Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Punk Women: 40 Years Of Musicians Who Built Punk Rock (2021) Book Review

When people think of punk music, the bands that maybe come most quickly to mind are often all male. The Ramones, Buzzcocks, The Clash, Sex Pistols, Misfits, Dead Kennedys. But there are a whole lot of women who have helped shape the scene and who’ve made and continue to make significant contributions to punk music. These women are celebrated in David A. Ensminger’s new book, Punk Women: 40 Years Of Musicians Who Built Punk Rock. The book has a cool, loose vibe and look, like the old ‘zines that fans used to print up themselves. And David A. Ensminger is certainly a fan of the music. His passion is evident on every page. And apparently he did previously publish this book himself in a different form, in two small volumes. There are plenty of photos and examples of old concert fliers in this book. The book also contains a foreword by Katy Otto, in which she recounts some of her personal experiences in the DC punk scene and with Exotic Fever Records.

This book is about more than just the music. As Ensminger states in the introduction, “it also explores issues at stake: social and gender politics, rampant violence, reproductive rights, modern feminism, genre categories, sexual norms, war and technology, the record industry and tour networks, DIY causes, humanitarian values, media narratives, street level power struggles, and much more” (p. 9). Punk of course has a great history of addressing political and social problems, usually head-on. For several of the women in this book, the music is related to issues of social justice. There are problems that all of us share, men and women alike. But there are also issues that are particular to women, and the artists celebrated here certainly do not shy away from addressing those as well.

As mentioned, the book has a loose style, and it is not meant to be comprehensive. And so the stories contained within are not presented in any chronological sense. The book starts with The Muffs, and Ensminger gives a brief overview of the band’s music. Then Kim Shattuck herself takes over, talking about producing the Happy Birthday To Me album and what she learned from that experience. That’s one of the cool things about this book. Through interviews, we hear from some of the artists themselves. Kim Shattuck (who died in 2019) also mentions some of the artists she likes and tells a funny anecdote about covering “Rock N Roll Girl.” We also hear from Jean Smith of Mecca Normal (in an interview from late 2016). Smith says, “That was our specific purpose – to inspire young women to form bands with their friends, to write, and to sing lyrics about their experience” (p. 16). She also has some interesting things to say about aging within the music scene. Others interviewed in these pages include Meredith DeLoca (of The Epoxies), Kim Coletta (the bass player for Jawbox) and Linda Younger (of Mydolls). Elizabeth Elmore (of The Reputation) says, “I’m generally pretty offended when I realize we’ve been booked onto a bill with bands we sound nothing like and have nothing in common with simply because the bands contain women” (p. 43). Other problems are on a more practical level, as Diana Young-Blanchard (of The DT’s) mentions: “Traditionally, most rock clubs do not cater well to ladies’ toilet needs. On the road especially, it’s hard to find a decent place to doll up before a show or take a crap” (p. 41). There is also a short interview with Kira Roessler of Black Flag.

In addition to interviews, the book contains short profiles of many other bands, including Romeo Void, Capitol Punishment, Germs, Delta 5, Sonic Youth, Babes In Toyland, The B-52s, The Elected Officials, and The Cramps. David A. Ensminger describes The Cramps: “They offer a peephole into all that is bleak, weird, pitch-dark, eccentric, and trembling in the crumbling daguerreotypes of horror rock” (p. 71). I was seriously excited to find Go Betty Go included in this book. That’s a Los Angeles band I love, a band that was part of that fantastic scene that also included The Peak Show and Los Abandoned. Many of the artists profiled in these pages will be familiar to you, but some are more obscure. One band I knew nothing about, but now wish I’d had a chance to see in concert, is The Insaints, led by vocalist Marian Anderson. Sounds like their concerts were wild, unhinged times. Chances are there will be at least a few bands you’ll want to check out after reading about them here.

Punk Women: 40 Years Of Musicians Who Built Punk Rock was published on July 2, 2021 by Microcosm Publishing.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Stash: “Walk The Walk” (2021) CD Review

The pandemic hasn’t seemed to slow Ted Russell Kamp’s work. In early May of this year he released Solitaire, an album mostly recorded in his home. And now Stash, a band founded by Kamp, Rich McCulley and Joey Peters, is releasing its first album. Titled Walk The Walk, this disc features all original material, written by the band members. Ted Russell Kamp plays bass, acoustic guitar, banjo, organ, trumpet and trombone on these tracks, and also provides the lead vocals. Rich McCulley plays electric guitar, baritone guitar, acoustic guitar, dobro, mandolin and keyboards, and provides backing vocals. Joey Peters plays drums, percussion and keyboards. The album was created in the home studios of the musicians, a project that helped them get through the period of isolation brought on by the pandemic. And the music should help the rest of us get through the remaining stages of this thing. Several of these songs are, in one way or another, about being on the road, something musicians missed as venues shut down and tours were canceled. Now, as things are opening up again, people are heading back out into the world. This is an album to take with you.

The album opens with “Smoke And Mirrors,” which seems to describe a large portion of our reality these days. After all, many politicians and others haunting the internet are peddling snake oil. These lines certainly seem to speak to our times: “It’s a sleight-of-hand, so don’t act surprised/When good goes bad right before your eyes/The more you see, the less it’s clear/You can’t believe a word that you hear/It’s smoke and mirrors.” A steady, pounding beat moves this wonderfully raw number forward. Then “Catch Me If You Can” has more of a rock vibe. “Got the world in the palm of my hand/The open road and the big blue sky/Catch me if you can.” Ah, the open road has always held great appeal, and these days it sounds like heaven. This has a classic vibe, a song of summer, its energy and style taking me back to some of the music I listened to when I was growing up. It has that same sort of draw. That’s followed by another song of the road, this one a fun country number titled “Queen Of The Highway.” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “She lives by the white line/And she knows every road sign/It’s a hundred miles to where she wants to  be/That woman loves the highway more than me.” He clearly admires her, which helps to make the song completely enjoyable.

“You’re The One” begins with a strong rhythm, a cool bass line, for a moment nearly straying into The Knack territory, which is fine with me. This is a totally fun song, another that feels like summer, with that sense of happiness, of cruising at the beach, of meeting that special someone. Because, hey, in addition to being a catchy tune, it’s a love song. What more could you want? “Into The Sunset” is also a love song, but with a sweeter, gentler vibe, including some nice work on mandolin. And you can hear the affection in the delivery of lines like “And I woke up dreaming that I was still holding you tight” and “Your touch is as soft as the rain.” So nice. They then return to a more raw, driving style with “One Step Ahead Of The Law,” fitting for the story of an outlaw. And that vocal approach is perfect. This one too refers to the road, and even includes the title of an earlier track in its lyrics: “I’ve got my eye on the prize and my foot on the gas/Catch me if you can because I’m a man with no past.”

“One Track Mind” moves at a good clip, with a rock energy. “I’ll get up and do it again ‘til I stumble and fall/Because you can fool me once, give me bad advice/But I know the name of the game and you won’t fool me twice.” Then “Ain’t That Kind Of Man” tells the story of poverty and necessity leading to a desperate decision. “It was just one mistake/I ain’t that kind of man/No, I ain’t that kind of man.” It’s a compelling song, and here we get a taste of the horns too. That’s followed by “Talk The Talk,” a fun track that features guest vocals from Anna Maria Rosales, as well as more good stuff on horns. There is even a section in the middle with hand claps. “But time is slipping away/Don’t want to waste another day.” Like a lot of folks, I thought about priorities during the pandemic, and lines like those stand out for that reason. Our time here is so brief.

“Sweet Salvation Of The Dawn” is another song about an outlaw, and one who stands by his choice, told from his perspective. “I can’t go back/What’s done is done/I’ve got to make it across the border/Before the morning comes.” That’s followed by “What I Need,” a rocking, energetic number. “I’m going to stand on top of the world.” I think many people feel that need. Then “By Your Side” is a sweet-sounding song that has a certain innocence about it, a youthful vibe, a nostalgic vibe. “But when I’m alone, I get lost in an ocean of dreams/Every sunset seems like the last I will see/When I’m by your side, I feel the warmth of the sun.” The album concludes with a fun rocking song, “Hey, Hey, Hey,” a song that will get you smiling, and maybe dancing. Check out that rock and roll lead on guitar in the second half.

CD Track List

  1. Smoke And Mirrors
  2. Catch Me If You Can
  3. Queen Of The Highway
  4. You’re The One
  5. Into The Sunset
  6. One Step Ahead Of The Law
  7. One Track Mind
  8. Ain’t That Kind Of Man
  9. Talk The Talk
  10. Sweet Salvation Of The Dawn
  11. What I Need
  12. By Your Side
  13. Hey, Hey, Hey

Walk The Walk is scheduled to be released on November 5, 2021.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Nina Simone: “Little Girl Blue” (1959/2021) CD Review

In June, Nina Simone’s The Montreux Years was released. That two-disc set captured live performances from 1968 to 1990, including renditions of a few songs from her debut album, 1959’s Little Girl Blue. Now that first album has been re-issued, with new liner notes by Daphne A. Brooks (also included are the original liner notes by Joseph Muranyi). It was mastered by Michael Graves at Osiris Studio in Los Angeles. The songs here are mostly covers, with just one original composition. But the way Nina Simone delivers them, it feels like every one of these songs is hers. Backing her are Jimmy Bond on bass, and Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums.

The album opens with a delightful rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo,” which moves at a good clip. When we think of Nina Simone, we usually think of her voice, but here she also reminds us what a talented pianist she was. It is nearly a minute and a half before she begins singing. And what a voice. I love the way she holds onto certain syllables. Even at this early stage in her career, she had that special something, and there is a natural flow that is all her own, and a confidence in every note. It must have been exciting in the late 1950s and early 1960s to come across this album when it was new. It is exciting even now, and of course this re-issue is the perfect starting place for anyone unfamiliar with her work and her style. She commands our attention at the beginning of “Don’t Smoke In Bed” with that brief introduction on piano, and then has us completely in her hands with her captivating vocal performance. This is one of the songs that is included on The Montreux Years, from a concert in 1990. As on that recording, this song is performed solo here. Nina Simone also released both “Mood Indigo” and “Don’t Smoke In Bed” as singles, and they were included on the 2018 compilation Mood Indigo: The Complete Bethlehem Singles.

Nina Simone's band members join her again for “He Needs Me,” a song written by Arthur Hamilton. In each song she delivers, there are certain words or lines that are striking because of the personal touches she adds. Here, for example, I love the way she delivers “or his lover” in the line “And I’m going to be his friend or his lover.” You can hear in her voice just exactly what she wants and what she plans. There are other moments that are more impressive, but sometimes it is just those little touches that really make the song something special. That’s followed by “Little Girl Blue,” the album’s title track, which begins with an instrumental nod to “Good King Wencelas,” a theme she returns to at other moments throughout the track. This is another song that was included on The Montreux Years, this song from a 1976 concert. The performance here is wonderful. This whole album is excellent, but this track is certainly a highlight.

Then Nina Simone starts swinging with her rendition of “Love Me Or Leave Me,” a song I used to see The Peak Show dip into on “O’Day.” This track is a lot of fun, and I love the way she delivers the lines “There’ll be no one unless that someone is you/I intend to be independently blue.” She also gives us some bright work on piano. And there is a cool bass line, which helps to make this track stand out. That extended instrumental section in the middle is fantastic. That’s followed by another totally fun track, “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” which was also included on The Montreux Years, from the 1990 show. What a delight this one is. She just completely owns this song. If it fails to put a smile on your face, it’s time to see a doctor.

“Good Bait” is the first of the album’s three instrumental tracks. It begins with some pretty work on piano. Then, approximately a minute and forty-five seconds in, the track takes a turn as the other musicians come in, and things get seriously cool.  It then returns to the piano solo before its conclusion. That’s followed by “Plain Gold Ring,” which Nina Simone begins a cappella. She takes us on a haunting ride here, the music swelling at times, then becoming wonderfully intimate at other moments, her voice coming from some other place, some other land that we’d love to step into if we had the nerve. She then delivers an instrumental rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” that is moving and gorgeous right from its first moments, and shows what a fantastic pianist she was. That’s followed by an excellent rendition of “I Loves You, Porgy.” I’ve said it many times, but you can never go wrong with Gershwin. Nina Simone’s vocal performance pulls you closer and closer. The album concludes with its only original composition, a totally cool instrumental titled “Central Park Blues.” The bass is in command at the start, and remains a strong presence throughout. And Nina Simone’s playing is both sexy and joyful. In the second half she starts to rock that piano at one point, before quickly changing directions again, keeping us engaged and excited.

CD Track List

  1. Mood Indigo
  2. Don’t Smoke In Bed
  3. He Needs Me
  4. Little Girl Blue
  5. Love Me Or Leave Me
  6. My Baby Just Cares For Me
  7. Good Bait
  8. Plain Gold Ring
  9. You’ll Never Walk Alone
  10. I Loves You, Porgy
  11. Central Park Blues

This re-issue of Little Girl Blue was released on CD on August 13, 2021. It was also released on vinyl, both blue and black.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Doc Carter: “High Tide For Low Times” (2021) CD Review

It was the album’s title, High Tide For Low Times, which got me interested in the first full-length album from Doc Carter (he’s released several EPs and singles). That title just gets straight to how things feel these days, and hints at change in the near future. Doc Carter is a singer and songwriter currently based in Texas. This album features all original material written by Doc Carter. Joining the singer on this release are Jeremy Long on keyboards, dobro and pedal steel; David Leach on percussion; and Matt Grundy on all other instruments. Matt Grundy also produced the album.

The album opens with “Heading West,” its catchy groove and excellent work on harmonica right at the start immediately working to pull us in. Doc Carter’s vocals have a sound that is both friendly and experienced. Here are the song’s first lines: “I’ve been staring out this window for what seems an eternity/Looking for some kind of answers from all the people that I see/In this refuge from the cold, it’s just me that I deceive/I can’t stay a moment longer, I’ve got to set myself free.” And yes, heading west still holds that appeal, carrying with it that sense of pursuing one’s dreams. “How many years have passed me by, how many days have gone?/It’s time to pull myself together, it’s time to find a new dawn.” It’s never too late, and this song’s cheerful and positive vibe seems to urge us on. “Don’t try to stop, don’t try and stop me now/I’m a-heading west, and I’m going to get there somehow.” And I love that harmonica lead in the track’s second half.

“Taking It Easy” is also catchy in its own way, with that cool intro and rhythm. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I got nowhere to go/Taking it easy/Taking it slow/Let these feelings/Come and go.” And of course there is something appealing about these lines: “There’s no need to worry/About impending doom/I’m taking it easy/Ain’t giving up soon.” We all need some encouragement these days, and this song provides it. That’s followed by “Stayed For Your Love,” a sweet song featuring some nice work on harmonica, and a gentle, loving sound that is incredibly appealing. “Call it luck or fate that brought me here/I followed the stars running away from my fears/There was no turning back, and no guidance from above/I came for your beauty, but I stayed for your love.” This is one of my personal favorites.

“High Tide For Low Times,” the album’s title track, begins with some percussion, a beat that echoes in a somewhat ghostly manner, setting the tone. “Life ain’t always easy/And it’s a struggle to win/Nothing is certain/Nothing’s for free/And the best thing I’ve got going/Is having you here with me.” Oh yes, those lyrics ring particularly true. The last couple of years have caused many of us to put things into perspective, and adjust our priorities. “I’m looking for good signs to come across our path/But it’s a high tide for low times.” This is a song for our times, to be sure, and it also offers us some encouragement in lines like “Do the best you can/Try to keep your head high/There’s no shame in hard luck.” Folks need songs that reach out to them, particularly in times when many feel estranged from society. “High Tide For Low Times” is followed by “Goldie,” a more cheerful number with a good rhythm. “It’s the times when we don’t quite know/What we’re looking for.” And I dig that work on electric guitar. Then “Vida Cana” is a pleasant number, a song that feels like a vacation, and if you close your eyes, it might just take you someplace warm and wonderful and relaxing. I like that work on pedal steel. This one was released as a single.

“Lucky” is another song of our times, with lines like “You know the world has changed forever, I’m afraid/And we can’t forget the price that’s been paid” and “The strain of this time has torn us all apart.” And these lines of course speak to us: “The troubles that we share won’t soon disappear/Into thin air/The end is still unclear.” And I appreciate the Shakespeare reference (in The Tempest, Prospero says “These our actors,/As I foretold you, were all spirits and/Are melted into air, into thin air”). This track also features a good instrumental section. Doc Carter then offers some advice in “Open Your Mind”: “Open your eyes, babe/Open your mind/Open your eyes, babe/It’s your time to shine/Don’t make excuses/And don’t tell no lies.” This heavier, rocking number features some good work on keys. In “Fallen Angel,” he sings, “Of all the angels I’ve known, why would I pick a fallen one like you?” This is a track that has grown on me.

“Wrapped Around You” is a bluesy number about trying to unravel the mystery of that special person, or at least trying to understand her. “Some days I think you love me, then you push me out your door/I can’t get my mind wrapped around you.” “Sunshine” is another that was released as a single, and has a pleasant vibe and a pretty sound, particularly that work on keys. That’s followed by “Pour The Wine.” Doc Carter’s voice is perfect for these sad, soulful songs. “You’ll be back again/I just don’t know when/You’ll come walking through that door/Pour the wine, I’ll spill my heart/‘Cause tonight I need a friend/For this broken heart to mend.” And toward the end, he tells us, “We got along just fine/Found our own way in time/But you never came back through that door.” There is something beautiful about this song, in part because of its honesty, and it is another of my favorites. Then “To The Sea” has an interesting, unexpected opening. This is another track that has grown on me, though I could do without the beach sound effects at the end. The album concludes with “Tomorrow,” a song about trying to return to life after this pandemic, and the urge many of us have to travel. It begins with these lines: “I want to jump a plane tomorrow/And see the world once again/Spent too much time in a bubble.” But of course the pandemic is not over, mainly because certain people refuse to get vaccinated. This song also touches upon all the misinformation out there, which of course has led to more deaths. “Most every source seems corrupted/Words less to inform than to enrage.”

CD Track List

  1. Heading West
  2. Taking It Easy
  3. Stayed For Your Love
  4. High Tide For Low Times
  5. Goldie
  6. Vida Cana
  7. Lucky
  8. Open Your Mind
  9. Fallen Angel
  10. Wrapped Around You
  11. Sunshine
  12. Pour The Wine
  13. To The Sea
  14. Tomorrow

High Tide For Low Times was released on August 13, 2021.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Nathan Bell: “Red, White And American Blues (It Couldn’t Happen Here)” (2021) CD Review

In 2016, the Republican Party for all intents and purposes, if not in name, became the Fascist Party, though the rank and file members claim to be completely unaware of the change. And though their master, Donald Trump, a whiny ex-gameshow host, is no longer in power, they seem to be still in thrall to him, leading others in positions of power to emulate him in order to remain relevant to the moronic masses. It is a terrifying moment in this nation’s history, particularly as the upcoming mid-term elections could spell disaster for democracy. This is a time when anyone who is paying attention has the Red, White And American Blues. The parenthetical part of the title for Nathan Bell’s new album, “It Couldn’t Happen Here,” is a reference to Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, which tells the story of the rise of a dictator in the United States. That book was written as fascism took hold in Europe, but for most people there has been the belief that it just couldn’t happen here. That belief was essentially destroyed in 2016. Nathan Bell’s album was recorded in 2019, while Trump still occupied the White House, and though it was delayed due to the pandemic, the power and relevance of its songs have not lessened. The album features all original material, written by Nathan Bell. Joining Nathan Bell on these tracks are Alvino Bennett on drums and percussion; Frank Swart on bass, guitar, banjo, and electric mandolin; John Deaderick on keyboards; and Reverend Crow on harmonica. Special guests, including Patty Griffin and Regina McCrary, join Nathan Bell on vocals on certain tracks.

The album opens with “Angola Prison,” a driving, bluesy number with a strong pulse of a beat and some good work on harmonica, and a vocal performance that sounds of anger and pain, with a undeniable power. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Chains that rattle with my every breath/Me and the devil/We made a pact/That I’d leave Angola Prison/Lying on my back.” That’s followed by “American Gun.” Gun violence in this country has gotten so far out of hand that it seems nothing can be done about it, and so nothing is done about it. The fact that no real changes came after Sandy Hook shows just how screwed up this country is when it comes to firearms. Most of us wonder, if not then, when? This year there have been more mass shootings than days, and we are getting used to the idea that anywhere at any moment gun violence could erupt. It is frightening and depressing, and Nathan Bell’s “American Gun” hits that mark well. This one is more in the folk realm, sung from the perspective of a gun, in the same vein as Ellis Paul’s “Autobiography Of A Pistol” back in 1994. “I’ve got one job and I do it well,” Nathan Bell sings here. Indeed. Patty Griffin joins Nathan Bell on vocals on this track.

The lyrics of “American Blues” are delivered almost as spoken word, and that approach gives this song a stronger sense of immediacy, like Nathan has to tell us this right now. The song deals with racism and other perennial troubles of this nation. Check out these lines: “The church rapes the children it is paid to educate/Not a day goes by in this country that I’m not a father with/The American blues.” There is some excellent guitar work on this track. Nathan Bell does a sort of spoken word delivery on the next track as well, “Retread Cadillac (Lightnin’).” Regina McCrary joins him on vocals for this one, offering delicious responses to what is being said. It is such a cool track. “You got to get down/Get back up again.” Patty Griffin joins Nathan Bell on vocals on “A Lucky Man,” which is both a beautifully sad song and a truly positive number. “Had a pocket full of dreams, but I tossed them all/Had a few good friends until I lost them all/I wish they were still here so I could tell them all/That I’m a lucky man.”

“Wrong Man For The Job” is a good solid blues song. In 2016, the entire Cabinet was filled by the wrong men and women. You couldn’t get much more wrong than Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, or Wilbur Ross for Secretary of Commerce. And Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency? Holy shit, talk about wrong. It seemed Trump was deliberately dismantling the country by choosing the absolute worst person for each position. Here Nathan sings, “If I was the President/I’d start another war/Wouldn’t care who we were fighting or what we were fighting for/And I’d take all of your money, slip out the back door/Because I’m the wrong man, I’m the wrong man for the job.” Then there is some humor to “When You’re Dead (Ghost Reflects On His Dire Circumstances).” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “When you’re dead/You can ignore the warning labels/And all the things you were afraid to do/You can do them now instead/Because nothing else can kill you/When you’re dead.” Ah yes, a song that reminds us of the great benefits of being dead. And it features more great stuff on harmonica.

I don’t think anyone is sane enough to own a gun, including myself. Any writer will tell you that if you introduce a gun into the plot, it will have to go off at some point. So if you buy a gun, eventually you will be compelled to use it. Or someone else will use it. The opening stanza of “Mossberg Blues” is: “I bought a shotgun just the other day/It leans in the corner of my room/And every time I pass that way/It says, man, we should shoot someone real soon.” This song has a very late 1960s or early 1970s Rolling Stones vibe. Regina McCrary joins Nathan Bell on vocals on this track. Then Aubrie Sellers joins him on vocals for “Running On The Razor (Family),” another powerful blues song. Check out these lines: “They were dumb motherfuckers/Exactly as they seemed/Thought they had the ticket/But it couldn’t be redeemed.” That’s followed by “Zensuit’s Samadhi Blues.” The opening lines stood out for me the first time I listened to this album, and strike me each time I play it: “Man’s born a pauper/Man’s born a prince/Came into the world screaming/He’s been screaming ever since/For somebody/Make everything work out right.” We are all trying to make sense of the world, aren’t we? There is something of King Lear in this song, particularly in that moment when Lear begins to take a more critical look at himself and realizes that he has not cared for the poor, and in that acknowledgement that everything can be so easily taken away.

“Monday, Monday (The Bony Fingers Reprise)” comes on strong with a great groove. It’s a blues tune about working and a lack of money. “Used to bring my money to my baby/Keep a little for myself/Now I’m working for the man/And the man is somewhere else.” These lines also stand out: “Work your fingers to the bone/‘Til bones are all that’s left of you.” Who hasn’t been thinking about death lately? And having those thoughts during the workday is, well, just too much to bear at times. Then Patty Griffin joins Nathan Bell again for “To Each Of Us (A Shadow),” a gentle and intimate song that seems to be about anxiety and helping someone cope with it. “And I’m standing at the lighthouse/With no keys for the locks/As you sail through the fog/Headed straight into the rocks/But you’re all I ever wanted/You’re all I ever wanted/You’re all I ever wanted/So I breathe out/And I breathe in/Count every breath from one to ten/Turn around/And count back down/Again.” It is one of those songs that reach out to us, help us through whatever this thing is, and it is one of my personal favorites. The album then concludes with “Folding Money (You Better Move Along),” a song that rips into those that profit from religion. “Jesus won’t hear you when you call/Or answer when you pray/Jesus won’t hear you when you call/You’d better move/Move along.”

CD Track List

  1. Angola Prison
  2. American Gun
  3. American Blues
  4. Retread Cadillac (Lightnin’)
  5. A Lucky Man
  6. Wrong Man For The Job
  7. When You’re Dead (Ghost Reflects On His Dire Circumstances)
  8. Mossberg Blues
  9. Running On The Razor (Family)
  10. Zensuit’s Samadhi Blues
  11. Monday, Monday (The Bony Fingers Reprise)
  12. To Each Of Us (A Shadow)
  13. Folding Money (You Better Move Along)

Red, White And American Blues (It Couldn’t Happen Here) was released on October 1, 2021.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Buck Owens And The Buckaroos: “Ain’t It Amazing, Gracie” (1973/2021) CD Review

Buck Owens was fairly busy in 1973, putting out four albums that year.  Ain’t It Amazing, Gracie was released just a few months after In The Palm Of Your Hand, and featured mostly original material written or co-written by Buck Owens. It also contains the song “Streets Of Bakersfield,” which was written by Homer Joy, and was later a hit when Buck Owens re-recorded it with Dwight Yoakam in 1988. Randy Poe, in the new liner notes written for this re-issue, talks a bit about that later recording. This re-issue also includes the original liner notes, but no bonus tracks. The songs are presented in their original configuration, and the music has been mastered by Michael Graves from the original analog tapes. The band includes Don Rich on guitar, fiddle and backing vocals; Jerry Brightman on steel guitar; Doyle Curtsinger on bass and backing vocals; Jerry Wiggins on drums; and Jim Shaw on keyboards.

Ain’t It Amazing, Gracie opens with its title track, which was written by Buck Owens and Glen Garrison. It was also released as a single, the only single from this album. It’s a fun song, the title obviously a play on “Amazing Grace.” It’s also a love song, but slightly insulting as well, as we hear in these lines: “Well, she’s not the prettiest girl in the world/I know she’s not the smartest one too/But she’s always fair, and I know she cares/And I know her little heart is true/Well, ain’t it amazing, Gracie, how much that I love you.” There is something about that last line that makes me think she doesn’t deserve love, that that’s why it’s amazing he loves her so much. “It’s going to be a long hot summer,” Buck Owens sings at the beginning of the next track, “Long Hot Summer,” something that is always true here in Los Angeles. But of course with climate change, I suppose people can expect that wherever they might be. This is a slower number, and it includes a spoken word section: “Well, you say that you’re leaving/And that you ain’t coming back/And from the way things are looking/I don’t doubt it/Not one little bit.”

The story behind “Streets Of Bakersfield” is included in the liner notes of this new re-issue. When you think of the so-called Bakersfield sound, the first name that likely comes to mind is Buck Owens, so it still strikes me as strange that he didn’t write this song himself. But, no matter, it’s a good song. The lines I’ve always loved are: “You don’t know me, but you don’t like me/You say you care less how I feel.” This song was written by Homer Joy, who also released his own version as a single. It’s followed by a second song written by Homer Joy, “She’s Had All The Dreamin’ She Can Stand,” which obviously is the best song title on this album, and it’s one of the best songs. Check out these lines: “Chased our dreams endlessly/Through it all she stood by me/More than that, lord, she was such a friend/Dreaming’s all I had to give/She needed more to live/She’s had all the dreamin’ she can stand.” Such beautiful and sad lines, as are these: “But one by one, the dreams all died/And late at night I’d hear her cry.” These lyrics remind me of what could be the most depressing lines ever in a song: “For you will still be here tomorrow/But your dreams may not,” those from Cat Stevens’ “Father And Son.” I also love that work on fiddle on this track. “She’s Had All The Dreamin’ She Can Stand” is followed by “Your Monkey Won’t Be Home Tonight.” And yes, this one also has a great title. It’s a song about getting away from a woman who’s been treating him as some sort of pet or plaything. “You’ll find me strutting my stuff/Yes, I’ll be cutting the rug/Don’t wait up, because your monkey won’t be home tonight.” And how can anyone help but enjoy the line “Well, I may do some swinging, but it won’t be from a tree.”

“I Know That You Know (That I Love You)” is kind of silly, kind of sweet, and kind of sad. “You don’t have a care, and I don’t have a prayer/And I know that you know that I care.” I love the vocals on this track, including the backing vocals, which add some weight to the line “And I know that you know that I care.” That’s followed by “The Good Old Days (Are Here Again).” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “She’ll soon be back within my arms/Yes, back where she belongs/The lonely nights are gone for good/Like castles in the air.” This track features some really nice work on guitar and pedal steel. That change that first happens nearly halfway through always catches me by surprise, that section about the train, and I love it. It is what especially makes this song stand out. “Old Faithful” is another of the disc’s highlights, Buck Owens getting rather playful in this number about trying to finally end a relationship. “I’ve said this was the last time a hundred times before/And the next time that you called, I’d tell you off/I’ve promised me the luxury of showing you the door/Oh, I could hardly wait ‘til I could tell you to get lost.” But the song’s title ought to give you a clue about his success.

“When You Get Back From Nashville” was written by Bob Morris and Buck Owens. Today the sentence would be completed as “When you get back from Nashville, you’ll have to quarantine for two weeks.” Though I love Nashville (I had the best pancakes there), it’s just not a good idea to visit any of the so-called red states these days, not until they manage to wean their residents off of FOX News and get them vaccinated. Anyway, this is a sweet song about a musician returning home. It’s a song of love and support, and it features some wonderful backing vocals from The Ray Sisters. “So, darling, come home/And sing us your songs/‘Cause you’ll always be famous with me.” The album then concludes with “When You Get To Heaven (I’ll Be There),” which is a variation on the theme Buck Owens visited previously in “Sweethearts In Heaven,” and contains quite similar lyrics. Check out these lines: “Just inside the pearly gates/Darling, that’s where I’ll wait/When you get to heaven, I’ll be there/If I should go first and have to leave you/To face this life alone with all its cares/Darling, don’t forget you’ll find me waiting/To help you climb up heaven’s golden stairs.” Compare those to these lines from “Sweethearts In Heaven”: “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.”

CD Track List

  1. Ain’t It Amazing, Gracie
  2. Long Hot Summer
  3. Streets Of Bakersfield
  4. She’s Had All The Dreamin’ She Can Stand
  5. Your Monkey Won’t Be Home Tonight
  6. I Know That You Know (That I Love You)
  7. The Good Old Days (Are Here Again)
  8. Old Faithful
  9. When You Get Back From Nashville
  10. When You Get To Heaven (I’ll Be There)

This re-issue of Ain’t It Amazing, Gracie was scheduled to be released on October 1, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings, but it looks like that date was pushed back to October 29th.