Friday, April 29, 2022

James Lee Baker: “Impressions” (2022) CD Review

James Lee Baker is a talented singer and songwriter, with a great sense of storytelling. In the fall of 2020, he released 100 Summers, an excellent album that featured original material, and was packaged like a book. On his new album, Impressions, he takes a different course, this time covering the material of other artists, choosing songs written by people who have inspired him, and putting his own distinctive spin on each track. As on 100 Summers, he is joined by some extraordinary musicians, including bassist Roscoe Beck, a name familiar to Leonard Cohen fans, and guitarist Doug Pettibone. And though this release is not packaged like a book, it still contains a relatively thick liner notes booklet, with information on each of the songs chosen, as well as artwork by Zulfikri Mokoagow, the same artist who illustrated 100 Summers. So you’ll want a physical copy of this CD.

He opens the album with “Young Man In America,” a song written by Ana├»s Mitchell and originally released as the title track to her 2012 album. It is a strong and moving song, and James Lee Baker creates a rather haunting atmosphere at the beginning. He is joined on vocals by Laurie MacAllister, whom you likely know from her work in Red Molly and with Ellis Paul. Katie Marie is on percussion, Dave Sher is on electric guitar, and Michael Ramos is on piano. James Lee Baker follows that with a really good rendition of David Gray’s “Living Room,” a song from Gray’s 1993 album A Century Ends. On this track, in addition to percussion, Katie Marie provides backing vocals. “And last year’s just a blur/Through a head full of beer.” I appreciate the bright, hopeful tone.

I first learned about James Lee Baker’s music through Ellis Paul. During the pandemic, Ellis Paul began a series of online concerts, and once a week invited a special guest to join him remotely. James Lee Baker joined him in August of 2020, playing a couple of songs from what was then his upcoming release, 100 Summers, and I was struck by his talent. Well, on this new album, James Lee Baker covers one of Ellis Paul’s songs, “Did Galileo Pray?” James Lee Baker slows the song down a bit, and delivers a passionate and moving rendition. Part of the power of this version comes from the backing vocal work. Roscoe Beck, Katie Marie, Laurie MacAllister, Dave Sher and Michael Ramos all provide backing vocals on this one. I also really like Dave Sher’s work on mandolin. This is a gorgeous rendition, and is one of my favorite tracks on this release. Then “Nashville” begins gently on acoustic guitar. “I was barely breathing/I was crawling home.” James Lee Baker certainly has chosen some excellent and moving material to dig into on this album. This song was written by David Mead, and was included on his 2004 album Indiana. “Maybe I’m a fast train/Rolling down a mountain/Watching all my life go by/You’re a distant memory/You’re an exit sign.” And because he has pulled us close with the song’s gentle vibes, it is all the more powerful when he raises his voice and belts out certain lines.

He lightens things a bit with “Rolling Rock And Rock ‘N’ Roll,” written by Steve LaSala and Gene Kowalski. This one takes me back, in part because when we were broke in our early twenties, Rolling Rock was still plentiful. Do they still make that beer? “I’ve learned my lesson, I’ll go straight/I’ll be home every night by eight.” Eduardo Barbosa plays upright bass on this track, and Stasia Estep is on backing vocals. This track also features some really nice work by Doug Pettibone on guitar. Then from John Gorka’s work, James Lee Baker chooses “Morningside,” a song I love, in part because of the line “You ask the world, and the world says no.” The first time I saw John Gorka in concert, I didn’t actually see him. This was at Tanglewood, and there were several artists playing that day. My friends and I had spread out a blanket or two on the lawn, and I lay back and closed my eyes. “Wake me when John Gorka is on,” I said. But no, I slept through his entire set. Later my friend told me she thought I was awake, because I was smiling the entire time and tapping my fingers and so on. Anyway, “Morningside” came along a decade later. It is a positive song about using our time well, something that is on my mind a lot these days. “Better be off, I’ve got dreams to dream/Though it seems uphill and a little extreme/If I can find hope in this fading light/Then I’ll find you on the morningside.” Beautiful. Michael Ramos plays accordion on this track.

Doug Pettibone delivers some really nice work on pedal steel on “Most Promising Officer,” a song written by Richard Todd. On this one Molly Venter provides the backing vocals. Like Laurie MacAllister, you know Molly Venter from her work in Red Molly. This is another powerful song. It is followed by “Some People,” written by Kevin Faherty. James Lee Baker performs this one solo, just vocals and acoustic guitar. Nothing else is needed. This song has a sweet vibe. “Some people read you like you’re a mystery/Some like a valentine/Some people meet you at a point in your history/With a heart that’s right on time.” Then “Deepening Of The Stillness” has an uplifting folk sound. This song was written by Richard Todd, the only songwriter represented twice on this disc. This track features Javier Chaparro on fiddle, and Matt Hubbard on harmonica, and is another of the disc’s highlights. Roscoe Beck delivers a wonderful bass line, and I especially love that work on fiddle. “Sometimes words get left unspoken/Sometimes words just vanish in the air/We are here for but a moment/Before we whisper our last breath/Did I show you how much I love you.” Ah yes, life is short, and we should spend as much of our time as possible showing those special people in our lives that they are loved. James Edward Baker, Mary Margaret Dement and Shanna In A Dress provide backing vocals on this track. This excellent album then concludes with a Bob Dylan song, “Just Like A Woman,” featuring Joel Guzman on accordion, and Molly Venter on backing vocals. When James Lee Baker sings the first line, “Nobody feels any pain,” I believe him. Something about the way he delivers this song puts me at such ease, which I appreciate.

CD Track List

  1. Young Man In America
  2. Living Room
  3. Did Galileo Pray?
  4. Nashville
  5. Rolling Rock And Rock ‘N’ Roll
  6. Morningside
  7. Most Promising Officer
  8. Some People
  9. Deepening Of The Stillness
  10. Just Like A Woman

Impressions is scheduled to be released on May 6, 2022.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Joan Jett And The Blackhearts: “Acoustics” (2022) Vinyl Review

I’ve been a fan of Joan Jett’s music since I was nine years old, when the song “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” was released, and I have also long been a fan of folk and acoustic music, so Acoustics was understandably high on my wish list for Record Store Day. This record features acoustic renditions of eight classic Joan Jett And The Blackhearts songs, including two performed live. The music is presented on traditional black vinyl, which feels perfect for the Blackhearts. I do wish this release contained liner notes, listing the musicians, or at the very least revealing just which specific concert the two live tracks are from.

Side A

The album opens with “You Drive Me Wild,” a hard rockin’ song that Joan Jett originally recorded with The Runaways back in the 1970s. She counts it off here, delivering a seriously cool version. The song has a great raw bluesy vibe, quite a bit different from earlier versions. Plus, it features some excellent work on guitar, helping to make this track a highlight of the record. “My head is all filled with these crazy thoughts.” That’s followed by “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got,” an early favorite of mine. This song was originally included on her 1980 self-titled debut solo album, which was re-titled Bad Reputation for its re-release in 1981, which is when I got my copy. I listened to that cassette over and over. And yes, I love this acoustic rendition. The power is still there, but a new intimacy is created, or revealed, in this approach. It feels more personal.

“School Days” is another song that Joan Jett originally recorded when she was with The Runaways. This track has an even more raw vibe and sounds so good. “I’m starting to slip, I’m losing my mind.” That’s followed by “Good Music.” As it begins, this one has kind of a folk vibe. It’s like folk mixed with an early 1960s pop thing, and it works really well. “It always feels so good to hear good music.” Indeed! “I think that I would die without good music.” Yes, that is just about right.

Side B

The second side opens with “Fresh Start,” a song that is a whole lot of fun. And hey, who couldn’t use a fresh start? “Rewind the tape, reset the clock.” This song makes us feel that we still have the time, the energy, the power to change and improve our lives. The music is here to help us do it. That’s followed by “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” which was the opening song on Up Your Alley. I wasn’t expecting either of these songs to work as well as they do in this acoustic setting. This version of “I Hate Myself For Loving You” retains all the power and attitude of the original, and is wonderful. It has lost none of its edge.

Then we get into the live tracks, both of which were recorded in Los Angeles. The first is “Androgynous,” the only song on this record not written or co-written by Joan Jett. It was written by Paul Westerberg and originally recorded by The Replacements. A song that was ahead of its time. Joan Jett included this song on a couple of other albums, including that excellent 2006 release Sinner. This live acoustic version is fun, with a certain amount of joy to the delivery. There is even some laughter at the end. The record concludes with a hopping, rocking rendition of “Bad Reputation.” This was always a great one to sing along to, and still is. “I don’t really care if you think I’m strange/I ain’t gonna change.”

Record Track List

Side A

  1. You Drive Me Wild
  2. You Don’t Know What You’ve Got
  3. School Days
  4. Good Music

Side B

  1. Fresh Start
  2. I Hate Myself For Loving You
  3. Androgynous
  4. Bad Reputation

Acoustics was released on April 23, 2022 through Blackheart Records and Sony Music. It was limited to 6,550 copies.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Detective: “Detective” (1977/2022) Vinyl Review

Detective was a late 1970s hard rock band featuring Michael Des Barres on lead vocals. You might know him from his later work with Chequered Past and Power Station, but more likely you know him from his acting work in shows like MacGyver and Melrose Place, and films like Ghoulies and The Man From Elysian Fields. The group also included Michael Monarch (the original lead guitarist of Steppenwolf) on guitar, Bobby Picket on bass, Tony Kaye (a founding member of Yes) on keyboards, and Jon Hyde on drums. The group released only two albums and a couple of singles during its brief existence. Now the band’s self-titled 1977 debut LP has been reissued for Record Store Day. It is mastered from the original analog tapes, and presented on silver vinyl. It also includes new liner notes with a brief history of the band, including how the group was signed by Jimmy Page to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label.

Side A

The album opens with “Recognition,” this song kind of easing in with some good bluesy guitar work. The vocals at first play over that, so that the focus is on the lyrics. “Everybody wants to be recognized/It doesn’t matter what you’ve done/Some people find it on a big silver screen/Some find it behind a shotgun.” And soon it kicks in. It retains that bluesy vibe, just as so much of the 1970s rock had. This song features some really good vocal work. Toward the end there is a section where the line “Recognition is what I want” is repeated. It’s a strong opening track. That’s followed by “Got Enough Love,” which kicks in almost immediately, with a great groove that certainly has a Led Zeppelin vibe. This song takes me back to my childhood, to the time when I started collecting records and cassettes. It is a whole lot of fun. Not many folks are still making music like this, and that’s a shame. This is one of the album’s best tracks.

“Grim Reaper” is an interesting one, with Michael Des Barres shouting out, “I need my innocence back,” and essentially challenging the grim reaper, challenging death, which might call to mind Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. The song features strong vocal work and a good beat, and at the end he repeats “Take me down” as the song fades out, so I’m guessing the grim reaper is victorious. The first side of the record then ends with “Nightingale,” which begins with pretty work on guitar, feeling like a lullaby. But as the song progresses, we start paying more attention to the lyrics, which are about crime and longing. “But they tell me opportunity comes just once in your life/With the till left wide open I thought the time was right/So I filled up my pockets with everything in sight.” This song goes through a few different sections, and it starts to rock when he repeats “I love you, baby” and says he’s coming back home.

Side B

The second side opens with a fun, solid rock song, “Detective Man,” its title nearly putting Detective on that list of bands who have a song sharing the group’s name. This is a lively, totally enjoyable number, another of the record’s highlights. It’s a song that feels like a good time, though the lyrics describe something other than that, giving a warning. It’s kind of a scary situation, actually. That’s followed by “Ain’t None Of Your Business,” a slower tune, in which Michael Des Barres sings, “Don’t ask me where I went last night/It ain’t none of your concern/Who I see and what I do” and “Sticking your nose where it ain’t wanted/Ain’t none of your business, never you mind.” Remember the days before the internet when privacy was valued? Now we want feedback from strangers on everything from what we made for breakfast to where we are planning our vacations, and we don’t mind having our every move tracked. Hell, take me back to the 1970s. This song is aimed at one person, but I think these days we can sing it to the world at large.

“Deep Down” is another slow tune that begins with some good, expressive guitar work in the blues realm. It does stray into somewhat cheesier territory, but is still enjoyable. This is the album’s only instrumental track. Things then get funky with “Wild Hot Summer Nights.” This is one of my favorite tracks, in part because it certainly feels like those great summer nights of years past, but mainly because of the lyrics, which are actually quite serious and tell of violence and corruption, making the song still relevant. So it will get you dancing, but then feeling kind of weird about dancing. “The situation, the situation is getting out of hand/Newspapers carry the story through the land.” This track also features some really good work on guitar. The album concludes with “One More Heartache,” the drums getting this one going, establishing a solid hard rock groove. It has another strong vocal performance, but for whatever reason, I grow a bit bored with this track.

Record Track List

Side A

  1. Recognition
  2. Got Enough Love
  3. Grim Reaper
  4. Nightingale

Side B

  1. Detective Man
  2. Ain’t None Of Your Business
  3. Deep Down
  4. Wild Hot Summer Nights
  5. One More Heartache

This special vinyl reissue of Detective was released on April 23, 2022 through Org Music.


Monday, April 25, 2022

The Sam Phillips Years: Sun Records Curated By Record Store Day: Vol. 9 (2022) Vinyl Review

This past weekend marked the fifteenth year of Record Store Day, and in those fifteen years, certain patterns and traditions have emerged. One such tradition began in 2014 when a special compilation of music from Sun Records was released. Since then, a new volume has come out each year. Last year’s release was titled Having A Party! and it contained tracks by Bettye Lavette, The Brightlights, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. The new volume, The Sam Phillips Years: Sun Records Curated By Record Store Day: Vol. 9, also contains songs by Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, along with favorites by Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. The record is presented in traditional black vinyl, and really, no other color would feel appropriate, not with the Man in Black Johnny Cash being present in its grooves.

Side A

And though the word “Party” is not in the title of this year’s offering, the moment the first track begins, it certainly feels like a party. That first track is “We Wanna Boogie” from Sonny Burgess. Just listen to that piano, those vocals, that rhythm. So much fun. Who doesn’t want to boogie now? And that guitar part toward the end rocks! That’s followed by one of Johnny Cash’s popular songs, “Big River.” I’ve always loved this one. I first heard it from the Grateful Dead. That was a thing about the Dead, they provided a channel to a lot of incredible artists from a rather wide range of musical genres. This original version is, of course, fantastic. I just love Johnny Cash’s delivery. There is so much character in every word he sings. The line that always tickled me is “I met her accidentally in St. Paul, Minnesota.” That in turn is followed by Carl Perkins’ “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby.” This is a song I first heard by The Beatles, on a compilation I got as a gift when I was eight years old.  It’s a fun, playful number, with a goofy amount of boasting (though with The Beatles, it was probably an understatement).

The album changes gears with a delightful country number by The Miller Sisters, “Someday You Will Pay,” which I believe was their first single. This one opens with fiddle, and there is another excellent moment in the middle led by that instrument. It’s a song about karma. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Someday you’re going to be lonely/Someday you’re going to cry/You’ll be so broken-hearted/You’ll wish that you could die/You may be happy for a while/You’ll think you’re having fun/Someday your heart will break in two/You’ll pay for what you’ve done.” Then Rosco Gordon certainly knows how to immediately grab our attention. Just listen to the way he begins “Booted.” This one isn’t about waiting for karma to work its dubious magic, but rather making it happen yourself. “I’m gonna load my pistol, gonna sharpen my knife/I’m gonna get that man that’s got my wife.” This song has some interesting and delicious vocal work, and also some wonderful stuff on saxophone. It is one of my favorite tracks of this compilation. The first side then concludes with Little Milton’s “Ooo Wee Baby,” another gem. Here he follows a different strategy from the previous song: “So don’t leave me now/Give me one more chance/I’ll prove to you/That I’m a real nice man.” This track features some good work on piano.

Side B

The album’s second side opens with “Claudette,” an early Roy Orbison song that was a hit for The Everly Brothers in 1958, used as the flip side to “All I Have To Do Is Dream.” Here we get Roy Orbison’s recording, which is more in the rock and roll vein than a lot of his most famous compositions and recordings. Then we get into the blues with James Cotton’s “Straighten Up Baby,” featuring a great, lively vocal performance. “Straighten up, baby/Why don’t you fly right sometime/That would ease my temperature and cool my worried mind.” And speaking of vocals, “Tiger Man” opens with a loud call, a sort of howl, demanding our attention. Fantastic. This is one of his Rufus Thomas Jr.’s earliest singles. “I’m the king of jungle/They call me the tiger man.” That does not feel like idle boasting. This song has a great, raw power, plus some excellent work on guitar and a strong rhythm.

We are then invited to boogie again with Pinetop Perkins’ “Pinetop Boogie Woogie,” another totally fun track. The lyrics are more like comments and instructions offered over that great groove. “And when I say stop, you know I mean stop.” It features some wonderful stuff on piano. From there, we go into the country realm with “So Ashamed” from Charlie Feathers. I love his vocals, how they threaten at any moment to go into yodeling and yet never do. This track also features some nice work on steel guitar. This collection concludes with Jerry Lee Lewis performing a lively, energetic rendition of “When The Saints Go Marching In.” This guy is such a dynamic performer, and there must be a wink in his eye when he sings of redemption. I mean, if there is any sort of heaven, and Jerry Lee Lewis gets in, he will quickly transform the whole damn place to the most hopping club that side of the great inferno. Anyway, he delivers an excellent rendition.

Record Track List

Side A

  1. We Wanna Boogie – Sonny Burgess
  2. Big River – Johnny Cash
  3. Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby – Carl Perkins
  4. Someday You Will Pay – The Miller Sisters
  5. Booted – Rosco Gordon
  6. Ooo Wee Baby – Little Milton

Side B

  1. Claudette – Roy Orbison
  2. Straighten Up Baby – James Cotton
  3. Tiger Man – Rufus Thomas, Jr.
  4. Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie – Pinetop Perkins
  5. So Ashamed – Charlie Feathers
  6. When The Saints Go Marching In – Jerry Lee Lewis

The Sam Phillips Years: Sun Records Curated By Record Store Day: Vol. 9 was released on April 23, 2022 through Org Music. It is limited to 3,000 copies.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Jeannie C. Riley: “Harper Valley P.T.A.” (1968/2022) Vinyl Review

Years ago, for my parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary, I made a couple of mix CDs containing one track for each year of their marriage. The song I chose from 1968 was Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” a song I remembered them enjoying during my childhood. But when making the mix CD, I took the song from a compilation of hits from 1968, not from Jeannie C. Riley’s LP, for I did not own that album. So I wasn’t familiar with its other tracks. But now for Record Store Day, the album has been reissued, and this time it is presented on translucent bright yellow vinyl, and includes new liner notes written by Jeannie C. Riley herself. Taking a glance at the track list, it’s clear this record has a theme. If you are familiar with its title track, then you’ll see that some of the characters that appear in its lyrics also get their own songs on this LP. There are tracks titled “Widow Jones,” “Mr. Harper” and “Sippin’ Shirley Thompson,” for examples.

Side 1

The album opens with its title track. If you are not familiar with this song, it’s about a woman who receives a written reprimand from the local P.T.A. about her clothes and behavior. Rather than cower, the woman in question, who is the narrator’s mother, addresses the next P.T.A. meeting, pointing out all the shortcomings of those present, things much worse than what she herself was accused of. Basically, she shows them all as hypocrites. And this was back in the days when being called out for hypocrisy was embarrassing. These days, of course, hypocrisy is a given for the Republican Party, those people being too callous to feel any shame about it. But this song, it turns out, is just the beginning. The story continues with the album’s next track, “Widow Jones,” in which Jeannie C. Riley sings, “But when you have a shape like Widow Jones, you have a lot of friends at City Hall/Well, I don’t bring her up because I think we should put her down/I just want to shed some light on the truth in this town.” Like “Harper Valley P.T.A.” this song was written by Tom T. Hall. Jeannie C. Riley talks a bit about the songwriter in the album’s liner notes.

“No Brass Band” is more in the folk realm, with a rather pretty sound. This one too tells a story. “But there’ll be no brass band at the station/There’ll be no smiles and no celebration/For daddy, there’ll just be a black hearse waiting.” We then get back to the characters of the main song with “Mr. Harper,” which was also written by Tom T. Hall. “Mr. Harper, you’re the richest man around/It’s your valley and you are the man who made it a town.” In these expanded character portraits, we find more understanding of the people of the town. She then turns from these characters to herself with a song titled “Run Jeannie Run.” It is a true story? Probably not, but it doesn’t really matter, for it’s a good song. Actually, it’s one of the album’s best. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “The sheriff said that day/Children can’t live this way/Said he’d send someone to take us into town/That night I said goodbye/My little brothers and sisters cried/But I ran away so far I’d not be found.” This one was written by Clark Bentley and Jerri Clark. The first side of the record concludes with another of the disc’s highlights, “Shed Me No Tears,” which features a heartfelt, moving performance. “When I am gone, sing for me no sad songs.”

Side 2

The second side opens with “The Cotton Patch.” There is a good amount of attitude in her delivery, which is wonderful. “Yeah, I’m a sweet young thing, I just turned eighteen/And I’m unhooking the latch/‘Cause I’ve got too much class for this cotton patch.” Ah, but how much of it is simply in her head? After all, she’s only a teenager, and she’s got a lot to learn. Jeannie C. Riley then takes us back to Harper Valley with “Sippin’ Shirley Thompson.” You’ll remember her from the lines “And if you smell Shirley Thompson’s breath/You’ll find she’s had a little nip of gin.” Here we learn more about her. “Sippin’ Shirley Thompson doesn’t care/She’s thirty-eight and feelin’ fine/And not much up to going anywhere/Her husband is a bible salesman.” That’s followed by “The Little Town Square,” a lively and fun country song about growing up poor and managing without the help of others. Like this album’s title track, this song is mainly about the narrator’s mother. “The women all said mama wasn’t no good/The men would make a pass any time that they could/When mama needed help, she couldn’t get it nowhere/They all turned their backs in the little town square.”

“Ballad Of Louise” is a slower tune that really shows Jeannie C. Riley’s vocal power and talent. To my ears, this is the album’s best track. It tells a gloriously sad and twisted tale of heartache and murder. “The hour was late, the night was warm/I hid the bundle beneath my arm/The thought of what I’d soon be doing made me freeze.” This song was written by Naomi Martin. The album then concludes with “Satan Place,” which has a similar vibe to “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” except this time the gossip is about the daughter rather than the mother. And so she reveals the troubles of other daughters and sons. It’s basically the same thing as the album’s title track, just flipped. It even takes place at a town meeting. It’s not a bad song, but feels like repetition.

Record Track List

Side 1

  1. Harper Valley P.T.A.
  2. Widow Jones
  3. No Brass Band
  4. Mr. Harper
  5. Run Jeannie Run
  6. Shed Me No Tears

Side 2

  1. The Cotton Patch
  2. Sippin’ Shirley Thompson
  3. The Little Town Square
  4. Ballad Of Louise
  5. Satan Place

This special vinyl reissue of Harper Valley P.T.A. was released on April 23, 2022 through Org Music.

 

I See Hawks In L.A. at CSUN Art Gallery, 4-23-22 Concert Review

It’s been a strange time, no question about that, and like a lot of folks, I’ve relied on music to help keep my spirits up, to help keep me from judging humanity too harshly. There is certain music that just feels right for the soul, you know? One of my favorite bands, one that provides just that kind of music, and one that I missed during this pandemic, is I See Hawks In L.A., made up of Rob Waller on vocals and guitar, Paul Lacques on guitar and vocals, Paul Marshall on bass and vocals, and Victoria Jacobs on drums and vocals. Yesterday the band did an outdoor show at California State University, Northridge as part of that school’s Golden Hour, an exhibition which also featured some excellent photography. Their set was exactly what I needed.

The fun began during the soundcheck, when Paul Marshall played a bit of the Skeeter Davis song “The End Of The World.” He then led the group into some of “I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome.” And then when everything was right, they played “A Dog Can Break Your Heart,” saying it was for a woman in the audience who had brought her dog to the show. This song features such beautiful harmonies, something this band is known for. It’s from the band’s first album, released more than twenty years ago. Afterward, they said that was the soundcheck, but at that point the show had basically begun, even though it was not yet the official start time of 4:30 p.m. They joked around for another minute or two, and then launched into “On Our Way,” the title track from the band’s most recent album, which came out last year. Afterward, Paul Marshall thanked 88.5 FM for playing that song. They followed “On Our Way” with “Singing In The Wind,” a song from the group’s 2018 release Live And Never Learn. This song featured more great harmonies, and Paul Lacques delivered some excellent work on electric guitar. They then returned to On Our Way for “Geronimo.”

Most of the songs they chose to play at yesterday’s show came from either On Our Way or Live And Never Learn, including the always-fun “Poour Me.” “If you can’t find the door, better pour a little more.” That song and the next two they played came from Live And Never Learn. In introducing “White Cross,” Paul Lacques said, “This is for the line dancers out there.” And then Victoria Jacobs took lead vocal duties on “My Parka Saved Me,” one of my personal favorites from that album. I especially love the moment when the others are singing “My parka,” and Victoria corrects them, “It was my brother’s parka,” and they immediately sing the corrected line. It’s an unusual and wonderful song. That was followed by “Mississippi Gas Station Blues,” from On Our Way, another unusual tune, a heavier song with its peculiar power.

Paul Marshall then sang lead on a new song, “Salvation,” which for me was another highlight of the set. After the show, he told me he hopes it will be on the next album. I’m excited that a new album is in the works. Somehow these guys are constantly creating excellent new material. In fact, after “Salvation,” Paul Lacques said: “We’re doing two brand new songs in a row. Can you feel our fear?” The second new tune was “Ohio,” with Rob Waller back on lead vocals. This song is a seriously fun country number, and it had me smiling like a demented fool on ecstasy the whole way through. If these two songs are representative of the band’s next release, well, that is going to be one hell of a good album.

The final of the On Our Way tracks to be played at yesterday’s show was “If I Move,” which was introduced as kind of a Los Angeles breakup song. Rob Waller then mentioned Earth Day, which had been the day before, and how he hoped it would become a national holiday. The band has a lot of songs with subjects and themes appropriate for Earth Day, and from those they chose to play “Hope Against Hope,” a song from the band’s Grapevine album. “I know we’ll never see/The trees that used to be.” They then wrapped up the set with an energetic and fantastic rendition of “Humboldt,” also from Grapevine, jamming on it a bit at the beginning. The show ended at 5:31 p.m. There was no encore, but after “Humboldt,” one wasn’t really needed. What a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, a good recharging for the soul.

Set List

  1. A Dog Can Break Your Heart Too
  2. On Our Way
  3. Singing In The Wind
  4. Geronimo
  5. Poour Me
  6. White Cross
  7. My Parka Saved Me
  8. Mississippi Gas Station Blues
  9. Salvation
  10. Ohio
  11. If I Move
  12. Hope Against Hope
  13. Humboldt

Here are some photos from the show:

"On Our Way"
"On Our Way"

"On Our Way"

"Geronimo" 

"Geronimo" 

"Geronimo" 

"Geronimo" 

"Geronimo" 

"Geronimo" 

"White Cross"

Friday, April 22, 2022

The Monkees: “More Of The Monkees” (1967/2022) Vinyl Review

We all know the story of how the members of The Monkees, especially Mike Nesmith, really hated their second album, More Of The Monkees, which was rushed into production and was released while the band was out on tour, without even their knowledge. They were angry over the photo chosen for the album’s cover, which shows them wearing J.C. Penney clothes from what was supposed to be a promotional shoot. And they were even more upset about the album’s tracks, which they felt did not include their best performances. Certainly, the album is a bit uneven, and includes the only Monkees song that I don’t like (“The Day We Fall In Love”). But it also includes such excellent songs as “She,” “Mary, Mary” and “Sometime In The Morning.” This is also the first Monkees record I ever owned, and I’ve always had a soft spot for it. My mother surprised me by purchasing a copy at a used record store in Worcester called Al Bum’s (at the time, The Monkees catalogue was out of print, so used copies were all that was available). Hearing this record was how I learned that Monkees records even existed. Up to that point, I thought it was just a television series. In 1986, the album was re-issued, along with the rest of the band’s catalogue. And since then it has been re-issued a few more times, with bonus material. Well, now there is a new vinyl edition, released by Run Out Groove, and it’s a double album, the second record containing bonus tracks, many of which were previously unreleased. And the two records are presented in a beautiful translucent green vinyl. The release’s gatefold contains a lot of photographs, and there is also a liner notes booklet, written by Andrew Sandoval, who produced this reissue. This release follows Run Out Groove’s double LP colored vinyl edition of The Monkees’ self-titled debut album. I hope the rest of the Monkees albums will follow.

Side 1

The album opens with “She,” which is a total joy from the moment it begins. It takes me right back to the time when I was four years old and first heard this band. This song is certainly one of the record’s best, and it’s a fun one to dance to. That followed by a delightful Davy Jones song, “When Love Comes Knockin’ (At Your Door),” which was written by Neal Sedaka and Carol Bayer. “Mary, Mary” is another of the record’s highlights, this one written by Mike Nesmith, but sung by Micky Dolenz. And of course it’s another that is fun to dance to. It was always good to see them perform this one live.

“Hold On Girl” was one of my early favorites from this record. Davy does a great job with it, but it is that short instrumental section toward the end that I especially enjoy. That’s followed by “Your Auntie Grizelda,” which of course when I was a kid was my favorite song from the album. It is a lot of fun, and the only track to feature Peter Tork on lead vocals. It has that section where Peter adds all those silly sounds. I totally ate it up as a kid, and still love it as an adult. The first side concludes with one of the band’s big hits, “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” I love Micky’s delivery here. He is at his most biting as he offers lines like “But now you’re walking around like your front page news.” It makes total sense that this song was covered by groups like Sex Pistols and Minor Threat.

Side 2

The second side opens with “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow),” another of the record’s best tracks, this one written by Neil Diamond and sung by Davy. This song still makes me ridiculously happy. I had my own little dance to this one when I was a kid. I love at the end when Davy whispers, “Darling, I love you.” There is good humor in that. Then we finally get to hear Mike sing on “The Kind Of Girl I Could Love,” the second of the album’s tracks written by him. He also delivers some wonderful stuff on steel guitar. Things then come to a grinding halt with “The Day We Fall In Love,” a song that never felt right. I disliked it as a child, and I’ve never really warmed to it. Davy delivers it as spoken word, which actually draws more attention to how poor the lyrics are. It’s like a dramatic reading of a terrible poem. However, I do kind of like the work on strings, especially at the end.

The best song of the album is “Sometime In The Morning,” a beautiful song written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and featuring a wonderful vocal performance by Micky. Seriously, Micky’s vocals are so damn good here. That’s followed by “Laugh,” and I am happy to admit that this is another of my personal favorites. It is just so ridiculously enjoyable. Davy is clearly having fun with it. “Laugh at the things that are wrong/If you think it’s this song/Then laugh.” I used to play this song over and over, and it is so fun to dance to. The second side concludes with one of the band’s biggest hits, “I’m A Believer,” written by Neil Diamond. The liner notes for this double LP get into this song a bit, about how Mike wanted to sing lead on it.

Side 3

Then we get into the bonus material. The third side begins with “Apples, Peaches, Bananas And Pears,” a song I first heard on the compilation Missing Links. The version here is a different mix, previously unreleased. Sung by Micky, this song is a playful little gem. That’s followed by another previously unreleased track, “Don’t Listen To Linda.” A different version was included as a bonus track on an earlier reissue of this album. The new mix is even better. It’s a delightful tune. “I’ll Be Back Up On My Feet” was one of my early favorites from The Monkees, in part because of the beat and in part because of the lyrics, which remain a joy to sing along to. “Maybe I will be a star, or maybe just a clown/Girl, I’ll never know until I try.” This version was previously included on Missing Links Volume 2.

Probably the best of the bonus track is “Of You,” which features an excellent vocal performance from Mike Nesmith. This version was included in the boxed set Music Box. It is still a mystery to me why this song was not chosen for one of the original releases back in the 1960s. Then Peter sings lead on this version of “I Don’t Think You Know Me” (some other versions feature Micky singing lead). This track was previously included on an earlier reissue of More Of The Monkees. “If you think my goals could be so trivial and small/Then I don’t think you know me at all.” That’s followed by the mono TV mix of “Valleri.” This is yet another song I’ve always loved. A different version of it would end up on The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees. The version here is the first recorded version. I love that guitar. This side then concludes with another strong song, “Words.” This mix was previously unreleased. I love this version. Okay, yes, I love every version of this song that I’ve heard. It is one of The Monkees’ best, no question about it. It is a powerful and cool tune. And check out that work on flute. This version has an unusual pause just before the end.

Side 4

The final side of this double LP opens with “Through The Looking Glass,” a totally catchy song that was included on Instant Replay. The version here was previously unreleased, though a different mix of this version was included on Missing Links Volume Three. “You call my name, then you run for protection/I reach out to hold you, but it’s just a reflection.” That’s followed by “I Never Thought It Peculiar,” another delightful Davy song, one that would end up on Changes. The version here is the mono TV mix. If you’re thinking, wait a minute, that song was never included in an episode of the show, well, in some of the re-runs, different songs were substituted for the original songs. I remember seeing an episode with “Midnight Train,” another song that was included on Changes. Anyway, both Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who wrote the song, provide backing vocals on this track, with Boyce also on acoustic guitar. But it is that brief, but great bluesy work on electric guitar that stands out. Boyce and Hart also wrote “Tear Drop City,” and provide backing vocals on it. This song would be included on Instant Replay, and also be released as a single. The version here is the 1966 mono mix, and it was previously included on another reissue of More Of The Monkees.

We are then treated to another version of “Hold On Girl,” a stereo mix of the song’s first recording that was previously unreleased. That’s followed by the first recording of “I’ll Spend My Life With You,” this stereo mix also previously unreleased. A different mix was included in the boxed set Listen To The Band. “The road is long, the road is rough/I do believe I’ve had enough.” Then we get the first recording of “Mr. Webster,” a song that would be included on Headquarters, the band’s next LP after More Of The Monkees. This mix was previously unreleased. This version has a more somber feel than the version released on Headquarters. I love the cello. The record concludes with the first recording of “(I Prithee) Do Not Ask For Love,” this mix previously unreleased. It features another strong vocal performance by Micky Dolenz. Other versions of this song feature Davy Jones and Peter Tork on lead vocals.

Record Track List

Side 1

  1. She
  2. When Love Comes Knockin’ (At Your Door)
  3. Mary, Mary
  4. Hold On Girl
  5. Your Auntie Grizelda
  6. (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone

Side 2

  1. Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)
  2. The Kind Of Girl I Could Love
  3. The Day We Fall In Love
  4. Sometime In The Morning
  5. Laugh
  6. I’m A Believer

Side 3

  1. Apples, Peaches, Bananas And Pears
  2. Don’t Listen To Linda
  3. I’ll Be Back Up On My Feet
  4. Of You
  5. I Don’t Think You Know Me
  6. Valleri
  7. Words

Side 4

  1. Through The Looking Glass
  2. I Never Thought It Peculiar
  3. Tear Drop City
  4. Hold On Girl
  5. I’ll Spend My Life With You
  6. Mr. Webster
  7. (I Prithee) Do Not Ask For Love

This special vinyl edition of More Of The Monkees was released in April, 2022. My copy arrived on April 21st. At the same time as this release, a regular back vinyl release of this album was also put out. Both, I believe, are limited editions.


Thursday, April 21, 2022

Mark Christian Miller: “Music In The Air” (2022) CD Review

Jazz vocalist Mark Christian Miller released his first album back in 2004, and music lovers had to wait more than a decade for his second album, 2015’s Crazy Moon. Well, fortunately, he did not make folks wait quite so long for his third release. Titled Music In The Air, his new album, like Crazy Moon, features some excellent choices of material. Joining the vocalist on this release are Jamieson Trotter on piano (Trotter also did the arrangements), Mike Gurrola on bass, Kevin Winard on drums, Larry Koonse on guitar (Koonse also played guitar on Crazy Moon), and Danny Janklow on alto saxophone.

The album opens with a cheerful rendition of “If You Never Fall In Love With Me,” a song written by Sam Jones and Donald Wolf, and recorded by Carmen McRae. There is a good deal of joy in his vocal performance. “I’m not the guy I was before/Because now you own my heart forevermore.”  Ah, there is just no way that this other person won’t fall for him, not after hearing this track. This one also features a totally delicious instrumental section, led by Danny Janklow on saxophone. Then when Mark Christian Miller comes back in, he presents some playful scat, essentially adding the vocal equivalent of his part in a jam. Wonderful stuff, that. This is music to raise our spirits, to get our minds back on important matters such as love. Then “Lullaby Of The Leaves” begins with some cool work on guitar, and features a phenomenal vocal performance. It all seems to move and breathe and swing so naturally. There is a brief drum solo just before the halfway mark, coming as a good surprise so early in the track. And when Mark Christian Miller adds his voice again, there is an intimate sense to it, like he is trying to help someone go to sleep, fitting for the lyrics. And then we are treated to more wonderful work on guitar. This is one of my favorite tracks. It was written by Bernice Petkere and Joe Young, and recorded by George Olsen And His Music back in the early 1930s.

“Music In The Air,” the album’s title track, is a bright and breezy and lively tune. These lines about music speak for all of us who turn to it in these strange times: “It relieves your worry and care/You can never feel low/Just as long as you know/There’s music in the air.” Amen to that. I love that lead on sax. I also love the way this track moves, swiftly, as if to help leave our worries and cares behind in its wake. Ah, that bass line is so good. And then check out that great lead on piano in the second half of the track. At a certain point toward the end, the track mellows only slightly while Mark Christian Miller begins to deliver some scat. As he continues, the music rises in power again, a wonderful moment. That’s followed by “I Wished On The Moon.” This version has a rather pretty opening, with something of a sense of mystery about it. It’s an interesting rendition. That guitar part, for a moment early on, has something approaching a surf guitar sound. Then the lead on guitar has a very different feel and is part of what makes this track special. In the second half, there is a section where the lines are delivered kind of as spoken word. These additional lines are from Pablo Neruda.

Mark Christian Miller then presents a more recent song, Warren Zevon’s beautiful “Mutineer,” which is the title track to Zevon’s 1995 album. It has a rather solemn opening on piano, in contrast to the song’s first line, “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.” There is something gentle about this track, and in the delivery. “Ain’t no room on board for the insincere/You’re my witness, I’m your mutineer.” That’s followed by “If You Could See Me Now,” which also has a gentle vibe. It is a song of longing, sung from the perspective of someone who is still in love, and not able to hide his feelings. “I’ll try to smile, but can I play the part/Without my heart behind the smile.” Approximately halfway through there is a pretty lead on guitar.

Mark Christian Miller’s rendition of “Too Darn Hot” begins with bass, and features a wonderfully catchy and cool rhythm. This song was written by Cole Porter for Kiss Me, Kate. The main line, “It’s too darn hot, too darn hot,” makes it a perfect song for Los Angeles, especially in August and September, and so is a song that regularly gets stuck in my head. This is a sexy rendition, in large part because of that work on bass, which has a loose, confident vibe. “I’d like to meet with my baby tonight/Get off my feet with my baby tonight/No repeat with my baby tonight.” The song ends with his vocals supported by just a bit of work on drums. The album then concludes with “Prelude To A Kiss,” which has a delicious late-night vibe. Yes, romance still exists. “Oh, how my love song gently cries/For the tenderness within your eyes/My love is a prelude that never dies/A prelude to a kiss.” And check out that gorgeous saxophone part halfway through. Close your eyes and let it wrap itself around you and carry you away to a better place.

CD Track List

  1. If You Never Fall In Love With Me
  2. Lullaby Of The Leaves
  3. Music In The Air
  4. I Wished On The Moon
  5. Mutineer
  6. If You Could See Me Now
  7. Too Darn Hot
  8. Prelude To A Kiss

Music In The Air is scheduled to be released on May 23, 2022.

Stephen Clair: “To The Trees” (2022) CD Review

Stephen Clair is an accomplished singer and songwriter who has released several full-length albums. His new album, To The Trees, features all original material, the songs addressing connections, identity, change and acceptance, often delivered with a wry sense of humor. Backing him on this new album is the band The Restless Age, made up of Lee Falco on drums and backing vocals, Will Bryant on keys and backing vocals, and Brandon Morrison on bass. This group has also backed both Donald Fagen and Kate Pierson, which should give you an idea of the quality of Stephen Clair’s talent. Also joining him on this album are Brad Hubbard on baritone saxophone and Jeff Fairbanks on trombone.

The album opens with “Worthless Treasure.” There is something classic about this song’s sound, particularly in the rhythm. While that familiar vibe might be what initially draws you in, you’ll soon find yourself immersed in Stephen Clair’s lyrics and vocal work. “If you bury your heart, your beautiful heart/That’s the worst part/Worthless treasure.” There is also some wonderful backing vocal work. What a great start to this album. That’s followed by “Lousy Butterfly,” a song title that caught my eye when I first glanced at the track list on the back of the CD case. This is a mellower number, featuring a heartfelt vocal delivery and some pretty work on keys, and of course some excellent lyrics. “Don’t make me explain/How one drop of rain/Can change everything.”

“To The Trees,” the album’s title track, is a fun character portrait about a person who suddenly walks out the door to live in the trees. It was inspired by Italo Calvino’s The Baron In The Trees. “Right then and there everything changed/She knew where she wanted to be/And that’s saying something/With your whole family watching/To get up from the table, walk out in the yard/Knowing who you really are.” That character herself is inspiring. There is humor to the tale too, as in the line “She always wins at hide and seek.” You can hear a bit of a Beatles influence in this track’s sound, and in Stephen Clair’s vocal delivery you can hear something of a Kinks influence. Then “Let It Out” is a lively, bright pop song with a wonderfully optimistic flavor. This is the first song I heard from this release. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “You try to tell your story, but it just sounds nuts/It’s the one you got and you gotta get it out/Let it out/ It’s about time.” You might find yourself singing along, “Let it out!

One of my favorite tracks is “Not You.” It is immediately delightful, with that wonderful opening work on piano. It sounds kind of along the lines of something Randy Newman might do. Check out these lyrics: “Here comes a one-dog parade/He’s missing a leg/It don’t faze him/He still holds up his chin/Donkeys bray/They think it’s time to play/From midnight to dawn/Can someone sing along/Not you, not you.” So good, right? Plus, this track features some excellent and totally enjoyable work on horns. It is just a joy from beginning to end. That’s followed by “Vacation Back Home,” another of the disc’s highlights. This one has a relaxed pace and sound, fitting with the song’s lyrics about returning home. “Looking back where I grew up/It wasn’t so bad/The way I told it way back when/Made it sound kind of sad/Folks like me spend half our lives running away/Some of us might wise up and come around one day.” Why is it that songs about home are so moving, so effective? Whatever it is, I love this song. “There’s no one left around here I want to kiss/I sleep like a baby in the house where I used to live.”

“The World Turns” is another track that quickly grabbed me. Check out these lines: “Time stands still, and so do I/Your world turns and I stand by.” And these: “We wake up here every day/We run through our little play/I would go, but I don’t know which way.” Yeah, this guy can certainly write some good lyrics. But it’s also his delivery that makes songs like this one so appealing, so moving. “About My Body” is a short song, with vocals and acoustic guitar. And though the track is less than two minutes long, that is plenty of time for him to include some excellent lines, such as these: “This is not about what you think/This is not about your pain/It’s about what I believe/And making sense out of me/You don’t have to understand.” Then the opening lines of “Cry” made me laugh aloud the first time I heard them: “You don’t have to call me/God knows what that phone is for/If you think you want me/You might need to think some more.” I also love the way this song builds in power, and that surprising way it kicks in. “Cry, cry, cry, cry/Cry, cry, cry/If it suits you.” This is yet another of the disc’s highlights.

Near the beginning of “I Hope We Make It Here” he sings, “We could get out of the city at last.” I like that little pause he inserts before the words “at last.” This song too really speaks to me, and a lot of people I know are going through the same things. I have to imagine this song will have wide appeal. There is a good deal of humor as well, in lines like “Back in 1848/They didn’t quite insulate/You might say this house likes to breathe/Cold in winter, hot in summer/Not that it’s a total bummer/Just wait ‘til I tell you about the weeds.” There is a good dose of humor in a lot of his material, and in his delivery. For another example, check out the opening lines of “Make A Bed”: “Didn’t take much to convince me/To fall in love with someone like you/Or even just you.” Again, it’s that pause before “Or even just you” that helps to really push the humor of the line. And he knows how to grab us with his opening lines. The album’s final track, “A Human Echo,” opens with these lines: “We’ve been talking for thirty years/Never once thought of changing gears/This one conversation is the only one we know.” These lines also strike me: “Nothing we could talk about ever gets old/But we do.”

CD Track List

  1. Worthless Treasure
  2. Lousy Butterfly
  3. To The Trees
  4. Let It Out
  5. Not You
  6. Vacation Back Home
  7. The World Turns
  8. About My Body
  9. Cry
  10. I Hope We Make It Here
  11. Make A Bed
  12. A Human Echo

To The Trees is scheduled to be released on May 20, 2022.