spell/This is how you forget all the stories you tell,” she instructs us in this engaging and interesting song, a song featuring a beautiful vocal performance.

“Wildflowers” is an exciting track, its sound making it feel like it takes place on some great expanse of land, leading to an ocean bluff, perhaps. There is something unrestrained and vibrant here, and this track features more beautiful vocal work. “Wildflowers will grow/Where my shadow lay down/No one will ever know/Of the love I lost and found.” And I love that mandolin. Then “Second Time Around” has a pretty sound and a positive vibe. “Everything is better the second time around,” Natalie D-Napoleon sings here, and we get the sense that the couple in this song have used what they’ve learned to improve things, or to appreciate things. Hey, we can use that sort of optimism, can’t we?

The vocal work on “No Longer Mine” is fantastic and completely engaging. “Oh darling, I can’t hide this feeling I’ve got inside.”  Sure, that line is simple, but it is effective, particularly the way Natalie delivers it, belting it out with a great, bright, truthful energy. Plus, this track contains some nice work on bass. The whole thing seems to declare, to shout out joyfully that things are going to be fine. That’s followed by the title track, “You Wanted To Be The Shore But Instead You Were The Sea,” another powerful song. “It was not my fault, it’s not my fault/I’ll say it again, so I remember, it’s not my fault.” This one builds tremendously, containing fantastic peaks that almost overwhelm us with their force, and then some mellower valleys as well. It is another of this disc’s many highlights. Then “Gasoline & Liquor” has a lonesome vibe, conjuring images of a desert road, with a bitter breeze, trucks of cold steel passing without human faces even visible. “Liquor and gasoline/One made me stay, the other helped you go.” There is some interesting use of percussion here.

Does everything happen for a reason?” Natalie D-Napoleon asks in “Reasons.” I’ve never agreed with people who say that everything happens for a reason. Natalie follows that line with this one: “Maybe we make the reasons to ease the pain.” Exactly. This song is from the perspective of a parent who has lost an unborn child. And what reason could there be for such a thing?  Is everything meant to be, and tell me is my baby in heaven?/How can we believe in a god that would take such a delicate life?/And who says we’re never given more than we can handle? /‘Cause I’ve been given too much far too many times, far too many times.” That is followed by “Cut Your Hair,” a song about making physical changes to your body to effect deeper changes, or at least to hope to show that you’ve made those changes. The album then concludes with “Broken” a beautiful song about being damaged. I love these lines: “If people knew the thoughts in my head/They would see I’m a record scratched beyond repair/Why can’t I be happy? What’s wrong with me?” Toward the end, Natalie sings, “What I see is beauty in your vulnerability/As the tears roll down your face.”

CD Track List

  1. Thunder Rumor
  2. How To Break A Spell
  3. Wildflowers
  4. Second Time Around
  5. Soft
  6. No Longer Mine
  7. You Wanted To Be The Shore But Instead You Were The Sea
  8. Gasoline & Liquor
  9. Mother Of Exiles
  10. Reasons
  11. Cut Your Hair
  12. Broken

You Wanted To Be The Shore But Instead You Were The Sea is scheduled to be released on CD on March 26, 2021. Apparently it was released digitally on September 30, 2020.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Brigitte DeMeyer: “Seeker” (2021) CD Review


On Brigitte DeMeyer’s new release, Seeker, the singer and songwriter collaborates with Jano Rix, who is known for his work with The Wood Brothers. Jano Rix, in addition to co-writing much of the material and playing multiple instruments on these tracks, also produced the album.  His fellow Wood Brothers – Oliver on guitar and backing vocals, and Chris on bass – play on a couple of tracks. Also joining Brigitte DeMeyer on this album are Ted Pecchio on bass, Kris Donegan on guitar, JP Ruggieri on guitar and pedal steel, Victor Krauss on bass, and Alfreda McCrary on backing vocals. So, yeah, there is a whole lot of talent behind this release. The focus, of course, is on Brigitte DeMeyer’s vocals.

The album opens with “All The Blue,” a track that eases in, first establishing a good, kind of haunting groove, with Jano Rix on shuitar, before Brigitte’s vocals come in.  Her approach is intimate, with empathy, as to a friend. “The day gets weary, your eyes are blurry/The sun is always beating you back home.” Before long, this track has worked its way into your soul. I like those touches on pedal steel by JP Ruggieri. Brigitte DeMeyer then completely changes gears with “Cat Man Do,” which – as you might guess from its playful title – is a fun number. It has a seriously cool sound, featuring some great stuff by Kris Donegan on guitar and by Jano Rix on piano. The lyrics mention a “continual strut,” and the sound has that sort of vibe, that sort of style. Freda McCrary (of The McCrary Sisters) joins Brigitte DeMeyer on vocals. “Salt Of The Earth” is one of the tracks to feature Oliver Wood and Chris Wood. Brigitte delivers a soulful vocal performance, and though this track contains the poor “self”/“shelf” rhyme, it is still quite good.

One of my personal favorites on this album is “Louisiana.” I’m drawn to this one right from the start. It features one of the most exciting vocal performances of the album, with soul and passion, a seductive sound. And I love that supporting work on piano. This one has a sort of spontaneous vibe, like we happen to catch these guys in a moment of creation. Certainly one of the album’s highlights. It is followed by “Calamity Gone,” another cool track with a steady rhythm and a firm, determined vocal performance to match that rhythm. Brigitte DeMeyer changes gears again, with “Already In,” a sweet and soulful love song, her voice supported mainly by acoustic guitar. This track’s unadorned production is quite effective, particularly as it draws our attention to her voice and lyrics. “No nevers, no have tos/No need to convince/With a heart that wants you/You’re already in.”

Things then get jazzy with “Ain’t No Mister,” Brigitte DeMeyer changing her vocal approach to fit the material, showing her versatility, and here displaying a good deal of attitude. This track also features some excellent work by Jano Rix on piano. That’s followed by “Wishbone,” which opens with some pretty work on guitar. It then builds from there, becoming a soulful, moving, and gorgeous number, another of my personal favorites. That’s followed by “Seeker,” the album’s title track. In this one she sings, “What I find is I’ve gone blind to where I do belong,” an idea I think most of us have been in touch with at one time or another. This is the other track to feature Chris Wood and Oliver Wood. I particularly love Chris Wood’s work on upright bass. The album concludes with “Roots And Wings And Bones,” another pretty and engaging song. I love this track’s ending.

CD Track List

  1. All The Blue
  2. Cat Man Do
  3. Salt Of The Earth
  4. Louisiana
  5. Calamity Gone
  6. Already In
  7. Ain’t No Mister
  8. Wishbone
  9. Seeker
  10. Roots And Wings And Bones

Seeker is scheduled to be released on March 26, 2021.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Rebecca DuMaine And The Dave Miller Trio: “Someday, Someday” (2021)


There is a line from the Steve Owen song “Longing To Be” that has always stuck with me: “It’s a different kind of cursing, but someday is the dirtiest word.” A great line, right? The other song that comes to mind when I hear the word someday is, of course, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Someday Never Comes,” in which a child learns the disappointments and confusions of life. And yet, for me there is still something hopeful in the word, even if deep down inside we know it will never happen. It is like obstinately hopeful. All of that went through my mind as I first put on Someday, Someday, the new album from Rebecca DuMaine And The Dave Miller Trio. And there is something hopeful and cheerful about the music on this album, even when Rebecca is singing of lost love. The songs chosen for this release are mostly standards, but there are also a couple of original compositions written in the last year during the time of isolation and darkness.

I first listened to this disc at the end of a rather long day at work, when I was not in the best of moods. After like fifteen seconds of the first track, “Just Friends,” all of the little things that annoyed me during the day seemed to just disappear.  Rebecca DuMaine’s voice is friendly and bright and wonderful, and there is some completely delicious work by Dave Miller on piano. And though this is a song about a love that is no longer (with lines like “Two friends drifting apart/Two friends, one broken heart”), I find it rather uplifting. It might be due in part to Bill Belasco’s work on drums, which keeps things moving forward in a light and spirited way. That’s followed by Gilbert O’ Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally),” another song about someone who has suddenly lost love, and in this case is contemplating suicide in the first verse. It had been quite a while since I had thought about this song. I heard it a lot while growing up, and then it sort of disappeared from my life. This version by Rebecca DuMaine is beautiful. It begins gently, her voice supported by Dave Miller on piano. Then on the lines “To think that only yesterday/I was cheerful, bright and gay,” the others join in, an interesting choice, for this rendition at that moment begins to sound a bit more cheerful, bright and gay. It is like we are moving into the past with her. This is such a depressing set of lyrics, but there is a sweetness to this version that keeps us from giving in to despair.

What is it about the French language that makes it so beautiful and sexy? I don’t know, but Rebecca DuMaine sounds fantastic singing in French on “Samba de Mon Coeur Qui Bat,” a song written by Benjamin Biolay and recorded by Coralie Clément. This has a classic, timeless vibe, but is actually a fairly recent song, Coralie Clément’s version having come out in 2001. I love Dave Miller’s work on piano on this new rendition. That is followed by “The Gentleman Is A Dope,” a song written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II for the musical Allegro. It’s a fun tune, particularly the way Rebecca DuMaine delivers it. She totally sells it, becoming the character. Seriously, her voice takes on a different tone, a different quality here. It’s an excellent performance.

“Someday, Someday,” the album’s title track, is an original number by Rebecca DuMaine, addressing this crazy time when concerts and other social activities have been put on hold because of the pandemic. “Dreaming of a life I had just yesterday/How I long to be/Where my heart was wild and free/Now I sit inside.” Though it is about a longing for a return to that life, this song is a lively, exciting number that moves at a good pace, giving us a sense that that life is still present. This track features some excellent drumming, that great rhythm seeming to take over in the second half for a time. Rebecca DuMaine sings this one with a sense of urgency. “How I long to see/Happy faces smile at me.” That is followed by “Both Sides Now,” my favorite Joni Mitchell song (which was originally listed as “Both Sides, Now”). Her recording of it from Clouds often makes me cry. Rebecca DuMaine offers a personal take on it, this version having a sort of magical sense about it. It is more positive, as if accepting, even embracing, the different things that life throws at us. Then we get the other original composition by Rebecca DuMaine, “Time To Get Unstuck (Happy Little New Song).” This is a delight from the very beginning, the way it inserts that little pause, which works well with the song’s idea of getting unstuck. You feel maybe it happens in that precise moment. This track features a lead on piano that is kind of adorable. Plus, I seriously dig Chuck Bennett’s work on bass. “It’s easy to neglect the simple stuff, baby/Dismiss the magic moments that appear every day/When being in the present seems too much, darling/Don’t shut your ears and eyes and run away.” Ah, we can all relate to the idea of the present seeming to be too much, can’t we? This is a positive, uplifting number, and for me another of the disc’s highlights.

Rebecca DuMaine’s rendition of “As Long I Live” is absolutely wonderful. I love her playful delivery. And that work on piano is equally playful and enjoyable. If this track doesn’t cause you to smile, you may in fact already be dead (and it’s freaking me out a bit that you’re reading this). “Maybe I can’t live to love you as long as I want to/Life isn’t long enough, baby/But I can love you as long as I live.” That’s followed by “On A Clear Day,” which has a pleasant vibe, in large part because of Dave Miller’s work on piano. Then “I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plan” is a kind of silly and light song, and these musicians get into the spirit of the thing, particularly after it kicks in.

Whenever I hear a cover of “Cry Me A River,” it takes me a few moments to push the Joe Cocker version out of my head so that I can appreciate it on its own merits, without trying to compare it to that one. But this version by Rebecca DuMaine and the Dave Miller Trio immediately sets itself apart by adding a nod to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” at the beginning. This is a lively rendition, and the instrumental section halfway through gets exciting. Check out that percussion!  And there is a cool lead on bass. “La Vie En Rose” is a song that always makes me happy, and Rebecca DuMaine delivers an excellent version, combining it with Charlie Parker’s “Au Privave,” which works quite well. Rebecca’s voice is totally gorgeous. Ah, that French! That’s followed by a cheerful, joyful rendition of “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams.” “Just wrap your troubles in dreams/And dream your troubles away.” Yes, seems like good advice. This is an optimistic number, something we can certainly use, and it features another good, and rather peppy, lead on bass. Toward the end of this song is the line “Just remember that sunshine always follows the rain.” And Rebecca DuMaine chooses to follow that thought with “Sunny,” its first line being “Sunny, yesterday my life was filled with rain.” This is a bright, cheerful rendition, with a good groove. The more I listen to this version, the more I realize just how excellent it is. And that is how this album closes.

CD Track List

  1. Just Friends
  2. Alone Again (Naturally)
  3. Samba De Mon Coeur Qui Bat
  4. The Gentleman Is A Dope
  5. Someday, Someday
  6. Both Sides Now
  7. Time To Get Unstuck (Happy Little New Song)
  8. As Long As I Live
  9. On A Clear Day
  10. I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plan
  11. Cry Me A River
  12. La Vie En Rose/Au Privave
  13. Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams
  14. Sunny

Someday, Someday is scheduled to be released on March 12, 2021 on Summit Records.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Tommy Bolin: “Shake The Devil: The Lost Sessions” (2021) CD Review


Tommy Bolin was only twenty-five when he died, and yet he left behind a fairly impressive body of work. He was a founding member of the rock group Zephyr, playing on their first two records, and then a member of the James Gang, where he not only took over on lead guitar but also wrote much of the material the band released in 1973 and 1974. Following that, he joined Deep Purple, playing on the group’s 1975 LP Come Taste The Band. And somehow in that time he also played on Billy Cobham’s Spectrum album and managed to record a couple of solo albums. When Tommy Bolin died, there were a lot of tapes of his playing, but no one could find demos for his final album, Private Eyes. Until now. Dave Thompson, in the liner notes for Shake The Devil: The Lost Sessions, quotes Johnnie Bolin, who says of the tape, “I don’t know where it came from, or where it has been for the last 45 years.” I’d love to know the story behind these recordings, and perhaps someday we will, but for now we can enjoy the music itself.

The disc opens with its title track, an alternate mix of “Shake The Devil,” the first track from the second side of Private Eyes, and a wonderful example of 1970s rock, music I still maintain affection for. This is the kind of rock that was playing early in my childhood. The sound feels perhaps a bit muddier, and this version has a slightly longer ending. It starts to fade out, like the album version, and then cuts off. That’s followed by an alternate version of “Bustin’ Out For Rosey,” the lead track from Private Eyes. This is a fun tune, with something of a funky edge, with some rather goofy lyrics like “Yeah, I feel I’m crisp and toasty.” Yet it is a rather sweet song. Then that strange spacey part comes as a surprise, and feels more pronounced than in the album version, but it’s easy to get into it. This is one of my favorite tracks. “Hello, Again” is a mellower, softer number played on acoustic guitar. This version is without Del Newman’s pretty string arrangement that is on the album version. “And by the way, hello again/I’m so pleased to have your company/We’ll count the stars under misty skies/And watch them fall into the sea.”

This disc contains an alternate version of “Sweet Burgundy,” this one a bit shorter than the album version, with the instrumental section at the end trimmed. There is also an instrumental demo of “You Told Me That You Loved Me,” which to me at first feels like the closing music for Saturday Night Live or something, with that saxophone. I like it. And it builds from there, featuring some good work on keys. That’s followed by a demo of “Post Toastee,” just vocals and guitar. It is labeled as an acoustic demo, but it doesn’t sound acoustic to me. On the album, this song is nine minutes, becoming a cool jam that even dips into a disco sound at one point. This version is approximately a third of that length. Things then get fun and kind of funky with “Tommy’s Instrumental,” an outtake, a tune that was not included on Private Eyes. Certainly a reason to want to own this disc. Approximately halfway through, it takes a surprising and wonderful turn, with that sax coming in.

There are three versions of “Gypsy Soul” included on this release. The first is the closest to the album version, a cool, somewhat laid-back jazzy tune. I love the moment when the saxophone comes in, and I that guitar work in the second half is especially delicious. That instrumental section is excellent, and makes this track another of the disc’s highlights for me. The second version of “Gypsy Soul” is quite a bit different – a mellower, kind of loose, acoustic demo, giving us a sense of how the song developed. It’s much shorter. That’s followed by the third version, a rehearsal that features some really good work on guitar. This disc also contains two instrumental demos of “Someday Will Bring Our Love Home.” The first one has a vibrant sound, with some good percussion, and is a bit longer than the album version. It ends suddenly. The album wraps up with the second instrumental demo of “Someday Will Bring Our Love Home,” which has something of a cool country flavor. After it fades out, there is an additional little treat at the end of the disc.

CD Track List

  1. Shake The Devil (Alternate Mix)
  2. Bustin’ Out For Rosey (Alternate Version)
  3. Hello, Again (Outtake)
  4. Gypsy Soul #1 (Outtake)
  5. Sweet Burgundy (Alternate Version)
  6. Someday Will Bring Our Love Home (Instrumental Demo)
  7. You Told Me That You Loved Me (Instrumental Demo)
  8. Post Toastee (Acoustic Demo)
  9. Tommy’s Instrumental (Outtake)
  10. Gypsy Soul #2 (Acoustic Demo)
  11. Gypsy Soul #3 (Rehearsal Demo)
  12. Someday Will Bring Our Love Home (Instrumental Demo)

Shake The Devil: The Lost Sessions was released today, February 12, 2021, on Cleopatra Records.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Gayelynn McKinney And McKinney Zone: “Zoot Suit Funk” (2021) CD Review


Gayelynn McKinney is a talented drummer who has performed with some excellent artists, including Aretha Franklin, Freda Payne, Larry Corryell and Chaka Khan. You might also know her from her work in the group Straight Ahead, of which she is a founding member. Gayelynn McKinney also has a solo career, and on her latest release, Zoot Suit Funk, she delivers mostly original material. Joining her on this album are Ibrahim Jones on bass; Trenita Womack on congas, tambourine and vocals; Rafael Statin on saxophone, bass flute and bass clarinet; Alex Anest on guitar; and Demetrius Nabors on keys.

The album opens with “Stylin’,” a tune with an interesting sound, like a relaxed smooth jazz sound meeting funk. It features some cool work on bass, as well as great leads on saxophone and keys. Trenita Womack and Gayelynn McKinney are on vocals, occasionally repeating the one word “stylin’.” The drumming is of course excellent, but isn’t really the focus here. Then in the next track, “Space Goddess,” they start to get to some exciting drumming. Here Gayelynn McKinney cuts loose, along with Trenita Womack on congas, and the two of them really drive this piece. I love the way this one moves and grooves. I particularly like the way this track takes off before the end, feeling like a celebration of the space goddess. (By the way, is it like a goddess from outer space? Or is it just a goddess here on Earth who demands at least six feet of space around her due to the pandemic?)

The first of the album’s covers is Jill Scott’s “My Love,” with vocal work by Trenita Womack and Gayelynn McKinney. This rendition has a pleasant groove, one you might find yourself tapping your feet to. This track also features a really good lead on guitar. For me, this one gets even better and more interesting as it goes, as each musician gets a turn to lead and explore within that groove. That’s followed by “Having Fun.” This track has a good amount of funk, just what you might expect from a song bearing the title “Having Fun.” The musicians seem to be enjoying the groove, and everything has a light vibe. I suspect most folks who listen to this will be having fun as well. I love Gayelynn McKinney’s work on drums. And that sax lead is seriously delicious. And speaking of delicious, check out the bass and drums at the beginning of “Gwendolyn.” So damn good! And this track just takes off from there. The whole thing is fun, but that section of bass and drums toward the end is absolutely fantastic, one of my personal favorite moments of the album. I wish it went on longer. Then we get the second cover of the album, Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day,” which has a laid-back vibe and features more catchy work on bass and a nice lead on piano. Ah yes, this music does indeed sound like a lovely day. And if you wish to improve your day, putting on this album is certainly one way to do that.

When I first glanced at the track list, “Peaceful Place” stood out, for it reminded me of that Grateful Dead lyric from “Throwing Stones,” “A peaceful place, or so it looks from space.” And whether Gayelynn McKinney had that line in mind or not, this track does have that sort of feel, like seeing the world as a whole and its potential for being peaceful, and letting that feeling sort of wash over you. The next line from that Dead song is “A closer look reveals the human race,” but in this piece, it seems humanity might have found a way to be in harmony with the world itself, found a way to relax. How wonderful if that could be true. That’s followed by “Just A Little Bass And Drums.” Based on that title, I was pretty sure I was going to love it. I wasn’t wrong. This is a totally cool and funky number, featuring some playful vocal work from Gayelynn McKinney as well as some great stuff on drums, and more impressive and totally fun work on bass. Plus, Rafael Statin is on bass clarinet, delivering a delicious lead in the second half. Yes, this track is another highlight for me. This music makes me happy. The album then concludes with its title track, “Zoot Suit Funk,” another fun number with a strong, prominent groove. This one might get you dancing, and includes some excellent work on saxophone.

CD Track List

  1. Stylin’
  2. Space Goddess
  3. My Love
  4. Having Fun
  5. Gwendolyn
  6. Lovely Day
  7. Peaceful Place
  8. Just A Little Bass And Drums
  9. Zoot Suit Funk

Zoot Suit Funk was released on January 15, 2021.