Friday, December 31, 2021

Lee Oskar: “Never Forget” (2022) CD Review

As another crazy year comes to a close, and we wonder what the near future holds, it is a good idea to take stock, both in our own lives and in the larger reality we find ourselves in, and to look to the past for lessons about the present. The Holocaust has been brought up a lot lately, sometimes in completely inappropriate ways, such as when lunatic Marjorie Taylor Greene repeatedly compared wearing masks to Jews being forced to wear yellow stars in Nazi Germany. People seem to be forgetting what exactly happened and what it all means, which is terrifying, because it makes it all the more likely that it could happen again. And these days when the Republican Party has basically become the Fascist Party in all but name, it is particularly important to remember what fascism has led to, and what it can lead to. Lee Oskar takes on the somber and important task of reminding folks through music with his new album, Never Forget. It is a personal undertaking as well, for Lee Oskar’s own mother and aunt are survivors, having escaped from the death march out of the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland. Lee Oskar’s grandmother perished at that camp. The liner notes to the album include several photos of his family, as well as some of Lee Oskar’s artwork touching upon the themes of the music. The music here is all original compositions, written or co-written by Lee Oskar, who is known for his work in the group War, of which he was a founding member. Considering the subject matter and inspiration for this recording, the music is surprisingly uplifting and warm. The tracks are mostly instrumentals, the music conveying a feeling of hope, a strong feeling of humanity, which is just what we need as we begin the new year.

The album opens with “Far Away Dreams,” which has an uplifting, optimistic sound from its start, and of course features some excellent work by Lee Oskar on harmonica. There is also some good work by Brian Monroney on both piano and guitar. This piece seems to urge us to not give up our dreams, to move forward, and to do so with love and compassion and joy. I love the way it builds. This track features some background vocal work by Annie Jantzer and Nick Foster, adding to its emotional power. That’s followed by “Miracle Children,” which immediately has a more somber feel, featuring gorgeous work on violin and cello. It seems to come from a place of darkness, but heading to that of light. You get the strong sense of history in this track, like voices rising from the past, reaching out, Lee Oskar’s harmonica providing a particularly potent voice. There is a sense of both the fleeting aspect of an individual life, and the larger continuing march of humanity, and the way the two are connected. Phillip Peterson is on cello, and Victoria Parker plays both viola and violin.

And speaking of the personal aspect of this album, we then get a piece titled “Song From Mom.” It is interesting that it is titled “Song From Mom” rather than “Song For Mom,” showing it is more inspiration than dedication. This is another beautiful and moving track, with a certain strength behind it. It features more wonderful work from the string section, though the main voice is the harmonica. It feels like that instrument is telling us a story, taking us to a different time, his playing is so beautiful and effective. Brian Monroney plays mandolin on this track. That’s followed by “Last Moments (Saying Goodbye),” a gentle and loving and uplifting piece written by Lee Oskar and Mark Ross. It also features the string section, as well as some nice work by Brian Monroney on guitar. “Never Forget,” the album’s title track, has, understandably, a serious sound and mood. It is shocking that there are people who deny the Holocaust happened, and as we are losing the last survivors and eye witnesses from that time, we can’t help but think that deniers will grow in number. We must do whatever we can to combat those voices with truth. Will that be enough? We live in a frightening time, with the memory of fascists marching in Charlottesville chanting “Jew will not replace us” still fresh. This track, as you might imagine, is incredibly moving, with beautiful work on harmonica, piano and strings.

I wonder if people coming to this country now still feel the same sense of optimism and hope that immigrants did decades ago. “Liberty (An American Waltz)” certainly reminds us of what is best about this country, about what this country could and should be. There is a great joy to this piece, as well as pride and optimism. Cesar Armarel plays trumpet on this track, Darian Asplund plays saxophone, and Jerome Smith is on both tuba and trombone. That’s followed by “World For Peace (Tolerance),” which has a more solemn sound, but is still hopeful. Music like this makes us feel that peace and understanding are achievable. But reading the news, I am not as optimistic. People seem to want to fight, to denigrate each other, to look down on other groups. Perhaps if we could play this music for those people, things would improve. This track features Amiram Granot on clarinet, and some excellent work by Eric Jaeger on flamenco guitar. This one also features some moving vocal work by Chava Mirel, Rami Yitzhak and Annie Jantzer.

As “Song For Sri” begins, it is a wonderful duet with harmonica and guitar. That’s Tim Lerch on guitar. The strings and bass then add their voices, and the piece begins to grow. Dean Schmidt plays bass on this track and throughout the album. This is a tune of passion and compassion, of understanding. The album then concludes with “My Road,” a different version of which was included on his 1981 album My Road Our Road. As Lee Oskar’s harmonica calls out to us near the beginning, this song has a distinctly personal and individual vibe. Then as the strings join, it feels like people coming together, perhaps to lend a hand, perhaps to lend an ear, or just to remind us we are not alone as we make our way through this life, as we struggle, as we stumble, as we get back to our feet. This track is beautiful and encouraging, a reminder that the world is not a bad place, that there are good folks out there.

CD Track List

  1. Far Away Dreams
  2. Miracle Children
  3. Song From Mom
  4. Last Moments (Saying Goodbye)
  5. Never Forget
  6. Liberty (An American Waltz)
  7. World For Peace (Tolerance)
  8. Song For Sri
  9. My Road

Never Forget is scheduled to be released on January 28, 2022, the day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Tip-Top: “Chansons d’Ennui” (2021) Vinyl Review

Chansons d’Ennui, the new album from Jarvis Cocker, under the name Tip-Top, features music inspired by Wes Anderson’s film The French Dispatch (in which Jarvis Cocker plays a singer named Tip-Top). It is not exactly a soundtrack, for apparently only one of its songs is featured in the film, but rather a companion piece to the movie. The music here is all covers of French pop songs from the 1960s and 1970s. And in fact someone was kind enough to list in the record’s liner notes the artists who originally recorded each track. Joining Jarvis Cocker on this album are Serafina Steer on harp, keyboards and vocals; Emma Smith on violin, saxophone, keyboards, recorder and backing vocals; Jason Buckle on guitar, percussion and keyboards; Andrew McKinney on electric bass, double bass and backing vocals; and Adam Betts on drums, percussion and backing vocals. There are also guests on certain tracks.

Side 1

The album opens with “Dans Ma Chambre,” and from the moment it begins it is completely captivating. I don’t speak French, so I have no idea what he’s singing here, but it doesn’t matter. (I did take French in junior high, but my teacher was going through a divorce, and all I learned was how to cry in French.) There is a wonderful power behind Jarvis Cocker’s performance, and in the music, which includes a string section arranged by Emma Smith. This song is like a glorious force, and is one of my favorite tracks. That’s followed by “Contact,” a delightful pop tune with bright colors, his vocal work at times contrasting with that sound, with its deeper, more intimate tones. This song feels like the most cheerful cityscape imaginable, citizens moving as in some odd musical film, and you might find yourself moving that way too, dressed in vibrant reds and yellows. Interestingly, there is also a sitar on this track, played by Bishi Bhattacharya. “La Tendresse” is a pretty song, with a magical, dreamlike sound, like a fairytale. And shouldn’t life sound like this all the time? Yes, yes, it should. I love the string section especially on this track.

There is something romantic, even elegant about “Amour, Je Te Cherche,” which also features the string section. It kind of sweeps us up in its motion and streaks across the sky with us bound to its wings. And we feel both secure and curious, having not seen the world from this perspective before. Joe Auckland plays flugelhorn on this track.  Then “Les Gens Sont Fous, Les Temps Sont Flous” has more of a rock vibe, coming on strong with a heavier sound. And toward the end, it gets kind of wild, with a howling. This one was originally recorded by Jacques Dutronc, who also co-wrote it. “Il Pleut Sur La Gare” begins with some nice percussion, which remains a prominent element throughout the track. This one also features some excellent backing vocal work.

Side 2

The second side opens with “Paroles, Paroles.” This song is interesting in that his lead vocals are delivered basically as spoken word, and the backing vocals are sung. It feels almost like he is functioning as narrator, and she as the lead character in the story. Though again, I have no idea what either is saying here. But the effect is delightful. And I love how the song grows and swells. Laetitia Sadier joins Jarvis Cocker on vocals and keyboards on this track. That’s followed by “Requiem Por Un Con,” which has a strong, prominent rhythm. And his vocal performance feels a part of that rhythm, which is very cool. There is also a sense of urgency, of things in motion which cannot be halted, and it becomes a nice little jam at the end. Yeah, this track just totally works for me. Then “Mon Ami La Rose” has that magical, dreamlike vibe, and features the string section. Serafina Steer shares lead vocals with Jarvis Cocker, delivering a beautiful performance. According to the liner notes, this one was originally performed by the absolutely wonderful Francoise Hardy, so they’re in good company.

“Mao Mao” is a fun track, with a strong energy, and featuring some delightful vocal work by Anna McKinney. That’s followed by “Elle Et Moi,” which begins with percussion and slowly adds elements. I love hearing Jarvis Cocker’s voice backed mainly by drums at the beginning, the vocal work having an intimate quality. This song has a good groove, which is maintained throughout the track. The album concludes with one final bit of magic, “Aline,” the only song that was included in the film. I love Wes Anderson’s work (The Royal Tenenbaums, in particular, is one of my favorite films), but I haven’t yet had a chance to see The French Dispatch. Even before the pandemic struck, I stopped going to the cinema regularly, mainly because I worried someone would take out a cell phone during the film and I’d be arrested after smashing the phone against the person’s head. Anyway, Jarvis Cocker delivers a passionate performance here, to leave us in a world that may not be ours, but one we’d like to revisit often.

Record Track List

Side 1

  1. Dans Ma Chambre
  2. Contact
  3. La Tendresse
  4. Amour, Je Te Cherche
  5. Les Gens Sont Fous, Les Temps Sont Flous
  6. Il Pleut Sur La Gare

Side 2

  1. Paroles, Paroles
  2. Requiem Pour Un Con
  3. Mon Ami La Rose
  4. Mao Mao
  5. Elle Et Moi
  6. Aline

Chansons d’Ennui was released on October 22, 2021 on ABKCO Music & Records.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Tav Falco: “Club Car Zodiac” (2021) Vinyl Review

Tav Falco has been recording fantastic and interesting music since the late 1970s, both in Tav Falco’s Panther Burns and on his solo releases, his music combining elements from many different genres and styles, creating an exciting and potent mix. This is a musician and songwriter who is always willing to take chances, and he shows that clearly on Club Car Zodiac, a record that was released as part of Black Friday’s Record Store Day. On this release he is joined by Mario Monterosso on acoustic guitar and electric guitar; Francesco D’Agnolo on organ, piano and accordion; Giuseppe Sangirardi on electric bass; Didi Wray on electric guitar; Mike Watt on electric bass; Marco Carnemolla on contrabasso; Walter Brunetti on trap drums; Toby Dammit on spoons; Michela Musolino on tamburo, marranzanu and bells; and Mirkaccio Dettori on piano. Adรจl Tirant and Sheri Corleone join Tav Falco on vocals. These tracks were recorded during the pandemic, and the album is presented on beautiful purple vinyl.

Side A

The album opens with “Dance Me To The River,” which has at its heart that great raw sound that we love from him, sounding like a slow tango from some delicious demonic plane. It is strangely seductive. And there is danger, which we sense even before lines like these: “A stiletto is hiding in your purse/A knife I know is meant for me/Our love was magic and a curse.” The stiletto is a strong image he has used before, titling a 2018 album Cabaret Of Daggers. “Dance Me To The River” is followed by a good cover of “The House Of The Rising Sun,” which seems to have drawn some of its inspiration from the Animals’ version. I love that work on organ, and Tav Falco’s vocal performance has just the right amount of that sense of being haunted by his past. You believe him when he sings of experiences. “And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy/And God I know I’m one.” The first side then concludes with “Tony Driver Blues,” a wonderfully dark song that is a lot of fun. Like an old club whose lights and sound system are powered by the blood of its delirious patrons. Like a glorious dance of the doomed. “But dig yourself a hole, and you might just get in.”

Side B

The second side of the record begins with “La Brigantessa.” This is a strange one right from its opening moments as we are urged, “Gather around, my friends.” We are going to hear the tale of a woman, and we eagerly draw closer to the turntable, which might be out on some dusty plain or in the crumbling abode of the evil eye. “Others say she was a devil who moved like a shadow,” we are told at the beginning, and this strikes us as true, and we expect to hear this viewpoint proved true. But the lyrics are often surprising, such as these lines: “She walks like a man, dances like a child/For the revolution, she will sacrifice/Sacrifice her body, leave her things behind/But she’ll never throw away her philosophical mind.” And these: “She strikes her foe beneath the knees to watch him fall/Picks him up again to make him straight, to make him tall.”  This track features some excellent backing vocals. And I love that work on accordion, which really helps set the scene, gives us a strong sense of place. The record then concludes with “Tango Primavera.” It began with a dance, and it ends with one. This one feels on the verge of destruction, of chaos, yet also feels like it could burst through the darkness with a tangible joy, a joy with teeth, a joy with claws, one that is not to be denied.

Record Track List

Side A

  1. Dance Me To The River
  2. The House Of The Rising Sun
  3. Tony Driver Blues

Side B

  1. La Brigantessa
  2. Tango Primavera

Club Car Zodiac was released on November 26, 2021 through Org Music. This release was limited to only 1,000 copies.


Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

As this ridiculous year comes to a close, and coronavirus cases are once again on the rise, we can hope next year will be better and that people will at least try to go back to resembling humans capable of sympathy and intelligent decisions. I’d like to say I’m optimistic. One area we can count on is music. I am thankful for all the great albums released this year, and know we have more excellent releases to look forward to in the coming months. Here are some notes on a few new jazz albums you might want to check out.

Raul E. Blanco & Jazz Wires: “Brutal Fairytale” – In the liner notes to the new Jazz Wires album, pianist and composer Raul E. Blanco urges us, “Write your own story.” Good advice, of course, but also kind of funny for an album titled Brutal Fairytale. The album opens with its title track, which features some wonderful vocal work by Gabriella Aragon, at times wistful, at times playful, as she delivers the song’s tale. “The more I try, I can’t escape/This brutal fairytale.” The music itself, like a story, has hills and valleys, exciting moments and softer passages. The band is made up of Raul E. Blanco on piano, vocals and percussion; Brandt Fisher on tenor saxophone; Noah Austin on trumpet; Gabriella Aragon on trombone and vocals; Joseph Ballestrasse on bass; and Anthony Channita on drums. “Brutal Fairytale” is followed by “Spanish Tale In Arabia,” and this one too weaves a compelling story, though this time without vocals. There is a beautiful section approximately a minute in, led by some great work on piano. Things then turn lively and fun from there. What an excellent ride! There is an excitement to their playing in “Digital Memory” as well, a track which moves and pops and flows with a life of its own. “Origins” is another highlight, in part because of the work on percussion, in part because of its bright, pleasant vibe. And just before the end, there is some nice vocal work, which adds to that overall vibe. “Lo-Fi Banger” features some fantastic work on piano, as well as some great stuff from the horn section, though the static mimicking an old record quickly loses its appeal. That’s followed by “Traces Of You,” a pretty and moving song, with Raul E. Blanco on vocals. Then “Ska-Monk,” the album’s closing track, opens with some playful vocal work, and soon becomes a fun number that even includes a short drum solo. This album was released on November 19, 2021.

Adrianne Duncan: “Gemini” – Adrianne Duncan is a singer, pianist and composer, and her new album, Gemini, features mostly original material. The disc opens with “He’s Not Quite You,” a pretty, late-night gem about a woman who is in a relationship but is thinking of another. “It’s not quite right/It’s lovely and stable/But it isn’t quite right/I never used to want to turn out the light/Or be polite.” Of course you feel for her in this song, especially as her longing is nearly palpable, but you can’t help but feel for the poor guy she’s dating too, who is likely unaware that she doesn’t love him. In the second half, the song changes gears and features some wonderful work by Nick Mancini on vibraphone. By the way, the other musicians backing her on this release include Dan Lutz on bass, Jimmy Branly on drums, Katisse Buckingham on flute and saxophone, and John Tegmeyer on clarinet. “He’s Not Quite You” is followed by “Elijah,” which also has a late-night feel, beginning with some solo work on piano. She then establishes a sense of place in the song’s first lines, “A cold dark road/On a winter night/The tree bark shimmers/In the sharp moonlight.” It is not until two minutes into the track that the other musicians come in, and the tone changes at that moment, from somewhat haunting to passionate and rather sexy. This track also features an excellent instrumental section with some powerful work on saxophone. The album’s title track, “Gemini,” is the only instrumental on this album. It’s a lively number with a good groove, and features a great interaction between flute and clarinet. “Home At Last” has a dark, lonesome sound as it begins on piano. When the other musicians come in, some of that is dispelled, but the song maintains a rather melancholy vibe. This track also features a fantastic vocal performance, probably the album’s best. “She sits alone upon a throne of deep and bitter red/The cabernet reminds her that the life she knew is dead.” The album concludes with its only cover, an interesting rendition of The Police’s “Roxanne” that begins with vibraphone and takes off from there. This album was released on September 24, 2021.

The Matt Gordy Jazz Tonite Sextet: “Be With Me” – Matt Gordy is a talented and respected drummer who has played with many artists during his career. Be With Me is his second album as band leader, and features not only his playing but also his talent as a composer, with four original compositions. The album opens, however, with a delicious rendition of “Topsy,” written by Eddie Durham. This arrangement offers plenty of opportunities for Matt Gordy to shine on drums, but also features some excellent work by Alan Pasqua on piano, Ron Stout on trumpet, Jeff Ellwood on saxophone, and Ido Meshulam on trombone, with Chris Colangelo keeping everything moving just right on bass. Then Colangelo starts “You And The Night And The Music” with a good solo, setting the track on its way and again giving it that great movement. Then we get into the original material, beginning with “Camouflage,” which has an easygoing vibe at first, the horns working together, with a touch of funk to its rhythm, enough to make your body start swaying before you even notice it. But it is Alan Pasqua’s work on piano that I especially latch onto here. That’s followed by “Spring Ahead,” a sprightly number whose rhythm had me smiling within its first few seconds. “Chloe” is a gentler, sweeter tune, one he wrote for granddaughter. The album’s title track, “Be With Me,” which was written by Matt Gordy and Gregg Arthur, features Sherry Williams on vocals. She delivers a soothing, beautiful, dreamlike vocal performance. “I lay, thinking of every word you’ve whispered.” This track also features some pretty work on piano. It is the last of the album’s original compositions, and is one of only two tracks to feature vocals. The other is a cover of “Sunny,” with Sherry Williams once again delivering a really good, soulful performance. This album is scheduled to be released on January 28, 2022.

In Real Time: “Blue Shift” – In Real Time is the trio of pianist Carol Leibowitz, bassist Adam Lane, and drummer Andrew Drury. Their debut album, Blue Shift, contains completely improvised pieces. They went into the studio without any preconceived material. Something like that could result in disaster or gold. Fortunately, these are talented musicians, and this approach clearly suits them. The opening track, “Crosstown,” has a sense of excitement about it, of movement and of possibilities. Those rare nights when you go out ready for anything, eager to embrace whatever the world can toss your way? That’s what this feels like. And it does get a little crazy, even a bit dark at one point. Then “Curve” right away takes us to a less familiar place, Adam Lane leading the way, this track giving us a different look at the world, a slightly twisted reality. Somehow it gets even more interesting when it turns gentle halfway through, with an inquisitive sense about it. And while that leads to some chaotic moments, it is a chaos we recognize, a chaos we feel in touch with. “Blue Shift,” the title track, eases in with some nice work on bass, pulling us somewhat tentatively through a portal into its own distinctive night. “Sequoia Moon” creates a somewhat playful atmosphere, like running through streaks of light in an otherwise dark landscape. And it soon develops into a good jam. “Passacaglia,” the closing track, has a great energy even from its opening moments, and you get the sense of a lot going on, with mostly willing participants. But who can tell for sure in this rush for more, in this drive for sensation? Nearly halfway through, there is an unexpected pause, and the bass then leads us into a different space. This album is scheduled to be released on March 4, 2022.

Jazz Daddies: “Moontower Nights” – Jazz Daddies are based in the Austin area, and are led by guitarist Randy Larkin, who composed all the material for Moontower Nights. The band is also made up of Gary Feist on bass, Kenny Felton on percussion, Andrew Malay on saxophone, Marty Mitchell on bass, and Shane Pitsch on trumpet and flugelhorn. The album gets off to a good start with “Voyage To Nepal,” a track that has a delicious groove. It is the saxophone lead that takes us away from our normal surroundings and gives us the sense of existing in a more exciting place. That’s followed by the album’s title track, “Moontower Nights,” a totally catchy and swinging number. This one too is able to transport us, but in this case to another time. It features a wonderful lead on guitar. Then there is a certain joy to “Blues On The Green,” particularly Randy Larkin’s work on guitar. That’s followed by another fun track, “Hot Dog,” in which the band at one point calls out the name of the song, making this the only of the album’s tracks to feature vocals. I love that lively work on trumpet. And “Rainy Paradise” has such a cheerful vibe that you can’t help but let it overtake you. “Bossa Verde” features yet another excellent lead on guitar. The album concludes with “Rico,” another enjoyable number with a delightful groove. Again, there is a lot of joy to this music, and we can all certainly use that these days. This album was released on September 6, 2021.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Lady A: “Satisfyin’” (2021/2022) CD Review

Lady A is known primarily as a blues performer, and it is mostly the blues that she delivers on her excellent new album, the aptly titled Satisfyin’.  This album features all original material, most of it composed by Lady A (whose real name is Anita White) and John Oliver III. John Oliver III also plays the majority of instruments on this album, though he and Lady A get some help from special guests on various tracks. Though it is blues, that doesn’t mean there aren’t elements of soul and funk, musical realms that Lady A is equally at home in, equally adept at delivering.

The album opens with “Whatever You Do,” a delicious blues number about seizing the moment and doing your best to make your life wonderful. Lady A encourages us to “Find a way to keep your passion strong.” This is such a wonderfully positive number. What a great example she provides here, particularly as she has reason to be angry and bitter. If you’ve been following music news the past couple of years, you are probably aware of that awful country pop band Lady Antebellum’s attempts to prove it isn’t racist by stealing a black woman’s name and then suing her. Crazy, right? Enough about them for now. This song will likely raise your spirits, and get you singing. “And if you’ve got to shout, don’t just make noise/Look, help others as you use your voice.” This song was written by John Oliver III, who plays bass, drums and keyboards on this track. Herman Brown is on guitar, and Paul Richardson is on organ. That’s followed by the album’s title track, “Satisfyin’,” which has a similar message. Its opening lines, which are delivered in a spoken word style, are “Look here, in this life, you only have one life to live/You ought to live it to the fullest/So whatever you do, make sure it’s satisfying.” This one has a funky edge. But it is still blues, with Lady A singing about how life is hard, a blues topic to be sure. “Nothing in your life ever turns out right/You work so hard to make a living/You forget to have a life/Life is hard, and one day you’ll die/And when you die, no one may cry.” But again, she takes that topic, and uses it to remind us to make the most of our lives. There is a playful aspect to this song as well, like when she says they’re going to give us a satisfyin’ solo. And we get some really nice work on guitar. By the way, Herman Brown plays guitar on this track, and John Studamire is on bass. Roz Royster-McCommon provides some nice backing vocals. This song was also written by John Oliver III.

As “Miss Beula Mae’s” opens, it sounds like a live track, like we are brought to the after-hours place sung about in the song. This is a fun number that describes a woman and the place she runs. This one was written by Lady A and Paul Richardson. Paul Richardson plays bass, guitar, drums, organ and clavinet. John Oliver III is also on drums, and provides the horn work. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Miss Beula Mae wore a size 22/Got four or five men that just don’t know what to do/Look, her wig might be crooked, but she takes care of business.” We can hear the sound of the crowd at the end of the track as well. That’s followed by “Big Momma,” another fun number, this one about being a beautiful, larger woman. It features a cool, funky bass line by John Studamire, some wonderful backing vocal work by Roz Royster-McCommon, and a playful spoken word section in the second half. This one was written by Lady A and John Oliver III.

“Blues On My Mind” is a song about living in blues music, writing and singing the blues. This song acknowledges the impact and influence of some of the other blues greats that have come before, including Nina Simone, Denise LaSalle, and Bettye LaVette. And I seriously dig that instrumental section where the bass leads us down a funky, delicious path. Joe Seamons adds some wonderful stuff on harmonica. This one was written by Lady A and John Oliver III. Then in “Blues, Soul, Catfish & Fried Wings” she paints a picture of another lively place, taking us there with her voice. Lady A is so good at setting a scene, and making us feel like we are present. She also mentions some of the blues and soul performers that paved the way in this song, folks like and Johnnie Taylor and Sam Cooke. That’s followed by “Brighter Day,” a powerful, yet totally enjoyable and positive number about a better day coming. “I don’t want to tell no lies/We’re in the middle of a storm/Fighting for our very lives/The future of our babies.” This song also contains a playful response to Timbuk 3’s “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”: “Taking my shades off because the future’s bright.” This track also features good use of backing vocals, which are provided by John Oliver III, who also plays all the instruments on this track. This song was written by John Oliver III and Mitia Oliver.

“Enjoy Your Life” is a mellower, smoother number with a bit of a 1970s vibe, and carrying that positive message, apparent from the song’s very title. This one, written by Lady A and John Oliver III, creates a pleasant scene of home, of family. “Here we are, lord, together again/Taking a break from the regular noise.” That idea is of course incredibly appealing, particularly these days. That’s followed by “For The People In The Back (All I Got),” a different version of which was previously released as a single under the title “My Name Is All I Got.” After some soulful humming at the beginning, the solid beat comes in, and Lady A repeats “They tried to take my name, but my name is all I got.” I don’t think there is any question about what this particular song is about, nor at whom it is aimed. Lady A delivers an understandably passionate vocal performance. “I’ve come too far to turn around/I can’t, I won’t stop now/They keep on trying/To make me insane.” I love this song. And in a spoken word section she thanks Margo Price for saying that Lady A should be invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry (that dreadful country pop band that stole her name played there). She then says definitively, “So I’m going to keep this name.”

This album concludes with “Heaven Help Us All,” a beautiful, soulful number that reaches out to everyone who is struggling, everyone who is in pain, everyone who is confused. It features a moving vocal performance. “I turn on my TV/So much to see/And most of it’s bad news/The noise and the hatred, the nonsense desensitize me/Can I change my view/This rage inside/Lord, it makes, makes my head hurt sometimes.” The entire nation needs help, which this song recognizes. It was written by Lady A and Roz Royster-McCommon.

CD Track List

  1. Whatever You Do
  2. Satisfyin’
  3. Miss Beula Mae’s
  4. Big Momma
  5. Blues On My Mind
  6. Blues, Soul, Catfish & Fried Wings
  7. Brighter Day
  8. Enjoy Your Life
  9. For The People In The Back (All I Got)
  10. Heaven Help Us All

Satisfyin’ was released in Europe on October 21, 2021, and is scheduled for a U.S release on February 7, 2022.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Paul Kelly: “Christmas Train” (2021) CD Review

I am fairly certain there is a law compelling musicians to release at least one holiday album during their careers. They do so with varying degrees of success, but I figured when Paul Kelly got around to appeasing those behind that odd statute, he would put out something special. And, indeed, Christmas Train, his new holiday release, is something special. As he mentions in the album’s liner notes, he set out to “incorporate many of the different strands of Christmas – secular and sacred, ancient and modern, serious and fun – into an idiosyncratic tapestry of sound and story.” And, yeah, he delivers a fantastic mix of traditional pieces and more modern songs, addressing many different aspects of the holiday, and doing it all with sincerity and joy. He gives us two albums’ worth of music here, seventy-five minutes of holiday cheer. And Paul Kelly obviously took a lot of care and consideration in putting together these tracks. There is a lot to love here. This release instantly became one of my absolute favorite holiday albums.

Paul Kelly starts things off with “Nativity.” He has put poems and sonnets to music before, and here he takes John Donne’s poem, and sets it to beautiful music. Christmas is of course a time for family, and this CD is something of a family affair, with Paul’s daughters Maddy and Memphis providing backing vocals on this track, adding another layer of beauty to it. That’s followed by one of the holiday’s prettiest songs, “Silent Night.” Paul Kelly delivers a sweet rendition with a Hawaiian vibe, with Shane Reilly on ukulele and pedal steel guitar. Part of this one is sung in its original German. Paul Kelly gets some help on vocals from Alice Keath and Sime Nugent. Then we get one you might not know, Casey Bennetto’s “Swing Around The Sun.” And indeed, this one gently swings, this track possessing a delicious jazz vibe. It also has a playful bent, its opening line being “Christmas comes but once a year and that’s a lucky break.” Paul Kelly is clearly have a delightful time with this song, totally getting into the spirit of the thing, and this ends up being one of the disc’s highlights for me. “And I bet some day along the way your faith will be restored/Come sit beside me on the ride, I’m happy you’re on board.”

“Christmas,” a song written by Chris Harrington and Wes Harrington, and originally recorded by Melbourne band Large Number Twelves, seriously rocks. And the repeated line “I wanna go back to the people I love” will certainly speak to a lot of folks in these days of the pandemic when traveling is again hazardous and many things are once again being canceled. Then Linda Bull joins Paul Kelly on lead vocals for “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home).” This track has a wonderful, classic sound, right out of the early 1960s, when Darlene Love released her version. And in a way it follows that theme of wanting to be with someone you love established in the previous track. There is such great energy to this track. And again, this album is something of a family affair, with Maddy and Memphis Kelly again providing harmony vocals, and nephew Dan Kelly on 12-string acoustic guitar and backing vocals, and grandson Juniper Kelly on bells.

Ever since my childhood, “Little Drummer Boy” has been one of my favorite Christmas songs. Paul Kelly’s rendition has an interesting tone at the beginning, a military sound, with a darkness behind it, almost like it is emerging from the smoke of a battle field. There is a beauty to it as well, like the song is able to spread a calm, a peace over the land. Paul Kelly gets quite a bit of help on vocals on this track, from bother Tony Kelly, sister Mary Jo Kelly, and daughters Maddy and Memphis, along with Vika Bull and Linda Bull. This is an excellent rendition. Paul Kelly follows that with an Irish folk song, “Arthur McBride.” It is a good choice to follow his version of “Little Drummer Boy,” for it continues a sort of military theme, this song being a sort of anti-war song, and actually it contains the line “And a little wee drummer, intending to camp.” And yes this song is related to Christmas, taking place on Christmas morning. Dan Kelly plays mandolin on this one, and Cameron Bruce provides some nice work on harmonium and organ.

One of the best tracks on The Staple Singers’ The Twenty-Fifth Day Of December (which was re-issued on vinyl on Black Friday) is “The Virgin Mary Had One Son,” an absolutely stunning bluesy gospel number. Paul Kelly dives into this excellent song, the lead vocals here provided by Emma Donovan, who gives a passionate and powerful performance. Vika and Linda Bull provide the harmony vocals. This is a very cool track, the mood established in part by Ashley Naylor’s work on slide electric guitar, Dan Kelly on baritone guitar, and Cameron Bruce on organ. Then Marlon Williams sings lead on a gorgeous rendition of “Tapu Te Po (O Holy Night),” featuring the work of Dhungala Children’s Choir. Perhaps one of the most surprising choices is “Shalom Aleichem,” with another excellent guest vocal performance, this one by Lior Attar. Paul Kelly, Emily Lubitz and Alice Keath provide the harmony vocals, the voices unaccompanied by any instruments. It is a gorgeous and moving piece. (By the way, an English translation of the lyrics is provided in the liner notes.)

Paul Kelly then sets another poem to music, this time Thomas Hardy’s “The Oxen.” I especially like Dan Kelly’s work on electric guitar on this track. That’s followed by “The Friendly Beasts,” which has a traditional folk sound, the vocal work having the feel of an old record, which I love. Kasey Chambers sings on this track. That in turn is followed by another song with a great folk sound, “Three Drovers.” Here Paul Kelly is joined by Alice Keath on vocals and banjo, and by Sime Nugent on vocals. This track also features some nice work by Paul Kelly on harmonica. We then are treated to a cover of The Band’s “Christmas Must Be Tonight,” a song that for one reason or another we don’t hear that often. It was included on The Band’s 1977 album Islands. Gerry Hale adds some nice work on fiddle to this rendition. That’s followed by another unusual choice, “Surah Maryam.” It is a reading of several verses from the Qur’an (or Koran), done by Waleed Aly, backed by Phil Carroll on Turkish mey (a wind instrument). These verses are about the angel speaking to Mary about her upcoming pregnancy. Interestingly, Paul Kelly does not appear on this track.

“Coventry Carol” is a gorgeous piece that is at first all vocals. And there are a lot of singers joining Paul Kelly on this one, including Kate Miller-Heidke, Jess Hitchcock, Alice Keath, Marlon Williams, Sime Nugent, and Teddy Tahu Rhodes. Then halfway through the track, horns are introduced. Richard Shirley and Kieran Conrau are both on trombone, and Rachel Shaw is on French horn. This one creates a serious, spiritual atmosphere. That’s followed by another song I don’t hear that often, Caetano Veloso’s “In The Hot Sun Of A Christmas Day.” This was originally included on Veloso’s 1971 self-titled album (like Peter Gabriel, he released several self-titled albums). This track features some cool work on drums by Peter Luscombe. Cameron Bruce plays marimba and Mellotron on this one. Then we get the one Paul Kelly original song on this release, “How To Make Gravy,” one of his most popular songs, originally released twenty-five years ago. This is a new version, featuring Ashley Naylor on slide electric guitar, Cameron Bruce on organ, Bill McDonald on bass, Dan Kelly on electric guitar, and Linda Bull on backing vocals. I believe that, other than Paul Kelly himself, only drummer Pete Luscombe played on both the original version and this new one. Anyway, it’s always great to hear this song, and this is a really good rendition, with a passionate vocal delivery. “Won’t you kiss my kids on Christmas day, please don’t let ‘em cry for me.”

Things really take off with “Christmas Train,” the album’s title track, a totally fun number featuring Vika Bull on lead vocals. This one was written by Tony Bramel and originally recorded by The BellRays. Then we go back to the spiritual realm with a wonderful rendition of the hymn “Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing,” written by Robert Robinson in the 1700s. This version is adapted from an arrangement by Sufjan Stevens, and features Dan Kelly on banjo and Cameron Bruce on organ. It concludes with a section delivered a cappella. Interestingly, this album wraps up with two tracks on which Paul Kelly does not himself appear. The first is a gorgeous rendition of “Intonent Hodie,” arranged by Alice Keath, who sings on this track, and also plays guitar and violin. This is all her. The second is a totally cool and sweet rendition of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” that features Alma Zygier on vocals, and Willie Zygier on acoustic guitar. “Maybe it’s much too early in the game/Oh, but I thought I’d ask you just the same/What are you doing New Year’s, New Year’s Eve?

CD Track List

  1. Nativity
  2. Silent Night
  3. Swing Around The Sun
  4. Christmas
  5. Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)
  6. Little Drummer Boy
  7. Arthur McBride
  8. The Virgin Mary Had One Son
  9. Tapu Te Po (O Holy Night)
  10. Shalom Aleichem
  11. The Oxen
  12. The Friendly Beasts
  13. Three Drovers
  14. Christmas Must Be Tonight
  15. Surah Maryam
  16. Coventry Carol
  17. In The Hot Sun Of A Christmas Day
  18. How To Make Gravy
  19. Christmas Train
  20. Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing
  21. Intonent Hodie
  22. What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

Christmas Train was released on November 19, 2021.