Sunday, February 27, 2022

Albums I Received Week Of February 20 – 26, 2022

These are the CDs I received the week of February 20 – 26, 2022:

  • Hoodoo Gurus: “Chariot Of The Gods”
  • Hurricane Ruth: “Live At 3rd And Lindsley”
  • Jeff Tuohy: “Hudson Delta”
  • Gary Brumburgh: “Full Circle”
  • Mercedes Nicole: “Constellation”
  • Kevin Buckley: “Big Spring”
  • various artists: “Space Opera”
  • Michelle Malone: “1977”
  • E.G. Phillips: “Alien From An Alternate Earth”
  • Jo Harrop: “The Heart Wants”

Disturbing The Peace: 415 Records And The Rise Of New Wave (2022) Book Review

The independent record label 415 was launched in 1978, focusing on new wave and punk music. The label’s motto was “Disturbing the peace,” 415 being the police code for a disturbance, as well as the area code for San Francisco, where the label was founded. In Disturbing The Peace: 415 Records And The Rise Of New Wave, author Bill Kopp details the history of that label, the people who started it, and the artists who released albums on it, capturing an exciting time in music. Bill Kopp writes with an obvious passion for the music, as well as with knowledge. This is his second book, following 2018’s Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett To The Dark Side Of The Moon. He has also written the liner notes for several CD reissues, including albums by Larry Coryell, Brotherhood and Dave Mason. The information and anecdotes in this new book come in large part from interviews conducted by the author, interviews not only with 415 Records co-founders Howie Klein and Chris Knab, but with many of the artists whose albums were released on that label. There is a foreword written by Joel Selvin, who sets the scene, giving us a taste of San Francisco in the 1970s, and showing where 415 Records fit in. The book also contains a lot of photographs, including many of old concert flyers, which I find particularly fascinating.

Bill Kopp begins with some biographical information on Howie Klein, though keeping it in relation to music. As freshman class president at Stony Brook University, he was in charge of booking bands to play at the college, including The Fugs. There is a surprising connection to the psychedelic music coming out of San Francisco, for Howie Klein was a DJ at the college station, and he played tapes of those bands sent to him by concert promoter Bill Graham. Bill Kopp doesn’t spend too much time on that part of Howie Klein’s life, moving swiftly to his relocation to San Francisco, and providing information on Mabuhay Gardens (or, The Mab), a restaurant that became a music club at night. One of the photos, by the way, shows a concert calendar for this venue, including gigs by Dead Kennedys and Rave-Ups. Must have been a great time. Bill Kopp also talks about the influential San Francisco radio stations, and how a radio program led to the forming of 415 Records.

There is a lot of information on the bands that released albums on the label, starting with The Nuns. Each band – or, rather, each release – gets its own short chapter, which is cool. And the book progresses in chronological order, so we get a sense of how the label progressed. Being an independent label, the records described here are from the beginnings of the careers of these artists, and there are interesting anecdotes about how some of these bands formed. For me, one of the most fascinating bands mentioned here is SVT, a group that includes Jack Casady on bass. Yes, Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. How had that group escaped my attention? That’s something else I love about this book, getting turned on to more bands. I have a feeling my record collection is going to grow as a result of reading this book. Speaking of which, Bill Kopp writes, regarding an interesting parody single, “For what’s worth, Chris Knab says he has ‘a box full of them’” (p. 88).  Well, all right! How do I get one sent my way? Another record I absolutely must get my hands on is The White EP by Pop-O-Pies, mostly because I need to hear (and own) their rendition of “Truckin’.” The description of one of their live sets is hilarious: “Callahan would then invite the audience to shout out song requests. ‘He would say, “okay,”’ Bowen laughs. ‘And then we would play “Truckin’” again! Some would laugh and some would yell, but we always got the crowd riled up’” (p. 184).

The book includes several chapters on the compilation 415 Music, one for each of the bands on it (those not previously mentioned, that is). One thing that is interesting about that release is that some of the bands included on the record hadn’t put out anything on the 415 label before it. By the way, that compilation’s cover is also the cover of the book. Also especially interesting is the chapter on The Units. I love Scott Ryser’s thoughts on punk: “Punk wasn’t relegated to a guitar, black leather jacket, tight pants and safety pin uniform or a three-chord guitar pattern. Punk meant being creative, anti-establishment, funny, daring, provocative, innovative…and most importantly, original” (p. 155). The wildest anecdote from the chapter on The Units is that the band played at two Danielle Steele birthday parties. That is so weird. That is a name I would never have expected to come up in a book about punk and new wave. The chapter on Roky Erickson And The Aliens is also fascinating, and it features memories from Stu Cook, who produced Roky’s album (sometimes having to get him out of a mental institution to record his vocals).

A section of the book deals with the Columbia Records period, though continuing with bands getting their own chapters. These bands, in part because of their popularity, get a little more attention than some of the other groups. After all, Romeo Void’s “Never Say Never” is probably the most well-known of all the tracks mentioned in this book. Romeo Void, Red Rockers, Translator and Wire Train each have multiple chapters devoted to their releases. We learn quite a bit about the history of Red Rockers, and there are some wild anecdotes concerning Wire Train. Just as interesting is how Howie Klein came to make the deal to align 415 Records with Columbia. His logic is hilarious: “All these major labels are shit. Why fool around? The way to do this is to just pick the worst label of all and go with them” (p. 224). The last section of the book then deals with the end of 415 Records, and includes a chapter detailing post-415 releases on CD, which is great and helpful for folks like me, eager to add this music to our collections.

Disturbing The Peace: 415 Records And The Rise Of New Wave was published on February 14, 2022 through HoZac Books.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Sarah Borges: “Together Alone” (2022) CD Review

The new album from Sarah Borges, Together Alone, was put together remotely during the pandemic, just as its title suggests. Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, who plays several of the instruments on these tracks and co-wrote a couple of the songs, describes the process in the album’s liner notes. It’s wild how innovative musicians became during this time in order get their music out there, and how much was accomplished via phones and computers. While this album is not credited to Sarah Borges’ band The Broken Singles, Eric Ambel not only performed on the group’s last album, Love’s Middle Name, but also produced it. He produced this new album as well. And Broken Singles drummer Phil Cimino plays on a few tracks of this album. Also joining Sarah Borges on this album are Rob Arthur on organ and piano, Keith Voegele on bass and vocals, Keith Christopher on bass, Ryan Rogers on drums, John Perrin on drums, Keith Robinson on drums, and Diego Voglino on drums. This album features all original material, written or co-written by Sarah Borges.

Sarah Borges opens the album with “Wasting My Time,” a title that certainly speaks to our time when things were shut down. The song’s first line, however, is “Don’t tell me that I’m wasting my time.” This track features a solid, somewhat slow groove that matches the persistent ache that most of us have felt. “Been a while now since I’ve seen my friends/Don’t know when I’m going to see ‘em again/Without them around it’s harder to pretend/That I know where I’m going.” I’m sure those lines will ring true for a lot of folks. Rob Arthur plays organ, and Ryan Rogers is on drums on this track. That’s followed by “Lucky Day,” which has something of a punk vibe and energy as it begins. John Perrin plays drums on this one. A song for everyone who is still waiting for his or her lucky day.

“Wouldn’t Know You” has a great bar band sound. I know that restrictions have lifted in many places, but I just haven’t been ready yet to go drinking inside a bar. But the sound of this song is making me miss it even more. I can’t wait to dance to a song like this, a Sam Adams in my hand. Interesting, since this song is about trying to get a friend to pull back from heavy drinking and hard living, and Sarah Borges herself has been sober for several years. Yet, there it is, this song has that sound that makes me want to enjoy a beer. Go figure. “Last one leaving, and the first to stumble into a bar/If anyone needs you, they know for sure where you are.” There is some great energy to Sarah’s vocal delivery. This one was written by Eric Ambel, Sarah Borges, and Keith Voegele. Keith Christopher plays bass on it, while Keith Voegele provides some vocal work. Phil Cimino is on drums. Then “Something To Do” also mentions drinking, right in its first line: “Hiding out in the bathroom ‘cause I’ve had too much to drink.” It also mentions seeing a phone number on a wall, “For a good time call.” Do people still do that? The lyrics also refer to the Willie Nelson song in the line “Another bloody Mary morning of the week.” But the lines that really stand out for me are these: “Maybe that’d solve my problems/‘Cause I have more than a few/Maybe that’d make them more/But at least I’d have something to do.” Eric Ambel plays 12-string acoustic guitar, electric slide guitar, percussion, strings and Mellotron on this one. Keith Robinson is on drums.

“Rock And Roll Hour” has a totally fun vibe and groove. Rob Arthur delivers some wonderful stuff on both organ and clavinet. That’s followed by “She’s A Trucker,” a steady rocking number about getting a job as a trucker. I read earlier in the pandemic that there was a shortage of truckers, and that they were looking for new drivers. And I believe it, particularly as I was stuck in traffic the other day as a clearly inexperienced trucker spent close to ten minutes trying to back her rig into a lot, blocking all four lanes in both directions. This track features some good work on guitar. Then in “13th Floor,” Sarah Borges sings about taking the elevator to the thirteenth floor, tempting fate, even using a broken mirror. “When you’ve just been looking for an image of yourself/And the one that’s staring back is somebody else.” Keith Voegele is on bass, and John Perrin plays drums on this track.

“You Got Me On The Boat” is another solid rock song, this one written by Sarah Borges and Keith Voegele. It is about the Outlaw Country Cruise, which took place in February of 2020, just before the pandemic shut everything down. The lineup for that event included not only Sarah Borges, but groups like NRBQ, The Yayhoos and The Mavericks, all of whom are mentioned in the song. By the way, John Perrin, who plays drums on two of this album’s tracks, is the drummer for NRBQ. “And if I learned anything in those years/It’s when the music’s playing, it takes away life’s hurts and fears.” Yup, that’s what I’ve found as well, and that’s why music has been even more important the last few years. “You Got Me On The Boat” is followed by “Pretty Christine,” which has a vibrant country rock sound. Rob Arthur plays piano on this one. The album wraps up with its title track, “Together Alone,” which begins in a mellower place. Its opening line, “I know I ain’t seen you for a couple of years,” applies to basically everyone we know during the pandemic. It’s a song about distances between people, about memories and longings, and yet has a hopeful bent. I love her passionate vocal delivery. “And I just paid the rent with a dollar to spare/And all of the time I was thinking of you.”

CD Track List

  1. Wasting My Time
  2. Lucky Day
  3. Wouldn’t Know You
  4. Something To Do
  5. Rock And Roll Hour
  6. She’s A Trucker
  7. 13th Floor
  8. You Got Me On The Boat
  9. Pretty Christine
  10. Together Alone

Together Alone was released on February 18, 2022 through Blue Corn Music.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Wesley Stace: “Late Style” (2021) CD Review

Wesley Stace is a singer and songwriter who for many years performed and recorded under the name John Wesley Harding, but who is now recording under his real name. His most recent album, Late Style, features original material written by Wesley Stace and David Nagler. David Nagler also plays keyboards and acoustic guitar, as well as providing some backing vocals. Also joining Wesley Stace on this album are Brian J. Campbell on saxophone, Danny Cao on trumpet, Prairie Prince (of The Tubes) on drums, Mauro Refosco on percussion, and Chris Von Sneidern on electric guitar and backing vocals, with Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor (both of whom sing with The Decemberists) also providing backing vocals. Wesley Stace, in addition to recording and performing, has written several novels and has taught creative writing, so it should come as no surprise that this album’s lyrical content is a major part of its appeal. On certain tracks, he delivers keen observations about our current social climate, and does so with the necessary and appreciated dash of humor. The music itself mixes pop and jazz elements, and has its own cool style.

The album opens with “Where The Bands Are,” which is an original song, not a cover of the Bruce Springsteen song of the same name. This track has a delicious, jazzy groove, and the lyrics are addressed to someone who likes to be backstage hanging out with the musicians, rather than being out front during the show. I personally like a little of both. When the music is on, I want to be out in front, enjoying it. But between bands, well, I prefer to be backstage, where often the alcohol is better (and free), and where the bathrooms are much cleaner. “And it’s like an apartment, much nicer than yours,” Wesley Stace sings here. Totally true. I was once in a bathroom backstage that was nearly the size of my apartment, and even had a couch in it. However, it did not take me long to learn there is not a lot of action backstage, something it seems the person this song is aimed at doesn’t quite get. When I was in my early twenties, I got a backstage pass for a Grateful Dead concert, and I expected all kinds of wild goings on. Nope, nothing of the sort. All the magic is in the music. This track is a total delight. I love that moment at the end, where the person finds himself or herself alone, because the musicians are on stage.

“Everything All The Time” also features jazzy elements and some sweet backing vocals. Ah yes, the romance of the silver screen is mentioned early, in relation to the reality of the damn little screens “In every hand including mine.” Another line that strikes me is “Every extra is an extrovert,” in part because I used to work as an extra, and I recall just that sort of thing. This song is about how we are able to access everything all at once (like binge-watching a television series, rather than waiting a week for the next episode), and looks back fondly at a time not so long ago when we weren’t inundated with news and with reports from friends and acquaintances about their every movement, a time when a person could relax and easily shut out the world for a bit. The world’s daily pace can be exhausting. “And who recalls the slow news day?” he asks. “Everyone knows everyone else/When too many friends isn’t good for your health.”  I think we all would like to step back. And yet here we are.

Then in “Your Bright Future,” Wesley Stace sings, “It’s all a big mess/Better put your bright future on hold.” This track has a great, prominent bass line, and features some pretty touches that have a sense of magic about them, like from an electronic harp. The first time I listened to this album, I had to tell my girlfriend about these lines: “Who are these people?/Who let them in anyhow?/You say they’ll be leaving/Well, honey, how about now?/I’m too old for this shit.” This track has a seriously cool vibe. The style and delivery remind me at times of some of the later work of Leonard Cohen. Of course, that might also be in part because of Wesley Stace’s talent for writing excellent lyrics. Then, with “Hey! Director,” he takes us again to the set of a movie, the main character of the song being an actor, with several questions for whoever it is that is in charge of this crazy scene. “I wonder if this film will be what it was meant to be.” I wonder that too. I love the jazzy work on guitar. And, yeah, if you’re wondering, there is a direct reference to Cecil B. DeMille. And he mentions extras again (these days they are referred to as “background actors”): “If the shoot don’t kill you, the extras will.” Toward the end he decides, “I can’t believe you talked me into this so easily/I’m going back to music/It makes more sense for me.” This isn’t the first time Wesley Stace has sung about movies. On his album The Name Above The Title he has song titled “The Movie Of Your Life,” in which he sings, “In the movie of your life, they’ll get some real jerk to be you.”

“Come Back Yesterday” has a different vibe, a pop rock song with something of a mid-1960s feel, though the lyrics are about certain people in the present (people many of us wish would disappear to the past). “You want it all to be all about you/And even that isn’t enough/So eat your words and delete your account/You’re old and in the way/Oh, come back yesterday.” As a side note, I always thought the bluegrass group Old & In The Way had one of the best band names, and wish they’d recorded more. “Come Back Yesterday” is followed by “All The Yous,” which has a bossa nova vibe and some surprising lines, such as “You have so many lovers/I think that maybe one of them is me.” I love when a line catches me off guard. Then “The California Fix” has a playful vibe, apparent right from its start. I appreciate the baseball reference in these lines: “I thought it was over/It was just the beginning/The very first inning.” This song also contains a line from Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi,” one of my favorite songs about California: “California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see.”

“Well Done Everyone” is one of my personal favorites. I love the sarcastic title of this song. Really, that line could be uttered at the end of basically every news report these days (sarcastically, of course). This song begins with some good work on drums. Check out these lyrics: “We’re no longer safe from the rays of the sun/Well done, everyone/There’s always a cowboy out waving a gun/Well done, everyone/So much for progress, I hope we’re all pleased.” People are awful. Not all people, of course, but many more than I would have guessed like eight years ago. The cheerful vibe of this song is just perfect. The song ends on an optimistic note (that I’m not sure he or anyone believes): “But we won’t let ourselves get distracted again/It’s late, but we’ll get it done/Well done, well done/Well done, everyone.” That’s followed by “The Impossible She,” in which he again refers to the movies: “You could make your movie without interference.” “Do Nothing If You Can” is a title that stood out the first time I glanced at the track list. Some great advice, right? “Don’t overwrite/Don’t get so excited/Here’s a plan/Do nothing if you can/Don’t go on all night/Don’t shine your light so bright.” The song is a smooth, jazzy pop number, a strange tune for the days of the pandemic when we couldn’t do all that much, at least not the regular stuff we wanted to do.

“Just Sayin’” is another delightful, fun number with a catchy groove and some wonderful work from the brass section. But of course the lyrics are the main draw. Here is a taste: “I open the door and that makes you nervous/I’ll tempt you once, then I’ll be on my way/Because I go where I feel like going/And I stay where I feel like staying.” Another line that stands out is “It’s good to see your price tag on display.” The album concludes with “How You All Work Me,” a playful song from a songwriter to his audience. “You make me write songs/Look, I’m writing one now/They sometimes take days/But I manage somehow/Then you accuse me of being highbrow/It was you who demanded I made my voice heard/How you all work me.”

CD Track List

  1. Where The Bands Are
  2. Everything All The Time
  3. Your Bright Future
  4. Hey! Director
  5. Come Back Yesterday
  6. All The Yous
  7. The California Fix
  8. Well Done Everyone
  9. The Impossible She
  10. Do Nothing If You Can
  11. Just Sayin’
  12. How You All Work Me

Late Style was released on September 10, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Jaco: “Trace” (2021) CD Review

Jaco is Jake Waitzman, a singer, songwriter and musician based in Birmingham and known for his work in the band Vulture Whale (where he plays drums). He released his first solo album, You Know, in the summer of 2019, and followed that with Dose in the autumn of 2020. His latest solo release, Trace, features all original material. It is largely a solo effort, with Jaco getting help from just fellow Vulture Whale member Lester Nuby III. The two also co-produced the album.

The album kicks off with “I Blow My Mind,” a cool rock song with a psychedelic element. And from its title you might guess it will contain some odd and playful lyrics. And you’d certainly be right. Here is a taste: “Baby, it’s not at all what you think/You know she’s crazy/I flushed it all down the sink/The place is stately/You’re finding everything you need/Just thank me greatly/As long as I’m here to please/I know my lines.” That’s followed by “The Byzantine,” a solid rock song with some damn good lyrics, such as these lines: “It’s understood/The rot under the hood/Will reveal itself/Just got to give it time/I know I’ve lived some other life/I’ve got another’s time on my mind.” I think a lot of us feel that way, and there is a desire to escape to another time, though perhaps not to the Byzantine Empire, particularly as there were no record players then. There is a good sense of fun to this music, heard, for example, in the weird echo of the word “fly” in the lines “Bend the forces and the lights/Enough to make us fly.”

“Control Me” is a catchy number that grabs us right from the start. And again, it features some intriguing lyrics. “Say it louder, now you’re clearing my throat/Roll me over off the back of your boat/Now you found out the keys are gone/Going lower ‘til you’re sinking in place/Breathing water, but it’s better to taste/I can tread ‘til your drowning’s done.” What a vivid scene. This is one of my personal favorites, and it’s a song that makes me want to dig deeper into this artist’s catalogue. Then the next track’s opening line, “Where have I seen that familiar disguise before,” is striking. I love the playing with expectations like that, for of course we expect him to sing of a familiar face, so the word “disguise” comes as a surprise, and immediately has us listening more closely. That’s followed by “Wanna Get High,” another strong rock song with a good, prominent beat and a somewhat raw feel to the guitar work. The chorus then has a catchy groove. I dig that rhythm, particularly that bass line. “And I wanna get high/When they go low/If it makes you cry/Then let your tears flow/I don’t have to decide.”

Then “21st Century TV” gets off to an odd start, with some soft work on guitar. But when it kicks in, it has more of a hard rock vibe, particularly the work on guitar, and something of a punk edge to the vocal delivery. “Put on the channel with the fire/A line in the sand for my desire/Now I’m coming over to please you/So what if anybody sees me/21st century TV/Is on.” That’s followed by “A Trace,” another track to feature an intriguing opening line: “You wave your knife around so bravely.” “Play Dead” is a rather happy-sounding song with more of a pop feel. Check out these lyrics: “You’ll come from nowhere/Find my hands are in the jar/Without the money/And my head between the bars/So I play dead/And you can roll me over and over again.” I also like these lines: “There’s no outrunning/When my wheels are going numb.”

“John Ponderosa” is totally enjoyable from its opening, with a groove and vibe that might get you dancing. And check out these interesting lyrics: “Child in the poster, he’ll wave you over/We’re turning for the door to find a way out/On a limb/One of them must have saved him/There’s no way that he could‘ve made it out/It’s kinda late to allay them/And I don’t think he’s really that devout.” This is another of my personal favorites. The album concludes with a catchy pop rock song, “Wanna Feel Sad,” another of the album’s highlights. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Just try to get some sleep tonight/And everything you’ll see will work out/There’ll come a day we’ll set it right/Stop waiting in the wings and we’ll fly/The sea was rough/And you were scared/The time was tough/But you gave up/So you wanna feel sad/And only blue can do.”

CD Track List

  1. I Blow My Mind
  2. The Byzantine
  3. Control Me
  4. Settling
  5. Wanna Get High
  6. 21st Century TV
  7. A Trace
  8. Play Dead
  9. John Ponderosa
  10. Wanna Feel Sad

Trace was released on December 3, 2021.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Albums Received Week Of February 13-19, 2022

These are the CDs I received the week of February 13 – 19, 2022:

  • The WildRoots: “WildRoots Sessions Volume 2”
  • Trout Fishing In America “Safe House”
  • Graeme James: “Seasons”
  • May Erlewine: “Tiny Beautiful Things”
  • Jon Chi: “River Of Marigolds”
  • Lia Hide: “The Missing Fourth Guest”
  • Almalé: “Hixa Mia”
  • Carles Gutiérrez: “Tot És Ara”
  • Popa Chubby: “Emotional Gangster”

This is the record I received the week of February 13 – 19, 2022:

  • Ekko The Strange: “Mystique”

Please note: In the video, I mention the instrument viola da gamba, but I incorrectly refer to it as “viola da gambra.” Please forgive me.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

We Are The West: “Only One Us” (2021) Vinyl Review

Many of the most memorable and magical times of my life have been closely tied to music – those fantastic nights at The Peak Show Compound in Highland Park, hopping on the Grateful Dead’s summer tour in 1990, traveling to Toronto to see Leonard Cohen, and of course meeting the love of my life at a Josh Lederman & The CSARs concert. When I first heard We Are The West, I knew immediately they were something special, something different. But I didn’t know that I would soon be counting their shows among those magical highlights of my life, especially as they took place in a parking garage. Go figure. But the duo of Brett Hool on guitar and John Kibler on bass, along with various guests, turned an underground parking garage into a beautiful and intimate setting, and delivered some fantastic music that reminded the audience of humanity’s better nature. Their latest release, Only One Us, features all original material, more magnificent music from one of the best groups out there. Several guests join them on various tracks.

Side A

The album opens with “Summer,” which features some beautiful vocal work, just as we’ve come to expect from these guys. The track has a sweet, light sound, feeling like a expansive field that you could run through forever, toward a joyful horizon. “Underneath the silence/There’s another me.” Mathias Künzli joins them on percussion. That’s followed by “For Giving,” which has a gentle vibe as it eases in, like telling a bedtime tale, a lullaby with a message. Here are the opening lines: “Once a king/Believed in gold/Thought it could keep him/From growing old.” Mathias Künzli is again on percussion. Dina Macccabee adds some beautiful touches on violin, and Sylvain Carton is on clarinet. “The face of a stranger/That you’ve always known/A place you discover/That feels like you’re home/A song on the breeze/That you’ve heard before.” There is a warmth, a friendly vibe to this, and to much of their music. It is music that seems to wish us all well, you know? And we can’t help but wonder, particularly at the end, if “For giving” is also “forgiving.”

“Only One Us,” the album’s title track, has a more cheerful pop vibe, perhaps calling to mind some of Paul Simon’s 1970s work. And if the previous song felt like a bedtime tale as it began, this one begins with the lines, “Wake up/The day must surely be breaking.” And indeed it feels like a new day, a day of possibilities. This song also becomes rather catchy, particularly as they sing the title line. And it builds beautifully at certain moments. “Slow down/We all know what we’re heading towards/Look around/We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Jason Slota joins on drums, Joe Kennedy on keys, and Mouzhan Yousefi Carton on tambourine and providing some vocal work. I love the joy of this track. “Steps To Nowhere” also has a cheerful, pleasant sound. There is something familiar about it, particularly in that opening. It is a song that immediately feels like an old friend, like we are revisiting a bright moment. “And it’s time to get moving/This ain’t no time to be scared.” Brett Borges is on drums, Sylvain Carton is on electric reeds, Paul Cox is on electric piano, Joe Kennedy is on keys, and Dina Maccabee is on violin.

“For All Mankind” creates a more somber atmosphere as it begins, and its softer sound pulls us closer, compels us to pay more attention. This track features some gorgeous vocal work, and when it kicks in, it has a power that seems to come both from the skies and from deep within the earth, like a volcano coming to life, shooting fire toward the heavens. This surprising and excellent track features Corey Fogel on drums, Brett Borges on drums and percussion, Joe Kennedy on keys, Sylvain Carton on electric reeds, Paul Cox on electric piano, and Eric Sullivan on electric guitar. Then “When The Lights Have All Been Shined” has more of a folk vibe, the vocals supported by strumming on acoustic guitar as it begins. The vocal work has an intimate, relaxed quality. “Who ever thought time should slip away?/If you are searching/You will arrive/Oh, my weary child/The world dances for you.”

Side B

The second side opens with “Ah, Light!” There is the sound of birds chirping before the song begins. At its start, like the album’s title track, this song takes place in early morning, and the sound and approach feel like that time of day, easing in, with the effects of dreams still in play. This track features some of the album’s best vocal work (and that is saying something). “When the light came in/There before me/Figures forming/In the distance/In an instant.” Interestingly, there is then a pause, and in that pause we hear crickets, a way of indicating a shifting of time before the lines “Later in the evening/When the moon’s still low.” This is an unusual and beautiful song. Mathias Künzli plays drums on this one, Mouzan Yousefi Carton is on piano, and Sylvain Carton is on woodwinds.

The first several lines of “Don’t Worry About It” are delivered a cappella. “You like the stench of the pretty/I said, how can you understand/You’re stuck in the mirror.” Then it has more of a rock vibe, with a hook that feels like that of a late 1970s rock song, something by The Cars perhaps. This one features a different vocal approach too. This song comes as a surprise, standing out in part because it is so different from the other tracks. It also has a power, particularly in that raw delivery. “In my dreams I’ve got no teeth/When I send my body to its rest/I gotta take a bite of something/Though I wish you all the best/I can’t undo those things I’ve broken/Can’t push them back apart/I might miss that life/But I don’t miss it all that hard.” Corey Fogel plays drums on this one, and Eric Sullivan is on pedal steel.

They return to a gentle acoustic sound for “Unwind Your Mind.” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Now we’re running out of time/Don’t fall asleep/Just decide/To be honest now/We can unlock the sound.” Sylvain Carton plays alto flute on this one, and Mathias Künzli is on percussion. The album concludes with a cheerful-sounding number titled “Hey God, I’m Alive!” This one features some pretty backing vocal work by Paula Lapins, Esperanza Torres, Nadia Effendi Briseno, Marilyn Kibler, Elsje Kibler, Vera Kibler and Eloise Kibler. Also joining them on this track are Brett Borges on drums, Corey Fogel on drums, Sylvain Carton on flute, Paul Cox on electric piano, and Brett Farkas on acoustic guitar. “You twisted your back/You were feeling just a little older/Well, everyone knows/There’s nothing to fear/Just a little dust in your eyes.” This is a song that will leave you smiling, and we can all use more of those.

Record Track List

Side A

  1. Summer
  2. For Giving
  3. Only One Us
  4. Steps To Nowhere
  5. For All Mankind
  6. When The Lights Have Been Shined

Side B

  1. Ah, Light!
  2. Don’t Worry About It
  3. Unwind Your Mind
  4. Hey God, I’m Alive!

Only One Us was released on June 20, 2021.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Grant Dermody & Frank Fotusky: “Digging In John’s Backyard” (2022) CD Review

The John of the album’s title, Digging In John’s Backyard, is John Jackson, a blues musician who began playing in the 1940s but wasn’t really discovered until the mid-1960s. Both Grant Dermody and Frank Fotusky became friends with the elder bluesman, who also served as mentor to them. This album was created in honor of John Jackson, though interestingly only one of the tracks chosen for it was written by him. Grant Dermody is on harmonica, and Frank Fotusky is on guitar, with both providing vocals. This album has a great classic blues sound, and is thoroughly enjoyable.

The album opens with “Hey Hey Daddy Blues,” written by Arthur Phelps, who apparently also went by the name Blind Blake, as well as Arthur Blake, though that’s not confirmed. It’s kind of an adorable number. “Hey, hey, your daddy’s feeling blue/Well, I’m worried all the time.” While the man of this song might be struggling, might in fact be close to death, the guitar work is so cheerful. That’s followed a cool rendition of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Peach Tree Blues,” featuring some great stuff on harmonica. “I like your peaches so well/They have taken effect on me/I’m gonna get myself a ladder/Climb way up on your top limb.” Then “Police Dog Blues” has a gentle vibe and outlook, beginning with these lines: “All my life I’ve been a traveling man/All my life I’ve been a traveling man/Now I’m living alone, doing the best I can.” John Jackson included this song on Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down, a compilation of his 1960s recordings. It was written by Blind Blake. If Blind Blake and Arthur Phelps are in fact the same person, it is interesting that on this album one song is credited to one name, another to the other. And, yeah, once a woman has set the police dog on you, it naturally follows that you’d be saying “Good Morning Judge,” which was written by Carl Martin. I especially dig the instrumental work on this track, particularly that section in the second half. And he sure seems to be assuming the best of the judge when singing the lines, “Good, kind judge, won’t you listen to my plea/And let my baby come back home to me.” Or assuming a little flattery will do the trick.

“Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar” is a song that was included on John Jackson’s Country Blues & Ditties. “I’m telling this world goodbye/I’m telling this world goodbye/I’m telling this world and my dear little girl/That I’ll soon tell them all goodbye.” This is a great blues number about impending death. The blues can make even death sound okay, palatable, you know? That’s followed by “You Better Lie Down,” which begins with a great burst on harmonica, a lonely but powerful cry. This one has something of a darker vibe. It’s a slow, cool tune. “I may be crazy, but I ain’t no fool.” We then get the album’s sole song actually written by John Jackson, “Boats Up River,” a song that was included on Jackson’s Blues And Country Dance Tunes From Virginia, released in the mid-1960s, and also on Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down. Frank Fotusky recorded a version of this on his own, including it on his debut solo album, Teasin’ The Frets, where it is listed as “Boats Up The River.” On this new version, he and Grant Dermody take turns singing sections, then halfway through their voices join together for these lines: “I’m going away to leave this ol’ country/I’m going away to leave all alone/Ain’t that a shame/And I wonder if my baby’s on that train.”

“Shake And Break It” is a whole lot of fun. Didn’t Canned Heat cover this song? Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Just shake it, you can break it/You can hang it on the wall/Out the window, mama, catch it before it falls/Shake it, break it/Hang it on the wall/Out the window, catch it before it falls/My jelly, my roll/Sweet mama, don’t you let it fall.” Totally delightful, right? In addition, this track features some delicious guitar work. Things then get darker with a good rendition of Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues.” “Now then you say you got money/You had better be sure/Because hard times will follow you from door to door.” That’s followed by “Seattle Rainy Day Blues,” a song written by John Cephas and originally recorded by Cephas & Wiggins. I lived in the Pacific Northwest for several years, and, yeah, the rain eventually got me down. Anyone who has lived up in that area knows just what this song is about. “Pack up my clothes, sweet mama/Riding on that midnight train/Where I get to riding/Gonna be better than all this rain.”

“Death Don’t Have No Mercy” is a song I first heard on a Grateful Dead concert tape when I was in my early teens, and it got its hooks in me immediately. It still gets in my head quite often, and I sometimes find myself singing a verse of it aloud before I realize it. “Well, death don’t have no mercy in this land/Death don’t have no mercy in this land/He’ll come to your house, he won’t stay long/Look around the room, one of your family’ll be gone/Death don’t have no mercy in this land.” This song was included on John Jackson’s Front Porch Blues. Grant Demody and Frank Fotusky deliver a really good, effective rendition. That’s followed by “Papa’s On The Housetop,” a fun one to raise our spirits a bit after the previous track. It features some great stuff on harmonica. “Well, hush little baby, don’t you cry/The blues gonna leave you by and by.” The album then concludes with a traditional song, “Alberta,” which has been covered by a lot of artists over the years. It provides a rather sweet-sounding ending to this wonderful album.

CD Track List

  1. Hey Hey Daddy Blues
  2. Peach Tree Blues
  3. Police Dog Blues
  4. Good Morning Judge
  5. Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar
  6. You Better Lie Down
  7. Boats Up River
  8. Shake It And Break It
  9. Hard Time Killing Floor Blues
  10. Seattle Rainy Day Blues
  11. Death Don’t Have No Mercy
  12. Papa’s On The Housetop
  13. Alberta

Digging In John’s Backyard was released on January 14, 2022.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

Sometimes I think that if the kooky cult members and assorted fascists on the far right heard a key song or album they would suddenly snap out of their bizarre state and return to humanity, like waking from a nightmare or coma. Perhaps the right album is among these new jazz releases. Who knows?

Aaron Bazzell: “Aesthetic” – The debut full-length album from saxophonist Aaron Bazzell features all original compositions. Joining him on this release are Keith Brown on piano, Brandon Donald on drums, and Jonathan Michel on bass, with Rachel Robinson on vocals for one track. The album opens with “Tomorrow Today,” which has a wonderful warmth right from its start, particularly in Aaron’s work on alto sax. There is a light element to this piece, giving the sense of the brevity of life, that these dances are just a few breaths and we should do our best to enjoy them before we pass into dust. But there is nothing depressing about this track. Rather, it unites us in a strange joy, for this brevity is something we all have in common. As it reaches toward its climax, there is a sense of determination. Then “Asked And Answered” has a relaxed, somewhat soothing vibe as it begins, and features a good lead on bass. This track picks up some energy as it goes, particularly during the conversation between piano and saxophone. “Unrequited” is a moving piece, one of reflection and pain, but yet perseverance. Then “First Period Prep” is about getting ready for a busy day, in this case specifically a day of teaching. Aaron Bazzell has been teaching music in New York, and this piece comes from his experiences, and features a nice groove. Teachers are not valued nearly as much as they should be in this country, even now when their jobs are made even more difficult (and dangerous) by the pandemic. But you don’t have to be a teacher to appreciate this excellent track. The one track to feature vocals is “Eventually,” a song about pursuing one’s dreams, told from the perspective of that dream itself. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I’m closer to you than I may appear/All that’s separating you and I is fear/Beware the test that I will put you through.” The album concludes with “Increase And Persist,” a lively piece featuring some exciting work on saxophone, an excellent lead on piano and a beat to propel us all forward. This album is scheduled to be released on April 22, 2022.

Jorge Garcia: “Dedicated To You” – This new album from guitarist Jorge Garcia features a couple of previously unreleased tracks recorded with saxophonist Richie Cole back in 2009. Those are the first two tracks on this release, and also feature Rick Doll on bass. The first, a cover of Gigi Gryce’s “Minority,” moves at a great pace and really highlights Richie Cole’s talent. His playing here is like some wild entity racing up a mountainside with a delirious joy. Rick Doll, Jorge Garcia and drummer James Cotman all find their own ways to match that enthusiasm and energy, that sense of abandon. The second track is “This One’s For Richie,” composed by Jorge Garcia, and while it might not have quite the same energy, it certainly has the same joy, and is a delight, and at certain moments Jorge Garcia’s guitar sounds like it is dancing. This track also features some excellent work by James Cotmon, including some brief solos. Those two tracks are followed by “With You Always,” another original composition, this one with a wonderful Brazilian vibe, and featuring some beautiful work by Hendrick Meurkens on harmonica. Then Jorge Garcia delivers an unusual rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” featuring Wendy Pedersen on vocals. It has a rhythm I wouldn’t ordinarily associate with this song, one that shakes and moves, and features some excellent work on guitar. That’s followed by a cool rendition of “You Fascinate Me So” that features some wonderful interactions between guitar and piano. That’s Paul Banman on piano. There is also a good lead on bass. We then get a fun, fast-paced version of “‘S Wonderful” (which is here incorrectly titled “S’ Wonderful” on the CD case), featuring some delicious work on bass and some seriously impressive work on guitar. The album concludes with its title track, an original composition that has a pretty, gentle sound. This album is scheduled to be released on CD on February 22, 2022.

Brent Laidler: “Wouldn’t Be Here Without You” – Guitarist Brent Laidler’s new album, his second, features all original material. Joining him on this album are Mark Buselli on trumpet and flugelhorn, Ned Boyd on saxophone and flute, Jamie Newman on organ, Scott Pazera on bass, and Richard “Sleepy” Floyd on drums. The album opens with “Keeping It Simple,” which has a rather cheerful sound and a bossa nova flavor. The pleasant vibes continue with “Sunday Mood,” which has some catchy elements, particularly in the work from the brass section, and also features a good lead on keys and some brief but wonderful drum solos. That’s followed by the playfully titled “You Ain’t The Bossa Me,” a lighthearted number that features some good work on saxophone. One of my favorite tracks is “A Second Chance,” in large because of the New Orleans flavor it has. Brass is boss here, and it sounds so good! I also really dig the rhythm. And of course, there is an excellent and fun lead on guitar. Then “City By The Bay” features a nice lead on flute. That’s followed by “Foo’s Blues,” a cool track with some great work on drums, and a series of interesting and exciting leads. “Walt’s Waltz” is another playfully titled track, this one written in honor of a high school teacher. Brent Laidler’s guitar playing is joyous and lively. The album’s title track is another of its highlights, with that delicious bass line and fantastic work on guitar, moving along at a good clip. This album is scheduled to be released on March 11, 2022.

Doug MacDonald And The L.A. All-Star Octet: “Overtones” – Doug MacDonald is certainly one of the busiest and most prolific musicians around, as well as being one hell of a talent. The guitarist’s latest project finds him leading a group of incredibly talented musicians, including Aaron Janik on trumpet, Kim Richmond on alto saxophone, Rickey Woodard on tenor saxophone, Ira Nepus on trombone, Bill Cunliffe on piano and organ, Chuck Berghofer on bass, Roy McCurdy on drums and Paul Kreibich on shaker. Most of the tracks on Overtones were composed by Doug MacDonald. The album opens with “Night By Night,” the horns having a delicious big band vibe as the track begins. Not only is there a wonderful lead on guitar, as you’d expect, but moments for most of the other musicians to shine as well, in relatively brief leads, including a cool lead on bass. That’s followed by a relaxed bossa nova tune, “Bossa For PK,” which features some excellent guitar work. One of the grooviest, most delightful tracks on this release is “Blues By Eight,” Doug MacDonald’s guitar work just dancing and swinging and smiling from the moment it begins. The horns deliver some bright work, and everything feels just right. Let some swinging sunlight into your day by playing this track. That’s followed by “Hortense,” a tune Doug MacDonald also included on last year’s Serenade To Highland Park, as well as 2019’s Organisms. I love this tune’s light vibe. “Over #21” is a fun, funky number, featuring a lot of great work from the brass section, especially the trombone. Then “Ground Up” features more excellent work on guitar, and has an interesting, exciting vibe. That’s followed by the cheerful, swinging “Rickey Speaking.” The only piece not written by Doug MacDonald on this release is a cool rendition of “Lover Man.” This album was released on February 15, 2022.

Kenny Shanker: “Vortex” – The new album from saxophonist and composer Kenny Shanker features mostly original material. Joining him on this release are Daisuke Abe on guitar, Mike Eckroth on piano, Yoshi Waki on bass, and Brian Fishler on drums, with Bill Mobley playing trumpet on a few tracks. The album opens with its title track, one of the tracks to feature the work of Bill Mobley. There is an interesting pace and energy to this piece, and I am especially taken with Brian Fishler’s work on drums and Mike Eckroth’s lead on piano, both of which have an exciting aspect. That’s followed by “Lulu’s Back In Town,” one of only three covers chosen for this release. That piano work at the beginning announces this as a fun, playful rendition. Kenny Shanker takes us on a cool, groovy stroll with his work on this one, supported by some good work on bass. “Winter Song” has a gentle, warm, relaxed vibe, reminding me of those days when we had no obligations, when family was gathered inside, and the snow was pretty rather than oppressive. This track features a good lead on bass in its second half. Then “Hunter” features some lively, exciting work on saxophone, particularly toward the end. “Ramble” includes a wonderful lead on guitar, and features Bill Mobley on trumpet. “Nightfall” has a more somber vibe as it begins, and Kenny Shanker’s work on saxophone is beautiful and engaging, gaining power until it is time for the piano to lead. And Mike Eckroth delivers some absolutely wonderful work on piano before then giving way to the guitar, which continues in that vein. This is an excellent piece, one of my personal favorites. The mood gets lighter again with a cover of Dave Brubeck’s “The Duke.” “Midnight Snack” is another highlight, with a cool bass line and some pensive, interesting guitar work before Kenny Shanker takes over on saxophone. He plays soprano sax on this one. The album concludes with a cover of “Autumn Leaves.” This album is scheduled to be released on March 4, 2022.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Amy Jay: “Awake Sleeper” (2022) CD Review

Amy Jay is a singer and songwriter currently based in New York. She released a couple of EPs, in 2016 and 2018, and has now put out her first full-length album. Titled Awake Sleeper, it features all original material. The album is full of beautiful songs that listeners will connect to on different levels – the level of actual shared experience, perhaps, but also emotionally and maybe even spiritually. The music combines folk with electronic sounds, creating an interesting atmosphere that feels part ethereal, part worldly, fitting for songs which seem to take place both in our minds and in the actual world. Joining her on this album are Jordan Rose on drums, Mike Robinson on guitar and pedal steel, Chris Parker on guitar, Andrew Freedman on piano and synthesizers, Jeremy McDonald on bass, and Duncan Wickel on violin and cello.

The album opens with “Lucid Dreaming,” which features the sound of a train approaching, but here that sound has a dreamlike quality, a hypnotic quality, that seems to summon memories, or allow for them to rise to the surface. It is like watching shards of images passing from the subway car, letting them evoke whatever memories they will, as we might try to give them meaning. The music then grows quieter while she tells us, “Nothing’s making sense/Nothing’s making sense.” Ah, that is a line for our times, whether we are awake or not, remembering or projecting. The song kicks in again following that. Amy Jay’s vocals have a pretty, dreamy quality. “Lucid Dreaming” is followed by “Reliance,” in which she sings “I forgot to say I love you again/Careless like the sheets in the mess I left.” An electronic pulse runs through this song, which somehow works incredibly well with her beautiful vocal delivery, sounding angelic at times, even as she describes earthly scenes, common activities. I love the work on strings. Then “Commute” puts us back on the train, which can feel the loneliest of places even when fairly crowded, when we are disconnected from those around us. This is a gorgeous sort of pop music. “Does anyone else feel like me?” she asks here, sounding both vulnerable and strong.

As “Call My Name” begins, it sounds like a folk song. Then approximately halfway through it is like a flower suddenly bursting into bloom, opening up to reveal what was dwelling inside, what maybe was eager to escape, or at least eager to be seen, to be acknowledged. It is a song of a long-term relationship, one perhaps both parties are still not completely certain of. “I swore I’d run away/Why do you call my name?/Why do you call my name?/Are you satisfied with the choice that you have made?” That’s followed by “Inner Critic,” also exploring an aspect of a relationship, the way we may look critically at our significant other in the way that we do at ourselves. There is a beautiful instrumental section in the second half which features cello. “Monster” contains an intriguing instrumental section as well, and it is during it that the song takes a turn. “She feeds well on anxiety/A balanced diet of fear and control/I’ve asked her to go away/She respectfully declines/It is somehow comforting.”

“Bide My Time” quietly grabs you right as it starts, its opening line being one most of us can appreciate: “I wish I could thrive on disappointment.” What I also like about it is there is a pause after the word “thrive,” so at first we think that word completes the thought. And check out these lines: “I’d be so productive/If I were powered by letdowns/Maybe it’s time to rest/Bite my tongue/Say nothing so I don’t sound so desperate.” This is one of my personal favorites, and it is a song that I’m guessing will speak strongly to a lot of people, particularly in these exhausting and trying times, when we feel regularly disappointed by humanity. “At least I could say I guess I tried.” This song becomes undeniably beautiful toward the end. That’s followed by “Sorrow,” which begins with a question: “Why be so mysterious?” It is a question aimed at the heavens. Then “Remember” addresses the changes people go through in a relationship. “Remember, remember/No one told us it was easy.” The album concludes with “Self-Deprecation,” another compelling song. There is something delicate, something vulnerable in its sound, in her delivery. There is also a strong sense of atmosphere, of the song taking place in a reality, for there is a background and there are imperfections. “But I’ll still take my chances.”

CD Track List

  1. Lucid Dreaming
  2. Reliance
  3. Commute
  4. Call My Name
  5. Inner Critic
  6. Monster
  7. Bide My Time
  8. Sorrow
  9. Remember
  10. Self-Deprecation

Awake Sleeper was released on February 11, 2022.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Dan Weber: “The Way The River Goes” (2022) CD Review

Dan Weber is a singer and songwriter currently based in Texas, and his new album, The Way The River Goes, was several years in the making. The song that initially drew me to this release, “Ever Since Columbine,” is one that, according to the liner notes, was not originally intended to be included. But it is the song that won the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival Songwriting Competition in 2019, and it’s a powerful and effective song, and I’m glad that it has been given a proper release here. And while that is the song that got me interested in this disc, the entire album is excellent. It features all original material, written by Dan Weber. Joining Dan Weber on this release are Rob “Berto” Stroup on bass, drums, percussion, organ, electric guitar and backing vocals; Michael Henchman on bass; Paul Brainard on electric guitar and pedal steel; Kathryn Claire on fiddle; Jenny Conlee-Drizos on accordion; Tim Connell on mandolin; Tony Furtado on banjo and dojo; and David Lipkind on harmonica.

The Way The River Goes opens with its title track, its first couple of stanzas taking me back to my childhood. “Me and Bill grew up the best of friends/We knew every inch of that river bend/If there’s buried treasure, we put it there.” I hope everyone had a river, or at least a creek to explore the way we did. But just as a river flows, never remaining still, the story of this song moves forward in time to describe events and people in the town, with the repeated line “That’s just the way the river goes ‘round here” concluding each section. Yet, even as the river is in motion, it doesn’t move from the area, and that works as a description for those who remain in the small towns of our youth. “The Way The River Goes” is followed by “While You Were Sleeping,” which, as it begins, sounds and feels like an early morning, when you are up but don’t want to wake anyone else, when the world feels like your own. It can be a time for reflection, before anything makes demands on your attention. The song gently eases in like the day, and it builds from there. A train lends itself so naturally to being a metaphor, as it does here in this song of leaving.

“Ever Since Columbine” is a song about how we as a nation have sadly grown accustomed to there being shootings. They happen all the time now. And each time, those in power pretend to be outraged and horrified, for a day or so, but nothing is done to stop it from happening again. It should be clear to everyone by now that guns are the problem. There will always be unhinged people, there will always be morons. What we have to do is keep them from getting their hands on firearms. “From Fort Hood to Sandy Hook, and Las Vegas now/It’s a killing field of front page news, we’ve grown immune to somehow/And the families left behind, you know they’ll never be the same/Did you hear there was another shooting today?” I really thought Sandy Hook would be the one to finally bring about some serious change. I was wrong. If not that one, then what will it take? What will it take for leaders to finally lead, to ignore the damn gun lobbyists and the assholes who think the Second Amendment to be the most powerful words ever put down on paper and yet misunderstand those very words? “A well-regulated militia,” the Amendment says, for those who are wondering. It doesn’t say that everyone should be allowed to purchase whatever guns he or she desires. This track features some beautiful work on fiddle, and a passionate vocal performance.

I’ve been to New Orleans only once, spending a week there to enjoy the Mardi Gras celebrations back in the early 1990s, and yet that city and its music and its air have stayed with me in a meaningful way. And so, like many people, I was depressed by the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. I understand from folks who have been there recently that the city still hasn’t completely recovered. “Goodbye New Orleans” is about that, sort of, and about how climate change will eventually (and not too far into the future) put the city underwater, but also about the questionable history of the city. It features some nice work on accordion. “The cathedral spires, the Superdome, the old wrought iron stairs/But everything that you can climb someday washes out to sea/So goodbye, yeah, goodbye, New Orleans.” That’s followed by another song of goodbye, “Farewell Maggie Valley.” It seems we are saying a lot of goodbyes these days – to famous musicians, to intelligence, to sanity, to truth, to democracy. This song, however, is about saying goodbye to a place and a person. “I'm only taking what I can fit in the bed of my Ranger truck/The rest all went to Goodwill; good riddance, it's just stuff/On the kitchen table you'll find my forwarding address/I'll miss this town a little, I'll miss you more than I'll confess.” This track features more moving work on fiddle.

“Whatcha Gonna Do?” has a lighter, more cheerful vibe, even as he sings about getting older and getting depressed, for at its heart it is a love song. Check out these line: “They say ‘look before you leap,’ but I'm so ready to fly/'Cause I want more than just gettin' by/Not politics or religion, those are just opinions/I want the thing that really gets me high/And that's you right here this morning, and you late last night.” I love that work on mandolin. Then in “Never” these lines stand out for me: “I canceled the paper months ago, 'cause I couldn't take the news/But it still comes every day, what am I supposed to do?” I think most folks can relate to wanting a break from the news. But how do we escape from it? That’s followed by “Ghosts Of Wichita.” I tend to love any song that contains a reference to Shakespeare’s work, and this one contains a reference to The Tempest in the lines “To hear you tell the story now, it rings like a grudge/That you’ve been nursing to feed to the judge/Who said the past was always prologue, his gavel was the law/When he gave you half of the ghosts of Wichita.” It is Antonio who says “And by that destiny to perform an act/Whereof what's past is prologue, what to come/In yours and my discharge.”

Like the album’s title track, “Somewhere Down The Line” uses the idea of a river, in the line “That river ain’t hard to cross.” But these are the lines that are especially striking to me (probably because as I get older I am more and more aware of time passing): “Always thinking there's gonna be more time/Somewhere down the line.” This song has a sweet and somewhat soothing sound. It’s followed by “Surrender,” a beautiful and gentle song. Here he sings “I could hold you like their song holds the wind,” and in that moment, it feels like this song holds us in that very way. That gentle vibe is helped by some wonderful work on pedal steel. “And let this surrender be your last/Let the past just be the past/Don’t think twice, don’t look back/We’re almost there.” Then we get a fun Cajun-style number, “You Make Me Wanna Dance,” featuring accordion. This is one to get us smiling, and yes, even dancing. “She taught me a lesson about taking a chance/You may not be ready when fate takes your hand.”

“Last Night” is a sweet song describing a gathering of friends. “When the beer ran out, wine showed up, and no one turned it down/So we got drunk and we were foolish, it got a little out of hand.” Yeah, there is certainly an element of nostalgia. We can all recall nights like the one described here. These lines make me smile: “Soon the intimate and amorous paired up and left/A couple made out on the couch, where someone else slept.” That’s followed by “Sun’s Gonna Shine When I’m Gone,” which has a bright feel, partly due to the presence of mandolin. “There ain’t no future in the future; even the truth is in the past/The present’s here and now, but I don’t think it’ll last.” This song is like a cheerful look at passing. The album concludes with “Call It A Night,” a song about being a traveling musician, playing in bars, sometimes to folks who aren’t paying attention, and it is of course a perfect song to wrap up the album. “‘Cause I’m holdin’ on to one song at a time/Just trying to play it right/Then I’m two hundred miles down the road/So I think we should call it a night.”

CD Track List

  1. The Way The River Goes
  2. While You Were Sleeping
  3. Ever Since Columbine
  4. Goodbye New Orleans
  5. Farewell Maggie Valley
  6. Whatcha Gonna Do?
  7. Never
  8. Ghosts Of Wichita
  9. Somewhere Down The Line
  10. Surrender
  11. You Make Me Wanna Dance
  12. Last Night
  13. Sun’s Gonna Shine When I’m Gone
  14. Call It A Night

The Way The River Goes was released on January 28, 2022.