Monday, May 31, 2021

Scanner: “Horror Hits” (2020) CD Review

Scanner is a band that combines rock and punk music in original horror-themed songs, founded by vocalist and bassist Joe Brady and guitarist Junnie Fortney back in 1979. And for those keeping track, yes, that was two years before David Cronenberg’s Scanners was released. At that time, the band was called Toxic Shock. But as Joe Brady (Joseph Sirborg) tells it, he saw an article about Scanners in the magazine Fangoria about a year before the film came out, and was inspired to change the name of the band. The group broke up in the mid-1980s, and then reunited in 2012, primarily to record, but also to occasionally perform. They’ve put out several albums, including last year’s Horror Hits, this album featuring two drummers, Ray Hawkins and Troy Alwine, on different tracks. And joining the band on this album are Ken Matson on keyboards, and Leo “Doc” Dockery on backing vocals. The album features all original music.

Horror Hits opens with “Sideshow Train,” and right away I am digging that bass line, which promises some punk excitement. Like a lot of this band’s music, the song combines punk and rock. It is a song about a traveling sideshow. Do sideshows even exist anymore? I certainly hope so. Because, as they sing here, “It’s so good to be strange.” Then halfway through the track, they add more of a carnival sound, which is a cool and delightful touch. By the way, the group released a music video for this song, which features still photos from the sideshow world. “Passing through the towns in the night/Reflections of life in the lights/We’ll always live on the outside/We know we’ll never fit in.” That’s followed by “Membrane Men,” which also begins with a good bass line and is about some strange characters outside the normal scope of life, and the one person who encounters them. “Strange change membrane men, am I the only one who sees?/Strange change membrane men, and here they come again/Strange change membrane men, flying inside my brain.” Are they real, or is this song’s narrator possibly mad? Either way, it’s fun for us.

“Surfin’ Serpents” is an instrumental track. As you might guess from its title, there is a bit of a surf sound here. But it is certainly more rock than surf, with some really good work on guitar. If you’re out there in the water with these serpents, be careful. Then “Just Like Bela” is a hard rock number, sung from the perspective of someone who is alone and may be demented, with delusions of dark powers. Or possibly he does possess them. Who knows? “The world wants to put me away/I will be its master one day.” This song was also included on an earlier Scanner release, Splat. “Just Like Bela” is followed by “Frankenstein’s Flivver,” a great, solid rock and roll song, with a delicious energy, particularly in that guitar work. The song is a lot of fun, as you might have guessed from the title. Yeah, Dr. Frankenstein didn’t only create his monster, but also a car, and the race is on.  Of course, the line “Frankie made a man” also reminds me of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

It is no surprise that a song titled “Splat” ends up being fun, and when the line is delivered, it feels sort of like those words splashing across the screen in the old Batman television show. And in this song, its title “Splat” is its only lyric, like “Tequila” or The Neptunas’ “Shark Tooth Necklace.” This song was also included on an earlier Scanner album, the title track to a 2016 release. That’s followed by “TV Light,” which isn’t necessarily a horror-themed song. I suppose it depends on what sort of television shows are on at the time. “I’ve gone inside the TV light/Walk inside a new dimension/Journeys lost in space and time/Dreams and wishes always coming true/A life inside the TV light.” Then comes “Under The Devil’s Tail.” A cool punk bass line and a great rock guitar line grab us right away, along with a good pounding beat. “I dare not look away/As the devil plays his hand/The ace of bloody skulls/Is a full house of the damned.” Ah, can you ever hope to win a game you play with the devil?  I want this song to be featured in some delicious low-budget video nasty.

The guys are clearly having a great time with “Switchblades And Leather,” particularly on vocals. Nothing serious here, just a lot of fun. Here we delve into a midnight horror film, and switchblades and leather might be in the film, or on those who are attending the film. It’s all combined at that hour anyway, right? “Night goes on and on/Switchblades and leather is the uniform/Walk down to the river’s edge/Switchblades and leather in your head.” This song, like the album’s first track, mentions a sideshow. The album then concludes with “Witches’ Moon” “In the light of the witches' moon/In the ghoulish, blue-white glow/Where the spirits sing and play/In the light of the witches' moon.” It’s like the darker side of “By The Light Of The Silvery Moon.”  

CD Track List

  1. Sideshow Train
  2. Membrane Men
  3. Surfin’ Serpents
  4. Just Like Bela
  5. Frankenstein’s Flivver
  6. Splat
  7. TV Light
  8. Under The Devil’s Tail
  9. Switchblades And Leather
  10. Witches’ Moon

Horror Hits was released on September 1, 2020. It’s never too early to start planning your Halloween play list. And besides, this album can help us celebrate that great holiday all year round.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Carrie Ferguson “The Grumpytime Club” (2021) CD Review

Who among us has not joined The Grumpytime Club at some point in the last year or so? The pandemic has affected all of us, adults and children alike, but singer and songwriter Carrie Ferguson offers some music to take us to a more cheerful place on her new children’s album The Grumpytime Club. This album features original material, written or co-written by Carrie Ferguson. In addition to providing the lead vocals, she plays melodica, piano, accordion and ukulele. She is joined by Garrett Sawyer on organ, bass, guitar, cuatro, banjo, percussion and backing vocals. In addition, there are several guest musicians on various tracks. Though this is a children’s album, it is not an album that is just for children. This music should appeal to folks of all ages, for though it contains some important messages for children, those messages are not delivered in a heavy-handed or condescending way. Rather there is a great sense of play here. Positive vibes abound, which we all are in need of.  And besides, adults could use reminders of these messages and ideas too.

The album opens with “Cat And Piggy,” which has a gentle and sweet bluegrass sound. This is a song that offers some good advice from different animals, and to other animals (and to any humans who might happen to be listening). “And if you get to the river, and the bridge is down/Or you come to a mountain and there’s no way around/You’ve got to find a new way to figure it out/That’s what it’s all about.” And like many bluegrass songs, there are some good instrumental sections. Jim Henry joins Carrie Ferguson on mandolin on this track, and Peter Siegel plays arch top guitar. J.J. O’Connell is on drums and percussion. “Cat And Piggy” is followed by “The Puppy Song (You And I).” This is the song that got me interested in this album. Its chorus is deliriously and wonderfully insane, and is guaranteed to make you smile. And if you sing along loudly enough, there is a decent chance you’ll be carted away. Here are the lyrics: “Puppy, puppy, puppy, puppy, puppy, puppy, puppy, puppy, puppy, puppy, puppy, puppy/Doggy, doggy, doggy, doggy.” My girlfriend already got a little tired of me singing it to her, but maybe that was because she was at work. Anyway, somewhere in the middle there is a break, with the sound of someone snoring, though, again, if you sing this loudly enough, no one will be able to sleep for blocks and blocks. Jim Armenti plays clarinet, and Samara Sawyer plays trombone on this delightful track. And Carrie Ferguson gets a lot of help on vocals. Then “Mishy Mashy Mushy Mooshy Moo” is another wonderfully goofy and adorable song, this one featuring Samara Sawyer on trombone, and Sarah Fischer on trumpet.

On the album’s title track, “The Grumpytime Club,” Carry Ferguson sings “At The Grumpytime Club, we use grumpy voices/Play grumpy games and make grumpy choices/And nobody tells us to lower our voices/Down at the Grumpytime Club.” I can’t help but totally love this song. And it might surprise you to learn that “It’s the most relaxing place in town/Down at The Grumpytime Club.” It’s about being able to feel negative, without feeling bad about feeling bad, you know?  You’re among friends, so it’s okay, and they’re ready with a hug if you need it. I particularly like these lines: “If you’re feeling cranky, or angry and mean/Stressed and depressed, somewhere in between/There’s somewhere you should be seen/It’s down at The Grumpytime Club/Feeling resentful, defensive and mad/Kinda shut down, a little bit sad.” There is some really nice work on guitar in the second half. That’s followed by one of the absolute strongest songs on the album, “Tavi’s Song,” for which Carrie Ferguson won First Place in the 2020 New England Songwriting Competition. It’s a beautiful and cool number, and features some excellent work by Garrett Sawyer on cuatro and guitar. I also like that work on accordion.  The overall sound of this song is incredibly appealing. “And somewhere in the darkness/Comes a song that’s just for you/Go sliding down a moonbeam/Through the window to your bed/Your father will sing you to sleep/Your mother strokes your head.”

“The Best Way To Be” carries a good message. “And I’m not afraid to be me/Because I’m the only one that I know how to be/And it’s plain to see/That the best way to be is to just be me.” And then in the second half we get some nice touches on trombone. Carrie Ferguson then delivers a rock and roll song, “Do It Again.” And, yeah, it’s fun. Here she gets some help from Amelia Sawyer, Samara Sawyer and Ajika Sawyer on vocals. The blending of their voices sounds great. The fun continues with “Up And Down,” which has a delicious New Orleans vibe, featuring a great horn section that includes tuba. Also, Garrett Sawyer plays banjo on this one. It’s a song in which parents try to coax their children to sleep, presenting a sort of conversation between parents and the children, who are not quite ready for bed. And to prove they aren’t ready, there is even a short drum solo near the end. The parents eventually win, and they too fall asleep, as we hear them snoring at the end (wait, is this the second song to feature snoring?). Joe Fitzpatrick is on drums and percussion, Nick Borges is on trumpet, Kat Rapacki is on trombone, William Choe is on tuba, and Jeff Fennell is on clarinet.

“Lend Me Your Glasses” is a pretty song about understanding different points of view, and letting each voice be heard. “We’ll try to see/All the points of view/Before we choose/What we want to do.” Normally, I would consider this a good message; however, these days there are people whose points of view should only be ridiculed or ignored, and not considered (looking at you, Marjorie Taylor Greene). That’s followed by another pretty song, “Aza’s Song,” with a vocal performance that is gentle and soothing and loving. “We remember when you were just a dream/We were waiting to welcome you here.” The album then concludes with “Hope Parade,” featuring more wonderful vocal work.

CD Track List

  1. Cat And Piggy
  2. The Puppy Song (You And I)
  3. Mishy Mashy Mushy Mooshy Moo
  4. The Grumpytime Club
  5. Tavi’s Song
  6. The Best Way To Be
  7. Do It Again
  8. Up And Down
  9. Lend Me Your Glasses
  10. Aza’s Song
  11. Hope Parade

The Grumpytime Club is scheduled to be released on June 11, 2021.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Soo Line Loons: “Soo Line Loons” (2021) CD Review

Soo Line Loons are based in Minneapolis, and are named after a railroad that runs through that city. The group formed only a couple of years ago, and in this short time, much of it dominated by a pandemic, has managed to record three albums. The second one, a wonderful, stripped down affair titled What Matters Now: The Quarantine Sessions, features this line in the title track: “All that matters now are the people you love.” That is a conclusion that many of us reached. Now, as we are beginning to pull ourselves out of this pandemic and getting a chance to once again see those we love, the band has put out its third album, a self-titled release, which features excellent original material. The band is made up of Grant Glad on vocals, guitar, bass, and mandolin; Erik Loftsgaarden on mandolin, guitar, banjo, keyboard, organ and backing vocals; Robin Hatterschide on drums, percussion and backing vocals; Kristi Hatterschide on violin; Sam Hall on bass; Hunter Hawthorne on keyboard and organ; and Matthew Fox on lap steel, harmonica and bass. The music is still largely in the folk realm, but readily straying into other territory, such as rock and blues, whenever it feels right.

This album opens with “Old Mill.” The band sets up the atmosphere first, with the sound of running water and a bird or something calling. Then as the song gets underway, a cool vibe is created, the violin a key element at the start, a somber sound before the vocals begin. Jeffrey Erbland joins the group on cello for this one. “Meet me down at the old mill, darling/Like way back when.” And at that moment, there is something of a timeless folk and country style, fitting with those lines. Things turn dark pretty quickly: “That water they anointed you with/Don’t give a damn if you can’t swim/Now God can’t hear you calling/So much for saving sins.” I love how this song hits a powerful moment like that so quickly. There is something ominous and dangerous here, and yet with a sound that is kind of catchy. In the second half, things slow down, dwelling in a strange place where the past has reached a bony hand into the present, and that violin offers some mournful thoughts. The song then kicks in again. This is a compelling opening song. At the end, we hear the water again, though it is not as calm now, but rather rushing along, the way life seems to. Interestingly, that sound of water becomes the background noise of a gathering of people as “Old Mill” leads directly into “Long Winter.” This one has a strong rock beat, some nice work on harmonica, and a vocal performance that sparkles with attitude. “Been a long winter and I’m wasting time/Been a long evening, too drunk to drive/Been a long winter, been a long winter.” Words that seem fitting as we ease out of this insane time of the pandemic. It’s a song about struggling financially, and the line “No work for seven months” stands out, particularly as that is the amount of time the pandemic had many folks on unemployment. At the end, we hear the sound of someone getting in a truck and driving off. Where to?

“Can’t Stop Singing The Blues” has a beautiful, uplifting sound from the start, that violin working to soothe us and raise us to some wonderful heights. The vocal performance then is more grounded, dealing with troubles that stretch from heaven to hell, leaving us in the middle. And yet this is kind of a fun track. “You drink yourself blind so you can see it through/But you can’t stop singing the blues.” That’s followed by “Die Young,” which has a bit of a funky vibe at the beginning, particularly that work on keys. There are also some nice touches on saxophone, giving this one a different sound and vibe from its opening moments. That’s Andy Meyer on sax. And Eric Anderson joins the group on keys for this one. “It ain’t romantic when it ain’t on the silver screen/But that’s okay/We don’t get to dress up like ol’ Blue Eyes/Or get by on the strength of our name/Ain’t got stars on Hollywood Boulevard/But we’re kings anyway.” Things get even more interesting and cool in the second half, with Shaniquea Mitchell joining on vocals. Then “Funktry” is a short, smooth song with a mellow, dreamlike 1970s vibe, featuring more good vocal work by Shaniquea Mitchell.

“Don’t Let Me Go” has a great, raw, tough, bluesy sound. It opens with these lines: “Truth is that I don’t care now/Just like my father warned/I’m out here on my own now/My faith replaced with scorn.” And then before the end he pleads, “Make me believe in something/Make me believe.” Then a gentle folk and country sound begins “What They Don’t Tell You,” one of my personal favorites. I love the vocal performance, that weary, worn quality working so well with the lyrics. Interestingly, this one too deals in part with a church, the song’s character employed to clear the church’s parking lot of snow. This one is about struggling with poverty and alcohol and loneliness. Check out these lines: “So I learned every line from every pamphlet in AA/And what they don’t tell you/Is that some things still won’t change/You’ll still be broke and unemployed/And your car still needs brakes/You can take your coffee black as a cave/It’ll never fill the hole/Of no one calling out your name.” Claire Altendahl plays slide guitar on this track.

“Hope” is one to raise your spirits. There is some joy here, some optimism to the sound, which we can all use. Right? You will probably be singing along before long, and maybe clapping along too. “I threw my guts up in the gutter as church folk passed by in their cars/It’s okay if we don’t believe/In the same exact things, just/Hope.” Charlie Parr plays slide guitar on this track. “Hope” leads straight into “Amen,” the album’s final track. This is a beautiful and moving song, featuring Christopher Becknell on violin. “Who’s gonna be there when I go?/Just some folks I used to know/Or will that preacher be reading to an empty room?” This one really grabs me. Haven’t we all had death on our minds lately, no matter our age?  It seems we are constantly reminded of the brevity of life, and how things move much too fast. This is another of my favorites.

CD Track List

  1. Old Mill
  2. Long Winter
  3. Can’t Stop Singing The Blues
  4. Die Young
  5. Funktry
  6. Don’t Let Me Go
  7. What They Don’t Tell You
  8. Hope
  9. Amen

Soo Line Loons was released on May 14, 2021.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Rubinoos: “The CBS Tapes” (2021) CD Review

I first heard The Rubinoos in the mid-1980s when they had two songs on the Revenge Of The Nerds soundtrack (including that movie’s theme song), but the group had been around for quite a while already at that point. They actually started in 1970, when founding members Jon Rubin and Tommy Dunbar were only thirteen and eager to perform at a school dance. The group’s first official album was released in 1977, a self-titled effort that included a cover of the Tommy James And The Shondells hit “I Think We’re Alone Now” (a decade before another young teen, Tiffany, had her own hit with it). But the year before that album’s release, The Rubinoos had recorded another album, which until now had been left unreleased. Titled The CBS Tapes, it contains a mix of covers and original material, and has a deliciously loose vibe, the music a combination of pop, punk and rock. The band is made up of Jon Rubin on vocals and guitar, Tommy Dunbar on guitar and vocals, Royse Ader on bass and vocals, and Donn Spindt on drums and vocals.

This album opens with an original song, “All Excited,” which begins with a good, strong beat, and is a lot of fun. Of course the opening line, “Now I remember when I was a child,” strikes us as kind of funny, considering they were still in their teens when they recorded this. But there are some more surprising lines, such as “I picked me up a fork and knife/Started stabbing my little sister,” particularly as this song has such a cheerful vibe. It’s about being excited by rock and roll. They are clearly having a good time here, particularly in that section with vocals and drums. This one was written by Tommy Dunbar. They follow that with a cover of “Sugar Sugar.” This rendition features some playful vocal riffing throughout, yet it seems to be mostly in earnest, and it has all the right energy. It even includes a “cha cha cha” ending. So there. There is also some banter, including goofy band introductions, in their version of King Curtis’ “Memphis Soul Stew,” but man, check out that great bass line. They combine this song with a Pepsi commercial, credited to BBDO, the Pepsi advertising agency, and Joe Brooks (who would go on to write “You Light Up My Life”). It’s like they’re totally fucking around, and yet are playing the hell out of the song. They’re singing about Pepsi, and in doing so, making fun of the commercializing of music and the youth culture. They sing “You’ve got a lot to live, and Pepsi’s got a lot to give” like it’s an important anthem.

The Rubinoos move more firmly into the punk realm with “I Want Her So Bad,” an original number written by Tommy Dunbar. And, yeah, this one is also a lot of fun. They follow that with another original number, “Nooshna Kavolta.” The rhythm and vibe here are like something from a Stax record, but this is something else entirely, isn’t it? And what are they singing here? No idea, but I feel like dancing anyway. They then deliver a cover of The Beatles’ “She Love You,” the first of two Beatles numbers on this album. It is a pretty straightforward rendition. The second Beatles song is “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” and again, they give a fairly faithful rendition. It is interesting that for both covers, they go back to the very early days of The Beatles, to that band’s most cheerful and pop-sounding songs.

This album includes two instrumental tracks. The first is “Walk Don’t Run,” a jazz tune written by Johnny Smith, but made famous with a different arrangement by The Ventures. Oh yes, The Rubinoos give us a good dose of surf here (hey, do they surf up in Berkeley?), featuring some great stuff on guitar. The other instrumental track is a fun rendition of The Meters’ funky “Cissy Strut.” The Rubinoos also cover “Heartbeat, It’s A Lovebeat,” that delightfully cheesy song from The DeFranco Family. At the time, this song was only a few years old, and these guys totally dive right into it and deliver a good rendition, though in the middle they play around a bit. The album concludes with a cover of Jonathan Richman’s “Government Center.” As a side note, I met Jonathan Richman in the mid-1990s when he came to the radio station I was working at to promote a concert. He agreed to sign the liner notes to a CD for me, but when he signed his name he neglected to take the cap off the pen. He handed me back the pen and liner notes, and I looked at where his signature ought to be, took the cap off the pen, and handed him the pen and booklet again. He signed his name a second time without any indication he realized the trouble the first time around, and then once again handed the liner notes and pen to me, all without a word. That night he put on a fantastic show. Anyway, these guys do a great job with this song. At the end, they add some goofy lyrics about Governor Brown (after all, these guys are from California, not Massachusetts, like Jonathan Richman).

CD Track List

  1. All Excited
  2. Sugar Sugar
  3. Memphis Soul Stew/Pepsi Generation
  4. I Want Her So Bad
  5. Nooshna Kavolta
  6. She Loves You
  7. Walk Don’t Run
  8. Heartbeat It’s A Lovebeat
  9. I Want To Hold Your Hand
  10. Cissy Strut
  11. Government Center

The CBS Tapes is scheduled to be released on June 25, 2021 on Yep Roc Records.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Gabriel Evan Orchestra: “Global Entry” (2021) CD Review

Saxophonist Gabriel Evan leads his orchestra through some refreshing and enjoyable tunes on his new album, Global Entry. This disc features mostly covers, some of the music coming from the classical realm, well-known material here given delicious jazz arrangements. There are also a couple of compositions by Gabriel Evan. The group is made up of Gabriel Evan on alto saxophone and soprano saxophone, Joe Goldberg on clarinet and tenor saxophone, John Zarsky on trumpet, Joe Kennedy on piano, Ben Fox on upright bass, and Michael Voelker on drums and percussion. Gabriel Evan is also a member of the group The Bailsmen, and he applies some of that great gypsy jazz sound and energy here.

With a title like Global Entry, you might expect this music to take you to different places around the world. And indeed it does. The disc opens with a delightful rendition of “Waltz Of The Flowers,” a piece composed by Tchaikovsky as part of The Nutcracker in the late 1800s. Not only does this album take us to different places, but different times, and the year of each composition is listed in the disc’s liner notes. This track has a fairly full sound, sounding like more musicians are taking part than actually are. Gabriel Evan picks up the pace of this beautiful Tchaikovsky composition, giving it a lighter, more fun vibe, and making it swing, setting the tone for the album. Gabriel Evan then takes us to Cuba in the 1930s for another completely enjoyable number, the Lecuona Cuban Boys’ “Rumba Azul.” This music is so good, and it has a timeless sense of innocence that is particularly appealing. There is romance, sure, but it is an innocent type of romance, kisses on the dance floor. This is music to make you happy. We return to Russia of the late 1800s with “Arabian Nightmare,” an arrangement by trumpeter Charlie Shavers of a piece from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov titled “Scheherazade,” or at least a part of that work. It begins in a somewhat dramatic place, as you’d probably expect, and then suddenly opens up into such a light and adorable place that the first time I heard this track, I laughed for the pure, unexpected joy of it. This is wonderful stuff.

Then we get the first of the album’s two original composition, “South 5th Street,” taking us to contemporary New York. Well, sort of contemporary, because of course there is still something of a timeless quality here, which I appreciate, particularly as the present isn’t always so desirable. Though I suppose another way of looking at it is that this group makes the present sound great by linking the best of the past with our current time. Well, whatever, this is a really good track. I wish all my trips to New York had been as enjoyable as this piece. That’s followed by an excellent rendition of “Diane (Tropical Moon).” And then we travel to the 1920s, with a great, loose rendition of “Singin’ The Blues,” the piano keeping everything grounded in a speakeasy while the horns are swinging above, and everyone is dancing, with no thoughts of tomorrow, for the present moment is everything. We remain in the 1920s for a rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Jubilee Stomp” that moves and hops and plays and breathes, and delights throughout. It is a whole lot of fun, and I want it to just go on and on.

The album’s other original composition is “Negotiations Of South Williamsburg,” but again, it feels like it is coming from another time, another place, regardless of its title. This one has a strong capability to charm us and lead us into whatever mischief it likes, and after a little bit, it picks up the pace. Okay, at that point it has a New York pace, no question. By the way, Gabriel Evan also performed this piece with The Bailsmen, and it is included on that group’s self-titled 2014 release. This track does slow down again in the second half, and before the end it begins to race. This is one of my personal favorites. We are then taken to London of the 1600s for a piece written by playwright Ben Jonson in 1616 (the year Shakespeare died), though I’m fairly certain it sounded nothing like this when it was first performed. The arrangement is by Charlie Shavers, and it has more of a snappy, cheerful sound than other versions you might have heard.

Gabriel Evan Orchestra delivers a version of Henry Mancini’s “Lujon” that has a somewhat smooth, relaxed vibe. I feel like I can get lost in the shag carpet and mood lighting. And why not? That’s followed by the seriously cool “Effervescent Blues,” written by Charlie Shavers in 1939, featuring some wonderful stuff on piano. The album then concludes with the Lecuona Cuban Boys’ “Rumba Tambah,” another delightful number from the 1930s, one that will have you smiling and wondering how there could possibly be any despair and suffering in the world. Ah, life is so fleeting, and this music has that sense of brevity, an awareness of it, but looks for joy within that span of time.

CD Track List

  1. Waltz Of The Flowers
  2. Rumba Azul
  3. Arabian Nightmare
  4. South 5th Street
  5. Diane (Tropical Moon)
  6. Singin’ The Blues
  7. Jubilee Stomp
  8. Negotiations Of South Williamsburg
  9. Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes
  10. Lujon
  11. Effervescent Blues
  12. Rumba Tambah

Global Entry was released on April 30, 2021.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Contraptionists: “Working Man’s Dread” (2021) CD Review

While the title of The Contraptionists’ debut album might remind you of the title of one of the best albums from the Grateful Dead, Working Man’s Dread really has nothing to do with it. Except, I suppose it kind of does, in as much as these songs are narratives about interesting characters and situations, taking place in a mixture of past and present, and employing elements of folk music, mixing it with pop and rock sounds, and straying to darker realms at times. And, like Workingman’s Dead, it is a damn good album. The group is the duo of Paul Givant on vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, banjo, drums and percussion; and Stephen Andrews on upright bass, electric bass, vocals, drums and percussion. You might know both of them from the group Rose’s Pawn Shop. They do get some help on this release from Mike Vizcarra on electric guitar, keyboards and percussion; and from Scott Doherty, Kyle Lalone, and Danielle Bisutti on vocals. The album features all original material, written by Paul Givant.

The album opens with “River Lethe,” and it is this song’s chorus that really grabs me and gets me interested, both its lyrics and the sound, like a strange carnival that is pushing to move forward but is winding down nevertheless. “But all those shadows you disown/Are still with you when you’re alone/River Lethe, River Lethe.” That’s followed by the title track, “Working Man’s Dread.” This one has something of a cheerful sound, while the lyrics give us a different feeling, with lines about struggling financially. I’m guessing a lot of people are going to be able to relate to this song.  Here is a taste of the lyrics: “You’re seven days late on the rent/You’re doing the math in your head/And wake with the working man’s dread/At least you’ve got the weekend to enjoy yourself.” And that depressing line “Hey, baby, don’t worry, someday we’ll win the lottery” is one that people really do say to each other and even believe, wasting what little money they do have on lottery tickets. I wonder if in a few years when this house-buying frenzy comes to an end, the lines about foreclosing on homes will apply to a lot more people. Then “Past The Speed Of Sound” features some intriguing opening lines: “The committee’s back in session/In my head’s a collection/Of lunatics with infinite advice/Got me strapped into a rocket/I’m the drunk kid in the cockpit/Yeah, light it up, yeah let’s roll the dice.” This is an exciting song. I also love the line “As long as I keep moving, it’s hard to tell I’m lost.”

One of my personal favorites on this album is “Flotation Device.” The first time I listened to it, the line that grabbed me was “It’s like the whole world took a bullet train straight to hell.” It has certainly felt like that, eh? But the line that I then cling to, especially upon repeated listening, is “So hold on and float with me.” This is a song about being there for each other during these difficult times, which we desperately need. “You’re my kind of crazy/And with your hand in my hand/We’ll beat this barricade down like a marching band.” That’s followed by “Murky Floor,” which has a kind of dark folk sound, the sound of people doing heavy manual labor, perhaps on a chain gang. “She was a dangerous beauty/Could tempt any man alive/For seven years on the night shift/I must have broke something inside.”

“Empire Of Smoke” is exciting right from the start, with an unusual and intense sound. Then when it kicks in for the chorus, it takes on more of a straightforward sound with a good energy. But it is the song’s darker, more intense sections that I find most compelling, fitting for lines like “It’s alive, my beautiful Frankenstein” and “Just the angels and monsters that we turn ourselves into.” This is another of my favorites. They switch gears with “Mountains,” which has a rather peppy, cheerful vibe and style right from its opening moments, which even feature some hand claps. “I’m climbing mountains made by me” is one hell of a great line. And this track features some wonderful vocal work. But what mainly stays with me is the catchy, fun aspect of this song.

In “Plead,” this duo asks, “Why don’t you want what I want?” Now while this song might be on a more personal level, that is a question that could be asked of entire populations these days. Anyway, I like that work on bass. And Danielle Bisutti joins them on vocals on this track, adding a beautiful layer to this song. Then “Ember Days” establishes a seriously cool sound at the start, then changes gears for the chorus, which bursts with rock energy. That’s followed by “Sight Of Blood,” which features an interesting sound, with a hint of reggae in the rhythm, along with a bit of a gypsy-flavored folk vibe. “I could never stand the sight of blood.” The album concludes with “Dream Song.” Check out these lines: “The patron saint of the crazy sure came through again/We made it out mostly unscathed and still can’t pay the rent.” Living in Los Angeles, I can’t help but enjoy this song, with the lines “Good morning, California/God, I missed ya.” It even touches upon that produce stop near Needles, something I hadn’t been prepared for the first time I drove here. It weirded me out. But, yeah, there are things that make me miss California when I’m gone. After all, as they sing here, “This is home.”

CD Track List

  1. River Lethe
  2. Working Man’s Dread
  3. Past The Speed Of Sound
  4. Flotation Device
  5. Murky Floor
  6. Empire Of Smoke
  7. Mountains
  8. Plead
  9. Ember Days
  10. Sight Of Blood
  11. Dream Song

Working Man’s Dread is scheduled to be released on May 28, 2021.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

James Hudson: “Tomorrow” (2021) CD Review

Jazz vocalist James Hudson gives us some wonderful versions of beloved standards on his debut release, Tomorrow. It is clear right from the start and with every word he delivers that James Hudson has a tremendous passion for these songs, and his renditions are both respectful and fresh. The joyous vibe of this album is due also to the fact that it was recorded with all the musicians playing together in the studio, rather than it being done instrument by instrument. Joining the vocalist on this album are Joe Hill on piano, Nick Fitch on guitar, Jack Tustin on bass, and Luke Tomlinson on drums.

This album gets off to an excellent start with a cool and lovely rendition of “Pennies From Heaven,” written by Arthur Johnson and Johnny Burke, this arrangement by Joe Hill and James Hudson. It begins sweetly, James Hudson’s voice like a gentle and friendly caress. Then after a minute or so, things are taken up a few notches, James delivering the lyrics with a great deal of joy. The bass is what keeps this lively version moving, and this track also features a really nice lead on guitar. That’s followed by a totally delightful rendition of “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me,” written by Jimmy McHugh and Clarence Gaskill. This one too features a bass line that keeps things moving. I love James Hudson’s vocal performance here, including his choices of placement of some dramatic pauses. And of course I dig that great work on drums. This arrangement is by Joe Hill and James Hudson.

“It Had To Be You” is a song that I still can’t help but associate with Annie Hall, which I believe is where I first heard it. Here James Hudson delivers a kind of soothing rendition, which includes an excellent lead on guitar. The arrangement is by Nick Fitch and James Hudson. By the way, I’ve learned that the line “With all your faults, I love you still” isn’t always appreciated by that special someone as much as you’d think it would be. “It Had To Be You” is followed by “My Romance,” which features a wonderful lead on piano. And Nick Fitch responds to the line “no soft guitars” with a nice little touch on guitar. As the song is reaching its conclusion there is another good lead on piano. Then Nick Fitch begins “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square” on guitar, and at first it is the guitar that supports James Hudson’s gentle vocal delivery, capturing perfectly the romantic vibe of this composition by Eric Maschwitz and Manning Sherwin. Yes, romance is alive and well in this rendition.

James Hudson’s voice is supported by piano at the beginning of “Almost Like Being In Love.” This version eases in with some lines from later in the song. Then after that introduction, the song takes on more energy, as the joy seems ready to burst from James Hudson, and you get the sense that he breaks not only into song, but a dance. May everyone get a chance to feel that way. Right? We need both love and music to carry us through these crazy times. This track features a wonderful lead on piano. It was arranged by Joe Hill and James Hudson. That’s followed by another romantic and cheerful number, “The More I See You,” written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon.  The more I see you, the more I want you/Somehow this feeling just grows and grows/With every sigh I become more mad about you/More lost without you/And so it goes.” Oh yes, James Hudson is so smooth here. I love the way he sings “And so it goes” the first time around.

I have said it on multiple occasions, but it continues to be true: you can never go wrong with Gershwin. One of my personal favorites is “Someone To Watch Over Me,” and here James Hudson gives us an absolutely marvelous rendition. His vocals are supported by guitar for that first section, and then the piano basically announces the main section, an interesting and compelling moment that I love. It is James Hudson’s voice that really determines the direction of this beautiful rendition. The arrangement is by Nick Fitch and James Hudson. The album concludes with its title track, “Tomorrow.” James Hudson delivers a lively, breezy, hopping rendition of the song from Annie. We can all use a song of hope, and here it is. Things are going to get better. And they seem to be, don’t they? People are getting vaccinated, and bands are starting to book concerts and tours again. “The sun’ll come out tomorrow/So you gotta hang on ‘til tomorrow/Come what may.”

CD Track List

  1. Pennies From Heaven
  2. I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me
  3. It Had To Be You
  4. My Romance
  5. A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square
  6. Almost Like Being In Love
  7. The More I See You
  8. Someone To Watch Over Me
  9. Tomorrow

Tomorrow was released on February 26, 2021.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

As more people become vaccinated and we continue our journey back to normalcy (whatever that might mean), there is a renewed optimism. Bands and artists are beginning to book tours for the late summer and autumn. Yes, live music is right around the corner. In the meantime, artists continue to release albums to help us get there. Here are some brief notes on a few new jazz releases you might be interested in checking out.

David Larsen: “The Mulligan Chronicles”
– On The Mulligan Chronicles, David Larsen explores the compositions of fellow saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. Larsen is joined by Dave Glenn on trombone, Bill Mays on piano, Dean Johnson on bass, and Ron Vincent on drums. The album opens with a totally enjoyable rendition of “Walkin’ Shoes,” a tune from early in Mulligan’s career, appearing on a 1952 LP. There is something uplifting and joyful about this track, in the way it moves, in that delightfully light quality that each of the musicians is able to bring to it. Even the lead on bass seems to dance several feet above the ground. That’s followed by “Curtains,” which was included on an album from close to the end of Mulligan’s career, 1989’s Lonesome Boulevard. There is a different tone to this track, a more introspective sound at times, but there is still a light vibe at its heart. David Larsen pulls a lot from Lonesome Boulevard, covering a total of six tracks from that album here. In addition to “Curtains,” he tackles “Good Neighbor Thelonius,” “Rico Apollo,” “The Flying Scotsman,” “Ring Around A Bright Star” and its title track. “Good Neighbor Thelonius” is particularly cool, the way it kind of struts. I love that lead on piano. “Rico Apollo” is a delight. And check out that great bass lead on “The Flying Scotsman.” By the way, Dean Johnson, the bass player on this album, plays bass on Lonesome Boulevard. And actually all the musicians David Larsen gathered for this release played with Gerry Mulligan at one point or another. Another highlight of this disc is “Festive Minor,” a song that was included on the 1959 LP What Is There To Say? and the 1963 LP Night Lights. This version seems more inspired by the former. “Open Country” features an excellent lead on saxophone, and “Etude For Franca” features some beautiful work. This album was released on March 1, 2021.

Dan Moretti: “Tres Libre”
– From the moment the opening track, “Jim Brown’s Cousin,” kicks off with that delicious groove, I am into Tres Libre, the new album from saxophonist Dan Moretti. This track is funky, and it soon flows so well into a more free jazz realm. This track is performed by the trio of Dan Moretti on alto saxophone, Marty Ballou on electric bass, and Marty Richards on drums. Each of these tracks is performed by a different trio configuration, sometimes Dan Moretti taking two of the three places, and in one case all three. “Mumbo Jumbo” also very quickly establishes a good groove, with Dan Moretti’s tenor saxophone sounding so cool and sly over it, strutting about, knowing it owns the place. “The Inner Side” develops a strange mood with a repeated part on keys that is also played by Dan Moretti. Over that part, Dan’s tenor saxophone and Michael Farquharson’s electric bass at first work in conjunction. This track has a somewhat haunting vibe, yet the work on saxophone is also rather pretty at moments. Also featuring Dan Moretti on both tenor sax and keys is “When You Leave This World,” the only track on the album not composed by Dan Moretti. It is his jazz arrangement of a traditional Indian bhajan. On this one, it is the bass line he plays on keys. It is a rather beautiful piece, played with a somber tone, and features some great work by Marty Richards on drums. The album then concludes with “The Missing Breath,” with Dan Moretti playing three sax parts. It has a timeless, spiritual vibe. This album was released on April 30, 2021.

Arturo O’Farrill and The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: “Virtual Birdland”
– Last year was a disaster, the pandemic made much worse by an incompetent and soulless administration, and most of the joys we did have were “virtual” ones, a lot of our lives lived out over the internet. And that’s where a lot of great music took place. Arturo O’Farrill and The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra’s new album, Virtual Birdland, was recorded in the homes of the various musicians who took part, and yet in our ears it all comes together beautifully as if we are all in the same place. It opens with “Gulab Jamon,” a lively and joyous piece written by Arturo O’Farrill. It is that great rhythm that really grabs me, but there are fantastic moments when the horns are dancing and singing without the help of any rhythm section. It is like everyone has something to say, some bit of joy to add to the conversation. Then a couple of minutes in, we are treated to a cool and unexpected section led by Arturo O’Farrill on piano. And that’s another thing about this recording, the way it can surprise us with the directions it takes, which adds to the excitement of the music. Yet nothing seems out of place or jarring. The rhythm is also at the heart of “Pouvoir,” an uplifting track that features some wonderful vocal work by Malika Zarra. “Desert” takes us right into the middle of a strange, busy and fascinating place. It was composed by Rafi Malkiel, who delivers some excellent work on trombone. Another of my personal favorites is “Alafia,” a vibrant piece that has a cool introduction before the percussion suddenly bursts in and takes over. This one will have you moving, no doubt about it. Then “En La Oscuridad” is a beautiful, soulful number featuring some impassioned work by Ivan Renta on saxophone. The album concludes with another of its highlights, an excellent, fun rendition of Tito Puente’s “Para Los Rumberos.” Is there more great percussion here? You bet there is! This album was released on April 9, 2021.

Troy Roberts & Tim Jago: “Best Buddies”
– The pandemic and these crazy times have helped us appreciate certain things all the more, one of those things being friendship, which is precisely what Best Buddies, the new album from Troy Roberts and Tim Jago, celebrates. It features all original music written by saxophonist Troy Roberts and guitarist Tim Jago. Both are from Australia, both moved to the United States, and both happened to be back in Australia when the lockdown went into effect. And so this excellent album came about. Joining them are Karl Florisson on acoustic bass, and Ben Vanderwal on drums. The album kicks off with “Chythm Ranges,” a fast-paced, energetic number written by Tim Jago, based loosely on “I Got Rhythm.” And they’ve certainly got rhythm here. Ben Vanderwal’s work on drums is a delightful and wild pulse through the piece, while Troy and Tim trade leads, and at the end he delivers a cool drum solo. Then “Best Buddies,” the title track, begins in a mellower place, gently swinging, and you might very well find yourself adding finger snaps as you enjoy it. This one was written by Troy Roberts, and it features some really nice work by Karl Florisson on bass, including a great lead in the first half. “Zeena” is a short, soulful and interesting piece, the only track on this album composed by all four musicians. One of my favorite tracks is “A New Porpoise,” written by Tim Jago, which features a catchy groove and a wonderful guitar lead that is somehow simultaneously easygoing and hopping. And Troy keeps that vibe going on saxophone. Another of my favorites is “King Of Hearts,” which has a delicious vibe right from the moment Karl Florisson gets it started on bass. This one was written by Troy Roberts, who really lets loose on sax at moments, while Ben keeps things moving and bopping on drums. And the final track, “Overlook,” begins with these two best buddies in total sync, flying along for fifteen seconds or so before the bass and drums come in. It’s all about friendship, and this friendship sounds fantastic. This track really moves. This album is scheduled to be released on June 18, 2021.

Judy Wexler: “Back To The Garden”
– On her new album, vocalist Judy Wexler delivers jazz renditions of some classic 1960s and early 1970s material, choosing songs that are relevant in today’s strange climate. She opens the album with an interesting and hopeful rendition of The Youngbloods’ “Get Together.” I like the heartfelt way she delivers the lines “You can make the mountains ring/Or make the angels cry.” It feels these days we are more often making the angels cry. This track features some excellent work on guitar, as well as some unusual and appealing backing vocal work. That’s followed by “Up On The Roof,” which might seem an odd choice for this album until you hear the opening lines: “When this old world starts getting me down/And people are just too much for me to face.” Those lines describe how many of us have felt for like five years. And in these harsh times, Paul Simon’s lyrics from “American Tune” speak to us: “Still, when I think of the road we’re traveling on/I wonder what went wrong/I can’t help it, I wonder what went wrong.” Judy Wexler’s voice in this rendition feels like a friend on that road with us. She delivers a thoughtful, contemplative rendition. She also gives us a cool take on Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” featuring some nice work on sax. Interestingly, given the album’s title, Judy Wexler does not cover Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.” She does give us a compelling rendition of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” a song that has certainly been in the air lately. Given the album’s theme, it is no surprise that she turns to Bob Dylan for material. She covers two Bob Dylan songs, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and “Forever Young.” Sara Caswell plays violin on this pretty rendition of “Forever Young.” The album concludes with a really good rendition of Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where The Time Goes.” This album is scheduled to be released on June 4, 2021.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Bonus Disc 2021” (2021) CD Review

For those who purchase a year’s subscription to the Dave’s Picks series of Grateful Dead concert recordings, a bonus disc is included with one of the volumes. This year that bonus disc arrived with Volume 38. Volume 38 contains the complete show the Grateful Dead performed on September 8, 1973, along with two songs from the first set of the previous night’s show. The bonus disc contains most of the second set from that show, September 7th at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. Only two songs are missing from that set: “Me And My Uncle” and “Loser.” By the way, there is also a little surprise tucked into the disc’s sleeve – a Dave’s Picks sticker.

The disc opens with “Here Comes Sunshine,” a song from Wake Of The Flood, which was released a month after this show. The song’s first line gives that album its title. But it’s the jam here that makes this version worth listening to. Jerry Garcia lands on a really good theme early on, and plays with it for a while, and things just grow from there. It is a solid jam and leads back into the main body of the song for the final verse. And then they are off into another good, bright jam before the end. Bob then talks about spending time in the studio, before introducing “Let It Grow” to the fans. Yes, on September 8th, they played the very first “Weather Report Suite,” and at this show they played the very first “Let It Grow,” the third section of “Weather Report Suite.” It’s interesting that the band recorded a studio version before playing it live, the opposite of how the band usually operated. Some songs were played in concert for several years before being recorded in the studio. Anyway, it’s a strong introduction of what would almost always be a powerful song for the band in concert. And, yes, they do jam on it, and that jam features some fantastic, frantic work on guitar, the pace picking up tremendously for a time, before relaxing a bit again and leading into stranger territory. Bill Kreutzmann is dancing on that drum kit, and everything is moving so well, and before we know it, the band eases into a stunningly beautiful “Stella Blue.” Seriously, this is a phenomenal rendition of a song that once had me in tears at Shoreline a couple of decades later. This is Jerry at his best. “There’s nothing you can hold/For very long.”

Bob then changes direction with a rousing rendition of “Truckin’” that gets me on my feet and dancing around my apartment. So much good energy here. There are hints of “The Other One” even before Bill’s drum solo. And then they explode into “The Other One.” I love that moment. This is probably the most exciting song the Dead ever played, in part because they would tackle it so many different ways, like a beast they were always attempting to tame. Here they ride it, just hanging on, as it jerks and bounces and runs, not trying to guide it or force it to obey their directions. Though soon band and beast have reached some understanding and move together. Bob never even attempts any of the lyrics, and once everyone is moving in the same direction, and things are under some semblance of control, Jerry leads them into “Eyes Of The World,” and right away you can tell the energy is just exactly right, and everything is flowing. Happiness seems to come rising up out of every note. And the jam is one hell of a beautiful and fun ride. This is one of the best “Eyes” I’ve heard. Possibly the very best? Yes, I think so. It begins to wind down, and it seems the band might follow it with a mellower song. But no, Bob leads the band into “Sugar Magnolia” to wrap up the set, and to keep us all dancing like unhinged, delirious sprites under the brightest full moon.

CD Track List

  1. Here Comes Sunshine
  2. Let It Grow >
  3. Stella Blue
  4. Truckin’ >
  5. Drums >
  6. The Other One Jam >
  7. Eyes Of The World >
  8. Sugar Magnolia

Dave’s Picks Bonus Disc 2021 was released in early May, 2021.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 38” (2021) CD Review

My favorite year for Grateful Dead concert recordings is 1973. No doubt about it, that year featured some delicious, jazzy jams, and nice long shows. The shows had a good flow and energy to them, and Jerry Garcia’s voice was generally at its best. Basically, the band just seemed to find its groove at every show that year. It was a magical time. For Volume 38 in the Dave’s Picks series, Dave Lemieux has chosen one hell of a good show from September of that year. This three-disc set contains the complete show the Grateful Dead played on September 8, 1973 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York (along with a couple of songs from the previous night at the same venue).

Disc 1

The first disc contains most of the first set, and it kicks off with “Bertha.” Phil Lesh is high in the mix at the start, but soon things are balanced and the band is cooking. We always love a “Bertha” opener, hit the ground running, get the folks on their feet. Jerry’s delivery of “Why don’t you arrest me” is mellower than usual, but no matter. There is a joy to the playing that is obvious. Bob Weir then follows “Bertha” with “Me And My Uncle,” keeping things moving. It’s a slightly messy version, but still fun. We then get an easygoing “Sugaree” with something of a pleasant, relaxed vibe. That, of course, gives Jerry somewhere to go toward the end when things begin to build. It’s not a very long rendition, but gets powerful toward the end. Bob returns to rock and roll with an energetic “Beat It On Down The Line,” and I like it when Keith Godchaux is rocking the keys. That’s followed by “Tennessee Jed,” a song I am always happy to hear. This one too has a somewhat relaxed groove to start, but the band is fully inhabiting that space, everyone on the same page, you know? It’s the kind of version that might not get you rocking, but will certainly have you smiling. And then you suddenly get caught up in that jam near the end, and things are so good.

“Looks Like Rain” begins gently, sweetly, and you get the sense Bob is singing to someone who is resting beside him, his hands running lovingly through her hair. And Jerry’s guitar sounds beautiful. That’s followed by a sweet version of “Brown-Eyed Women.” As they tune after that song, the crowd gets excited, and the band eases into a really nice “Jack Straw,” the harmonies sounding good, and everything working just right. This, for me, is definitely one of the highlights of the first set. Jerry follows that with a beautiful and passionate rendition of “Row Jimmy,” featuring some wonderful vocal work. His guitar is singing at times too. And the band does some interesting, unexpected things with this one toward the end. This is one of the best versions of this song I’ve heard. I just want to drift away on this song, ride it right over the horizon into space. The first disc then concludes with the entire “Weather Report Suite,” the first time ever played live. The first sections have a pretty, gentle, soothing vibe. “We’ll see summer come again.” Oh yes. Then “Let It Grow” has a good deal of energy, and we get some excellent jamming. There is a little bit of “Beer Barrel Polka” tuning just before the disc comes to an end.

Disc 2

The second disc contains the last couple of songs from the first set, and a good chunk of the second set, as well as one song from the night before. It opens with one of my favorites, “Eyes Of The World.” This song never fails to lift my spirits, and versions from 1973 and 1974 are especially good because they contain that extra section in the jam. The crowd is clearly excited to hear it, and that delightful groove is sure to get you dancing wherever you might be listening. I love the way this song flows, like sunlight dancing in a waterfall. This is a really good rendition, with some wonderful work by Bill Kreutzmann on drums, and it leads straight into “China Doll” to wrap up the first set on a mellower note. This version features a moving vocal performance from Jerry, and is quite beautiful.

Bob starts the second set with “Greatest Story Ever Told,” getting things in motion with fiery energy, the guys really rocking this one. Jerry decides to follow that with “Ramble On Rose,” the crowd predictably cheering the line “Just like New York City.” I really like what Bob does on guitar on this version. That’s followed by a hopping version of “Big River.” Folks shout out some requests, and Keith sings lead on “Let Me Sing Your Blues Away,” a fun tune that would be included on Wake Of The Flood a little later in the year. It’s a treat to hear a live version of this song, which goes in some interesting places the studio version doesn’t. This was the first time the Dead ever played this one in concert. They then go into “China Cat Sunflower,” this version having an odd rumbling below at times. It’s not the best “China Cat” I’ve heard, but the jam is really good, and of course it leads into “I Know You Rider.” I love when Phil digs in on bass. That’s followed by a totally enjoyable rendition of “El Paso.”

This three-disc set contains a bit of filler from the previous night, the last two songs of the first set. The second disc ends with the first of those two songs, “Bird Song.” And, yeah, it’s a damn fine rendition, with plenty of good jamming with a jazzy bent.

Disc 3

The third disc contains the rest of the second set, the encore, and one song from the previous night. The disc opens with “He’s Gone,” which at that time had an air of melancholy because Pigpen had died earlier in the year. There is something pretty about this version as it begins, in part because of what Keith is doing on keys. And the lyrics are delivered with tenderness. I love that vocal section near the end. This is an excellent version of “He’s Gone,” and it leads straight into “Truckin’” to get everyone moving (and, yeah, the crowd cheers the mention of New York). They keep the energy cracklin’ during the jam as they push the walls outward. And hey, is it just me, or are there signs of the future “I Need A Miracle” in there? “Not Fade Away” has a great amount of energy, as you’d expect, and the band really jams on it. Nothing spacey, just a great, wild, solid jam, which then eases into “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad.” Oh yes, so good. And they really belt out the lyrics at the end, before going back into “Not Fade Away” to wrap up the second set, with Bob screaming.

The audience was treated to a two-song encore that night. The first is a beautiful, contemplative version of “Stella Blue.” “It seems like all this life/Was just a dream.” The second is “One More Saturday Night” to send everyone out dancing. Was it a Saturday night? You bet it was. The third disc then finishes with the last song of the first set from the previous night, a nice, long “Playing In The Band,” featuring some fantastic jamming. Basically everything you want from “Playing” is here. The jam really cooks for a while, then gets into more spacey territory just before returning to the main body of the song.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. Bertha
  2. Me And My Uncle
  3. Sugaree
  4. Beat It On Down The Line
  5. Tennessee Jed
  6. Looks Like Rain
  7. Brown-Eyed Women
  8. Jack Straw
  9. Row Jimmy
  10. Weather Report Suite

Disc 2

  1. Eyes Of The World >
  2. China Doll
  3. Greatest Story Ever Told
  4. Ramble On Rose
  5. Big River
  6. Let Me Sing Your Blues Away
  7. China Cat Sunflower >
  8. I Know You Rider
  9. El Paso
  10. Bird Song

Disc 3

  1. He’s Gone >
  2. Truckin’ >
  3. Not Fade Away >
  4. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad >
  5. Not Fade Away
  6. Stella Blue
  7. One More Saturday Night
  8. Playing In The Band

Dave’s Picks Volume 38 was released in early May 2021. My copy arrived on May 3rd. This release is limited to 25,000 copies (mine is number 6976).