Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

As more people get vaccinated and the world begins to resemble that place we used to know, we can look forward to seeing live music again. In the meantime, artists are continuing to release some excellent work to keep us going, to keep us sane. Here are notes on a few new jazz releases you might be interested in.

Kristin Callahan: “Lost In A Dream”
– Vocalist Kristin Callahan delivers beautiful, warm and earthy renditions of some beloved standards on her new album. She opens with a wistful, wonderfully sad version of “Lush Life” that reminds us why, regardless of the outcome, we’ll always be tempted “to madness.” That moment when the band quiets for the line “Oh yes, I was wrong again” is fantastic and captivating. That’s followed by “Memories Always Start,” a short piece with some interesting percussion that functions as an introduction to “‘Round Midnight.” This version of “‘Round Midnight” features, in addition to Kristin’s enthralling vocal performance, some really nice work by Matvei Sigalov on guitar and Joe Herrera on trumpet.  Then Matt Rippetoe joins Kristin on saxophone for a nice rendition of “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise” that also features prominent percussion by Tom Teasley and Lee Pearson. The album’s title track is its sole original piece, written by Kristin Callahan, and it is one of my favorites. It begins in a rather sad place, as she thinks back on an unrequited love, asking “And will you forget my love?” Then it takes on a Latin vibe while maintaining its beauty. “In my heart I know you don’t love me/Still I stay, holding on day by day/I’m a fool to dream that you would stay.” I am particularly fond of that guitar part in the second half of the track. That’s followed by a seriously cool rendition of “Caravan” that features some excellent work by Eliot Seppa on bass, and of course some wonderful percussion. What is most surprising about this rendition is that great instrumental section which has a late 1960s psychedelic flavor. Rounding out the album are “The Shadow Of Your Smile” and “Once I Loved,” two songs that look back at love. “Because love is the saddest thing when it goes away.” This album is scheduled to be released on July 16, 2021.

The Rebecca Kilgore Trio: “Vol. 1”
– There is a delightful sense of fun to jazz vocalist Rebecca Kilgore’s new album, which is clear right from the opening track, “Dear Bix,” written by Dave Frishberg. Just listen to the way she delivers lines like “You’re no ordinary, standard, B flat run-of-the-mill-type guy/Oh my, no.” Besides, it’s a playful choice to begin with. Certainly not a standard. The trio is made up of Rebecca Kilgore on vocals, Randy Porter on piano, and Tom Wakeling on bass. “Dear Bix” is followed by a standard, “Day In – Day Out,” written by Rube Bloom and Johnny Mercer, and from its opening with that bass solo, this rendition has a cool and merry vibe. Then Dick Titterington joins the trio on cornet for “Somebody Just Like You,” making his presence felt from the track’s first moments, and delivering a really good lead in the second half.  The trio clearly has fun with “Run, Little Raindrop, Run,” a breezy, light and lovely track. Rebecca Kilgore adds her own touch to “Talking To Myself About You,” writing some new lyrics for the beginning of the song. Interestingly, the song ends up being the exact same length as Peggy Lee’s rendition. An interesting choice, and one that definitely fits in with the sense of play, is Nellie McKay’s “I Wanna Get Married,” with lines like “I wanna get married/I need to cook meals/I want to pack cute little lunches/For my Brady Bunches/Then read Danielle Steel” and “I wanna get married/That’s why I was born.” Rebecca Kilgore delivers a totally sweet, wonderful rendition of “That Sunday That Summer,” following it with a fun version of “The Gentleman Is A Dope” which features some really nice work on piano. Another of the disc’s more playful choices is “Because We’re Kids,” which comes from the film The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T (if you haven’t seen it, it is definitely worth checking out). It was written by Dr. Seuss. The album closes with a standard written by Rodgers and Hart, “There’s A Small Hotel,” which features another sweet vocal performance and a good bass part. This album is scheduled to be released on April 30, 2021.

Jacqui Naylor: “The Long Game”
– The new album from vocalist and songwriter Jacqui Naylor features a lot of original material, but also a few classic numbers, both from the jazz and rock realms. She gets things going with an excellent and exciting rendition of “Like Someone In Love,” her vocal approach sexy and rich and playful. This track also features some great and lively playing by Art Khu on keys. The band backing Jacqui Naylor, in addition to Art Khu, includes Jon Evans on bass, guitar and backing vocals; and Josh Jones on drums and percussion. “Like Someone In Love” is followed by an original number, “Give Me One More Chance,” in which she sings “Give me one more chance at love/Show me all the sweet romance of love/I know I can do the dance of love.” Ooh, those moments when she hits her lower registers are so good! And, yes, a lot of the songs here deal with love, particularly her original material. “I’ll Be Loving You” is a fun number about the kind of lasting relationship most people want. Art Khu’s fingers are basically dancing on the keys in that one. And “Love Look What You’ve Done” is a pretty, more intimate-sounding track, featuring some nice work on guitar. The album’s title track is another highlight, interestingly mixing blues and reggae elements. But perhaps my favorite of the original songs is “It’s The Right Time,” which urges us to live life to the fullest, and to reach out to those who are important to us. “Life is too short to waste on your fears/You want to look back and love all your years/Because it’s the right time to follow your dreams/It’s the perfect time, things don’t have to be as hard as they might seem.” As far as standards, Jacqui Naylor delivers a good rendition of “Smile,” her vocals supported at first just by bass, and a cool version of “Speak Low,” with a delicious rhythm. And from the rock realm, Jacqui Naylor offers covers of Coldplay’s “Fix You,” David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up.” This album was released on February 12, 2021.

Jeannine Otis: “Into My Heart”
– The new album from vocalist Jeannine Otis features a mix of original material and standards.  It opens with a cool original number titled “Mood Is For Lovin’,” which was written by Jeannine Otis and Wilma Classon, and features some really good work by Jimmy Ponzie on guitar. Jeannine’s vocal approach here is intimate and sensual, and even playful before the end, and the track has a mellow, but joyful vibe, and there is a nice lead by Stanton Davis on trumpet. That’s followed by “Touch Me Tonight,” written by Jeannine Otis, and presented with just Jonathan Sherry supporting her vocal work on piano. Again, her voice has a sensual quality, and there is a late-night vibe to this piece. “If I could have you all my life/It would be fine/But all I have is just a night/That’s not much time/We cannot count upon the future.” Saul Rubin plays all the instruments on several of this album’s tracks, including “Sweet Sad Guitar,” a song written by Peter Angell, one having a soulful vibe. That’s followed by a cover of “Lover Man,” which was made famous by Billie Holiday, Jeannine’s vocals here supported by Saul Rubin on guitar. This rendition has a cool, loose feel. She also delivers a good rendition of Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood,” another of the tracks to feature Saul Rubin on guitar. This track also features the album’s most compelling vocal performance. The disc concludes with its title track, written by Onaje Allen Gumbs, featuring a friendly, touching vocal approach. “I know you feel so afraid to let go/And trust me with your love/You’ve been let down so much before/And now you’re so unsure/I only know that in you I found/The meaning of true love.” This album was released on CD on March 5, 2021, but was apparently released digitally earlier.

Vinnie Riccitelli Octet: “For The Record”
– Saxophonist Vinnie Riccitelli has performed and recorded with a wide range of artists over the years since the release of his first album back in the 1950s, Jazz From The Westchester Workshop. But he didn’t release another album as band leader until this disc, For The Record, which features some of his original compositions as well his arrangements of classic material. Though Riccitelli retired in 2018, he was present for these sessions and produced the album. It opens with one of his original compositions, “Minor Seventh Heaven,” which has a bright, rather cheerful vibe and sound. There is a youthful feel and a sense of joy in the playing, and I particularly like that work by Tony Tedesco on drums. That’s followed by a lively and vibrant rendition of Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old Fashioned,” featuring some really nice stuff by Joe Stelluti on tenor saxophone, and by Eddie Monteiro on piano. What strikes me over and over is the joy in the playing, as on “Serenata,” which features some wonderful work on drums, and on “Flying Down To Rio.” And check out Lou Stelluti’s work on bass on “Stompin’ At The Savoy.” As for the other original material, there is the seriously cool track “Blues Dominant,” which features some excellent work from the horn section and has a rhythm that ought to make you smile. “Flugelsville” features nice work by Glenn Drewes on trumpet, and has an easygoing vibe. And “Little Boy Blew,” which closes out the disc, is a lively and breezy number. This album was released on March 8, 2021.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Kilian Kemmer Trio: “Und Zarathustra Tanzte” (2021) CD Review

I’ve never read Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, though I do like the piece by Richard Strauss bearing that same title, which I first heard in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and later saw Phish perform. Like Strauss, pianist Kilian Kemmer was inspired by Nietzsche’s work, and the new album from Kilian Kemmer Trio is titled Und Zarathustra Tanzte. These tracks, most of which were composed by Kilian Kemmer, focus on the idea of the eternal return, that all events repeat themselves, something I’ve found rather frightening and depressing, but which here is almost cause for celebration, leading Zarathustra to dance. Thus, the album’s title. Perhaps it is time to take another look at this concept, for if someone can see it as inspiring a dance, it is possible I’ve been looking at it all wrong. At any rate, this music is excellent and engaging. The trio is made up of Kilian Kemmer on piano, Masaki Kai on bass, and Matthias Gmelin on drums.

The album opens with “Ewige Wiederkunft,” which means “Eternal Return.” This track begins with some pretty, thoughtful work on piano. The piece’s theme, as it is repeated, somehow takes on an uplifting flavor, while also having a relaxing, soothing quality. Does the idea that what we do we’ve always done and always will do relieve us of some of the stress of the present? Perhaps. But the percussion seems to take on something of a sense of urgency partway through. The bass and drums drop out toward the end, as if the piano is facing an eternity stretching out in both directions alone. It is somber, yet pretty. That’s followed by “Hirte,” which translates as “Shepherd.” This too begins with some gentle, introspective solo work on piano before the others come in. This piece maintains that gentleness, though, for me, there is also an air of melancholy, perhaps an air of loss, or at least of letting go, and a sense of loneliness.

“Das Andere Tanzlied” has a more cheerful sound and spirit from its beginning, the trio starting this one together. The piano part has a pleasant sense about it, and there is a light quality to this piece. This track also includes a drum solo in the second half. There is an inquisitiveness to “Oh Mensch,” though perhaps also some hesitation. And yet the theme here is overall a pretty and comforting one, like a slow dance through life, unharmed though around us there be sadness and some strife. This track feels like it reaches out a hand, asking us to join. There is a nice lead on bass, sounding as if joining the piano in a dance, or rather taking the lead for a moment in that eternal dance. That’s followed by “Oh Himmel,” which begins with some percussion, as if announcing a new dance, a new day. There is a joy here, and contentment, as if looking forward with some enthusiasm to whatever this day will bring, and to sharing it, for there is nothing lonely about this piece. Then “Also Tanzte Feli” begins with a rather light feel, as if our feet are barely in contact with the ground, as if this dance occurs in air and whatever is solid is irrelevant. There is something beautiful about this piece, and about the joy with which it is delivered.

“Blues Für Nietzsche” is the only track to directly refer to the philosopher in its title. It is an active piece, and I particularly like the drum work. And in the middle there is a good bass solo. That’s followed by “Angelico/Bavaria,” one of only a few tracks not composed by Kilian Kemmer. “Angelico” was written by pianist Frederic Mompou. The second section of this track also provides a dance. Then we get “Auf Den Glückseligen Inseln,” which translates as “On The Blissful Islands” (and apparently is a chapter title in Thus Spoke Zarathustra). And there certainly is a happiness to the sound of this track, particularly Kilian’s piano work, while the drums take on a lively, excited vibe.

“Mit Dieben Und Verbrechern” swings and grooves right from the start. This is a fun track with a lighthearted vibe, and it includes a drum solo toward the end. This one feels very much in the present, in the now. It is followed by another of the tracks not written by Kilian Kemmer, and the only jazz standard of the album, “It Don’t A Mean A Thing.” Interestingly, it is slowed way down, so that it doesn’t swing like the previous track, but rather has a kind of bluesy sound. That is followed by the final track not composed by Kilian Kemmer, “Das Fragment An Sich,” which was written by Nietzsche himself. I had no idea that Nietzsche played piano. When I think of Nietzsche, musician is not the first thing that jumps to mind. This is a short piano piece. The album concludes with “Das Grösste Schwergewicht,” featuring Katharina Neudorfer joining the trio on vocals. The lyrics are in German, so no, I have absolutely no idea what she’s saying. But it is an interesting piece, with more of an improvised feel than the other tracks.

CD Track List

  1. Ewige Wiederkunft
  2. Hirte
  3. Das Andere Tanzlied
  4. Oh Mensch
  5. Oh Himmel
  6. Also Tanzte Feli
  7. Blues Für Nietzsche
  8. Angelico/Bavaria
  9. Auf Den Glückseligen Inseln
  10. Mit Dieben Und Verbrechern
  11. It Don’t Mean A Thing
  12. Das Fragment An Sich
  13. Das Grösste Schwergewicht

Und Zarathustra Tanzte is scheduled to be released on April 30, 2021.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Sarah Jerrom: “Dream Logic” (2021) CD Review

Sarah Jerrom is a vocalist and songwriter based in Toronto, Ontario.  Her new album, Dream Logic, features all original material. The group organized for this release is also called Dream Logic, and is made up of Sarah Jerrom on vocals and piano, Harley Card on guitar and vocals, Rob McBride on double bass, and Jeff Luciani on drums and percussion. The music has its own sound, its own reality, mixing jazz and an ethereal sort of folk, with some pop elements as well, creating intriguing and alluring landscapes, fitting with the album’s title. Most of the songs on this album were written by Sarah Jerrom.

The disc’s opening track, “Snowblind,” begins with some pretty vocal work that sounds like it could be part of the soundtrack to a strange independent film from the late 1960s, one of those trippy films that isn’t quite horror, but which has an eerie, unusual atmosphere. I immediately love it. And then the work on hi-hat has a fast pace, a sense of urgency that works in some contrast to the vocal work. There is also a cool instrumental section in the middle that features some really good work on guitar. This song does include lyrics, but it is the other vocal work that I love most here. That vocal work begins as an ethereal, otherworldly type of sound, and toward the end veers more into scat territory. “Snowblind” is followed by “Accolade Parade,” which features some great percussion, particularly during the verses. And check out these lyrics: “As your dreams gather rust/Holy statements scattered in the dust/Magic dealers push the elixir you should trust.” There is something of a bright pop vibe to sections of this track.

“Fata Morgana” begins with percussion, setting an interesting tone, a rhythm that is maintained beneath Sarah’s pretty vocal work, creating an unusual dynamic. This one too has some unusual lyrics, such as these lines: “Are you my savior or my doom/Are you the only choice there is/Perhaps some eyes will meet with mine/Though they’ll never be like his/I do not care/I wander and I wait.” That rhythm dominates the instrumental section, having a strong effect on the way we take it in. This track also contains some beautiful vocal work toward the end. Then it is the piano that really pulls me into “The Persistence Of Water,” the way her work on piano supports that gorgeous vocal performance. Apparently, this is Sarah Jerrom’s first album to include her piano work.

There is something of a cinematic or theatrical feel to some of this music, starting with the first track, and also including “Things That Came Out Of The Sea” (a title that I really like). “But from somewhere behind me/A voice was calling, find me/Find me, find me.” “Memorabilia” opens with a wonderful piano section, and builds from there, featuring some excellent work on bass. I love that this piece is like its own world. There is something dramatic about it, especially in Sarah Jerrom’s vocal delivery, and in that instrumental section toward the end. This is one of my personal favorites. It is followed by “Illusions,” which has a cool vibe from its start, mostly in that guitar work. And I dig that bass lead. This one was written by Harley Card and Michael Herring. “In a blink of an eye we are gone, illusions.”

Joe Lapinski joins the group on acoustic guitar and backing vocals for “Rose,” which has a sweeter, pretty sound. It also has perhaps a more earthbound vibe than many of these tracks, feeling more intimate. “Wheel Remember” opens with beautiful vocal work. That vocal work has a soothing quality, like she is going to take us by the hand and lead us into a dream. The guitar also has a gentle vibe, and you just want to let go and fall into this track. This is another of my personal favorites. It is followed by “Fergus,” which features lyrics by Laura Lind. “Did I ever say I loved you, Fergus/Would it have mattered anyway/Now Fergus, dear Fergus/You threw it all away.” The album then concludes with “Tiny Lights,” another compelling track. It is remarkable how Sarah Jerrom can guide and lead us with her voice, often without the need of words, and create distinctive realms for us to explore.

CD Track List

  1. Snowblind
  2. Accolade Parade
  3. Fata Morgana
  4. The Persistence Of Water
  5. Things That Came Out Of The Sea
  6. Memorabilia
  7. Illusions
  8. Rose
  9. Sleeping Buffalo Rises
  10. Plastic Stuff
  11. Wheel Remember
  12. Fergus
  13. Tiny Lights

Dream Logic was released on March 26, 2021 on Three Pines Records.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Alex Chilton And Hi Rhythm Section: “Boogie Shoes: Live On Beale Street” (2021) CD Review

You know Alex Chilton’s voice and guitar from his work with The Box Tops in the 1960s and Big Star in the 1970s (and again in the 1990s into the 2000s). And in Big Star, he also wrote or co-wrote most of the material. The world lost Alex Chilton to a heart attack in 2010. But we are still being treated to new releases now and again, including a wonderful new live album, Boogie Shoes: Live On Beale Street, on which he performs a set of covers of some great rock and roll and pop songs, backed by an excellent band of Memphis musicians, including Mabon “Teenie” Hodges on guitar, Charles Hodges on keyboards, Archie “Hubie” Mitchell on keyboards, Leroy Hodges on bass, Howard Grimes on drums, Jim Spake on tenor saxophone, Ronald Kirk Smothers on baritone saxophone, and Scott Thompson on trumpet. What a crazy amount of talent, right? Hi Rhythm has backed artists like Al Green and Ann Peebles, and has also released their own albums. And here, these musicians are able to relax, cut loose, and enjoy themselves thoroughly. These tracks, all previously unreleased, were recorded on October 7, 1999 at the New Daisy Theatre in Memphis. The set was part of a benefit for Fred Ford, to help with the cost of his medical bills. The disc includes liner notes by David Less, who produced the album and also wrote Memphis Mayhem: A Story Of The Music That Shook Up The World.

The disc opens with its title track, a totally fun rendition of “Boogie Shoes” (yes, the KC & The Sunshine Band song). The horn section sells it, particularly that great lead on trumpet halfway through, which is so bloody delicious and exciting. By the way, for anyone who is curious, KC & The Sunshine Band put on an absolutely fantastic show the one time I saw them in concert. I was shocked how good those guys were. That’s followed by an enjoyable rendition of “Precious, Precious,” a song that was a hit for Jackie Moore back in 1970. It is clear that Alex Chilton is having a great time here, right from the song’s introduction. “Here’s our chance, come on, let’s take it.” Oh yes.

The fun vibes continue with a good, energetic version of “634-5789,” written by Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper, and originally recorded by Wilson Pickett. I particularly dig that work on keys, and then that guitar part. I also love the loose vibe of this show. On this track, you can hear Alex Chilton direct the band at one point, “All right, take it up a half step, y’all.” And then you hear him saying to the other musicians, “Let’s play ‘Kansas City,’” choosing the set list as they go. The band is clearly into it, for they deliver a delicious version. I love those horns. There is so much joy to the playing. Scott Thompson is flying on that trumpet, taking the whole place to a level some ten flights above heaven. And what a bright vocal performance from Alex Chilton. This is certainly a highlight of the disc.

There is a bit of an extended instrumental intro to this version of “Lucille,” with Alex’s vocals coming in like forty-five seconds in. And, yes, here he gives us his best Little Richard, with all the right energy. I love that saxophone. Alex Chilton then switches gears, moving to blues for a good rendition of “Big Boss Man,” a song recorded by Jimmy Reed (though the first version I heard was that by the Grateful Dead). The band jams on that groove, and I like that lead on keys. The ending comes rather suddenly.  I wanted these guys to jam on it a bit longer. That’s followed by a kind of sweet, almost gentle rendition of The Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go.” There isn’t as much energy as, say, in the J. Geils Band version, but it’s a nice approach.

Alex Chilton delivers a really good version of Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” (here spelled “Maybelline”). This track is all about his vocals and that guitar, but I also like the work on keyboards. Alex is so at home with these early rock and roll numbers, just enjoying himself. He then says that they’re going to stick with women’s names, following “Maybellene” with “Hello Josephine” (which is also known as “My Girl Josephine”). It’s never a bad idea to turn to Fats Domino, and it’s great hearing the combination of the Memphis and New Orleans sounds. On this track, the entire band gets to stretch out, helping make this another highlight of the disc. And though it is seven minutes, it still feels like it ends prematurely. The disc concludes with a cover of “Trying To Live My Life Without You,” a song made popular by Otis Clay. In the brief introduction, Alex says, in self-deprecating manner, that he was going to get out of the way so that Rufus Thomas and Carla Thomas could get up there and play “some real music for you, for a change.” Oddly, this track fades out before the song ends, just as Alex says he’s going to introduce the band.

CD Track List

  1. Boogie Shoes
  2. Precious, Precious
  3. 634-5789
  4. Kansas City
  5. Lucille
  6. Big Boss Man
  7. Where Did Our Love Go
  8. Maybelline
  9. Hello Josephine
  10. Trying To Live My Life Without You

Boogie Shoes: Live On Beale Street is scheduled to be released on May 7, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The 69 Cats: “Seven Year Itch” (2021) CD Review

These days it seems that death is in the air and on our minds. Be it the pandemic, or the gun problem which is growing by leaps and bounds every damn day, we feel surrounded by death. It is too much to deal with, and so one way to approach the subject is with a morbid sense of humor. Enter The 69 Cats, a delightfully twisted macabre group made up of Jyrki 69 (real name: Jyrki Linnankiva; of The 69 Eyes) on vocals; Danny B. Harvey  (of Headcat 13) on guitar, keyboards and vocals; Kim Nekroman (of Nekromantix) on bass, and Rat Scabies (real name: Chris Millar; of The Damned) on drums. The group’s new album, Seven Year Itch, features some special guests on certain tracks, and contains mostly original material, written or co-written by Danny B. Harvey. The album’s title, of course, comes from the Marilyn Monroe film directed by Billy Wilder, and the album’s cover is a play on the famous Andy Warhol portrait of Monroe.

Seven Year Itch opens with an original number, “She’s Hot,” with Jyrki’s great deep, haunting voice coming from six feet below, singing “When she’s dancing on my grave, she’s on fire.” And this track features some great classic rock and roll guitar. That’s followed by a cover of “Hollywood’s Bleeding,” originally recorded by Post Malone. On this track, The 69 Cats are joined by Annie Marie Lewis on backing vocals. “You never took the time to get to know me/We’re scared of losing something that we never found/We’re running out of reasons, but we can’t let go/Yeah, Hollywood is bleeding, but we call it home.” This song was released as the album’s first single. In “(You’re) The Kind Of Girl I Need,” an original song, Jyrki sings  You’re the kind of the girl that makes me scream.” Ah, is there any better compliment in this dark realm? I love this song. It is a lot of fun, featuring some good work on guitar. At certain points, this track reminds me a bit of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.”

A kind of dark surf sound is established at the beginning of “Good Time To Die,” like riding a wave straight into hell. And indeed, here they sing, “It’s a lonely night for a lonely stranger/What’s in the stars, it’s in your nature/It’s been a while since I felt danger/The devil’s gonna get you, the devil’s gonna get you, the devil’s gonna get you now.” This one was written by Danny B. Harvey and Jyrki 69. By the way, the song’s title reminds me of Klingons. What is it they say? “Today is a good day to die.” That’s followed by “Graveyard Blues,” another fun track written by Danny B. Harvey and Jyrki 69. It has a really good groove. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Shortly after midnight, he took his own life/Next day he was buried beside his sweet wife/Now there are two ghosts in love and together/But they can never touch, only stare at each other.”

“Hey World” is a song that Danny B. Harvey wrote with Sky Saxon, apparently for an album the two were working on before Saxon’s death in 2009. This track features Sky Saxon’s vocal work, which is cool. I love this kind of rock and roll, it is good music to cut loose to. Then “(Let’s Go) Psycho” comes on hard and fast, and will have you moving before you even know what’s happening. I can certainly use this music right now, and I imagine there are plenty of other folks out there who are eager for this. Are the screams those of the victor or victim? It hardly matters. Such distinctions are a thing of the past, for now we are all a mass of blood and limbs and anger and desire. And then there is a cool spoken word section in the second half: “We are the victims of the techno age/Violence, lust and lots of rage.” Well, there you have it. This is another older song, written twenty years ago by Danny B. Harvey and Brigitte Handley, and included on Handley’s Stand Your Ground EP. And Brigitte Handley is present on this version too, providing backing vocals.

“Vampire Shuffle” opens with the question “What you want me to do?” Then the question becomes “What you want me to do with you?” Ah, well, that’s another question altogether, isn’t it? This is a song about becoming a vampire. Ah yes, a lovely dance of the doomed. “You will feel no sorrow, you will feel no pain.” And the line “We can dance on your grave” is an interesting variation on the line from the album’s opening number.  Then they deliver a great cover of “Teddy Boy Boogie,” a song originally recorded by Crazy Cavan ‘N’ The Rhythm Rockers, and also done by Zombie Ghost Train. This is another ridiculously fun number. Sure, it might begin with a mundane concern, being stopped by the cops, “Along came a copper and he took down my name,” but the tables soon change: “So I whipped out my razor and slit his throat.” There might be something cathartic about those lines for some folks, in these days when the police present as much danger as criminals. A later verse brings him in contact with the police again, with a similar outcome: “A cop car came up from behind/So I whipped out my razor and changed his mind.”

Some howling winds or howling creatures populate the world of the instrumental track “The Hell Of The Mountain King.” This is another favorite of mine. I love Grieg’s “In The Hall Of The Mountain King,” and for a time was collecting as many versions of that piece as I could find (I still need to pick up The Who’s rendition at some point). This is an absolutely fantastic addition to that collection, and it features some great guitar work. Then “I’m Evil” comes strutting in, and it begins with that perennial blues line, “Well, I woke up this morning.” He tells us straight out, “You know, I’m evil/Evil as a man can be/Well, I’m so damn evil.” And it’s not like he is really bragging either, just stating a fact, with perhaps a bit of a confession too, as in these lines: “Well, she said she’s going to love me until the day she dies/I took out my pistol and shot her between the eyes/Because I’m evil/Evil as a man can be.” The album then concludes with a cover of “It Ain’t Enough,” a song written by Larry Wallis. I dig the energy of this song, and of the entire album.

CD Track List

  1. She’s Hot
  2. Hollywood’s Bleeding
  3. (You’re) The Kind Of Girl I Need
  4. Good Time To Die
  5. Graveyard Blues
  6. Hey World
  7. (Let’s Go) Psycho
  8. Vampire Shuffle
  9. Teddy Boy Boogie
  10. The Hell Of The Mountain King
  11. I’m Evil
  12. It Ain’t Enough

Seven Year Itch was released on April 16, 2021 on Cleopatra Records, and is available on both CD and vinyl (the vinyl, by the way, is pink).

Friday, April 16, 2021

Roof Beams: “This Life Must Be Long” (2020) Vinyl Review

Roof Beams is a folk-rock band based in Washington, D.C., led by Nathan Robinson, who wrote all the material on the latest album, This Life Must Be Long. Nathan Robinson provides the lead vocals, and plays acoustic guitar, harmonica, melodica, keyboards and percussion. His band mates on this release are Bill Smyth on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, pedal steel, bass, keyboards and percussion; and Phillips Saylor Wisor on electric guitar, banjo, mandolin and vocals. And they create a deliciously raw and true sound. The band’s name comes from J.D. Salinger’s Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters, a novella that is paired with Seymour: An Introduction, following members of the Glass family, first written about in what is one of the world’s absolute best short stories, “A Perfect Day For Bananafish.” (Seriously, if you haven’t read that story, I strongly urge you to pick up a copy of Nine Stories. Also, it is a fun story to read aloud.) Anyway, if you are going to call to mind a literary figure as revered as J.D. Salinger, then you’d better have the lyrical content and ability to back it up. Well, this band certainly does. This Life Must Be Long follows 2017’s Charon.

Side A

One of my favorite movies is Magnolia, and one of its most arresting scenes is the one in which Jason Robards talks about regret. At one point he says, “Life ain’t short, it’s long.” For me, there are constant reminders of the brevity of life, and for that reason that line stands out, as I try to understand it, to look at life differently. Roof Beams open their new album with its title track, “This Life Must Be Long,” a song with rather pretty and unpolished folk sound. And if you’re looking for some good, original lyrics, here is a taste from this opening track: “Where was she when I was sad and young, mad at some man I hadn’t become//What is this one life that I live? This drug I skip? This love I give?” This track also features some good work on harmonica toward the end. And it ends with the lines, “This life must be long/This life must be long/This life must be long/This life must be long/Stop me if I’m…” It’s interesting that the final word, which we all assume is “wrong,” is left out. Is the idea that he is wrong, and has been stopped? Perhaps. That is followed by “Outer Rings,” and the presence of mandolin gives this one a more cheerful vibe from the start. There is, in contrast, a weariness to the vocal delivery, an ache. And I like that he asks “Everyone’s chosen one of two sides/I’ve got mine, but is it right?” The question is repeated, which perhaps makes up for the many people out there who never ask the question, though have clearly chosen a side. One thing I love about this band is that they seem to be asking questions rather than pretending to have answers, and in doing that, I think they forge a stronger connection to us.

Okay, maybe it’s because I’m a Pisces, but the opening line of “Buckle” makes me laugh out loud: “Every single one of our vices circling each other like Pisces.” I love the honest humor to this song, which catches me by surprise. The phrase “dream up the perfect on-stage banter” also stands out for me, as rehearsed stage banter is something that has always turned me off. The first side of the record concludes with “Carry On,” which has an interesting sound. The core might be folk, but there are other elements at play here, with sounds from electronic pop. And check out these lines: “They were never right, but they made the wrong things sound fun/They were never right, but then neither is anyone.” Actually, a lot of lyrics stand out, particularly these lines: “God’s been cruel and so have I” and “I’ve been screening calls from people I care about/I just couldn’t answer them. I’m sure they’ll figure it out.” Perfect lines for these strange days when we all feel somewhat unmoored.

Side B

This band knows how to connect to us at our most confused and human levels. I’ve always believed that no one knows anything, that all of us are flailing about in the wind, trying to keep from getting too hurt or coming across as too stupid, and this band seems in touch with that sense, especially in a song like “Awareness,” one of my personal favorites on this record. I love these lines: “I know someday I’ll be a better man/Until then, please put up with me the best you can.” That’s followed by “Clean Break,” an interesting and unusual track that reaches into biblical times, even guessing the perspective of Lazarus: “If I were Lazarus, stumbling out of the cave/I wouldn’t be grateful, I’d probably say that Jesus was a friend of mine. But now here I stand, his decaying punchline.”  There is a wonderful humor to this song, yet it has something important to say: “For God’s sake, think about somebody else/Try to feel just how they felt/I promise you, you won’t break,” the lines the song leaves us with.

Earlier I mentioned how I love that this band asks questions. Well, the lyrics to “Witness Me” are almost entirely questions. This is a song that reaches out, a song of need and vulnerability. “Will you witness me, will you witness me?/Will you spare me the shame of asking and witness me?” And it features some nice work on both harmonica and pedal steel, giving it the feel of longing, contrasting with the mandolin. As with the first side, the second side concludes with a track that utilizes elements far outside of folk, this one with electronic sounds and a steady, mechanical-type beat. Titled “My Business,” it has some interesting pauses and breaths too. And, as with all of this band’s songs, it features some really good lyrics. “It’s breaking up the capillaries under my skin/It feels good for an hour, so I’ll do it again/I’m tired all the time/When I’m alone, I just lose my mind.” Those last two lines certainly speak to us in this crazy time of isolation amid a pandemic. I hope we’ll meet on the other side of this craziness soon. At the end of the song, the voice seems to come from some other plane. “There is no other way through this.”

Record Track List

Side A

  1. This Life Must Be Long
  2. Outer Rings
  3. Buckle
  4. Carry On

Side B

  1. Awareness
  2. Clean Break
  3. Witness Me
  4. My Business

This Life Must Be Long was released on December 4, 2020.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Steve Goodman: “It Sure Looked Good On Paper: The Steve Goodman Demos” (2021) CD Review

Steve Goodman, a widely influential singer and songwriter, wrote and recorded a lot of excellent material, though he will probably always be known primarily for writing “City Of New Orleans,” which was a hit for Arlo Guthrie. Steve Goodman included his own version of that song on his debut, self-titled album. A different version of that song is the first track on the new release, It Sure Looked Good On Paper: The Steve Goodman Demos. This disc contains seventy-six minutes of previously unreleased Steve Goodman recordings, a mix of solo demos and band demos. That’s right, nothing on this album was heard before, which is remarkable, especially considering that several previously unreleased tracks were included in the recent re-issues of his albums. A lot of these tracks are from early in Steve Goodman’s recording career, being demos of songs that would end up on his debut LP, but there are also some great tracks from the end of his career, including two songs intended for the soundtrack of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.

The disc opens with a full-band demo of “City Of New Orleans.” It is a wonderfully cheerful rendition, moving at a good pace, seeming just a bit faster than his originally released version. There is a cool bridge just past the halfway point, and a different ending. This track makes me want to hit the road, in a car if not a train, and wake up next to some beautiful vista. That’s followed by a solo demo of “The Sun & The Bridge,” a perfect choice, for it begins in the morning with the line “The sun rose over the bridge every morning.” This is a mellower, more introspective number, with some great lines like “Letting poets do all my thinking for me” and “I can’t stop my mind from rambling, so it goes.” “Climb The Hills To Dale” is another mellow track, though this one has the full band. There is a somber tone, and his delivery has a compelling sound. “And we’d walk down mountain paths together/Sharing dreams to last forever/But nevermore will I wander to that high and snowy hand/No more my love walks with me hand in hand.”

This disc includes a solo demo of “Jazzman,” a song that would be included on Steve Goodman’s debut album, this version having a very different vibe from that album version. I prefer this solo version. “Mama, I’m a jazzman trying a trick or two.” This is one of only a few songs on this release not written by Steve Goodman. It was written by Edward Holstein. That’s followed by a band demo of “Hands On Time.” These lines certainly feel like they’re speaking to us in the strange days: “But if there’s no fear, you can keep your head clear/And trouble won’t cloud up your mind/And you won’t get so lonely, with time on your hands/You have your hands on some time.”

The band demo of “Eight Ball Blues” included here has a different sound from the track that would be included on Steve Goodman’s self-titled LP, and again, I think this version is actually better. This is kind of a playful number. “And I wish I had the common sense to be satisfied with me/Is this the part where I came in, I’ve seen this show before/And I’ve had me a couple too many, but I think I can find the door.” There are a lot of lines that ought to bring a smile to your face. That’s followed by the demo of another song from his first album, “Would You Like To Learn To Dance,” this one a solo demo, with a sweet, tender and intimate sound and delivery. “Would you like to learn to love?/Well, that’s something else again/I can show you how to sing and smile and dance/But, oh, I have no keys to open your heart/No way that I could make you take the chance.”

It’s wonderful that this release includes so many tracks from the early days. “Turnpike Tom” is another song from that debut release. This solo demo version features some excellent work on guitar. The song’s last line, “And remember that you only fall for lies and stories when you really want to,” makes me ponder a large segment of this country’s population. A lot of folks must really want to be lied to, for they are still clinging to Trump’s soiled coattails.  And speaking of shady politics, that is followed by “Ballad Of Paul Powell,” though in the spoken word intro, Steve says “This song is called ‘When It’s Coupon-Clipping Time At The Racetrack, Baby Baby Baby, I’ll Come Shoeboxing Back To You.’” Hell, maybe things never change, for these lines seem to be speaking directly about that bum who oh-so-recently left the White House: “He swore to serve ‘em young, and he swore to serve ‘em old/And he swore to serve ‘em bullshit while he kept all the gold.” He is angrier in this song than in most, singing, “And I hope your coffin rusts/And you won’t be around to rob us/No, you won’t be around to rob us/No, you won’t come around to rob us anymore.”

“Yellow Coat” is yet another song from his debut album, this one a solo demo. This song feels like a personal letter, or perhaps phone call, sort of in the same vein as Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.”  Do your neighbors still complain a bit when the music gets too loud/Does your old cat still have to sleep up on the bed/Do you still walk around like your head was in the clouds.” The disc’s final track from that first album is “You Never Even Call Me By My Name,” a song co-written by John Prine and recorded by David Allan Coe. This is a solo demo version. “You don’t have to call me darling, darling/But you never even call me by my name.” And, yes, it includes that spoken word section where he mentions Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride and Merle Haggard. That is followed by solo demos of two songs that would be included on Steve Goodman’s 1972 LP Somebody Else’s Troubles – “The Dutchman,” which was written by Michael Smith, and “Song For David.”

Steve Goodman wrote a lot of excellent lyrics. Check out these lines from “Kiss Me Goodbye Again”: “And I wanted to stay but was scared of the sorrow/Your beauty had brought to the room/I was waiting around for times to get worse/Before they got better and I found/That all I was doing was dragging us down to the ground.” This track is one of my personal favorites. It is followed by a cover of “The Auctioneer,” a song written by Leroy Van Dyke and Buddy Black. This song was included on the compilation No Big Surprise: The Steve Goodman Anthology, released in 1994, and on Live ’69, which was released last year. The version here is a solo demo, a studio recording. Then we get “Six Pack,” a song about someone who races cars and has a wandering soul. “I fell in love a time or two, but no one’s ever found a way to make me stay/And every time I settled down, the sound of roaring engines took my mind away/I never needed anyone, and I was sure that no one needed me.” This song was written for the 1980 film Used Cars, but not used.

Two songs on this disc were written for the 1982 Steve Martin film Dead Man Don’t Wear Plaid (a movie I loved as a kid, but haven’t revisited). Neither song ended up being used in the film. The first is titled “Dead Man Don’t Wear Plaid,” and in this one Steve Goodman sings “They never take an educated guess/Dead men don’t wear plaid/They’re always late for dinner/Because dead man can’t remember your address.” It also features a bit of whistling at the end. I love this song, and wonder why it wasn’t included in the film. I need to watch that movie again. “Face On The Cutting Room Floor” is the second track written for that movie, and it too is a totally delightful number. “No one will give her a star on the walk/She’d have a hundred if pillows could talk/Where have I seen her before/She’s the face on the cutting room floor.” That’s followed by the album’s title track, “It Sure Looked Good On Paper.” This one had me laughing before the song even started, with that spoken word introduction. He tells us: “I have one verse and the chorus. This doesn’t have to be the first verse. In fact, it would be better if it wasn’t.” And halfway through the song, he hums along with the guitar. “So there’s that one,” he says at the end. Then he adds, “Help.” The album concludes with “The Water Is Wide,” a song that was included on Artistic Hair. This is another that Steve Goodman did not write. The version here, a solo demo, is quite a bit longer than that album version.

CD Track List

  1. City Of New Orleans
  2. The Sun & The Bridge
  3. Climb The Hills To Dale
  4. Jazzman
  5. Hands On Time
  6. Eight Ball Blues
  7. Would You Like To Learn Do Dance
  8. Turnpike Tom
  9. Ballad Of Paul Powell
  10. Yellow Coat
  11. You Never Even Call Me By My Name
  12. The Dutchman
  13. Song For David
  14. Kiss Me Goodbye Again
  15. The Auctioneer
  16. Six Pack
  17. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid
  18. Face On The Cutting Room Floor
  19. It Sure Looked Good On Paper
  20. The Water Is Wide

It Sure Looked Good On Paper: The Steve Goodman Demos is scheduled to be released on May 14, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Jerry Garcia Band: “Garcia Live Volume 11” (2019) CD Review

There have been very few official releases from the last few years of Jerry Garcia’s life. At that time, the Grateful Dead seemed to be struggling a bit. Folks have claimed that their last great run was the Boston 1991 series of shows. I was there, and, yes, all six shows were fantastic. However, after that there were still plenty of great moments, even magical, life-changing moments, and some excellent shows. But a spectacular tour or run of shows was basically a thing of the past. And much of that was due to Jerry Garcia’s declining health.  Yet, during those years, for whatever reason, the Jerry Garcia Band shows seemed as strong as ever. Perhaps it was because the scene wasn’t as crazy, and Jerry felt less pressure. Who knows? Volume 11 in the Garcia Live series contains the complete show that the Jerry Garcia Band performed on November 11, 1993 in Providence, Rhode Island.

Disc 1

The first disc contains the complete first set. The band kicks off the first set with “Cats Under The Stars,” always a good choice for show opener, with that fun groove and lines like “I ain’t ready yet to go to bed/Think I’ll take a walk downtown instead.” And this is a pretty good version. The jam isn’t spectacular, but it is solid. After all, this is just the beginning, to pull the crowd together and get ‘em dancing. Those backing vocals sound so good. It’s followed by one of my all-time favorite Jerry Garcia songs, “Mission In The Rain.” I was always drawn to his slower, more sorrowful, soulful songs, and in the later years, those were the songs that seemed to really shine the most often, the songs where the magic was most likely to happen. And this song is certainly a highlight of the first set. Jerry really gets into it vocally almost from the start. And his guitar has moments of great beauty.  All the things I planned to do, I only did halfway.” This is an excellent rendition.

Things get fun again with a cover of “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” one of those delicious, somewhat reluctant declarations of love, which Jerry handles so well. And I love Melvin Seals’ lead here, which spirals up from the ground into the skies and then brings us back down again, before catching fire. And then Jerry’s voice sounds so damn good and smooth and soulful at the beginning of Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist Of Fate,” with just a bit of ache. Again, it is these slower songs where Jerry is at his best. His guitar has a fluid quality, like it is reaching at you from under the waves of a clear blue ocean. Sure, Jerry forgets the lyrics at one point, and interestingly comes back with the line “And forgot about that simple twist of fate.” Perfect. Those moments worked just as well to bring everyone together. The bass lead by John Kahn is a little weird, a bit jarring at first, but this is still one of the set’s highlights, and it ends gloriously.

Jerry then leads the group into a fun and groovy version of “Ain’t No Bread In The Breadbox,” featuring some delicious harmonies on the chorus. “Open up your eyes, little darling/It’s time to move along.” And this track certainly gets us moving and shaking. We then get into gospel territory with “My Sisters And Brothers,” another song I remember the crowds always enjoying. “Through this world of trouble, we’ve got to love one another.” And this song reminds us that “We’re only passing through.” Indeed. The band then wraps up the first set with a good version of “Deal.”

Disc 2

The second disc contains the complete second set. Jerry opens the second set with a sweet, slow, kind of mellow rendition of “The Way You Do The Things You Do.” They really ease into the second set with this cover, and even the jam has something of a laid-back quality. Then approximately ten minutes in, there is a great, jazzy section, with Melvin and Jerry interacting wonderfully. That section is what really stands out in this version. Absolutely magnificent stuff. And there is a cool vocal section at the end. Unlike the first set, this set contains no original material, and the band follows “The Way You Do The Things You Do” with a cover of Van Morrison’s “He Ain’t Give You None,” Jerry giving a really good, passionate vocal performance, and taking us to a wonderful place. Then during the jam, Melvin delivers some great stuff on keys, and the song takes on a pleasant, cheerful vibe.

I love the way Jerry Garcia handles “Dear Prudence,” adding so much to the original Beatles version, giving it a great, soulful quality. This is a beautiful rendition, though honestly I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anything less from Jerry on this song. The jam gathers a good amount of energy. The song then slows down at the end, and instead of returning to the chorus, leads straight into “When The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game,” written by Smokey Robinson. Jerry gets into the emotional core of the song, giving us an earnest rendition.

Jerry then takes the group into “Don’t Let Go,” a song that was always appreciated and usually got the crowd excited, for it has a great groove, a lot of energy, and usually plenty of space for jamming. I totally dig David Kemper’s work on drums. Does Jerry forget the lyrics at one point? No matter, this is a really good version, and, as you’d expect, it features some excellent jamming, with things getting loose at moments, even drifting into spacey territory. Basically, everything we could want. They then wrap up the show with “Midnight Moonlight,” a song from Jerry’s bluegrass days with Old & In The Way. The song, written by Peter Rowan, is a whole lot of fun, a cheerful number with uplifting energy and some nice work on keys, a great choice to send folks off into the night.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. Cats Under The Stars
  2. Mission In The Rain
  3. That’s What Love Will Make You Do
  4. Simple Twist Of Fate
  5. Ain’t No Bread In The Breadbox
  6. My Sisters And Brothers
  7. Deal

Disc 2

  1. The Way You Do The Things You Do
  2. He Ain’t Give You None
  3. Dear Prudence >
  4. When The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game
  5. Don’t Let Go
  6. Midnight Moonlight

Garcia Live Volume 11 was released on May 23, 2019.

Monday, April 12, 2021

James Houlahan: “Ordinary Eye” (2020) CD Review

In these strange and often ugly times, we turn to songwriters to help us make sense of it all, to help us process what we’re seeing, and to let us know we are not alone in whatever it is we are experiencing and feeling. James Houlahan proves himself once again to be a talented and relevant songwriter on his latest release, Ordinary Eye. This follows his 2018 album, The Wheel Still In Spin, and as on that one, here he is joined by Fernando Perdomo on keyboards, bass and acoustic guitar; Danny Frankel on drums and percussion; and Esther Clark on vocals. On this album he is also joined by the incredible Scarlet Rivera on violin. You know her from her work with Bob Dylan and several other artists, as well as from her own solo career. Ordinary Eye features all original material, written by James Houlahan, songs to help us face and deal with these times. By the way, the CD’s cover art work is also perfect for our times – on a turbulent sea, full of sharks and a mermaid beckoning him to his doom, with his boat damaged and about to go down, the man is reclining on a giant record, seemingly saved by music. That’s how it has felt for many of us for more than a year now, with new releases like this one keeping us relatively sane in a crazy and dangerous world.

With a title like “As It Is,” I was expecting the album’s opening track to be about giving up to an extent, like that oft-heard sentence “It is what it is.” And indeed, when this one starts, there is an air of melancholy, its opening line being “There’s a dark cloud over everything.” But he follows that line with these: “But I’ve got the guts to stand here and sing/A song that won’t change a thing/A simple dream of love for everything/As it is.” Yes, it is about acceptance, but not necessarily about giving up. And so it is an important song for us to listen to these days, when even acceptance is, or seems, a difficult and bitter thing. To look honestly and openly at all that surrounds us, to take in the truth. There is something comforting in this song. “All I want for now is clarity/To behold everything that I see/As it is.” Then some wonderful work by Scarlet Rivera on violin opens the second track, “Tomorrow’s Had Enough Of Me” (a title I love, by the way), and her presence is appreciated throughout the track. This song has a sweet and gentle sound and vibe. “All these days march by like soldiers/Searching for another war.” A more cheerful, peppy groove is established at the beginning of “Tehachapi Dust,” a fun song that might get you moving and smiling. I really love that work on drums. “Hit a bit of bad air/Gave us all a shake/Thought maybe I’d sleep/But I stayed awake.”

“Eye Of The Storm” opens with the depressing line “The bottle’s almost empty,” and the picture painted in these lyrics is of a lonely man at a bar at the end of the night. Yet, it does become encouraging and optimistic soon enough, as he drifts in his mind: “Dream about the leap/I’ll take with you/Where we fly/Through hurricane sky/Searching for the eye/Where I’ll see you once again.” I also really like that instrumental section toward the end, particularly that work on guitar. That’s followed by “What Is Our Love,” which has a pleasant rhythm, accompanied by more wonderful work on violin. “It’s more efficient to be without pain,” James Houlahan sings at this beginning of this one. Yes, another compelling opening line. He also sings, “It’s not productive to wander alone.” Interesting, his choice of words, for “efficient” and “productive” are not words you’d expect in a song about love. There is also something playful in his references to smart phones and drones. And the album’s cover comes to mind when I hear the lines “You’ve got me feeling this will all blow over/A heart-wrecked sailor brought to land.”

“Down In The Mud” has a darker, bluesy sound. Its opening lines are “My world is burning in a way it’s never been/Our world is burning, and the flames are closing in.” There is a glorious and shared pain and ache in his voice. Just listen to his delivery of lines like “I can feel it in my blood” and “I’m kneeling down in the mud.” This track also features some effective, plaintive guitar work. James returns to a folk sound on “Walking Through The Fire,” which features more good work on violin. “And the places we’ve yet to see/And the people we’ve yet to be/As the flames they grow higher and higher/Walking through the fire.”

In Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut wrote that many people are desperately in need of the message, “You are not alone.” That feels truer these days than ever before. In “You Are Not Alone,” James Houlahan sings, “Getting sick of all the daily hatred/Weary of all the constant lies/Wondering where is our sense of justice/You want it there right before your eyes/I want you to know you are not alone.” And yes, this song has the soothing and uplifting effect we are looking for. And at the end, a whistle announces a different section, dominated by some cool percussion, making us feel that we are on the edge of change. That’s followed by “The Jailer,” an interesting and unusual track in which he sings “Stop thinking about the jailer/Stop thinking about the time.” Then “All These Blues” is a beautiful and moving song with a strong vocal performance. “All that dreaming we can’t have back/Cast my worries to the seven winds/Roll my dice with a hand that wins/And if I lose, I’ll be back again.”

Scarlet Rivera delivers more wonderful work and expressive on violin on “On My Own,” a song that has a bit of a Neil Young vibe. The album then concludes with “Writ In Water,” a strange and engaging song. The beat sometimes has a New Orleans flavor, like a celebration, yet the song also has a blues feel, with a raw delivery. James Houlahan certainly keeps things interesting. This track also provides the album with its title in the lines, “There’s a subtle cry for morning/Rising to my ears/Promising freedom/From popular fears/There’s a mighty ghost howling/Through a skeleton of years/Ordinary eye/Diamond tears.”

CD Track List

  1. As It Is
  2. Tomorrow’s Had Enough Of Me
  3. Tehachapi Dust
  4. Eye Of The Storm
  5. What Is Our Love
  6. Down In The Mud
  7. Walking Through The Fire
  8. You Are Not Alone
  9. The Jailer
  10. All These Blues
  11. On My Own
  12. Writ In Water

Ordinary Eye was released on November 20, 2020.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Babyflow: “Oblivious” (2021) Vinyl Review

What strange times we live in, eh? I’m sure I’m not the only one who is completely exhausted by the pandemic, tired of wearing a mask, and even more sick of the lingering idiocy of the Republican Party, which is still residing somewhere in Donald Trump’s lower intestine. Well, a sticker on the plastic wrap of Oblivious, the debut vinyl release from Babyflow, announces the album is “Your indie solution to your Covid Trump hangover.” Perfect. We need that. Babyflow is the project of Anthony W. Rogers, and this album follows his 2018 release One Day (A Journal). Like that album, this one is wonderfully quirky and raw, and does not shy away from addressing our current troubles and those who are, at least partially, responsible. Some of the tracks are humorous commercials for things like no-test health insurance and invisible masks, for while we often have the urge these days to scream, it is usually better to laugh. Anthony W. Rogers provides most of the vocals and plays most of the instruments, but does get some help from Blake Rogers, Joe Rogers, Aaron Liller, and Sean Liller, along with a couple of guests on certain tracks.

Side 1

The album opens with “Daddy Got Played,” which begins with a bit of a recording of Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager who was, like everyone else in the Trump world, caught in a lie. In the clip, he doesn’t deny lying, but rather claims, “I have no obligation to be honest with the media because they’re just as dishonest as anybody else.” This is a playful, yet dark, opening track about how people fall for certain things, and how ethics have disappeared from a certain segment of the population that laughably continues to claim some sort of moral high ground. Bryson Bush joins Anthony W. Rogers on this track on trumpet, percussion and backing vocals. That’s followed by “Substitute For Science,” a kind of strange, cool instrumental track written by Blake Rogers and Anthony Rogers.

Before One Day (A Journal), Anthony W. Rogers released an album titled Wrong. This was in 2015. A title track was written for that release, but ended up not being included. Now he has recorded a new version of the song for this release. It has something of a catchy pop-rock sound. “But me, I never thought they’d ever try to leave/No one else I’d seen venture to try/They just go from shit job to shit job/Lose confidence, ambition, and they want to get high.” We then get the first advertisement of the album, “Covid Beach,” calling kids to come down to a super spreader event. This track, which has a delightful surf sound, is a song for all those selfish bastards to whom spring break is more important than the health and safety of anyone they know or meet. Check out these lines: “Everybody’s always trying to tell you what to do/You can’t make me wear anything/Even if it’s killing you.” And there is a spoken word section: “Make your way on down to Covid Beach/Where food and rides for the week are fifty percent off/While masks are a hundred percent off at Covid Beach.” I am also reminded of that asshole Kirk Cameron and his fellow cult members who decided to hold their own super spreader events, gathering at parking lots and beaches in southern California and singing without wearing masks.

The fun continues with “Greaser,” one of only two tracks on the album not written or co-written by Anthony W. Rogers. It was written by Jon Johnson and Sean Liller. This is a glorious unabashed rock tune with kind of a raw sound and a certain sense of humor, along with some serious guitar. Bryson Bush and Pierce Miller join Anthony W. Rogers on this one. That’s followed by the second commercial, “3 For $12.99.” The sticker on the record’s shrink wrap lists the title as “Bleach Tabs 3 For $12.99,” so you know exactly what he’s singing about here. This one was written by Blake Rogers and Anthony W. Rogers. Oh, so many of our problems would have been solved if only all of Trump’s supporters had followed his suggestion to inject themselves with bleach.

Side 2

The second side opens with an oddly pretty and intriguing instrumental track composed by Blake Rogers titled “William Burns.” In 1907, William Burns, a black man, was lynched in Cumberland, Maryland. Racism continues to be a deadly problem in this country, as the current attacks on Asian citizens and Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd so clearly show. This track has a different sound from the rest of the album, helping it stand out. It is the second of the two tracks not written or co-written by Anthony W. Rogers. Then the “Invisible Mask” commercial comes on like a 1960s rock song, poking fun at dipshits who believed the Trump lie that the pandemic was a hoax. But for those who want to appear to be following Trump’s lead but still want to be safe, the invisible mask is available.  Hurry, order, the supply is limited/No one’s ever, ever going to know/It’s just like an empty box.”

“Wish Away” (or “Wish Myself Away,” as it listed on the back of the record jacket) will likely appeal to a lot of folks, as we deal with isolation and remember our lives before the pandemic. Things have changed, and they may not go back to the way they were before, so we have to come up with alternatives. We have to find better ways. This track becomes a cool jam, like something Neil Young might have recorded in the very late 1960s. That’s followed by another of the commercials, this one titled “NTHI,” standing for “No test health insurance.” This has a strange, humorously dark and ominous sound. “No test health insurance, the simplest way/You never have a diagnostic test, no way.” This one was written by Anthony W. Rogers, Blake Rogers and Aaron Liller.

“Listen” is one of my personal favorites. It is a song concerning the Black Lives Matter movement, and how some people claim or choose ignorance. Are those who say “All lives matter” deliberately missing the point? Well, this track has a very cool sound. That’s followed by the final advertisement of the album, “Karen For Hire.” I have to say I’m not a fan of using a person’s name to describe a type of person. That being said, this is a fun track. The record concludes with “Rain Cloud,” a surprisingly sweet and optimistic number. Well, we need this, don’t we?

Record Track List

Side 1

  1. Daddy Got Played
  2. Substitute For Science
  3. Wrong
  4. Covid Beach
  5. Greaser
  6. 3 For $12.99

Side 2

  1. William Burns
  2. Invisible Mask
  3. Wish Away
  4. NTHI
  5. Listen
  6. Karen For Hire
  7. Rain Cloud

Oblivious was released on January 1, 2021 on Wildflow Records, in a limited edition of only 250 copies. It is also available digitally, but it’s best to pick up a copy of the record.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Nicole Heartseeker & Mulo Francel: “Forever Young” (2021) CD Review

Classical music meets jazz in Forever Young, the wonderful new release from saxophonist Mulo Francel and pianist Nicole Heartseeker. The music takes us to a different age, one that perhaps never really existed, but one that music lovers will be thrilled to visit. On this album, the two musicians cover music by Bach, Handel and Schubert, or rather they cover themes from those composers, adding their own style and spin to them. The arrangements are by Mulo Francel, and both Francel and Heartseeker produced the album. As far as I can tell, this is only the duo’s second album together, following 2009’s Angel Affair, on which Nicole Heartseeker plays organ.

The album opens with a beautiful piece, “Delight Inside,” an improvisation on Giulio Caccini’s “Ave Maria.” Mulo Francel begins this track with a solo, his work having a lonesome, yet pretty sound. Then Nicole Heartseeker’s piano work has a wonderful tenderness and seems to express some sorrow. Her work has an introspective quality, while Mulo Francel seems to reach out.  The combination is captivating, an excellent start to the album. They then move to Bach’s “Sinfonia In F Major,” delivering a gentle, soothing, pleasant rendition. That is followed by “The Wide Point,” the musicians’ take on George Frideric Handel’s “Larghetto.” This is an interesting duet, with an expressive yearning from Mulo Francel.

“Our Serenade,” based on Franz Schubert’s “Ständchen,” begins with piano. This track starts in a rather mournful, dark place, a city at night, but soon grows and rises to become a passionate and even uplifting piece with its own tender and loving quality, particularly in the work on saxophone. This is one of my personal favorite tracks, and the touching theme will likely be familiar to most people, even those without much interest in classical and romantic music. That’s followed by “Mia Bella.” While most of the pieces on this album are based on the work of classical composers, this track is actually an original piece by Mulo Francel. And on this one he plays mandolin as well as saxophone, the sound conjuring images of a European café outside of time, a romantic setting. I love music that can transport us, as this piece does. This one ends up being another of my favorites.

“Let Me Weep” begins with some wonderful solo work on saxophone. It is nearly a minute before Nicole Heartseeker joins him on piano. This is an improvisation on another piece by Handel, the gorgeous and powerful “Lascia Ch’io Pianga,” this track featuring some stirring moments. Nicole Heartseeker and Mulo Francel then offer a beautiful rendition of Jules Massenet’s “Ouvre Tes Yeux Bleus.” There is something both magical and relaxing about the way they present this song, taking us to a dreamlike world where there is no danger or harm, only kindness. Listening to this piece, I feel my cares and worries evaporate. And speaking of dreamlike, that track is followed by a piece that bears the title “Dreamlike,” and is an improvisation on a composition by Schumann, “Träumerei,” which translates to “reverie” or “daydream.” And yes, there is that sense, that element to this one too, though in a way this one seems more grounded. It feels of another time, yes, but more a memory, though enhanced through fondness, than a dream.

“Enlarged Heart,” an improvisation of one of Vivaldi’s sonatas for cello, has a sweet sound, an optimistic and romantic vibe. If you need music to help you remove yourself, even momentarily, from the current troubles and pains, I encourage you to check out this album. “Enlarged Heart” is followed by “Walking Far,” a gorgeous improvisation on Marcello and Bach’s “Adagio” that has the engaging sense of heartache and passion you’d hope for. It is stunningly beautiful and moving. You might find yourself holding your breath at moments, as you let the piece take over. Also incredibly moving right from its start is “Lazy Days,” an improvisation on “Prelude Op. 11 No. 1,” composed by Anatoli Konstantinovich Ljadow. They follow that with a second composition from Jules Massenet, “Elégie,” this one having quite a different vibe from the other piece, with a darker, more mournful sound. Then their rendition of “‘A Vucchella” is playful, light and totally enjoyable. This one had me smiling within just a few seconds. It is a delight, the two musicians engaging in a dance that seems to lift both them and us right off the ground, like angels who don’t take heaven too seriously.

While the album began with an improvisation on Caccini’s “Ave Maria,” Nicole Heartseeker and Mulo Francel also deliver a wonderful rendition of Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla’s “Ave Maria.” They then return to the work of Handel with a moving and beautiful version of “Minuet In G Minor,” another of the disc’s highlights. That’s followed by an excellent rendition of Gabriel Fauré’s “Après Un Rêve,” returning to the theme of dreams and daydreams. And who doesn’t wish to enter into a world of dreams in these days when reality is so hazardous, particularly a romantic dream?  This track has a more urgent feel to it, rather than that sense of lightly, lovingly drifting through a hazy realm. This excellent album concludes with a second piece composed by Astor Piazzolla, “Oblivion,” a beautiful piece tinged with the sadness of forgetting.

CD Track List

  1. Delight Inside
  2. Sinfonia In F Major
  3. The Wide Point
  4. Our Serenade
  5. Mia Bella
  6. Let Me Weep
  7. Ouvre Tes Yeux Bleus
  8. Dreamlike
  9. Enlarged Heart
  10. Walking Far
  11. Lazy Days
  12. Elégie
  13. ‘A Vucchella
  14. Ave Maria
  15. Minuet In G Minor
  16. Après Un Rêve
  17. Oblivion

Forever Young was released on March 26, 2021.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Maia Sharp: “Mercy Rising” (2021) CD Review

Maia Sharp is a singer and songwriter, currently based in Nashville, where her new album, Mercy Rising, was recorded. You might be familiar with Maia Sharp’s material, even if you haven’t listened to her solo albums, for her songs have also been recorded by Bonnie Raitt, David Wilcox, Edwin McCain, Trisha Yearwood, Lisa Loeb, and Cher, among others. She’s also played on an Art Garfunkel album (along with Buddy Mondlock). Her new album features all original material, written or co-written by Maia Sharp. On this release she is joined by Joshua Grange on electric guitar, Will Honaker on bass, and Ross McReynolds on drums, along with some other guests on certain tracks.

The album opens with its title track, “Mercy Rising,” which eases in, its opening giving us the sense that we’ve stepped onto a strange landscape, partially obscured by a haze. As our eyes adjust, or rather our ears, a guitar emerges, a familiar sign of humanity in the distance. Then Maia Sharp’s vocals are a welcome friend in this place. “I’ve been counting constellations/And I’m still waiting on mercy rising/You slipped between my fingers/But you never slipped my heart/Some otherworldly pull/Won’t let us drift apart.” The song takes on a certain beauty, aided by the strings by Chris Carmichael. And I love that moment when Maia’s vocals build in power toward the end, reaching some glorious spot, taking us with her. She also plays guitar and piano on this track, and is joined by Mindy Smith and Peter Groenwald on backing vocals. Mindy Smith also co-wrote the song with Maia Sharp. Then “You’ll Know Who Knows You” establishes a nice groove at the start, quickly distinguishing it from the opening track. Not that this one doesn’t possess its own particular beauty, for it does, mostly in its chorus. And check out these lines: “I won’t shy away from your shadows/We’ll tell our story to the walls/You won’t have to tell me how to spend my time/Heartbeat saying everything I need to hear/Loud like a cannonball.” This one was written by Maia Sharp and Emily Kopp.

“Nice Girl” is a sweet-sounding song with the great line, “You’re going to make some nice girl miserable someday,” which is delivered with a certain amount of love, which only makes the line even more striking. In part because of that line, this song is one of my personal favorites. There are plenty of other memorable lyrics in this song, such as these lines: “You can’t make a river stop thinking about the sea/And you can’t change somebody who doesn’t want to change/And you can’t take forever too seriously.” This one was written by Park Chisolm and Maia Sharp, and features Gabe Dixon joining on organ. That’s followed by “When The World Doesn’t End,” which has an interesting pulse, a sound and song of the city. “I put a little makeup on to reinvent myself/Checking every subway car to see if you are there.” This is another of the disc’s highlights. Joshua Grange plays steel guitar as well as electric guitar on this one, and P.J. Pacifico, who co-wrote the song, joins Maia Sharp on vocals. “So what do you do when the world doesn’t end/When the world doesn’t end/I think of all the stupid things we did/Building up that wasted emotion/And we ran away like scared little kids/Ran out of words, and nobody would have heard anyway.”

“Whatever We Are” features some beautiful work by Joshua Grange on steel guitar, and by Chris Carmichael on strings. Yet it is Maia Sharp’s vocal delivery that really makes this track something special. I particularly love her delivery of the line “I love you, whatever we are,” the way she dips into her lower register at the end of the line. This track features some wonderful lines, such as “Two airplanes flying uncomfortably close” (a great image and metaphor) and “Changing the station, or singing along/In the back of my mind, or the back of your car.” Yes, this is another of my favorites. “You’ll make me better, and you’ll break my heart.” Then “Things To Fix” has a bit of a pop flavor. The lyrics are some I think many of us will be able to relate to: “No, there ain’t enough hours in the day/To patch it up and dust it off and make it all okay/What I should have said and what I should have done/Yeah, I keep skipping over number one/On my list of things to fix.” Wow, those are excellent lines. I myself make a list of things to do each day, and yeah, sometimes those little things might get done, but the important, big jobs remain unaccomplished, and time keeps flying by. Check out these lines: “Every time the second hand ticks/I think of something else I might have missed/Oh, the list is getting longer/And I’m running out of breath.” This exceptional song was co-written by Noah Guthrie, who also provides backing vocals.

“Nowhere Together” begins with an intimate, tender sound, and soon kicks in. It’s a wonderful love song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Take the fear with the freedom/Won’t miss the world I’m leaving/Nowhere is somewhere when I go there with you.” Cyd Greenwood, who co-wrote the song, joins Maia Sharp on vocals. This one reminds me at times of Aimee Mann, especially that instrumental section in the second half. That’s followed by “Missions.” When this one begins, we find ourselves on the road, its opening lines being: “You wake up and ask am I doing okay, can I keep driving/As if you could take over if I said no/I tell you I got it, you fall back asleep because you trust me/That’s what keeps me awake, that’s what keeps my eyes open.” Now that is completely beautiful, and yet also hints at something darker. And things are not as wonderful as we first might be led to believe, for she soon sings, “And I feel more alone than if you hadn’t come/You whisper to thank me for powering through/And I hate that I love you this much.” Then, than halfway through, the song goes to another level, becoming more powerful. The album concludes with “Always Good To See You,” yet another of the its highlights. I love the way it builds. And check out these lines: “And the ripple tends to find a shore if I know what I’m watching for/The ordinary becomes a very big deal/When I hear myself say what I wish that I’d said then/When I find a little meaning in the mess/I am still amazed at your ways of checking in.” The line “And it always breaks my heart, and it makes my day” touches on a similar idea and feeling as the line “It’s making me better, and it’s breaking my heart” from “Whatever We Are.”

CD Track List

  1. Mercy Rising
  2. You’ll Know Who Knows You
  3. Backburner
  4. Nice Girl
  5. When The World Doesn’t End
  6. Whatever We Are
  7. Things To Fix
  8. Junkyard Dog
  9. Not Your Friend
  10. Nowhere Together
  11. Missions
  12. Always Good To See You

Mercy Rising is scheduled to be released on May 7, 2021.