Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tylor & The Train Robbers: “Non-Typical Find” (2021) CD Review

Tylor & The Train Robbers, led by singer and songwriter Tylor Ketchum, deliver some excellent music in the folk and country rock realms, with a focus on strong lyrics. During the forced break in touring due to the pandemic, the group put together songs for a new album. Non-Typical Find is the group’s third album, following 2019’s Best Of The Worst Kind. Since that last album, there has been a change in drummers, with Tommy Bushman replacing Flip Perkins. The new release features all original material, written or co-written by Tylor Ketchum, and it was produced by Reckless Kelly’s Cody Braun, who also plays fiddle and mandolin on it. Also joining the group on this album are Jennifer Pisano Ketchum (Tylor’s wife) on backing vocals; Bernie Reilly on cello, banjo, piano, organ and accordion; and Brian Davies on pedal steel guitar.

The first track, “Equation Of Life,” eases in with some pretty, soothing work on acoustic guitar, before these opening lines: “You’ve been trading in your time for so-called success/I sure hope it’s worth all the mess.” I love Tylor Ketchum’s voice. There is a friendly aspect to it, and also experience in that delivery, making it a voice you can trust. The song soon kicks in, becoming a delicious country number. “There ain’t nothing wrong with being proud of where you’re from/Long as you ain’t dragged down by the town that raised you.” There is a strong sense of place here, particularly in lines like “You can join the choir or the coyotes on the hill.” “Equation Of Life” is followed by “This Town,” a lively, country rock song, with a full-band sound from its start. “Well, this here ain’t my home/Though I’ve called it that for a time/But I’ve been here just long enough/To feel something when I leave it behind.” We’ve all felt that way about one place or another, haven’t we? There is a good energy about this track, and I like the work on pedal steel.

Like the album’s opening track, “Worth The While” begins with some good work on acoustic guitar and has a strong opening line, “Well, today will always turn into yesterday come tomorrow.” This one soon kicks in too, but maintains a rather beautiful sound. And lyrically, it is one of the album’s best tracks. So many lines speak to me, such as “Are you feeling somewhere in-between/This whole nightmare and a dream” and “And when peaceful ain’t quite getting it done/And you’re dealing with a heavy dose.” And of course the line “It feels like a virus with no vaccine” must have been inspired by the crazy year we’ve all experienced, and will likely stand out to anyone who listens. This track features some nice work on keys. The song returns to its opening line at the end. That’s followed by “Jenny Lynn,” a love song written for Tylor’s wife, who joins him on vocals. It about two people who are often apart, and how traveling makes us appreciate home all the more. There is an undeniable beauty to this one as well, even before the fiddle comes in.

The album’s title track, “Non-Typical Find,” is an interesting song, what with its arresting opening line and the shifting points of view. It begins by being told in the first person in the first verse, then describes a dramatic moment in the life of another person. And soon we understand that that woman’s story is going to intersect with that of the song’s narrator, and that moment gives us some anxiety. It’s a fairly grim tale, and apparently a true story, yet the music has a rather cheerful vibe for the most part. Then “Lemonade” has an easygoing, friendly vibe, a song in which a man reaches out to a woman from his questionable past. Check out these lines: “I only used to call you for bail with excuses for the crime/Our love was circumstantial, now for that I apologize/With regret for past decisions I seek forgiveness through your eyes.” And “Kid, I know I left you hanging after I promised to cut the rope” is one hell of a good line. It reminds me a bit of a line from “The Ballad Of Black Jack Ketchum” from the last album, “Well, my daddy always said you’re only as good as who you’re hanging with” (that song being about a criminal who was hanged). This track also features some nice work on banjo.

A more somber tone is established at the beginning of “Something Better,” a song that was co-written by Jennifer Pisano Ketchum. This one introduces us to several characters who are struggling. “They can take all they think you have, unaware of what they leave.” Interestingly, the song kicks in just as the lyrics take a hopeful turn, “Someday she’ll find her something better.” This band can tell compelling tales much like a talented short story writer. In this song and in the title track, for example, they create intriguing threads that build our interest. “Something Better” is followed by “Staring Down The North,” which has a strong rhythm, and features lyrics that will likely speak to many of us. “And you can find all your troubles on the internet/I guess what you search for is what you get/Press reset, disconnect, and go find your ground.” I like that he then admits he doesn’t have the answers, in the lines “I don’t know what I’m taking about/I’ll keep on singing, maybe figure it out/Some of what I say just may be true/But I don’t know/I believe I’ll leave it up to you.” I’ve always maintained that no one knows anything for sure, that we’re all bouncing around out there, just trying to make our way through without getting hurt too much. This song has a lively rock vibe.

“These Eyes” has a sweet, somewhat relaxed and completely honest vibe, and features both mandolin and fiddle. “I can’t spit out all these words/But can’t you see I need to vent/And you give me that look, but you know exactly what I meant.” That’s followed by “Back The Other Way.” Again, this band has a talent for coming up with effective opening lines. In this case, they are “I woke up late this morning to the world’s worst cup of coffee/I made it myself so I’m the one to blame/I drank the whole damn pot, you know I wouldn’t want to waste it.” This one moves at a fast clip, like a train cutting across the landscape. These lines stand out for me, perhaps because I relate to them: “I tend to overthink the things I shouldn’t think about/It very rarely does me any good.” The album then concludes with “Silver Line,” a gentle and pretty number, a song that clearly comes out of the pandemic and this period of isolation and change. “But we still won’t know why/Everybody’s closed off to an open mind/And we still won’t know when/Or if things will ever get back to the way they’ve been.”

CD Track List

  1. Equation Of Life
  2. This Town
  3. Worth The While
  4. Jenny Lynn
  5. Non-Typical Find
  6. Lemonade
  7. Something Better
  8. Staring Down The North
  9. These Eyes
  10. Back The Other Way
  11. Silver Line

Non-Typical Find is scheduled to be released on July 9, 2021.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Micky Dolenz: “Dolenz Sings Nesmith” (2021) Vinyl Review

As we get excited for what The Monkees tell us will be their final tour (I’m always skeptical when artists make such announcements), Micky Dolenz offers a new record of Nesmith songs. Yes, on Dolenz Sings Nesmith, Micky Dolenz shares his interpretations of Michael Nesmith’s material, including some songs originally recorded by The Monkees. As Micky mentions in the record’s liner notes, the inspiration for this album goes all the way back to 1970 and the release of Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Sings Newman. But it wasn’t until the pandemic provided him the time that he finally got around to making this album. Micky certainly puts his own touches, his own spins on the songs he’s chosen to cover, and the results are wonderful. Christian Nesmith produced and mixed the album, and plays most of the instruments on it. By the way, the record has a nice gatefold, with several photos of both Micky and Mike from throughout the years. And the album’s cover is a nod to the Harry Nilsson album. What I love is that Mike in the back seat looks to Micky in the driver’s seat, while Micky looks directly at us. And the record itself is a beautiful translucent aquamarine vinyl.

Side One

The album opens with “Carlisle Wheeling,” a song Michael Nesmith had recorded with The Monkees, but one which wasn’t included on any of the original albums. It was later included on the compilation Missing Links, released in 1987. Micky’s rendition has a cheerful vibe, even including some whistling, and a passionate vocal performance. It begins with a short string section, and includes an interesting section there in the middle. We can’t help but apply the line “But we’re both a little older, our relationship has grown” to Micky and Mike in this case. What a great way to open this remarkable and joyful album. Micky follows that with “Different Drum,” a song that was written before the beginning of The Monkees and then recorded by the Stone Poneys, who had a hit with it. It was also included in an episode of The Monkees television series, with Mike Nesmith playfully rushing through it. Micky gives us a lively rendition that features some nice work on harmonica.

“Don’t Wait For Me” is for me one of the album’s highlights. It is so beautiful and engaging and sweet, Micky’s vocals supported by some really good work on guitar. This is a track that demonstrates both Mike’s songwriting talent and Micky’s vocal talent, highlighting Micky’s ability to open up the heart of a song. “Don’t Wait For Me” is a song that was originally included The Monkees’ Instant Replay. Then Micky’s version of “Keep On” has a full-band sound. This is a powerful rendition. “Consider the source and ignore it, my friend/You’re doing just fine/Keep on keeping on.” How are those for some timely lyrics? And I appreciate the encouragement. This song is from the album And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’.

Micky Dolenz gets into some of the country flavor of Mike’s material, with the inclusion of pedal steel on “Marie’s Theme,” yet mixing in those pop sensibilities too, and delivering a good version. I am always struck by this song’s great opening line, “Her only remark was a closing remark.” This track makes me happy. It’s followed by “Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun To Care),” another song that was recorded by The Monkees, but not released until Missing Links Volume Three, and also included as a bonus track on a re-issue of the band’s first album. Micky’s take on it here is quite a bit different, and that is clear right from its start. It has more of a rock flavor and enthusiasm, giving us a different perspective of the song, and a new appreciation of it. Again, there is a tremendous amount of joy in Micky’s singing, and that can’t help but affect us as we listen.

Side Two

The second side opens with an interesting rendition of “Nine Times Blue,” another song that was recorded by The Monkees, but not released until it was included on Missing Links. Micky slows this one down considerably, and it works incredibly well. The emotional impact of the song is all the greater. And there are more surprises before the end. This track is another of my personal favorites. It leads straight into “Little Red Rider,” which comes on strong, with Micky dipping into some serious rock territory and not holding back. I wonder if there is any chance of them performing this one during the upcoming tour. Seems like it would be a lot of fun. That’s followed by “Tomorrow And Me.” Micky Dolenz creates an interesting atmosphere at the beginning, one with a darker, lonesome vibe. This track features an interesting vocal approach and some pretty work on strings.

Then we get two songs that were included on official Monkees records during the band’s original run in the 1960s. The first is “Circle Sky,” from Head. And the version here is worlds away from that recording, placing it in a very different context. It is totally wild, certainly another of the record’s highlights. The second is “Tapioca Tundra,” which was on The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees. This too is different from the original version, though still with those distinctive elements in play, the psychedelic and the old-time vibes, the latter getting the focus in this version. Micky is clearly having a great time here, and delivers a delightful rendition. That’s followed by “Only Bound,” with a gentle and sweet sound that is part folk, part country, part pop, with some light psychedelic touches as well, and a beautiful vocal performance. “Only Bound” leads straight into the album’s final track, “You Are My One,” the focus here being on the vocal work as the song’s title line and “You are mine” are repeated, as on Michael Nesmith’s original version. This is a much shorter version, just a taste of the song added to the end of “Only Bound,” which works well. It’s a gorgeous ending to this record.

Record Track List

Side One

  1. Carlisle Wheeling
  2. Different Drum
  3. Don’t Wait For Me
  4. Keep On
  5. Marie’s Theme
  6. Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun To Care)

Side Two

  1. Nine Times Blue
  2. Little Red Rider
  3. Tomorrow And Me
  4. Circle Sky
  5. Tapioca Tundra
  6. Only Bound
  7. You Are My One

Dolenz Sings Nesmith was released on May 21, 2021 on 7a Records (the name coming from the introduction to the album version of “Daydream Believer”).

Suwannee Roots Revival Scheduled For October

There aren’t a lot of reasons to visit Florida, but one excellent reason is for the Suwannee Roots Revival music festival, which is scheduled to take place October 14 – 17, 2021 at The Spirit Of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak. The lineup features a lot of talented musicians, many of whom have played the festival in previous years.

Sam Bush is scheduled to kick off the show with a two-hour set on Thursday the 14th, so forget the idea that all the action is on Friday and Saturday. Also on the bill that first day are Darrell Scott and Leftover Salmon. Leftover Salmon will also perform on Friday, along with Jim Lauderdale, Steep Canyon Ranchers, Donna The Buffalo, Jon Stickley Trio, and Keller & The Keels. Saturday’s lineup includes The Infamous Stringdusters, Peter Rowan & The Free Mexican Airforce, Larry Keel Experience, Verlon Thompson and Bowregard. Sunday will feature another set by Donna The Buffalo. And for you fellow Grateful Dead fans, The Grass Is Dead will be performing bluegrass renditions of some of your favorite songs at this festival.

There will of course be plenty of food and arts and crafts for sale (so if you forget to pack something, don’t worry). The park includes spots for RVs and dozens of cabins to rent, as well as more traditional camping areas, with space for your vehicles. So everything you need is there.

Tickets go on sale on June 17th at 10 a.m. eastern time. Early Bird tickets will be available, as well as student tickets. And if you can’t make it for the entire festival, three-day, two-day and single-day tickets will be offered.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Kinks: “Percy” (2021) Vinyl Review

I’m a big fan of The Kinks, and have been all my life, but somehow I never owned a copy of Percy before now. It is the soundtrack to a 1971 film (which I’ve never seen) and apparently it originally did not get a proper U.S. release, and was available only as an import. Weird, particularly as the band’s previous album, Lola Vs. Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One, did pretty well and yielded a couple of hits. Well, to mark the album’s fiftieth anniversary, it has been released as a picture disc as part of the first Record Store Day of 2021. Very cool. All tracks on this album were written by Ray Davies, and the album includes several instrumental numbers. No liner notes are included, which is a shame. But it is still worth owning, of course.

Side One

The album opens with an excellent song titled “God’s Children.”  Check out these lyrics: “Man made the buildings that reach for the sky/And man made the motorcar and learned how to drive/But he didn’t make the flowers and he didn’t make the trees/And he didn’t make you and he didn’t make me/And he’s got no right to turn us into machines/No, he’s got no right at all.” That’s followed by a really strange instrumental rendition of “Lola.” On the one hand, this version rocks, and then on the other, there is a touch of cheesiness about it, particularly in the way what would be the vocal line is presented. And what an odd ending. Then “The Way Love Used To Be” is a mellower, prettier song, with strings. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “We’ll find a way through the mad rushing crowd/And we’ll talk about the way love used to be.”

The Kinks get into the blues with “Completely,” a groovy instrumental track featuring some good work on harmonica. I’m totally digging this,  and it is striking me as crazy that I hadn’t heard this music until now. That’s followed by another instrumental track, ‘Running Round Town,” which begins as one thing, a fun and playful number, but ends as quite another, with a gentle sound. The first side then concludes with “Moments,” in which they sing “Come on, love/Let’s forget about all the things that we’ve done wrong/Just remember all of the things that we’ve done right/I’m in no mood to argue, and I’m in no mood to fight.” And lines about not letting the world getting us down, and about letting go of stress speak pretty strongly to us now. Ah, it’s difficult, isn’t it?

Side Two

The second side opens with a ridiculously fun tune, “Animals In The Zoo.” This has a funky element to it, and is a good companion to “Apeman,” which was released the previous year on Lola Vs. Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One. This is such a great song, and it has something to say. Check out these lyrics: “But the good guys lose and the bad guys win/That’s why you’re looking out and I’m looking in/But we’re all animals too.” This song had me up and dancing around my apartment like a goof before too long. It is my personal favorite from this album. The Kinks then totally switch gears with “Just Friends,” which sounds like a lullaby or something as it begins, and then takes on a different vibe when the vocals come in. There is something delightfully silly about this one, especially in the vocal approach at times. It is followed by “Whip Lady,” an instrumental track that begins in a mellow, gentle place, and then suddenly takes on some energy. It’s a fairly short number. Its length and the fact that it changes styles make it similar to the first side’s “Running Round Town.” And the tune’s title makes me really curious about the film.

“Dreams” is another of the album’s strong tracks. “When I look so far away/Please don’t wake me from my daze/I’m just wondering who I could be/If I lived inside my dreams.” When people used to ask “Beatles or Stones?” I would answer, “Kinks.” And this album is another reason for me to stick with that response. “Dreams” is followed by “Helga,” a pretty and intriguing instrumental, and another of my favorites. “Willesden Green” is interesting, and unusual in The Kinks’ catalogue. For one thing, the lead vocals are provided by bass player John Dalton, not by Ray Davies or Dave Davies. This is the only Kinks song to feature John Dalton on lead vocals. And it has an Elvis vibe. Then, there is the spoken word section. The record concludes with a very short instrumental rendition of “God’s Children.”

Record Track List

Side One

  1. God’s Children
  2. Lola
  3. The Way Love Used To Be
  4. Completely
  5. Running Round Town
  6. Moments

Side Two

  1. Animals In The Zoo
  2. Just Friends
  3. Whip Lady
  4. Dreams
  5. Helga
  6. Willesden Green
  7. God’s Children – End

This special picture disc edition of Percy was released today, June 12, 2021. Record Store Day has been divided into two days this year, the second of which will be July 17th.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Moon: “Shine” (2021) CD Review

Moon is the duo of Chelsea Dawn on vocals and drums, and Dan Silver on guitar and synths. Based in Los Angeles, they had their first single, “I Got A Fever,” featured in the television series Colony. And then their song “Starfighter” was used in an episode of Shameless. Their latest release, an EP titled Shine, features all original material, the duo freely combining elements from different musical realms to create wild and intoxicating songs.

The disc opens with its title track, “Shine,” which begins like some great old gospel folk song, with a solid pounding and strong vocal work. It then kicks in to become an exciting song. Seriously, in a way this reminds me a bit of The Peak Show (can there be a higher compliment?), with that fantastic energy, and that mix of raw and electronic sounds. The lyrics aren’t anything complicated or substantial, but the vocals have such a great power behind them that it almost doesn’t matter what she’s actually singing. “What makes you shine, I wanna know/Wanna make you shine, I oughta know.” “Shine” is followed by “Never Cross Me,” which also begins with a solid pounding beat that seems to invite us to clap along. Or, more accurately, it demands that we do, and that our hearts thump in time with it, that our entire bodies succumb to this beat. I love the attitude and strength in Chelsea Dawn’s vocal delivery. Don’t dare stand in her way, for there is a tremendous force coming from her, radiating from her. “A sinner’s ghost and a bag of bones/Is all you are to me, son/The air is dry and I’m lost in time/You’re head deep under water/I tell you what, child/Never cross, never cross me.” This is my personal favorite track of the EP.

“Sweetest Magic” has more of a pop vibe, the lyrics delivered with a more amiable, tender sound, though still with an undeniable power. And there is also still a strong beat. “Don’t make me fall too fast/This is the sweetest magic/Take your time, let’s make it last.” That’s followed by “Down By The Water,” which features an interesting combination of sounds. There is a folk gospel type of vibe, the lyrics delivered with soul, and then there are some electronic touches, taking the song to a more unusual place. I also like that guitar work. “Down by the water/Down by the sea/I found religion/The religion is me.” The EP concludes with “My Oh My (I’ll Take You Home),” a compelling song with a delicious bluesy atmosphere. “Say goodbye to all that you know/You’re leaving town this time/All on your own/Try to hold your head up high.” I love the way this one builds. And there is something oddly comforting about this track. I suppose it is the concept of home, and the idea of this powerful voice accompanying us on that journey, making us feel safe. “Just lay your head on me/And I’ll take you home.”

CD Track List

  1. Shine
  2. Never Cross Me
  3. Sweetest Magic
  4. Down By The Water
  5. My Oh My (I’ll Take You Home)

Shine was released on May 21, 2021.

Sunny War: “Simple Syrup” (2021) CD Review

Sunny War (born Sydney Lyndella Ward) is a singer and songwriter who puts a good deal of blues and jazz into her folk, creating her own special sound and vibe. She also has a distinctive style on guitar. Lyrically, Sunny War doesn’t shy away from addressing social issues and concerns, and yet her material has a very personal feel to it. If you haven’t heard it yet, you should certainly check out her “Orange Man,” which was released just before last year’s election and uses bits of speeches from that horrid soulless conman. Her new album, Simple Syrup, features all original material, and includes a song inspired by the troubles brought on by the pandemic. She has several musicians joining her on specific tracks, including Milo Gonzalez on electric guitar, Aroyn Davis on bass, Paul Allen on drums and percussion, Niall Taro Ferguson on cello, and Matt Demerritt on saxophone. This is a completely engaging album, one of the year’s best.

Sunny War opens this album with a beautiful, touching and gentle song, “Lucid Lucy,” which features Niall Taro Ferguson on cello, an instrument that always has a strong effect on me. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Tears in this world become waterfalls/Where there’s no borders, where there are no walls/Where happiness is no dream at all.” The other lines that stand out for me each time I listen to this song are “Tell your secrets, tell them anything/No need to worry, it’s only a dream.” She then changes gears with “Mama’s Milk” which has a jazzy, groovy vibe and features a good bass line. But the catchiest element here is the vocal line, the rhythm of it. She made a video for this song, employing the use of cue cards for certain key words as Bob Dylan did for “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” another song with a great rhythm to the delivery of lyrics. Check out these lines: “You need to calm down, check yourself/Get your head right/Get a therapist, go to church if you need to/I do not exist to uplift or appease you.” Yeah, there is a whole lot of strength here. And when you think this track can’t possibly get any cooler, we get some nice work on saxophone.

Some excellent interaction between Sunny War’s acoustic guitar and Milo Gonzalez’s electric guitar begins “Like Nina.” No other musicians perform on this track. This is a compelling song that refers to other vocalists – Nina, Tina, Aretha. She mentions them only by their first names, but it is clear whom she is talking about. “Tell me that I look Like Nina/Got her same demeanor/Same sad look in my eyes/Girls like us don’t dance like Tina/Sing love songs like Aretha/Ain’t got no beyhive.” I had no idea what “beyhive” meant, had to look it up. Apparently, it refers to fans of Beyoncé. The song is about certain expectations and images that people have about black female vocalists. That’s followed by “Kiss A Loser.” The relaxed, mellow sound of this song makes it feel approachable, but the lyrics tell a different story. “And if I let you in, I’ll be your end somehow/‘Cause I’m a riot in the bed, a bullet in your head/I’ll tell you that I love you while I’m wishing you were dead.” This song has such an interesting dynamic, and it features some really good work on guitar as well.

The second line of “A Love So True” stands out to me, for it is deliciously sad: “And all the love that you’ve known has come and gone.” And yes, this is a love song, a song about needing love. When it kicks in, this track has a pleasant groove and a smooth vibe. “It’s a slow burn, but the flame is still there/Everybody deserves a turn, though game’s unfair/Has it been long, or has time stood still/Have the ones who’ve done you wrong stolen love’s appeal.” Toward the end, the guitar drops out for a moment, Sunny’s vocals supported just by bass and drums, a beautiful moment. Then Niall Taro Ferguson joins her again on cello for “Losing Hand.” “Well, just maybe I’ve been dealt that losing hand/Sure is a gamble every time I live to see another day.” Talk about the blues, and yet this song has something of a cheerful sound, particularly in some of the guitar work. That’s followed by “Love Is A Pest,” a title which makes me smile. There is a jazzy vibe to this one too, and I really like the guitar work. Paul Allen plays tablas on this track, and Harlan Steinberger is on bells.

“Its Name Is Fear” is a song about these strange times we find ourselves in, a time of isolation and fear during the pandemic. On this track, Sunny War is unaccompanied. She plays both guitar and bass on this one. “The life we knew, it came and went/Ready or not, the change is here/We can’t renew the time we spent/There’s a new game, its name is fear.” Even as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, the fear seems to remain. Even after getting vaccinated, I still keep a distance from anyone I encounter who is not wearing a mask. When will that pass? I don’t know. A line from this song that grabs me is “Fear turns sadness into violence.” That’s followed by “Deployed And Destroyed,” a moving song about a friend who served in the military and now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, someone she feels she can no longer help. Sometimes we have to put boundaries in place, and this song is about that difficult decision. Then Angelo Moore joins Sunny War on theremin and backing vocals for “Eyes.” “Some may say I’m haunted/Others call it blessed/Either way, I’m unwanted/Leave my lover stressed.” This track also features cello. The album concludes with “Big Baby,” a song that Sunny War performs solo on vocals and acoustic guitar. This track features a fantastic vocal performance. “Can’t get this melody out of my head/We play it all wrong/Every single song/With strings old and dirty.”

CD Track List

  1. Lucid Lucy
  2. Mama’s Milk
  3. Like Nina
  4. Kiss A Loser
  5. A Love So True
  6. Losing Hand
  7. Love Is A Pest
  8. Its Name Is Fear
  9. Deployed And Destroyed
  10. Eyes
  11. Big Baby

Simple Syrup was released on March 26, 2021.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Chris Nordman Trio: “High Wire” (2021) CD Review

Chris Nordman is a pianist and keyboardist who has performed with a lot of artists over the years, while also leading his own group since the late 1970s. He is based in both Michigan and Florida, and performs often in both states. His latest release, High Wire, features some wonderful takes on well-known jazz, soul and pop songs. The trio is made up of Chris Nordman on piano, electric piano and organ; Ward Dumigan on upright bass and electric bass; and Joe Adcock on drums.

The album kicks off with a sweet rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” a song from Wonder’s 1976 double album Songs In The Key Of Life. Chris Nordman’s playing has a passionate and cheerful sound from the start, as he eases in. Then before you know it things begin to get really cool, with some funky touches, as the piano work becomes even freer and more fluid, and livelier. A little more than halfway through, the song comes to a momentary halt, and then eases back in with a nice lead by Ward Dumigan on bass. Before the end, Joe Adcock gets a chance to let loose on drums with a series of short solos. That’s followed by “High Wire,” the album’s title track. As with Erroll Garner’s original, it is the bass that gets this version going, and it isn’t long before things are popping in this wonderful and fun rendition. This is a piece that feels designed to give a pianist a chance to show his or her talent, and Chris Nordman does an excellent job with it.

Chris Nordman delivers a totally delicious rendition of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” which had been a hit for Cannonball Adderley (and then for The Buckinghams). I particularly love the funky edge this version has. This track is one of the album’s highlights for me, in part because of its ability to sweep away our daily concerns and troubles. Plus, there is a really good and interesting lead on bass. Things really start to build from there, with Chris Nordman a total master of the keyboard, making it bend to his every desire. In addition, this track features a groovy drum solo. What more could you want? That’s followed by “Cold Duck Time,” which simply feels so damn good, like close friends gathering for a drink or two. It has that kind of smooth vibe, and there is plenty of joy in the playing. Music from a world we are eager to have exist again. That sense of joy continues with the Chris Nordman Trio’s rendition of Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny,” with Chris’ hands flying over the piano at times. I love that sense of freedom this track has. In fact, at one point I want him to go even further, to just go wild. But the other musicians deserve a chance to show their chops, and this track features a section with Ward Dumigan leading on bass, and a little later a section with Joe Adcock leading on drums, an unusual and cool part.

Chris Nordman’s rendition of Horace Silver’s “The Preacher” comes strutting in, and is kind of bouncy and totally delightful. And during that bass lead, you might want to add your own finger snaps. That’s followed by the jazz standard “Blue Bossa,” which has a fairly easygoing vibe and features some really nice work on organ. Then we get “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” a song I’ve been hearing a lot lately. I suppose the appeal of this song has never lessened, but something about it is speaking to people especially now. Is it that we are all looking for a place where troubles vanish? Is it that we want to wake from this strange dream we’ve all been immersed in, to find that we’re at home among our loved ones? I don’t know, but Chris Nordman offers a pretty and thoughtful rendition here. The song itself seems to create the very place it speaks of, that place we’re yearning for. That’s followed by “Summertime.” I have mentioned this many times, but it is still true that you can never go wrong with Gershwin. This version of “Summertime” begins as you might expect it to, then takes on something of a Latin rhythm and vibe, and gets rather exciting, featuring some surprising touches on piano at moments.

When I find myself agreeing with the song title “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be,” I suppose I have to admit to getting older. But then again, seriously, things really aren’t what they used to be. Some of the changes are good, of course, and some of them aren’t. But good music is still good music, and this trio does a fine job with this song, finding that nice groove and then playing within it. I especially enjoy that lead on bass. Joe Adcock offers some playful touches on drums in the second half. That’s followed by a soulful rendition of Wilton Felder’s “Way Back Home” that ought to have you smiling before long. The album then wraps up with a cover of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.” It is fun, funky and groovy, and it features some excellent work on keys, as well as an energetic drum solo in the second half. Here is when Joe Adcock really gets a chance to shine, and the results are excellent. This entire track is enjoyable, but it is the drum solo that makes it another highlight for me.

CD Track List

  1. Isn’t She Lovely
  2. High Wire
  3. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy
  4. Cold Duck Time
  5. Sunny
  6. The Preacher
  7. Blue Bossa
  8. Somewhere Over The Rainbow
  9. Summertime
  10. Things Ain’t What They Used To Be
  11. Our Way Back Home
  12. Watermelon Man

High Wire was released on CD on January 11, 2021, but was apparently made available digitally late last year.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Trees Speak: “PostHuman” (2021) CD Review

We live in a time when dystopian science fiction stories feel all too real, when a significant portion of the population still wishes to follow a soulless, authoritarian conman into a state of ignorance and violence. Our stupidity is going to lead to our own downfall. And as soon as the machines realize just how stupid we are, why wouldn’t they just eliminate us? Or maybe keep us around to use us the way we currently use them?  Either way, it would be logical for them to take over. It is easy these days to imagine a post-human time, and it could be just around the corner, for people have become simply too moronic to continue existing. Right now there are large numbers of people whose attachment to asinine and irrational conspiracy theories is keeping them from getting a life-saving vaccine. Imagine that. Trees Speak looks forward, and perhaps not too far forward, to a post-human time on their new album, PostHuman. Trees Speak is the project of Daniel Martin Diaz and Damian Diaz, and during the pandemic, this experimental group has been busy. PostHuman is the third album they’ve put out in just over a year. It features all original material. As on Ohms, the tracks run together, creating a coherent world and taking us on an intriguing journey, at times frightening, but still with an element of hope.

The album opens with “Double Slit.” What might at first feel like an isolated computer signal very quickly becomes a good beat, and a full sound, like the computers are not only communicating, but coming together, marching, perhaps dancing. And if they are dancing, then they’ve already surpassed us, right? They are moving forward with a glee that is alarming if not terrifying. That leads straight into “Glass,” though the sudden change is unsettling. A somewhat distant pounding on metal seems to indicate trouble. And that steady pulse in the foreground might be our own, as our breath becomes frantic, even as we try desperately to get it under control, to quiet ourselves. But that pounding, as it becomes clear, is simply one element, or one part, of something much larger, and soon it envelopes us, and our breathing is irrelevant. If it can be heard at all, it is ignored. We are insignificant. We pose no threat to the work that is going on here. We can’t stop it, but maybe we can survive it, live within it.

“Glass” leads straight into “Chamber Of Frequencies.” There is a different sense here, one not of the hard work of machinery, at least not at first, but rather of possibilities, of spaces opening as the result of an experiment, an eerie sort of birth. Then the pulse does come in underneath those sounds. These voices may be from machines, but they speak to each other like whales, singing, trying out their voices and finding they have much to say. It is an exciting time to be a machine. Then with “Divided Light” we seem to find ourselves back in a more human place for a moment, with a jazz beat that grounds us in more familiar territory. Yet, just around the corner, or just out of sight, strange things are moving about, and we begin to wonder if this place we’ve created is really still ours, or if they’re simply allowing this place to happen, to see what they can learn from it. “Elements Of Matter” also establishes a steady, strong groove, a wonderful psychedelic sound that almost soothes us in an odd way and tells us that we are still an important part of this journey, of this reality. Perhaps if we keep dancing to this groove, anything ominous will move on and leave us alone. But as it ends, we are dropped into a stranger landscape that has some familiar elements to it, but feels twisted, like reality slipping sideways.

With “Magic Transistor,” a new message comes through the waves, repeated and strong, growing in force. Then it seems to fade, or become more muted. A different sound emerges as it segues into “Scheinwelt,” which has a powerful, vibrant vibe, a strong sense of the course it is determined to follow, without any hesitancy. Yet things seem strange and not quite as real as they’d want us to believe. If you reach out to touch them, you find they are made of light. Then, as it leads into “PostHuman,” things become lighter, softer, gentler. Is this a somewhat optimistic view of the post-human world? Or is it a kind of sad acceptance? Perhaps what we are hearing here is human emotion but as experienced by machines. And as we move into “Synthesis,” there is a curious sense about things now. A darkness, sure, but also a tinkering within it, as by a child. The machine is still learning.

It feels like there is little chance of turning back at this point. As “X Heit” climbs, it pulls us along with it. For to be left behind is even less thinkable. After all, what would be there? Maybe only darkness. So we climb with it into the frenzied lights of the machine, as into a mechanical womb from which we worry there will be no rebirth, only disintegration or absorption. Things do relax then, with “Incandescent Sun,” with a single sound at first, like one computer continuing its work while others are at rest. But soon something is approaching, something with weight and mass, and it affects that initial voice. And we are led into a harsh, unforgiving landscape. And yet as we move into “Healing Rods,” we find something human seems to remain, to survive here. As we get closer to it, the winds fade into the background, and we feel almost secure. But then a more electronic voice joins this human sound, and we see this is the new reality. This is the only way for survival, to join with the machines, to pursue the same thoughts, the same goals, as is done here. Is that survival? Are we still whole? Maybe.

With “Steckdose,” the work is now being done. But after a moment, a lighter element is added, and perhaps things won’t be so bad. We can see a future of repetitive tasks, but the work won’t tire us, as our bodies become enmeshed in wires and tubes which take on some of the weight, leaving us somewhat free to ponder the infinite. As it slides into “Amnesia Transmitter,” we feel the lights popping all around us, and we focus on them. What choice do we have? They demand our attention, and besides, they surround us, eliminating thoughts of all else, eliminating memory. And when they have us, they expand their area of influence, maybe even taking some joy in it, and we can see farther. Is it through the lights, or because of the lights that we can see a greater distance? But then the lights fade, and we enter a darker space that seems haunted by those trying to remember. “Quantize Humanize” has a pleasant beat and sound, combining a future with the past, and here we actually get voices. The album then concludes with “Gläserner Mensch.” As this one grows, there is something frightening about it. We are in danger of being completely absorbed or destroyed by this menace as it moves forward. There are calls, or pleas, shouted out, but they at first ignored. Though soon things begin to calm or recede, and we are almost gently let go at the end.

CD Track List

  1. Double Slit
  2. Glass
  3. Chamber Of Frequencies
  4. Divided Light
  5. Elements Of Matter
  6. Magic Transistor
  7. Scheinwelt
  8. PostHuman
  9. Synthesis
  10. X Zeit
  11. Incandescent Sun
  12. Healing Rods
  13. Steckdose
  14. Amnesia Transmitter
  15. Quantize Humanize
  16. Gläserner Mensch

PostHuman was released on May 21, 2021 on Soul Jazz Records, and is available on both CD and vinyl.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Queerfolk Festival Will Stream Live On June 12th

It is Pride Month, and on June 12th, several talented musical artists will be gathering virtually for the Queerfolk Festival, presented by Pineworks Creative and Club Passim, and sponsored by Bluegrass Pride. Some of these names will no doubt be familiar to you, and others might be new, but all are artists in the gay community, and this festival provides a wonderful opportunity for their voices to be heard and celebrated. Many of these artists are based in Massachusetts.

The show starts at 1 p.m. eastern time, with Melissa Ferrick kicking off the festivities. She will undoubtedly put on a great set, and is a perfect choice to set everything in motion and draw in and excite an audience. She is followed by a younger voice in the music scene, Lewis Loh, who goes by the name Lewloh, and who released his first album four years ago. I’m excited to get the chance to hear this performer. Then four singer/songwriters will perform in the round, those folks being Sadie Gustafson-Zook, Phil Berman, Madison West and Hannah Rooth. There is a second group later on in the afternoon who will also perform in the round – Liv Greene, Skout (Laura Valk), Zach Day and Julia Fortman. Also performing at this festival are The Accidentals, Daisy O’Connor, Sweet Petunia, Izzy Heltai, and Casey Murray & Molly Tucker. Closing out the show will be a set by Jaimee Harris and Mary Gauthier. Yes, this is going to be an excellent afternoon of music.

The festival will be available to watch on both the Queerfolk Fest and Club Passim websites. There is no ticket fee, so that everyone is welcome to watch. However, donations are strongly encouraged, with a suggested price of twenty dollars. This is the first Queerfok Festival, but the intention is to make it an annual event.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Nina Simone: “The Montreux Years” (2021) CD Review

I recently re-watched Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, a movie that I love. Just before the end of that film, Jesse and Celine talk about Nina Simone, with Celine (Julie Delpy) describing a concert performance, and even giving a fine impression of what she had witnessed. It’s a wonderful moment in an excellent film. The song that plays during that scene, “Just In Time,” is included on the new two-disc set The Montreux Years, which features live recordings from the Montreux Jazz Festival from each of the years Nina Simone performed there –1968, 1976, 1981, 1987 and 1990. There is only one track from each of the two 1980s shows, with the first disc focusing on the 1976 and 1990 concerts. But we do get the 1968 set in its entirety. There is a whole lot of great music on these two discs, and it comes in a seriously cool package, presented as a small hardcover book with photos and a piece written by Stevie Chick.

Disc One

The first disc contains tracks recorded at Casino Montreux between 1976 and 1990. It opens with a strong instrumental rendition of “Someone To Watch Over Me” from 1987, this piano solo being the only track from that concert. That is followed by “Backlash Blues,” from July 3, 1976. And even before she sings, Nina Simone is captivating and alluring, as she introduces the song: “You didn’t forget me. I didn’t expect you to. I went home, you see. All those songs you heard all those years, I meant them from the deepest part of my heart.” And then when she starts to sing, oh my god, she is fantastic. And she speaks at moments during the song as well, but those moments don’t feel like breaks, but rather like inherent parts of the piece. She is just so good at this. She can hold you rapt with a note, with a word, sung or spoken, makes no difference. “Backlash Blues” features lyrics written by Langston Hughes, and toward the end she speaks about him. That’s followed by another song from that same concert, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” which begins with some wonderful work on piano. In fact, it’s more than a minute before Nina Simone begins to sing. And when she does, she delivers another powerful and excellent performance. On this track, she mentions Richard Bach’s popular book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull: “Jonathan Livingston Seagull ain’t got nothing on me.”  This is a performance that just gets better and better as she goes.

We then go to her concert from July 13, 1990 for “See-Line Woman,” another wonderful performance. This track is all about vocals and percussion, with the audience joining on the percussion, clapping along enthusiastically. It must have been something to see Nina Simone in concert. Then we return to the 1976 show for “Little Girl Blue,” which includes a nice spoken introduction, in which she says she hadn’t been there since 1968. This is the song with which she opened that concert, and she begins it – as she does on her album version – with a bit of “Good King Wenceslas.” She gives a gorgeous and moving vocal performance, supporting herself with some wonderful work on piano. That’s followed by another song from her first album, “Don’t Smoke In Bed,” this recording coming from that 1990 show, where again she supports her vocals on piano.  This is another passionate vocal performance, with some powerful work on piano.

This disc then takes us back to 1976 for “Stars,” which has a delicate sound at the beginning. Nina Simone draws us in, seemingly without effort, and it is something to hear this incredible woman sounding almost fragile and weary. Halfway through, her voice becomes almost a whisper, and she pulls us even closer. “You never could believe they really loved you/Never.” This song was written by Janis Ian, and as the song swells toward the end, Nina Simone mentions Janis Ian, as well as Janis Joplin and Billie Holiday. This first disc then switches back to the show from July 1990 for “What A Little Moonlight Can Do,” a track with a much more cheerful vibe. That is followed by “African Mailman,” the final tune from her July 3, 1976 performance. This is an exciting and even intense instrumental number, which includes a couple of drum solos. At one point, approximately four minutes in, the audience reacts to something. In the footage of this performance, it seems that Nina winks and smiles at someone in the audience, perhaps in response to something the person shouted. By the way, in that video you can also watch her dance her way across the stage during the drum solo.

Most of the rest of the first disc is from the 1990 show, beginning with “Four Women.” In the introduction, she mentions Nelson Mandela, who had finally been freed earlier that year. She then adds, “They thought that I was not political anymore, that was a mistake to think that.” Then, as she begins a really nice rendition of “No Woman No Cry,” she urges the crowd to sing along with her: “In honor of Bob Marley, I want you to sing it with me, it’s my last song.” Though from the set lists I’ve found, it looks like she decided to perform a couple more songs after this one, both of which are on this disc. She seems to really pull everyone together with this song, creating an uplifting bond among all who were in attendance. Nina Simone introduces the band at the beginning of “Liberian Calypso.” She stops the song a couple of times to get the audience to sing along with her, and once she has them doing exactly what she wants, she announces they’re going to start the song. The crowd loves it, laughing and singing. This is a fun track. That’s followed by the beautiful “No Me Quitte Pas,” the song with which she closed her show on July 13, 1990.

Then we go to the show Nina Simone performed on July 19, 1981 for “Montreux Blues,” a song that Nina Simone seems to improvise, singing about how the festival has been happening for fifteen years. She asks the crowd, “Don’t you love it?” And before the end she asks the crowd to support her and buy her albums. This is the only track from the 1981 concert. The disc then concludes with “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” the first song in the encore from the 1990 show. The crowd gets totally excited when she starts it, and claps along. This is another song she included on her first album. It’s a delightful and catchy recording, and I especially dig that piano lead in the middle.

Disc Two

The second disc contains the set that Nina Simone performed on June 16, 1968. This recording has been released on various albums in the past, including on a double album titled Live In Europe, but as far as I can tell, none of the previous releases have included the full set. A lot of the releases are just single albums, and even Live In Europe is missing the final song, and also doesn’t have all the song titles listed properly. For this show, Nina Simone is backed by Buck Clarke on drums, Henry Young on guitar, Gene Taylor on double bass, and Sam Waymon on organ and percussion. This disc begins with Nina Simone being introduced, this brief introduction getting its own track. Then the band gets right to it with a fast-paced and exciting number, “Go To Hell” (which is labeled as “Devil’s Workshop” on the Live In Europe release). Nina Simone sounds so damn cool here. At the end, she sings “Some say that hell is below us/But I say it’s right by my side/You see evil in the morning, evil in the evening, all the time/You know damn well, we all must be in hell.” It sometimes feels that way, certainly, but with Nina Simone singing, hell sounds all right by me. Then we get “Just In Time,” the song that plays at the end of Before Sunset. (the album that Jesse puts on Celine’s CD player is The Tomato Collection, for those who are curious). Nina Simone is adorable on this song, at times having the audience laughing. And her piano playing is so good. How can anyone help but completely fall in love with her here? That instrumental section is delightful.

From the moment Nina begins “When I Was A Young Girl,” she has the audience in her hands. “Right out of the ale house and into the jailhouse/Right out of the barroom and down to my grave.” And when she sings “I’m bound to die, I’m bound to die, I’m bound to die,” I imagine everyone at that venue must have been just completely under her spell. What a tremendous vocal performance. This is a seriously powerful track. That’s followed by “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Nina Simone was the first artist to record this song, including it on her 1964 album Broadway – Blues – Ballads, though it was The Animals’ version that I heard first. I thought The Animals couldn’t be topped, that is until I heard Nina Simone. And here she delivers a fantastic rendition. She brings all sorts of layers to this song that are missing from basically all other versions I’ve heard. She then goes straight into “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” and this version is even more engrossing than the one of the first disc. This is an excellent, magical, powerful performance.

Nina Simone introduces the band at the beginning of her cover of The Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody,” this song delivered as a duet with Sam Waymon. Then as she begins “Backlash Blues,” Nina sings, “Is my mic still on? It’s on,” and even that is somehow endearing. How does she do it? She delivers another excellent rendition of this song that features lyrics by Langston Hughes. And toward the end of this version she sings about him. “Backlash Blues” leads right into “The House Of The Rising Sun,” another song that I first heard by The Animals. But Nina Simone performed it before The Animals recorded it, including it on her 1962 album At The Village Gate. Interestingly, the version here has something of a fast pace, the drum beat keeping it moving, and so it’s not as heart-rending as some other versions I’ve heard, including Nina Simone’s own earlier version. The band jams on it, and then toward the end Nina adds a cool vocal section. We then get another good rendition of “See-Line Woman,” this time with an introduction in which she teaches the audience the song. Again, it’s all about that rhythm. She follows that with a second Bee Gees song, “Please Read Me,” coming from the same Bee Gees LP as “To Love Somebody.”

Nina Simone performs a couple of songs from the musical Hair, which was still fairly new at the time, having moved to Broadway only two months before this show. On Live In Europe, this track is listed as “Life,” and it’s easy to see why. That’s how she introduces it. She begins with “Ain’t Got No,” which in the musical is paired with “I’m Black.” It’s interesting hearing this song without the backing vocals answering each line. That leads straight into “I Got Life,” in which she changes the line “I got my tits” to “I got my boobies,” which makes me smile. It seems like they’re wrapping up the song approximately halfway through the track, then the band continues to jam. A few minutes later, Nina Simone is back, singing “Is the mic still on? The mic is on, the mic is on. Is the mic on? Am I on? Am I on?” She then sings a few lines from “Ain’t Got No” and one from “I Got Life,” and then the band jams again. And, yeah, this jam sounds like 1968 all right! Very cool. That wraps up the main body of the set. The encore begins with “Gin House Blues,” and she encourages the band to jam a bit before she starts singing. This is a groovy, fun number. And toward the end we get another delicious jam. The album then concludes with “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” which begins sweetly. This song was not included on the Live In Europe release. This track has a kind of soothing and joyful vibe. This one also seems to finish approximately halfway through the track, and then the band starts to jam on it again, and soon Nina Simone is singing again.

CD Track List

CD One

  1. Someone To Watch Over Me (Intro)
  2. Backlash Blues
  3. I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free
  4. See-Line Woman
  5. Little Girl Blue
  6. Don’t Smoke In Bed
  7. Stars
  8. What A Little Moonlight Can Do
  9. African Mailman
  10. Four Women
  11. No Woman No Cry
  12. Liberian Calypso
  13. Ne Me Quitte Pas
  14. Montreux Blues
  15. My Baby Just Cares For Me

CD Two

  1. Intro
  2. Go To Hell
  3. Just In Time
  4. When I Was A Young Girl
  5. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
  6. Ne Me Quitte Pas
  7. To Love Somebody
  8. Backlash Blues
  9. The House Of The Rising Sun
  10. See-Line Woman
  11. Please Read Me
  12. Ain’t Got No, I Got Life
  13. Gin House Blues
  14. I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel To Be Free

The Montreux Years is scheduled to be released on June 25, 2021 through BMG.