Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Gleaming Spires: “Walk On Well Lighted Streets” (1983/2021) CD Review

Gleaming Spires were basically a duo for their first release, Songs Of The Spires, but by the time of the release of the band’s second album, Walk On Well Lighted Streets, they had added members Bob Haag and Jimbo Goodwin, and so the sound was somewhat different, somewhat fuller. The album came out in 1983, the same year as R.E.M.’s Murmur, U2’s War, The Police’s Synchronicity, and that great first album from Violent Femmes. We sometimes think of the 1980s as a decade of cheesy, harmless, fun pop music, but a lot of interesting albums were released during that time. And Gleaming Spires certainly had a knack for writing material that was different from the usual fare, with more engaging lyrics. That second album is now being re-issued in an expanded edition, which features nine bonus tracks and extensive liner notes, including interviews with the band’s two founding members, David Kendrick and Leslie Bohem.

The album opens with “Mining,” an excellent pop song with a delicious rhythm. I really like David Kendrick’s work on drums, and that is a big part of the reason for my love for this song. Though, as with most of this band’s material, the lyrics are a major part of the appeal. Check out these lines: “I had to go, had to go down mining on my own/I have dark passions to subdue/My feelings to suppress when I am mining.” There is a cool jam in the second half. It’s an excellent opening track, and is followed by “You’re Right,” which as a more serious tone, a song about identity. Check out these lines: “I’m just the kind made to stand in the wings/Nervously watching for some little thing to go wrong/Something always goes wrong.” Yes, if you watch for things to go wrong, go wrong they will, which somehow validates your initial worry. As for compelling lyrics, here is a taste from “Big Surprise”: “I’m tortured and twisted and guilty and small/Catholic and married and that isn’t all/I can’t even pick myself up when I fall/And now I’ve got something for you.” Yeah, even if the chorus has the sound of a normal 1980s pop song, the lyrics help this song stand apart. “You’ve got a brand new wardrobe/But that won’t help you hide/I’m bringing you instant depression/To use in your everyday life.”

The album’s title track, “Walk On Well Lighted Streets,” has a wonderful dance vibe, with hints of darkness to keep things interesting. “Look twice at everyone you meet/You hear laughter in the dark/It’s someone eating someone’s heart/It’s best to play it smart, polite and sweet/And walk on well lighted streets.” Here they are poking fun at that sort of paranoid advice we were given as kids, that idea that there were monsters everywhere, just waiting for a chance to snatch us. Though these days I can see a bit of where that advice was coming from. That’s followed by “Fun Type,” which has a wild power and energy, the kind of song that makes you want to hurl yourself against a wall. “Some say we live in hell/And the time for fun is ended.” “A Christian Girl’s Problems” is another unusual pop song. The music is fun, this is one you can dance to, but the lyrics are delightfully different. Here is a taste: “There are pills that make you lurid/They take you up to heaven/There are words you’ve never said/And now it’s time to say them.” “At Together” is also a strange one, an intriguing song with a rather cheerful-sounding chorus, but a darkness to the verses, ending with Les Bohem repeating “My home is empty.” The original album concludes with “Yes I Can,” a lively number inspired by Sammy Davis Jr. (Les Bohem talks about that in the liner notes).

Bonus Tracks

This disc contains nine bonus tracks, the first six coming from Party E.P., which was released in 1984, and the remaining three from films. Party E.P. begins with a goofy and enjoyable song titled “Funk For Children,” and yes it is funky, and yes it has children singing. It maybe goes on a tad too long, but that’s okay. There is an even longer version a little later on, but we’ll get to that in a moment. “Funk For Children” is followed by “Does Your Mother Know,” a rock number that feels like summer with that guitar hook. Then “Christine” tells the simple story of a boy who wants to cheat on his girlfriend with her friend, but is afraid of that girl’s boyfriend. Things get funky again with “Brain Button,” which, as you might guess from its title, has some odd lyrics. These, for example: “My trick head explodes/At my command.” But, yeah, if this song came on while I was at a club, I would definitely hit the floor. It’s longer than “Funk For Children,” but does not feel too long. The second side of the EP includes longer versions of both “Funk For Children” and “Brain Button,” because… well, why not? This version of “Brain Button” makes me want to dance even more.

“It’s Kinda Like The Movies” is a song recorded for the 1984 movie Bad Manners (which features Martin Mull and Karen Black in its cast), and up to now was left unreleased. No soundtrack for that movie? This is the only previously unreleased track on this disc. “And my hand’s on your knee/And you’re looking at me/Then you look at the screen/Then you look back at me.” By the way, Sparks recorded the main theme song for that movie, “Growing Pains” (Growing Pains was the film’s original title). The final two songs are from another 1984 movie, Revenge Of The Nerds, which stars Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards. The first is the full-band version of “Are You Ready For The Sex Girls?” The original version of the song was included on the band’s first album. I think I prefer the original version, but both are good. This one is slightly longer. The second is “All Night Party,” which is from the scene where the nerds throw a party, and it is not quite a success. “Our luck is turning/No one leaves here alone.” Actually, come to think of it, “Are You Ready For The Sex Girls?” is in that scene too.

CD Track List

  1. Mining
  2. You’re Right
  3. Big Surprise
  4. Walk On Well Lighted Streets
  5. Fun Type
  6. A Christian Girl’s Problems
  7. Happy Boy
  8. At Together
  9. The Making Love Project
  10. Yes I Can
  11. Funk For Children
  12. Does Your Mother Know?
  13. Christine
  14. Brain Button
  15. Funk For Children (Part II)
  16. Brain Button (Part II)
  17. It’s Kinda Like The Movies
  18. Are You Ready For The Sex Girls? (Full Band Version)
  19. All Night Party

This expanded version of Walk On Well Lighted Streets is scheduled to be released on September 17, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings. On that same date, expanded editions of Gleaming Spires’ Songs Of The Spires and Welcoming A New Ice Age will also be released.

Gleaming Spires: “Songs Of The Spires” (1981/2021) CD Review

There was a lot of interesting and unusual music in the 1980s, with bands able to try their own styles in the pop and rock realms. There was a certain freedom that was felt, at least by those of us listening. It seemed like you could create your own identity in and through music, and everything was accepted (that wasn’t true, of course, but it was how we felt). One band that had its own style was Gleaming Spires, which came out of Bates Motel. They put out their first record in 1981, the same year that saw albums like OMD’s Architecture & Morality, The Police’s Ghost In The Machine, The Kinks’ Give The People What They Want, and Stands For Decibels from The dB’s. A good year for music. Titled Songs Of The Spires, it contains all original material, and is now being re-issued in an expanded edition, with a lot of bonus material and new extensive liner notes. The band was started by Les Bohem and David Kendrick, and the liner notes contain interviews with both.

The album’s opening track, “Going Hey Hey,” begins as a totally fun electronic tune, with what sounds like someone breathing heavily, as if jogging, exercising to the song itself. And then it kicks in, and that’s when things start getting really good. “Ooh, let’s get going really fast.” They are clearly having a good time. That’s followed by the song that turned most people onto the band, “Are You Ready For The Sex Girls?” It’s a seriously enjoyable song, and it was given an extra push a few years after the initial release of this album when it was included on the soundtrack for Revenge Of The Nerds. If you don’t pay attention to the lyrics, except perhaps the title line, it seems like a great party song. And, sure, it is. But it is more than that. Check out these lines: “Are you ready for the lonely girls/The sad, sad, old, sad, lonely girls/They got time on their hands/They got skin like seals/They can talk about love/They know how it feels.” Then check out these lines from “While We Can”: “I watch out, I don’t take enough chances/Makes me a criminal in the eyes of romance/Let’s spend it while we can, while we stand to lose/Every tiny bravery loosens up the noose.”

A steady electronic rhythm is established at the beginning of “When Love Goes Under Glass” before the actual beat begins. This is a damn fine pop song. It seems like it should have been a big hit. I mean, seriously, with lines like “Nights are made to wreck/To smash up and forget” and “Let’s finish off our hearts with a bayonet,” how could this not have been a hit? Another of the album’s best songs is “How To Get Girls Thru Hypnotism.” Misspelling of “Through” aside, that is a fantastic song title. With a title like that, you might expect it to be as fun as “Are You Ready For The Sex Girls?” But this one has a darker vibe, and a line like “How to make ‘em do whatever you want” is actually scary and rather sad. What I especially love is when Les Bohem starts to belt out the lyrics. “But I know that’s a lie, I can see that I’m shaking.” It’s a gloriously naked moment. And then he nearly begs, “Lie to me, lie to me, lie to me.” It is like a demand coming from desperation, and is compelling. That’s followed by “Talking In The Dark,” a wonderful song, which, according to the liner notes, was originally written for Bates Motel. “Try to keep the day from breaking in/And stealing all our chances in the dark.” The original album concludes with “Big Hotels,” an interesting song that takes us to specific locations and vividly relates a tale of moments.

Bonus Tracks

This disc contains ten bonus tracks, including six previously unreleased songs from Bates Motel, the flip side from the “How To Get Girls Thru Hypnotism” single, and the three tracks from Life Out On The Lawn. The bonus material begins with the Bates Motel tracks, starting with “The Way Marlena Moves,” a completely enjoyable power pop gem. That’s followed by “Real Time,” another cool tune, this one related to film. The lines that stand out for me are “If you master your mistakes/You can turn them into facts.” How about that? Then “Only The Young Die Young” has a good punk energy, fitting for its title, and features some good guitar work. The first lines of “Dedication” are “This is a dedication/To everything that will not last.” Well, that covers most everything, doesn’t it? When I read the news, I console myself with the reminder that it won’t last. The beginning of “Unexpected Overnighters” reminds me just a bit of the end of The Cars’ “Just What I Needed.” This is a playful song with a cool bass line, and is one of my personal favorites. How was this song left unreleased until now? The final of the Bates Motel tracks is “Real Love,” a mellower, more pensive song which opens with the lines “People change, people lie/People come and go like questions.” A little later they tell us, “People fade, chances die/And the lies come so quickly/I want to feel real love again.”

We then get “Walk Right,” the flip side to the “How To Get Girls Thru Hypnotism” single. In this song they offer some advice, perhaps to themselves, perhaps to us: “Hold on now, don’t cry now, don’t go get stupid/Keep calm now relax pal, let’s keep things lucid/Walk right, great big smile.” But the lines that really stand out are “I think a nice sharp kitchen knife/Would more than set me free.” The song takes an odd turn toward the end, and it is so brief that for a moment I wonder if it’s a glitch with the disc. Then the last three tracks are from Life Out On The Lawn, released in 1982. “Life Out On The Lawn” is an odd one. Check out these lyrics: “A warm green glow/Making the concrete/Soft beneath your feet/Makes the rock rise/To its knees.” It will likely quickly grow on you. That’s followed by “Somewhere,” which is quite a bit different from the rest of the tracks. It is like a show tune, and I can’t help but wonder if we’re meant to take it seriously or not. The disc ends with “Passion Pit.” The work on keys at the beginning sounds almost spiritual, and so the opening lines really caught me off guard the first time and made me laugh aloud: “She had great big breasts/I remember that best.” Yet, it’s a wonderfully depressing song. Check out these lines: “But every caress/Is a nail in your coffin/And every promise a lie/It never gets better/And all of your life/Is a search for a door that’s not there.” Wow.

CD Track List

  1. Going Hey Hey
  2. Are You Ready For The Sex Girls?
  3. While We Can
  4. When Love Goes Under Glass
  5. The End Of All Good Things
  6. Watch Your Blood Beat
  7. How To Get Girls Thru Hypnotism
  8. Talking In The Dark
  9. Big Hotels
  10. The Way Marlena Moves
  11. Real Time
  12. Only The Young Die Young
  13. Dedication
  14. Unexpected Overnighters
  15. Real Love
  16. Walk Right
  17. Life Out On The Lawn
  18. Somewhere
  19. Passion Pit

This expanded version of Songs Of The Spires is scheduled to be released on September 17, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings.

Club Passim’s Campfire Festival Returns

I was lucky enough to be a teenager in Massachusetts in the late 1980s, when the folk music scene there was exploding. It seemed that every coffeehouse and café had live music, and even the open mic nights boasted some fantastic talent. I spent a lot of time at the Old Vienna in Westborough and the Coffee Kingdom in Worcester, and of course Passim in Cambridge, where the folk music tradition really lived and thrived. Club Passim has kept that going all these years, and for the last couple of decades has celebrated Boston folk music with its annual Campfire Festival. Last year because of the pandemic, the festival was done remotely, but this year it is back at the venue, and people are able to attend. This is the festival’s 23rd year, and it runs from September 3rd through September 6th. Yes, four days of great music, each day from 4:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. The lineup this year includes Jim Trick, Chris O’Brien, Doctora Xingona, Sol Y Canto, Danielle Durack, Elsie Eastman, Olivia Wendel, Rachel Sumner, Lloyd Thayer, Joy Clark, Louise Mosrie, Charissa Hoffman, Nate D’Angelo, Ava Simone, Anxiety Superstar, Kate Kim, Lindsay Foote, Dirty Child, Talia Rose and many others. Visit the Club Passim website for the complete lineup and ticket information.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

Though the pandemic is far from over, particularly in areas where misinformed nincompoops refuse to get vaccinated, music venues are reopening and bands are once again touring. I’m excited, though cautious. Meanwhile, artists continue to release excellent music to help us through these strange times. Here are notes on a few new jazz releases you might want to check out.

Rodney Jordan & Christian Fabian: “Conversations”
– If you like the bass, you’re going to love this album. And if, for some reason I can’t quite fathom, you don’t like bass, well, perhaps this album will change your mind. Both Rodney Jordan and Christian Fabian are talented and inventive bass players, and these tracks are duets, without any other supporting players. In order for us to able to tell who is playing what, Rodney Jordan is in the left channel, and Christian Fabian is in the right. Most of the tracks are original compositions, and most feature leads by both players. The first of the tracks co-written by the two bassists is titled “Happy To Be Alive,” fitting for these strange times we find ourselves in. It’s a wonderful tune, with a sound that is full. What I mean is that it feels complete and perfect as it is, and you don’t long for any other instruments. In “Robin’s Theme,” written by Rodney Jordan, they explore a delightful theme, and at times it feels that each bass is a human voice with a vocabulary larger than that of the average person. This, for me, is one of the disc’s highlights. That sense of the instruments as voices continues, and increases, in “The Ride Over,” and we begin to see how apt a choice of titles Conversations really is. Often in this track, they take turns, and seem to both respond to and echo the other’s thoughts. This is a cool and sometimes surprising track. There are two title tracks, sort of. The first, “Conversations #4,” is probably the most fun of all the album’s tunes. It is a lively, spirited number, and another of my favorites. The second, “Conversations #1,” is an odd piece that is a bit disconcerting at first, but soon becomes kind of endearing. In addition, these two bassists cover two pieces by Hildegard von Bingen, who believed music had the power to heal. Related to that is the track titled “432.” In the liner notes, they mention that they did the entire recording in A at 432hz, which is supposed to have a healing effect on those listening. This album was released on August 1, 2021.

Lady Millea: “I Don’t Mind Missing You”
– Vocalist Kate Millea’s debut album is a treat. It opens with its title track, which has a cool, sexy, and kind of elegant style, and right away she has us in her hands. And what’s more, this is an original number. In fact, all of the tracks on this release are originals, written by J. Frederick Millea (whom you might know by his stage name, L.A. Cowboy). Here is a taste of the lyrics: “And when I’m missing you, it’s almost pleasant in a way/Because I tell myself it’s really only for a day/It’s just another day, and when tomorrow comes/You just might change your mind/I’ve heard it happens.” This track also features some fantastic work on guitar, as well as some wonderful stuff on saxophone. Basically I love everything about this song. And that’s just the opening track. It’s followed by “Almost,” which has something of a delicious, classic vibe, with Kate Millea’s vocal approach and that rhythm, and yet simultaneously feels fresh. It is like time just doesn’t exist, or all times exist within this music. There is something magical here. Another highlight for me is “Play On,” in part because its main line is the first line from Twelfth Night, “If music be the food of love, play on.” It also has this cool, romantic vibe, but with a rather cheerful rhythm, and features some great stuff on flute. And with “My Heart Sings,” she engages the heart of everyone who listens. “So I give up, darling/You know I’ll always love you.” She follows that with “Hold Me,” which is adorable and seductive, with just the right amount of breathiness in her delivery. It also features some nice work on keys, and I love the playful way she interacts with the pianist. The entire album is great, but this is my personal favorite. This album was released on August 15, 2021.

Steve Million: “Jazz Words”
– On his new album, pianist and composer Steve Million teams up with vocalist Sarah Marie Young to deliver some excellent original material. The opening track, “Heavens To Monkitroid,” begins with some light, playful work on piano before the rest of the band comes in. In addition to Sarah Marie Young, Steve Million is joined by Jim Gailloreto on saxophone and flute, John Sims on bass, and Juan Pastor on drums. This track quickly becomes a lively and exciting number about taking chances, featuring some great stuff on drums, and includes some scat from Sarah Marie Young. That’s followed by “Mis’ry Waltz,” a tune that Steve Million had included on Thanks A Million, where it is an instrumental. I prefer this new vocal version, with a passionate performance from Sarah Marie Young. “No, we have much more/To do before we get to leave here/Our lives up to this point/Are not as useless as they may appear.” Another highlight of the album is the moving “Hymnal,” about carrying on after a tragedy. “Time will come, then go away/Another welcome overstayed/So we will sing a hymn and pray/Will this help us find our way?” “Cold Wind” begins with some tentative work on bass, easing us into a dream, the first words being “Nothing’s real.” Jim Gailloreto plays flute on this track, adding to its beauty and its dreamlike atmosphere. The album ends with “The Way Home,” another beautiful and gentle song. “We’re always close to home/In our hearts and our dreams.” And that work on piano sounds like home to me. This track is a perfect way to close the album. This album was released on August 20, 2021.

Lukasz Pawlik: “Long-Distance Connections”
– Pianist and keyboardist Lukasz Pawlik has put together a great group of musicians for his new album, including Mike Stern on electric guitar, Tom Kennedy on electric bass, David Glówczewski on alto saxophone, Szymon Kamykowski on tenor saxophone, Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn, Gary Novak on drums, Cezary Konrad on drums, and Dave Weckl on drums. Dave Weckl’s presence is what especially got me interested in this release, and in addition to his work on drums, Weckl co-produced the album. The album contains all original material, composed by Lukasz Pawlik. It opens with “Indian Garden,” an instantly catchy number that features a really good bass line and of course some fantastic work from Dave Weckl. Phil South joins the group on percussion for this track. This is a lively number, with some funky energy. My favorite section comes approximately halfway through, when Lukasz Pawlik delivers a wonderful lead on keys. There is also a delicious lead on bass toward the end. And, hell, that’s just the first track. It’s followed by “A Matter Of Urgency,” which also features Dave Weckl on drums (he plays on only these first two tracks), and here his playing is at the center of the action at times, particularly in the second half. Its title feels appropriate, as this track moves at a decent pace, and there is something pressing about it. “Jellyfish” takes us into the deep, into a mysterious, dark spot in the ocean, where unknown creatures brush past us. But soon we are acclimated, and can begin to see the action. Randy Brecker contributes some expressive work on trumpet on “For Odd’s Sake,” with Cezary Konrad delivering on the drums. “Planet X” has a dark, ominous sound at the start, with Lukasz Pawlik on synthesizers as well as piano and keyboards, supported only by Gary Novak on drums. This track takes us on an interesting journey. “Reflections” is the most beautiful piece on the album, in large part because of Lukasz Pawlik’s work on cello. It’s the only track featuring him on that instrument. Then “Greg’s Walk” seems to promise intrigue as it opens. “Suspensions” has a somewhat mellow, soothing vibe, and features some nice work on keys. This album is scheduled to be released on September 3, 2021.

Turning Circles: “What Goes Around Comes Around”
– Trumpet player Kerry Moffit has been playing for four decades, including two as a member of the United States Air Force Bands and Music program, but this is his debut album as band leader. It features both covers and original material, with all arrangements by Kerry Moffit. The album opens with a good rendition of Hank Mobley’s “This I Dig Of You” which features, in addition to some excellent stuff from Moffit, a wonderful lead on keys by Arlene Pritchard McDaniel. That’s followed by a delightful version of Shorty Rogers’ “Just A Few,” with Terry Newman taking a lead on acoustic bass early on, and Moffit delivering some fantastic stuff. As good as those tracks are, it is the original material that really makes this album worth checking out. The first of the original compositions is “Free For All,” which has a great, loose feel, with plenty of solo drum work from Ian LeVine near the beginning, helping to make it a favorite of mine. But it isn’t just the excellent work on drums that makes this track stand out. Each of the players gets a chance to shine here, and the track is never dull for even a moment. “Life, Love, Loss,” the next of the original tunes, has quite a different vibe. It has more of a haunting, contemplative feel, and features some moving work from the horn section. Then “10-4 Jam” has a cool attitude from its start. And “M.I.” moves at a great pace, and is a lively and enjoyable number. This album was released on August 20, 2021.

David Thorne Scott: “Thornewood” (2021) CD Review

David Thorne Scott is a vocalist and songwriter who combines folk and jazz on his new album, Thornewood, adding his own special arrangements to some well-known and beloved material, including songs by Townes Van Zandt and John Denver, as well as a couple by Cole Porter, bringing two seemingly different worlds together. He was born in Nebraska, and is now based in the Boston area, so combining two different worlds probably comes naturally to him. This album also features some original material, written by David Thorne Scott. Joining him on this album are Kevin Barry on guitar and lap steel, Mark Shilansky on piano and electric piano, Marty Ballou on bass, Austin McMahon on drums, Walter Smith III on tenor saxophone, and Jason Palmer on trumpet, along with a few special guests on certain tracks.

Thornewood opens with a pretty rendition of John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” that seems to contain the magic of the Colorado Rockies, in part because of the piano part, and features some touching work on saxophone. David Thorne Scott follows that with a cover of “If I Needed You,” presenting it as a duet, as Emmy Lou Harris did with Don Williams. Here Paula Cole joins him on vocals for a beautiful rendition. They slow it down a bit, and add some interesting touches vocally. This is a song that I’ve always loved, and I was fortunate enough to see Townes Van Zandt play in a bar once in Oregon. I really like the way David Thorne Scott approaches this song here.

We then get the first of the original tracks, “Fall Into You,” a love song that features a vibrant and dramatic vocal performance. “I wonder who I was before/I hardly can remember.” There is a lot here to love, including a really good bass line, a great lead on saxophone, and the way the trumpet rises and soars, as if his heart no longer has the words and must rely on this instrument to convey his passion and joy. David Thorne Scott then delivers a seriously cool and totally delightful rendition of Cole Porter’s “In The Still Of The Night,” with a touch of reggae in the guitar work and some surprising backing vocal work. Those backing vocals are also done by David Thorne Scott. And those moments on trumpet contribute a lot to this track, and are part of the reason why this is one of my favorites.

Thaddeus Hogarth joins David Thorne Scott on harmonica for “You Are There,” and makes his presence appreciated from the song’s opening moments. David sounds so sweet, particularly on the song’s title line, that you get the sense he can almost see the person opposite him, and he becomes gentle in that moment. The dream is real for him, and for us. That’s followed by “One For My Baby,” a song written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, and made especially popular by Frank Sinatra. Here David Thorne Scott sounds smooth and relaxed, and is joined by Peter Eldridge on vocals. “Make it one for my baby, and one more for the road.” Ah, I suppose no one says “one for the road” anymore. That sort of thing is frowned upon these days, but the phrase somehow retains its appeal. This track features some nice work on electric guitar, particularly during those sections that have a bit of a country rock flavor.

“The Dark Side” is an original song. Its opening lines caught me by surprise, and I found myself chuckling the first time I heard them. They are “Let’s all go to the dark side/It’s always full of charming losers.” Perhaps it’s in part because when I hear “Let’s all go to,” my brain automatically finishes the sentence as “the lobby.” This song has its own distinctive charm, and features some good work on electric piano, as well as a cool bass line and some nice stuff on drums. There is also a bit of scat. At the end he sings, “Maybe we all are already there/The dark side.” Oh yes, we’ve collectively been there for like five years. That’s followed by the second Cole Porter song, “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” Sara Caswell joins him on violin for this track, delivering some excellent work, as always. Her presence adds a great deal to this rendition.

“Deciding Where To Land” is an original composition, a lively number featuring the horns. At first, the lyrics are about birds, but of course this song is about us as well, finding a place or person to call home. “When the morning mist is hanging in the air/Concealing things below/There’s a longing and a yearning to find somewhere/Or someone to call my home.” And these lines stand out for me: “One thought keeps floating by/I am what I do, and I do nothing/So then just who am I?” Yes, this is a strong track lyrically, with a passionate and nuanced vocal performance. I also love that work on piano. And then when the trumpet has a chance to lead, things get even better. The horns also play an important role in David Thorne Scott’s rendition of “The Summer Knows,” and I especially like that work on saxophone. There is some scat toward the end. That’s followed by “Grow,” the last of the original compositions. This one has a mellow, late-night vibe, but though it feels like a song about the end of a day, it is actually about the beginning of life, about planting a seed, and is a positive number. “It arose in me/And it will soon arise in everyone that I see/Who’s alive, awake, in the know/Then we all will grow.” I love that beautiful lead on saxophone. The album ends where it began, with John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High,” this time already in progress as it fades in, seeming to pick up where that first track left off, the drums getting loose. It then ends gently.

CD Track List

  1. Rocky Mountain High
  2. If I Needed You
  3. Fall Into You
  4. In The Still Of The Night
  5. You Are There
  6. One For My Baby
  7. The Dark Side
  8. Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye
  9. Deciding Where To Land
  10. The Summer Knows
  11. Grow
  12. Rocky Mountain High (Outro)

Thornewood was released on January 8, 2021.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Air Cool Jenny: “First Flight” (2021) CD Review

Air Cool Jenny is the duo of Helen Rose and Kramer Sanguinetti. They met in New York, and are currently based in the Los Angeles area. You might be familiar with Helen Rose from her solo work. A few years ago she released an EP titled Just Before It Gets Dark, its title track an absolutely gorgeous song that you should check out. She also released a full-length album titled Trouble Holding Back, which includes a song titled “A Dangerous Tender Man” that is a total knockout. In addition to her fantastic vocal work, she plays tenor saxophone. Kramer Sanguinetti plays several instruments, including guitar, pedal steel and piano, and teaches classes on guitar and reading music. The duo’s debut EP, First Flight, features original material. Joining them on this release are Bryan Webber on bass, and Kirkland Middleton on drums.

The EP opens with “Pelican,” which begins as a sweet-sounding folk number, with acoustic guitar and wonderful harmonies. “I saw a pelican swimming upstream,” they tell us. And then after a minute and a half, the track kicks in, taking on more energy and a country rock vibe, as they repeat the opening lines. Brendan Moore joins them on organ for this track, contributing some nice work. “Even with wings/You’ve got to land/If you’re always up high/You’ll never see the sky.” Helen Rose lets it rip vocally toward the end, and the song carries you away. It’s a strong track, growing as it reaches its conclusion. Then “When I Rise” begins in a pretty, gentle place, with Helen Rose singing “When I rise, I want to see your eyes/It’s the way, oh the way you look at me, you look at me.” Yes, a love song. If you’re in a good relationship (and I hope you are), you completely understand where they’re coming from here. And during the instrumental section, Helen delivers a beautiful lead on saxophone.

These guys don’t stay in one place or mood too long, following the pretty “When I Rise” with “Pissin’ On The Moon,” a totally fun, fast-paced country number, a different sort of love song (I have to remember to play it for my girlfriend). Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Wish you were here with me/Pissin’ on the moon/Pissin’ on the moon/I’m pissin’ on the moon/Kissin’ and pissin’ on the moon.” This one features some excellent work on electric guitar, and is over all too soon. The EP concludes with “The River’s Gone,” a thoughtful song inspired by the increase in storms and flooding in the south, and featuring some beautiful touches on saxophone. “The world is changing/Faster than our minds can bend/The levee holds the water/The water holds our sins/When the river’s gone/We can’t wash away our sins.” Those are some excellent lyrics. With the human-caused climate change, we can expect more flooding and fires in our futures. “And I’m sorry for the future/And I’m mad at the past/Stuck in the present/Tryin’ to make every moment last.”

CD Track List

  1. Pelican
  2. When I Rise
  3. Pissin’ On The Moon
  4. The River’s Gone

First Flight is scheduled to be released on September 10, 2021.

Sam Barron: “A Prayer For A Field Mouse” (2021) CD Review

Sam Barron is a singer and songwriter with a talent for writing unusual lyrics that pull listeners in. From the very first line of his new album, A Prayer For A Field Mouse, he demonstrates that talent. This new album features mostly original material written by Sam Barron. Joining him on this release are Charles Newman on organ, theremin, percussion, electric guitar and marxophone (Newman also produced the album); Byron Isaacs on bass; Tom Curiano on drums; Jack McLoughlin on pedal steel and lap steel; and Eva Mikhailnova on accordion and backing vocals. That first line, by the way, is “He left me for his wife.” That song, “Tallahassee,” has a folk sound, but with some surprising lyrics, like these: “I flew south to see my family/Now I’m smoking crack in Tallahassee.” I’ve been to Tallahassee, and honestly, there’s not much else to do there, heartache or no heartache. Check out these lines: “And I love you just the same/Even if you think I’m mean/I sometimes go insane/But that’s not me.” This track also features some nice work on steel guitar. What is most surprising about this song is how moving it ends up being. It’s an excellent start to the album, a song that could make you an instant fan of this artist.

Sam Barron then takes us on the road with “Interstate,” which has a rather cheerful beat and a country vibe. These lines stand out for me: “No superego/In my way/Just a case of amnesia/And a tolerance for pain.” There is a sense of humor to his writing, which is clear in lines like “And she said/Baby, you can crash/But it’d be cooler if you had some cash.” Yeah, I dig some punk mixed into folk. That’s followed by “The Things They Do And Say,” which has something of a lonesome, late-night vibe, and features some pretty work on acoustic guitar. Check out these lines: “Tonight/The pink moon has the city on its knees/All I hear is wind in trees/And it reminds me of the way/People change from day to day.” All of these songs have memorable lines. From “Taconic,” these lines stand out: “Who cares if you’re falling apart/Everybody’s got a broken heart/We’re just lost souls out on the network/Losing touch/Doing whatever/You don’t own anything/And your phone is always listening.” Now those are some perfect lyrics for these strange times we find ourselves in. This is one of my personal favorite songs from this album.

One thing that many people love but which I cannot stand is karaoke. However, Sam Barron shows some of the appeal of it in “Karaoke Queen,” particularly in the lines “Lose yourself in the melody/Everybody needs a song.” This track features some sweet backing vocals. There is also a really good instrumental section featuring steel guitar. That’s followed by “Magnolia,” which is pretty, right from its instrumental intro, and ends up being another of the disc’s highlights. “We held hands on the edge/We haven’t fallen yet.” “Early Blue” also has a certain beauty. This is the only of the album’s tracks not written by Sam Barron. It was composed by F. J. McMahon, and included on his 1969 record Spirit Of The Golden Juice, an excellent album which turned out to be his only release. “Early Blue” is an interesting song about the impending dawn and day, expressing a wish to avoid them. “I wanna close my eyes/Pretend it’s night and quiet, so peaceful/But the rising sun starts the day to run/Wherever it may go.” Sam Barron delivers an excellent rendition.

“San Pedro” has a somewhat darker, more haunting vibe. Here he sings, “I never hurry/I’ve got no place to go/I found heaven/But I haven’t found my home.” The pace of this song is unhurried, to match this character’s view and mood. The line that strikes me each time I listen to this track is “They’ll teach you how to drown.” The album concludes with “Instead Of,” in which he says goodbye to the things in his house, saying he is choosing himself instead. Is this a positive or negative thing, or both?  Sure, he sounds empowered as he sings “I choose me,” but it also seems a lonely and sad existence. After all, he sings “Instead of happiness/Instead of domestic bliss/Instead of security/Instead of you/I choose me.” My feelings change each time I listen to this track, and that itself proves the song to be compelling. Check out these lines: “Vaya con Dios to you pictures on the wall/You can hang forever/The governor won’t call/With all of your memories, you make me a noose/So I’m leaving this house and I’m cutting loose.”

CD Track List

  1. Tallahassee
  2. Interstate
  3. The Things They Do And Say
  4. Taconic
  5. Karaoke Queen
  6. Magnolia
  7. Early Blue
  8. San Pedro
  9. Instead Of

A Prayer For A Field Mouse is scheduled to be released on September 10, 2021.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Blumer Haus: “Boy Meets Groove” (2021) CD Review

Blumer Haus is the project of Eric Blumer, a drummer and composer based in the Denver area. His debut album, Boy Meets Groove, features all original material, music that combines elements of jazz, pop and funk. In addition to drums, Eric Blumer plays guitar, keyboards and synthesizers on this release, and produced the album. He does get some help from other musicians on various tracks, including Lonnie Motley (whom you likely know from P-Funk) on bass, Jason Klobnak on trumpet and Elijah Samuels on saxophone. He recorded this album at his home, but unlike a lot of other recent releases that were likewise recorded away from the studio, this one was not due to the pandemic. In fact, Eric Blumer began recording this album a decade ago, long before anyone spoke of social distancing and lockdowns.

The album opens with “Imperspective,” which establishes a good and catchy groove right away, and features some bright work from the brass section. I love that stuff on trumpet. This is definitely a tune you can move to. Toward the end, the horns get into this delicious interaction, and the bass becomes funkier, and the work on drums is even cooler. It’s a wonderful way to get things going. Eric Blumer then changes directions at the beginning of “Cindy Lou Who,” which has a strange landscape that is part natural, part electronic. Soon a fun groove emerges. There is a sense of magic to this one, and it has a wonderful, funky beat. I love his work on drums on this one. And we get more good work by the horn players. Though the title comes from a character in a Christmas story, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, this isn’t really a holiday tune, so no worries about only being able to play it in December. Ross Hoekman plays bass on this track.

Though currently based in Denver, Eric Blumer was born in North Dakota, and on this album he has two tracks that refer to that state, the first of which is “Mood Fargo,” which begins in an electronic realm, and then eases in on keys, in contrast to the electronic sound. As the title suggests, this piece is about mood. That of course doesn’t mean that it is without a special groove. In the second half, there is a great section dominated by the drums, with the trumpet playing over the rhythm. I was in Fargo only once, and wanted to buy a Fargo shot glass (I have a small collection of shot glasses from various places I’ve visited), but couldn’t find one, which still strikes me as odd. Collin Ingrahm plays bass on this track. That’s followed by the second of the North Dakota tracks, “North Dakota Sky Blues.” At the beginning there is the sound of a dog barking, and you get the sense of dusk. There is also an air of mystery, which is even more interesting considering that mandolin is one of the instruments heard here. I love the mandolin, but it is not an instrument I associate with the unknown. That’s Tyler Grant of Grant Farm on mandolin, by the way. The song then begins to build and soon takes on more of a pleasant folk sound, though of course with a strong groove. The barking dog returns near the end.

Eric Blumer takes us from North Dakota to Colorado with “Telluride,” which begins in an electronic landscape, sort of at odds with the photos I’ve seen of the place. I know most folks automatically think of skiing when they think of Telluride, but I think about a Grateful Dead recording I heard in my teens. I wanted to visit the place, based on that concert tape and the stories I heard of those two shows (somehow I still haven’t made my way there). But there is a good feel in the very name of the place, don’t you agree? And there is a good feel to this track as well, and it features some really nice work by Tyler Grant on mandolin. The cheer and warmth that I generally associate with that instrument are abundant here. Todd Edmunds plays bass on this track. You might know him from his work with Otis Taylor. There is a good deal of fun to “Friday Night.” At the beginning it feels like preparing to hit the town for a memorable time. It is a tune that calls to mind cruising, dancing and some harmless flirting. For most of last year Friday was just like any other day, as everything was closed and we were all stuck at home. But we’re starting to get hints that weekends might once again soon be a thing. Bob Songster plays bass on this track.

The first jazz album that I ever owned was Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, an album that I still love. With “Ode To Brubeck,” Eric Blumer pays homage to the pianist and composer. The track begins with some really nice work on trumpet, before the other instruments come in. That’s followed by “What Makes The World,” which begins with an electronic sound, and then soon contrasts that with a guitar part that might remind you just a bit of Kansas’ “Dust In The Wind.”  The saxophone has a soothing and romantic feel, which is in large part responsible for the pleasing sound of this track. This one has a gentle and light spirit. The album then concludes with “It’s Time,” which has a 1970s flavor, finding some inspiration in disco. Yup, this disc began with a tune you could dance to, and it ends with a track that you’ll want to dance to. This is certainly a fun one, with a lot of joy pumping through it.

CD Track List

  1. Imperspective
  2. Cindy Lou Who
  3. Mood Fargo
  4. North Dakota Sky Blues
  5. Telluride
  6. Friday Night
  7. Ode To Brubeck
  8. What Makes The World
  9. It’s Time

Boy Meets Groove was released on April 24, 2021.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

I See Hawks In L.A.: “On Our Way” (2021) CD Review

During this crazy time, like most people, I’ve been yearning to see some live music. And one of the bands I’ve missed most is I See Hawks In L.A. Going to one of their concerts is like hanging out with your best friends. Their music always seems to break whatever dark clouds might be hovering above or within. And so this is a band I’ve wanted to turn to throughout this perverse period, when nearly half the nation is still under the spell of a crooked and racist game show host, when people refuse to trust a vaccine but have no qualms about taking medicine for de-worming horses, when twisted congressmen liken violent insurrectionists to tourists. Things are positively bizarre out there. We desperately need I See Hawks In L.A. to help balance things out. Well, these guys used the time of isolation to put together a fantastic album, On Our Way. And, yes, they did it remotely. On Our Way features all original material, and on some of these tracks the band gets some help from special guests, including Brantley Kearns and the guys from Double Naught Spy Car. The band is made up of Rob Waller on vocals, guitar and synths; Paul Lacques on guitar, lap steel, autoharp, mandolin and backing vocals; Paul Marshall on bass and vocals; and Victoria Jacobs on drums and vocals.

They open the album with a cheerful and pleasant-sounding country tune titled “Might’ve Been Me.” This is exactly what we need. This song has a familiar sense about it, like a song that is already at home in our ears, and so able to ease us away from the current troubles. Rob Waller’s vocal approach has that warm and friendly sound that makes his voice one of the absolute best in music these days. This track features some wonderful work by Dave Zirbel on pedal steel. “Don’t feel bad, he’s not mad, he’s just insane/Standing in the torrential rain.” That’s followed by the album’s title track, “On Our Way,” which has an easygoing vibe. “Winter comes, and we sleep all day/I don’t know if the spring is coming/All I know is I’m on my way.” Those lines are followed by a line many of us can relate to: “Growing old and you’re waiting for wisdom.” One thing that often strikes me about these musicians is the way they seem to easily connect with their audience, and on a level that is beyond what the lyrics convey, like they’re meeting us in some unidentified and universal place that they have staked out. “All we know is we’re on our way.”

“Know Just What To Do” opens with some exciting and interesting work by Brantley Kearns on fiddle. I am always so happy to hear him play. After that, the song kind of eases in with some sweet work on acoustic guitar, and it features an absolutely beautiful vocal performance. “Stars are shining/Your love is blinding/I’m coming home to you.” This is a wonderful song, an immediate favorite of mine. There is something soothing about this song. It is such a relief to hear this music that I ended up in tears the first time I listened to this track, I don’t mind admitting. Though it is Rob Waller’s voice that is at the heart of this song, this track also features some glorious and strange instrumental sections, and I love the way things slide back into those sweeter sections from there. Richie Lawrence adds some nice work on accordion on this track. Then “Mississippi Gas Station Blues” comes on heavier. This is an unusual and surprising one, and the lines are delivered as spoken word. “You don’t have to love me, but you’re gonna have to choose/The name in my heart, the name on my chest/Is standing in the doorway, and she wants to confess.”

Victoria Jacobs takes a turn at lead vocals for “Kensington Market,” which she wrote. This is a completely enjoyable song, in large part because of Victoria’s vocal approach and style, which brings to mind certain singers of the 1960s. This is a sweet and mellow trip. It’s followed by “Kentucky Jesus,” a song about Muhammad Ali’s stance against the draft. Here are the opening lines: “He threw his medals in the river/He took on the war machine/He did not bend, in fact he floated like a bee” (the last a play on his famous line, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”). They follow that with another song about an influential figure, “Geronimo.” “I’m not retreating, I’m considering direction.” This track features more good work on pedal steel.

“Stealing” is a beautiful and gentle song that reminds me a bit of Gordon Lightfoot at moments. Old Californio’s Woody Aplanalp and Rich Dembowski join the group for this one. “Ain’t no heaven, no burning hell/Just a boat across a troubled sea with no fortune to tell.” This line also stands out: “But I don’t mind running if you’ll say you’ll run with me.” There is also some humor to this song, in the lines “Come October, we’ll be sober/Come November, we’ll remember,” which made me laugh out loud the first time I heard them. That’s followed by “If I Move,” which also shows the band’s sense of humor. Check out these lines, which opens the song: “Drove by the McDonald’s where we decided not to get married/And the Denny’s where we said what the hell/There’s the parking lot where you told me you were pregnant/I’m beginning to know this town too well.” Dave Zirbel contributes more good work on pedal steel here.

Even before its excellent and apt opening line, “It’s never been easier to lose your mind,” I am totally digging “Radio Keeps Me On The Ground,” with that cool rhythm. “There’s never been a lonelier time” is another line that speaks to our experiences during the pandemic. And soon the band promises us, “And this will pass by and by.” Ah yes, but when? Music has certainly been a key element in keeping me sane during these distressing times. Great Willow’s James Combs and Ed Barguiarena join them on this track. Then Double Naught Spy Car joins them for the album’s closing track, “How You Gonna Know?” This song’s odd and unusual opening draws me in. It has a groovy and cool beat, plus some interesting vocal work. I love how this band, after all these years, is still taking chances, and creating interesting material. And I’m looking forward to seeing them perform these songs in concert.

CD Track List

  1. Might’ve Been Me
  2. On Our Way
  3. Know Just What To Do
  4. Mississippi Gas Station Blues
  5. Kensington Market
  6. Kentucky Jesus
  7. Geronimo
  8. Stealing
  9. If I Move
  10. Radio Keeps Me On The Ground
  11. How You Gonna Know?

On Our Way is scheduled to be released on August 27, 2021.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Dar Williams: “I’ll Meet You Here” (2021) CD Review

The last time Dar Williams released a studio album, Barack Obama was president. In the six years since that release, this country has experienced some changes. And so have we all. Back then we weren’t anxious all the time. I don’t recall checking the news as compulsively as I do these days. The pandemic and wildfires and increasing gun violence and domestic terrorism and the brazenly corrupt politicians of the Republican Party have caused many of us to take stock, reevaluate priorities, and take a closer look at what it is that we want to do with our lives, and at how much control we really have. It seems that Dar Williams is reflecting that in some of her new material, not so much the troubles, which she doesn’t directly address, but the way in which we go on amid them, the way we approach a life that isn’t exactly how we’d like it to be. There is hope within these songs. There is both a sense of empowerment, and also an acceptance. Joining Dar Williams on I’ll Meet You Here are Steuart Smith on guitar and mandolin, Stewart Lerman on guitar, Ben Butler on guitar, Bryn Roberts on organ and piano, Paul Socolow on bass, and Doug Yowell on drums, along with special guests on certain tracks.

The album opens with “Time, Be My Friend,” in which she has a conversation with Time itself, asking for its friendship, its kindness, while admitting that she herself has not been kind to time. Who hasn’t been thinking of time lately? I suspect many of us have had our own conversations with Time, made our own pleadings, as it races along with nary a thought of our needs. It’s a beautiful song, and what really strikes me about it is the way this song itself seems to act as a friend to the listener. There is something comforting in its sound, something friendly. Check out these lyrics: “‘Cause when I thought that I was alone/You snapped your fingers and a tree came into bloom/And the sun came by to fill my room, oh time/You will never tell me something that has not happened yet/And you will never make a promise, but I can get just what I’ll get/And you will never say you love me.” And at the end, a certain hope is present in the line “But let’s see what’s round the bend.” In that line, there is the making of a companion, if not friend, of Time. This song also provides the album with its title in the line “Time, meet me here, I’ll meet you here.” On this track, Denny McDermott is on drums, Gail Ann Dorsey is on bass and backing vocals, and Larry Campbell is on guitar and pedal steel.

Steve Elson joins Dar on saxophone for “You Give It All Away,” and that instrument makes its mark right at the beginning, setting a very different tone from the first track, giving it a more soulful sound and a lively vibe. And though there is a full band sound, Dar’s vocals have a more intimate feel here. I particularly love these lines: “You’re not alone when you say it’s going fast now/The silver hope kaleidoscope is spinning us away/But find the means and find the ends/Find a reason, just pretend.” That “whoa” part has an uplifting effect. That’s followed by “Let The Wind Blow,” in which Dar sings “We heard the distant cry, and we saw the cloud of smoke/But by then it was too late, we couldn’t turn around/So here comes the fire/We were coughing as we ran, trees fell in the path/But then we saw the rocks, and we climbed ‘til we were free/Let the wind blow, you pulled me up into your arms.” I like Bryn Roberts’ work on keys. Then the opening line of “Magical Thinking” is “Living in daydreams, yeah, it’s not a way to live.” Something about this song immediately pulls me in. Partly it’s that opening line, partly it is her delivery. This is Dar doing what she does best, a song that is somewhat sad, yet beautiful, hopeful and very human. It is certainly one of the album’s best tracks. These lines stand out for me: “Driving at midnight, it’s when the dreaming starts again/It all comes true if the light turns before I count to ten/And if I do a few things better now.” We all play these games, don’t we? Seeing if the universe is in line with our desires, and testing the amount of control we have, though deep down we know we have none. (Maybe my expectations are greater, for I count only to five.)

I grew up in a small town, and songs about small towns tend to speak to me at some gut level. Like a lot of small towns, the town I grew up in was not all that diverse. Such is the case with the town described in Dar Williams’ “Little Town,” a song that is sung from the perspective of someone who is at first reluctant to see things change, but who eventually comes around. It’s a touching and beautiful song, in part due to Dave Eggar’s presence on cello, an instrument that never fails to move me, but largely because of the emotional tale it tells. Erik Della Penna plays electric guitar on this track. “Little Town” is followed by “Berkeley,” which opens with the line “Let us begin,” putting us into a rather serious frame of mind. This is a song of two times, the Berkeley of years ago, and the Berkeley of the present. Really, it’s not only two times, but two places, for all the changes Berkeley has gone through. There is the question of whether those who were present for the earlier Berkeley have changed along with the place. I love the lines “And Berkeley, still pagan/Still angry at Reagan,” maybe because I still hate Reagan. He is, in no small measure, responsible for where we are these days politically, having paved the way for Trump (both even used the same campaign slogan). Before Reagan did a foul job as president, he did a foul job as governor of California, at one point sending the authorities into the People’s Park in Berkeley to keep people from gathering and planting trees there. Police ended up opening fire on protestors, injuring dozens and killing one. That was Reagan’s doing, and that’s what the line refers to. This track features a gorgeous string section. Dave Eggar is on cello, Entcho Todorov is on viola, and David Mansfield is on violin.

“Today And Every Day” has a wonderfully cheerful sound and vibe, with a positive message. “I know I’m going to find a way/I know I’m going to light the way/‘Cause if I’m ever going to make it, then I’ve got to say/‘I can save the world today and every day.’” Sometimes it all feels overwhelming and terrifying. This song combats those feelings and notions with a bright energy and a sense of our own power. That’s followed by “I Never Knew,” a more somber song, featuring Dave Eggar again on cello. Then “Sullivan Lane” has a wonderful energy during its chorus. I love those backing vocals by The Sweet Remains (Rich Price, Greg Naughton and Brian Chartrand). Plus, this one features some really nice work by Steuart Smith on mandolin. Dar concludes this album with “You’re Aging Well,” a song that she originally included on The Honesty Room back in 1993, and later recorded with Joan Baez (that version is on Ring Them Bells). This seems like a perfect time to revisit this song. On this beautiful rendition, her vocals are supported by Bryn Roberts on piano.

CD Track List

  1. Time, Be My Friend
  2. You Give It All Away
  3. Let The Wind Blow
  4. Magical Thinking
  5. Little Town
  6. Berkeley
  7. Today And Every Day
  8. I Never Knew
  9. Sullivan Lane
  10. You’re Aging Well

I’ll Meet You Here is scheduled to be released on October 1, 2021 on Renew Records.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Clifford/Wright: “For All The Money In The World” (2021) CD Review

Creedence Clearwater Revival wasn’t together all that long, and yet managed to record a whole lot of fantastic material during that brief period, songs that have certainly stood the test of time, most of them written by singer and guitarist John Fogerty. It wasn’t really until the band’s final studio album, 1972’s Mardi Gras, that the other members got a chance to contribute songs and lead vocals. After the band broke up, drummer Doug “Cosmo” Clifford released a self-titled solo album in 1972 that featured a lot of original material.  And that was the last solo album he released until last year’s Magic Window, which included tracks recorded back in 1985, and provided another chance for us to hear Cosmo sing. Now he’s following that with an album written and recorded with bassist Steve Wright (from The Greg Kihn Band) in 1986. Titled For All The Money In The World, this album features original material written by Clifford and Wright. It does not, however, feature Cosmo on lead vocals. That job goes to Keith England, whom you might know from his work with the Allman Brothers Band. Cosmo does provide some backing vocals, however. The band on this album also includes Joe Satriani on guitar, Greg Douglass on guitar, Jimmy Lyon on guitar, Del Burchett on guitar, Tim Gorman on keys, and Pat Mosca on keys. Steve Wright, as you might recall, died in 2017.

The album opens with its title track, “For All The Money In The World,” a cheerful song, a declaration of love, something we can all get behind and enjoy. “Don’t you worry, my feelings ain’t gonna change/Never gonna play love’s silly games/You give me understanding, and hold me all through the night.” Ah yes, nothing better in the world than that feeling, and anyone who has a similar love knows that it is worth more than all the money in the world. This is an earnest and sweet love song to get things going. It’s followed by “I Need Your Love.” And there is no question that this one was recorded in the 1980s; it has that vibe and sound. It takes me back to my teen years. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “You know why I’m unsociable/Because I’m so emotional/Let’s talk about a second chance/Don’t leave it up to circumstance/It’s worth the time that we both spend/To have our love come back again/Darling, I’m in love with you /Won’t you say you love me too.”

“She Told Me So” is a fun, upbeat rock tune with a good deal of energy, heard not only in that driving beat, but also in the delivery of lines like “Walking, talking, hand in hand/Baby, tell me I’m your man.” This is a perfect song for summer, with that strong beat, and some good work on keys. It is a totally enjoyable song, a highlight of the disc. Then we get “Lost Pride Fever,” a straightforward number. “Lift up your spirit, hold up the banner/Dare to be stronger, hope for the better.” That’s followed by “I See Your Silhouette,” a sweet song that features one of the album’s best vocal performances. “I see your silhouette dancin’ on the shade/I never will forget the music that we played/I still hear those songs – they just won’t fade away/I never will forget your shadow on the shade.” This one at moments reminds me of some of CCR’s later material, like when Keith England sings “You never knew my name,” and it features some really nice work on keys. This track is one of my personal favorites.

“Real Love” is a celebration of true love, with a lively intro.  No one to count on, except my baby back home/City streets so wet and unforgiving/Without you, girl, I’m not really living/I know what’s important in my life.” And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Knowing what’s important and focusing, as much as possible, on that. I think many people have reevaluated their priorities over the last couple of years, and I suspect this song will speak to a lot of folks. That’s followed by “You Keep Runnin’ Away.” There is no doubt that this pop song is from the 1980s. Even that guitar lead seems to scream 1980s. But what I do really love about this track is that bass line. “Just In The Nick Of Time” is a love song, relating how sometimes that special person comes at just the right moment. “I was lost, I was so low down/I wasn’t there by choice/Cryin’ out for someone to love me/That’s when I heard your voice/Just in the nick of time, just in the nick of time/Just in the nick of time you came and saved my life.”

“Weekends” is pure fun, one of those songs that make you want to just enjoy yourself, to roll down the car windows and feel the breeze on your face. We can all use a song like this one in these strange and frustrating days. “Under the spell of the neon lights/I’m feelin’ the magic of Saturday night.” I’m looking forward to the days when we can go to a bar, have a few drinks, and dance with abandon to some great local band. It is difficult to keep from getting angry at all the unvaccinated people who are essentially stopping that from happening. “Weekends” is followed by “Lonesome Boy,” a really good pop song. There is something catchy about this one, and each time I listen to it, it makes me smile. “I really acted like a fool/What more can I say/She was my everything/That was yesterday.” This is another of the disc’s highlights. The album then concludes with “You’re Gonna Love Again,” a positive number with a strong 1980s vibe. And though it has that weak “shelf”/“self” rhyme, it is still an enjoyable song. “If you need a shoulder, call me I’ll be there/To help you fight your sadness, baby this is madness/I know that you will survive/You’re gonna love again.”

CD Track List

  1. For All The Money In The World
  2. I Need Your Love
  3. She Told Me So
  4. Lost Pride Fever
  5. I See Your Silhouette
  6. Real Love
  7. You Keep Runnin’ Away
  8. Just In The Nick Of Time
  9. Weekends
  10. Lonesome Boy
  11. You’re Gonna Love Again

For All The Money In The World is scheduled to be released on August 27, 2021.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

L’abîme: “L’abîme” (2021) CD Review

L’abîme is a group based in Quebec made up of Hugo Blouin on upright bass, Alex Dodier on flute and saxophone, Gabriel Genest on saxophone and clarinet, Jean-Philippe Godbout on drums, and Jonathan Turgeon on piano. Their name translates as The Abysm, or The Abyss, and so you might imagine the music they create would be dark and rather depressing. And while there is a certain darkness to some of the tracks on the self-titled debut album, there is also a playfulness at times. The album features original material composed by Jonathan Turgeon, with arrangements by the entire group.

It opens with “Requiem,” a somber piece, as you might expect from its title. It begins rather softly with piano, and soon the bass and drums enter, and the track builds from there. It is a hauntingly beautiful piece. This requiem certainly does not wallow in despair, but reaches out as if to take hold of the lower portions of the sky at times. We are all just passing through, and at times here it is like we are floating by, as light as a thought, as brief as a breeze, and it’s all right. This piece also makes it feels as if our journey, whatever it might be, is not one made alone. “Requiem” ends as it began, with some gentle work on piano. It is then followed by “Perdu Dans Les Bois,” which translates as “Lost In The Woods” and which has quite a different feel. There is something playful about this piece, something youthful, for perhaps we think of children as the ones most prone to becoming lost in the woods. And they might worry, but not really give in to worry, because there is that sense of adventure and the knowledge in the back of their minds that their parents are looking for them, or will be soon. And this piece does have that sense of adventure, of curiosity, without awareness of any impending danger. Then “L’abîme” begins with some great work on bass, and that sound does seem to take us down into a hole or cavern. After a minute or so, the drums and piano come in, and there is an unexpected lightness to the piece. From there, it goes into some interesting territory, and the tune begins to swell and grow. I love that work on saxophone. This track also features some gorgeous work on piano and some excellent stuff on drums. By the way, this track puts the group in the same company as 7 Walkers, Bullied By Strings, I See Hawks In L.A., Kanary, Night Ranger, They Might Be Giants and Trees Speak, all of whom have a song sharing their band’s name.

Most of the second half of the album comprises three tracks titled “Le Culte.” The first, “Le Culte I,” begins in a darker place, slowly moving in on us and then leading us somewhere that feels unsettling and unsafe. Here we are cautious, unsure, and on our guard, surrounded by strange new things. “Le Culte II,” the second of the “Le Culte” tracks, begins with a more urgent sense of movement, which in a way is actually more frightening. That percussion is like the breaking of glass, or of stepping on broken glass, a disconcerting sound. Later there is a sound like an old door creaking open. Leading where? And if it is difficult to get open now, will that door prove a difficult route of escape later? But for me it is the percussion which is the dominant element here. “Le Culte III,” the final of the three “Le Culte” tracks, also begins with a strong sense of movement. There seems to be more excitement here, and also more control. I particularly love the work on piano. The album then concludes with “L’étang Au Crépuscule,” which begins gently, lightly, peacefully, and we are almost immediately soothed. It is like there is no worry about time, and nothing demanding our attention. There is a sense of settling, as we let the music relax us into a state where our bodies seem to combine with our surroundings. And it is then that we begin to notice the other life around us, and it almost a surprise to find so much activity. There is something sweet about the way it carries on around us without worrying about our presence. At the end it is like things are slowing down again, curling up and going to sleep.

CD Track List

  1. Requiem
  2. Perdu Dans Les Bois
  3. L’abîme
  4. Le Culte I
  5. Le Culte II
  6. Le Culte III
  7. L’étang Au Crépuscule

L’abîme was released on April 30, 2021 on Multiple Chord Music.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Lea McIntosh: “Blood Cash” (2021) CD Review

Lea McIntosh’s debut album comes on like a great force, grabbing you with its fantastic opening track and not letting go. There is a lot of power in her blues, even defiance, and yet within that you sense something vulnerable. There is an ache, a pain, perhaps even some lingering fear, and it is that dynamic that makes this album so compelling. She has emerged triumphant, in a sense, from these troubles, and yet her music recounts them in a way that makes them still present. Blood Cash features all original music, written by Lea McIntosh and Travis Cruse. Cruse also produced the album and plays guitar on every track. Also joining Lea McIntosh on this release are Myron Dove on bass, Deszon Claiborne on drums, Eamonn Flynn on piano and organ, Andy Just on harmonica, and Tammi Brown and Will Bell on backing vocals. (By the way, you can also hear Travis Cruse and Tammi Brown on the new album from Steven Graves.) Lea McIntosh is based in the Santa Cruz area, and before turning to her passion for music, she made her mark as a chef. Now fully committed to music, she plans on touring as soon as it is safe to do so, so keep an eye out for her. There is also apparently a second album already in the works.

Blood Cash opens with its title track, which is driven by her vocals, which are raw, mean, honest. “He paid the devil forward/Bang bang/Pulling back that trigger/He paid him cold hard cash/Bang bang/Pulling back that trigger.” Supporting that voice is a pounding rhythm and some seriously delicious guitar work. In addition to guitar, Travis Cruse plays bass and drums on this track. And then that harmonica comes in, seeming to wrap itself around your body like a lasso or snake, pulling you farther in. This song is about the murder of Lea’s mother, which happened when Lea was a child. “Blood Cash” is followed by “Blue Stoned Heart,” which has a funky edge, not just in that rhythm, but in that guitar work. Check out these great, descriptive lyrics: “You’ve got a map running down your arm/Telling you it’s time for more/Your veins burn that midnight oil/While your heart plays tug-o-war.” Her voice changes as she repeats “Please don’t make me watch you tearing apart,” a heartfelt plea. “Please don’t make me bury your blue stoned heart.” The trouble here is nearly palpable, and we feel we are witnessing what she is witnessing. Partly it is in those details and partly in her delivery. And then halfway through there is an interesting instrumental section, featuring some good percussion and a lead on guitar that kind of sneaks up on you, easing its way inside until it has you.

“Tennessee Hurricane” is about another dangerous situation, with a man who seems to be headed for a hard end, and might very well try to take her along with him. “He pulls me in his rain/While he drowns out his pain/Blowing through bottles of whisky/He’s got no one left to blame.” This is a powerful song, and that guitar part in the second half is like another voice. That’s followed by “Fantasy Woman,” a groovy blues tune featuring a rather seductive vocal performance. “That look on your face keeps telling me/You’ve got a fantasy woman on your mind/I can’t stop wishing it was me/If only it was the two of us lying in your dreams.” A greater portion of our lives seems to be carried out inside our minds, in our fantasies, and with social media and online dating often taking the place of in-person meetings, the line between reality and fantasy is blurred more than ever. Anyway, I dig that lead on organ.

“Purple Suede Boots” is a fun song about a night of settling scores and taking charge of her own life, making things right. And what better way than “Letting my love run loose/Rocking purple suede boots”? And listen to the way that harmonica responds. Wonderful! Plus, this track features some great and expressive work on guitar toward the end. Then “Soul Stripper” eases in, with some cool work on keys before Lea McIntosh comes in, taking on the role of a stripper. “If it’s sad stories you crave, then let your hungry fingers turn my page.” There is something sexy about this song, particularly in the power and attitude of her vocals. And I love the way that guitar lead kind of sneaks in, almost like a voyeur lurking about, and then, aroused, suddenly asserts itself. This track is something special. The album then concludes with “The Fire Is Coming.” When this one begins, it feels more like a dance song, like a disco if suddenly the blues were to take over the place and drive everyone into a slightly altered space. It is funky, sincere, and excellent, with a late 1960s sound at times. “I see your shadow when I close my eyes/Hunting down memories like a tiger in the night.”

CD Track List

  1. Blood Cash
  2. Blue Stoned Heart
  3. Tennessee Hurricane
  4. Fantasy Woman
  5. Purple Suede Boots
  6. Soul Stripper
  7. The Fire Is Coming

Blood Cash is scheduled to be released on August 20, 2021 on Shark Park Records.