Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Diana Jones: “Song To A Refugee” (2021) CD Review

A decade ago, Diana Jones released High Atmosphere, which quickly became one of my favorite albums, not just of that year but of any year. Since then, she released Museum Of Appalachia Recordings and a live album, and now has a new studio album out. Titled Song To A Refugee, it features all original material, some excellent songs that speak to our troubled times. Several of these songs are about the crisis at our border, where families have been separated and children placed in cages. Diana Jones is the perfect artist to share these stories, for there is so much passion in her voice, so much love and understanding. For these are really songs about the human spirit. Joining her on nearly all of this album’s tracks is David Mansfield, who plays guitar, mandolin, violin, dulcimer, and mandocello. Jason Sypher plays bass on many of the tracks. Diana Jones also gets some help from special guests, including Richard Thompson.

The album opens with “El Chaparral,” a beautiful and touching song about that crossing point between Tijuana and San Diego, and about the horrors that the people passing there are trying to escape, and the suffering they endure to get there. This track features some really nice work by Will Houlshouser on accordion. The song’s last line is “Only steps away from America,” and the song ends there with the word “America” remaining in our heads, and whatever that word might mean to us at this point. That’s followed by “I Wait For You.” a song about a girl who is sold to a husband and eventually flees to a new country, seeking asylum. “There were no words to say/No place where we were safe/No proof that I was born to my land.” Richard Thompson joins Diana Jones on guitar and backing vocals on this one. “Song To A Refugee,” the album’s title track, is a pretty and moving song. While everything was shut down because of the pandemic, Diana Jones shared some of the new material in an online show presented by Club Passim, and this is one of the songs she performed. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “None of us know where our footsteps will fall/And what will become of the place that we love/The place that we think of as home.” David Mansfield provides some beautiful work on both violin and mandolin.

Diana Jones begins “We Believe You” on vocals, and soon other familiar voices join her. Steve Earle, Richard Thompson, Peggy Seeger and Zara Phillips all sing on this powerful and gentle track. During the awful and painful and infuriating time of the previous administration, an air of distrust was deliberately fostered. Anyone who was from another country was suspect, assumed a criminal, and those who came into our country seeking asylum were instead put into cages. And so to say simply “We believe you” becomes incredibly powerful and heartening. “We believe you came here for asylum/We believe you want to live in peace/We believe you did what we all would do/There’s no difference between you and me.” This is another song that Diana Jones performed during that online Club Passim show. By the way, Diana Jones released a video for this song, which is certainly worth checking out. That’s followed by “Mama Hold Your Baby,” which deals with the separating of families at our border, and the placing of children in cages. When will certain officials be held accountable for these atrocious actions? I am relieved that the racist conman is no longer in the White House, but until he is in prison, democracy remains in danger. “All the way to America/Your baby in your arms/Border guard detain you/You have done nothing wrong.” And then she repeats that last line for emphasis.

“Santiago” also deals with those who seek a better and safer life in this country, and was partly inspired by a photo that Diana Jones saw of a man holding a young child at the border. “I have never been a father/But I would like to be/To this boy named Santiago/Do not take him, please/I promised his mother/Do not take him from me.” This song makes excellent use of dramatic pauses, as in that line “Do not take him from me,” where she pauses before “from me.” Then the Chapin Sisters join Diana Jones on vocals for “Ask A Woman,” a more cheerful-sounding song. It addresses our troubled times, but with a positive and optimistic sense. “Why we get up in the morning these days/If you worry where the light has gone/If it’s worth your way home in the dark/Ask a woman with a child in her arms.” In addition to the vocal work, I really love that violin. The opening line of “The Life I Left Behind” is “If I could tell the story of the life I left behind,” and then she endeavors to do just that. There are many powerful lines, and the lyrics that especially stand out for me are these: “I saw the light change slowly/Behind my mother’s smile/Then the war came quickly/And the bombs rained from the sky/In the end, there was nothing/Nothing left at all/Dust and empty ruins/Everyone was gone.” This track also features more beautiful work on violin.

“Where We Are” is told from a child’s perspective, after being separated from her parents and caged. “They say the chain-linked cages are really walls inside of walls/There are children and more children, and the walls go on and on/This is where we are.” That last line works both to describe the actual situation of the child and the feelings of all of us in this country. This is where the country is now. It has been an unsettling thought. And again, though I am relieved that we have an actual president again, a lot is left to be fixed. “Where We Are” is followed by “Humble,” a gentle and pretty song. Check out these lines: “At sundown you had everything/Woke up to nothing/It all slipped away/When you weren’t looking/Now you wish you could sleep/One more night in that peace/With the one that you love/Breathing beside you.” And, yes, David Mansfield delivers more good work on violin on this track. And on the one that follows, “Love Song To A Bird.” I love that beautifully sad violin. “Heaven seems to catch her wings/And my heart breaks for a song/Love song to a bird that flew/And she never knew, and she never knew.”

“The Sea Is My Mother” takes place in a boat, and is a song of hope and fear. “She calms the waves so I can sleep/Dream of peace and something more/Waiting on a distant shore/My sister dressed me as a man/She gave me all the money she had/She kissed my cheek, she pressed my hands/Be quite as a grave, quiet as you can.” But the vessel is doomed. So too is the dream? The album concludes fittingly with a song titled “The Last Words.” Glenn Patscha joins Diana Jones on piano on this track. It is a song of one who is dying. “You whispered to your mother/Mother, I will be with you soon/Your arms reached out for your brother/As the quiet filled the room.” The approach is so gentle, and the song so beautiful, and ultimately soothing, with its final line, “I am not afraid to go.”

CD Track List

  1. El Chaparral
  2. I Wait For You
  3. Song To A Refugee
  4. We Believe You
  5. Mama Hold Your Baby
  6. Santiago
  7. Ask A Woman
  8. The Life I Left Behind
  9. Where We Are
  10. Humble
  11. Love Song To A Bird
  12. The Sea Is My Mother
  13. The Last Words

Song To A Refugee was released on June 11, 2021 on Goldmine Records.

“We Believe You” music video.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

CODE Quartet: “Genealogy” (2021) CD Review

CODE Quartet is a group based in Montreal, made up of Adrian Vedady on bass, Christine Jensen on saxophone, Lex French on trumpet, and Jim Doxas on drums. They formed in 2017, and in the years since have been creating and crafting original material. Now they’ve released their debut album, Genealogy, which contains mostly original material, with three of the four musicians contributing compositions. The fourth, Jim Doxas, mixed the album. The group is clearly influenced by Ornette Coleman, particularly his early work, even in the very makeup of the band, but they’re not imitating him or his quartet. These guys have their own thing happening.

When a track begins on bass, it’s a safe bet that it’s going to be a cool tune, and such is the case with the album’s lead track, “Tipsy,” which was composed by Lex French. And indeed, that is a fitting title, for this tune has a late-night sense about it, and prowls about as if it’s had at least a few drinks. Both the trumpet and saxophone seem to be out on the streets, strutting and feeling good, like they have intentions and desires but not cares or concerns. Both French and Jensen deliver some excellent work here, creating a rather vivid atmosphere and picture, and I want to just immerse myself in this world, particularly when Christine Jensen is leading. And, yes, this is a seriously cool tune. That’s followed by “Watching It All Slip Away,” which was written by Adrian Vedady. What a wonderfully depressing song title, right? And as you might guess, this one is a slower, more introspective number, the horns having a lonesome and pensive vibe at times. But there is a freedom here, and things do get a bit wild at moments too.  I especially love French’s work on trumpet.

Genealogy is a fascinating subject, and, like many people, I am curious about my ancestors, though not foolish enough to send a company a sample of my DNA in order to get that information. Anyway, the album’s title track, “Genealogy,” is a lively number that includes a short drum solo within its first several seconds, and only gets more exciting from there, swinging and moving and breathing and popping. I am especially crazy about the work by Jim Doxas on drums. Lex French composed this one. That’s followed by “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” the one track that was not written by any of the group’s members. It is an old hymn, and something of an odd choice. As it begins, an interesting atmosphere is created on bass and drums. Something mysterious. And when the horns enter, there is a funereal quality, at least at first, like a slow, sad march through New Orleans. Then it becomes a bit lighter, more fanciful in some of the work on saxophone. Things then pick up with “Wind Up,” a piece written by Christine Jensen. This one has a strong, forceful rhythm. Yes, it features more great stuff on drums. And then the saxophone and trumpet soar at moments over that delicious and robust rhythm. You just want to sink your teeth into this one, and become part of its movement. It is a spirited track, with some excellent playing.

The quartet slows things down again then with “Requiem,” which has a more somber, contemplative mood, though keeps from becoming too dark. It was composed by Adrian Vedady, and that lead on bass is what gets me interested. Then the trumpet is particularly expressive. There are some really gentle moments too. That’s followed by “Day Moon,” which comes on strong, the horns working together almost like an alarm, an announcement of sorts. Then interestingly, the track pulls back a bit and starts to build, and the next time the horns play that part from the beginning, the bass and drums work with them, giving it a different feel, a more grounded sense. The work on drums here is what makes this track something special. There is even a drum solo toward the end. Then Jim Doxas begins “Beach Community” on drums, establishing a catchy island rhythm, one that might get you on your feet. The trumpet and saxophone have a cheerful, friendly feel. This is a track that seems to tell us that life is good, and we can certainly use as many of those as we can get our hands on.

CD Track List

  1. Tipsy
  2. Watching It All Slip Away
  3. Genealogy
  4. O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
  5. Wind Up
  6. Requiem
  7. Day Moon
  8. Beach Community

Genealogy was released on April 23, 2021.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Thomas Comerford: “Introverts” (2021) Vinyl Review

Thomas Comerford is a singer and songwriter based in Chicago. Early in the pandemic, he put out a single titled “Our Valley,” with all of the musicians recording their respective parts in their own homes. Now as we ease our way out of the pandemic restrictions, he has a new full-length record out. Titled Introverts, it features all original material, written or co-written by Thomas Comerford. Joining him on this album are Johnny Caluya on electric guitar and synthesizer, John Lennox on electric guitar, Gregg Ostrom on electric guitar, John Roeser on electric guitar, Robbie Hamilton on synthesizer and percussion, Matthew Cummings on bass, Kriss Bataille on drums, and Tom McGettrick on pedal steel guitar. Matt Focht, Ariel Bolles, Crystal Hartford, Beth Yates, Azita Youssefi, and Amalea Tshilds provide vocals. Introverts is Thomas Comerford’s fourth album, following 2018’s Blood Moon.

Side A

The album opens with “Not Like Anybody Else.” When it kicks in, it has a wonderful summer feel, a bright pop vibe like “Stuck In The Middle With You.” The vocals then have more of a serious tone, along the lines of someone like Lou Reed. And that combination is excellent, making for compelling listening. On top of that, this song features some unusual lyrics, such as these lines: “Vaguely, in my underwater cloud/And I am immediately available/To be overcome is to live long.” And somehow it doesn’t feel like boasting when he sings, “‘Cause I am at the top of my game, and I’m not looking down/Yes, I am all alone up here, not like anybody else.” Perhaps that’s because there is a certain humor to this song. Mike Marsden joins Thomas Comerford on electric guitar on this track. That’s followed by “Cowboy Mouth,” which has a more relaxed vibe at the start, with an easygoing rhythm and an introspective feel. “I was old when I left my home/Never did say goodbye to my mom/She writes me letters to talk of religion/Tells me that it’s not my decision/The lord will wash away my sins.” It is interesting that, with that mellow, relaxed sound, this ends up being something of an empowering song, a song in which the narrator is determined to remain himself, vowing “I will never break for any/Any thing.”

The guitar work on “Three Sisters” has a 1960s folk-rock thing that is always appealing and sounds like summer to me. The lyrics tell a somewhat troubled tale of family, and of leaving home. This just came up in conversation the other day, with my girlfriend saying how the younger generation now will leave without hesitation and not look back. In this song, Thomas Comerford sings, “They flew away without a second thought/But you and your sisters/Flew into the arms of the ones/You knew their love would keep you from harm.” Ariel Bolles, Crystal Hartford and Beth Yates provide some nice backing vocals here. The first side concludes with “Onion City,” one of the album’s most interesting tracks lyrically, and also musically, with several cool touches, such as those on percussion. “The whiskey stays inside me for days/And the arms grow numb/I want to stare for a living/I’m in a moment, ‘bout to always be/And if you’ve no regard for me/Ain’t nobody gonna say that you’re wrong/But you’re wrong/If you let the people running this city/Drag you to the ground.” And there is a pretty instrumental section at the end.

Side B

The second side opens with “Partners” a very cool and unusual tune, with hints of darkness within. A phrase at the beginning of this track stands out for me every time I listen to this album: “sassy monarch.” Something about that hits me just right. This song is delivered as a duet with Azita Youssefi (whom you might know from The Scissor Girls), and her presence adds another fantastic layer. There is also some wonderful work by Tom McGettrick on pedal steel. But what is at the center of this one is Matthew Cummings’ great bass line. “We’ll track them down if they run/We’ll finish off what’s begun.” That’s followed by “Spacetime So Small,” which surprisingly begins with chimes. The vocals here are smooth, and the track has an interesting sound. This song seems to have a folk vibe at its core, but then those electronic sounds take things in a different direction. The overall effect is compelling, almost ethereal, and there are some psychedelic elements toward the end. “When everything was possible/Or seemed so strong/Before the probable got ahead of me/And kept us back/For too long.” This song was co-written by Edward E. Crouse, who also plays synthesizer. John Gargiulo is on electric guitar, and Curtis Ruptash plays fretless bass on this track.

“The Method” has an odd introduction, a hesitant beginning, as if at least one of the musicians is learning the song (and there is a surprising reference to George Michael). There is some humor in this one too. Check out these lines: “Talk of a talking cure/But Freud is a bore/I’m behind a counter/Blowing up a computer.” This track also features some pretty backing vocal work by Amalea Tshilds, who tells us, “You will be happy to hear/I worked it out with me.” The album concludes with one of its strongest, most exciting songs, “Bet Wrong.” I love the way the backing vocals interact with Thomas Comerford’s lead vocal performance, like angels commenting on the spiritual content of the song. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “But now you say that you’ve got nothing left to say/Sky gods left you behind with nothing in their place/What will you turn to now when you’re searching for your/State of grace?” There is also some nice work on pedal steel, adding to this track’s strange and undeniable beauty. The band jams on this one a bit, and then the track ends with an electric pulse, which soon fades into the distance.

Vinyl Track List

Side A

  1. Not Like Anybody Else
  2. Cowboy Mouth
  3. Three Sisters
  4. Onion City

Side B

  1. Partners
  2. Spacetime So Small
  3. The Method
  4. Bet Wrong

Introverts was released on June 18, 2021.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Punk The Capital: Building A Sound Movement DVD Review

When most of us think of the Washington D.C. punk scene, we think of the hardcore bands that seemed to take over in the very late 1970s and early 1980s. But bands in our nation’s capital were delivering punk music several years earlier than that, and the documentary film Punk The Capital: Building A Sound Movement recounts and explores the scene from its beginning in 1976 to when the scene really changed in 1983 and 1984. The film, by Paul Bishow and James June Schneider, features interviews with many of the key players, and a whole lot of great music, including early concert footage. Even if you think you’re familiar with the bands and the history, you are likely to learn something new here, and have fun while doing so. For this documentary, even when it goes into more serious territory, is great fun.

The film goes in chronological order, and is divided into several sections. The first section details the music from 1976 to 1978, and features interviews with members of The Slickee Boys, one of the first punk bands in the area. These guys also incorporated elements of garage and psychedelic music into their material, and the film includes some footage of the band performing “Put A Bullet Thru The Jukebox.” Slickee Boys bassist Howard Wuelfing mentions that the community was quite small at first, with just one venue, The Keg, holding a punk night. There are interviews with other musicians as well, including Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson. Jake Whip, of White Boy, says: “If D.C. seems like a town that punk shouldn’t happen in, then maybe that’s exactly where it should happen. And it did make us want to scream and play really loud.”

When the film enters the next section, detailing music from 1979, it gets into how the group Bad Brains changed things. Members of the band are interviewed, and some concert footage is included. Interestingly, the members of Bad Brains say that it was groups like Sex Pistols and Dead Boys that heavily influenced them and the direction they decided to take their music. This section also contains footage of Teen Idles. That leads to one of the most interesting sections of the documentary, which is about Madam’s Organ Art Cooperative, a place that had a great sense of freedom and where punk shows began being held. Bad Brains actually lived there for a while, writing songs in the basement. What is particularly interesting is the relationship between punks and hippies at that spot. Generally, you think of those two groups as separate. Henry Rollins is hilarious when commenting on that: “I got no wisdom from any of those people. In fact, the people that actually lived in Madam’s Organ, to a certain degree, scared me just a little.”

One of the groups I’m most intrigued by is The Enzymes, a band that apparently never released an album. Jon Gibson, one of the group’s members, talks about how their music was in the punk tradition of social protest, but also had a nonsensical element. Chris Haskett, who would later be a member of Rollins Band, was in this group. And, yes, the documentary includes some footage of these guys performing.  The film’s next section includes information about Dischord Records, how that label was started by The Teen Idles, and its mission to help all the bands. And then the film gets into the hardcore music, with interviews with members of S.O.A. (State Of Alert), Henry Rollins’ first band. I love that footage of them performing. Henry Rollins talks about how the band was in the process of writing new material when he suddenly left to join Black Flag, which put an end to S.O.A. Around that same time, Bad Brains moved to New York, and Minor Threat filled the vacancy they left behind. And of course the film gets into the straight edge movement within the scene. The documentary does a great job of showing just how close-knit the scene in D.C. was. What is also interesting is how the D.C. punks were good about documenting the music and saving stuff, just as concert fliers and tapes and so on.

The film ends in 1983, 1984, when the scene began to change, thanks to inaccurate portrayals of punks in the media. People new to the scene began acting the way they’d seen punks portrayed, and so there was now something false about it. Even worse, was the negativity and violence that was introduced into the scene. But as I said, this documentary has a very positive feel about it, and is an enjoyable ride.

Special Features

Apparently, the first cut of this film was seven hours long. Wow! I wish they would release that. But the DVD does include approximately fifty minutes of bonus footage. It is divided into four sections. The first section is about the band Void, and features interviews with band members Chris Stover and John Weiffenbach, as well as some concert footage of them. The second section is about the band Scream, and includes interviews with members Pete Stahl, Franz Stahl, Kent Stacks, Skeeter Thompson and Dave Grohl (yes, that Dave Grohl, who would go on to be in Nirvana and Foo Fighters). Franz and Pete’s father managed a rock band in the 1960s, The Hangmen, and in this bonus footage, Bob Berberich of that band shows up to talk to them, along with Martha Hull of The Slickee Boys. There is also recent footage of Scream performing after reuniting.

The third section of bonus footage focuses on The Slickee Boys, with Kim Kane saying the band’s name means basically a street punk who sells black market goods. In this footage, Martha Hull reveals that she doesn’t really hate disco. There is concert footage of the group performing “The Girls Want To Be With The Girls,” one of my favorite songs of theirs. The band members talk about how their music changed with changes in personnel. The final section is about the WGTB benefit concert featuring Urban Verbs, The Cramps and The Chumps.

Punk The Capital: Building A Sound Movement was released on DVD on June 8, 2021.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

Things are starting to resemble normal again. As more people get vaccinated, it will be safe for us to go back to clubs and bars (except of course in backward places like Mississippi and Alabama, where people are still not taking this seriously). I can’t wait to see live music again, and have begun purchasing concert tickets for shows coming up in the fall. In the meantime, artists have continued to release music to help us through these strange times. Here are notes on a few new jazz releases you might be interested in.

Blue Muse: “It Never Entered My Mind”
– Blue Muse is a band based in Jacksonville, Florida, made up of Sarah Lee on tenor saxophone, Steve Strawley on trumpet and flugelhorn, Lance Reed on trombone, Jarrett Carter on guitar, Cody Wheaton on bass, Javian Francis on piano, John Medico on drums, and Jack Miller on drums. They put out their first album in 2015, and have now followed that with It Never Entered My Mind, which features music composed by Wayne Shorter. Half of the album’s six tracks were written by Shorter, including the disc’s opening number, “One By One.” This group delivers a good, lively rendition, which includes a series of excellent leads, each of the musicians getting an opportunity to shine. I especially like the work on piano and saxophone. That’s followed by the album’s title track, written by Rodgers and Hart, with an arrangement by Jarrett Carter. The horns have a wonderfully somber and pensive sound, and, as you might expect, this rendition features some good work on guitar. There is a timeless vibe to this rendition. Blue Muse’s rendition of Horace Silver’s “Nutville” opens with a short, but cool drum solo by John Medico, and features some catchy work on bass and more excellent work on drums throughout, but it is the horn section that dominates this track and guides its course, those instruments singing and flying at times. We then get the second of three Wayne Shorter pieces, “Sweet ‘n’ Sour,” and interestingly it is the guitar that gets the first leads and really sets things in motion. Wonderful stuff there. That’s followed by a good rendition of “Freedom Sound,” which was written by Joe Sample and used as the title track for the debut LP from The Jazz Crusaders. I love the lead on bass in this version. The disc concludes with Wayne Shorter’s “Ping Pong,” this lively rendition hopping and moving at a good pace. This album was released on April 23, 2021.

Tanya Dennis: “White Sails Blue Skies”
– Tanya Dennis is a vocalist and violinist, as well as songwriter, and her new album features mostly original material. Titled White Sails Blue Skies, the music here right the beginning has the feeling of being out on a sail boat, near islands, away from the bustle and concerns of the city. In that first song, “Chiaroscura,” she sings “We ebb and we flow/Like the moon on the water/Life shapes and shifts/Tide and drift.” That features some nice work on both guitar and piano, but it is Tanya Dennis’ warm voice that we latch onto as we travel through the world of this music. Accomplished harmonica player Hendrik Meurkens joins Tanya Dennis on “Till You,” a love song about finding that special someone. “I’d be permanently blue/Till you.” Meurkens is giving plenty of opportunity to do what he does best on this track, and there is also some wonderful work on guitar. On the beautiful and haunting “Slow Reckless Tango,” we get to hear Tanya Dennis on violin. The album’s title track, “White Sails,” has a smooth, pleasant vibe. “Clear morning/Out on the bay/The breezes are blowing/Blowing our way.” “The World Can Do Without Us Today” is one of only two songs on this release not composed by Tanya Dennis. This one was written by Ronnie Hughes, and features Hendrik Meurkens on harmonica. Meurkens also contributes his excellent playing to the other track not written by Tanya Dennis, “Indigo.” “Desolation Sound” has an undeniable allure, and features some beautiful work by Tanya Dennis on violin. I also like Scott Halgren’s work on piano. The disc concludes with “All To Myself,” which has a cheerful vibe. “Maybe this is something I should ignore ‘til I come to my senses/And get my feet back under me/What a delicious distraction.” This album is scheduled to be released on June 25, 2021.

Jonathan Karrant and Joshua White: “Shadows Fall”
– Vocalist Jonathan Karrant and pianist Joshua White come together to deliver an excellent album of standards and a few surprises. The album opens with one of those surprises, “The Best” (here listed as “Simply The Best”), written by Holly Knight and Mike Chapman, and originally recorded by Bonnie Tyler, and then by Tina Turner. The arrangement here is quite a bit different from those recordings, obviously, and Jonathan Karrant’s vocal approach is likewise different, yet just as passionate as those two singers, with a wonderful warmth. This is a beautiful rendition, and that work on piano seems able to lift our hearts to great heights. That is followed by a lively and fresh version of “My Romance.” Another of the surprising choices is “I Try,” Macy Gray’s big hit, and this duo gives us a pretty and thoughtful take on it. That’s followed by Mose Allyson’s “Stop This World,” a song with lyrics we can relate to these days, such as “Stop this world, it’s not making sense.” Jonathan Karrant and Joshua White are clearly have a good time with this one, and the results are delightful. They add a cool spoken word section in the middle: “Now when I wake up in the morning and I take a look around/I see a world that keeps on bringing me down/So much struggle, pain and hate.” Indeed. Another song that has a great appeal in these strange days is “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams,” and these two talented musicians present a really good rendition that begins with some playful scat. They also give us beautiful and moving renditions of “My One And Only Love” and Cole Porter’s “So In Love,” and a joyful version of James Taylor’s “Your Smiling Face.” This album was released on May 21, 2021.

Doug MacDonald: “Live In Hawaii”
– The new album from jazz guitarist Doug MacDonald gently swings from its opening track, a really nice rendition of Harold Arlen’s “My Shining Hour.” There is no waiting before you get some excellent work on guitar, with MacDonald’s lead starting off the track. I’m generally not a huge fan of vibraphone leads and solos, but Noel Okimoto’s lead here works so well, and seems to pick up right where MacDonald’s guitar left off, and continues that great feel. Dean Taba follows that with an excellent lead on bass. But what is really striking is that each musician is remaining within a certain structure, so that each lead doesn’t feel like a separate piece as is sometimes the case. The musicians share a common goal, and are really listening to each other, working together, rather than trying to show off with each solo. “My Shining Hour” is followed by “Cat City Samba,” one of two original compositions by Doug MacDonald, and one that MacDonald also included on The Coachella Valley Trio’s Mid Century Modern, which was released last year. Actually, “My Shining Hour” was also included on that release, and opened both albums. Darryl Pellegrini’s work on drums keeps things moving here, and there are some short drum solos that I love, but it is Doug MacDonald’s delicious guitar playing that is the heart of this rendition. Doug MacDonald also delivers a very cool rendition of “Blues In The Closet,” a track that brings a smile to my face the moment it begins. That work on bass is so damn enjoyable, and this album is honestly giving me a new appreciation of the vibraphone. Noel Okimoto’s work here is excellent. The second original track on this disc is “Bossa Don,” a tune MacDonald also included on his View Of The City album, and one with a good, relaxed groove. And then it is the drum solo that makes this version of “Lester Leaps In” stand out for me. The album concludes with “Stranger In Paradise,” another tune that was also featured on Mid Century Modern. There are some playful touches at the end. This album was released on May 4, 2021.

Quick Quartet: “Low Rent Space”
– The new album from Quick Quartet features all original material written by Jason Quick. The group, based in Toledo, is made up of Jason Quick on guitar, J. Ronquillo on bass, Zac Kreuz on drums, and Ben Wolkins on trumpet, with Ben Maloney joining them on keys for a few tracks. The album opens with its title track, which has a cool, kind of funky rhythm. This number is performed by the core trio, without trumpet, and so focuses on that guitar work, which has certain rock influences in its style and a progressive feel at times. Toward the end, there is a good lead on bass. Ben Wolkins then plays trumpet on most of the rest of the album’s tracks, beginning with “Strange Waltz,” which features his work on trumpet right from the start. This tune has a relaxed, easygoing vibe, and is one of the tracks to feature Ben Maloney’s work on keys. Maloney delivers a nice lead approximately halfway through. That’s followed by “Vultures Wear Disguises,” which is my favorite song title from this release. This one also features Ben Maloney on keys. It has an urban atmosphere, and provides a good warning, for vultures are everywhere these days, though some of their disguises are easy to spot. “Flippin’” is one of my personal favorites. I love the way it slinks and slides in, and gets you caught up in its cool vibe. It is fairly early in the track when we get that delicious lead on bass. And check out that wonderful work on trumpet. Then Jason Quick’s guitar lead struts and dances and owns the space. That’s followed by another of the disc’s highlights, “Mugatu,” which I love mainly for that lead on guitar, and the way it is supported by a great and fun rhythm on bass and drums. Zac Kreuz totally delivers here. The cool vibes continue on “Dirty Bird Blues,” which features more excellent work on guitar, and a really good drum solo. As it began, the disc concludes with a piece performed by the core trio, “Illusion,” an unusual tune that opens with some solo work on guitar and keeps the listener on edge through much of it. This album was released on April 1, 2021.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Peggy Lee: “World Broadcast Recordings (1955) Volume 1” (2021) Vinyl Review

Peggy Lee was quite busy in the 1950s. Three of her four marriages took place at least partly in that decade. She released more than a dozen albums on Decca and Capitol. She made many television appearances, and she had roles in several films, including Pete Kelly’s Blues and Lady And The Tramp, both of which came out in 1955. Somehow in that same year she found the time for a few recording sessions for World Program Service, which provided original content for radio syndication. For those sessions, she chose mostly standards, songs she and the musicians had been performing on their nightclub dates. Among the musicians who accompany her on these recordings are Gene DiNvoi on piano, Bill Pitman on guitar, Peter Candoli on trumpet, Jack Costanzo on percussion, Stella Castellucci on harp. The rest of the band is uncertain, as apparently they weren’t keeping careful track of that sort of thing back then. World Broadcast Recordings (1955) Volume 1 is the first volume in what is intended to be a series of records that will include every track she recorded at these sessions. It is going to be released on July 17th, as part of the Record Store Day celebration, and is offered in a beautiful translucent pink vinyl. The tracks have been remastered, and they sound really good.

Side One

The album gets off to a great start with “It’s A Good Day,” a song that Peggy Lee had included on a single in the mid-1940s. The opening lines, “When I woke up this morning, I was feeling all wrong/Couldn’t find any reason for a happy song,” are ones we can relate to. We’ve had days like that, haven’t we? Particularly during this pandemic. But of course, Peggy Lee won’t let us dwell in that space, and this song soon kicks in to become a delightful, fast-paced gem. There is a great deal of cheer, with lines like “And it’s a good day for losing the blues” and “So take a deep breath, and throw away the pills.” There is such a bright energy to her vocal performance, which drives the song. And the band is right there with her, sharing the positive vibes. That’s followed by “That Old Black Magic,” which has a delicious rhythm and some interesting changes too. Peggy Lee’s voice is the focus. Sometimes it seems she is at her best when singing about love. “In a spin, loving that spin I’m in/Under that old black magic called love.” She slows things down then with a beautiful rendition of “Autumn In New York.” I love hearing her voice supported by piano. She delivers an excellent performance, holding us spellbound as she sings “Autumn in York/Is often mingled with pain.”

Peggy Lee then brings us up again with “I May Be Wrong (But I Think You’re Wonderful),” a more cheerful song that has a playful sense, heard in lines like “All of your shirts are unsightly/All of your ties are a crime.” And then there is the harp, which gives the track a touch of magic. She also gives us a really good version of “I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues.” I love the way she holds onto the first syllable of “river” in the line “Down around the river,” stretching it out just a bit more than many other renditions. It is interesting that after she hits the word “misery,” there is a pretty swell on harp, which to me is the opposite of misery. It is like she is trying to fight off the misery, even as she sings about it. That’s followed by a fun rendition of  “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” featuring some good work on guitar toward the end. The first side of the record concludes with “What Is This Thing Called Love?” It has a strong, intoxicating rhythm. And what a vocal performance; it has vigor, yet also betrays a vulnerable side.

Side Two

The second side opens with a delightful rendition of “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive,” and she totally sells it, her heart clearly completely in it. When she sings “You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum,” it feels that she is trying to do just that with her voice, and succeeding. The song provides a good message for us in these troubling days. That’s followed by “Me,” with Peggy Lee getting some wonderful support on piano. And I especially love that work on trumpet, those moments standing out. “People Will Say We’re In Love” is one of the album’s best tracks, with Peggy Lee sounding absolutely adorable. That’s followed by “What Can I Say After I Say I’m Sorry?” This track features a great lead on guitar.

Peggy Lee can hold us rapt, as she does at the beginning of “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning.” And she seems to know it, and once she has us, she lets the song kick in. I love how this version has moments that are nearly delicate, and then big, joyful moments. This is an excellent rendition of the song from Oklahoma!All the sounds of the earth are like music/The breeze is so busy, it don’t miss a tree.” That’s followed by “Taking A Chance On Love,” an endearing joy in her voice, which can’t help but affect us. Doesn’t this track make you want to fall in love with the entire world? The record concludes with a fantastic rendition of “Bye Bye Blackbird,” which is gloriously sad and beautiful, especially as she sings, “No one here can love or understand me.” Then there is that specific moment toward the end when happiness takes over, one of the reasons this rendition is better than most I’ve heard. This is one of my personal favorite tracks.

Vinyl Track List

Side One

  1. It’s A Good Day
  2. That Old Black Magic
  3. Autumn In New York
  4. I May Be Wrong (But I Think You’re Wonderful)
  5. I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues
  6. I Get A Kick Out Of You
  7. What Is This Thing Called Love?

Side Two

  1. A-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive
  2. Me
  3. People Will Say We’re In Love
  4. What Can I Say After I Say I’m Sorry?
  5. Oh, What A Beautiful Morning
  6. Taking A Chance On Love
  7. Bye Bye Blackbird

World Broadcasting Recordings (1955) Volume 1 is scheduled to be released on July 17, 2021 (the second of two Record Store Days) through Org Music. It is limited to 1,500 copies.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Having A Party!: Sun Records Curated By Record Store Day, Volume 8 (2021) Vinyl Review

In 2014, a special compilation of music from Sun Records was released on vinyl for Record Store Day. It contained some well-known and beloved songs, such as Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” and Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.” The tracks were selected by folks who work in record stores, and the pressing was limited to 4,000 copies. Each year since then, a new Sun Records compilation has been released, always with tracks chosen by record store employees. This year Record Store Day is split into two days, the first of which was on June 12th. On that day, Having A Party: Sun Records Curated By Record Store Day, Volume 8 was released. This record also contains tracks by Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, though lesser known numbers. There are also songs from Bettye Lavette, Slim Rhodes and Alvin Robinson, among others. The songs here are all fun, fitting with the compilation’s title. And really, after the long, awful year of the pandemic, we are all in need of a party. Well, here it is.

Side One

The album opens with a fun and funky tune from Bettye Lavette, “We Got To Slip Around,” in which she says they have to “be together whenever we can.” Oh yes. Sure, this song is about cheating, but we can forget that for the moment and just think about being with the people we’ve been missing during the pandemic. And I love the way this track ends, with the instruments fading and just her voice remaining for a moment. Then we really start to shake and move and cut loose with Frank Ballard’s “Shake ‘Em Up Baby.” The party is now getting into full swing. This track has such a good feel about it. That’s followed by “Nothin’ Shakin’ (But The Leaves On The Trees),” the second of three tracks in a row with some form of the word “shake” in its title. And, hey, we can take the hint and shake our stuff. While Linda Gail Lewis sings that nothing is shaking but the leaves on the trees, we can hear for ourselves that that just isn’t the case. Kind of like when Jerry Garcia would sing that nothing was shaking on Shakedown Street. The saxophone lead here is fantastic and forceful. I wish it went on a bit longer, but the player certainly makes the most of the moment. This is one of the record’s highlights. Then in “I’m Gonna Shake It & Break It,” Rosco Gordon (spelled “Roscoe” on this record) sings, “I’m gonna make it/I’m gonna shake it/I’m gonna take it/I’m gonna break it/I’m gonna try everything, girl, to get along with you.” Shake and boogie all night, that will work. “I’m gonna shake it/Girl, I’m never gonna stop/I’m gonna rock it/Girl, I’m not even gonna take a break.” Well, all right! That’s the sort of party we’re looking for.

In “Gonna Romp And Stomp,” Slim Rhodes promises “We’re gonna have fun tonight,” and I don’t doubt that for a second, not with this delicious bit of country swing rockabilly playing. That’s followed by “Friday Night,” with Jerry Lee Lewis rocking both the keys and us, telling us, “It’s Friday night and I feel fine.” It’s difficult to keep from feeling fine with such good music on. He also tells us that he has an urge to spend every penny he earned this week. And why not? To tell with the bills, we need to have some fun! The first side then concludes with The Brightlights’ “Motor City Funk Pt. 1,” which has a delicious party atmosphere right from the moment it starts. It’s one of those loose tunes that basically insists on everyone dancing. Nothing else is necessary.

Side Two

The party continues on the record’s second side, picking up right where it left off, with “Motor City Funk Pt. 2.” And The Brightlights are still urging folks to put their feet together. Hey, is this party thrown by Quentin Tarantino? This song gets wonderfully goofy, and as it’s ending it sounds like an essay is being assigned. The funky vibes continue with Soul Suspects’ “Funky Drop,” another song in which a dance is introduced. But whatever you’ve been doing so far is just fine. Just keep moving and enjoying that great beat. And speaking of the beat, that song is followed by Clarence Murray’s “Dancing To The Beat.” “You’re driving me insane/It’s very, very plain/You got the power/My heart’s beating louder.” Now that is the sort of declaration of love I completely understand.

But for me, things get even better with “Groovy Train,” a totally delicious instrumental track from Wade Cagle & The Escorts. It moves like a train, one everyone wants to jump aboard, because we know this train is going to be all about the action. Hell, the band calls itself The Escorts. This track is another of the album’s highlights. That’s followed by another instrumental track, the Four Upsetters’ rendition of “You Can’t Sit Down,” a song that was a hit for The Dovells. I dig that work on keys, the way it builds energy toward the end. That’s followed by Alvin Robinson’s rendition of Earl King’s “Come On,” which he recorded under the title “Let The Good Times Roll.” There are a lot of songs with that title, and they’re all good. This one has a great raw energy as well as a good deal of soul and some nice work on guitar, and it is one of my favorite tracks. The album concludes with Carl Perkin’s rendition of “Drink Up And Go Home.” “Don’t tell me your troubles/I’ve got enough of my own/Be thankful you’re living/Drink up and go home.” Aw, does that mean the party’s over?

Record Track List

Side One

  1. We Got To Slip Around – Bettye Lavette
  2. Shake ‘Em Up Baby – Frank Ballard
  3. Nothin’ Shakin’ (But The Leaves On The Trees) – Linda Gail Lewis
  4. I’m Gonna Shake It & Break It – Rosco Gordon
  5. Gonna Romp And Stomp – Slim Rhodes
  6. Friday Night – Jerry Lee Lewis
  7. Motor City Funk Pt. 1 – The Brightlights

Side Two

  1. Motor City Funk Pt. 2 – The Brightlights
  2. Funky Drop – Soul Suspects
  3. Dancing To The Beat – Clarence Murray
  4. Groovy Train – Wade Cagle & The Escorts
  5. You Can’t Sit Down – Four Upsetters
  6. Let The Good Times Roll – Alvin Robinson
  7. Drink Up And Go Home – Carl Perkins

Having A Party!: Sun Records Curated By Record Store Day, Volume 8 was released on June 12, 2021 through Org Music. It is limited to 3,000 copies.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Lara Hope And The Ark-Tones: “Here To Tell The Tale” (2021) CD Review

Lara Hope And The Ark-Tones are an energetic band based in Kingston, New York, delivering fun rockabilly, country and rock and roll music. They released their first album, Luck Maker, in 2014, and followed it in 2017 with Love You To Life. Now they have a new album coming out, Here To Tell The Tale, which features all original material. They actually were finishing this album early in 2020, but the pandemic put the album’s release on hold. Now that things are opening up and bands are able to tour again, we are getting a chance to enjoy this excellent new release. And yes, the band is hitting the road, with the album release party scheduled for June 26th in Woodstock, New York. The band is made up of Lara Hope on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Matt Goldpaugh on upright bass and backing vocals, Eddie Rion on lead guitar and backing vocals, and Jeremy Boniello on drums and backing vocals. Joining them on this release are Matt Jordan on piano, Hayden Cummings on saxophone, Rosie Rion Porco on fiddle and cello, and Bobcat Arkham on baritone guitar. MaryKate Burnell, Sarah Perrotta, Erica Pivko and Liz Harrington provide backing vocals.

The album opens appropriately enough with a song titled “Let’s Go!” And yes, it’s exactly the right way to set things in motion. This lively song is a whole hell of a lot of fun, with that great rockabilly guitar and rhythm, and those energetic vocals. “I ain’t got no time to waste,” Lara Hope sings, and the party is underway. And anyone who listens will be eager to join. The fun continues with “Stop, Drop & Roll,” a song that puts a big, goofy, demented smile on my face, especially as she sings “Stop, drop and roll/Because he’s on fire.” That matter-of-fact delivery of the “fire” line gets me to picturing a man actually on fire, with Lara standing nearby, casually offering advice in between shots of whisky or something. Wonderful! And I totally dig the saxophone. This song is a delight.

The album’s title track, “Here To Tell The Tale,” is an enjoyable number that features some excellent work on guitar and a great bass line. This song includes that weak “shelf”/“self” rhyme, but it also includes these lines: “Time is always flying/And you’re the pilot/So go and make a memory/One you won’t forget/They may call you crazy/But I’ll call you alive/You’ll never know/Unless you go.” Yes! Get out there and live your life. The band offers more advice in the humorous and playful “Some Advice,” which follows, reminding us not to take them too seriously. This song moves and rocks, and I love the backing vocalists echoing the title line. Then halfway through this track, we hear bits of standard advice, sounding like messages left on an answering machine: “Take your vitamins, have children, clean your bedroom, pay your bills on time.” There is some great stuff on saxophone. This track ends on the playful line, “Whether you want it or not.”

“Whoa Is Me” is an amusing title that I can’t help but like, and it is totally fitting for this band. I can’t imagine Lara Hope doing a song titled “Woe Is Me,” not with that energy and that joy. Self-pity does not seem to be her thing. But “Whoa Is Me”? Absolutely! And yeah, this track is such great fun, and it features some excellent work on guitar. Rosie Rion Porco delivers some wonderful stuff on fiddle, and there is a surprising section of vocals and percussion before the end. Then “It’s A Crime” begins on a more somber, haunting note. It soon becomes a cool country number, featuring what is probably the best vocal performance of the album. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “It’s a crime/To never leave your home town/To never get to go down/To where the music plays.” This one is mellow. Well, mellow for these guys, anyway. It is followed by “Running In Circles,” that whistling at the beginning being so cool, taking us to the wild west. Soon the song kicks in to become a glorious ode to procrastination. “I’ve been telling all the neighbors that I’m going to get it done/But I’m not one to say no to fun.” Oh, that was clear from this album’s opening moments. And before the end, Lara Hope turns this song on itself with the line “I’ve been putting off writing this song about procrastinating.”

“Knocked Out” is a delightful, playful, jazzy number, in which Lara sings “When I sleep, I dream of you/ And when I do, there’s drool on my pillow/I’m knocked out just thinking about you.” I love this track’s ending, taking us to a different time with that nod to “Mr Sandman.” Then Jeremy Boniello begins “The Art Of Asking” on drums, and the tune establishes a mellower vibe at the start. Those backing vocals come as a delightful surprise, like doo-wop vocalists. The song then kicks in, and the vocals take on more power. “So don’t you be afraid to ask for something/Or you’ll get nothing.”  That’s followed by “12 Minutes Of Hot Water.” I totally appreciate this song, probably in part because the water in my building keeps getting shut off.  It is a playful, light song, and yet it does contain a message about conserving water, something those of us out in the west are undoubtedly cognizant of. Lara Hope And The Ark-Tones wrap up this album with “I Drink To Your Health,” which has an unexpected opening, with some glorious vocal work, almost like a religious service. Then of course it soon kicks in to become a lively number, its main line being “I drink to your health so damn many times that I’ve already ruined my own.” And the party that began on this album’s first track reaches a dramatic conclusion on this track.

CD Track List

  1. Let’s Go!
  2. Stop, Drop & Roll
  3. Here To Tell The Tale
  4. Some Advice
  5. Whoa Is Me
  6. It’s A Crime
  7. Running In Circles
  8. Knocked Out
  9. The Art Of Asking
  10. 12 Minutes Of Hot Water
  11. I Drink To Your Health

Here To Tell The Tale is scheduled to be released on June 25, 2021 on Sower Records.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Gawain And The Green Knight: “A Sleeping Place” (2021) CD Review

Gawain And The Green Knight is the tale of one of King Arthur’s legendary Knights of the Round Table accepting a challenge from a mysterious knight who seems unaffected by death. Gawain And The Green Knight is also the name of the duo of Alexia Antoniou on vocals and guitar, and Mike O’Malley on Irish bouzouki, keys and vocals, a couple with a clear interest in legends and mythology. On their new EP, A Sleeping Place, there is a track titled “Dionysus,” and another in which Aphrodite plays a part. These guys have their own distinctive sound and approach, creating songs with a wonderful literary quality. Joining them on this release are Sam Weber on bass and Derek Swink on drums, both of whom played on earlier releases as well, and Michael Sachs on flute and clarinet.

The EP opens with “The Dressmaker,” a surprising, well-written and completely original song about a woman whose marriage is ending. Certain lines make me smile: “Upstairs our neighbors our fucking/Through the walls, I think I hear my name.” And the lines that follow those are striking: “I hide behind my own teeth/I hide below my own brain.” This is a lively number, though with some introspective moments. It is an honest and exciting ride through a troubled domestic setting and through a woman’s mind as she manages her own way out of the situation, emerging triumphant as her own person. Yes, it is ultimately an optimistic number. That’s followed by “Dionysus,” which begins in a mellower place, but is striking in its own way, particularly in that repeated line “I don’t want to be, I don’t want to be in my mind,” which begins the song. This past year, when we were left on our own, isolated, I bet a lot of people found they didn’t like being alone in their own minds. This track features some really nice vocal work. “And the god with bloodstains/On his teeth/That’s the god for me.”

“Bridget” is about immigration, immersing us in the story and feelings of one person who is writing to her family still in the home country. There is something sad and lonesome about it, as a good deal of her life is spent in memories, in her mind. A song of an internal, personal struggle. As it is occurring to me how pretty this song is, I hear Alexia Antoniou sing “I say pretty things, pretty things.” And I love these lines: “And if I’m kind to myself/If I’m kind to myself/Don’t think poorly of me.” That’s followed by “In My Dreams, A Perfect Chair,” which is as delightful as its title. When Alexia sings “Somebody tell me I’m not good at this, so I can just go home, please/Thank you very much, please,” I fall completely in love with this song. “And it’s looking pretty bad, but I know I can make it worse.” I think we’ve all been in touch with that sort of anxiety at one time or another.

There is a strange joy to “Birds & Wine,” the song that features Aphrodite. Check out these wonderful lines: “I can make you happy/I can make you beg for me, make you beg for me/And maybe I will.” Her voice builds as she sings those lines, and then there is some light, fanciful work on flute as if to keep her from getting too carried away. And then that clarinet is so good. What an interesting and unusual song. It ends with some beautiful vocal work. The EP concludes with “Fingers,” which was the first song that I heard from this release, the one that drew me in. It is gorgeous and gentle and loving, and features more striking and memorable lyrics, such as “I will share my grave with you/As you have shared your bed with me/How I hope/Our ribs and our bones/Lace like fingers.”

CD Track List

  1. The Dressmaker
  2. Dionysus
  3. Bridget
  4. In My Dreams, A Perfect Chair
  5. Birds & Wine
  6. Fingers

A Sleeping Place was released on June 11, 2021.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Holsapple & Stamey: “Our Back Pages” (2021) CD Review

Record Store Day was split into two days this year, the first of which was this past Saturday, June 12th. Among the many interesting records released that day was a new album from Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey, Our Back Pages, in which they revisit some of the material they performed in The dB’s. But if you missed it, do not despair, for the album is being released on CD on June 18th, and the CD version has two extra tracks. The album’s title is a nod to Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages,” which features the line “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey deliver delicious acoustic renditions of some of their favorite dB’s songs, focusing on harmonies. The two musicians play most of the instruments on this release, though do get a bit of help from John Teer on violin and Libby Rodenbough on violin.

The album opens with “Today Could Be The Day,” which was written by Peter Holsapple, and originally appeared on 1987’s The Sound Of Music. This new rendition has a wonderful, positive energy and vibe, and features some great work on fiddle. Sure, it might not be as lively as the original version, but there is a sweet aspect to it that I love, and the vocals are excellent. They follow that with “From A Window To A Screen,” from Repercussion, this one written by Chris Stamey. There is something beautiful about this song, particularly because of the vocal work. And check out these lines: “Some would say we were friends/I won’t make that mistake again/I won’t make that mistake again/Careless at the start/Cautious at the end.”

“Black And White” is the lead track from the band’s debut album, Stands For Decibels. This version really stands out for me. It is interesting, for the song still has an edge, but it’s different now. The sense of the song has changed. It feels more introspective, more thoughtful, and maybe it is that there is something sadder now in the line “I guess I don’t enjoy you anymore,” because presumably there is more history behind it. “Love, love is the answer/To no question/Yeah, but thanks for the suggestion/I know I don’t care at all/Yeah, I know I don’t know anything at all.” On that first album, “Black And White” is followed by “Dynamite.” And it is likewise followed by that song here, where, as you might guess, it has a different feel, mainly because the strumming on acoustic guitar has a sweeter sound. And I love the way they handle the bridge in this version. This song was written by all four members of The dB’s.

“Molly Says” originally was included on The Sound Of Music. I’ve always appreciate the humor of this song, like how Molly says that he reminds her of her old man, and then he says “I never liked her old man that much to be begin with.” But the lines that really stand out for me are “She could stand at the top of the world/And still complain that she could not see/She could stand in a deep dark hole/And still look down on me.” This one was written by Peter Holsapple. It’s followed by “Happenstance,” written by Chris Stamey. For some reason, the line “One day in your cul-de-sac, you’ll realize what it meant” always makes me smile. Is it just the use of the word “cul-de-sac”? Not sure, but I love the line. And this version features a really nice lead on guitar.

“Big Brown Eyes” comes from the first album. A couple of years ago I was fortunate to see these guys perform this song at The Federal Bar (they also did “From A Window To A Screen” at that show). Also from that first album comes “She’s Not Worried,” one of my personal favorites on this new release. This rendition is a total delight, making me smile right from the beginning and that first line “She’s not bothered by the foolish way I lead my life, ‘cause she knows it’ll be over soon.” That is certainly a fantastic opening line. And the instrumental section near the end is adorable. “Sometimes I don’t say the silly words she wants to hear/But you know it’s always on my mind.” This one was written by Chris Stamey. Then “Picture Sleeve” is a totally cool song that was released as a single for Record Store Day a decade ago, and is a song that Peter and Chris wrote together. I love this new rendition, this song working so well in this stripped down setting. It’s another of the disc’s highlights.

“Depth Of Field” is song that was written for the Repercussion album, but not included. It wasn’t included on any album by The dB’s, but was included on Chris Stamey’s It’s A Wonderful Life, released in 1982. Libby Rodenbough plays violin on this beautiful rendition, which is part of the reason this track ends up being another of my favorites. The vinyl edition of this album concludes with “Nothing Is Wrong,” a song written by Peter Holsapple and originally included on Repercussion. The version here features the full band (Will Rigby on drums, Gene Holder on bass), and was originally included on a 2006 compilation, Songs For 65 Roses. The dB’s are joined by Andy Burton on keys. The CD version contains two bonus tracks, the first of which is “Darby Hall,” a song written by Peter Holsapple and originally included on re-issues of Like This. This new version features some excellent vocal work. The disc concludes with “In Spain,” a song from Repercussion. This is yet another highlight, and contains what might be the best vocal performances of the entire album.

CD Track List

  1. Today Could Be The Day
  2. From A Window To A Screen
  3. Black And White
  4. Dynamite
  5. Molly Says
  6. Happenstance
  7. Big Brown Eyes
  8. She’s Not Worried
  9. Picture Sleeve
  10. Depth Of Field
  11. Nothing Is Wrong
  12. Darby Hall
  13. In Spain

Our Back Pages is scheduled to be released on CD on June 18, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings. It was released on vinyl on June 12, 2021.

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.