Sunday, January 30, 2022

Albums Received Week Of January 23-29, 2022

These are the CDs that I received during the week of January 23 – 29, 2022:

  • Regina Bonelli: “Truth Hurts”
  • Scott Ramminger: Live At 3rd & Lindsley, Nashville”
  • Blue Road Records Studio Sessions Band: “Ira – The Tribute Album”
  • Dana Cooper: “I Can Face The Truth”
  • Jana Pochop: “The Astronaut”
  • Dan Weber: “The Way The River Goes”
  • Bernard Allison: “Highs & Lows”
  • Aaron Skiles: “Wreckage From The Fire”
  • Val Starr & The Blues Rocket: “Healing Kind Of Blues”
  • Amy Jay: “Awake Sleeper”

This is the record I received during the week of January 23 – 29, 2022:

  • We Are The West: “Only One Us”

This is the book I received during the week of January 23 – 29, 2022:

  • Disturbing The Peace: 415 Records And The Rise Of New Wave by Bill Kopp

I did not have time to make a video last week, but wanted to let you know what I received the week of January 16 – 22, 2022. Only two CDs arrived that week:

  • The Pine Hearts: “Lost Love Songs”
  • Karney: “Gonna Be Beautiful”

FlamenGrass: “Alegria” (2022) CD Review

FlamenGrass is a new band made up of accomplished musicians, combining the sounds of flamenco guitar with bluegrass (thus, the name). The group, based in Barcelona, is made up of Lluis Gómez on five-string banjo, Carol Duran on vocals and violin, Maribel Rivero on vocals and double bass, and Javier Vaquero on flamenco guitar. Lluis Gómez, in addition to playing banjo, is known for his skill on violin and mandolin, and is director of Al Ras Bluegrass Festival. Carol Duran is known for her work in the groups La Carrau and Betzuca, as well as her own project Soroll Blanc. Maribel Rivero was part of the Canticle Chamber Orchestra, and with Lluis Gómez is a member of the Barcelona Bluegrass Band. Javier Vaquero is proficient in many styles of guitar, and has his own band, Javier Vaquero Group. Their debut release, Alegria, features a lot of original material, most of it composed by Lluis Gómez and Carol Duran, as well as some traditional numbers. This album came out of the pandemic, with the musicians recording their parts remotely.

I love music that is able to transport me out of my immediate surroundings and away from whatever mundane cares might be otherwise demanding my attention, and this album’s opening track, “La Flor,” does so immediately, with some gorgeous and passionate playing. It takes on a lighter bluegrass feel nearly halfway through, combining two worlds beautifully. This instrumental track was composed by Lluis Gómez. That’s followed by “Quan S’atura El Temps,” which takes on a sexy and romantic tone right away in that opening instrumental section. And we’re talking high romance here, the kind that carries over great and perhaps dangerous landscapes and might result in someone’s death, or at least willingness to die. The vocals come in approximately a minute into the track, and are voices from another land, to match the dramatic tones of the music. It is an overall fantastic effect. This track features some excellent work on guitar. It was written by Carol Duran.

“Grant Por Bulerías” is a wonderful tune with a great sense of movement. There is also a warmth to it that makes me think of family, of being together inside. And what fantastic playing, particularly on banjo. This one was composed by Lluis Gómez. Then “Station To Your Heart,” written by Carol Duran, has a strong opening that grabs our attention. Some of the lyrics of this one are sung in English, and there is a certain amount of joy to the vocals. But it is the instrumental work that especially stands out, doing a wonderful job of representing a train, the violin at moments like a whistle. And again there is a good sense of forward movement. A more somber tone is established at the beginning of “Nel Pozu,” a traditional piece featuring some stunning work on guitar. There is then a brief, but dramatic pause before the vocals come in. The vocals are beautiful and moving, expressing strength and loss. And I love that work on violin.

They change gears then for the album’s title track, “Alegria,” which has a much more cheerful vibe, as you might expect from its title. Here is one that might get you dancing, moving, or at the very least smiling, a song to lift your spirits. It was written by Carol Duran. That’s followed by another traditional piece, “Abenamar,” an exciting and moving tale, with some beautiful vocal work. This track also features some excellent work on violin. The album’s final traditional song is “Zorongo Gitano,” an interesting love song featuring more powerful vocal work. Then we get a lively, fast-paced original bluegrass number titled “RumbaGrass,” written by Carol Duran and Lluis Gómez. This one is a lot of fun, with a great amount of energy, a song to remind us of the joy in living. This phenomenal album concludes with “Imatges,” written by all four members of the group, the song’s lyrics delivered as spoken word. Jean Marie Redon, Sharon Lombardi and Martino Coppo join the group on vocals for this one. This track features some fantastic work on banjo.

CD Track List

  1. La Flor
  2. Quan S’atura El Temps
  3. Grant Por Bulerías
  4. Station To Your Heart
  5. Nel Pozu
  6. Alegria
  7. Abenamar
  8. Zorongo Gitano
  9. RumbaGrass
  10. Imatges

Alegria was released on January 20, 2022.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Eliane Amherd: “La Dégustation” (2022) CD Review

Singer and songwriter Eliane Amherd is currently based in New York, but is from Switzerland, and on her new release, La Dégustation, she finds inspiration in the wines of her native country. These songs are about different grapes, different wines, which in the lyrics are often personified, the wines becoming characters used to explore situations and culture, done in a playful way. Most of the tracks are originals, written or co-written by Eliane Amherd. Joining the singer and guitarist on this release are Amanda Ruzza on bass, Rosa Avila on drums, and Bashiri Johnson on percussion. Yes, a talented group of musicians. Amanda Ruzza has her own band, the Amanda Ruzza Group, and has played with Jill Sobule and Amy Lee. Rosa Avila has played with Andy Williams, Glen Campbell and Dawn Drake. Bashiri Johnson has recorded and performed with an incredible range of artists, including Miles Davis, Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin. Eliane Amherd herself has worked with Randy Brecker, and is in a band called As Lolas. La Dégustation follows two other solo albums, Now And From Now On and Skylines.

The album opens with “Gamaret,” which has a funky element. Gamaret is a type of wine created in 1970, and the music finds some of its inspiration from that year, with references to Jimi Hendrix, both in the lyrics and in the guitar work. It’s a fun track, no question, and she playfully describes the wine, addressing it (and the grapes) directly: “You were meant to blend/Such a peppery tease/You’re so resilient/Standing your ground with ease.” That’s followed by “Humagne Rouge,” named after a wild, rustic wine. Her delivery here has a seductive quality to match lyrics like “with your dark smoky eyes,” and some of the lyrics are sung in French, which somehow is just inherently sexy. There is also something wonderfully playful here, as when she adds “shooby dooby doo” at one point. When she sings “I gave up that fight/To resist your charms/I was lost in your arms,” is she singing about a person or the wine, or both? The style of this track has something of a Santana flavor at times. Then “Heida” has a delightful vibe, and some great percussion. This grape is known by the name Traminer in Germany, and Eliane Amherd sings this one in German. I’m not sure what she’s saying here, but I love it all the same, and this track ends up being one of my favorites. This wine is said to have the power to make people ridiculously happy. I haven’t tried it, so I can’t attest to such a power, but I can promise you this song has that ability.

Eliane Amherd wrote the music for “Pinot Ou Fendant,” but the lyrics are by Pauline Lugon, who provides some guest vocals on this track. This one is sung in French, and has a pleasant, cheerful, friendly vibe, sounding like an outdoor gathering of friends on a sunny day. I’m not sure what they are singing here, as I don’t speak French, but this track makes me smile each time I listen to it. That’s followed by “Cornalin,” which has a cool, sly vibe at the start. The song’s lyrics apply both to the grape and a man, a man who is a lot of work but who proves himself in the end. Check out these line: “A spicy carefree son/Unruly and wild/An arrogant child/But somehow I always knew/If I took care of you/With time you’d grow and shine/And my vision would come true.” The wine’s purple hue is noted in the line “Royalty all the way.” Some of this track is sung in French, and yes, that section is sexy. We then go a white wine with “Petite Arvine,” which is sung in French. Her vocal approach here at first has an intimate, gentle style, like she is taking care of us. Perhaps we need some taking care of, eh? I love that guitar work during the instrumental section in the second half.

Then we get the first of only two songs not written by Eliane Amherd, “Johannely Fy,” which was composed by Connie Stadler and Speedy Jossen. This one is sung in German, and is about a tavern owner who supposedly added water to the wine, a grave sin. It begins with her voice supported by just bass, a cool opening. The song soon kicks in, with a delicious groove. There is a good, strong energy to this one, and I love that bass line. This track develops into a great, lively jam, and then ends with the final lines whispered over that groove, which is compelling, particularly as it comes after she belted out the previous lines with an incredible power. That’s followed by “Johannisbärg,” which is also sung in German. This track has a kind of sweet, light, relaxed and friendly vibe. Then “Lafnetscha” is a fun, bright song. It feels like a celebration, and likely will bring a smile to your face. “They all called him crazy/But Joe, he wasn’t lazy/He took his time with this sour wine/And made it fresh and so divine.”  This track contains more excellent work on bass, and there is a cool section with some scat and great percussion. Part of this song is sung in German. The final of the album’s tracks dedicated to wine is titled “Santé,” and is simply the sound of a glass being poured, this track functioning as a separation between the main section of this album and the final three tracks.

The final three tracks come under the heading “Quarantini Time,” songs related to the pandemic. The first is titled “Flee Flailing,” a song about life during the time of isolation. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I got hours to spare/Blending days/Stuck in place/Slowing pace/Going nowhere.” And don’t worry, for it still mentions wine (didn’t we all drink perhaps a bit much during the lockdown early in the pandemic?): “Quarantine/Drinking wine/Feeling fine/Most of the time/Waiting for better days.” The song has an easygoing vibe to match the pace of life in isolation. That’s followed by the second of the album’s two songs not written by Eliane Amherd, “Voyage Voyage,” which is by Dominique Albert Dubois and Jean-Michel Rivat. During a time when travel was basically impossible, or at least ill-advised, many of us took voyages in our minds, through music and dreams. This one is sung in French. The album then concludes with a short track titled “Quarantini,” because of course we should make an alcoholic drink out of this horrid pandemic. Who didn’t stock up on alcohol at the beginning of this thing? This is a playful tune, featuring some wonderful guitar work. Here are the lyrics: “Happy hour just went sour/Everything has gone down the drain/The city that never sleeps is taking a nap/But we don’t complain/Smooth your troubles with vermouth/Use vodka or some gin will do just fine/Then hook up with your friends online/It’s quarantini time.” Ah, yes. Cheers, everyone!

CD Track List

  1. Gamaret
  2. Humagne Rouge
  3. Heida
  4. Pinot Ou Fendant
  5. Cornalin
  6. Petite Arvine
  7. Johannely Fy
  8. Johannisbärg
  9. Lafnetscha
  10. Santé 
  11. Flee Flailing
  12. Voyage Voyage
  13. Quarantini Time

La Dégustation was released on January 28, 2022.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Wild Blue Herons: “You & I” (2021) CD Review

Wild Blue Herons are the husband-and-wife duo of pianist Bill Sample and singer Darlene Cooper, based in Vancouver. Their latest release, You & I, came about during the pandemic, when a sudden lack of gigs left them time to revisit and appreciate old records, particularly the standards. That led to them rehearsing some of those songs, and eventually recording them, putting their own spins on some old favorites. The album was recorded at their home, just the two of them, and so the tracks have a very intimate feel, something of a departure from their first release, On The Outside, which featured a full band and focused on original material.

They open the album with “I Wish I’d Met You.” This is a song that speaks to me, particularly as my girlfriend sometimes says she wishes we’d met earlier, when we were in our twenties. “Think of how we wasted all those years in between.” However, the line “But would we have been wise enough to know how to make a go of it” always stands out, because I don’t think I would have fully appreciated our relationship at a much younger age, and probably would have screwed it up. And when Darlene Cooper sings that line, it is coming from a point of experience, completely connecting to those of us who have at least a few decades under our belts. And then when she sings “But all the same, I wish I’d met you when we were very young,” it is like she is opening up, admitting something. It is a wonderful performance, with both strength and a certain wistful quality. That’s followed by “The Nearness Of You,” written by Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington. This one begins with some pretty work on piano before Darlene comes in. And then after a time there is something of a playful quality in Bill’s piano work, like the instrument itself is confident in her love, in her passion, and struts a bit as she professes her feelings. The piano has a more thoughtful, introspective air during the solos. This is an excellent rendition.

“It Had To Be You” is a song I still associate mostly with Annie Hall, no matter how many other versions I hear. Darlene Cooper delivers a much stronger vocal performance here, of course. And they start to swing a bit when she first sings that song’s title line, a nice moment. The track really takes off at that point. “Nobody else gave me a thrill/With all your faults, I love you still.” Ah, now that is an honest declaration of love. Bill Sample then adds some work on keys, combining an organ sound with that of the piano. The duo then goes to a more a recent decade for a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “You And I,” the song that gives the album its title. Darlene Cooper delivers a passionate and moving vocal performance, particularly on the lines “Will it stay, the love you feel for me/Will it say that you will be/By my side to see me through/Until my life is through.” Then in “An Older Man Is Like An Elegant Wine,” she sings “Some things are worth waiting for/Some things improve with age.” I think I am beginning to appreciate this song more as I get older. And I’m appreciating wine more, so there’s that too. Darlene’s delivery of the title line is gorgeous.

In addition to these standards and popular songs, Bill Sample and Darlene Cooper deliver two original numbers on this album. The first is “Don’t Know How To Love You,” which begins gently on piano and features a heartfelt vocal performance. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I don’t know how to love you anymore/Everything that I say comes out wrong/And I don’t know how to show you that inside of me/Is a love that’s just for you.” Some of these lines are heartbreaking, such as “And I don’t know how to let you know/How much I long to hold you close” and “Now the words between us are few.” It is sad that some people, some relationships get to that point. Thinking back to the album’s opening track, perhaps one way some of us avoid these things is by meeting a little later in life. The second original composition is “Impossible Love,” this one about a relationship that has not begun. “Something tells me this will never be/I will never hold you like she holds you/I will never hold you/Something tells me we can never be.” The desire and need are clear in her delivery, as is the sadness. Yet she still has hope for this relationship, as she ends with the line “Something tells me this was meant to be.” Ah, but is it, or is she deluding herself? After all, the song is titled “Impossible Love.” This track features a pretty piano solo in the middle.

“Here’s To Life” is a song most strongly associated with Shirley Horn. It is a song of experience and wisdom, of looking back and looking forward. “I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets/But I have learned that all you give is all you get/So give it all you’ve got.” It is a fantastic song, and these guys do an excellent job with it. These lines always catch me: “Funny how the time just flies/How love can go from warm hellos to sad goodbyes/And leave you with the memories you’ve memorized/To keep your winters warm.” Darlene’s delivery of those lines in particular is wonderful. What I love is that this song is about someone who is older and is still yearning for new experiences, someone who is not simply wrapped in nostalgia, no matter how strong the memories. Though before the song’s conclusion there is the sense that the end is near, for she moves from thoughts of herself to thoughts of others. This is a beautiful, powerful and moving rendition. That’s followed by “Save Your Love For Me,” a love song of sorts. The opening lines always kind of make me laugh: “Wish I knew/Why I’m so in love with you.” On this track, Bill Sample plays keyboard in addition to piano, and Darlene delivers a little scat at the end.

“The Way You Look Tonight” is one of my favorite songs. It often gets in my head, or at least those opening lines do. “Some day when I’m awfully low/When the world is cold/I will feel a glow/Just thinking of you/And the way you look tonight.” What a beautiful love song. Darlene Cooper and Bill Sample do a wonderful job with it. I love that they allow the time for a beautiful piano section in the middle. That’s followed by “Lush Life” another excellent song. It begins by looking back with some weariness on what should have been delightful times. But then these are the lines that always stand out for me: “Then you came along/With your siren song/To tempt me to madness.” I love her delivery here. She completely inhabits this song, giving a powerful and meaningful performance. Just listen to the way she sings the lines “Life is lonely again/And only last year everything seemed so sure/Now life is awful again.” The album concludes with another timeless gem, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” written by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal. This song always gets to me, and I find myself tearing up listening to this rendition, especially these lines: “And I’ll be seeing you/In every lovely summer’s day/In everything that’s light and gay/I’ll always think of you that way/I’ll find you in the morning sun/And when the night is new/I’ll be looking at the moon/But I’ll be seeing you.”

CD Track List

  1. I Wish I’d Met You
  2. The Nearness Of You
  3. It Had To Be You
  4. You And I
  5. An Older Man Is Like An Elegant Wine
  6. Don’t Know How To Love You
  7. Impossible Love
  8. Here’s To Life
  9. Save Your Love For Me
  10. The Way You Look Tonight
  11. Lush Life
  12. I’ll Be Seeing You

You & I was released on CD on November 19, 2021. A limited vinyl release is planned for the spring.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Tim Gartland: “Truth” (2022) CD Review

Tim Gartland is a blues singer, songwriter and harmonica player, currently based in Nashville (though he was a part of the Boston music scene for a long time before his move to Music City). In addition to performing and recording, Tim Gartland has published an instructional book titled The Talking Harmonica: Harmonica As A Second Language, which has gone through several editions. So when it comes to harmonica, this guy knows his stuff. And that’s clear the moment you put on one of his albums. His new release, Truth, features all original material, written or co-written by Tim Gartland. Joining him on this album are Kenneth Blevins on drums, Steve Mackey on bass, Robert Frahm on guitar, Wendy Moten on backing vocals, Kevin McKendree on piano and organ, Ray Desilvis on acoustic guitar and slide guitar, and Bryan Brock on percussion.

The album kicks off with a lively number titled “Don’t Mess With My Heart,” which features, in addition to the expected excellent harmonica work, some really good, rocking stuff on keys. Also, I love those backing vocals echoing certain phrases, such as “tables are turned” and “with my heart.” And check out these lines: “Washed away with the tears/Is all the love I had for you.” Now that is a great lyric for the end of a relationship. This song was written by Tim Gartland and Pat Gartland. That’s followed by another energetic number, “Leave Well Enough Alone,” with a delicious groove. This one was written by Tim Gartland and Dave Duncan. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “You got a good woman, both feet on the ground/Why mess it up by dogging around/Don’t waste your time trying to get with Mrs. Jones/You’ve got to leave well enough alone.” But it is that harmonica lead halfway through that is the focus for me. Wonderful stuff. And that is followed by a great lead on guitar. “Staying put beats going in reverse/Doing more might just make it worse/You better leave well enough alone.”

Things mellow out a bit for “The Thing About The Truth,” the closest this album has to a title track. Truth has certainly been on our minds lately, hasn’t it? We had four years of official dishonesty, and those mendacious creeps didn’t have the decency to disappear after losing power, so we’re still dealing with them. In fact, they continue to shout the lie that they won the last election, bunch of pathetic scoundrels. Anyway, this is a cool track. “Facts are facts/Ain’t no spinning that/That’s the thing about the truth.” Ah, tell that to yapping lizard Kellyanne “Bowling Green Massacre” Conway. “A world that’s lit by gaslight/Casts a shadow of doubt/You can’t hide the truth forever/It eventually comes out.” Trouble is, even though the truth is coming out, the lunatics and imbeciles on the right don’t believe it. And what can we do about that? I love that back and forth between harmonica and electric guitar toward the end of this track. “The Thing About The Truth” was written by Tim Gartland and Karen Leipziger, and is one of my personal favorites.

“Cloudy With A Chance Of The Blues” is a totally fun number. Yes, it’s one of the sixty-three billion blues songs that begin with the line “Woke up this morning,” but that’s okay. This one features some hopping stuff on keys. It was written by Tim Gartland and Kevin McKendree, as was the track that follows it, “Outta Sight Outta Mind.” From the moment “Outta Sight Outta Mind” begins, I am totally digging it. It has that familiar blues vibe, and opens with some good work on harmonica. Things get even better as soon as the vocals come in, in large part because the first lines are echoed by the backing vocalist in an appealing way. Everything about this track is working so well. It is smooth and soulful and delicious, and the series of leads on this track is one of my favorite sections of the entire album. This song is wonderful from beginning to end, without a doubt a highlight of the disc. That’s followed by “One Love Away,” which has an easygoing vibe and features some good work on guitar. It was written by Tim Gartland and Ray Desilvis.

“Love Knocks Once” has a cheerful sound right from its start, and is a song to get you smiling and tapping along, with a groove that might remind you of some 1960s material, sort of a Motown vibe. This delightful song was written by Tim Gartland. That’s followed by “Pause,” a mellower, kind of sad tune about a relationship in trouble, and wanting to hit “Pause” or “Reset” on it. “It doesn’t take long/For you to tell me I’m wrong/Gonna need some space/How’d we get to this place.” And I love these lines: “No, I ain’t giving up/You’re just wearing me down.” This excellent song was written by Tim Gartland and Dennis Drummond. Tim Gartland then brings us back up with a catchy, totally fun tune titled “Probably Something.” “It’ll leave you high and dry with the same leaky faucet/If it’s too good to be true, then it’s likely a lie.” I think it would be damn near impossible to dislike this song. It was written by Tim Gartland and Al Hill.

How many times do you say to yourself, “I wish I could go back”? Well, in “Wish I Could Go Back,” Tim Gartland tells us, “You can’t ever go back/That train is gone.” Yup, that’s just about right, at least until each of us is equipped with a special DeLorean. This track was written by Tim Gartland and Ray Desilvis. It’s followed by “Mind Your Own Business,” another of my favorites. It is a lively, totally cool song, and with lyrics that I’m guessing most folks are going to appreciate, particularly in these days when, thanks to social media, everyone has a need to express an opinion on every damn thing that everyone else does. “If I want your opinion, I’ll ask you first/‘Cause if I listen to you, things just get worse/Mind your own business/I’ll tend to mine.” I love it. And I love the backing vocalists echoing “Mind your own business.” You just might find yourself singing along, or perhaps shouting these lines. I bet we all have some people we’d like to play this song for. “I don’t need your views on how I wrecked my life/Take a look at yourself, that’s my advice.” And check out that work on keys. This song was written by Tim Gartland and Dave Smith. The album concludes with another fun tune, “Save Sammy Some,” the album’s only instrumental number, a good little jam written by Tim Gartland and Ray Desilvis.

CD Track List

  1. Don’t Mess With My Heart
  2. Leave Well Enough Alone
  3. The Thing About The Truth
  4. Cloudy With A Chance Of The Blues
  5. Outta Sight Outta Mind
  6. One Love Away
  7. Love Knocks Once
  8. Pause
  9. Probably Something
  10. Wish I Could Go Back
  11. Mind Your Own Business
  12. Save Sammy Some

Truth is scheduled to be released on March 18, 2022 through Taste Good Music.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Julian Gerstin: “Music For The Exploration Of Elusive Phenomena” (2021) CD Review

Julian Gerstin’s latest release, Music For The Exploration Of Elusive Phenomena, was created during the pandemic, with each musician recording his or her parts separately and remotely. In fact, the disc’s liner notes begin with these words: “This is a Covid-19 album.” So, yes, some good things have come out of this crazy pandemic. The album features mostly original material, written by Julian Gerstin. Julian Gerstin plays drums, congas, timbales and other percussion, as well as piano (which is sort of a percussion instrument, isn’t it?) on one track, and even provides some vocal work. Joining him on this release are Eugene Uman on piano and keyboards, Don Anderson on trumpet and flugelhorn, John Wheeler on trombone, Michael Zsoldos on saxophone and flute, Jon Weeks on saxophone, Jim Heffron on baritone saxophone, Derrik Jordan on violin, Jason Ennis on guitar, Bob Everingham on tenor guitar, Wes Brown on bass, Jay Cook on bass, Ben James on drums, Josh Francis on drums, and Anna Patton on clarinet and vocals. Also providing vocals on various tracks are Wanda Houston, Sarah LeMieux, Zara Bode, Mario Inchausti and Carlene Raper.       

The album opens with a fantastic song, a song of our times, titled “American History.” This funky tune makes use of some well-known lines in a new way, sort of like the cut-up method, running lines like “Carry a big stick,” “America first,” and “I cannot tell a lie” together, as well as “I have a dream,” “Make love, not war,” “Power to the people” “For the people, by the people,” taking their original meanings, and adding another layer of current relevance, which is incredibly effective. That’s Wanda Houston on vocals, turning in an absolutely excellent and captivating performance. “I am not a crook/I didn’t inhale/I’m the decider.” And when she repeats “I cannot tell a lie” at that point, she laughs. Guess whom she might have had in mind in that moment?  I love the way she delivers the lines, “Build that wall/Tear down that wall/Build that wall,” putting emphasis on the word “that” in the second and third lines in the sequence, showing how ridiculous things are, how ridiculous some people are. Well, as Ruth Gordon says in Harold And Maude, “Consistency is not really a human trait.” This is a powerful piece, one of my personal favorite tracks. It is followed by “Too Happy To Sleep,” a fun, enjoyable number, featuring some good percussion and a wonderful lead on guitar. Julian Gerstin and Zara Bode provide the vocals.

We then return to thoughts of that complete disaster of a president and human being in “After The Sleep Of Lies.” I foolishly thought once the bastard was out of office, things would rapidly get better, that the country would, in effect, wake up and begin to heal. I didn’t count on the Republican Party holding onto his lies and repeating them, at even louder volume, and keeping the country from being able to move forward. So we are still caught in the grip of a national nightmare. Sarah LeMieux provides the vocals on this track. “After the sleep of lies/Reason awakens/And looks around for a clean shirt/Something without blood on it/Without a corporate logo/Or the stink of betrayal.” That’s followed by “Spruce Street,” an instrumental track that feels like it takes us down the roads of a small town, where, somehow, there aren’t many worries. This track features some bright, expressive work from the brass section, and I love that lead on clarinet.

The album’s only cover is an excellent rendition of “Long Journey Home,” which begins as a soulful, haunting piece, then after a minute or so takes on a funky element. Sarah LeMieux delivers a magnificent vocal performance here, backed by Zara Bode and Anna Patton. Plus, I love that saxophone. “If you see someone who doesn’t look like you/Tell them take my love, find your way/If you see someone who doesn’t talk like you/Tell them take my love, find your way.” That’s followed by “The Almost Happy Camel,” a light, enjoyable instrumental track. As you might have noticed, it is the second track to include the word “Happy” in its title. At times these days it feels like happiness is difficult to attain, and we have to basically will a state of happiness into existence. The best bet for doing so is through music. I particularly dig the percussion on this track, which feels to be the heart of this one. “Remember And See” also features some excellent and interesting percussion, with the horns rising above that. I especially love Don Anderson’s lead on trumpet.

“La Casa Violeta” is another of the disc’s highlights. Purple is one of my two favorite colors, and I would love to live in a purple house. Actually, I’d love to live in a house, period. But for now I can enjoy this song about a purple house. After all, this one too features some cool percussion. And then the vocal work by Mario Inchausti and Julian Gerstin in the second half has a pleasant, relaxed vibe. That’s followed by “Beautiful Blur,” which also has a good feel about it, and features some wonderful work on flute. It feels like the theme to a cool film that someone should make. This track also contains a good lead on trombone. “Ways To Hear Each Other” is an interesting piece. I wonder, do we listen to each other anymore? Different voices are presented here, sometime working in conjunction, sometimes seemingly on their own, the lyrics delivered as spoken word. It almost feels like a theatre piece. “I hear an echo/I don’t think it’s my fault/One after another/I’ve been overwhelmed.” Beneath the voices is some steady percussion, as well as a rather haunting, repeated part on piano. This track is actually about musicians trying to work with each other remotely, and there is some humor in it. Julian Gerstin and Carlene Raper provide vocal work. “Serious Fun” features some wonderful percussion that is as its title promises. I also dig that work on keys. The album concludes with “All Day Every Day,” a track that is all about percussion, which of course I completely love. It’s a playful, cool piece that might get you bopping around your home.

CD Track List

  1. American History
  2. Too Happy To Sleep
  3. After The Sleep Of Lies
  4. Spruce Street
  5. Long Journey Home
  6. The Almost Happy Camel
  7. Remember And See
  8. La Casa Violeta
  9. Beautiful Blur
  10. Ways To Hear Each Other
  11. Serious Fun
  12. All Day Every Day

Music For The Exploration Of Elusive Phenomena was released on July 1, 2021.

Chris Castino & Chicken Wire Empire: “Fresh Pickles” (2022) CD Review

Chris Castino is the guitarist and singer for the popular jam band The Big Wu. On Fresh Pickles, his new album, he teams up with the Milwaukee bluegrass band Chicken Wire Empire to explore some new versions of songs he wrote and originally recorded with The Big Wu. Chicken Wire Empire is made up of Ryan Ogburn on mandolin, Jordan Kroeger on bass, Ernest Brusbardis IV on fiddle and vocals, and Jon Peik on banjo and vocals. There are also some special guests on most of these tracks, including Sam Bush, Keller Williams, Jerry Douglas and Peter Rowan. And don’t worry if you’re not familiar with The Big Wu, for this album can certainly function as an introduction to the band’s music. As long as you like good songwriting and appreciate some fine bluegrass playing, you’ll enjoy this album.

It opens with “Kangaroo,” a song from The Big Wu’s 1997 album Tracking Buffalo Through The Bathtub. And right away you can hear how well the band’s music fits a bluegrass approach. This track features some nice work by Ryan Ogburn on mandolin, and includes the playful nods to “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport” that were in the original, this time delivered on fiddle. And toward the end, there is some delicious work on guitar. It’s a fun start to the album. That’s followed by “Red Sky,” another song from Tracking Buffalo Through The Bathtub. On that original album the song is approximately nine minutes. Here it is half that length, but still contains some good jamming. And here it features a special guest appearance by Sam Bush on fiddle, who of course delivers some excellent work. That instrumental section is dominated by fiddle, which is wonderful. Then we get a more recent song, “Bound For The South,” which was included on the 2018 Big Wu album We Are Young We Are Old. On that record, it has kind of a bluesy country rock vibe. Here it has a sweeter, sad sound, and features special guests Tim O’Brien on fiddle and vocals, and Nick Forster on vocals (both of whom you likely know from their work in Hot Rize). I love this rendition, and think it’s better than the original. In addition to fiddle, there is some really good work on mandolin.

Then the band delivers a couple of tunes that were originally included on the 2000 Big Wu release Folktales – “Shantytown” and “Minnesota Moon.” The first features Vince Herman (from Leftover Salmon) on vocals. It is delivered as one of those relatively fast-paced bluegrass tunes, and it works quite well. A totally enjoyable, lively number. “Minnesota Moon” features Adam Greuel (from Horseshoes & Hand Grenades) on vocals. This is an inherently fun song, and this rendition features some good work on guitar and banjo. “Look who just walked in the door/We’ve all seen your face before/Time to settle up the score/Keep those promises you swore.” Then from the 2004 Big Wu release Tool For Evening, Chris Castino & Chicken Wire Empire choose “Texas Fireball,” that album’s rocking opening track. Here it becomes a swiftly moving bluegrass gem, featuring Keller Williams on vocals and Andy Hall (from The Infamous Stringdusters) on dobro. This is great fun. It’s then followed by a sweet-sounding tune, “Goodbye, Fon Du Lac (The Young Pioneer),” from We Are Young We Are Old, where it is titled simply “Young Pioneer.” No special guests appear on this track, but none are needed, for everything about this one sounds just exactly right.

“Rhode Island Red,” from the 2002 album Spring Reverb, is a song that already had some bluegrass elements in its original form, and so fits really well on this new album. Like “The Young Pioneer,” this one does not feature any special guests, but it is a fun and lively tune with a great jam toward the end. “Must be off my rocker/It must be time for bed/Can I sleep here tonight/If I promise I won’t bite.” These lines also stand out: “Go find another fool/Someone who will call it love when they get treated cruel.” Adam Greuel joins the group again on vocals for “Jackson County,” and Jerry Douglas plays dobro on this one. This is a delightful track, the song originally from We Are Young We Are Old. “Keep 94 at the interstate split/Nobody knows that you just dropped a hit/If you’re driving through Jackson County, hang up your phone.” Ah, good advice, wherever you’re driving. Jerry Douglas offers some wonderful work, just as you’d expect. I also really like the fiddle here. Jerry Douglas also plays on the next track, “The Ballad Of Dan Toe,” a song that was included on the live three-disc set 3/13/98 Cedar Cultural Centre, Minneapolis, Minnesota. This track also features Peter Rowan on vocals. So, yeah, there is a ridiculous amount of talent on this one, certainly making it a highlight of the disc. The album then concludes with “Irregular Heartbeat,” a song from Spring Reverb. This rendition has more of a playful vibe than the original, but still comes across as sweet. It is a love song, after all. I enjoy this version more than the original. “Close my eyes and there you are/Stay in my mind ‘til the morning wakes me.”

CD Track List

  1. Kangaroo
  2. Red Sky
  3. Bound For The South
  4. Shantytown
  5. Minnesota Moon
  6. Texas Fireball
  7. Goodbye, Fond Du Loc (The Young Pioneer)
  8. Rhode Island Red
  9. Jackson County
  10. The Ballad Of Dan Toe
  11. Irregular Heartbeat

Fresh Pickles is scheduled to be released on February 4, 2022.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Talking To Myself (2021) Book Review

In September, singer and songwriter Chris Jagger released his new album, Mixing Up The Medicine. That disc contains a track titled “Talking To Myself,” which is about writing his memoirs. On the day of that album’s release, his autobiography, Talking To Myself, was also released. This book recounts not only his experiences in music, but also in theatre and journalism, as well as documenting his travels. It is full of wonderful anecdotes. And, yes, if you’re wondering, there is a good amount about The Rolling Stones here. In fact, in the book’s preface he mentions Mick Jagger: “Having a famous brother might land you in trouble, so you have to roll a little with the punches, realize it’s okay to be ‘normal’ and not resent others’ success” (p. 11). And certainly there is no sense of any such resentment in these pages, though at times he does mention money woes. Chris Jagger started writing this book back in 2006, and at the same time he was keeping a diary, and those diary entries are sprinkled throughout the narrative, an interesting way of keeping us in the present while digging into the past. Some of those diary entries are about his own band’s gigs.

The book begins with childhood, and there are lots of interesting stories and anecdotes about his youth and his family, with Chris Jagger sometimes connecting those tales to moments from later in life. For example, when he talks about watching sports and collecting trading cards, he writes: “While at Hulme Grammar School in Oldham, Lancashire, Dad had played football opposite Walter Winterbottom, who later became the England manager – so if we wanted tickets for England at Wembley, it wasn’t a problem. Sometimes, we watched from the Royal Box, but I never imagined that many years later I would watch Mick on stage from the same vantage point” (pages 39-40). As I mentioned, he does offer plenty of memories and stories about The Rolling Stones, including his thoughts on the inspiration for the song “Satisfaction.” Regarding a paperback titled The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard, Jagger writes: “Along the way, Packard touches on the notion of built-in obsolescence – and the cynicism of it was quite shocking to a young lad such as I. No doubt my brother took it all in too, and perhaps it has some echoes in the song ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,’ still the Stones’ most seminal song and a critique of the consumer society” (p. 55). Fellow music collectors will also appreciate his memories on early record purchases by him and his brother, songs that would certainly have an impact on their careers. Also interesting is that when Mick started getting involved in music, he didn’t rehearse at home. Chris Jagger writes, “I guess my brother was pretty secretive about it as I can’t remember him even singing much at home” (p. 57). He mentions that he was fifteen years old when he first saw the Rolling Stones perform, and goes into some description of the venue and the show, which of course is all quite interesting, this being a very early performance by the band. I love his personal account of the Stones’ early days. And it turns out the very first thing Chris Jagger ever wrote for publication was a story about the band, this when he was sixteen. But perhaps the funniest anecdote from the early years is that Chris Jagger was goaded into entering a Mick Jagger look-alike contest, which he then won. As he writes, “It would have been lame if I hadn’t” (p. 90).

In addition to memories about the Rolling Stones, Chris Jagger offers anecdotes about other musicians, such as Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix. He even sold clothes he helped design to Jimi Hendrix, outfits that Hendrix then wore on album covers. That’s so wild! This book includes several photos, and there is one photo of Chris Jagger fitting a jacket for Hendrix. There are also anecdotes about the beginning of the Hard Rock Café, which I didn’t know started before I was born. I also didn’t know it started in England. I guess I never really looked into it. When I was a kid, I just assumed it started in Los Angeles. Interestingly, Chris Jagger was the first artist to play at the Hard Rock Café. And of course he offers tales about his own musical career, including an early recording session with a group called 117, the tapes of which have sadly been lost. I hope someone one day comes across those tapes and releases them.

In addition to music, Chris Jagger has had some colorful and unusual experiences in theatre, which he recounts in this book. One of the most interesting stories is that he was cast in a touring production of Hair that opened in Tel Aviv and was performed in Hebrew. He also did a Noel Coward play with Pierce Brosnan. Even crazier is the fact that he and Keith Moon acted in a scene in the Joan Collins movie The Bitch, a scene which was then cut from the film. Does the Blu-ray contain deleted scenes? If so, I think it might be worth picking up a copy. By the way, Chris Jagger’s thoughts on musicals made me laugh: “I was a musician and I liked serious plays, but I found musicals were usually watered-down mush. They required your voice to have as high a range as possible and to hit notes dreamed up by the composer in his bath” (p. 303).

Yet, as interesting as his stories of music and theatre are, perhaps the most fascinating and engaging section of this book regards his travels. Chris Jagger clearly isn’t someone who chooses the normal destinations, mind you. There are lots of great anecdotes, not just about the places and methods of travel, but of the people he met along the way. And many of his journeys just aren’t possible anymore, so this book also offers a walk through history. At one point he writes, of a Baluchistan tribesman: “If I came to his village alone, he said, I would be killed instantly; but if I came as his guest, then I would be treated like a king. Such are their fierce traditions” (p. 153). His travels have the fearlessness of youth, and what’s remarkable is the amount of detail he is able to recall. The entire book is enjoyable, with a friendly, conversational tone. But his stories of his travels are likely what will stick with me most vividly.

Talking To Myself was published on September 10, 2021 through BMG.