Saturday, October 30, 2021

Dead And Company at The Hollywood Bowl, 10-29-21 Concert Review

Dead And Company have come to town for a three-night run at The Hollywood Bowl. Seeing this band last night, even though I was wearing two masks during the show, was the first really strong indication that perhaps things are getting back on track. It felt almost normal. People were interacting inside the venue, laughing, trading stories and memories, and while they maybe weren’t passing around joints or sharing water like before, there was a sense of being in it together, and maybe of triumphing over the pandemic. It was a hopeful night, you understand.

A sign outside the venue said masks were required, but as we waited for the gates to open, very few people seemed to be complying, though some folks had them in their hands or tied to their arms. A cheer went up when the people in bright yellow and black approached the gates, but it was premature. They were getting in place, ready to let us in, but waiting for some sign to actually begin the process. My recollection was that last time it was at least twenty minutes after the scheduled time before the gates opened. This time there was the added element of having to check everyone’s vaccination card. At 5:30 p.m. (the scheduled time), another cheer went up, but again it was premature. It was more of a hopeful cheer anyway, a cheer that said, “Please?” And some folks began putting on the masks they’d been holding. Then at 5:38 p.m., the gates were opened, and a third cheer went up (though oddly it wasn’t as enthusiastic as that initial cheer). A woman checked vaccination cards before we got too close to the metal detectors, something of a time-saving device, thought it seemed it would be easy to walk right past her. Once we were through the gates, a woman next to me said “That was fun.” She then changed her mind and asked, “When does the real fun start?” “In an hour and a half,” I said. It was 5:47 p.m.

It wasn’t long before pot smoke began rising into the air, its odor strong even through two masks (the outer layer is a Skull And Roses mask that my girlfriend got for me). The edibles I’d taken had me in a fairly mellow, cheerful place, even when a harsh and overly enthusiastic voice came over the speakers, demanding we try… What was it again? I forgot immediately, but it was likely some item at the refreshment stand. No matter, the voice did not return. Instead, we focused on what was important, and there was that usual question of what the opening song would be. A woman behind me said, “I call ‘Dire Wolf.’” The guy next to her asked, “For opener?” But she was not swayed. “Sure,” she said. At 7:15 p.m.., the lights went out. At the first bit of strumming on guitar, the guy next to me called “Playing In The Band.” I wasn’t sure. At times it felt like it could possibly be “Morning Dew” or even “The Wheel,” which would be interesting. Folks were swaying and dancing, like we were already waist-deep in the song. And soon it became clear the guy next to me was right. The jam had a good, easygoing way about it. Nothing too far out yet, for the band was just getting us going, and these guys knew something about pacing. But then John Mayer started delivering interesting stuff on guitar, having reached a certain realm, and then wanting to groove there for a while. The groove then loosened up and suddenly the band segued into “Deal.” This song often used to close the first set, but I like its placement here near the beginning of the show. I also really enjoyed that vocal section these guys do now. That led straight into a cover of “All Along The Watchtower,” a song that used to be placed late in the second set. The guys jammed on it more than they used to. Back in the day, it was usually a brief number, almost like connective material between two other songs. But here it took on a great life of its own, and featured some excellent stuff from Jeff Chimenti on keys during the jam. And, then, bam, they went into “Mr. Charlie,” and everyone was immediately digging the groove.

Not a single pause through the first four songs, which is remarkable during the first set. It wasn’t until after “Mr. Charlie” that the band did pause before going into “Ramble On Rose.” It’s still a bit strange hearing Bob Weir singing this one, but he did a good job with it, getting the audience cheering in all the right spots and singing along with the chorus (because, honestly, who can remember the verses?). Everything was working well, the stage transforming briefly into a giant stained glass jellyfish in a moment when I turned my head. These things happen, you know. But, yeah, Bob is now the leader of the band. This song had a gentle conclusion. It was followed by “They Love Each Other,” which spread some great vibes over the entire audience, and people were turning to each other, connecting, checking in with one another. And John Mayer basically added some scat near the end. It was a sweet rendition, and the crowd certainly appreciated it. That was followed by “High Time,” which Dead And Company debuted at the Hollywood Bowl in 2019. Oteil Burbridge took lead vocal duties, which got the crowd even more excited. His was a beautiful and soulful performance, but I remember being even more moved when Bob Weir sang some of the verses a couple of years ago. The first set then ended with a return to “Playing In The Band,” Bob on acoustic guitar for the first portion, and switching back to electric during the jam. Things became beautiful, and then later a bit disjointed just before they went back into the familiar “Playing” theme. It was a thoroughly enjoyable first set. No new ground was broken, or anything like that, mind you, but it was a fun set. It ended at 8:31p.m.

During the set break, I asked the guy who’d guessed “Playing In The Band” what his thoughts were on a second set opener. “’Dire Wolf’ as opener,” he said firmly. Had that woman’s idea gotten lodged in his brain, or was this his own prediction? I wasn’t sure, but a moment later he added, “Or ‘Estimated Prophet.’” Taking another edible during the set break felt like the right move. The woman at the store earlier in the day had not steered me wrong. To my right, I noticed a solitary microphone stand, a taper section of one. What ever happened to the taper section? At 9:11 p.m., the lights went out and the band took the stage again.

They kicked off the second set with “Sugar Magnolia,” and the crowd was immediately on its feet. Dancing at the Hollywood Bowl, particularly in the upper sections, sometimes feels like dancing on a large rubber ball, trying to maintain some sort of balance and not fall forward into oblivion, but I somehow remained steady. There was the slightest of pauses, and then the band followed “Sugar Magnolia” with “Help On The Way,” with yellows and purples on the stage and audience alike. When they moved into “Slipknot!” the yellows and purples gave way to reds and greens, with white lights dancing across the stage like a car’s headlights moving across a bedroom wall, and that’s when things really started getting interesting, and to open up. However, there were moments when the music became surprisingly dark, leaving me to wonder what direction these guys were taking us, but before things could become too twisted to handle, too scary, they brought us back with that groove. And “Franklin’s Tower” arrived with some relief. Dead And Company took this song into some nice places, and I loved that interaction between John Mayer and Jeff Chimenti. The music did seem to slip from reality at times, like the performance was part memory, a look back at what once was. Did the song used to end this way?  Weird. And soon they were playing “Estimated Prophet,” and we wondered if memory is paradise. Sometimes it is like we are living inside these songs, familiar and yet evolving places where we are always welcome, but where sometimes we have to put in our own work. During “Estimated,” it felt like the band was taking us somewhere. But where?

The “Drums” segment came thumping in, and as that door opened, it dissolved into silver, and an eerie light was given birth. There was the driving sense that we were far from alone, even as we moved out to the edges, drawing a course across the river. Was anyone else hearing those voices? I could understand them, but it was more the sense than the words themselves. Were there words at all? It was like they were speaking through the sounds of toys, with the hearts of toys. And “Space” began at the edge, broken from an earlier moment and reformed into whatever vessel could hold us. We found ourselves in darker, earlier times, this “Space” coming from a dream of childhood, one that got angry if you tried to hold on to it. However, it yielded a pretty conversation with a strong feminine bent, though with “The Other One” lurking, creeping below the surface, ready to pounce. There was an attempt to tame it at the same time, before it could break free. But of course that beast broke the surface, announcing itself, dancing around us, hypnotizing us, gathering us within. This “Other One” was like a giant magical snake curling around all of us, sending off emergency signals as we traveled deeper into the sorcery’s lair. We could hear the heartbeat as well as see the creature rushing upon us. But no worries, as Bob was now driving the bus right to us, and all we had to do was step aboard. Ah, it was so long ago when it began. That led into “Standing On The Moon,” which felt gentle. We are old friends, it told us. And I suddenly wondered if we were all more fragile now. Perhaps, but this music brought us together and then took us to someplace familiar, a place nearly known, if we could only force the word from behind our teeth. The band took us on a ride, then deposited us safely in “Sunshine Daydream,” where we could see through the bones. The first set began and ended with “Playing In The Band,” and the second set began and ended with “Sugar Magnolia.” Everything was rounded, and no one was being left behind. The only way to complete a show like that was to play “Ripple” for the encore. Perfect. The show ended at 10:55 p.m.

Set List

Set I

  1. Playing In The Band >
  2. Deal >
  3. All Along The Watchtower >
  4. Mr. Charlie
  5. Ramble On Rose
  6. They Love Each Other
  7. High Time
  8. Playing In The Band

Set II

  1. Sugar Magnolia
  2. Help On The Way >
  3. Slipknot! >
  4. Franklin’s Tower
  5. Estimated Prophet >
  6. Drums >
  7. Space >
  8. The Other One >
  9. Standing On The Moon
  10. Sunshine Daydream


  1. Ripple


Friday, October 29, 2021

Andrew Gold: “Halloween Howls: Fun And Scary Music” (2021) Vinyl Review

As everyone should know by now, Halloween is the best holiday of the year. It’s all about candy and dressing up and watching scary movies. It’s basically pure fun, particularly the music that is associated with the holiday. And now with the new vinyl release of Andrew Gold’s Halloween Howls: Fun And Scary Music, you have more excellent choices to set your festivities in motion and keep the party going, whether the participants are adults or children or a mix of the two. As it says in the album’s liner notes, “Andrew, an avid fan of Halloween, decided that there was just not enough fun and scary music…so he decided to fix that.” And he certainly did. The album features mostly original compositions, and though Andrew Gold basically did everything on it (from singing and playing the instruments to engineering and mixing), there are a few very special guests on certain tracks. Halloween Howls was originally released in 1996, though apparently only on CD (and re-issued in 2019, also on CD). But vinyl just feels more appropriate, doesn’t it? It feels right. Plus, this record includes a gatefold with some cool artwork of a Halloween party that you can model yours after. The cover is also different from that of the original release, the new artwork done by Jess Rotter.

Side One

The record begins with the sounds of a storm, and then some spooky work on organ and a fun spoken word introduction (“It’s time to go trick-or-treating”), which leads to the first song, “It Must Be Halloween.” This tune is totally delightful, setting the right atmosphere for your party. “Spooks and monsters are all out/‘Cause the moon is full tonight.” This song provides opportunity for the children to sing along, creating the sounds of the various creatures mentioned, a fun twist on those songs urging children to make different animal noises. But don’t worry, this track is delicious fun for adults too. There is a humorous introduction to Andrew Gold’s rendition of “The Monster Mash” that actually made me laugh aloud the first time I heard it (and the second and third times too). This, as you are undoubtedly already aware, is one of the songs not written by Andrew Gold. It was written by Bobby Pickett and Lenny Capizzi, and originally recorded by Bobby “Boris” Picket And The Crypt-Kickers. Andrew Gold does a great job with it, capturing that early rock and roll vibe. And this is one of the tracks to feature some special guests. Steven Bishop takes lead vocal duties, and the backing vocals are by Linda Ronstadt and Karla Bonoff, in addition to Andrew Gold. Pretty cool! I love what Andrew Gold and company do with this song. There is some added playfulness at the end that is really wonderful. “I still think Transylvania Twist is a better name.”

The fun continues with “Spooky, Scary Skeletons,” a song that has me smiling the moment it begins. I can’t see a reality in which someone is capable of refraining from falling under the spell of this record. Andrew Gold was obviously completely into it during the recording, and the results are delightful. This song is one of the highlights. “‘Cause spooky, scary skeletons/Shout startling shrilly screams/They’ll sneak from their sarcophagus/And just won’t leave you be.” That’s followed by “Trick Or Treat.” Maybe it’s just me, but this one feels particularly twisted, perhaps because as it begins, it sounds even more like a children’s song, sort of in the same vein as that evil song from Halloween III: Season Of The Witch. I imagine children singing this and then doing some devilish things while smiling and popping candy corn into their hungry mouths. I mean, check out these lyrics: “Trick or treat, trick or treat/Give us something good to eat/If you don’t, we don’t care/We’ll put red ants in your hair.” The song then speeds up before the end, as these monsters are even more jacked up on sugar and human blood.

We then get a couple of covers, songs from television and film, first the theme from The Addams Family, always an enjoyable number, and then the theme from Ghostbusters, a song that was a big hit for Ray Parker Jr. in 1984. Ah, the ‘80s. “I ain’t afraid of no ghost.” No? But it’s so much fun to be afraid on Halloween. The first side of the record concludes with “Gimme A Smile (The Pumpkin Song),” which includes some cool, sexy work on saxophone right at the start. This is a strange and completely wonderful love song about a pumpkin and a “pretty little cutie in a lavender dress.” Yes, this holiday has its own sort of romance, which in this case involves a knife. This is one of my favorite tracks. It is totally original and, let me remind you, features saxophone. That’s David Woodford on sax. This one was co-written by Greg Prestopino, who provides the lead vocals.

Side Two

The second side opens with a scream. The song’s opening line (and title), “Don’t Scream (It’s Only Halloween),” is a response to that. This one has something of a Cajun vibe, with a good groove. The screaming continues throughout the track, and I imagine gruesome torture happening in the room adjacent to the party. It’s all good, right? “So what if that guy has no head/And who cares if that corpse is alive again/And crawlin’ out of that grave.” That’s followed by “The Creature From The Tub,” a silly song about a child taking a bath at the end of a night of trick-or-treating, with Andrew’s daughter Victoria Gold providing the voice of the child, and Nicolette Larson as the mom. This one is totally cute, particularly the kid’s part (“There’s something yucky in here”). And, hey, just because the night seems to be at an end, it doesn’t mean the scares are over. What is that creature in the bath with you? “Yikes, it’s attached itself to Mommy’s hands.”

Then David Cassidy (yes, David Cassidy) provides lead vocals on “Halloween Party,” a song with an old-time rock and roll vibe, particularly that great guitar work. It is a song that invites us to join the festivities.  Andrew’s first wife, Vanessa Gold, provides some backing vocal work, along with David Cassidy’s third wife, Sue Shiffron, and their child, Beau Cassidy, as well as David’s mother, Evelyn Cassidy (Evelyn Ward). “Some eerie music/Will go just right/So we can howl/At the bright moonlight.” Indeed! That’s followed by “Witches, Witches, Witches,” which again features Victoria Gold on backing vocals, along with Ruby Spiro. It also includes a nod to the witches of Macbeth in the lines “And eye of newt/Bubble bubble, toil and trouble,” which of course makes me happy. Plus, there is the return of that spooky organ work.

Storm sound effects begin “In Our Haunted House.” To escape the storm, we soon find ourselves inside a haunted house, with a twisted carnival atmosphere and screams, but we are told we are welcome. So no worries, right? “You must excuse those ketchup stains/We ate someone last night.” Well, all right then. Sure, they’re evil ghouls, but they are exceedingly polite. The record concludes with a different version of “Spooky, Scary Skeletons,” this one with a more prominent dance beat, so the party can continue on into the night. Let those strobe lights illuminate the terror on the dance floor. This song was not included on the original 1996 release, but as a bonus track on the 2019 release (that CD release has a second bonus track, an extended version of this remix).

Record Track List

Side One

  1. It Must Be Halloween
  2. The Monster Mash
  3. Spooky, Scary Skeletons
  4. Trick Or Treat
  5. The Addams Family
  6. Ghostbusters
  7. Gimme A Smile (The Pumpkin Song)

Side Two

  1. Don’t Scream (It’s Only Halloween)
  2. The Creature From The Tub
  3. Halloween Party
  4. Witches, Witches, Witches
  5. In Our Haunted House
  6. Spooky, Scary Skeletons (Undead Tombstone Remix)

This vinyl edition of Halloween Howls: Fun And Scary Music was released on September 17, 2021 through Craft Recordings.

a portion of the gatefold artwork

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Shawn Maxwell: “Expectation & Experience” (2021) CD Review

For many people, the pandemic has been, at least partially, a period of both introspection and reaching out to those important to us, through whatever means were available. A time to evaluate priorities, and possibly to make changes. Shawn Maxwell has clearly used the time to assess the strange world around him and to respond to it in music. His new album, Expectation & Experience, features all original compositions, written and recorded during the pandemic. On this release, he plays alto saxophone, soprano saxophone and clarinet, and is joined – remotely, of course – by several other musicians, the players changing from track to track. A glance at the track list will tell you that the music touches upon many of the troubles that have faced us in the last few years, not limited to the pandemic itself.

The album opens with “Expectation,” a short piece that feels like a door opening, like facing possibilities. There is both contemplation and curiosity expressed in the sound. Here Shawn Maxwell is joined by Stephen Lynerd on vibraphone. Then we get more of a full band sound with “J.C. Jones,” with that strong pulse on bass. That’s Michael Barton on bass, and Phil Beale is on drums. This is a tune of joy and determination. It was written for James Calvin Jones, and features some wonderful work by Marielle de Rocca Serra on violin. It is followed by “Empty Shelf.” The first thing I had trouble finding was hand sanitizer, in early March of 2020, but I wasn’t overly concerned. But when the shelves were bare of water, of toilet paper, the situation became more worrisome. Interestingly, there is a sort of magical, otherworldly sound and sense to this track. It did feel like another world at times, didn’t it? The world being an unfamiliar place. What was even more discouraging was that we were hesitant to travel out at all, and then when we did, we weren’t able to get what we needed, all the while trying to keep a distance from anyone else on a similar excursion. The opening work on keyboards by Collin Clauson sets up this strange world, and then Shawn Maxwell’s work seems to speak for our experience, though is perhaps a lot calmer than many of us were. Tim Seisser provides some nice work on bass, and Clauson gets a chance to lead on keys.

“Quiet House” provides a more soothing place for us to settle after dealing with the world, a place apart, where perhaps we can forget the troubles outside for a time. This track features some excellent, expressive work on guitar by Zvonimir Tot. Then Shawn Maxwell’s saxophone soars and moves, raising its voice at moments as if to bring down answers from the heavens, other times gently reaching out to those around as if to say things will be okay. Marc Piane is on bass, and Lucas Gillan is on drums. This is one of my personal favorites. That’s followed by “The Great Divide.” If you were to choose one word to describe this country for the last five years, “divided” might be the first to come to mind. This track expresses that divide with two saxophones at odds with each other, speaking simultaneously if not together. Alex Beltran is on tenor saxophone. One thing that is interesting is at times you might find yourself following one or the other voice here, with the other fading into the background in your mind, but then intruding, mimicking our experience in following the news. Every day it seems the divide is becoming greater.

“Feeling Remote” has something of an unsettling energy, an anxiety, a concern for how to proceed in a suddenly unfamiliar and frightening world. But there is no question of not proceeding, of holding back. Here Shawn Maxwell is joined by Kalyan Pathak on percussion. I particularly love that work on tabla. After that lead on percussion, as Shawn Maxwell returns, at first there is a somewhat calmer sense, a sense of having just a bit of control. Then, as it builds to its conclusion, the track takes on more nervous energy again. That’s followed by a mellower number, “Breathe,” a piece that is more mournful and reflective, with Brenda Earle Stokes joining on piano. So much has happened in the last couple of years, and as the pandemic was getting out of control, so were the police. George Floyd’s murder by police officer Derek Chauvin brought much of the country together in protest. Will there be any lasting change because of it? Another major issue facing us is climate change, and not enough is being done to address that either. “A Change Of Climate” is short piece featuring Paul Abella on cajon and tambourine.

Back in 2017, that insane cackling lizard Kellyanne Conway, the creature who invented the Bowling Green Massacre, introduced a whole new way of lying while defending the befuddled twit Sean Spicer and their mendacious overlord Donald Trump, that being alternative facts. Shawn Maxwell’s “Alternative Facts” is a playful look at the altered sense of reality created and promoted by that blond garbage bin, and it is a lot more fun than listening to either Conway or Spicer ever was. Howard Levy provides a great second voice on harmonica, interacting with Shawn Maxwell. Steven Hashimoto is on bass, and Greg Essig is on drums. That’s followed by “Every Day Is Monday,” featuring Mark Nelson on keyboards. This one feels like that world we found ourselves trapped in for a long period, when we were mostly within our own heads, sad, frustrated, worried, lonely, with images on our televisions and computers the only things marking the time. Then we have “No Peace Without Justice,” the album’s only track to feature vocals, which are provided by John Stafford II and Keri Johnsrud. This is a gentle and also uplifting piece inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, featuring some absolutely beautiful and vibrant work from Shawn Maxwell, his playing at times combining with the voices to create one stronger, brighter voice.

“The Show Can’t Go On” is a track all musicians can relate to. We heard the story from musicians of all types, that moment when they learned that their gigs were canceled, the rush of anxiety for how they’d be able to pay their bills, feed their families. Everything was thrown off balance in that moment, their worlds dipping into chaos, but a chaos shared by everyone else and so somehow manageable. Here Shawn Maxwell has a conversation with himself, which is totally fitting for the subject, for a time when musicians couldn’t get together. Ernie Adams plays drums on this track. The cancellation of concerts led of course to empty, shuttered venues, and “Empty Space,” a solo piece by Shawn Maxwell, expresses that. Stages and clubs with a lonesome atmosphere, hollow spaces awaiting the return of a beat, of people, of dancing, of joy.

As everyone struggled without work, the politicians argued about how to help, or even if they should help, all those who suddenly found themselves without work, without a paycheck. The solution was to send people six hundred dollars. That helped, but wasn’t really an answer, and that money was soon gone, while the problem remained. “Six Hundred” is about that, and it features Chad McCullough on trumpet, William Kurk on keyboards, and Tom Sharpe on drums. That’s followed by “Lockdown.” Having to stay at home was such an odd experience, and it gave us a new look at our immediate surroundings, leading many to seek changes – little, or big, improvements, and art projects around the home. There was a lot of stress, but also light, fanciful moments, as expressed here by Shawn Maxwell, and by Gina DeGregorio on marimba.

By now we are used to wearing masks, to refraining from shaking hands with people we meet, to carrying hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, to giving a wide berth to strangers. It is “The New Abnormal,” as Shawn Maxwell expresses here. And, difficult as it was, we became used to getting all our concerts online. I am thankful that was even possible, for a world without concerts is a world I have no interest in. Plus, it was great that musicians were able to find another way to reach their audiences and make enough money to pay their bills. And so, while this track starts off rather slowly, hesitantly, it soon develops its own joy, as if out of necessity. Matt Nelson is on keyboards, Jeremiah Hunt is on bass, and Greg Artry is on drums. The album then concludes with “Experience,” a look back at what has happened, a way of taking it all in and making some sense of it, with an eye to the future as well, to carrying on, using whatever lessons have been learned. This short piece features Stacy McMichael on bass.

CD Track List

  1. Expectation
  2. J.C. Jones
  3. Empty Shelf
  4. Quiet House
  5. The Great Divide
  6. Feeling Remote
  7. Breathe
  8. A Change Of Climate
  9. Alternative Facts
  10. Every Day Is Monday
  11. No Peace Without Justice
  12. The Show Can’t Go On
  13. Empty Stage
  14. Six Hundred
  15. Lockdown
  16. The New Abnormal
  17. Experience

Expectation & Experience was released on May 21, 2021 on Cora Street Records in association with Jazzline.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Ellis Paul at The Center For Arts In Natick, 10-16-21 Concert Review

Ellis Paul has been playing online shows fairly regularly since the pandemic began, and his music has certainly helped a lot of folks get through the tough days. But online performances still pale in comparison to a live show, so when several months ago Ellis Paul announced he’d booked a concert in Massachusetts, I planned a trip east around it. It was only my second indoor concert since March of 2020, and as with the first (Pink Martini), everyone who attended had to show his or her vaccination card at the door and wear masks throughout the performance, so we all felt relatively safe. In addition to checking our vaccination cards, the woman at the door asked us for an update on the Red Sox game (the Sox were winning).

Laurie MacAllister opened the show just after 8 p.m. with a short set that began with a wonderful cover of “We Belong” (a song co-written by Dan Navarro, who has played on some of Ellis Paul’s online shows), and also included an absolutely beautiful rendition of Ellis Paul’s “She Was.” It’s unusual for someone who is opening to play a song from the headliner’s repertoire, but Laurie MacAllister and Ellis Paul are a couple, so you can be sure it was discussed beforehand. Laurie also talked a bit about the New England Songwriters Retreat, which she and Ellis run. Her set was approximately thirty minutes, and after a short break, Ellis Paul took the stage at 8:54 p.m., opening with what is probably his best song, “Maria’s Beautiful Mess,” from The Speed Of Trees.  And from his expression and his delivery, the line “Bringing up better times” seemed to hit home with him as well as with us in the audience. We’ve all been looking to music to do that for us, especially in the last few years. And at the end of the song, the crowd responded with joyful and enthusiastic applause. Ellis exclaimed, “Holy shit, that felt great!” He then added, “There are people in the room with me.” He told the audience that the next song was a sing-along, but that because of the masks he wouldn’t be able to tell who was participating and who wasn’t. That song was “3,000 Miles,” so he was opening the show with the hits. Not a bad decision after so long without live concert performances. This is a song that he has played a whole lot over the years, but at this show it had a fresh energy.

From the 2019 album The Storyteller’s Suitcase, he played “You’ll Never Be This Young Again,” a song that urges its listeners to pursue their dreams now. After all, life is short. This song has a tremendous amount of appeal, and I think its appeal has increased because of the pandemic, when many people have taken a closer look at their lives and their priorities. Ellis then spoke about the pandemic, describing that day in March last year when he learned that all of his booked shows had been canceled. In addition to performing many online concerts, Ellis Paul has used the time to write some new material, and he played a couple of those songs at this show, “Shane’s Lost Weekend” and “The Gift.” He then invited Laurie MacAllister back onto the stage to join him for the next few songs, beginning with “I Ain’t No Jesus,” another song from The Storyteller’s Suitcase. Before “Kick Out The Lights,” Ellis told the story of Johnny Cash getting banned from the Grand Ole Opry, saying that was “like kicking Jesus out of heaven.” This was a great version of the song. Laurie sang lead on a verse, and the whole audience seemed to be joining in on the chorus, belting out the lyrics from behind their masks. Ellis then moved to the piano for “Home,” and as he started the song, Laurie said “This is my favorite Ellis Paul song.” The two of them delivered an absolutely beautiful rendition. Then after Laurie left the stage, Ellis said, “Felt a little Sonny and Cher to me.”

Moving away from New England doesn’t mean losing an interest in the area’s sports teams, and though Ellis now lives in Virginia, he asked the crowd about the baseball game. Several people shouted out that the Red Sox had won. He then improvised an ode to Massachusetts sports, and that quickly became a love song to Tom Brady (who of course has also moved on from New England). “I love Tom Brady/It’s easier to say than Yastrzemski/And he’s prettier than Larry Bird.” He followed that with “Straight To The Moon,” a song that is a total delight, one that never fails to make me happy. He then asked if there were any requests, and a lot of different song titles were shouted out. The one he chose was “Alice’s Champagne Palace,” and he delivered an energetic rendition. Apparently, a new Alaska trip is in the works, and on that trip he’ll be playing a couple of shows at that venue. Alaska is one of only two states I still haven’t visited, so this might be the time to go there. We’ll see.

As I mentioned, Ellis Paul has been doing online performances throughout the pandemic, including some shows exclusively on the Patreon site for paying members. That was a way for him to continue to be able to support himself while music venues were closed and tours canceled. Taking requests from fans led to him revisiting a lot of his older material. He also expanded his usual repertoire by learning quite a few covers, which led to his latest album, Ellis Paul’s Traveling Medicine Show Vol. 1, a disc that has only one original song on it. From that album, he played “Over The Rainbow” and “Angel From Montgomery,” the latter being a song written by John Prine, who died during the pandemic. He then concluded the set with “The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down,” performing most of it unmiked. Laurie MacAllister joined him again on vocals for this one, and the audience sang along with the chorus. Laurie also joined him for the encore, a cover of “Concrete River,” a song written by David Glaser and included on Ellis Paul’s Traveling Medicine Show Vol. 1. It is the song that Ellis has chosen to end a lot of his online concerts as well. “Long is the road that lies between us/Many are the days since you’ve been gone/May the angel on your shoulder guide you safely through the night/And may the concrete river bring you home.” The show ended at 10:35 p.m.

Set List

  1. Maria’s Beautiful Mess
  2. 3,000 Miles
  3. You’ll Never Be This Young Again
  4. Shane’s Lost Weekend
  5. The Gift
  6. I Ain’t No Jesus
  7. Kick Out The Lights
  8. Home
  9. I Love Tom Brady
  10. Straight To The Moon
  11. Alice’s Champagne Palace
  12. Over The Rainbow
  13. Angel From Montgomery
  14. The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down


  1. Concrete River

The Center For Arts In Natick is located at 14 Summer St. in Natick, Massachusetts.

"You'll Never Be This Young Again"
introducing "I Ain't No Jesus"

"Kick Out The Lights"


"Straight To The Moon"

introducing "Concrete River"

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Buck Owens And His Buckaroos: “Sweet Rosie Jones” (1968/2021) CD Review

In these strange and often infuriating times, I’ll take an album that has some form of the word “happy” in the titles of both its opening and closing numbers. Omnivore Recordings has been re-issuing much of Buck Owens’ work from the late 1960s and early 1970s, including Sweet Rosie Jones, which was originally released in 1968. The album contains mostly original material, written or co-written by Buck Owens. The band backing him here includes Don Rich on guitar, fiddle and backing vocals; Doyle Holly on guitar; Tom Brumley on steel guitar and dobro; Bob Morris on bass; Jerry Wiggins on drums and tambourine; and Willie Cantu on drums and tambourine. There are also some guests playing on various tracks. The songs are in their original configuration, without bonus tracks, but the disc does include new liner notes from Randy Poe (as well as the original liner notes). It was mastered by Michael Graves at Osiris Studio in Los Angeles.

The album opens with “Hello Happiness, Goodbye Loneliness,” a fast-paced gem written by Buck Owens. This is a song in which he celebrates his girl’s imminent return. “No more sadness/Only gladness/My little darling’s coming home tonight.” Anyone who has spent extended time apart from his or her love knows just the sort of happiness Buck is singing about here. “Bad times are a-going to go/And the good times are a-going to roll.” Yes, we have to keep that in mind during these troubled times. I mean, if we are with the ones we love, they aren’t such terrible times, right? That’s followed by the album’s title track, “Sweet Rosie Jones,” which indeed has a sweet and mellow vibe, and features some good work on guitar. Though the joy he sings of is all in the past. “And in her eyes, I saw big trouble/Like the muddy waters down below/Her lips were soft and sweet as honey/Her hair was bright as yellow gold/Her cheeks were red as summer roses/She was my sweet, sweet Rosie Jones.” This song has one of those wonderful spoken word sections, spelling impending doom for the song’s narrator. This song reached #2 on the country chart.

“If I Had Three Wishes” is a fun, cheerful number written by Buck Owens and Don Rich. I love that work on fiddle. There is also some wonderful work on steel guitar, as well as a catchy bass line, helping to make this one of my favorite tracks. “Well, I wish I may and I wish I might have my wish come true/For if I had three wishes, I would wish ‘em all for you.” That’s followed by a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Swingin’ Doors,” a song from Merle’s 1966 album Swinging Doors And The Bottle Let Me Down (where it is listed as “Swinging Doors”). Buck Owens delivers an excellent rendition, his voice digging into that great sad country sound, and I love that guitar work. “I’ve got everything I need to drive me crazy/I’ve got everything it takes to lose my mind/And in here the atmosphere is just right for heartaches/Thanks to you, I’m always here at closing time.” Then “You’ll Never Miss The Water (Till The Well Runs Dry)” is a song about leaving a faithless woman. “You’ll regret each and every time you’ve made me cry/You’ll never miss me, darling, ‘til I say goodbye/Oh, you’ll never miss the water ‘til the well runs dry.”

“Sally, Mary, And Jerry” is a song about how rumors can damage a relationship, but it’s a playful number. “Sally told Mary/And Mary told Jerry/Jerry’s a-spreading it around/That we had a quarrel/A foolish quarrel/Now we’re the talk of the town.” Now he has to convince his woman that he loves her. It’s a short song, less than two minutes. That’s followed by another of the album’s highlights, “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone,” in which Buck Owens asks, “How long is forever?/How soon is now or never?/How long will these heartaches linger on/And how long will my baby be gone?” There are hand claps in the middle of that last line, a delightful touch. This song was released as a single, and reached #1 on the country chart.

“Leave Me Something To Remember You By” is a slow, sad song written by Buck Owens and Don Rich. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Leave me a memory that we once shared/Leave me the twinkle in your eye/Leave me something to remember you by/Leave me a kiss as you walk out the door/For you know and I know you won’t be back no more.” I love these sad country songs about the end of a relationship. Earl Poole Ball plays piano. “The Heartaches Have Just Started” also tells of the end of a relationship, but it has more of a fun, lively vibe. “It’s a wonder I’m still living after all you’ve put me through/It would take a modern miracle to make things turn out right/The loneliness is here, and happiness is out of sight.” Ah, it’s the opposite of this album’s first track. It features some wonderful work on guitar. “But the best I had to offer wasn’t good enough for you.” That’s followed by “Everybody Needs Somebody,” a pleasant, easy-going tune written by Buck Owen and Don Rich. “Everybody needs somebody/And, darling, this somebody just needs you.”

“The Girl On Sugar Pie Lane” is a light, enjoyable song. It was written by Tommy Collins, and included on the 1966 album The Dynamic Tommy Collins. Buck Owens does a good job with it. The album then concludes with “Happy Times Are Here Again.” And, as in the album’s opening track, the happiness is caused by the return of his love. This song has a delightfully cheerful vibe. And I still can’t keep from thinking of Bruce Willis in The Last Boy Scout when I hear a line about dancing a jig, as Buck Owens sings here, “Gonna dance a jig all over the place/Happy times are here again.”

CD Track List

  1. Hello Happiness, Goodbye Loneliness
  2. Sweet Rosie Jones
  3. If I Had Three Wishes
  4. Swingin’ Doors
  5. You’ll Never Miss The Water (Till The Well Runs Dry)
  6. Sally, Mary, And Jerry
  7. How Long Will My Baby Be Gone?
  8. Leave Me Something To Remember You By
  9. The Heartaches Have Just Started
  10. Everybody Needs Somebody
  11. The Girl On Sugar Pie Lane
  12. Happy Times Are Here Again

This re-issue of Sweet Rosie Jones was released on August 6, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Pogues: “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” (1988/2021) Vinyl Review

My friend Dan Ryan and I got into The Pogues in the mid-1980s, before the release of If I Should Fall From Grace With God, which came out in 1988. Growing up in Massachusetts, I heard a lot of Irish folk music, but this was something different, and it excited me, this combination of folk and punk. Lots of other bands have done it since, but The Pogues, in my estimation, just have never been topped. And now Newbury Comics has put out a special color vinyl edition of If I Should Fall From Grace With God. How could I not purchase a copy? It’s fucking green! This album, for those who don’t know, contains the absolute best Christmas song ever recorded. But the whole thing is great. As a teenager, I was especially enamored of “Turkish Song Of The Damned.” That’s one to dance and flail around to, and the entire album is, of course, something to drink to.  And did I mention this new vinyl edition is green? With splatters of yellow. It’s beautiful.

Side One

The album opens with the title track, and within seconds I am dancing and drinking and forgetting the world’s troubles. Fuck ‘em all, I just want to enjoy myself. “Bury me at sea/Where no murdered ghost can haunt me.” Then comes that song that really blew me away the first time I heard this album, “Turkish Song Of The Damned.” The verses are powerful, with a dark thumping. And check out these lines: “The captain’s corpse jumped up/And threw his arms around my neck/For all these years I’ve had him on my back.” Then the chorus has a brighter, happier vibe. I love that contrast. And then, surprise, the track concludes with a traditional-sounding folk section. That’s followed by “Bottle Of Smoke,” a song that demands you have a pint of Guinness in your hand, which I do, and that you dance around without spilling a goddamn drop, because those sorts of skills are important, you see. This song is a lot of fun. Partway through the song, I look around and am shocked to find myself not in a lively pub, but in my apartment, alone.

“Fairytale Of New York” is the best Christmas song, no question. It is lovely and depressing and funny and sweet, and it brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it, though I can never tell if it’s because of the song’s sad aspect or its happiest aspect. “I can see a better time/When all our dreams come true.” And Kirsty MacColl joins Shane MacGowan on vocals, a duet unlike any other. That’s followed by “Metropolis,” an instrumental track that goes in some interesting, unexpected directions, like it suddenly becomes the theme to some old television program or spy movie. James Bond wishes he were this cool. The first side of the record concludes with a more serious song, “Thousands Are Sailing.” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Thousands are sailing/Across the western ocean/To a land of opportunity/That some of them will never see.” I’ve always found this one rather beautiful, and the song’s power is as great as ever, with its lyrics about immigration and refugees. While much of the band’s material was written by Shane MacGowan, this one was written by Philip Chevron.

Side Two

“Fiesta” eases in with that sweet, romantic horn. But of course it is not long before things explode into a delicious ecstasy, and I am dancing like a madman on his one day of vacation from the sanitarium, a day of bright colors and venereal exploration and exploitation. Onward! Then at the beginning of “Medley” we find ourselves marching, and though not certain of our destination, we know there will be stops along the way to wet our whistles. And once things kick in, we are on the Rocky Road To Dublin, and now we’re in high gear and celebrating. The percussion lets us know everything is good, and any previous worries evaporate. Then suddenly things get serious and mellow with “Streets Of Sorrow,” though we are bidding farewell to the sorrow and pain. It seems the party might be over, but it segues into “Birmingham Six,” which gets livelier, though we are still in somber territory. And it sort of drifts off at the end.

“Lullaby Of London” begins in a prettier realm, though this might be the only lullaby to mention hell. “May they all sleep tight/Down in hell tonight/Or wherever they may be.” The band rouses us again with “Sit Down By The Fire,” whose lyrics also mention hell. Hey, there may be no escape. Who knows? As long as I have a pint in my hand and power to raise the glass to my lips, and legs that can dance, it’s okay with me. Then with “The Broad Majestic Shannon,” we emerge in a sweet land where Shane MacGowan sings “There’s no pain, there’s no more sorrow/They’ve all gone, gone in the years, babe.” Amen to that. This is a beautiful song. The album finishes with “Worms,” a strange, short number you might remember from the darkest days of your childhood, taking us into the realm of death and reminding us to be merry. It is also known as “The Hearse Song.” A fitting way to end, eh?

Record Track List

Side One

  1. If I Should Fall From Grace With God
  2. Turkish Song Of The Damned
  3. Bottle Of Smoke
  4. Fairytale Of New York
  5. Metropolis
  6. Thousands Are Sailing

Side Two

  1. Fiesta
  2. Medley
  3. Streets Of Sorrow/Birmingham Six
  4. Lullaby Of London
  5. Sit Down By The Fire
  6. The Broad Majestic Shannon
  7. Worms

This special vinyl edition of If I Should Fall From Grace With God was released on October 1, 2021.

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.