Thursday, March 31, 2022

Kate Klim: “Something Green” (2022) CD Review

Kate Klim is a singer, pianist and songwriter based in Nashville. She released a few albums between 2006 and 2014, and then took time off to raise two sons. She is now back with her first new album in eight years. Titled Something Green, it features all original material, written by Kate Klim. It was recorded during a difficult time, both for her and the world at large, for the recording coincided with the end of her marriage and the beginning of the pandemic. Certainly the music was influenced by those things, and perhaps the album is all the stronger for it, for there is a passion, perhaps even a need, behind much of the material. Joining Kate Klim on this release are Scott Davis on guitar, bass and synthesizers; Josh Blue on drums and percussion; and Mia Rose Lynne on backing vocals. There are a few other guests on certain tracks.

Something Green opens with its title track, a song featuring a strong rhythm and a beautiful, earnest vocal performance. Talk about finding something hopeful within our troubles, this song is about fighting fires with a controlled burn and seeing something good growing in the space left behind. “Sometimes they burn it down/So something new can grow/I know it’s hurting now/But underneath the smoke I see something green.” It’s often difficult to see hope for a future when everything is going wrong in the present, but if we look, those seeds are there. We are a resilient lot, aren’t we? Interestingly, the next song mentions the color green in its opening line, “Springtime was easy, everything’s green and bright.” This song, titled “Songbird,” is about change and cycles. “Beginnings are simple, none of the cracks have shown/Everything’s possible, everything’s fair/You get to the middle, yeah, that’s when your cover’s blown.” There is a beautiful sadness in her delivery, and in the sound of the piano. And yet within that, and within a feeling of loss and worry, we still find a sense of hope. Check out these lines: “Isn’t it always the way, after a few weeks of gray/You feel like the sun is gone for good/Oh, it was never the time, or it was never the place/To do all the things I thought I would/But I had your song in my head/It wasn’t gone, it wasn’t dead.”

“Almost Know Anyone” explores a relationship, one in which the two people feel they don’t know each other as well as they could. How much do we keep from those closest to us? And if we hold back revealing ourselves, how can we feel that we know the other person? The song also mentions the larger question of how much anyone can know anyone else. It is a depressing question, but again, there is hope and optimism built into the song, for these people want to know each other better. “I wanna wade a little deeper every day/I wanna drive around the streets of where you’re from/‘Cause If I’m gonna almost know anyone/I wanna almost know you.” There is something beautiful in that, isn’t there? Then in “Nobody Told You,” this early line stands out: “You thought you fought for the good guys, we always think that we’re the good guys.” The song is about a soldier, but the line can apply to everyone, can’t it?  Very few people believe they themselves are bad. Probably even Tucker Carlson doesn’t see himself as scum, though he certainly should. This track features some wonderful work by Alyssa Cortez on trumpet. And Andrew Delaney adds some backing vocals. And how is this for a great ending: “Nobody told you but the war is over, the war is over, the war is over/The war is over and the other guys won.”

There is something strong, yet something vulnerable in Kim Klim’s voice that makes it so incredibly appealing, so human. It’s a voice that can reach us so easily. Songs themselves can be companions through our troubles, especially when it is difficult to reach out to someone. It is like the music finds us. Kate Klim’s songs are like that. But of course it is great to have someone on the journey with us, as in “Take The Driving.” “You said close your eyes and I’ll take the driving/And oh for the next hour, you just have to dream/And I know sometimes it all gets so heavy/These things that you carry, you can give some to me.” That’s followed by “God & Magic,” which tells of a relationship that is maybe no longer what it once was, nor what they’d hoped it would be. And though they see things differently, there are glimpses of that earlier passion. It’s a moving song, and it features some beautiful work by Emerald Rae on strings. I love how Kate Klim explores the idea of how small our lives are in the scope of the universe, while our personal dramas seem so big to us.

“Lines” opens with a description of a dream that is likely familiar to everyone: “It’s the night of the high school play and I’m the lead/The curtain is almost up, and me I am all dressed up/Frantically looking for a script to read.” Ah yes, we’ve all had this dream, haven’t we? But of course when we feel like that in our actual waking lives, it is even more frightening. “I used to know just where to stand, I used to step into the light/I used to feel like I belong, used to feel like I belonged here.” This song will appeal to anyone who sometimes feels at sea even in familiar surroundings. And isn’t that all of us? What the hell are our lines anyway? Then “But You Can’t” is a song about parenting and death and time. “All they know is something’s gone and that it isn’t coming back/And everything is precious, at least it feels that way when you’re that young.” Everything is fleeting, and the urge to scream and shout is understandable, even while knowing it’s pointless. That’s followed by “Head To Toe,” a song about rising waters. “I don’t know what’s wiser, or what ends up better/Oh, to wait out the weather or to grab my things and go/‘Cause neither way is what I wanted, either way I'm getting soaked head to toe.” Yes, that is exactly how things feel. The album concludes with “Highland Park,” another song about a relationship that has lost its way, while fondly looking back at its beginning. “It never goes the way you thought/And so it ends the way it started.”

CD Track List

  1. Something Green
  2. Songbird
  3. Almost Know Anyone
  4. Nobody Told You
  5. Take The Driving
  6. God & Magic
  7. Lines
  8. But You Can’t
  9. Head To Toe
  10. Highland Park

Something Green was released on March 4, 2022.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Popa Chubby: “Emotional Gangster” (2022) CD Review

While few things seem certain in this nutty world, we know we can count on Popa Chubby to deliver some excellent and energetic blues rock. He has been doing it for three decades, and does it again on his new release, Emotional Gangster. This album features mostly original material, written by Ted Horowitz (Popa Chubby). Popa Chubby also plays most of the instruments on these tracks. While politics and the pandemic have gotten us down and exhausted us, the music on this album seems designed to rejuvenate and reinvigorate us. Hey, it’s always been the musicians, and not the politicians, who carry us through.

Popa Chubby opens this one with “Tonight I’m Gonna Be The Man,” a driving blues rock number about life as a traveling musician. Sure, it features a bit of boasting, but it all rings true somehow, you know? And there is something playful about it as well, as when he suddenly interjects, “Oh man, here comes my wife.” And I am totally digging that guitar work in the middle. “I got the blues, and the blues is all right.” Then the guitar work is front and center right at the start of the next track, “New Way Of Walking.” Here he sings, “Sitting in my hotel, listening to the blues on the radio.” Ah, that must be a good radio station, somewhere down at the left end of things. This song has a heavy blues rock sound. “Well, I’m tired of getting burned/Just another lesson learned/Strung out/I need a new way of walking.” That sounds about right, doesn’t it?

“Equal Opportunity” is a totally fun track, with a different vocal approach. This one had me smiling like an idiot before very long. It’s a song I feel a need to memorize so I can sing along every time I listen to it. And that “La-la la-la la-la” part caught me by surprise. It’s easy to sing along with that part, and in fact that is encouraged. This track also features some nice work on keys. And, don’t worry, for there is some good stuff on guitar too, particularly in the second half. This track is a complete delight from beginning to end, and is one of my personal favorites. Popa Chubby then gets back into a more serious blues vein with the first of only two covers, “Hoochie Cootchie Man,” which was written by Willie Dixon. This version features some strong guitar work, Popa Chubby jamming on it for a bit. At the end he says thanks to Muddy Waters, who first recorded this song.

“Save The Best For Last” grabs me with its opening lines: “You might tell me I’m evil/You might say I’m bad/You might me tell me I’m no damn good/But I’m the best you’ve ever had.” So good. And it has a nice groove. Plus, this track features some great stuff on harmonica. That’s Jason Ricci on harmonica. But it is that guitar work that really speaks to me, particularly that lead halfway through. That’s followed by “Why You Wanna Make War,” another of the disc’s highlights. I love this vocal performance, which at moments actually reminds me of Dr. John. “We could go upstairs/And make love all night/We could do it in the kitchen, baby/We could do it in the yard/So tell me, pretty baby/Why you wanna make war.” Then the second of the album’s two covers is the classic “Dust My Broom,” written by Elmore James. And of course Popa Chubby delivers a lively rendition with a good amount of attitude. That’s followed by “I’m The Dog,” which comes complete with some howling and is itself a force. The guitar does its own bit of howling, helping to make this another of the album’s highlights.

Things get funky with “Doing OK,” with Popa Chubby singing “Everyone is in a terrible way/But I’m doing OK.” There are some surprisingly playful lines, such as “In the meantime, I’ll find out who to pray to/So far, got nothing to say to you/Guess that I’ll pray to Joe Pesci/You know he never forgets me.” Not sure I’ve ever heard lyrics quite like those (except, I suppose, from George Carlin). As he begins “Fly Away,” there is a brief spoken word introduction in which he dedicates this song to “all you daddies out there who love your daughters.” He then adds, “Tell them you love them before they fly away.” And that’s what this song is all about, knowing your child has to lead her own life, and letting her know she can always count on you wherever she goes, while hoping she never goes too far. He delivers a passionate vocal performance. “I hope to never let you down.”

Well, the first version of “Why You Wanna Make War” was fantastic, so why not deliver a second version, this time in French? Or at least mostly in French. Some lines are still delivered in English, including the main line at first. Popa Chubby is clearly having a great time with this track, and it is totally enjoyable. The album then concludes with “Master IP,” which is listed as a bonus track. This is an instrumental track, or at least a largely instrumental track. There are voices heard briefly partway through. It has a heavy groove, and is driven by guitar, a good way to close out the album.

CD Track List

  1. Tonight I’m Gonna Be The Man
  2. New Way Of Walking
  3. Equal Opportunity
  4. Hoochie Cootchie Man
  5. Save The Best For Last
  6. Why You Wanna Make War
  7. Dust My Broom
  8. I’m The Dog
  9. Doing OK
  10. Fly Away
  11. Why You Wanna Make War (French Version)
  12. Master IP

Emotional Gangster was released on March 18, 2022 on Dixiefrog Records.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Mark Joseph: “Vegas Motel” (2021) CD Review

Mark Joseph is known for his work in The Big Wu, the great Minnesota jam band, but the singer and guitarist has also released a few solo albums. His latest, Vegas Motel, features all original material, including some character-driven songs and some rather personal compositions. Joining him on this release are Cody McKinney on bass, JT Bates on drums and percussion, Ryan Young on fiddle, Toby Lee Marshall on organ, Jeff Waldeland on pedal steel, Stanley Behrens on alto flute, and Jake Baldwin on trumpet. Steph Devine and Jill Mikelson provide backing vocals.

The album opens with its title track, “The Vegas Motel,” a delightful, easygoing country number about drinking to excess in hopes that it will free him from his troubles and pain. “If the next drink will kill me/We’ll just have to wait and see/But if it takes away your memory/That’s all right by me.” This is certainly a time for drinking songs. Most people I know have been drinking heavily the last several years, ever since things went horribly wrong in 2016, and then of course stepping it up when everything shut down at the beginning of the pandemic. “At the Vegas motel/It’s my living hell.” That’s followed by “Hard Workin’ Man,” which offers a vivid description of a man who works to support his family. “Strong like a tree, his roots are in the ground.” This track features some nice work on fiddle, and has a pleasant vibe that gives you a good feeling. That in turn is followed by another song about a hard-working man, “Nate’s Garage,” this one with a livelier sound. The guy described here has a patriotic bent, and did not graduate from high school, and perhaps it’s my own prejudice, but I can’t help but wonder if those two things are connected. At any rate, you can’t help but like this character, and the song has a cheerful vibe.

“The Life Of A Pipe Welder” begins with some good work on guitar, and is a character-driven song, a portrait of a person who works as a pipe welder while raising a family. “Dry your tears, baby girl, we’re doing fine/I’ve seen better days now, but I don’t complain/Running pipes has kind of kept me sane.” For me, it is that guitar work that stands out and seems to move the story forward. And nearly two minutes in, there is an interesting change. “Through the years and the tears/Remember what matters most/We are living now/No time for ghosts.” There is also some really nice work on flute, and an interesting rhythm. Then just before the end, this track shifts gears, taking on a harder progressive rock sound. That is followed by “Early Riser,” a wonderful instrumental track that has something of a sweet vibe. It does sound like a bright morning, before anyone has come round to spoil it, before the newspaper has been read, before anything has really happened. It is a tune of joy and possibilities, and I absolutely love Ryan Young’s work on fiddle. This is an unexpected highlight of the album.

“I Love You Till I Die” is a gentle and bright love song, with a pretty and soulful folk vibe, and some really sweet work on trumpet too. “And should I pass away into the night/It would be all right/Because I love you till I die.” The lines “But the past is gone/And we’re here right now/And I’m thankful for today” also stand out, for many of us struggle to adopt that very attitude. This song builds in energy toward the end, which works wonderfully. This is another of the album’s highlights. It is followed by another sweet number, “Little Lucy,” a song from a father to a daughter. At a couple of points in the track we hear the laughter of a child. And at one point Mark Joseph sings “Lucy Ruth, don’t you see/Named after Notorious RBG,” lines that stood out for me because my girlfriend has been reading that book, Notorious RBG: The Life And Times Of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Alex Proctor plays keys on this track, and Jeremy Ylvisaker is on guitar.

The album concludes with a song titled “My Friend, Stella Blue.” I was interested in this track before I first put on the album because “Stella Blue” is one of my personal favorite Grateful Dead songs. I remember once hearing a version so beautiful that I found myself crying. This was at Shoreline, at an otherwise mediocre show. I looked around, and everyone near me was crying too. It was one of those magical moments that I live for. Mark Joseph dedicated this album to the memory of a woman whose nickname was Stella Blue, so obviously this is very personal song. It begins with an instrumental section with an otherworldly vibe, like a sound reaching us from an ethereal plane. A folk sound then emerges, which is in some contrast to that initial sound, having an earthy sense. “If you were here, I know you would sing along/But you’re gone/So I have to find a way to carry on.” Then toward the end, there is another instrumental section, feeling like entering a different realm.

CD Track List

  1. The Vegas Motel
  2. Hard Workin’ Man
  3. Nate’s Garage
  4. The Life Of A Pipe Welder
  5. Early Riser
  6. I Love You Till I Die
  7. Little Lucy
  8. My Friend, Stella Blue

Vegas Motel was released on November 24, 2021, and is also available on vinyl.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Jo Harrop: “The Heart Wants” (2021/2022) CD Review

I know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, and perhaps the same goes for albums, but the cover of vocalist Jo Harrop’s new album, The Heart Wants, shows a stack of books, including Leonard Cohen’s Book Of Longing (though her copy has a different spine than mine), and that was enough for me to suspect I’d love this release. I wasn’t wrong. The album features mostly original material, co-written by Jo Harrop. A lot of talented musicians join her on various tracks, including Jamie McCredie on guitar, Hannah Vasanth on piano and organ, and Troy Miller on drums. The album was released in Europe last year, and is now getting a U.S. release. It is her second solo album, following Songs For The Late Hours. Between that earlier release and this new one came a duo album with Jamie McCredie titled Weathering The Storm. While those two releases focused on covers, this new album showcases her songwriting ability as well as her tremendous vocal talent.

The album opens with its title track, “The Heart Wants What The Heart Wants,” which has a sexy, bluesy vibe and features some cool work on piano. It feels like a standard, and maybe someday it will be. It was written by Jo Harrop and Hannah Vasanth. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “The heart wants what the heart wants/It doesn’t choose right from wrong/In the eye of the storm, in the eye of the storm/Nothing can be done/The heart believes what it needs to believe/She doesn’t care if she’s a fool.” This track also features John Spanyol on trombone, Andy Davies on trumpet, and Tony Kofi on saxophone. Oh yes, everything about this is just right. What a great opener. That’s followed by a song that is a standard, “All Too Soon,” written by Duke Ellington and Carl Sigman. Jo Harrop’s voice is so beautiful, so seductive, and is here supported by Christian McBride’s delicious work on bass.

In “Everything’s Changing,” Jo Harrop sings, “Everything’s changing/Some days it feels like we’ve lost control/I know, I know inside you feel like breaking/Don’t want to face the day alone/‘Cause everyone is changing.” This song can be a friend in these uncertain days when we look at the world and just don’t recognize it anymore, when it seems like a segment of the population must belong to some other species. This song is a friendly shoulder to cry on. Sometimes what we need from a song or a good book is to hear this very message: “Better days will come/You’re not alone.” This song was written by Jo Harrop, Natalie Williams, Sam Watts and Hannah Vasanth. It features some nice work on violin by Debs White and Dave Larkin, and on trumpet by Andy Davies. I also like that work by Nicky Brown on organ. Then on “I Think You’d Better Go,” her voice is supported by some sweet, cool work on guitar. That’s Jamie McCredie, who also co-wrote this song. “When I think of all the times that we almost kissed/And to think we could have made it so/I think you’d better go/It’s too late for the train/I have no coat for the rain.” That’s followed by “Wise Words,” which was written by Paul Edis, who plays piano on it. “Sometimes it feels like the world’s turned against you/Sometimes it feels like you’ve been here before/Sometimes it’s hard to explain what you’ve been through/Sometimes you’ll ask the world for more.” This is another song that most people will relate to immediately.

“Red Mary Janes & A Brand New Hat” is a fun one right from its start, and it features some excellent work by Jason Rebello on piano. Plus, these lyrics are appealing: “I’ll leave my troubles behind/Nothing’s going to stop me tonight.” Ah yes, don’t we all wish to leave our troubles behind and enjoy a night or two? And when that great bass line comes in, the song takes on a sexier tone and mood. “I’m going to whisper the blues right in your ear/Sing so softly only you can hear/And every word is meant just for you.” This is a delicious number. Jihad Darwish plays bass on this one. Jo Harrop has a seductive and romantic air as she begins the next track too, “Hold On,” which opens with the line “I’ve been waiting such a long time for you.” She delivers a soulful vocal performance, backed by some good work on both guitar and organ. Joe Rodwell plays trumpet on this one.

On “Life Inside,” Jo Harrop grabs us with the opening, heartbreaking lines: “You gave up on love/Though you crave it all the time.” And soon she tells us, “I’m on your side.” Sometimes that is all we need to hear from someone. Then nearly halfway through another voice joins hers, and it becomes a moving duet. That’s Marcus Bonfanti.  This is a beautiful song, one of my favorites. It was written by Jo Harrop, George Glew, Hannah Vasanth and Jamie McCredie. That’s followed by “What If,” which was co-written by Paul Edis. “What if our story finishes here/Would life go on?” “If I Knew” was also written by Jo Harrop and Paul Edis, and it features some beautiful work on strings, as well as a touching vocal performance. “If I knew that would be the last time/I would have tried to remember/The warmth of your hand/Your skin on mine/To touch you one last time/To say goodbye.”

Jo Harrop delivers a really good rendition of Tom Waits’ “Rainbow Sleeves,” a song that was recorded by Rickie Lee Jones and included on the King Of Comedy soundtrack in 1983. This track features some wonderful work by Sarah Bowler on cello. That’s followed by a cover of “If Ever I Would Leave You,” written by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner. This version has some warm work on piano by Jason Rebello, including a beautiful and engaging solo in the second half. The album concludes with “Weather The Storm,” which is listed as a bonus track on the CD. There is a warmth to this track as well. “I bring out the worst in you/And you bring out the worst in me too/But still when we’re together/There’s nothing we can’t do.” This song was written by Jo Harrop, Natalie Williams, Jamie McCredie and Hannah Vasanth, and is a perfect conclusion to an excellent album.

CD Track List

  1. The Heart Wants What The Heart Wants
  2. All Too Soon
  3. Everything’s Changing
  4. I Think You’d Better Go
  5. Wise Words
  6. Red Mary Janes & A Brand New Hat
  7. Hold On
  8. Life Inside
  9. What If
  10. If I Knew
  11. Rainbow Sleeves
  12. If Ever I Would Leave You
  13. Weather The Storm

The Heart Wants is scheduled to be released on CD on April 25, 2022 on Lateralize Records.

The Down Home Up Here Festival Returns To Club Passim

The Down Home Up Here Festival is an annual concert celebrating bluegrass and old-time music, and is now in its tenth year. The festival will take place at Club Passim (yes, in person) April 16 – 18, 2022. The lineup this year includes Hello Stranger, Sophie Wellington and Laura Orshaw. Saturday’s show kicks off at 4 p.m. with a performance by Zoe Levitt, with Alex Formento and Devon Gardner. That set is followed by Maddie Witler and Ethan Hawkins, and then Hello Stranger. The False Positives,  The Cow Catchers, Sophie Wellington, and Casey Murray & Molly Tucker are also scheduled to perform on Saturday. Sunday’s show begins at 5 p.m. with Samuel Acus And The Lonely Road. Jonathan Vocke follows, and then Micah John & Friends. Evan Murphy & Friends, Laura Orshaw and Korey Brodsky Trio will also perform that evening. And if that is not enough music, there are two jams scheduled for Monday evening. The first is a bluegrass jam at 7 p.m., led by Maxfield Anderson; the second is an old-time jam led by Sophie Wellington, which is scheduled to begin at 9 o’clock. These jams will feature musicians from the weekend, and folks are welcome to join in.

Not only is there a lot of great live music scheduled, but there are also workshops earlier in the afternoon on both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday features an intermediate bluegrass guitar workshop led by Evan Murphy. It starts at 2:30 p.m., and runs ninety minutes. There are two workshops on Sunday, both led by Jonathan Vocke. The first is at 1 p.m., and is a two finger banjo workshop. The second, which starts at 2:30, focuses on old-time rhythm guitar. The workshops require separate registration from the main festival, and are limited to only fifteen students each, so get your tickets soon. Proof of vaccination is required.

Club Passim is located at 47 Palmer St., in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And for those people who can’t make it to the venue, live streams will be available. Visit the Club Passim website for more information.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Billy Joe Shaver & Kinky Friedman: “Live Down Under” (2021) CD Review

Back in 2002, Billy Joe Shaver and Kinky Friedman, two of the world’s most talented and engaging songwriters, performed some shows together in Australia. Soon after that, a two-disc set titled Live Down Under was released on Kinky Friedman’s label, Sphincter Records, featuring recordings from that tour. Late last year, a new version of Live Down Under was released through Omnivore Recordings. This version is a single disc, featuring highlights from three successive nights in Sydney in February 2002, and includes new liner notes by David Dawson. Performing with Billy Joe Shaver and Kinky Friedman on these tracks are Jeff “Little Jewford” Shelby on keyboard, melodica, kazoo and backing vocals; Jesse “Guitar” Taylor on acoustic lead guitar; and Washington Ratso on acoustic guitar and backing vocals.

There is a good deal of humor to the performance, as you might expect, and that humor is present at the very beginning, in a playful introduction by Jeff Shelby, his voice like that of a television show host as he announces the coin toss to see which artist will sing first. Billy Joe Shaver wins, and the first song of the album is “Georgia On A Fast Train,” which features some excellent stuff by Jesse Taylor on guitar, particularly toward the end. Interestingly, the original release began with another Billy Joe Shaver song after the coin toss, “Good News Blues,” which then led to “Georgia On A Fast Train,” so two of his songs in a row. “Georgia On A Fast Train” was on Billy Joe Shaver’s self-titled 1982 release as well as Shaver’s 1993 album Tramp On Your Street. It’s a fun song to get things moving. While that first song brought Georgia to this Australian audience, the second song mentions Dallas in its first line, “From a cheap hotel in Dallas.”  This is a mellower tune, originally included on Kinky Friedman’s debut album, Sold American. I love the humor of this song, particularly in those final lines: “You said you’d always love me/How could you, stop/In pieces on the runway/I love you, stop.”

Billy Joe Shaver then delivers “Star In My Heart,” a song from his 2001 album The Earth Rolls On. I love this song, and this is a beautiful, heartfelt, honest rendition. Check out these lyrics: “Don’t waste your precious thoughts on me/And my tired old dreams/Your soul is bursting at the seams/You are finally free/To be even more than you could ever dream of.” That’s followed by another of the disc’s highlights, “Rapid City, South Dakota,” a great folk song from Kinky Friedman’s 1974 self-titled album. “He said, I hope to God she finds the goodbye letter that I wrote her/But the mail don’t move so fast in Rapid City, South Dakota.” Billy Joe Shaver follows that with “I’m Just An Old Chunk Of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be A Diamond Someday),” which here is titled simply “Old Chunk Of Coal.” This classic from the early 1980s feels like a traditional song, in part because of its main lines. This version features some excellent work on guitar.

“Sold American,” the title track from Kinky Friedman’s debut album, is a song that always rings true and is beautifully sad.  It is yet another of this disc’s highlights. Then Billy Joe Shaver gives us “Ride Me Down Easy,” a tune from his 1976 album When I Get My Wings. I love the laugh in his voice as he sings of “satisfied women.” Kinky Friedman provides a funny introduction for “Wild Man From Borneo”: “Basically my job was to help people who’d been farming successfully for over two thousand years to improve their agricultural methods.” The song itself has a sweet vibe, with some nice work on keys. “Well, the tattooed lady left the circus train/Lost all her pictures in the rain/I wonder if you’re happy, I wonder if you’re free/I wonder if you’ll ever know the mark you left on me.” Kinky Friedman also included this song on his 2015 release The Loneliest Man I Ever Met. That’s followed by “When The Fallen Angels Fly,” another moving song. Check out these lines: “I know no one’s ever loved me/Like you’re loving me tonight/There is something you must tell me/You think I won’t understand/How you found such worldly pleasure/In the arms of other men/But I would never try to judge you/We have both been wrong and right/But I know no one’s ever loved you/Like I’m loving you tonight.” This is so goddamn good.

Kinky Friedman introduces “Marilyn And Joe” by saying he’s written only one love song, and this is it. He also mentions that “Billy Joe has written a great many of them.” This song has a Shakespeare reference, which I appreciate. “There is a place where you can go/Where Marilyn’s still dancing with DiMaggio/And Juliet with Romeo/And the name of the place is love.” Billy Joe Shaver follows that with one of his “great many” love songs, “You Asked Me To,” a song he co-wrote with Waylon Jennings, and which Jennings included on Honky Tonk Heroes. As Shaver begins it, someone in the audience whistles appreciatively.  Let the world call me a fool/But if things are right with me and you/That’s all that matters and I’ll do/Anything you ask me to.” I love that lead on guitar. Then Kinky Friedman gives us “Before All Hell Breaks Loose,” a song for our times. It begins with the line “Time to resign from the human race,” and it’s a fun one, featuring some delicious work on both guitar and keys. The line “God save the queen and the kangaroos” receives a cheer from the Australian audience. That’s followed by “Honky Tonk Heroes,” which Billy Joe Shaver dedicates to Waylon Jennings, who had died just before these concerts took place.

“Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns In The Bed” is a delightful, playful number about women’s liberation. It even features kazoo, and is the only song I can think of offhand that uses the word “harpies.” That’s followed by “Live Forever,” in which Billy Joe Shaver sings “Just like the songs I leave behind me/I’m going to live forever now.” Billy Joe Shaver died in 2020, at the age of 81, and has left us a lot of fantastic songs. That’s followed by another Billy Joe Shaver song, “You Wouldn’t Know Love (If You Fell In It),” which here is delivered a cappella, giving it a very different feel from the version on Electric Shaver. It’s a totally fun, though short rendition. “You wouldn’t know love if you fell in it/You didn’t break my heart this time, but you dang sure bent it.”

There is some playful banter about religion before Kinky Friedman begins “Ride ‘Em Jewboy,” an incredible and touching song about the Holocaust. “I'm, I'm with you, boy/If I’ve got to ride six million miles/Now the smoke from camps a-rising/See the helpless creatures on their way.” That’s followed by “Old Five And Dimers Like Me,” another of the album’s highlights, featuring a great vocal performance. “It’s taken me so long now that I know I believe/All that I do or say is all I ever will be/Too much ain’t enough for old and five and dimers like me/Too far, too high, and too deep ain’t too much to see.” The album’s only cover is “Keep On The Sunnyside,” a sing-along, with some laughter from the musicians. The encore is “Try And Try Again.” In the song’s introduction, Billy Joe Shaver mentions that he recently lost his wife and son. The song is about continuing afterward, giving life another try. “I know someday the world will learn to sing a better song/The blind will see, the deaf will hear, we all will sing along/The fighting will be ended and all hunger will be gone.”

CD Track List

  1. Intro Coin Toss
  2. Georgia On A Fast Train
  3. Western Union Wire
  4. Star In My Heart
  5. Rapid City, South Dakota
  6. Old Chunk Of Coal
  7. Sold American
  8. Ride Me Down Easy
  9. Wild Man From Borneo
  10. When The Fallen Angels Fly
  11. Marilyn And Joe
  12. You Asked Me To
  13. Before All Hell Breaks Loose
  14. Honky Tonk Heroes
  15. Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns In The Bed
  16. Live Forever
  17. You Wouldn’t Know Love (If You Fell In It)
  18. Ride ‘Em Jewboy
  19. Old Five And Dimers Like Me
  20. Keep On The Sunnyside
  21. Try And Try Again
  22. Outro Thanks And Goodbye!

Live Down Under was released on October 15, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings.

Eliza Neals: “Badder To The Bone” (2022) CD Review

Eliza Neals is a fierce and fearless warrior, waging battle from the realm of the blues, with power and soul on her side, heard not just in that great voice of hers, but in her work on piano as well. Her new album, Badder To The Bone, features mostly original material, written or co-written by Eliza Neals. It follows 2020’s Black Crow Moan, and like that album, this one features some excellent musicians backing her, including guitarists Lance Lopez and Billy Davis, keyboardist Peter Keys, bassist Jason Kott and drummer Tim Grogan. Eliza Neals produced and arranged the tracks, getting some help from co-producer Michael Puwal on several songs.

Eliza Neals kicks off the album with “United We Stand,” a lively number with a Bo Diddley beat. This is a song designed to energize and unite us. She urges us, “Join hands together/Let’s fight the good fight” and “Look to your brothers and sisters/Don’t give into fear.” Yes, we find her at our side just when we need her the most, as we struggle through whatever this bizarre reality throws at us. We can persevere. That song is followed by “Queen Of The Nile,” a slow blues gem featuring some phenomenal work from Lance Lopez on guitar. You might know Lopez from his work with Lucky Peterson and Supersonic Blues Machine, and from his solo releases. This is a song that kind of creeps up on you and soon envelopes you in the blues, a song that takes its time. Her vocal approach and style here are reminiscent of Janis Joplin at moments. Her voice has that raw power and honesty. This track is just so fucking good, certainly one of the disc’s highlights. “Queen of the Nile/And she’s gonna make you lose your mind/Yes, she will.”

“Lockdown Love” is a strong blues song about dealing with the shifting reality during the pandemic. It includes some playful lyrics about gaining weight. “Thank God you love me ‘cause I’m eating like a pig/Ice cream and peanut butter, pancakes, chocolate chip batter/Five pounds, ten pounds, twenty pounds, whoa/Being cooped up sure is making me grow.” While lots of folks gained weight because they were home all day, dangerously close to the refrigerator at every moment, I actually lost weight during that time due to stress. Yeah, it was fun. Michael Puwal plays both guitar and bass on this track, and Jeffrey “Shakey” Fowlkes is on drums. That is followed by “King Kong,” a blues rock tune that is also a catchy love song. “All through the night, I crave your touch/Come on, darling, I miss you so much.” Then “Bucket Of Tears” sounds like a sexy slow dance, a stranger sliding up to you from the shadows, casting her charms upon you. And if you’re not careful, it will be you who is crying that bucket of tears. “Why oh why did you make me cry/Tears rolling down all night/I cried a bucket of tears over you.” This is another of my personal favorites. It was written by Eliza Neals and Michael Puwal. Brian Clune plays drums on this one.

“Got A Gun” has a fun sound and vibe, and even includes hand claps, though carries a threat: “I got a gun, don’t mess with me/Don’t you know, I’m going to use it on you.” John Galvin joins Eliza Neals on keys for this one, delivering some really good stuff on organ. And this is the track that features Billy Davis on guitar. Skeeto Valdez is on drums. Then “Fueling Me Up” has a compelling groove, making the song feel like it is stalking us, slowly taking hold, getting its grip on us. And we might want to sing the song’s line “Don’t you ever, don’t you ever stop” to Eliza Neals, or to this song itself. That’s followed by “Heathen,” which features John Galvin again on keys. I seriously dig his work. And Eliza Neals doesn’t hold back here. “I’m sick and tired of all your pain/You’d better get your ass on the very next train/You’s a heathen/I wish you’d stop breathin’.” Nothing subtle or ambiguous there, no way to mistake her meaning. Kymberli Wright provides some excellent backing vocal work on this track. The album’s only cover is a good rendition of “Can’t Find My Way Home,” written by Steve Winwood and originally recorded by Blind Faith. The album concludes with another version of “Queen Of The Nile,” titled “Queen Of The Nile II.” This version is somewhat shorter, but still great.

CD Track List

  1. United We Stand
  2. Queen Of The Nile
  3. Lockdown Love
  4. King Kong
  5. Bucket Of Tears
  6. Got A Gun
  7. Fueling Me Up
  8. Heathen
  9. Can’t Find My Way Home
  10. Queen Of The Nile II

Badder To The Bone is scheduled to be released on April 23, 2022 on E-H Records.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Lia Hide: “The Missing Fourth Guest” (2022) CD Review

The world has entered an undeniably dark place, with people falling under the sway of authoritarianism while the propaganda machines pump disinformation and hatred into their heads. Add a pandemic to the mix, one that seems to go on indefinitely, and now a brutal attack by Russia on the Ukrainian people, and it feels like we are at the edge of an abyss. Certain voices seem designed to reach us in the darkest of places, voices that feel at home in the bleak and gloomy landscapes, perhaps being born partly of the darker elements, and yet also having a light to help guide us through our own nightmares. Lia Hide is such a voice, as she demonstrates on her new release, The Missing Fourth Guest. The title of the album comes from the work of Plato, and certainly this is a time to turn philosophical, to take a fresh look at the reality around us and within us. The music here is an intriguing mix of pop, jazz, and industrial elements, with Lia’s voice being the main focus. Joining the singer and keyboardist on this release are Aki’Base on bass, George Rados on drums, Stelios Chatzikaleas on trumpet and Dennis Morfis on guitar.

The album opens with “Birthdays,” which begins like a wonderfully twisted lullaby. And aren’t we all still children, at least in the sense that there is so much we don’t really know? This song might be hitting me more strongly in part because I just had one of those birthdays that lead to taking stock in accomplishments or lack thereof. “This too shall pass,” she reminds us toward the end. Yes, and all too soon. “And then one day we die, my love,” Lia Hide sings at the beginning of “Uterus Will.” Who hasn’t been considering his or her own mortality during these uncertain times? And birthdays inevitably also lead to these thoughts. I love the rhythm of her vocal delivery, intoxicating and haunting, and then that gorgeous trumpet is somehow both soothing and equally haunting. But it is that final section that just destroys me. “Dementia, sweet darling/Why won’t you let go of me/My hands are old and shaking/I cannot find my key/Dementia, sweet husband/Why won’t you let go of me.” This is one of my personal favorite tracks. Then in “Niobe” there is a sense of urgency to the music. Again, we are facing our mortality, but here it is from a different angle, a tale of vanity, of passing beauty and of its seeming importance. The song’s title comes from mythology. Certain lines stand out, such as “The good people know she grew older/The good people noticed the cracks/On walls, on her skin and complexion” and “And made sure to hide them forever/Then she slit her beautiful throat.” The trumpet again plays an important part.

In “Row Row Row,” the music is like the children’s song having entered the darkest of realms. It begins with those lines we heard as children: “Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.” And soon it is in a more adult space, though she sings “And all I do is row, row, row, row the boat.” If life is but a dream, it might be one we wish to wake from. As are the previous tracks, this song is captivating, reflecting a harsh reality. “And now the demons are free.” That is how it seems, isn’t it? That’s followed by “Proposal,” that work on keys at the beginning like a fleeting reality, as we hear the notes immediately slipping into the past, into the shadows. “I hear your voice/Seems like someone’s there/Give me a choice/Lure me out today.” This track features some excellent and powerful vocal work. It leads straight into “Cloud,” which also has a sense of urgency about it, the way the music pushes its way forward. This is one of the album’s most exciting and intriguing tracks. Toward the end, there is a spoken word section. That track then in turn leads straight into “Dinner,” which shares some elements with “Proposal.” In this one Lia Hide sings, “Can we meet after dinner tonight/Can we focus on being all right/I get confused.” This track includes some interesting electronic sounds, as well as some wonderful work on trumpet. The album then concludes with “Wynnona.” It opens with these lines: “Life go strange/I grow weary/From Monday to Friday I sleep.” There is a captivating beauty to this song. It suddenly kicks in near the end, like rushing up the side of a skyscraper, toward a fire on the roof while lights explode all around.

CD Track List

  1. Birthdays
  2. Uterus Will
  3. Niobe
  4. Row Row Row
  5. Proposal
  6. Cloud
  7. Dinner
  8. Wynnona

The Missing Fourth Guest is scheduled to be released on April 1, 2022.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Antje Duvekot at Club Passim, 3-19-22: Photos

Few things in the world seem to improve as time passes, but one thing that has actually gotten better over the years is Passim. I started going there in the late 1980s, when, as I recall, the shows were relatively short and Bob would stand in the back, holding up a finger to alert performers they could do just one more song. The vibe is much warmer these days, at least from my perspective, and Club Passim has become one of my favorite places to catch a show. One thing that has not changed is the high quality of performers the venue attracts. While I was in Massachusetts the last couple of weeks, I got a chance to see Antje Duvekot there. If you are into the singer/songwriter scene, you likely are already aware of what an absolutely wonderful performer she is. If you haven’t yet heard her music, I highly recommend checking her out. At the show on the nineteenth (the early show – she did two concerts that day), she played some new material, including “Open Waters,” which is about stepping out of one’s comfort zone, and “Traces,” which she described as “a COVID romance song.” It came as no surprise, of course, that her new material is really good. I’m looking forward to her next album.

Here are a few photos from the show:

"Long Way"




"Allergic To Water"

Set List

  1. Long Way
  2. Feeling Good
  3. New Wild West
  4. Traces
  5. Anwesenheit
  6. Open Waters
  7. Vertigo
  8. Pearls
  9. Evolution
  10. Allergic To Water
  11. Dublin Boys
  12. Reasonland
  13. Ions
  14. Dandelion


  1. Girl On The Wire

Club Passim is located at 47 Palmer St. in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Ron Spencer Band: “Into The Blue” (2018) CD Review

Ron Spencer Band delivers some seriously good blues and rock music on Into The Blue, which was released in 2018. The band at that time was made up of Ron Spencer on guitar and vocals, Mark Gibson on vocals, Bob Purdy on bass and vocals, and Ross Moe on drums. In December of 2020, Mark Gibson died from complications related to COVID-19, after playing at a venue that did not comply with state restrictions. His death was a terrible blow to the music community in Syracuse and beyond. This album features mostly original material, written or co-written by Mark Gibson. A few special guests join the band, including Dan “Cato” Eaton on keyboards, saxophone, percussion and vocals. Jeff Moleski, Sharon Allen and Donna Colton provide backing vocals.

The band gets right to it with “Closer To The Bone,” the album’s opening track, which features some delicious stuff on keys, as well as a strong vocal performance. The song’s first lines certainly speak to us in these troubled times: “We’ve got some hard, hard times/No need to read between the lines/We’re gonna reap just what’s been sown/We’re living closer to the bone.” I appreciate the straightforward, honest drive of those lyrics. And check out these lines: “We don’t know who to believe/They all got something up their sleeve.” Remember, this album came out during the mendacious Trump administration. But even since then, deceit and misinformation abound. And these lines are delivered to the drum beat just before the end: “We got distraction by design/We’re out here on our own.” All in all, it’s a really good opening track.

“(I’m Doin’) Ah-ight” begins by describing some typical woes of the blues: having a job that doesn’t pay well and a car that doesn’t run. “How I survive is anybody’s guess/But I’m doing all right/For an average guy.” Yes, this song has a positive bent, no matter how poorly things are going. And isn’t that the trick these days? This track too features some wonderful work on keys, and halfway through there is a really good lead on guitar. “Well now, money don’t buy happiness/That’s a fact, that’s true/But I just need a little taste/To get rid of these blues.” Sure, it’s true that money doesn’t buy happiness; but it could certainly pay for things that would make us happy, and removing the stress and anxiety of poverty would be pretty damn close to happiness, so far as I can tell. But sometimes we just have to go out, whether we can afford it or not, as they remind us here. “We’re going to get a little dinner, do a little dancing and maybe knock a few down/We’re going rock it on up, we’re going to dance real slow/And how I’m gonna pay for this, I don’t really know.” Then just before the end, there is some nice stuff on saxophone, helping to give the track a lively ending.

“Addicted To You” quickly establishes a good groove. This one was written by Mark Gibson and Ron Spencer. “You’re the first thing I think of when I wake up/The last thing I think of every night/I’m begging you please/I’m down on my knees/Only one thing going to get me right/I can’t help myself.” Oh yeah, but it feels so good to have it that bad, doesn’t it? To be that goofy for someone. I love that guitar lead in the middle of the action. Then we get the album’s first cover, Moon Martin’s “Cadillac Walk,” which was recorded by Mink DeVille. It is delivered as a fun boogie, sort of how ZZ Top might present it. That’s followed by the album’s other cover, “I’d Rather Be (Blind, Crippled & Crazy),” here listed simply as “Blind, Crippled & Crazy.” This song was written by Charles Hodges, Daryl Carter and Don Robey, and originally recorded by O.V. Wright. Ron Spencer Band delivers a good, soulful rendition with a classic sound, a cool bass line, and some wonderful backing vocal work.

Mike Davis joins the group on organ for “So Wrong For Each Other,” a song that explores the idea of opposites attracting. “We’re so wrong for each other that we’re almost right,” they sing here, and of course we get the sense that this couple is going to be more successful than most. Partly that’s because the song boasts a totally enjoyable rhythm. I’m digging that percussion. That’s followed by “It’s Time,” and the moment that guitar comes in at the beginning, I’m fully on board. This is another of my personal favorites, and it’s an interesting choice to follow “So Wrong For Each Other.” Maybe I was wrong about that couple being successful, for here Mark Gibson sings, “Well, it’s time/Time for us to walk away/It’s time/Ain’t got nothing more to say/We can’t get along/Nobody’s right, nobody’s wrong.” But it is that guitar work that speaks even more strongly to me. So good.

I love that sax right from the start of “Callin’ To Me,” a song that contains another great, enjoyable groove. “It’s where I was raised up/It’s how I came to be/No, I don’t want to go home/But it’s callin’ to me.” Then some excellent guitar work gets “Fine, Fine Woman” off to a great start. This is a fun, lively number featuring some totally delicious stuff on keys as well as guitar, a song that is guaranteed to get everyone in the bar dancing, even that jaded slob in the corner. A rockin’ love song, oh yes! It makes me happy every time I listen to it. The album then concludes with “Cold Outside,” another fun number. “My baby threw me out/I don’t know the reason why/But I can tell you what I do know/Man, it’s cold outside.” Oh, that is rough. How heartless to throw the poor bastard out during winter and then lock the doors and windows. But we can all warm ourselves grooving to this wonderful tune.

CD Track List

  1. Closer To The Bone
  2. (I’m Doin’) Ah-ight
  3. Addicted To You
  4. Cadillac Walk
  5. Blind, Crippled & Crazy
  6. So Wrong For Each Other
  7. It’s Time
  8. Callin’ To Me
  9. Fine, Fine Woman
  10. Cold Outside

Into The Blue was released on September 28, 2018 on Real Gone Records.

Monday, March 14, 2022

The Popravinas: “Willy Nilly” (2019) CD Review

California band The Popravinas deliver some fun rock and power pop on their 2019 release Willy Nilly. The band is made up of Eddy Sill on bass and lead vocals; John Adair on guitar, keyboard, mandolin, banjo, piano, percussion, harmonica, pedal steel guitar and backing vocals; Dean Lyons on rhythm guitar; and David Rodgers on drums. This album, which followed 2017’s California Sonic, features all original material written by Eddy Sill.

The disc gets off to a good start with “Talkin’ Out Loud,” a song title that caught my attention, for it’s something we all say from time to time when we mean “thinking out loud.” The song itself is a bright pop rock number with a joyous shout of “Woo!” before getting into the lyrics. “We’re going to wake up/In the end we’ll make up/Temporarily shaken up/Talkin’ out loud.” Ah, I hope we do wake up soon. I’d love to discover that the last five years or so were just a bad dream. This song is like some sunlight pouring down upon us, with a sound that feels like summer. That’s followed by “Tim’s Basement,” which has a seriously catchy sound. It’s a delicious pop song, and I think my brother Tim is going to dig this one, in large part because of its final line “We’ll hang out down in Tim’s basement for a while.” Hey, the basement is where my brother has his bar, so it’s fitting. Let’s all meet there. Boy, will he be surprised.

“Did Ya?” has a gentler, mellower sound and vibe, and features some nice vocal work. “They say the late night scene is cool/The architecture and the fools/ Not much reason bothering you.” I like the laid back feel of this track. Then in “Put It All To Bed” they sing, “Running with a feeling/That we just can’t put off today/Running with a feeling/Save it for another day/Some other way.” This one has something of a country vibe, but gets there via the beach. That’s followed by “Dun’ Me In,” a song that feels like youth, a song to play while you’re driving around. I’m not sure what the apostrophe is for in the song’s title, for it sounds like they’re singing “You done me in,” but since they spelled “done” as “dun,” it’s not like they need to show us the “e” is missing. Well, no matter, particularly as this is one of the album’s highlights. This is also the song that gives the album its title, in the lines “Could’ve played war games/Might be hearsay/A case of willy nilly ensued.” It features some good work on electric guitar.

“Sofia (CMU)” also has a youthful, cheerful vibe, and even includes hand claps. It’s a song about a girl going to college in Pittsburgh. Kyle O’Donnell joins the group on saxophone, adding more fun to the mix. Actually, I wish there were a bit more saxophone to this catchy song. Then The Popravinas veer more toward country rock with “Almost Sick,” another of the album’s highlights. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I know what you’ve been saying/But it ain’t quite what you do/Must be really stupid/Just to stand here like a fool/Saw the look on your face/Knew it wasn’t my place/And I’m almost sick of losing my mind.” And for some reason these lines make me smile every time I listen to this track: “Saw the look on your face/Could you pick up the pace.” That’s followed by “Hard Way (To Make An Easy Living),” in which they sing, “Go ahead and play it stupid/Go play it as a big clown/Every day is another stage/Beats hanging around/Hold your wallet close/To your heart and guess/Who’s coming around.” The album concludes with “Up The Coast To San Francisco,” which has more of a folk and country vibe as it starts, and it features both banjo and pedal steel. There is also some interesting, unexpected percussion, and some really nice guitar work. This is another of my favorites. “And when you put your jacket down/You can start to play around/And pretend that you might be from California.”

CD Track List

  1. Talkin’ Out Loud
  2. Tim’s Basement
  3. Did Ya?
  4. Put It All To Bed
  5. Dun’ Me In
  6. Sofia (CMU)
  7. Almost Sick
  8. Hard Way (To Make An Easy Living)
  9. Up The Coast To San Francisco

Willy Nilly was released on February 7, 2019 on Zesty Smiles Records. Since then, they’ve released another album, Goons West, which came out in August of last year.

Note:  On March 16th, I heard back from John Adair with a bit of clarification regarding the song title “Dun’ Me In.” In his words, the “Dun’” in the title “refers to someone’s last name and is inspired/interpreted by true events.”