Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Rina: “Rina” (2020) CD Review

Rina Yamazaki is a pianist and composer born in Japan, and currently based in New York. Her self-titled debut full-length release contains all original material, composed by Rina. Rina is already an accomplished pianist, with several awards and nominations to her name. She studied with renowned pianist Makoto Ozone, who produced this album. Joining Rina on this album are Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Jerome Jennings on drums.

The album opens with “Tale Of Small Wishes,” which begins like a dream, or like the memory of a dream, a dream from childhood, a fantasy, a dancing thought that surfaces, emerging from the back of the mind, then growing in power and stature. This is a delightful solo piano piece. Then Yasushi Nakamura and Jerome Jennings join her on “Shadows Of The Mind.” This piece goes through several different sections, as our thoughts do as we are confronted with various obstacles and challenges throughout our day. I particularly like that fast-paced, relentless bass line in the middle of the piece. There is also a cool lead on bass following that section. This becomes a lively track that moves with a city pulse, an east coast pulse. Then “Journey” certainly starts out pleasantly, with an eager eye and a light step, a sense of wonder, and one of appreciation too. Soon this track takes us to a cool place, about a minute in, led by the bass, and it’s like there is a confidence now that we can handle whatever we may encounter on the way, that nothing will be too tough. There is also some expressive drum work on this track, including a few brief solos. Ah, if only the journey of all our lives could sound like this.

There is a sweet and gentle and loving tone to “With You, Always” from the start. It will likely make you think of the people that mean the most to you. And while it is sweet and gentle, these musicians also keep it interesting. I really like that lead on bass. That’s followed by “Foxglove,” a fun track with a Latin vibe and a delicious sense of movement. This one had me smiling pretty quickly, in part because of Jerome Jennings’ work on drums. This track is named after the flower, though truth be told, the first thing I thought of when I saw the title was a big fox fur mitten. While listening, however, I thought of neither of those things, and instead imagined a complex and erotic dance, the participants all with their own desires and designs, coming together and separating and coming together again. Then “Eternal Eyes” is a beautiful piece that feels both romantic and sad, a combination of memory and the present. Ah, don’t we all feel a touch of melancholy when we compare such things? The piano and bass sound like a duet, like two people revisiting the past with slightly different thoughts on it, slightly different emphases, but together nonetheless. This piece becomes even more beautiful and moving toward the end, the way it swells and breathes. This track ends up being my personal favorite.

“J.J.’s Painting” is a delight from its opening, with the focus on the percussion. Jerome Jennings uses brushes; thus, the title. There is a light, playful quality, particularly to Rina’s piano work. And then in the second half, things begin to really move, to fly, and we are just happy to be along for the ride. That’s followed by “Run And Rise.” At the beginning, it feels like someone preparing to accomplish some wonderful feat. And it isn’t long before things are cooking. This track includes a good drum solo just before the end. This album began with a solo piano piece, and it concludes with a piano solo piece, this one a beautiful, gentle, warm and encouraging track titled “Hope.” What better way to leave us?

CD Track List

  1. Tale Of Small Wishes
  2. Shadows Of The Mind
  3. Journey
  4. With You, Always
  5. Foxglove
  6. Eternal Eyes
  7. J.J.’s Painting
  8. Run And Rise
  9. Hope

Rina was released on May 15, 2020.

Ted Russell Kamp: “Solitaire” (2021) CD Review

A new release from Ted Russell Kamp always me happy. I’ve definitely come to rely on him to provide some well-crafted, meaningful and engaging songs, songs that speak to us on that human level that is both intimate and universal. His new album, Solitaire, was recorded mostly at his home during the pandemic, and mostly alone. Thus, the title, which of course is a perfect title for these strange days of isolation. And certainly Ted Russell Kamp can create an album with a full sound all on his own, for he plays bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, dobro, dulcimer, mandolin, banjo, organ, accordion, drums and percussion, in addition to providing the vocals. He also wrote or co-wrote all the material. Yet he does get some help from other musicians and singers on various tracks, the collaboration accomplished remotely and safely. This album follows 2020’s Down In The Den.

Solitaire opens with “My Girl Now,” a song with a bright sound and positive vibes, which I imagine most of us are looking for. It’s a love song for those of us who have a bit of age and some experience. I can’t help but think of my girlfriend when I hear lines like “Can’t imagine if I never got your number/If we let the past get in the way/‘Cause if we never took the chance to save each other/Can’t imagine where we’d both be today.” This song seems to look forward to a wonderful future. It’s followed by “Path Of Least Resistance,” one of those beautiful folks songs that offer a shoulder and a friendly ear, as well as a friendly voice. “You keep one eye on the rearview and the other on the road/Sometimes the path of least resistance is the only way to go.” It is a song of perseverance. Then “You Can Go To Hell, I’m Going To Texas” has a spirited, full band country sound. And indeed, Ted Russell Kamp gets some help on this track from Jim Doyle on drums, John Schreffler on pedal steel, and Vanessa Olivarez on vocals. “You can call me crazy, you can say I’m reckless/But you can go to hell, I’m going to Texas/I’m going to say it one more time, so I know you won’t forget this/You can go to hell, I’m going to Texas.” And of course that title is catchy and memorable.

“Birds That Sing At Dawn” has a gentle, pretty sound, and some damn fine, serious lyrics about a love that is gone. Lines like “And the quilt her mama made us, it don’t bring me comfort now” and “But there ain’t no laughter now because she’s gone” stand out. And yet there is some hope in this song, for it is about waiting for the birds at dawn, waiting for the new day, and whatever that might bring. “So I’ll sit here drinking whisky/And listen for the birds that sing at dawn.” Well, that describes perfectly how a lot of us have been coping lately, right? That’s followed by “As Far As The Eye Can See.” Though Ted Russell Kamp plays a pretty wide variety of instruments, it is the bass he is probably best known for. He plays bass for Shooter Jennings, and when he sits in with other musicians, it is often on bass. And on his 2015 release, The Low And Lonesome Sound, the bass is the main instrument accompanying his voice. On this song too, the bass is the main instrument. There is also some prominent finger snapping. He is joined on vocals by Matt Szlachetka, who also co-wrote the song. “If I could feel your every sorrow/If I could know your every fear/I’d comfort you through each tomorrow/And I would hold you oh so near.”

Mark Mackay joins Ted Russell Kamp on electric guitar and vocals for “The Hardest Road To Find,” a song they wrote together. This song has a sweet, easygoing sound, the guitar work reminding me of some 1970s folk music. This song lets us know we are not alone in our struggles, even if our personal troubles are not those of the character of this song. We can probably all relate, to some extent, to these lines: “What I miss the most is the piece of me I left behind/The way back home is the hardest road to find.” Who hasn’t changed and lost something of himself or herself along the way? That’s followed by the album’s title track, “Solitaire,” and fittingly, there are no guests on this track. This one is vocals and guitar. “Been fighting with the feeling like I’m alone inside a maze/Don’t know what’s in the cards, but I’ve been circling around for days/Well, I could try to start again, but it won’t get me anywhere/Either way, the game I play is solitaire.” In subsequent verses, we learn that he is not alone in feeling alone. Then Shane Alexander and John Schreffler join Ted Russell Kamp on vocals for “Western Wind,” bringing us together again. Shane Alexander also co-wrote this song with Ted Russell Kamp. “Won’t you carry me away/To another day/Make my journey safe/That I may see the world.” Ah yes, that sounds so good. And toward the end there is a section that is delivered a cappella.

Ted Russell Kamp gets bluesy with “Be Your Man,” a song that he wrote with Tony Scalzo, and one that has a cool, kind of sexy vibe. There is always something sexy in those promises of what you’ll do for your woman, when she makes you feel you can do and be whatever she needs. “I’ll be everything you want if you say I can/I’ll be anything you need if I could be your man, that’s right/I’ll be your high-beam headlights to help you find your way/I’ll be a full tank of gas when you want to drive all day.” Then “A Rose Or Two” reaches out to those of us listening, offering this bit of advice: “We waste so much time doing what we need/You gotta make time for what you love/A life without a dream ain’t nothing at all/So hold on to what you’re dreaming of.” And check out this line: “The things I thought I needed cost me what I love most.” What a strong and excellent line. This is a seize-the-day type of song, that message being one we could all stand to hear more often, I bet.

On “The Spark,” Jim Doyle is on drums, and John Schreffler is on pedal steel. Brian Whelan joins Ted Russell Kamp on vocals. This track has a steady rhythm, and something of a haunting sound, for a man who himself seems haunted. “My lover’s sleeping next to me, my head is filled with fear/And my gas tank is empty, and I’m running out of luck/I’m tired of living without passion, just working for a buck.” That’s followed by “Only A Broken Heart,” which features a groovy, catchy bass line and finger snaps, a track ready to raise our spirits, telling us “It’s no use trying to understand what’s in somebody’s heart/If you were me, you just might see you’re tearing me apart/No more looking back, no more wearing black/‘Cause I know it’s only a broken heart.” Ed Jurdi then joins him on slide guitar and vocals for “Exception To The Rule,” a gentle, tender song. I like that instrumental section in the second half. “Who play among the stars and sail above the oceans/The wind might blow, but it won’t stop us, no.” The album concludes with a lively, rowdier, fun number, “Lightning Strikes Twice,” a catchy song with a bluegrass vibe (I could totally see Yonder Mountain String Band covering this one). Don Gallardo co-wrote this one, and joins Ted Russell Kamp on vocals. “You can put your money in on a card that just won’t win/But a bluff is just a dream in disguise/Well, I’m gonna stand my ground, let the rain pour down/Because lightning’s striking twice.”

CD Track List

  1. My Girl Now
  2. Path Of Least Resistance
  3. You Can Go To Hell, I’m Going To Texas
  4. Birds That Sing At Dawn
  5. As Far As The Eye Can See
  6. The Hardest Road To Find
  7. Solitaire
  8. Western Wind
  9. Be Your Man
  10. A Rose Or Two
  11. The Spark
  12. Only A Broken Heart
  13. Exception To The Rule
  14. Lightning Strikes Twice

Solitaire is scheduled to be released on May 7, 2021.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Jon Klages: “Fabulous Twilight” (2021) CD Review

Known for his work in The Individuals, Jon Klages is a singer and guitarist and songwriter who travels freely among different musical realms, using elements from pop, soul, blues, jazz and rock to create his own sound that is simultaneously classic and fresh. His new album, Fabulous Twilight, features all original material, written or co-written by Jon Klages. Joining him on this release are Neil Larsen (whom many of us saw play with Leonard Cohen during those final years) on keyboards, Davey Faragher on bass, and Pete Thomas on drums. (You probably know both Faragher and Thomas from Elvis Costello And The Imposters.) He gets some help on vocals from Arnold McCuller (who has toured with Bonnie Raitt and James Taylor) and the Honey Whiskey Trio, made up of Courtney Gasque Politano, Ann Louise Jeffries Thaiss and Christina Wilson. So, yes, a seriously talented and accomplished group of musicians performs on these tracks.

The album opens with “Best That We Can,” a smooth, soulful number with a strong beat and a really nice lead on guitar in the second half. Here he expresses a sweet longing in the opening lines: “All the days that have passed since I last held you near/And all the ways that I miss your touch, wish that you were here.” That’s followed by “Rosalie,” which also has a kind of smooth sound and vibe. But the lyrics are what pull me in. Check out these lines: “Would you look in my eyes/And tell me that you see/The same sadness you fought to keep from me/So much older now/If only I had taken the time to ask about the dreams you had/But cast aside/What else did you hide, Rosalie?” Those are some excellent lines. And that brief vocal play in the second half makes me think of the Beach Boys. Wonderful. There is also another interesting guitar lead.

“The Fabulous Twilights” is not quite a title track, but close enough. The title comes from Nathaniel Mayer’s early 1960s group, and the song looks back at the time, both in the lyrics and its sound, the backing vocals here sounding like the doo-wop groups that dominated the era, and the lyrics making reference to that band’s song “Village Of Love.” This track features a beautiful vocal performance, and I absolutely love that work on keyboards. We then get a cool instrumental track titled “Too Cool For Spy School.” And, yeah, there is a spy movie vibe here. You might think of James Bond more than once as you listen, the music being inspired partly by the work of composer John Barry. That’s followed by another cool track, “Long-Tailed Cat,” this one co-written by David St. John. I love the backing vocals, particularly when they deliver observations like “It’s a little peculiar.” And of course that stuff on keys delights me. Then “Red-Dirt Country” is a bluesy, mellow number. Check out these lines: “The sky lost control/Thunder so loud it hurt.” What a great line, “The sky lost control.” This album has many striking, memorable lines.

Things get funky with “Kazoos Are People Too,” which is an instrumental track until near the end, when there is a playful conversation with the kazoo, which clearly wishes to join the band. That is Jon Klages on kazoo. By the way, I checked, and no, kazoos are not people; at least, not yet. That’s followed by “God Bless The Columbia House Records Club,” a song about a childhood love of music and records, something I suspect that anyone reading this will be able to appreciate. We all remember those ads that read, “Ten albums for only a penny.” Who among us didn’t jump at that opportunity at least once? There is some humor in the delivery of this song, particularly as he recounts the specific records he ordered, including “Bob Dylan: ‘Blonde On Blonde,’ that one counted as two.” Then in the chorus he sings, “God bless the Columbia House Record Club/Even though it led us down the road to ruin/God bless the Columbia House Record Club/We were kids, we didn’t know what we were doin’.”  And he of course is singing from the perspective of an adult who now has crates of records, something else we can all relate to. This is one of my favorite tracks.

“Remains” is an unusual song that quickly started to grow on me, in part because of lines like “Two bodies touch in a driving rain/What was lost, what remains” and “Secrets and sins we tried to hide/Chain the lover to the bride,” and also that cool vocal delivery. This one was co-written by David St. John. That’s followed by “1133 Ave. Of The Americas (For Enoch Light),” a strangely soothing and pretty number with vocals, but no lyrics (at least until the end, when he repeats “Kites are fun”). The album concludes with a short track titled “Goin’ Home,” on which Jon Klages plays piano. Songs about going home are always appealing, aren’t they? “When I get to the end of my day/A little tired, but I’m okay/There’s one thing that I know/I’m goin’ home.”

CD Track List

  1. Best That We Can
  2. Rosalie
  3. The Fabulous Twilights
  4. Too Cool For Spy School
  5. Long-Tailed Cat
  6. Red-Dirt Country
  7. Kazoos Are People Too
  8. God Bless The Columbia House Record Club
  9. Remains
  10. 1133 Ave. Of The Americas (For Enoch Light)
  11. Goin’ Home

Fabulous Twilight is scheduled to be released on April 1, 2021.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

In these crazy times when we need to be coming together to heal the nation and put an end to racism and gun violence, the Republican Party continues to favor voter suppression and death. Are they criminally insane or what? While they continue to divide and infuriate us, musicians continue to inspire and unite us. Here are some notes on a few new jazz releases you might be interested in.

Eric Goletz: “Into The Night…”
– I love when an album pulls me in right from the beginning of its opening track, and this disc did just that. As the first track begins, there is some sexy, kind of moody work on trombone, leading me to think it’s going in a certain direction, and then the other musicians come in and things are suddenly funky and groovy and bright, a delightful surprise. There is a delicious, though brief, percussion section toward the end, but what really stands out is that excellent and energetic work from Eric Goletz on trombone. That tune, “Say What?,” is an original composition, as are most of the tracks on this album. It is followed by one of only three covers, John Coltrane’s “Mr. PC,” which begins with a cool bass line and just takes off from there, and features some really nice work on piano. “Into The Night,” the disc’s title track, is an exciting piece, commanding our attention with its intriguing opening, then developing a funky rhythm, feeling at times like the theme music to some cool crime film from decades past, and then going in some wild directions before surprising us with a mellower, more introspective section. As for the album’s other two covers, Eric Goletz delivers an exciting and unusual take on Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love” (here titled “What Is This Thing…”) that swings and moves, featuring some great percussion, and a tender rendition of The Rippingtons’ “Lullaby,” which closes out the disc. The band on this album is made up of Eric Goletz on trombone and keyboards, Henry Heinitsh on guitar, Mitch Schechter on piano, Mark Hagan on bass, Steve Johns on drums, and Joe Mowatt on percussion, with a horn section joining them on certain tracks. This album is scheduled to be released on April 2, 2021.

Hennessy Six With The Colorado Springs Youth Symphony: “The Road Less Traveled”
– The new album from The Hennessy 6, this one with The Colorado Springs Youth Symphony, conducted by Gary Nicholson, features all original material composed by band members Sean Schafer Hennessy, Cully Joyce and Colin McAllister. The opening track, “Pneuma,” written by tenor sax and alto flute player Cully Joyce, begins with some beautiful, contemplative work by Brad Bietry on piano. After a couple of minutes, the other musicians come in, and the piece takes on a different flavor, becoming quite lively and exciting at moments. The liner notes contain some brief thoughts on each track, and regarding this piece, they tell us, “In ancient Greek medicine, pneuma is the form of circulating air necessary for the systemic functioning of vital organs,” which of course feels relevant these days. This track features the addition of vocals by Krista Joyce in certain sections, which feels pertinent and integral to the theme. Then “Haunted Eyes” commands our attention from its intriguing opening, and soon becomes a sexy, timeless, bluesy number, that basically oozes Cool. There is even an excellent bass solo by Jason Crowe in the second half. This one was composed by trumpet player Sean Schafer Hennessy, and is one of my personal favorites. Of course the bass also plays an important role in “Funky Winkerbean,” which, as its title promises, is a funky tune. That track also features some wonderful work by Colin McAlister on guitar. And hey, is that a little nod to the “Axel F” theme toward the end? And then the briefest of nods to theme of The Twilight Zone? That’s followed by a gorgeous love song, “O & D,” which features some wonderful work on both trumpet and alto flute. Then “Desert Fever” features some great work by Chris Gaona on drums. “Dos Mil Uno” is the only track on the album written by Colin McAllister, and it begins with some interesting work on guitar, and becomes a rather exciting number, one that feels alive and contains some surprising moments. I love that groove toward the end. The strings then open “Stacy’s Arabesque,” a rather sweet number, and play an important part in the overall vibe and style of the piece. The strings likewise begin the disc’s title track, which closes out the album. At its beginning, this one feels like standing on some high plateau, and seeing the whole world open before you, its beauty, its majesty. And then we start our journey, and the work begins, a groove is developed, and we are immersed in the process. This album was released on January 29, 2021.

Joseph Howell Quartet: “Live In Japan”
– The music on this album was recorded back in May of 2018, without the aim of an official release, but rather as a way for the musicians to remember and revisit their time together. But fortunately for us, drummer Kenichi Nishio decided to have friends professionally mix the recording, which led to this release. The group is made up of Joseph Howell on clarinet, Keigo Hirakawa on piano, Kenji Shimada on bass, and Kenichi Nishio on drums. They open the album with a delightful rendition of Joe Henderson’s “Serenity,” with Keigo Hirakawa shining right away on piano. His lead both flows and hops, over that great, loose groove, and it seems he could carry on like this forever. But eventually he gives way to a lead by Joseph Howell on clarinet, which has a wonderfully playful quality, like a sprite or some other fanciful creature dancing in bright sunlight. The track then mellows a bit as Kenji Shimada begins his lead on bass. But there is a great cheer to his playing, which keeps the energy moving. “Serenity” is the first of three Joe Henderson compositions on the album. The other two are “Jinrikisha” and “Mamacita,” both from fairly early in the saxophonist’s career. “Jinrikisha,” in fact, is from his debut LP, Page One. The version here features some excellent work on piano, which moves with a wonderful sense of freedom. And then Joseph Howell’s lead ends up soaring and flying. “Mamacita” is an inherently fun number, and these guys do a great job with it, Kenji Shimada getting it going on bass. They get into the spirit of the music, cutting loose, and I particularly like Kenichi Nishio’s work on drums. This track has something of a playful ending. This group also delivers a version of Tadd Dameron and Count Basie’s “Good Bait” that should have you smiling before too long. The joy these musicians take in their craft is obvious. They wrap up the album with a tender, gentle, beautiful rendition of “My Foolish Heart” and a cool version of “Take The A Train” on which each of the musicians really shines. This album was released on February 11, 2021.

Zoe Scott: “Shades Of Love”
– Vocalist Zoe Scott turns to bossa nova on her latest release, Shades Of Love. As you might expect, there is some Antonio Carlos Jobim material here. But there are also some surprising interpretations of pop songs. The album opens with Jobim’s “Quiet Nights,” this version featuring Daniel Jobim (Antonio Carlos Jobim’s grandson) on piano. Zoe Scott provides a wonderful vocal performance, somewhere between sweet and sultry, and is backed by strings. That’s followed by one of the album’s more surprising choices, a cover of The Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You,” a moving song from the band’s 1994 release Last Of The Independents, here delivered in a bossa nova style, which actually works quite well. And this is a song we need in these dark and depressing days. In the original, Chrissie Hynde sings, “I get angry too/Well, I’m a lot like you.” Here Zoe Scott changes the line to “I get angry too/‘Cause I’m alive like you,” which seems fitting these days. She also presents an easygoing, sweet version of “Baby It’s You,” which features some good work by Jesse Sadoc on flugelhorn, and a romantic, luscious rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour.” I also really like her take on The Beatles’ “In My Life,” which is one of my favorite Beatles songs. Of the Jobim material, Zoe Scott also delivers a really good rendition of “Wave” that features Daniel Jobim on vocals, as well as a gorgeous version of “Once I Loved.” And I love how she dips into her lower register when delivering the line “Because love is the saddest thing when it goes away.” The final Jobim song she presents here is “Triste,” and she does a wonderful job with it. The album then concludes with a totally cool rendition of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.” This album was released on January 15, 2021, though made available digitally on October 2, 2020.

Lauren White And The Quinn Johnson Trio: “Ever Since The World Ended”
– Yes, the title is part of what got me excited about this release. Because, honestly, doesn’t it feel like the world ended a while ago, and we’re just adrift on some of its broken pieces? I know a guy who believes the world ended at some point in the 1980s. Anyway, that wasn’t the only thing that got me interested in this album. I’ve been enjoying vocalist Lauren White’s output since I heard her 2015 release, Experiment. As with that album, here she performs with The Quinn Johnson Trio, which is made up of Quinn Johnson on piano, Trey Henry on bass, and Ray Brinker on drums. There are also some guests on certain tracks. The album opens with “If You Never Fall In Love With Me,” which she gets swinging and moving with her bright vocal performance. This track also features some really good work on bass, and an exciting lead on piano. “This little tragedy could turn into a rhapsody.” Ah yes, I think she can turn everything around with just the positive energy of her voice. That’s followed by an interesting rendition of “Just The Two Of Us” that features Kevin Winard joining the group on percussion. It seems to have hints of darkness at certain points, particularly in the verses, creating a greater contrast with the vibe of the chorus. And the title track is a total delight, a bluesy gem with a sense of humor, its first line being “Ever since the world ended, I don’t go out as much.” Understandable. This track is absolutely perfect for our time, and Lauren White is joined by Dolores Scozzesi on vocals, the two of them doing a fantastic job with it. It is my personal favorite of the album’s tracks. “It’s just as well the world ended/It wasn’t working anyway.” On “Remembering The Rain,” Lauren White is joined by Kevin Axt on bass, Alex Budman on flute, Grant Geissman on guitar, Chris Wabich on drums, and Kevin Winard on percussion. I particularly like Grant Geissman’s work on guitar on this track. Another of the disc’s highlights is “Take Love Easy,” in part because of Ray Brinker’s work on drums, but also because of Lauren White’s vocal approach. This album was released today, March 26, 2021.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Megan Lacy: “Salvation” (2021) CD Review

Megan Lacy is a singer and songwriter based in Austin, Texas. Salvation, her debut release, contains all original material that she wrote or co-wrote. The focus here is on her well-crafted lyrics, delivered with honesty and heart, sometimes betraying an endearing vulnerability. Joining her on this release are Christopher Cox on bass and keys, Aaron Parks on drums and percussion, Justin Douglas on pedal steel and dobro (Douglas also produced the album), and Jordan Burchill on guitar.

Salvation opens with its title track, a haunting and compelling song, as powerful in its pauses and breaths as in the delivery of its lyrics. And sometimes a simple line is incredibly effective, packing a punch, lines like “I know I could be better than I am” and “I welcome the dark.” There is also some nice, rather subdued percussion, striking even though restrained. “Salvation” was written by Megan Lacy and Gil Gaus. That’s followed by “Don’t Rest,” which begins with the beat, a sort of easygoing rhythm. Then Megan’s voice comes in, telling us “I lost it/It’s been missing so long/Oh, but the trouble is/I didn’t know it was gone.” And because she has not identified or specified what it is she speaks of, perhaps each of us thinks of a thing that we are missing, that we have lost, and so the song becomes personal for us almost immediately. And the lines about not resting even while asleep certainly ring true in these days of anxiety. Later she asks, “How troubled/Do I gotta be/To get some sympathy.” This is a beautiful song, and we hear her vulnerability in the lines “I’ve been lost/I’ve been had/I’ve been down/Shouldn’t I know something by now?

“Carolina” was released as the EP’s first single. It is a song about leaving, about wanting to leave. Leave a person, a place, a situation. “If there’s a road, I’ll take it/I’ll drive miles away/I never told her anything/I couldn’t think of what to say/She won’t listen anyway.” There is a quiet, intimate beauty to this one, and it too includes some good percussion. That’s followed by “No Better.” In the EP’s first song, Megan Lacy sang “I know I could be better than I am,” and in this one she sings in the first line, “Baby, I could’ve done better.” Perhaps this album is providing her a chance to take stock, to look back with honesty and clarity, and to build a stronger present, even if at times she still feels powerless, apparent in lines like “Now I can see/The house always wins.” She delivers a beautiful and moving vocal performance, and this track is my personal favorite. The EP then concludes with “Watch This,” a song of battling personal demons. This one begins with percussion, which remains steady in the background, as if to provide some strength, some support as she opens up to us. “Watch this/I’m gonna get out/I’m gonna fly up/Somewhere above the clouds.” There is determination in her voice, and yet we also hear something on the edge of tears at moments. And so we wonder which way she’ll end up, though we expect she’ll hold it together and triumph in the end.

CD Track List

  1. Salvation
  2. Don’t Rest
  3. Carolina
  4. No Better
  5. Watch This

Salvation was released on March 5, 2021.

James Holvay: “Sweet Soul Song” (2021) CD Review

In these uncertain days, there is an undeniable appeal in music that takes us to a different time. James Holvay’s new EP, Sweet Soul Song, with its classic, soulful sound, does just that. This release features all original material from the man who is best known for his songwriting. He wrote and co-wrote pop hits like “Kind Of A Drag,” “Don’t You Care” and “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song),” all of which were recorded by The Buckinghams. Here he also demonstrates his talent on guitar. Joining James Holvay on this disc are James Manning on bass, Stu Pearlman on keys, Les Falconer on drums and backing vocals, James Graham on drums, and Cliff Curtis and Ron Douglas on backing vocals.

The EP opens with “Working On It,” which features a good rhythm and a nice guitar hook. In this song, he sings to a longtime romantic partner: “Girl, I know it ain’t been easy/Living with me for so long/And we’ve had our disagreements, baby/Some right, and some oh-so-wrong/You see, I was young and foolish/And I didn’t appreciate what I got/So I took your love for granted, baby.” And when he sings, “But now I’m older, baby/And I’ve learned from my mistakes,” we can hear the age and experience in his voice, and so we believe everything he has to say here, and we can’t help but silently urge the person he is addressing to give him that one more chance he’s asking for. We’re all working on it, aren’t we? Trying to be better people, especially for the ones we love, the ones who have stayed with us even during our darker days. There is a hopeful tone here, a positive vibe, making us feel that it is possible for all of us to improve ourselves.

The EP’s title track, “Sweet Soul Song,” is a tune that takes us to Chicago in the mid-1960s. It is a song of innocence and music, mentioning “Duke Of Earl” and Curtis Mayfield in its lyrics, and capturing the joys of a time that should never really be the past. “And we fell in love (fell in love)/As we danced ‘til dawn/And we fell in love (fell in love)/As the night played on/To a sweet soul song.” Those lyrics should apply to folks now as well as then (well, at least as soon as this pandemic is over). That’s followed by “Still The Fool,” which directly mentions the past in its opening lines: “Twenty years ago today I overheard you say/That you didn’t love me no more.” This is a mellower, pretty number with a string section arranged by Duane Benjamin. In this one, he tells us, “I’m still the fool/I’ll always be the fool.” He is not alone in feeling that way.

The joy is apparent right from the start of “Love Has Found A Way,” a song that James Holvay wrote with Gary Beisbier, who also co-wrote “Don’t You Care,” “Susan” and “Hey, Baby (They’re Playing Our Song).” This track has a great rhythm that seems designed to lift our spirits and get our bodies shaking. It is a delightful, optimistic, bright number, just the thing to keep us from dropping into despair. “Yes, love has come to rescue me/Ah, listen to me now/I’d been spending all my nights alone/My heart is mending because you’ve come back home.” James Holvay keeps those bright vibes alive with “Talkin’ About,” a love song which concludes the EP, one that includes hand claps. “She makes me feel just like a man/Accepts me for who I am/She doesn’t change my ways/Plan my days.” And how about these lines: “The girl’s got so much class/Never wants to spend my cash/She always pays the check/With no regret/And never brings up the past.” Those lines occur approximately halfway through the track, and after them, the song kind of kicks in. It is interesting, for before that, it has something of a relaxed, low-key vibe. And at that moment, the joy seems to grow and spread and become stronger leading to the end of the song. It is also interesting that that comes right after the words “the past,” for this whole EP is a revisiting of an earlier time, or at least a look back.

CD Track List

  1. Working On It
  2. Sweet Soul Song
  3. Still The Fool
  4. Love Has Found A Way
  5. Talkin’ About

Sweet Soul Song is scheduled to be released on April 16, 2021.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Badfinger: “No Matter What – Revisiting The Hits” (2021) CD Review

Badfinger is a band that was championed by The Beatles, the first group to be signed to Apple Records, and with a sound similar to that of the Fab Four. In fact, Paul McCartney wrote one of the band’s early hits, and George Harrison produced some of their material. Members of Badfinger also played on several solo albums by Beatles members, including George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and John Lennon’s Imagine. Badfinger might have stretched the connection a little too far when they wrote a song called “Love Me Do.” But no matter. Things were going really well for the band, and should have continued that way. But then the band’s manager cheated the members out of most of their money, and there were disputes over royalties, and two members ended up committing suicide. Certainly one of the more depressing stories in rock. But they left behind some excellent music. The surviving members have reunited at times, and Joey Molland has continued the band as Joey Molland’s Badfinger. Now that group is revisiting some of the biggest hits on the new album, No Matter What, getting help from special guests on each track.

The album opens with its title track, “No Matter What,” a song from the band’s 1970 LP No Dice. Here Badfinger is joined by Mark Stein (of Vanilla Fudge) on vocals and keyboards, delivering a good version, with just the right kind of energy, and including the hand claps and that brief pause toward the end. That’s followed by “Come And Get It,” which was written by Paul McCartney and included on Magic Christian Music. This is the song that first jumps to mind whenever Badfinger is mentioned. It is such a great song. “Did I hear you say that there must be a catch/Will you walk away from a fool and his money.” This version features Rick Wakeman (of Yes) on piano.  One of the most memorable and fun elements of the song is that addition of “Sonny!” after the “fool and his money” line. Don’t even try to tell me you don’t shout along with that one word whenever you hear this song. Carl Giammarese (of The Buckinghams) then joins Badfinger on guitar and vocals for “I Don’t Mind,” another track from No Dice, one you might not be as familiar with, but one that is more interesting. This is a mellower, cool tune written by Tom Evans and Joey Molland. And the more I listen to this disc, the more drawn I am to this track in particular.

“Day After Day” is a song that was produced by George Harrison, and it has always felt like a George Harrison song to me, though it was written by Pete Ham. This one was a big hit for the band, reaching #4 on the chart. The version on this disc features Ian Anderson (of Jethro Tull) on flute, Terry Reid on guitar and backing vocals, as well as the Manchester String Quartet. This track is one of the disc’s highlights, in large part because of Anderson’s presence on flute, which gives this version its own distinct sound. Rick Springfield then joins Badfinger on guitar and vocals for “Love Is Gonna Come At Last,” a song from a little later in the band’s career, originally appearing on the 1979 LP Airwaves, the first album released after the death of Pete Ham. It was written by Joey Molland. And though this song might be considered a little cheesier than the other material, this is a sweet rendition.

“Baby Blue” is another of the band’s most popular songs, this one coming from the 1971 LP Straight Up. This song is about a woman that Pete Ham dated, and she is directly named in the lyrics. Must be odd to have a popular song written about you. Anyway, Matthew Sweet joins Badfinger on guitar and backing vocals on this track, helping to make this another of the disc’s highlights. Edward Ka-Spel of The Legendary Pink Dots is on keyboards for a pretty rendition of “Midnight Caller,” a song from No Dice. This is another of the band’s more meaningful tracks. Check out these lines: “She’s got no saint to follow/She’s got no place to go/Too proud to ask an old friend for help/Too proud to let him know.” It was written by Pete Ham. “Suitcase” has more of a 1970s rock sound, and is from Straight Up. It was written by Joey Molland. For this rendition, Sonny Landreth offers some great work on slide guitar. Then Albert Lee joins Badfinger on guitar for “Sweet Tuesday Morning.” Interestingly, this song also follows “Suitcase” on Straight Up, and was also written by Joey Molland. It is another pretty track.

For a long time I assumed that Harry Nilsson had written “Without You.” After all, Nilsson was a phenomenal songwriter, and his version was a #1 hit. But no, it was written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans, and originally recorded by Badfinger, and included on the band’s No Dice album. It is an absolutely wonderful and heartbreaking song. “I can’t live/If living is without you/I can’t live/I can’t give anymore.” The song’s two writers, Ham and Evans, are the members of Badfinger who committed suicide. And apparently Evans’ suicide was brought on at least in part because of lack of royalties from this very song. On this version, Badfinger is joined by Todd Rundgren on guitar and vocals. Rundgren interestingly worked as a producer on the band’s Straight Up album. This is an excellent and moving rendition, and features some really good work on guitar.

CD Track List

  1. No Matter What
  2. Come And Get It
  3. I Don’t Mind
  4. Day After Day
  5. Love Is Gonna Come At Last
  6. Baby Blue
  7. Midnight Caller
  8. Suitcase
  9. Sweet Tuesday Morning
  10. Without You

No Matter What – Revisiting The Hits is scheduled to be released on March 26, 2021 on Cleopatra Records, and is going to be available on both CD and vinyl.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Big Harp George: “Living In The City” (2020) CD Review

Big Harp George (George Bisharat) is a blues singer and songwriter and (as you might guess from his name) harmonica player, based in California. I was turned onto his music a few years ago with the release of Uptown Cool, an album that I seriously enjoyed. Late last year he followed that up with Living In The City, which, like his previous release, is a whole lot of fun. It features all original material, written by Big Harp George. Joining him on this release are Chris Burns on keyboards, Kid Anderson on bass and guitar, Little Charlie Baty on guitar, Joe Kyle on bass, June Core on drums, Ben Torres on baritone saxophone and flute, Doug Rowan on baritone saxophone, Michael Peloquin on tenor saxophone and baritone saxophone, Mike Rinta on trombone, and several other guests on various tracks.

The disc opens with “Build Myself An App,” and right away we get a delicious groove and a good sense of fun. The song’s opening lines are about the struggles that musicians find in this era of streaming music and declining CD sales: “I can’t get ahead/Streaming one song at a time/Fifty damn plays/Barely earns me a dime.” And so his solution is to go outside of music, which of course carries a sense of sadness with it, even an element of defeat, to create an application (I despise the non-word “app”). But this is an optimistic number, and it features some great work on saxophone. “Good God almighty, I’m going to be rich by Friday.” Hurrah! And we can only hope that once that happens, he’ll return to music. The Sons of the Soul Revivers provide some excellent backing vocals. That’s followed by “Smoking Tires,” a tune that deals with one of those endlessly fertile blues topics, ending a relationship and getting the hell out. “I’m gonna run from you, baby/Gonna hop in my car and just drive/And the only thing I’m leaving you/Is gonna be the smell of my smoking tires.” This track includes some really nice work on guitar.

Ah yes, those finger snaps and that work on bass at the beginning of “Living In The City” help create a totally cool atmosphere. This track, the album’s title track, is wonderful. It is a song that struts and prowls, though there is certainly a cynical attitude at work here (some might say “realistic”), clear in lines like “When you find yourself a friend, better heed what I say/Keep your hand on your wallet, or get ready to pay/That’s just loving, loving in the city.” There is so much to enjoy about this track, but perhaps my favorite element is that great work on harmonica. I also love the backing vocals by Lisa Leuschner Andersen. “Copayment” is another playful number, this one about health insurance. Check out these lines: “I know I’ve been a sucker for most of my life/A fact I’m reminded daily by my dear, lovely my wife/Allowing for the fact that I’m as slow as I am/After ten times around, even I can see the scam.” The backing vocals repeating “Copayment” have a classic sound that is delightful. There is also some lively work on keys, particularly at the end. And of course there is some excellent stuff on harmonica. “How about you bend over the table and I’ll wear the glove.” “Bayside Bounce” is a cool instrumental track that kind of strolls in and gets you swaying and moving. I love the interaction between the harmonica and horns.

When I was looking at the track list and saw “Don’t Talk!” the first thing that came to mind was that great scene from Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway when Dianne Wiest repeats, “Don’t speak,” covering John Cusack’s mouth with her gloves and that fur muff. This song has nothing whatsoever to do with that scene, of course, but is about how sometimes speaking can make things worse. This song offers a warning: “You think you’ll sweet-talk the cops, but you’d be the first/You see a situation go from bad to worse/Don’t talk, go on and button that lip.” Later he adds, “All you’re gonna do is put your neck in a noose/Just keep your peace and you won’t be stepping in it.” There is some good work on harmonica. Then “First Class Muck Up” begins with a deliberate, playful false start, which I could give or take. But once the song gets going, it is a delight, with something of a big band vibe, the harmonica working well with the horns. Plus, this track features a great lead on guitar, and ends up being one of my personal favorites.

“Chew Before You Swallow” also offers some friendly advice, and has a good, playful sense about it, with a fun rhythm, but it is the instrumental section in the middle that I like most about this one, with that guitar work. And then later there is some enjoyable stuff on keys. Things then get serious with “Enrique,” a song with a more somber, soulful tone and an excellent vocal performance. There is some pretty work by Carlos Reyes on violin in the second half. That’s followed by “Pusher In A White Coat.” From that delicious opening, this track grabs hold of you. It has a cool, sly style, and features a great lead on guitar. The album concludes with “Meet Me At The Fence,” which surprisingly opens with a wonderful solo by Firas Zreik on qanun. This is another of my favorites, and it features Amal Murkus joining Big Harp George on vocals, and Loay Dahbour on percussion. This track creates a whole other world, and invites us to step inside.

CD Track List

  1. Build Myself An App
  2. Smoking Tires
  3. Living In The City
  4. Heading Out To Itaipu
  5. Copayment
  6. Try Nice?
  7. Bayside Bounce
  8. Don’t Talk!
  9. First Class Muck Up
  10. Chew Before You Swallow
  11. Enrique
  12. Pusher In A White Coat
  13. Meet Me At The Fence

Living In The City was released on October 10, 2020.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Desert Hollow: “Thirsty” (2021) CD Review

Desert Hollow is the duo of Nicole Olney and Xander Hitzig, coming together from opposite sides of the country and now based in southern California. During the past year, like a lot of artists, these guys performed a series of concerts online, gathering an appreciative audience. And now they are putting out their debut release, an EP titled Thirsty, which features all original material. Both musicians sing and play several instruments, with Nicole Olney on guitar, banjolele and kazoo, and Xander Hitzig on guitar, fiddle, banjo, whistle and mandolin. They also have some seriously talented musicians joining them on these tracks, including Johnny Hawthorn (of The HawtThorns) on steel guitar, Matt Lucich (whom you can hear on Kate Pierson’s Guitars And Microphones album) on drums, James “Hutch” Hutchinson (known for his work with Bonnie Raitt) on bass, and Adrienne Isom (of Nocona) on bass.

The EP opens with its title track, “Thirsty,” which begins with a rather pretty instrumental section. And soon Nicole Olney’s equally pretty voice comes in: “I’m thirsty every day, but there ain’t no drink that fills me up for good/So, baby, I’ll drink you just a little more than I think I should.” This song has a sweet, pleasant, uplifting folk sound. “‘Cause, baby, sometimes it feels really good to stop giving a shit.” Ah yes, so true. That line rings particularly true these days, when life can be exhausting. “Baby, it’s no wonder that I feel most myself in the rain/And when I hear that thunder, it feels like coming home again.” There is a wonderful instrumental section toward the end, one that I wish went on a little longer. That’s followed by “I Can’t Wait For Summer,” with Xander Hitzig on lead vocals. I don’t think there is a soul alive who will argue with the song’s opening line, “It’s been a long, lonely winter.” That line is truer this year than at any time in recent memory. Aren’t we all looking forward to summer this year? We might be able to attend baseball games, visit our families and friends, and, of course, see live music by then. Feels like a dream. This track, which was written by Xander Hitzig, features some really nice work on fiddle, and is about all those things that make summer eternally appealing.

On the back of the CD case, the third track is listed as “Take Me Back To Nowhere,” but actually “Look At Those Birds” comes before that (that mistake might be fixed before the official release). “Look At Those Birds” has a more somber, haunting sound at the start, with some beautiful harmonizing. “Look at those birds flying high up in the West Virginia sky/I’m searching for my words, but I think I floated up too high.” Then “Take Me Back To Nowhere” has me from its opening lines, “I feel nasty, I feel gross/From my head down to my toes/And there’s nothing I can do about it now.” This is a totally delightful, fun number, with Xander on lead vocals. It is one of those country numbers about the advantages of living out in the country, or “in the middle of nowhere,” as he sings. Though of course “the city’s fun to visit for a beer.” This track features more good work on fiddle, as well as some wonderful stuff on guitar. The EP then concludes with “Mary,” a song written and sung by Nicole Olney, and featuring some excellent lyrics, such as these lines: “Got ten pages left in all of her books/And all of her lovers are gamblers and crooks.” The line that really stands out for me each time I listen is, “She’s tired of this living, but she’s afraid to die.” That’s a great line.

CD Track List

  1. Thirsty
  2. I Can’t Wait For Summer
  3. Look At Those Birds
  4. Take Me Back To Nowhere
  5. Mary

Thirsty is scheduled to be released on May 14, 2021 on Mule Kick Records.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Sweetlove: “Goodnight, Lover.” (2021) CD Review

Sweetlove is a talented singer and songwriter who grew up in Simi Valley, California. She released her debut album, Dirty Sunday, back in 2017, under the name Wendy Sweetlove (her given name is Wendy Piatt). Her new release, Goodnight, Lover., is an EP of all original material co-written by Piatt. These songs have a strong emotional core, the material having emerged during a period of grief following the deaths of three important people in her life. Joining her on this release are Justin Glasco on keys, guitar, bass and percussion (he also produced the album); Jon Sosin on guitar; Adam Tressler on guitar; Brian Griffin on drums and percussion; Scotty Murray on steel guitar; Caroline Brooks on backing vocals; and Zach Berkman on backing vocals.

The EP opens with “Devil On Your Shoulder,” which has a good, solid groove and a dynamic vocal performance. “You’ve been sweet for your whole damn life/It ain’t fun when you do everything so right/So make friends with the devil on your shoulder.” Those lines strike me in part because of the name she records under, Sweetlove. It feels to me that perhaps she is singing to herself in the line “You’ve been sweet for your whole damn life.” Could it be a personal reprimand, or rather advice to herself as well as to us? This song has a great energy, and is about being in touch with yourself, honest with yourself, and not holding back. It isn’t urging us to be terrible or anything, but rather to allow ourselves to experience our truest selves, even when that self might not be appreciated by everyone. “When you do four out of five things right/Don’t let the fifth be the one that keeps you up at night.” That’s followed by the EP’s title track, “Goodnight, Lover,” a fantastic song with a wonderful, soulful, timeless vibe, and featuring an excellent vocal performance. This track’s opening lines, “Goodnight, lover/It’s hard hanging up the phone,” really work for me, particularly as my relationship was a long-distance one for a while and the phone was part of what kept us connected. “So goodnight, lover/Think I’m falling in your arms/And when I’m in my dreams, I’m only dreaming of you and I alone.”

“The House” is a beautiful, sad, engaging and moving song. “Some days you gotta let it rain/Some days you gotta sleep it off/Some days you don’t know what to say/And rub the right people wrong.” This is one of my personal favorites. It’s a song that, if you allow it, will cause you to just let go and cry. Sometimes it is good to not have to hold it together. You know? This song got on top of me, its main line being “Sometimes the house wins.” You can feel the tender ache, not just in her vocals, but in the other instruments. Then “Did You Even Know” has a steady rhythm that seems to move things forward, even as Sweetlove sings “I can feel you slipping through my fingers/Holding on to what could have been.” And you get the sense that beat is pushing toward a loss. Ah, if only we could slow it down (as she sings in the opening line, “When your days are numbered you count them slower”), perhaps she could hold on. Or is the beat her heart, her desire, her power, the strong pulse of the song? “Did you even know I loved you, I loved you/Did you even know?

The line “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” comes from an old Irish toast: “May your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head be always strong. And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead.” And, like that toast, this song has a sweet and hopeful vibe, though is about death. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “The space is empty/And all your voices in my head, they have not left me/They say don’t worry about me, darling, I’m just resting/But don’t forget me.” There is a pretty and gentle and affectionate feel to this one. And I love Scotty Murray’s work on steel guitar. Don’t be surprised if you find tears in your eyes while listening to this track. The disc then concludes with “Things I Didn’t Say.” This is the song that initially got me excited about this release when I first heard it in late January. It is a magnificent song. Check out these lines, which open the song: “I took off my makeup, and took on the madness/Been taking it easy, wish we could’ve had this/But I keep remembering the last time I saw you/We got high in the mountains/We were greater than sadness.” Those are some excellent lyrics. And what a vocal performance! This is an emotionally engaging song; just give yourself to this one. “I love your madness, and all of your sadness.” So beautiful. At the end, the line “It’s all right, love, you can rest easy now” is repeated, almost a mantra to the deceased, trying to calm the spirit. And perhaps a message to herself as well.

CD Track List

  1. Devil On Your Shoulder
  2. Goodnight, Lover
  3. The House
  4. Did You Even Know
  5. Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead
  6. Things I Didn’t Say

Goodnight, Lover. is scheduled to be released on March 26, 2021. You can check it out (and pre-save it) by clicking here

Saturday, March 6, 2021

LP Kelly: “Love Songs For Loners” (2021) CD Review

Throughout this pandemic, many people have had to contend with the aches of loneliness and isolation, cut off from family and friends, and unable to gather in concert halls and bars. For those who tend to be extremely social, I’m sure this has been a particularly difficult year. For others, a period of forced withdrawal from the world is almost a boon. On Valentine’s Day, singer and songwriter LP Kelly released an album titled Love Songs For Loners. It features all original material, written or co-written by Liam Patrick Kelly, songs addressing both love and solitude. I was turned onto LP Kelly several years ago when he released Off My Lawn, then under the name Old Man Kelly. You might also know him from his work with the Jugbusters. This new album is largely a solo effort, which is fitting for both the times and the title. LP Kelly plays most of the instruments, though he does get a little help from guest musicians on certain tracks.

The album opens with “Heaven Ain’t Heaven,” a pretty song in which LP Kelly sings, “Now I’m heading to the east just to hold you to my breast/Because heaven just ain’t heaven all alone.” Most of us feel a need to share our important experiences and beautiful moments, for sometimes it is as if those things just aren’t real until we’ve shared them. And what a great voice LP Kelly has. There is experience behind it, and a friendly and comforting tone, perfect for the subject. And check out these lines: “And a single human lifetime seems reduced to just a pinpoint/Crushed between the ocean and the trees.” This is an excellent opening track. It is followed by “Trails,” a powerful song about connections between the past and the present, whether we choose to acknowledge them or not, and specifically about the Cherokee nation’s devastating Trail Of Tears. There is a strong sense of rhythm on the guitar and some really good lyrics, such as these lines: “We borrow habits from those who've gone before/Not to question, never to explore.

LP Kelly then delivers a lively and fun number, “The Light In Me,” which features some absolutely delightful work by Matt Labarge on keys. “I love the way you love me right/Put those arms around me, mama, squeeze me tight.” It contains a reference to an old blues number in the next line: “And you can lay me down a pallet on your floor.” But the line I love the most is “If you’ve got to leave me, mama, leave me with a grin.” Yeah, it’s a love song, to be sure, and one with delivered a lot of joy. “Your Lovin’ Won’t Pay My Rent” is a playful country number, the title a variation on the line from “Money (That’s What I Want),” “But your love don’t pay my bills.” This is a timely number, isn’t it? After all, a lot of folks haven’t been able to pay their rent during the pandemic, and now landlords are looking to evict folks who are behind, putting them in an even worse situation. This track has more nice work by Matt Labarge on keys, and also features some wonderful work by Thomas Bryan Eaton on pedal steel. I also like that bass line. Then some sweet and gentle guitar work begins “The Paradox Of Choice,” a song about not wanting to choose, for fear that something better might be on the horizon, and not wanting to let go, in case that something doesn’t arrive. “Someday you’ll realize you overanalyze/Make your stand, give it your best shot/If you keep trying to optimize, you won’t be satisfied/With what you’ve got.” This one is vocals and guitar, and, partly because of that, it feels like he is addressing us personally and directly, this song being heartfelt and intimate. It is one of my personal favorites.

LP Kelly then turns to a bluegrass style with “I Wrote You A Love Song,” a song that celebrates the end of a relationship and being alone, a love song to oneself. “I wrote you a song, it just ain’t the one you wanted/It’s a love song, but the love, it ain’t for you/Because I love being free, and I sure love being me/And I love the fact that you and I are through.” I love this line, “You could make me sit, but never make me stay.” There have been many songs about being treated like a dog, but I don’t recall that idea ever being phrased quite like that, and it’s perfect. “Bike Thief” is a different sort of love song, sung from the perspective of a person who had a one-night stand and then stole the other person’s bicycle in the morning. Its lyrics also mention freedom: “You screamed after me that you’d call the cops/It felt good to be free, so I didn’t stop.” Chris Printz adds some wonderful work on mandolin. This one has an interesting sound, at times like a strange country carnival waltz.

In “Coffee For One,” LP Kelly sings “And there ain’t nothing wrong with doing nothing at all/In the cool of the morning of the early fall/Well, I don’t mind sleeping all alone at night/Pulling down the blinds, keeping out the morning light.” This song of solitude is surprisingly engaging and compelling, sometimes seeming cheerful and content, and sometimes feeling like it is at the edge of despair. That’s followed by “Sun In The West,” a delightful country number about being lonely and thinking back on a relationship. “I wonder if you still love me/I wonder if you still care/I’d do anything that you’d ask me to/If you’d come and take away these lonely blues.” Paul Herling joins him on fiddle for this one, and Thomas Bryan Eaton returns on pedal steel. Matt Labarge’s work on keys at times has something of an old parlor sound. This one was co-written by Alfred Dean Reed. The album concludes with “The Faded Rake,” a pretty and moving song. “You thought you’d die before you had to own up/You were a legend, but now your friends have grown up/You thought you’d burn out, you never thought you’d fade.” Wow, how are those for some wonderfully depressing lines? This song also contains a reference to Tom Waits, which totally works, because this is a character that would be completely at home in one of his songs. This song slowly fades out as he repeats the line “You thought you’d burn out, you never thought you’d fade,” which is kind of playful itself. This song is another of my favorites.

CD Track List

  1. Heaven Ain’t Heaven
  2. Trails
  3. The Light In Me
  4. Your Lovin’ Won’t Pay My Rent
  5. The Paradox Of Choice
  6. I Wrote You A Love Song
  7. Bike Thief
  8. Coffee For One
  9. Sun In The West
  10. The Faded Rake

Love Songs For Loners was released on February 14, 2021.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band: “Dance Songs For Hard Times” (2021) CD Review

With the pandemic still going, and hate crimes and homelessness on the rise, and the Republicans continuing to prove themselves to be soulless scoundrels, we are going through some hard times. No doubt about it. So we are certainly in need of something to raise our spirits, something to get us shaking our bones while also not pretending our troubles are gone. Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band is back with just the thing, Dance Songs For Hard Times. How is that for a perfect album title? This new album has all the energy and power and joy of a live performance, and will likely get you dancing, whether you intend to or not. Yet these songs address some serious subjects. The album features all original material, written by Reverend Peyton.

It opens with “Ways And Means,” a cool, raw bluesy number, with Reverend Peyton singing “I got all the ways, I just ain’t got the means.” That’s a seriously good line about perhaps having the talent but not the connections or financial backing to realize one’s dreams. And it’s followed by another great line: “I got all the blues, I just ain’t got the green.” Certainly folks are going to be able to relate to this song. And when those backing vocals come in, man, you feel you are in good company. You know? This song contains a reference to Jack Kerouac and On The Road: “Then it’s back on the road just like Kerouac/Live outta my backpack.” Then “Rattle Can” comes on strong, with a fast, driving rhythm, like rockabilly powered by homemade jet fuel or something, and a vocal performance that is barely contained, ready to tear itself out of your CD player and burn a hole in the ceiling. So, you know, please be careful. This is a whole lot of fun.

A more relaxed groove is established at the beginning of “Dirty Hustlin’,” but the vocals are certainly not relaxed. “I’ve been honest strugglin’, then the world starts crumblin’/I might have to go back to my old dirty hustlin’/Oh baby, I ain’t scared of nothin’.” Add some percussion that is like a rattle snake ready to strike, and you’ve got one hell of a cool track. When these guys count off a song at the beginning, you know you’re in for a good ride. Such is the case with “I’ll Pick You Up.” This one has a youthful vibe and excitement, and a ton of appeal. Check out these lines: “It’s got a little bit of rust, like every car does/But that don’t take away its charm/I’ll pick you up if the damn thing starts.” That’s followed by “Too Cool To Dance,” a song with a great 1950s feel. Check out that work on guitar. In this song he sings, “Please don’t tell me you’re too cool to dance.” Indeed, life is short, sometimes much too short, and so we have to enjoy ourselves, and never, ever worry about how we may look on the dance floor. “We may not get another chance,” Reverend Peyton reminds us.

“No Tellin’ When” is an excellent, bluesy and timely number about longing to see family and friends in person. It has been more than a year since I’ve been able to see my family, and I know I’m far from alone in that. My parents are now getting the vaccine, which is a step in the right direction, but it might still be a while before we’re together. This song should speak to most of us, and the ones it won’t speak to won’t be listening anyhow. This track features some absolutely wonderful work on guitar. Then Reverend Peyton all but screams out the opening lines to “Sad Songs.” Oh yes, I love a group that doesn’t hold back, that is willing and eager to give everything. “Don’t leave me here with these sad songs/Don’t leave me here, baby, all alone.” And the line “Just whistling a melody like I’m on death row” helps to make this one of my personal favorites.

“Crime To Be Poor” is another timely number about the discrepancies in the way so-called “justice” is dealt in this society. “Poor folks go to prison and rich folks get forgiven.” Seriously, when is that racist sociopath Trump going to be arrested? Anyway, I love that harmonica. This is another of the disc’s highlights. Though, let’s face it, there isn’t a weak track here. “Crime To Be Poor” is followed by “‘Til We Die,” which opens with the lines “Let it rain, let it pour/Let the wind howl and roar.” This song feels like a defiant celebration of life, featuring more great work on guitar. Then we get “Nothing’s Easy But You And Me.” First of all, I fucking love the song’s title, its playfulness and, yeah, its honesty. And then the song has a delicious, raw and powerful sound. “Throw your legs up, mama/It don’t cost nothing/Bills keep crushing/Like a flood water rushing.” Yeah, this is another song urging us to enjoy ourselves how and when we can. Sure, we have to deal with those bills, but we can’t let that be the sum of our lives. The album concludes with “Come Down Angels,” which begins beautifully and sweetly, then kicks in to become a glorious, joyous number, one you might end up singing along with, asking for help from the heavens. It is a song to unite us and get us dancing, a great closing number.

CD Track List

  1. Ways And Means
  2. Rattle Can
  3. Dirty Hustlin’
  4. I’ll Pick You Up
  5. Too Cool To Dance
  6. No Tellin’ When
  7. Sad Songs
  8. Crime To Be Poor
  9. ‘Til We Die
  10. Nothing’s Easy But You And Me
  11. Come Down Angels

Dance Songs For Hard Times is scheduled to be released on April 9, 2021 through Thirty Tigers.