Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Buck Owens And The Buckaroos: “In The Palm Of Your Hand” (1973/2021)

Omnivore Recordings has been re-issuing a lot of great music from Buck Owens. For the last month or two the focus has been on his late 1960s and early 1970s output, including a re-issue of the 1973 album In The Palm Of Your Hand, which was just one of four Buck Owens records released that year (there were four the previous year as well). Randy Poe, in the new liner notes written for this re-issue, talks about the great number of Buck Owens releases during that time. The re-issue is presented in the album’s original configuration, without any bonus tracks. It features nearly all original material written by Buck Owens, and the band includes Don Rich on guitar and fiddle, Doyle Curtsinger on bass and vocals, Jerry Brightman on steel guitar, Jerry Wiggins on drums, and Jim Shaw on keyboards, along with Buddy Alan on guitar, and Ronnie Jackson on guitar.

The album opens with its title track, “In The Palm Of Your Hand,” which was also released as a single. Buck Owens included an earlier version of this song on his 1966 album Open Up Your Heart. It’s a love song about a troubled relationship. Hey, sometimes you just can’t quit. “In the palm of your hand, that’s where you’ve got me/This loving you is messing up my mind/But try as I may, I just can’t stop me/You’ve got me right in the palm of your hand.” This track features some nice work on steel guitar and fiddle. That’s followed by “There Goes My Love,” a kind of catchy number in which Buck Owens sings about a woman he used to date. “There goes the reason that I sigh/There goes the reason that I cry/There goes the lips I used to kiss goodnight/There goes my love.” Then we get the only song on the album not written by Buck Owens, “Made In Japan.” It was written by Bob Morris and Faye Morris. The song’s title plays on a phrase that we used to hear a lot back in the 1970s, referring to cheap, shoddy merchandise (there was also a Deep Purple album with that title, which came out in 1972, the same year as Buck Owens’ single). This song, however, is not about something cheap, but rather about a beautiful woman he knew, taking our expectations and turning them on their heads. “The beauty of her face was beyond my wildest dreams/Like cherry blossoms blooming in the mountain in the early spring/As we walked by the river and she softly took hold of my hand/That’s when I fell deep in love with the girl made in Japan.” This song was also released as a single, and was a hit for Buck Owens, reaching #1 on the country chart.

“Sweethearts In Heaven” is a song that Buck Owens recorded first in 1956, releasing it on a single, and then again in the early 1960s, when it was included on his On The Bandstand album, and again later with Susan Raye. This, I suppose, is one of the ways he was able to release so many albums. Still, this is an excellent song, and I like the rendition included on this album. Its appeal might be in part because death has been on my mind lately. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “If I should go first and leave you behind/To face life alone, bear this in mind/I’ll be waiting if heaven’s my fate/To take you by the hand just inside the pearly gates.” Is there something after this life? No one knows. But when I think of never seeing my girlfriend again, I fervently hope there is something after. “Will there be sweethearts in heaven?” this song asks. That’s followed by “Arms Full Of Empty,” a fun song that was also released as a single, and, oddly enough, was used as the title track for another album, which was also released in 1973. Go figure. Collecting all the Buck Owens albums could drive one a little batty. Anyway, this is a wonderful song. Check out these lines: “Oh, you took my car and took my money/Done me wrong and that ain’t funny/Left me standing here, looking silly.” But the line that always stands out for me is this: “Well, I’m so sick and tired of getting up so sick and tired.” Ralph Mooney plays steel guitar on this track.

When I was born, Richard Nixon was president. Before that, in 1962 when he lost the gubernatorial race in California, he promised the nation he was done with politics, telling those gathered that it was his last press conference, that the press wouldn’t “have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Oh, if only he had been honest in that moment. Of course, since then the nation has had to suffer with Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Donald Trump, all of whom were worse than Nixon. But anyway, getting back to that “kick around” line, Buck Owens wrote a song titled “You Ain’t Gonna Have Ol’ Buck To Kick Around No More,” which was released as a single in 1972 and also included on this album. As you might guess, it’s another fun one, a lively song. “The last time was the last time, and this time it’s for sure/The next sound that you hear will be the slamming of the door/And you ain’t gonna have ol’ Buck to kick around no more.” This song was also included on the 2019 compilation The Complete Capitol Singles: 1971-1975. Then “A Whole Lot Of Somethin’” is another good song about the end of a relationship. “Well, I treated you the best that I knew how/But what have I got to show for all that now/I’ve got a broken heart, and that’s something you seem to lack/It’s going to take a whole lot of something to bring you back.” I love the work on fiddle.

“Get Out Of Town Before Sundown” is a country song about a run-in with the law. But this isn’t a tale of murder or robbery. No, lesser crimes are at the heart of the trouble, the first verse being about vagrancy and poverty. “He said, if you ain’t got no money and you ain’t got no job, boy, I’m placing you under arrest.” The second verse is about being with an underage girl (but don’t get all upset, the girl in question is 17, and he is unaware). “And if you’re not out of town before sundown, you won’t get out of town at all.”  That’s followed by “Something’s Wrong,” another great country song about a love that has gone wrong. “It’s hard to live each day when there’s nothing left to say/And there’s nothing left to say but something’s wrong/Something’s wrong when you no longer want to hold me.” And I love this harsh and depressingly straightforward line: “When the love of your life turns into a waste of time.” There is also more great stuff on fiddle. This is one of my personal favorite tracks. The album then concludes with “I Love You So Much It Hurts,” a lively love song about a questionable relationship. Others question his choice, and maybe they’re right, for he sings, “And if you do me wrong/I’ll still tag alone/Because I love you so much it hurts.”

CD Track List

  1. In The Palm Of Your Hand
  2. There Goes My Love
  3. Made In Japan
  4. Sweethearts In Heaven
  5. Arms Full Of Empty
  6. You Ain’t Gonna Have Ol’ Buck To Kick Around No More
  7. A Whole Lot Of Somethin’
  8. Get Out Of Town Before Sundown
  9. Something’s Wrong
  10. I Love You So Much It Hurts

This re-issue of In The Palm Of Your Hand is scheduled to be released on October 1, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Grateful Dead: “Road Trips Vol. 2 No. 2: Carousel 2-14-68” (2009/2021) CD Review

Real Gone Music is continuing to re-issue the Grateful Dead’s Road Trips series, putting them out in the reverse order of their original release. Road Trips Vol. 2 No. 2 is a two-disc set containing the complete show the Dead performed at the Carousel Ballroom on February 14, 1968, along with four bonus tracks. Yeah, it wasn’t a long show, but it contains some fantastic stuff, and it was one of the shows recorded for use on Anthem Of The Sun.

Disc 1

The first disc contains the short first set, along with the bonus material, which comes from a few shows from early 1968. The show opens with “Morning Dew.” It might feel a bit faster than later versions, and the style of the keyboard work is quite a bit different too, yet this is a powerful version. The band at this time was less than three years old and still had that raw, unbridled power. This version might not bring tears to your eyes as this song was sometimes capable of doing, but it does pack a punch. They follow that with “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” with a great bluesy vibe and some nice work from Pigpen on harmonica right at the beginning. They always said Pigpen was the band’s leader at this time, and a track like this is certainly evidence of that being true. He delivers a great vocal performance, with a bit of that riffing he was known for. But it’s his harmonica playing that is the draw here, and I especially love that section where the harmonica is interacting with the guitar.

There is a bit of stage banter before the band goes into “Dark Star.” Yes, a first set “Dark Star.” The song was new at that point, but it was already something special, as we can tell by Bob Weir saying they were going to blow it on the first set instead of saving it for the second set, which was to be broadcast on the radio. This too feels a bit fast, a bit rushed, particularly the first verse, but is of course interesting. I’ve never heard a dull “Dark Star.” And though this version is short, it still contains some exploration. Hell, every moment of this song feels like exploration, doesn’t it? It leads straight into a wild “China Cat Sunflower.” Wow, the boys are really rocking this one between verses, with Jerry Garcia’s guitar seeming able to shoot through concrete walls and moons and whatever else might be nearby. This is a fantastic, unhinged rendition, and it segues perfectly into, not “I Know You Rider,” but “The Eleven.” This is phenomenal. Why didn’t they do this more often? The energy is tremendous. This is the first set? It must have been something to see the Dead at that time. “The Eleven” leads straight into “Turn On Your Lovelight” to conclude the first set, Pigpen getting another opportunity to show what he could do. The band is cooking, determined to push this fireball right through the gates of heaven and beyond, taking the angels and whoever along with them, a dancing, pulsing, swirling mass of legs and arms and smiles.

The bonus material begins with an excellent version of “Viola Lee Blues” from January 20, 1968. The vocals are a bit muddy at the beginning, but the energy is high right from the start. This one becomes an incredible jam, and Phil Lesh in particular is really delivering here. Then we get a couple of songs from January 23, 1968. The first is “Beat It On Down The Line,” and there is some banter about how many beats will start the song. They decide on seventeen. This track also has a lot of energy, and is one of the most fiery renditions I’ve heard. The second song from that Seattle show is a cover of “Hurts Me Too,” with Pigpen delivering the blues. The last of the bonus tracks is “Dark Star,” recorded February 2, 1968 in Portland, Oregon. And, again, there just are no dull versions of “Dark Star.” Throughout this entire disc, you can hear how excited the band was at this time to be making music. This version of “Dark Star” has a surprisingly gentle conclusion.

Disc 2

As the second set starts, there is some stage banter, including Jerry’s dedication of the set “to the memory of Neal Cassady.” They kick off the set with “That’s It For The Other One,” which includes “Cryptical Envelopment,” which was dropped in later years. This was the first show the Dead played after Neal Cassady’s death, and so the line “There was Cowboy Neal at the wheel of the bus to never ever land” carried a lot of weight that night. If you’ve never seen footage of Neal Cassady, I highly recommend checking out some of the Merry Pranksters’ footage. He was a character like no other, and was the inspiration for Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. “That’s It For The Other One” leads straight into “New Potato Caboose,” an interesting song that the Dead kept in rotation only in the late 1960s. And here the band jams on it. That’s followed by “Born Cross-Eyed,” another cool song that was played only briefly in the Dead’s career (only in 1968), but a song I’ve always loved. It’s a short tune, just a couple of minutes, and it leads into a jam, where the band really starts to reach out into the strange, venturing into “Space” territory where they know intuitively how to thrive. Here darkness is shaped into people who march out of the void carrying spears of light. Soon they are separated, each on its own, just as we are, reaching out for scraps of light and spinning away from a center that may just be illusion after all. But if we all concentrate on the illusion, it will become solid form and draw us all toward it.

There is a bit of goofing around before the band launches into “Alligator,” the vocals at first seemingly swallowed up by the instruments. This version seems a bit chaotic at first, but that great drum section seems to pull things together. And the band just jams after that, clearly everything working right. And then they call out, “Alligator, alligator!” But that doesn’t mean the jamming is over. It leads into “Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks),” which is a great jam in itself. Again, Pigpen’s vocals seem low in the mix at first, overpowered by the instruments. Things get a little out of hand as the band segues into “Feedback,” different parts of the engine seemingly at odds, but soon that becomes the norm, and the machine itself has dissolved, or morphed into something else entirely, its original goals and functions lost in the ether. And now it just Is, you know? It breathes and desires and inquires and investigates, growing with each bit of information it acquires, until, really, what else is there? The band then returns us to earth with the encore, a cover of “In The Midnight Hour,” to get us all dancing.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. Morning Dew
  2. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
  3. Dark Star >
  4. China Cat Sunflower >
  5. The Eleven >
  6. Turn On Your Lovelight
  7. Viola Lee Blues
  8. Beat It On Down The Line
  9. Hurts Me Too
  10. Dark Star

Disc 2

  1. That’s It For The Other One >
  2. New Potato Caboose >
  3. Born Cross-Eyed >
  4. Spanish Jam
  5. Alligator >
  6. Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks) >
  7. Feedback
  8. In The Midnight Hour

Road Trips Vol. 2 No. 2: Carousel 2-14-68 was released on August 13, 2021 through Real Gone Music.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

As more people get vaccinated and concert venues open their doors once again, some sort of normalcy seems within reach. Meanwhile, artists are continuing 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.

David Finck: “BASSic Instinct” – Bassist David Finck gives us a playfully titled album, a sequel of sorts to his 2019 release, BASSically Jazz. Here he offers some standards and some original material. The album open with its title track, one of the original compositions by David Finck, and as you might imagine, it’s an enjoyable and light number. It features Ryan Quigley on trumpet, Andy Snitzer on tenor saxophone, Mike Davis on trombone, Quinn Johnson on keys, and Teo Lima on drums. It is approximately a minute before David Finck takes his lead on bass. With that title, I expected that would come even sooner. But this isn’t a showcase for the bass, but rather a pleasant ensemble piece. That’s followed by a wonderful rendition of Irving Berlin’s “The Best Thing For You (Would Be Me),” performed by the trio of David Finck on bass, Tedd Firth on piano and Eric Halvorson on drums. I love David’s lead on bass here, and the way Tedd Firth adds light touches on piano during it. And check out that playful touch David adds just before the end during the brief drum solo. One of the more surprising choices is “Theme From ‘Mannix,’” this cool version featuring Bob Mann on guitar, as well as some really nice work from Cliff Almond on drums. Another highlight is the beautiful “Seascape,” which David Finck performs as a duet with Meg Ruby on piano. Meg Ruby also shines on “Tico Tico No Fubá,” one of my personal favorites, in part because of the delightful way it moves. Three tracks on this album feature vocals. The first of these is “Bateu, Levou/Who’s Wrong Or Right?” with Téka Penteriche and Trist Curless. “You rant and rave and overanalyze/You want a war/Who needs those anymore?” And the presence of vocalists does not mean a lack of a good lead on bass, for in the second half of this track David Finck certainly delivers. Kelly Mittleman provides the vocal work on “So What,” a track that also features some nice work on saxophone. Then Melissa Errico sings on “I Remember,” which was written by David Finck and Jack Murphy, a gorgeous track to conclude the album. This album is scheduled to be released on October 1, 2021.

Alexis Parsons: “Alexis” – Vocalist Alexis Parsons works with two trios on her new album, Alexis, delivering warm and personal renditions of some beloved standards. She opens the album with Cole Porter’s “Easy To Love,” backed by David Berkman on piano, Drew Gress on bass, and Matt Wilson on drums. She eases into the song, this rendition having a wonderfully intimate late-night vibe, and she completely sells us on this love that should be. With that same trio, she then gives us “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” written by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers. I love how she is totally in the moment, seeming to live the song. This track also features a good bass solo.  Because she fully inhabits each song, it means a different vocal approach depending on the track’s mood, so in “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” we hear a different sound from her. That one also features a rather unusual, gentle drum solo. Then with the trio of Arturo O’Farrill on piano, Jonathan Gilley on bass, and Willard Dyson on drums, she tackles Franz Schubert’s “Organ Grinder.” This track features some moving work on bass, and then there is a surprising section in the second half with some of the lines delivered almost as spoken word, with an improvised feel. With that same trio, she sings “Summertime.” I’ve said it often, but you can never go wrong with Gershwin. And this trio delivers a version that is unusual right from its opening, creating a strange atmosphere from which Alexis Parsons’ voice emerges. It is a different sort of summer in these musicians’ hands. This is a fresh approach that is captivating. The album opened with a Cole Porter song, and it likewise closes with one, “In The Still Of The Night,” featuring the trio of David Berkman, Drew Gress and Matt Wilson. This one also has a gorgeous and intimate sound, coming from those hours so late that time seems to have stopped entirely. This album is scheduled to be released on October 1, 2021.

Jackson Potter: “Restless”
– Guitarist Jackson Potter’s debut album features mostly original compositions, beginning with “Bird Flu,” an energetic piece that contains some delicious leads on piano and guitar and saxophone, and seems to be in constant motion. What is exciting about this piece is that during a lead the other musicians do not settle into the background waiting their turns, but keep up their own energy and fantastic work. The band is made up of Patrick Leavy on bass, Gibb Mandish on drums, and Leo Folsom on piano, with David Mason on alto saxophone, Joey Curreri on trumpet, and Carter Key on tenor trombone. “Bird Flu” is followed by “Falling Grace,” one of only two covers, this one written by Steve Swallow. As with the opening track, there is a strong sense of movement here, particularly in Jackson Potter’s guitar work, which seems to flow and dance. Then “Mulberry Tree” has a pleasant and warm, nostalgic vibe. “Sophia’s Waltz” has a sweet, gentle sound, a love song that will bring to mind that special person in your life. Then “Amalfi” features some really good work on drums, particularly toward the end. The album’s second cover is Horace Silver’s “Peace,” which begins with a pretty guitar solo, and features a wonderful lead on bass. That’s followed by “Hindsight Is 2020,” which was written during the pandemic. And though 2020 is technically in the past, the pandemic certainly isn’t, and most of the events and effects of last year are still with us, and so this track doesn’t really look back, but captures the current mood. It features some great work on drums, as well as from the horn section. The album concludes with “Restless,” which comes as a surprise, Jackson Potter turning to more of a rock guitar sound at the beginning. Before long, this track commands your attention. This album is scheduled to be released on October 8, 2021.

The Scenic Route Trio: “Flight Of Life” – With a name like Scenic Route Trio, you can expect this group of musicians to play music that will lift your spirits. And indeed, with the album’s very first track, “The Optimist,” they do so. That opening track has a wonderfully cheerful vibe. It might be enough to make an optimist of the most cynical among us. And certainly the world is in need of some optimism, some spirit. The trio is made up of Javier Santiago on piano, Ollie Dudek on bass, and Genius Wesley on drums, and all three deliver some delicious and delightful work here. This is the kind of track you just want to go on and on, so that you can remain in a good mood. It, like all the tracks on this album, was written by Ollie Dudek. Then “Flight Of Kawan” has a somewhat more relaxed, pleasant vibe at first, and still carries a great amount of joy to the listener. Soon it feels like each musician is dancing with his instrument, just the sort of thing to get us through the bad days. Things then get mellower with “Children Of The Sun,” which features some beautiful work on piano. I wasn’t sure what to expect from “Pandemia,” a tune which is obviously inspired by, and reflects, these crazy times, and indeed it goes through different sections, much as we’ve run through a wide array of emotions the last couple of years. I especially like the livelier sections of this track, the more joyous moments, and of course the drum solo. “Dreamscape” begins in a pleasant, welcoming place, and feels partially like memory, partially like desire. And soon it feels that are much more active within this place. “Lover’s Quarrel” is a fun track, much more enjoyable than any lover’s quarrel I’ve ever had, and it features a great drum solo. The album concludes with an alternative take of “Children Of The Sun.” This album was released on September 18, 2021.

Cathy Segal-Garcia: “Social Anthems Volume 1” – Certain songs from the past seem to address present troubles. Or perhaps those troubles never went away. Jazz vocalist Cathy Segal-Garcia presents her own renditions of a few of these songs on her new album, beginning with Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” a song that has popped up a lot lately, especially after the police’s response to Black Lives Matter protests, and after authorities attacked peaceful protesters in D.C. so that the orange conman could pose with a bible. Cathy Segal-Garcia’s rendition is thoughtful and soulful, and features some nice percussion by Lorca Hart. Listen to the powerful and pointed way she delivers the lines “What a field day for the heat/A thousand people in the street/Singing songs and carrying signs.” There is also an excellent instrumental section. That’s followed by “What Are We Gonna Do,” the album’s original composition by Cathy Segal-Garcia. The song has a gentle feel, but in it she asks some big questions, including how we are going to justify the human race. “How do we recognize what’s wrong and make it go right?” I think we’ve got a handle on the first part of that question, but not the second. This song features some wonderful work on guitar. When I think of artists who have written social anthems, I don’t usually think of Billy Joel, though his “Goodnight Saigon” and “Allentown” address important topics and are seriously good songs (it is best to forget the awful “We Didn’t Start The Fire”). The song of his that Cathy Segal-Garcia covers here is “And So It Goes,” from Storm Front, and she delivers a touching rendition, joined on vocals by Paul Jost. She also delivers a cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Down To Earth” that features a fantastic instrumental section. One of my favorites is her take on “Get Together,” which she combines with “Can’t Find My Way Home,” an interesting choice. Her vocal work grabs us right from the introduction, and is at times haunting, as on the lines “We shall surely pass” and “We are but a moment’s sunlight/Fading in the grass.” And all the musicians really shine on this track. The album concludes with Marvin Gaye’s “Save The Children,” with Mon David joining her on vocals. This album was released on September 17, 2021.

Buck Owens And The Buckaroos: “(It’s A) Monsters’ Holiday” (1974/2021) CD Review

Omnivore Recordings is in the process of re-issuing several Buck Owens albums from the late 1960s and early 1970s. They started mid-summer with Sweet Rosie Jones, I’ve Got You On My Mind Again and Tall Dark Stranger, and continued in late August with three more titles. Now, in time for Halloween, comes the re-issue of (It’s A) Monsters’ Holiday, which was originally released in 1974. The album is presented in its original configuration, without bonus tracks, but with new liner notes written by Randy Poe. I’m not sure if it was part of the original artwork or not, but I love that photo of Buck Owens with a couple of the apes from Planet Of The Apes. Talk about a clash of two disparate worlds. Anyway, the tracks here were mostly written by Buck Owens, and display some of the humor he had shown on the television program Hee Haw. The musicians on this album include Don Rich on guitar, fiddle and vocals; Ronnie Jackson on banjo and guitar; Doyle Curtsinger on bass and vocals; Jerry Brightman on steel guitar; Jerry Wiggins on drums; and Jim Shaw on keyboards, synthesizer and mellotron.

The album opens with its title track, “(It’s A) Monsters’ Holiday,” which was also released as a single (and included on the 2019 two-disc set The Complete Capitol Singles: 1971-1975). This is a fun track to get us in the mood for Halloween, which will be here before we know it. And though the big West Hollywood Halloween celebration has been canceled for the second year in a row due to the pandemic, there still will be smaller celebrations to mark the best holiday of the year. Anyway, this song is a delight, including evil laughter and a scream at the beginning, and mentioning Frankenstein’s monster, the wolf man, Dracula and zombies. “Well, I had to pass by the old graveyard/So I went on the run/There was screaming and moaning, wailing and groaning/Scary as a mummy’s curse/I said, good buddy, you may get me/But, brother, let me tell you/That you’re gonna have to catch me first.” That’s followed by “Amazing Love,” a sweet country number written by John Schweers. I love that steel guitar, and this one also features a particularly strong vocal performance. The line “And then I can feel her smiling on the phone” will stand out for anyone who has spent time apart from his or her love.

“On The Cover Of The Music City News” is another song that displays Buck’s sense of humor. It’s his own version of Shel Silverstein’s “The Cover Of Rolling Stone,” which was originally recorded by Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show. This version is obviously for country artists, with mentions of cowboy boots and Nudie suits. The “teenage blue-eyed groupies” of “The Cover Of Rolling Stone” become “backstage ladies with furs and diamond rings.” That’s followed by a cover of Tom T. Hall’s “I Love.” The world lost Tom T. Hall just last month, and possibly for that reason, this song is striking a greater chord with me than it usually does, and I’m touched by its simple and goofy beauty. And though apparently Tom T. Hall said he meant the regular lawn variety, when most of hear the line about loving grass, well, we think otherwise. Buck Owens then picks up the pace with “Stony Mountain West Virginia,” a wonderful country song that features some nice work on fiddle. This is one of those great country songs that tell stories of men who went bad: “I fell in with bad companions/Robbed a bank in Memphis town/Headed south, scared and running/They caught me in Birmingham.”

“Meanwhile Back At The Ranch” is also a lot of fun. I dig that percussion, and Buck Owens’ vocal approach here has a strong rhythm of its own. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard someone say “Meanwhile back at the ranch.” Can we please revive that line? This song was also included on Country Singer’s Prayer, which was released in 2018. “Meanwhile Back At The Ranch” is followed by “You’re Gonna Love Yourself In The Morning,” an earnest love song in which a man promises he’ll treat the woman well. “You say you’d hate yourself in the morning ‘cause you’d wake up and I’d be gone/But if you give me just one more chance now, I could prove you wrong/You’re going to love yourself in the morning/Because I’m going to love you all night long/You’re going to love yourself in the morning/And every morning from now on.” Most women, it seems, have been mistreated by one man or another along the way. This is a song about the end of that for at least one person.

“Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’” is about smiling, and having people ask you why. The answer, of course, is simple: it’s waking up with someone you love. “You’ve got to kiss an angel good morning/And let her know you think about her when you’re gone/Kiss an angel good morning/And love her like the devil when you get back home.” This one was written by Ben Peters. Then “Great Expectations” is an unusual and delicious love song. Check out these lines: “The first time I saw you I thought I might/Have gotten you under my skin/For the more that I try to get rid of you/The more I just rub you in.” And I love that fiddle. The album concludes with “Pass Me By (If You’re Only Passing Through),” which was written by Hillman Hall. “I’m not going to be a stepping stone/Among the other hearts that you walked on/Lord, help me if I fall in love with you/Hey, pass me by if you’re only passing through.” No meaningless flings or temporary relations for this man. Ah, but in another sense, aren’t we all just passing through?

CD Track List

  1. (It’s A) Monsters’ Holiday
  2. Amazing Love
  3. On The Cover Of The Music City News
  4. I Love
  5. Stony Mountain West Virginia
  6. Meanwhile Back At The Ranch
  7. You’re Gonna Love Yourself In The Morning
  8. Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’
  9. Great Expectations
  10. Pass Me By (If You’re Only Passing Through)

This re-issue of (It’s A) Monsters’ Holiday is scheduled to be released on October 1, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Avey Grouws Band: “Tell Tale Heart” (2021) CD Review

For whatever reason, Edgar Allan Poe has been coming up a lot lately. And the new album from Avey Grouws Band shares its name with what is probably his most famous short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I was just discussing this story with someone the other day, mentioning how it might not have as much impact in today’s world, since people no longer seem to feel guilt or express a conscience about having done wrong. No, in today’s world, when they’re wrong, people double down on it, erroneously believing it is a sign of weakness to admit when one is wrong. What happened to everyone? Good thing there is still excellent music to help us manage living in this current climate of idiocy and pathology. Avey Grouws Band is based in Iowa, and released its first full-length album, The Devil May Care, last year. Now they’re following that with Tell Tale Heart, which features all original material, written by Chris Avey and Jeni Grouws. In addition to Chris Avey on guitar and Jeni Grouws on vocals, the band is made up of Randy Leasman on bass, Bryan West on drums, and Nick Vasquez on keyboards. The music is a combination of blues, rock and soul.

The album opens with “Love Raining Down,” which has a bluesy yet funky, powerful, and sexy groove. It is a delicious rock song with a raw energy, a song to wake us up. And toward the end when Jeni Grouws sings of water rising from below, there is a swell building up in the song, and it’s like we’re present for exactly what she’s describing, like she has summoned a storm, and now we’re all a part of it. After that, the band jams a bit before the end, taking charge once again, perhaps controlling the storm. A strong opening track, to be sure. It’s followed by “There For Me,” which features a good, catchy groove, and has some positive vibes. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “When I can’t breathe, you bring the wind to me/When days get dark, you shine a light/When I’m scared, your voice, it comforts me/And I know I’ll be all right.” This song is one to make us feel good. I hope each of us has someone that makes us feel the way Jeni Grouws describes in the song. I know I do, and I am grateful for her every day. This track features some good work on keys.

“Bad, Bad Year” is a strong blues rock number, announcing itself at the beginning, letting us know that it’s not going to screw around, but get right to the heart of the matter, or to its throat. “Because everybody knows it’s been a bad, bad year,” Jeni sings here. No one is going to argue with her about that. Starting with 2016, that’s been true. And she asks, “Where do we go from here?” That is the question. When the mendacious sociopath was booted from the White House, I foolishly thought we would get somewhere quickly, that all the little racist twits would return to their holes. I was so wrong. Perhaps that great guitar work holds the answer.  Then “Hanging Around” has a more pleasant feel, more in the pop realm, and is about someone who is waiting for that special person to come around, perhaps in vain. That’s followed by “Tell Tale Heart,” the album’s title track. It eases in, “You used to laugh, you used to smile/It was hard to keep us apart,” and then, bam, kicks in with a powerful burst, those vocals seeming to tear through the air. This is a tremendous vocal performance, with some remarkable variations in levels and emotion. “Here in the dark I can see that you are hurting.” Then that guitar seems to match her emotion. This fantastic blues song ends as it began.

There is a haunting vibe at the beginning of “Mariana,” a sense of something ominous in the air. And the guitar speaks to us through that space, reaching out to us, as if to tell us the blues will help us through. The guitar attempts to ward off pain by expressing it, matching it, and to defeat the demons by mesmerizing them, speaking in something like their own language. As we get deeper into this track, and into that guitar work, it seems to be working, for by the end of this instrumental, it has become gentle. The band then totally switches gears with “Daylight,” which has a sweet acoustic sound. “To this brand new day/With all the headlines reading fear and rage/Because this world keeps spinning round/I don’t know where we’ll touch down, we’ll touch down.” Both Fear and Rage, as you probably know, are titles of books by Bob Woodward about the twisted narcissist who was occupying the White House for four years, and are words not only in the headlines, but in our hearts and minds. And so it is with some relief that we embrace these lines: “So just breathe and hold tight/It’s gonna be all right.” We’ve been coursing through a dark time, and so these lines also speak to us: “Daylight/I’ve been waiting for you all night.” Indeed.

“Heart’s Playing Tricks” has a good blues groove, and is a song dealing with jealousy and mistrust. “So I called you up at work just a few hours ago/You know, they said you’d left early/I couldn’t help but wonder where you’d go/So I drove all around this town, just looking for you/Started thinking I was crazy.” Yes, either way, that is crazy behavior, no question about it. I love that added touch of the whispers that she hears. Things then get funky with “We’re Gonna Roll,” which opens with these lines: “Can you feel that beat/It’s been a while now/Since your heart kept time with the drum.” Seriously! I went a year and a half without seeing a concert, by far the longest period without a show since I was in my early teens. Damn this pandemic. I know I am far from alone in looking forward to dancing at concerts again, and this song celebrates the return of live music. The album concludes with “Eye To Eye,” whose opening line, “You always hate it when I’m right,” made me laugh aloud the first time I heard it. This is a fun rock song, and the band is clearly having a good time with it. It is delivered as a duet. “We don’t have to see eye to eye/But you can count on me.”

CD Track List

  1. Love Raining Down
  2. There For Me
  3. Bad, Bad Year
  4. Hanging Around
  5. Tell Tale Heart
  6. Mariana
  7. Daylight
  8. Heart’s Playing Tricks
  9. We’re Gonna Roll
  10. Eye To Eye

Tell Tale Heart was released on September 24, 2021.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Side Pony: “Lucky Break” (2021) CD Review

Two excellent singers and songwriters Alice Wallace and Caitlin Cannon join forces as Side Pony. The duo’s first full-length album, Lucky Break, features all original music, written by Alice Wallace and Caitlin Cannon. Joining them on this release are Andrew Sovine on guitar and banjo, Doug Lancio on guitar (Lancio also produced, engineered and mixed the album), Dan Dugmore on pedal steel, Caleb Mundy on bass, Erin Nelson on drums, and Michael Webb on keys. Alice Wallace and Caitlin Cannon have different styles and approaches to their own material, and yet sound perfectly natural together here, each seeming to draw energy from the other, the results being something wonderful.

Lucky Break opens with “Bad Ideas,” which has a catchy rhythm (the drums reminding me a bit of Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz,” and the bass reminding me for a moment of “You’re The One That I Want” from Grease), and is a sort of celebration of bad decisions. Not the kind of bad decisions that shatter lives and endanger children, of course, but more like the bad decisions people make on a more routine basis. And make more than once. And then again. After all, they sing about “just how good bad can get,” and how can you find that out without repeating mistakes? It isn’t long before they show how great their harmonies are together. “All of my bad ideas keep getting better.” This track becomes quite lively. There is even a delicious section featuring vocals and drums, where they tell us, “I’ve got a devil on each shoulder/And both of them agree/If I’m going down to the flames of hell/Well, I’m taking you with me.” This is a seriously good opening track. It is followed by the album’s title track, “Lucky Break,” which was released as a single back in April (the duo’s first), and features a different group of musicians backing them. Chris Autry is on bass, Bryan Owings is on drums, and Dan Mitchell is on keys. This song addresses the pandemic, or more specifically, the effect the pandemic has had on people’s routines and work. Here are the opening lines: “All the races have been called off/All the clocks have been stopped/Every contest is a wash/All the meetings are postponed/All the outcomes are unknown/And everyone’s alone/Nobody’s getting ahead/Nobody’s missing out/We’re no better than anyone else/Right here in the right now.”  This is such an interesting song, because it feels like it could easily become a real downer, and yet there is some serious optimism in the song’s main lines, “Have you ever prayed for your whole life to change?/Well, this could be your lucky break.” It could be sarcastic, but I don’t hear it that way. Sure, there is some humor here, but I still think of this song as a “glass is half full” kind of piece. This is one of my favorite songs on the disc.

“Heels” is a total delight. It’s a fun country honky tonk song about the current state of gender relations, and the antiquated attitudes that some people seem unable to let go. “These kinds of lessons aren’t easy to unlearn/Like if you want to please a man, put on your shortest skirt/Have dinner on the table after you get home from work/To hang on to a man, they say you shouldn’t be too smart.” The song has something to say, but is also extremely catchy and a totally enjoyable ride. “If you want to keep a man, don’t you correct him when he’s wrong/If he doesn’t take directions, what he takes is twice as long/To hang on to a man, sometimes you have to let him win.” If there is any sense to this world, this song will be a big country hit and will end up in several films. That’s followed by “All I Have Is Want,” and what is immediately striking about this song is their gorgeous harmonizing. This is a beautiful and moving song, featuring some nice work on pedal steel. Check out these lyrics: “Gave up the upper hand, oh, I’m tired of the games/I’ve been on the road, just so you’d have something to chase/That was my mistake.” “Old Woman” is also beautiful, but in a different way, in its sentiment, as well as the delivery. This is a love song about a future love, about possibly having to wait until old age for that perfect love. “We may not have our whole lives ahead of us/But whatever we have will be more than enough/He’ll hold my hand when we walk down the street/Stop in the shop to buy me an ice cream.” This is a beautiful and hopeful song.

“Under The Surface” comes as something of a surprise, being about mermaids, with lyrics that mention sirens, manatees, Shamu and Darryl Hannah. But of course it is about more than mermaids. It is about the need for equality, and it contains a reference to The Merchant Of Venice in the lines, “Cut me and I’ll bleed/I’m still a person.” Shylock, in the third act, asks, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” This song also has a great rhythm. That’s followed by “Pressing My Luck,” a slower gem that eases in and features some nice work on keys. “A little bit late is still almost on time/So I’m going eighty in a fifty-five/Grinding the gears ‘til I burn out the clutch/I’m always pressing my luck.” This is another of the album’s highlights, in part because their vocals are just so bloody good. Though honestly, there isn’t a weak track here. The album concludes with “All The Time In The World,” which is interesting coming after a song that begins and ends with a line about being a bit late. This is another fun one, and, like “Lucky Break,” has its own perspective on the pandemic. It is about having time due to everything being closed, and contains several pop culture references, such Netflix, Hulu, Tinder, Breaking Bad, Amazon. They even break in the middle for a section about various things they’ve ordered on Amazon Prime, certainly a surprise (by the way, that section includes a mermaid tail). There is a good deal of humor to this one, and it features some wonderful stuff on keys. “All the time I always wished I had/The world is my oyster, and I think mine’s gone bad.”

CD Track List

  1. Bad Ideas
  2. Lucky Break
  3. Heels
  4. All I Have Is Want
  5. Old Woman
  6. Under The Surface
  7. Pressing My Luck
  8. All The Time In The World

Lucky Break is scheduled to be released on October 8, 2021 on Mule Kick Records.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Livesays: “Not What I Bargained For” (2021) CD Review

The Livesays are a rock band fronted by Billy Livesay, who played in Clarence Clemons’ band Temple Of Soul for several years. In 2016, The Livesays released Hold On…Life Is Calling, which featured former band member Tim Murphy returning to play on a few tracks, and Eddie Zyne, who played drums with The Monkees on their 1986 reunion tour. In 2018, Eddie Zyne died, and then in 2020 the pandemic provided further trouble, as venues closed and musicians found themselves unemployed. The Livesays had recorded much of The Rhythm Of Love And Dysfunction before that, and managed to finish it in 2020, releasing it in the fall. Now the band is back with a new album, with Tim Murphy back as an official member. Howard Goldberg now plays drums with the band, though three tracks do feature drum work by Eddie Zyne. Not What I Bargained For features mostly original material, written or co-written by Billy Livesay.

The album opens with “Two Sides,” a driving rock song whose opening lines caught me by surprise: “I didn't know what I was getting into/When I posted that picture on my Instagram/The crazies came out swinging/What the hell was I thinking when I posted that?” I still find it odd when singers mention Instagram or Twitter or Facebook. Something in me still believes (or hopes?) these things to be fleeting, and not worthy of immortalization in song. That being said, this is a really good song about the effect of social media and the rampant misinformation found there. “It’s true, it’s true, there’s a conspiracy/I know because I read it in the news feed/Ideas about religion and politics/Two sides along with the ridiculous.”  I appreciate the way the band uses some humor here while making a point. In the last five years we’ve had to maintain a sense of humor; otherwise we’d have called an end to the entire thing. “Families torn apart by opinion over fact/And friendships ruined that won’t be coming back/Some ignorant fool refusing to believe the world is melting.” You know, people say that are two sides to every story. But that is horseshit with regards to many of the current stories. Their “side” is garbage; the side that says climate change doesn’t exist, the side that says the 2020 election was stolen, the side that says the pandemic is a hoax. All garbage. But on social media those fools have a voice. The real question is, What the hell do we do with those people? Anyway, this is a strong opening track, one you can dance to, and clearly one that can also get you thinking.

“One More Chance” has quite a different feel and subject. It’s a sweet song about a lonely, older man who is caught in memories but wants to create a future for himself. “Reminiscing about his wife that passed/How the years have flown by so fast/He’s reminded of his loneliness every time he sees her face/When his mind replays the movies of another time and place.” In all the current craziness, one thing that has kept me from exploding is being able to hold my girlfriend. I can’t imagine existing right now alone. This song is about needing one more chance at love. “One more chance is all he’s asking for/One more chance at love/And one more chance to feel the warmth/Like holding someone does/And one more chance to walk along this lonely avenue/With someone needing one more chance and feeling lonely too.” That’s followed by “What I Bargained For,” which is sort of the title track, though not quite. Check out these lines, which open the song: “I took my love to another place/All I wanted was to get a taste/But I consumed the whole damn plate/It isn't what I bargained for.” Both “One More Chance” and “What I Bargained For” feature Eddie Zyne on drums. Then “Drunkard’s Lament” also features a lonely, older man who looks back, but keeps that past in his present by not being able to get over a woman he knew back then. This track features some good guitar work. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Sometimes I sleep about a week/It can take maybe two to sober up/When I recall the hurtful things I did/I get drunk and do it all again/Now blacking out is my best friend/It keeps me from remembering/I’m just trying to get over/The girl I loved a long, long time ago.” That’s followed by “Show A Little Honesty,” which is a lament too, of sorts, and also mentions regrets, though this one is about a present relationship. “In my heart I know you love me/But there are things I can’t accept/Little secrets you’re not telling me/That lead to my regrets.” In this song he is asking just for honesty, something we should expect from everyone, and especially those close to us. However, these days, honesty is sadly a rare commodity. “No more smoke and mirrors/It’s the truth I’m looking for” are lines we could sing to many of our politicians. I love the guitar work after those lines.

The first of only two covers on this album is “Hold Me,” a song from the 1930s written by Jack Little, Dave Oppenheim and Ira Schuster. In the 1960s it was covered by P.J. Proby, and in the early 1980s it was recorded by B.A. Robertson and Maggie Bell (that latter record featuring a guy named Billy Livsy on keyboards - coincidence?). These guys do a good job with this song, delivering a sweet rendition. Then an intimate vibe is created for “In A Small Town.” I grew up in a very small town, and so lines like “And strangers are looked upon like aliens and life is so mundane” and “In a small town where everybody talks/About who's lovin’ who and who’s got what” totally click with me. But the lines that especially stand out are these: “She’s got everything she needs and doesn’t want to leave this small town/But I could not persuade her, it seems my dreams evade her/She says she’s happy, but I have my doubts.” Dana Keller plays pedal steel on this track. The second cover is Bruce Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind,” a song from his 1992 album Lucky Town. The Livesays deliver a beautiful and powerful rendition.

“In Troubled Times” is a song title for these days, isn’t it? What went wrong in 2016? And why can’t we get back on the right path now that the orange conman is out of the White House? This track isn’t exactly about that, but rather about a troubled youth in troubled times, and it has a great bluesy edge. “The game of life is for grownup shoes/And the odds are fifty-fifty that he’s going to lose.” Plus, it has a Shakespeare reference: “When the slings and arrows start to fly.” That line refers to Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy, where he says: “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,/And by opposing end them?” Using that reference illustrates just how much trouble fate is throwing the kid’s way in this song. That’s followed by a song that directly addresses that orange menace and his demented worshipers, “Better Angels.” Check out these lines: “And his deception brought the country to its knees/People turned against each other, brother fighting brother/He lied and said he’d make them great again.” Again, how can people still follow this soulless gameshow host? This is one of my favorite tracks. There is an optimistic bent in the song’s chorus: “There’s better angels coming/Better angels coming/Arriving just in time/To tell the truth over the lies/The better angels of our nature rising up tonight.” I am waiting for this to happen on a larger scale. For now, I’m going to enjoy this excellent song and sing along with its chorus. “Can’t Stop The Talking” is another of the disc’s highlights. It has a gentle, thoughtful tone. There is also something of a weariness to the delivery, which works so well for lines like “Well, I’m tired of losing sleep over things that I can’t change” and “Can’t stop the talking, I just can’t stop the talking/I’ve heard it all before behind my back walking out the door.” The album then concludes with another song perfect for our times, “Crazy Isn’t It?” It opens with these lines: “Well, I used to have a lot of fun/But lately I’ve been down, and I’m not the only one.” Ah, how many times has each of us remarked how crazy things are? “It’s past the time to end all this hateful conversation/About the world, it’s good and bad in any combination/And it helps to have friends, oh, it helps to have friends.” This is yet another of my personal favorites.

CD Track

  1. Two Sides
  2. One More Chance
  3. What I Bargained For
  4. Drunkard’s Lament
  5. Show A Little Honesty
  6. Hold Me
  7. In A Small Town
  8. If I Should Fall Behind
  9. In Troubled Times
  10. Better Angels
  11. Can’t Stop The Talking
  12. Crazy Isn’t It?

Not What I Bargained For was released on September 1, 2021.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

D-Town Brass: “Impossible Voyage” (2016) CD Review

In 2016 D-Town Brass, a wonderfully original big band, recorded a soundtrack for the 1904 silent film The Impossible Voyage, Georges Méliès’ sequel (sort of) to A Trip To The Moon. The Impossible Voyage is a humorous film about scientific exploration of the sun, and it pokes fun at the rich and inept, and includes plenty of physical comedy, including pratfalls and such, as well as ridiculous vehicles crashing into buildings and rushing off of cliffs. Eventually, the characters are able to get one of their vehicles into space, and – in a shot similar to that famous image from A Trip To The Moon – there is a face in the sun. This time, instead of the ship hitting the face in the eye, it flies into the face’s mouth as the sun appears to be yawning. That image is used as the cover for the D-Town Brass album. If you haven’t seen the film, it is definitely worth watching. And it is even more enjoyable if you play this album by while you do. The first ten tracks of this disc make up the soundtrack to the film, and the music is continuous, one track running into the next.

The album opens with “The Plan,” and you can sense the excitement of certain people at this idea of going off to explore the sun. The music also tells us how goofy the idea is. “The Plan” leads straight into the second track, “Machine Room,” and here we have the insanity of those hard at work on the various gadgets and gizmos that will help take the foolish tourists to the sun. This track is a lot of fun, but it also shows us how these people are taking their activity very seriously, even if we aren’t. There is a sense of mystery in the second half. The work on keyboards at the beginning of “Train Station” feels like the music we might expect to accompany a silent film, which is interesting in itself, coming as more of a surprise from this innovative and unpredictable group of musicians. Later the music begins to sound like a somewhat slowed carnival ride, which actually turns out to be perfect, for the train they are on is like a group of clowns arriving in town. I love the craziness at the end of this track, as the fools burst through a building before plummeting off a cliff, leading to “Crash.” Yes, their work comes to naught, as the vehicle crashes off the cliff rather than flying off into space, a low moment for our intrepid travelers. But everyone is all right, of course. This is a comedy, after all.

Upon emerging from the hospital, these folks are ready and eager to get right back to it, and their next vehicle waits for them just outside. The music gives us the sense of the people as performers in a flea circus, ushered aboard to entertain us as they almost certainly are again heading for trouble. But then, something magical happens, and the music reflects that. Their insane attempts are successful, and the train flies off into space toward the sun. “Sun Treader” is a short track as the vehicle ends up in the sun’s mouth, much to the sun’s displeasure. That’s followed by “Landing,” another short track, which heralds the group’s arrival in somewhat triumphant sounds. But there are some dark tones here too.

“Problems” is one of the coolest tracks, even as our travelers suffer from the extreme heat of the sun. It’s a good thing they’ve brought their Glacier Ice Tank with them. These silly folks did think ahead. However, the setting on that tank was a bit too cold for people, and soon they need to thaw out, the music here stressing the trouble, the worry. Clearly they’ve had enough of the sun, and return to their ship. Percussion begins “Underwater,” while our group of would-be heroes manages to drift off the sun and land in the ocean back on Earth, where at first they enjoy watching the sea life in peace, but soon some strange undersea monster threatens them. This is another of my favorite tracks. Percussion also begins “Processional,” the final track of the film’s soundtrack. Here there is a joyful sense and an excitement, sounding like a parade, a celebration, as the folks emerged unscathed from their journeys, likely having learned nothing. But, oh, what fun!

The film is only a little more than eighteen minutes, so this disc contains several other tracks, beginning with “Fluoridation Station,” which quickly establishes a great groove, one to get your body moving. And, hey, we can’t help but think that our bodies are crazy machines too, just like that train flying off into the sun. Right? The blood is pumping, and we get the sense there are tiny creatures hard at work to make sure everything is running smoothly. But don’t think about that, just dance and enjoy yourselves. Then toward the end, things get strange. Has the machinery gone on the fritz? Who knows what it might do in that case? Ah, but things get fixed, and the groove resumes. That’s followed by “Cosmo.” When I see the word “Cosmo,” I think of two people: Doug Clifford (drummer of CCR) and Richard O’Brien (who wrote The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Shock Treatment, and played Dr. Cosmo McKinley in the latter). As this track begins, it is definitely in more of a Richard O’Brien realm than a Doug Clifford realm, for there is a strange science fiction vibe to this, keeping with the theme of the main portion of the album. This track creates an odd environment where you get the sense things are being attempted, and there are hints of intrigue, with someone sneaking around behind the machinery.

“Every Inkwell” is one of the most interesting tracks, with its own particular world and vibe. Just let it take you where it will. The instruments feel like characters, and you just want to watch them interact. Or listen to them interact, I suppose. Also, I enjoy the percussion. That’s followed by “The Hum Drum,” which, as you might expect, begins with drums, soon developing a good, steady beat, while the horns then offer their own thoughts and observations. The track begins to build from there, turning into a lively beast. The disc then concludes with “Meatpackers Union,” which features another strong and delicious groove, the band jamming on it and leaving us all happy.

CD Track List

  1. The Plan
  2. Machine Room
  3. Train Station
  4. Crash
  5. Journey To The Sun
  6. Sun Treader
  7. Landing
  8. Problems
  9. Underwater
  10. Processional
  11. Fluoridation Station
  12. Cosmo
  13. Every Inkwell
  14. The Hum Drum
  15. Meatpackers Union

Impossible Voyage was released in 2016.

Monday, September 20, 2021

The California Country Show Returns To Americanafest

Americanafest is happening this week in Nashville, Tennessee. Yes, in person. There are many panels and seminars scheduled, but what is most important, of course, is the music, and one event in particular looks especially appealing – The California Country Show, which is scheduled for Friday, September 24th, from noon to 6 p.m. The lineup features some excellent artists, including Ted Russell Kamp, Chris Pierce, and Dead Rock West. This show will take place at the Acme Feed & Seed at 101 Broadway in Nashville.

Ted Russell Kamp is scheduled to kick off the show at noon. If you’ve never seen him, I highly recommend checking out his set. And if you aren’t going to make it to Nashville this week, you should listen to some of the albums he’s released, including Solitaire, which was released earlier this year, and Down In The Den, which came out last year. Ted Russell Kamp is also part of the trio Stash (with Joey Peters and Rich McCulley), and they have an album scheduled for a November release.  Dead Rock West follows. You can hear Dead Rock West on Ram On: The 50th Anniversary Tribute To Paul & Linda McCartney’s Ram, which was released in May. On that album, they perform “Eat At Home.” The lineup also includes The Wild West, LadyCouch, The Whitmore Sisters, The Mastersons, Chris Pierce, Garrison Starr, Sam Outlaw, Jonathan Tyler, and Brian Wright & The Sneak Ups. Chris Pierce is an excellent vocalist, and he’s been releasing some important material, including “Mercy,” which he recorded with Sunny War (as War & Pierce), and “Young, Black And Beautiful,” a powerful and moving song. Each artist is given a limited time to perform at this event, but this is a great way to hear several talented artists. The show is going to be hosted by Dave Bernal of The California Country Radio Show.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Blue Glass: “Jardin Des Étoiles” (2021) Vinyl Review

Blue Glass is the project of Michael Shunk, a musician based in Seattle. His new double album, Jardin Des Étoiles, is a departure from the previous release, 2019’s Pale Mirror, this one featuring all instrumental tracks, mood pieces to help transport us from our current cares, each track creating an interesting atmosphere. The instruments used on this album are synthesizers and guitars. The album is partly inspired by the work of French film director Chris Marker, and there is a line from Chris Marker quoted on the inside of the album’s gatefold: “We do not remember. We rewrite memory much as history is rewritten.” Seems in that case that our own past is just as difficult to see clearly as the world’s past, and that certainly rings true. While listening to this album, then, we tend to rewrite our own memories, inspired by the music, and what we end up with is just as true as anything else we remember. This double album is presented on clear orange vinyl.

Side A

The album opens with “Jardin I,” which begins by helping us clear away our surrounding reality and enter a dreamscape, the steady tones pushing away the day’s concerns. And once we are there, once this track has us, it comes into sharper focus, with brighter colors, a sun rising over what at first seems a desolate world, a place you might expect to find tranquility, or at least solitude, loneliness. But there is a greater intelligence behind the landscape, a sense of control from both above and below, and we find we don’t have to walk in order to move; we can remain still, eyes closed, and enter into its domain. Interestingly, once that happens, it lets us go, having accomplished what it set out to do. Then with “Jardin II” we are taken into memory, splashes, or shards of memory reflected in glass, in crystal, which we can gaze into, contemplate, if we so choose. Yet we are disconnected from the images, as if we know they don’t quite represent reality. The person then is not the person now. Besides, we know that nothing from the past, nothing revealed here, can cause any harm. And once we realize that, we see the beauty of the place, and of our own lives, however fleeting they may be. We soon might find ourselves drifting away farther from the present, yet also distant from the memories, into the shadows of those reflections, and there is a letting go, a sense of peace.

Side B

As “Jardin III” begins, there is an approaching light, a physical presence that we can see and experience, a joy. It seems from without at first, but as it gets closer, it seems to come from within as well. Or perhaps there is a merging, and once that happens we are aware of a darker element within. There are other voices. This is not strictly a one-on-one experience, as we might first have believed. But we are all on a similar journey, just with differing perspectives and reactions. There is even fear here, but that doesn’t touch us in any way that would mar our own experience, or keep us from this particular journey. Then “Jardin IV” opens with a warmer, deeper voice gently calming us, removing whatever fears might remain. This voice we can feel in our chests as well as our heads, and there is an undeniable comfort, even pleasure, in having it pass through our bodies, this gentle intelligence meeting but not possessing us. There also seems to be a curiosity on both sides, a willingness to learn, and we are provided the space for it, for an exploration within. This is a pleasant place whose beauty seems to have no beginning, and certainly no end, and we feel safe drifting within.

Side C

“Jardin V” eases in, coming in waves that gently wash our way and eventually over us, and we glean a little more information with each successive wave, a greater sense of where we are. It is like an intelligence reaches out to us, and finding us receptive, becomes more bold, more forward, ready to take us on a journey. And before we realize it, we must have entered one of those waves, for now it is as if we ourselves are traveling toward others, that we’ve become part of the intelligence. What a strange sensation, that we have something to present to others when only a moment before we were eager to receive. Yet then it begins to recede from both them and us. Or are we receding from ourselves with it? Then “Jardin VI” takes us to a more grounded place. Still the information comes in waves, but these are more solid, less ethereal. They are more set in memories that have shape, and an emotional strength that solidifies them in our mind. We can hold these thoughts, these memories in our hands, and without worry of damaging them or changing them, perhaps because the changes have already occurred. Somehow they remain inside us even as they fade.

Side D

The double album concludes with “Jardin VII,” this one feeling different right from the opening, for there is an intensity, a bright powerful tone, a light that surrounds and envelops, sweeping us up in a manner that is less gentle than before. There is no question but that it is taking us where it desires. And yet within that there is some exchange, an easing of tension, even as the movement is undoubtedly forward. And as with everything else, it too then fades.

Record Track List

Side A

  1. Jardin I
  2. Jardin II

Side B

  1. Jardin III
  2. Jardin IV

Side C

  1. Jardin V
  2. Jardin VI

Side D

  1. Jardin VII

Jardin Des Étoiles was released on July 16, 2021.

D-Town Brass: “Golden Belt” (2013) Vinyl Review

D-Town Brass is a big band jazz ensemble that doesn’t play traditional big band jazz tunes, or even sound like they have any interest in playing them. Instead, these musicians use those instruments to create their own style, their own sound, taking their listeners to all sorts of exciting and unexpected places, and mixing in elements from other musical realms. The group is made up of Andy Magowan on keyboards, Bob Wall on bass, Robert Biggers on drums, Brendan Love on percussion, Ken Moshesh on percussion, Matt Vooris on percussion and xylophone, Steve Carter on vibraphone, Bob Pence on baritone saxophone and alto saxophone, Ben Riseling on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Matt Busch on tenor saxophone, Steve Cowles on baritone saxophone, Andy Shull on trumpet, Jeff Herrick on trumpet, Hank Pellerin on trombone, and Rob Mossefin on trombone. In 2013, this group released Golden Belt, an album of original material that is available on vinyl.

Side One

The album opens with “Escape Hatch,” a tune that establishes a delicious groove, one element at a time. Then in come the horns, and things get exciting. This track sounds like the score to a fantastic but unseen 1960s gem, a movie we want to exist, something with gorgeous gals and intrigue. Perhaps this is our hero’s theme as he drinks and quips and fights his way through the rather loose plot. Hell, I want to write the film, just to put this music in it, to put the music where it needs to be. That’s followed by “Slippery Monkeys,” which also begins with percussion, but a different sort of rhythm, giving us the sense of a jungle setting. The horns are playful during that opening section, delivering brief, even tentative thoughts and observations, as we are brought into this world. Then suddenly there is a magnificent burst of color and energy, and we are in it now. There is a great deal of fun to this track, particularly toward the end when it gets even more lively.

As “Slideways” opens, it seems to be sneaking about, and taking us along on its adventure. I love the percussion on this track, and that section where the percussion dominates is one of my favorite parts. There is something dramatic about this track as well, making me wonder if these musicians are film buffs. An oft quoted line from Heraclitus tells us we can never step into the same river twice. Well, here the band offers “Same River Once,” as honest a song title as one could imagine. This river is no calm stream, nothing to drift down on a lazy sunny afternoon. No, this river is alive with activity. You get the sense of other people in there, perhaps below the surface, and likely up to no good. Yeah, there is magic in there too, but it’s not yours to control. Watch your footing. There is a fifth, unlisted track on this side, “No Lock, No Key.” This is the only track on the record to feature vocals. “No lock, no key/No key, no lock/Open the door, open the door/Open the door, open the door.” And soon things get pretty wild.

Side Two

The second side opens with “Camberwell Carrot.” A cool rhythm and style transports us to a place where we can be loose with our own sense of ourselves, and maybe live, at least for a short period, in some alternate, dream version of ourselves that is created in part by the music itself. Who doesn’t have, at times, spectacular visions of themselves, how they wish to be seen? Well, here that vision manifests. Just be careful to return before the track ends, or ribbons of self may be lost to this other realm. That’s followed by “The Hectic Metric,” and right from the start, this one is about movement, motion, and at a hurried pace. Not just individuals, but crowds are in motion, the world at large moving about. There is even a tribal sense to it, particularly in that section with hand claps. And I love that work on saxophone. This is an exciting piece.

We are taken to a smoother, softer spot at the beginning of “A Close Call.” This one too has a strong sense of place, this band being able to create vibrant settings and transport us there with ease. Once we are there, the group allows things to get more intense, and at a certain point we suddenly find ourselves on the run. From what, we’re not sure, but it is imperative we keep moving, and fast. Again, there is a cinematic sense here, and a delicious intensity to the playing. The album then ends with “Zombie Rag.” There may be a slight hesitancy at the start, but soon we burst onto the dance floor. This is at a club where the doors may be bolted to prevent escape, but we don’t care, just as long as the rhythm continues, and the liquor flows. As long as the night lasts, and there is the sense that might be forever. During the dance, some of us – or perhaps all of us – pass over to the other side, but hardly anyone takes notice. Things are too good for such trivial concerns.

Record Track List

Side One

  1. Escape Hatch
  2. Slippery Monkeys
  3. Slideways
  4. Same River Once
  5. No Lock, No Key

Side Two

  1. Camberwell Carrot
  2. The Hectic Metric
  3. A Close Call
  4. Zombie Rag

Golden Belt was released on May 18, 2013.