Monday, May 30, 2022

New John Prine Tribute Album

Hi, everyone. Today I’ve been enjoying All The Best…From 6 Feet Away: A Charlottesville Tribute To John Prine. In this video, I talk a bit about this excellent new release. And for those who are interested in obtaining a copy, I think this is the only site where it is available: John Prine Tribute Album.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Monica Taylor: “Trains, Rivers & Trails” (2022) CD Review

There is something incredibly appealing about this album’s title, especially now. Who doesn’t have the urge to get away, to hop a train, to take a canoe down a river, to hike some beautiful mountain trail? To step away from the news and the horrors of our days is immensely desirable. Monica Taylor is here to help us escape, if only in our minds. Trains, Rivers & Trails, her new album, contains a mix of original material and good choices of covers. Joining her on this release are Travis Fite on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, dobro, mandolin and backing vocals; Jared Tyler on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, dobro, banjo and backing vocals; John Fullbright on piano, organ, accordion and vocals; Jake Lynn on drums and percussion; Casey Van Beek on bass; Luke Bulla on fiddle and mandolin; and Roger Ray on pedal steel. There are also some guests on various tracks.

The album opens with an original number, “The Sound Of A Train,” a beautifully sad song in which Monica sings, “Your memory’s like the sound of a train/In the middle of the night.” That wonderful work on fiddle adds to that feel. It is interesting that Monica Taylor describes the person’s memory in vastly different ways, making us wonder if the memory is different for her at different times, and if so, just how accurate the memory is. For she also sings, “Your memory’s like the silence/Of the forest,” which is markedly different from the sound of a train. But the line that really gets to me is “But I’ll still think of you when I hear the word goodbye.” That’s a great line. And of course we can’t help but insert our own ideas of what has happened to this person. Monica Taylor follows that with the album’s first cover, John Hartford’s “Gentle On My Mind.” A lot of artists have recorded this song over the years. I think the first version I ever heard was the Glen Campbell recording, which is still one of the best. Here Monica Taylor delivers a sweet, friendly, pretty rendition, her voice supported by some lovely work on fiddle.

We then return to the original material with “Salty Tears.” A song about tears is a song for our times, isn’t it? What is nice is that the song picks up a bit a minute or so into it, and we travel with the vibe of the song, perhaps wiping away our own tears in that moment, for there is something uplifting about this song. It is a song that also deals with memory. “Now my mother, my father, and two sisters have left/This cold trail for good/But for me I must walk/For the ones who cannot/If I could flee, you know that I surely would.” Tanya Comingdeer provides some beautiful backing vocal work on this track. That’s followed by another original composition, “Rescues.” This song provides a good, and tough message for these days when there is so much hatred, so much division: “Give to an ear to the story, hard and true/From a friend or a foe that hates you/Give a heart to the one who beats you up/With words so cruel, no gentle touch/Give a hand, give a heart, because we’re all rescues.” This track includes some wonderful work on fiddle. The music turns more cheerful with a cover of “Down In Louisiana.” Monica Taylor adds some extra lyrics: “Well I got me a fella, he’s a Cajun man/He’s a real hot lover with a real good hand/Makes the best gumbo in Cajun land/Down in Louisiana.”

I still remember the first time I saw the movie Easy Rider. I was thirteen, and it definitely made an impact. Of course, a certain amount of its appeal was in the music chosen for the film. Everyone remembers “Born To Be Wild,” and probably “The Pusher” from that great opening sequence, but for me the best tunes were the folk songs, “Wasn’t Born To Follow” and “The Ballad Of Easy Rider.”  On this album Monica Taylor gives us a pretty rendition of “The Ballad Of Easy Rider,” a song that isn’t covered all that often, and the track that initially got me excited about this release. “The river flows/Down to the sea/Wherever that river flows, that’s where I want to be.”  There is some really nice work by John Williams on harmonica on this track. That’s followed by “Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key,” here listed simply as “Minor Key.” It is a song with lyrics by Woody Guthrie, but with music written much later by Billy Bragg, and was originally included on the first Mermaid Avenue album put out by Billy Bragg and Wilco. Several other artists have covered it, including Ellis Paul and Terri Hendrix. This version by Monica Taylor is presented as a duet, with John Fullbright sharing lead vocals with Monica Taylor. It’s a really good rendition, featuring some nice work on accordion.

“When You Let Your Love Light Shine” was written by Bob Childers and Monica Taylor, and is a song about getting through the tough times, and has an optimistic bent. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Things get bent, things get broke/Things get tough, that ain’t no joke/Somehow it always fall back in line/When you let your love light shine.” It’s not always easy, but we have to remember to do that. Monica Taylor’s vocal approach here is sweet and gentle. That’s followed by “Just Came In To Say Goodbye,” written by Monica Taylor and Patrick Williams. This pretty country song features some nice work on pedal steel.  Then “Train Take Me Away” has a brighter, more cheerful sound, and features some wonderful work on fiddle. There is always something appealing about riding a train, though I would not be happy if a train took me to any of the three states she mentions visiting in this song – Alabama, Kentucky, and Texas. Yikes. That would be a nightmare train for me. But it’s a good song, featuring some excellent work by Thomas Trapp on guitar. The album concludes with “The Ocoee Love Song,” which features some pretty work on mandolin. Shelby Eicher plays both fiddle and mandolin on this track, and Nathan Eicher is on upright bass. “If there’s anything to bring you back to the mountains/It’s the rivers, my love, and the springtime/So flow, my Ocoee, flow down through the Blue Ridge.”

CD Track List

  1. The Sound Of A Train
  2. Gentle On My Mind
  3. Salty Tears
  4. Rescues
  5. Down In Louisiana
  6. The Ballad Of Easy Rider
  7. Minor Key
  8. When You Let Your Love Light Shine
  9. Just Came In To Say Goodbye
  10. Train Take Me Away
  11. The Ocoee Love Song

Trains, Rivers & Trails is scheduled to be released on July 29, 2022 on Horton Records.

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

It sometimes feels like we are stuck in one ugly moment of time, with the ongoing pandemic and gun violence, and no one yet from the previous administration being put on trial. It’s like we are unable to move forward, and it’s frustrating beyond measure. I continue to be thankful for musicians and singers for making this moment palatable with the release of excellent music. Here are brief notes on some new jazz releases you might be interested in checking out.

Jimmy Branly Trio: “The Meeting” – Drummer Jimmy Branly, guitarist Will Brahm and bass player Sezin Ahmet Türkmenoğlu deliver a combination of original material and standards on their new album. The album opens with “Bis Bis,” a composition by Will Brahm, which he starts off on guitar. Soon the others join him, and Jimmy Branly offers an impressive beat. You’ve probably heard Branly’s playing, for he has supported an incredible range of artists over the years, including Michael Nesmith, Sheila E. and Flora Purim. And of course this track features some excellent guitar work. I particularly like that sweeter section in the second half. That’s followed by a couple of the album’s standards, first “If I Should Lose You,” written by Ralph Rainger (with lyrics by Leo Robin), and then “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” On the latter, while Will Brahm plays that familiar theme, Jimmy Branly provides something a little different on percussion, a rhythm that has a good amount of cheer to it. And check out Sezin Ahmet Türkmenoğlu’s work on bass. This is a wonderful rendition. But it is the original material that is particularly exciting, especially “Presume,” written by Will Brahm. Jimmy Branly starts that one off, and sets a good pace. Rhythm is at the heart of this piece, and this is a track with a great pulse, with breath, with life and energy. I especially love that section toward the end, where Branly cuts loose. That sort of ominous repeated pattern reminds me a bit of the Grateful Dead’s “The Other One.” Another of the disc’s highlights is the album’s title track, which was composed by Jimmy Branly. This one is just completely cool from the moment it starts, in large part because of its rhythm. There is just a whole lot of great work on drums here. That’s followed by “One Day,” written by Sezin Ahmet Türkmenoğlu. This is one of the most interesting tracks, in part because it has a much mellower vibe while the percussion still moves things forward at a good clip, and also because of that beautiful work on guitar. “Blues 14,” the album’s final original track, features some fantastic work on guitar. It was composed by Will Brahm. This trio also delivers an excellent rendition of Joe Henderson’s “Gazelle.” This album is scheduled to be released on May 27, 2022.

Matt Hall: “I Hope To My Never” – This is trombonist Matt Hall’s debut album, and it features mostly original compositions. The title comes from something his great aunt would exclaim while Matt Hall was practicing during his childhood, which of course is adorable. Joining Hall on this release are Charlie Arbelaez on alto saxophone, Louis Valenzuela on guitar, Jason Shattil on piano, Mackenzie Leighton on upright bass, and Kevin Kanner on drums. The album kicks off with “Biscuits & Gravy,” a lively number with a blues base, one to get your toes tapping. Not only does it give us a good taste of what Matt Hall can do on trombone, but it also features a spirited lead on saxophone. Actually, there is delicious work from all the musicians on this track. That’s followed by the title track, which has more of an easygoing vibe and features a cool lead on bass early on. There is something sweet in Matt Hall’s work here that is engaging and comforting. “The Thing About Sloan Hill” is a fun track that includes some wonderful work on guitar. I also love the bass line. This music is raising my spirits, something I imagine we all need right about now. The album’s only cover is “Deep In A Dream,” written by Eddie DeLange and Jimmy Van Heusen. This interesting arrangement by Matt Hall grabs me right at the track’s start. It is both exciting and warm. And I love that solo at the end. Things start to really move on “Spearhead,” one of the disc’s highlights. This track is a total delight, with some impressive and thrilling work from Hall and Arbelaez. Kevin Kanner starts off “No Going Back,” which was written by Charlie Arbelaez. This one also moves at a good clip and has a delicious sense of freedom about it. I love the way it feels like dancing, particularly Jason Shattil’s work on piano. Plus, this track includes a great drum solo, which makes me happy. The most surprising track is “3G (Cadenza),” featuring some wild work and leading to the disc’s final piece, “Charlie’s Harley,” which really moves. Just try catching up to this one. There is certainly a great deal of joy and excitement in the playing. This album was released in February 2022.

David Larsen: “G2 And You” – The new album from saxophonist and composer David Larsen is actually two EPs collected on a single disc. The title of the first EP is also the title of this album, G2 And You, and it contains four tracks – two original compositions and two covers. It opens with a seriously cool rendition of “Angel Eyes,” a standard written by Matt Dennis. David Larsen’s saxophone seems to strut confidently through the evening atmosphere, and at times turns more joyful. His saxophone really drives this track, and isn’t until approximately four minutes into it that Danny McCollim takes a turn at lead. The band on this release, by the way, is Danny McCollim on keyboards, Josh Skinner on bass and Brendan McMurphy on drums. That’s followed by an original tune, “Another Porter Please.” I assume he is referring to the drink, and this music is certainly making me crave a good ale, but perhaps he’s not. Perhaps the guy at the hotel dropped all his luggage, and he’s asking politely for a different porter. The track has kind of an easygoing, smooth vibe, and I dig Josh Skinner’s bass line. There is also a delightful lead on keys in the second half. Yes, I want to be at a pub, among good folks, ordering another ale. The first EP also includes a good version of Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way,” featuring some wonderful and warm work on saxophone. The other original composition is “Latin Silver,” which has a somewhat relaxed and inviting feel. The second EP, Bright Days, likewise contains two covers and two original pieces. It begins with Joseph Kosma’s  “Autumn Leaves,” which features a great rhythm, some pretty work on keyboard and a strong lead on saxophone. Things then get lively with “Bright Days,” that EP’s title track, an original composition, which features some great stuff on drums, and is one of my personal favorites. The other standard on this EP is “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” which has a bright, cheerful vibe. The disc concludes with an original composition titled “Through And Through,” featuring a beautiful lead on keys and some moving work on sax. This album was released on April 8, 2022.

The Jim Self/John Chiodini Duo: “Hangin’ Out” – Tuba and guitar? What’s not to love? This album contains plenty of delights and some surprises as well, for the duo is joined by guests on several tracks. The album opens with its title track, an original composition by John Chiodini, and it’s a fun, playful tune with a good deal of swing to it. I enjoyed this track’s vibe so much, that the first time I listened to this album, I ended up listening to this track three times before moving onto the next track, and its last note made me laugh each time. That’s followed by a wonderful rendition of Chick Corea’s “Spain,” that begins with some gorgeous guitar work and some incredibly moving playing on fluba, an instrument that Jim Self helped to create. And then from there, this track becomes lively and fun. Then Scott Whitfield joins the duo on trombone for “Lydian Afternoon,” a piece that Whitfield wrote, feeling like a warm summer breeze. Jim Self and Scott Whitfield trade licks in the second half. They Jim Self and John Chiodini both deliver some beautiful playing on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Dindi.” That’s followed by one of the album’s total delights, a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” another track on which Jim Self plays the fluba, getting funky on that odd instrument. Tom Peterson joins them on tenor saxophone on “Another Thing,” which he also composed. It’s a cool, easygoing number. David Angel joins them on baritone saxophone for a wonderful rendition of “Everything Happens To Me,” delivering a beautiful lead, helping to make this track another of the disc’s highlights. That’s followed by a surprisingly sweet and pretty rendition of “Up Jumped Spring” that features some excellent work on guitar. On “I Walk A Little Faster,” the duo is joined by Ron Stout on flugelhorn. Jim Self plays fluba on this one, the final of the album’s tracks to feature that instrument. They ease into this one, and then after a couple of minutes the track starts hopping, another of the disc’s delights. That’s followed by “Modal I Tease,” the only track composed by Jim Self, and yet another highlight. It is perhaps the most unusual of the album’s tracks, the instruments feeling characters in a short animated film. They also deliver a pretty rendition of Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are.” Then all the guests join in on the album’s closing number, a totally enjoyable rendition of “It Could Happen To You.” This album was released on April 1, 2022.

The Margaret Slovak Trio: “Ballad For Brad” – Jazz guitarist Margaret Slovak’s new album is her first in many years, its original compositions inspired by family and friendships, the music being full of love and hope, just what we need in these dark days. Joining her on this release are the incredible Harvie S on bass and Michael Sarin on drums. The album opens with “Again,” which has a gentle and hopeful vibe, with an inquisitive, curious sense as well in the guitar work. The bass and drums have their own clear voices here, and Harvie S.’s lead on bass has a comforting effect. That’s followed by “Flowers For Marie,” which has a more somber sound on guitar at the start, and goes through a few changes as it develops, becoming quite pretty approximately halfway through, like a fond memory you like to revisit from time to time. This track was written about a friend. Then “The Answer Within” begins with an exciting rhythm. I love Michael Sarin’s work on drums here, and he delivers a solo at the end. “Song For Anne” begins in a rather dark place, then opens into a more peaceful landscape a minute or so in, and builds from there. This piece was written for Margaret Slovak’s sister, and it is followed by another track inspired by her sister, who died from a drug overdose at the age of 44. In “Forty-Four” is a sense of loneliness and uncertainty, her guitar looking both inward and outward for answers, for understanding. It is a moving solo guitar piece. “Courage, Truth And Hope” is a title that stands out for me, because all three of those things are in somewhat short supply these days, being completely absent from the Republican Party. This track starts off slowly, easing in, and then takes on a certain joy. The trio then delivers a cool, playful blues number, “Carrot Cake Blues,” which features some fantastic work on bass. “Ballad For Brad,” the album’s title track, was written for her husband, who has been battling cancer. It begins with some beautiful, thoughtful, gentle work on guitar, and grows from there. “Thirty-Three” also features some beautiful guitar work. And “Will You Ever Know?” features a good lead on bass. By the way, the striking artwork on the album’s cover was also done by Margaret Slovak. This album is scheduled to be released on June 1, 2022.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Jon Langford and Sally Timms at Wild Honey Backyard, 5-22-22 Concert Review

Yesterday Jon Langford and Sally Timms of The Mekons did a special backyard show in Los Angeles, put on by the good folks of the Wild Honey Foundation. It was originally scheduled for January 23rd, but like a lot of things, it got pushed back because of the pandemic (remember, there was a surge at that time). Of course, the pandemic is not over, no matter how much we wish it were, and we got more proof of that when the opening act had to cancel because of COVID-19. So it was just The Mekons yesterday, which was fine with me. This is a band I wish someone had turned me onto back in the 1980s or 1990s, or even the early 2000s. It wasn’t until the release of the documentary film Revenge Of The Mekons that I learned about this phenomenal group. After that, I quickly became acquainted with as much of their material as I could acquire (there are still a few albums and several EPs that I need to complete my collection), and saw them in concert the first opportunity I had (which wasn’t until 2016). So, anyway, I had been looking forward to this special show for quite a while (since early December, when I purchased the tickets). When it was postponed in January, Jon Langford and Sally Timms still did an online show for those of us with tickets, which was very cool. Tickets, by the way, were twenty dollars, or forty dollars if you also wanted a meal included. When I made my purchase, all the twenty dollar tickets were gone, so I bought two at the forty dollar level. Profits from this performance will benefit the Wild Honey Foundation.

Jon Langford and Sally Timms were scheduled to go on at 2 p.m., and took the stage just before 2:15, which is as on time as you could possibly expect from two punk demigods. They opened the set with a beautiful cover of Alejandro Escovedo’s “Broken Bottle.” “That’s as good as it’s gonna get,” Jon told us afterward. Well, all right! Joining them for show were John Szymanski on guitar, and Martin Billheimer on harmonica. Jon introduced Martin as the “harmonica blues champion 1986-1987, unchallenged,” and added that he plays harmonica like Charles Bronson. Which led to his proposed storyline for Death Wish 16, and when that film is made it’s going to be brilliant. Well, they followed “Broken Bottle” with “1 2 3 4 Ever,” a tune with a great energy and a cool guitar hook. “Live for next week, live for last year.” Then Sally Timms sang lead on a cover of The Handsome Family’s “The Sad Milkman,” and everything was sounding so good. It was a beautiful afternoon for a backyard concert, and spirits were high among all of us who attended. Isn’t this what life is all about? Well, if not, it certainly should be.

“The Sad Milkman” is a song that Sally Timms included on her 1999 solo album, Cowboy Sally’s Twilight Laments… For Lost Buckaroos, and after they played it, she took a moment to mention that copies of that album were available on the merchandise table. A woman in the audience shouted out that she wanted to buy the specific copy that Sally was holding, and so she did. “Buy them for Christmas, give them to your friends,” Sally said. They then played “I Picked Up The Pieces,” a song that Jon and Sally wrote together, and a favorite of mine. During the song, Sally noticed a neighbor watching from across the face and said, “Remember us?” Because that special online show they did in January was performed on that stage as well. After the song, Sally said, “You were one of the only audience members the last time we were here.” Jon then mentioned the new Freakons album, which is full of mining songs, and from that they played “Abernant 84-85,” a song that was earlier included on The Mekons’ Fear And Whiskey album (where it is listed as “Abernant 1984/5”). I love this song. It was one they played the first time I saw The Mekons in 2016. They followed that with “Waltz,” first mentioning how it comes from The Curse Of The Mekons, an album that was “considered technically inferior” by the record label, as Jon told the crowd. He then added that he found a book on Paul’s shelf from 1983 that was also unkind to The Mekons, calling their work “rank amateurism.”

Jon announced they were going to do a fast one. Sally said there were a few fast ones on the set list, and then they’d go “back to the turgid, doom-laden rubbish that we’re known for.” I love that self-deprecating humor, but honestly cannot understand how anyone could do less than completely fall in love with this band. How are these guys not the most popular band in the known universe? Please explain that to me. Anyway, the song they played then was “Nashville Radio,” a totally fun one featuring some great stuff by John Szymanski on guitar. There was more excellent work on guitar on “Tom Jones Levitation,” which followed. Someone in the crowd responded, “Wow” at the end. Sally Timms agreed, “Wow indeed.” She then joked, “Five out of ten for effort, says Trouser Press.” They then delivered an excellent cover of John Anderson’s “Seminole Wind,” featuring some wonderful work on harmonica. Sally mentioned that song is included on her solo album available at the merchandise table. She was handed another copy of the disc to show the crowd, and she playfully rubbed it over herself, saying it’s “worth even more now, covered in my DNA; you could use it for a crime and then frame it on me.” Yes, there was a lot of laughter at this show. And yes, if you’re wondering, I bought that copy of the album. Not sure quite yet what sort of crimes I shall commit.

“Pill Sailor” was another of the set’s highlights, featuring strong vocal performances, excellent work on guitar, wonderful stuff on harmonica, and a bit of dancing from Jon at the end. Sally then delivered another strong and moving vocal performance on “Horses.” She then removed the kazoo from its little pouch attached to her microphone stand. “This is the moment you have been waiting for,” she acknowledged. “This might be a good time to use the bathroom,” Jon joked. And Sally took the joke to another level, saying “This will cause you to use the bathroom.” And they launched into “Hard To Be Human Again,” a crowd favorite, always fun, and featuring some delightful work on kazoo. Sally teased that the kazoo might work on the next song as well, but Jon, feigning alarm, told her no. And they went into “Sentimental Marching Song.” They then wrapped up the set with “Memphis, Egypt” (which was the song they opened with the first time I saw The Mekons). And as you might guess, the energy was high for this one. “Destroy your safe and happy lives before it is too late.” A fantastic song to conclude the set. But of course they weren’t quite done. They started the encore with a Waco Brothers song, “Plenty Tough-Union Made,” which was a request. Sally Timms took out the kazoo again for this one, and it was a lot of fun. They followed that with “Wild & Blue,” another wonderful song from The Curse Of The Mekons, featuring more work on kazoo. The show ended with a cover of Joe Strummer’s “X-Ray Style.” Can you imagine a better afternoon?

Set List

  1. Broken Bottle
  2. 1 2 3 4 Ever
  3. The Sad Milkman
  4. I Picked Up The Pieces
  5. Abernant 84-85
  6. Waltz
  7. Nashville Radio
  8. Tom Jones Levitation
  9. Seminole Wind
  10. Pill Sailor
  11. Horses
  12. Hard To Be Human Again
  13. Sentimental Marching Song
  14. Memphis, Egypt


  1. Plenty Tough-Union Made
  2. Wild & Blue
  3. X-Ray Style

Here are a few photos from the show:

"Broken Bottle"

"Broken Bottle"

"I Picked Up The Pieces"

"Abernant 84-85"

"Seminole Wind"

"Hard To Be Human Again"

"Hard To Be Human Again"

"Hard To Be Human Again"

"Memphis, Egypt"

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Jaelee Roberts: “Something You Didn’t Count On” (2022) CD Review

Jaelee Roberts is a singer and songwriter based in Nashville and working in the bluegrass realm. You might know her from her work in the all-female group Sister Sadie, which was awarded Vocal Group of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Her new solo album, Something You Didn’t Count On, contains a mix of original material and covers, and features some talented musicians backing her. Playing on these tracks are Kristin Scott Benson on banjo, Alan Bibey on mandolin, Jimmy Mattingly on fiddle, Tim Surrett on bass and dobro, and Tony Wray on guitar, along with several excellent backing vocalists.

The album opens with its title track, “Something You Didn’t Count On,” an original number written by Theo MacMillan and Jaelee Roberts, featuring some wonderful vocal work. “It was something you didn’t count on from someplace you wouldn’t go/Falling in love with someone you didn’t know/It’s tearin’ down the walls between us, I can see you for who you are/It’s clear to me now the distance is not that far/It was something, something you didn’t count on.” Providing backing vocals on this track are Kelsi Harrigill and Paul Harrigill. And, as we have all come to expect from bluegrass music, there is some phenomenal playing on this track, particularly by Kristin Scott Benson on banjo. Things then get mellower with “Think Again,” which has a pretty vibe as it starts. This is a song about taking control of one’s life again, a song of leaving. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I’ve got the gas pedal down, my mind made up, and the big green sign I’m passing/Says I’m 118 miles outside of Jackson/I’ve got the top laid back, the radio playing, and praying that the wind will clear my head/So I can think again.” Jaelee Roberts delivers a beautiful, moving vocal performance, one of the album’s best. She provides her own backing vocals on this one as well. This track also features some pretty work on fiddle. “Think Again” was written by Marla Cannon-Goodman and Shane Stockton. That’s followed by a cover of “I Owe Him Everything,” a song written by Lyn Rowell and recorded by The Perrys. I am generally not a fan of this particular kind of Jesus music, but Jaelee Roberts delivers a passionate vocal performance, and the track features more lovely work on fiddle. Amanda Smith and Kenny Smith provide backing vocals.

Things then pick up again with “Sad Songs,” written by Chris Harris, Josh Matheny and Robbie Melton. It’s about how when you have a broken heart, all the songs you hear seem to express the same troubles, when maybe you’re looking for relief. “I’ve been living those lyrics for way too long/All I need is a happy melody and a reason to sing along/All I get are these sad songs.” Ah yes, but this song doesn’t have a sound that will bring us down. I especially love that mandolin. Amanda Smith and Kenny Smith provide backing vocals on this track. That’s followed by a cover of a gorgeous, sad song, Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” Jaelee Roberts delivers an excellent rendition. “Well, I’ve been afraid of changing/‘Cause I’ve built my life around you/But time makes you bolder, even children get older/And I’m getting older too.” Special guest Vince Gill joins her on vocals for this track, and their voices blend beautifully. That in turn is followed by “The Best Of Me,” written by Kelsi Harrigill. This is one of my personal favorites, in part because of that great instrumental section in the middle, featuring some wonderful work on guitar. But it also contains one of the strongest vocal performances here, with a good amount of attitude in the delivery. “The best of me ain’t yours for the taking/The best of me, to you it won’t come free/All the glitter and the gold won’t keep you warm out in the cold/You can beg and you can plead, but you won’t get the best of me.”

“November” was written by Theo MacMillan and Jaelee Roberts, and Theo MacMillan provides backing vocals on it. Their voices blend wonderfully, and this song has a somewhat hopeful vibe. Also, I love that fiddle. “November…I wish things turned out a little different/Cold winters up north won’t ever be the same/If I get on a plane and breathe that mountain air again/You can keep the rain, but I think I’ll take my heart.” That’s followed by another original song, “Lie To Me,” which was written by Jaelee Roberts, Jerry Salley and Kelli Kingery. I love these opening lines: “The rain is good for washing off the dust of yesterday/But it can’t wash away tomorrow’s pain.” Those fantastic opening lines work to pull us in. And check out these lines: “I promise someday I’ll let go of you/When I know I’m ready for the truth/But ‘til then, just hold me like you used to/Tell me that you’ll never leave, I’m the only one you’ll ever need/I’ll pretend my heart’s not breaking right in two.” Amanda Smith and Kenny Smith provide backing vocals. There is also a beautiful instrumental section in the middle of this track. This is another of my personal favorites. Then “Still Waters” is a pretty song written by Kelsi Harrigill, who provides backing vocals on it with Paul Harrigill. This track also features some wonderful work on fiddle.

“You Can’t Stop Me From Staying” is a fun one. It’s a song about a relationship that others view as less than ideal, and the advice she receives from them to leave the other person. But it’s really about holding on, about sticking through the tough times, a good message for these days. “You can’t stop me from staying/These hard times ain’t gonna get me down/Nothing in this world is gonna break me/You can count on my heart to stick around.” Plus, it features some great playing from all the musicians. I especially love that mandolin lead in the middle. This song was written by Jon Weisberger and Molly Tuttle. That’s followed by “The Beginning Was The End,” an original number that Jaelee Roberts wrote with Mallory Eagle. This one has a more serious sound, and features some nice work on guitar. Here she sings, “Months go by, and we both know this ain’t right/But you keep telling me that you’ll be better in time.” So clearly this song takes a different path from the previous track. “Part of me knew how our story went/Even before we started writing it.” The album concludes with a lively cover of Gram Parsons’ “Luxury Liner.” “You think I’m lonesome, so do I, so do I.” Ah, but the music tells us a different story; it is fun, full, warm, and moves at a good clip. And check out that work on guitar. Actually, the whole band is cooking on this one, and when it begins to fade out I want a little more.

CD Track List

  1. Something You Didn’t Count On
  2. Think Again
  3. I Owe Him Everything
  4. Sad Songs
  5. Landslide
  6. The Best Of Me
  7. November
  8. Lie To Me
  9. Still Waters
  10. You Can’t Stop Me From Staying
  11. The Beginning Was The End
  12. Luxury Liner

Something You Didn’t Count On is scheduled to be released on May 20, 2022 through Mountain Home Music Company.

Suzanne Lavine: “Everything’s Alright” (2022) CD Review

After a long absence from music, singer and songwriter Suzanne Lavine released a solo EP titled Crystal Clear in 2019. She has now followed that with a new EP, Everything’s Alright, featuring the same group of musicians backing her. Marc Seligman (who played with Suzanne Lavine in The Vines in the 1980s) is on bass, Seth Baer is on drums, and Cliff Hillis is on electric guitar and keyboards. Cliff Hillis also produced this release, as well as recorded, mixed and mastered the tracks, and also provides some backing vocals. Special guest Kelley Ryan joins the group on backing vocals on one of the tracks. This EP contains all original material, written by Suzanne Lavine.

The disc opens with “Lost Inside,” which has a wonderful folk pop sound. “You thought you had me/You treated me badly/But so sadly/I was lost inside/I made excuses/But they were useless.” Yeah, it describes a rather harmful relationship, but does so with a bright, cheerful sound. And in the second half there is a cool instrumental section featuring some really nice work on guitar. It is during that instrumental section that a change occurs, for after that Suzanne Lavine sings, “Now I’m much smarter than before/Eyes wide open as I walk right through the door.” Yes, the future sounds bright, as she repeats, “I’m never going back” at the end. And indeed, the disc’s second song, “I’m So Lucky,” describes a much better relationship, opening with these lines: “I am so lucky to be with you/With you beside me, it’s all brand new/Right from the start/I knew in my heart/That you were the one for me.” See? Things do get better. It is on this track that Kelley Ryan joins Suzanne Lavine on vocals. You might know her from her own solo career. I am especially fond of her 2017 release, Telescope. This song has a totally sweet sound and vibe. It is a song to play for the love of your life.

It is from “Both Feet On The Ground” that the EP gets its title. Interestingly, it is in the line “Hoping everything’s alright,” which of course is quite a bit different from stating outright that everything’s all right. But there days, hoping feels the best we can do. This song has a great folk pop sound, featuring some excellent work on guitar and a cool bass line. A strong Byrds influence can be heard at certain points. “I can’t remember why/So we can walk away/And save what’s left of this rainy day.” The EP concludes with “Tired Of Feeling Bad,” which addresses a troublesome relationship. “I never understood why you would treat me this way/Sorry’s no good, there’s so much more you need to say.” I think folks can relate to being tired of feeling bad, for even those of us in loving relationships can apply this sentiment to realms outside of romantic relationships. I also like the hopeful vibe of this song. Listening to the way she delivers these lines, you know she’s going to be fine. And that feeling spreads to all of us listening.

CD Track List

  1. Lost Inside
  2. I’m So Lucky
  3. Both Feet On The Ground
  4. Tired Of Feeling Bad

Everything’s Alright was released on April 1, 2022.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Jess Jocoy: “Let There Be No Despair” (2022) CD Review

Jess Jocoy is a singer and songwriter originally from the state of Washington and now making her home in Nashville. Her second full-length studio album, Let There Be No Despair, contains all original material. The album’s title is striking, particularly in these dark days when many people often feel at the edge of despair. A look at the news on any day shows us mass shootings, racism, sexism and rampant stupidity, and there is no sign of any of that slowing down. In fact, it all seems to be getting worse. Life appears completely unhinged. And yet we have to find ways forward out of this mess. Giving in to despair is not the answer. Jess Jocoy, on this new album, offers a hopeful glimpse at life. These tracks acknowledge certain troubles, but in that very acknowledgement somehow make us feel better. Partly, it is the beauty of her voice. But it also the way in which she approaches her subjects, the way she chooses to address troubles, which gives us a sense that we are not alone. In addition to providing the vocals, Jess Jocoy plays acoustic guitar on this album. Joining her on this release are Ethan Ballinger on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, and banjo; Lydia Luce on violin and viola; Brian Allen on electric bass, bowed bass and cello; and Matt Alger on drums and percussion.

The album opens with “I Will Be Glad,” which begins with a steady, simple beat and some beautiful work on guitar setting the tone before Jess Jocoy’s voice comes in. Hers is a gorgeous voice that here is warm but with a touch of melancholy within, and there are moments when her voice soars, while still remaining grounded. Basically, it feels honest, real. “In the end when the sunshine turns to rust/And my body returns to the dust.” But it is these lines that I especially latch onto: “In the end when the wind is at our back/There’ll be no thought of what we lack/Only joy for days we’ve been given/There will be joy, there will be joy.” In addition, Lydia Luce provides some passionate work on strings. This is a beautiful opening number about loss and the strength of family. That’s followed by “The One I’m Living For.” This track eases in with some soft strumming on guitar, supporting Jess Jocoy’s vocals, which have an intimate quality at the start. There is something comforting in the connection she creates between herself and us, on this journey we are all on together. “It turns out I had been sleeping/Drifting like a ghost through my own dreams/Someone must have known what it was I was missing/‘Cause I woke up one day and you were there.”

From time to time I see something on the news about a town that is all but dead, its population having moved off, following jobs or dreams or who knows what. There is something inherently sad about these stories, and there are always a few people left behind to be interviewed about how everything has changed. I wonder about those last people, how long they’ll hold out, and how they’ll manage without support. In “Living In A Dying Town,” Jess Jocoy takes us into that situation, and we get the perspective of someone who remains, at least for now. “Found out I’m living in a dying down/It’s like watching the sun set on the long, long day/People that you grow up knowing, they ain’t around anymore/You come to find out time really does slip away.” And these lines will strike a chord with people, no matter where they live: “‘Cause everything’s changing/Yes, everything’s changing/Yes, everything keeps changing/And I’ve never been good with change.” The sound of this track is rather haunting, and her vocal performance is powerful, having an ethereal element, like the town itself slipping away. Yet you get the sense that the person in this song will manage somehow. Then “The Gardener” softly and gently pulls us in, featuring some wonderful work on strings. This one is a portrait of a lonely woman who is unable to have children. “I’m sure my neighbors think I’m crazy/Sometimes I catch myself talking to myself/When I’m out in the garden.” This track features nice work on mandolin.

“Jericho Walls” has a somewhat brighter sound from the start, with that work on violin, but with something sad beneath. And isn’t that how life feels? A little sadness in every smile, a little worry behind every joy, a little weariness in every step. Her voice captures that so well. “But I give up on love before it starts.” This song is about letting others inside, about taking down your defenses, and it leaves us with this thought: “‘Cause it won’t matter how many miles you run/If you don’t let yourself find that sweet someone.” Then “Let There Be No Despair,” the album’s title track, begins gently, easing in. Her voice is so gorgeous here, and she speaks for all of us as she asks, “How many ways can the world try and get you down?” Sometimes we need a good cry, a cry that actually keeps us from despair, and this song can certainly provide the place for such tears. Check out these lines: “Friends become strangers/No one says why/Your peace becomes anger/And your songs become scythes/You try to remember/All you forgot/But all you remember/Is all that you’ve lost.” And listen to that wonderful work on strings. Every song on this album is excellent, and yet this one still manages to stand out.

There is yet more beautiful work on strings at the beginning of “Always.” “Take what I have and I promise to stand and deliver/Because loving you, yeah darling, loving you/Is all that I want to do/Always.” Ah, so sweet. I hope everyone experiences a love like this, for it makes all the difference. Then when “Two Shoulders” begins, it feels like a ray of light entering, a touch of warmth. There is something otherworldly, heavenly about it. Then the strumming on guitar feels like an earthly response to that warmth. And soon Jess Jocoy’s voice comes in: “How much weight can two shoulders take/I’m tired, but not ready to sleep.” Isn’t that a question many of us are asking? Life feels heavy these days. But her voice is comforting and beautiful. And before the end, she concludes, “I guess I’ll find out just how much weight two shoulders can really take.” That’s a way of urging us all to hold on and do our best. We’ll see, eh? That song is followed by “Waiting To Exhale,” which has a darker, intriguing sound at the beginning.  The line “I’m getting paid to tell you you’ll be all right” is so interesting, for it is obviously quite different from actually assuring the person she’ll be all right. This is a powerful song. The album concludes with “Common Kindness,” one I think everyone will relate to. “Times are hard enough as it is/Maybe one day we’ll find a way to let go and forgive.” Maybe, maybe. I remain hopeful.

CD Track List

  1. I Will Be Glad
  2. The One I’m Living For
  3. Living In A Dying Town
  4. The Gardener
  5. Jericho Walls
  6. Let There Be No Despair
  7. Always
  8. Two Shoulders
  9. Waiting To Exhale
  10. Common Kindness

Let There Be No Despair is scheduled to be released on May 20, 2022. After really getting into this album, I want to pick up copies of her earlier releases (the other full-length album and a couple of EPs).

Monday, May 16, 2022

Linda Hoover: “I Mean To Shine” (2022) CD Review

Linda Hoover recorded what was supposed to be her debut album, I Mean To Shine, back in 1970, when she was nineteen years old. But it wasn’t released, because of a disagreement over publishing rights. Fortunately, she kept a copy of the tape for herself, and that tape was restored and is now finally getting a release. Steely Dan fans in particular are going to find this album exciting, because that band, though still nearly two years away from officially forming, backs her on these tracks. Yes, Walter Becker plays bass and electric guitar, Donald Fagen is on keyboards, Denny Dias is on acoustic guitar, and Jeff Baxter is on electric guitar and steel guitar. Becker and Fagen also wrote many of the tracks, and did the arrangements. Joining them are Eric Weissberg on acoustic guitar, John Discepolo on drums, and Jerome Richardson on saxophone, along with members of The Dick Cavett Orchestra on strings, brass and woodwinds. In addition to the Becker and Fagen compositions, this album features covers of songs by Stephen Stills and The Band, as well as three original songs by Linda Hoover. And though Linda Hoover continued to perform after this record was shelved, and released a good album in 2018 titled Another World, it’s difficult to keep from wondering how her career would have progressed had this album been released in 1970.

The album opens with its title track, “I Mean To Shine,” one of the tracks written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. The year after this track was recorded, Barbra Steisand released her own version on Barbra Joan Streisand, with Donald Fagen playing on that recording as well. It should come as no surprise that Linda Hoover’s version is much better. I prefer her vocal work, and I love the brass. “This day I realized/The time we shared is gone/New seasons come and change/The ground we stood upon.” That’s followed by “Turn My Friend Away,” a pretty song that has a more stripped down sound, her voice at first supported by acoustic guitar. It then builds from there, but maintains that soft, gentle base. I love the way her voice rises at certain moments.

“Roaring Of The Lamb” is a song that will be familiar to Steely Dan fans, for it turned up on some compilations of early material. This is an excellent rendition, featuring some nice work on strings. “And the roaring of the lamb/Then revealed its awesome powers/And the minutes turned to hours/No one's the same.” That’s followed by “Roll Back The Meaning,” a song that Fagen and Becker had recorded for the soundtrack to You’ve Got To Walk It Like You Talk It Or You’ll Lose That Beat. Linda Hoover’s rendition has a good country vibe, and features some nice work on electric guitar and a catchy bass line. She delivers a strong vocal performance here, and provides her own harmonies. Also, check out that work on drums toward the end. This, for me, is one of the disc’s highlights.

Then we get the first of three songs written by Linda Hoover. Titled “Autumn,” this track features an excellent vocal performance, and is another of my personal favorites. It has more of a folk vibe, and features some wonderful guitar work by Eric Weissberg. “Then your head on my knees/Your sleepy eyes will remind me too/Of my love for you/In autumn.” Then she gives us “Jones,” another song that was composed by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. This one was also recorded by Thomas Jefferson Kaye, who included it on his 1974 record First Grade. Linda Hoover delivers a sweet rendition. “Now the only words I hear/Say my dreams will disappear/Or turn to clay/And either way/The days of alms have passed/There’s no more rainbows to be had.” Then Linda Hoover gives us “In A Station,” a song written by Richard Manuel, and included on The Band’s debut LP, Music From Big Pink. Linda Hoover’s rendition is fairly faithful to the original and features a pretty vocal performance. “Isn’t everybody dreaming/Then the voice I hear is real/Out of all the idle scheming/Can’t we have something to feel?

The second of the album’s songs written by Linda Hoover is “Mama Tears,” one of the album’s most moving tracks. “Mama, I‘m sorry/For your sorrow/I know you cry/I hear you now and then.” Her powerful, passionate vocal performance is what really sells this song, but she is also clearly a talented songwriter. That’s followed by “City Mug,” which has a cheerful, light energy and features some good work on guitar. It has a different vibe from the rest of the album’s tracks, but it’s enjoyable. Linda Hoover then puts her own spin on “4 + 20,” a song written by Stephen Stills, and included on the CSNY album Déjà Vu. This has a somewhat lighter vibe than the original, not as somber, filling out the sound. I particularly like the work on keys. There are also horns. But for that powerful last line, most of the instruments disappear to give it more focus. The album concludes with its final Linda Hoover composition, “The Dove,” this one in the folk realm and featuring a beautiful vocal performance.

CD Track List

  1. I Mean To Shine
  2. Turn My Friend Away
  3. Roaring Of The Lamb
  4. Roll Back The Meaning
  5. Autumn
  6. Jones
  7. In A Station
  8. Mama Tears
  9. City Mug
  10. 4 + 20
  11. The Dove

I Mean To Shine is scheduled to be released on CD on June 24, 2022 through Omnivore Recordings. There will also be a special vinyl release on June 18th, as part of the year’s second Record Store Day.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Markus Burger: “The Vienna Sessions” (2022) CD Review

Markus Burger is a pianist and composer born in Germany and now residing in southern California. In addition to his solo work, he is part of the duo Spiritual Standards and the trio Accidental Tourists, and also teaches at Fullerton College and San Diego State University. His newest release, The Vienna Sessions, features original compositions inspired by that city. These tracks were recorded in Vienna back in 2019, and Markus Burger performs them solo, on a Bösendorfer grand piano.

The album opens with “Daybreak.” When this track begins, it has a sense of magic about it, of possibilities. A sense of hope streaming in with the light. Ah, if daybreak always sounded like that, we’d all be thrilled to start each day. The piece then settles a bit, feeling more relaxed. It is like those extraordinary mornings when you are able to stay in bed even after the light has begun coming through the window, when you’re awake, but easing into the day, when time doesn’t intrude, when you can continue to cuddle with your partner. This is a pretty track, and a wonderful start to this album, for it puts us in a better frame of mind, a better place. “Daybreak” is followed by “Morning Mist,” which has a more curious opening, like tentative steps into a perhaps delicate or uncertain land. Ripples spread out from each step, the echoes of movement coming back to us. Then in contrast to that piece, “A Knight’s Tale” begins with a fuller sound, with warmer, stronger tones. And as it progresses, there are moments of a youthful cheer or excitement.

“Along The Creek” has a sense of solitude as it starts, but then we feel nature begin to surround us, for the music grows in power, while still remaining a rather solitary experience. It then eases out at the end. This is a short piece, just under two minutes in length. It is followed by “Café Mozart,” named after an actual coffee house that has existed in Vienna for an exceptionally long time. There is a sense of ease here, of being relaxed amid beauty. But there is also a sense of activity happening around, activity we can watch without getting caught up in it. As the piece slows toward the end, it feels like we are slowing, aging, remaining in place, but smiling as the world fades from our view. There is a warm, peaceful feel to “Harmonic Stroll,” which follows it, and as this track continues, there is joy and feeling of ability, of movement. It then grows calmer again toward the end, the movement slowing. Then “Cibelle’s Lullaby” has a somewhat solemn tone as it begins. There is a beauty here, and it does get lighter, but I can’t shake a feeling of something lost beneath it.

“Doom And Gloom” is a perfect title for these troubled times, when there are mass shootings every day, and when nuts on the right are turning more gleefully authoritarian. And yes, this piece does have a darker vibe. There is a sense of being on the edge. But it is a very short piece, so that feeling does not last. The mood certainly changes with the next track, titled “O Great Love.” There is a sense of almost being awed by beauty, of trying to take it all in and express it, getting pieces at a time. It feels a spiritual thing. Then “Fall Days” has warm tones of golds and reds, as we walk and take in the wonder of the day. Then we feel that the warmth is coming from within, not without, and in fact there might even be a bit of a chill in the air. But as long as we’re together, that sense of warmth, of peace will continue. This is one of my personal favorites.

“An Afternoon In Vienna” begins tentatively, its sound lonesome but gentle. It soon grows into something more welcoming and beautiful. There is motion around, but not a rush, not a frenzy, and we remain calm within the pulse of the city. This track then settles toward the end. It is followed by “Dulcimer,” which startles us with its different sound. This is a short piece, less than two minutes, and is followed by another short track, “Silent Lament,” which has a mournful, pensive vibe. Then “Renaissance Romance” is an interesting piece that begins slowly and then nearly halfway through becomes more insistent, more intense before easing back again. That’s followed by “Merry Gathering Before Walking Home,” which has warmth and passion. The album concludes with a piece titled “Rejoicing,” its sound being exactly what you’d hope for. This is a track to raise our spirits, to leave us in a happier, though still thoughtful, state.

CD Track List

  1. Daybreak
  2. Morning Mist
  3. A Knight’s Tale
  4. Along The Creek
  5. Café Mozart
  6. Harmonic Stroll
  7. Cibelle’s Lullaby
  8. Doom And Gloom
  9. O Great Love
  10. Fall Days
  11. An Afternoon In Vienna
  12. Dulcimer
  13. Silent Lament
  14. Renaissance Romance
  15. Merry Gathering Before Walking Home
  16. Rejoicing

The Vienna Sessions was released on February 4, 2022 on Challenge Records.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks 2022 Bonus Disc” (2022) CD Review

Each year that you subscribe to the Dave’s Picks series of Grateful Dead concert recordings, you get a bonus disc. This year’s bonus disc arrived with Dave’s Picks Volume 42. That volume contains the complete show the Grateful Dead performed at Winterland on February 23, 1974. The bonus disc contains selections from the previous night’s show, also at Winterland. The disc contains six songs from the first set, three from the second, and the encore.

It begins with the first set opener, “U.S. Blues.” Always a fun number, this song, and this just happens to be the first time the band played it. In 1973, an earlier version of this song, titled “Wave That Flag,” was introduced. That had different lyrics. The energy here is absolutely fantastic. “Call this song those U.S. Blues,” Jerry Garcia sings here. The sound gets weird right at the end, like most of the instruments suddenly become low in the mix, but this is such a good version anyway. The band introduced two other songs at this show, and those are included on this disc as well. But up next is a pretty good version of “Brown-Eyed Women,” which was the third song of the night. Nothing outstanding, but a fairly solid rendition. We then get the second new song of the show, “It Must Have Been The Roses.” Interestingly, this song is a little faster than later versions, but is still pretty. This song would find its way onto the Jerry Garcia solo album Reflections. At the show, “Roses” was followed by “Black-Throated Wind,” and so it is on this disc too. This is a seriously strong version, with Bob Weir really digging into it vocally. That’s followed by “Loose Lucy.” I love early versions of “Loose Lucy,” with the “Woo!” and Donna Jean Godchaux echoing “Round and round, round and round.” This was always a cool tune, but in 1973 and 1974 it was particularly delicious, and this is a groovy rendition, a highlight of the disc. A real good time, indeed!

The disc then goes to the final song of the first set, “Playing In The Band.” And as you might guess, this is another highlight. The energy is high right from its start, and even if you hadn’t glanced at the length of the track on the CD case, you’d probably guess this one was going to be a good ride. Jerry’s guitar is flying off into the upper reaches of the atmosphere as soon as the jam begins, while the rhythm keeps cooking beneath. And we are right with the band, eager to travel wherever the music might take us. After a while the guitar begins poking holes in the dark sky, and moves into “Slipknot!” territory, though that tune, as its own thing, was still more than a year in the future. By this point, the entire cosmos is swinging, galaxies and gods brought under the sway of this band’s energy and curiosity. This is what it’s all about. This is why we went as often as we could, and why we still listen. Things calm down a bit at one point, to focus on the beacon the band has lit, its message traveling into other realms, and being heard by whatever sentient creatures might reside there, and we get the sense they’re being pulled toward us. Or, rather, they and we are being pulled toward some center, and at that moment the center takes on a familiar form, as the band returns to the main thrust of the song. Donna welcomes all with that shout. Ah, the triumphant joy, when we find we’re all back together. Fantastic.

From there, the disc moves us to the middle of the second set for “Ship Of Fools,” also a new song at the time. This is the band’s first live performance of the song. It would, later in the year, be included on From The Mars Hotel. “And all that could not sink or swim/Was just left there to float.” This is a good, passionate version. That’s followed by “China Cat Sunflower,” which the audience reacts to the moment the band starts it. This is an excellent version of “China Cat,” particularly Jerry’s guitar, which seems to flow and fly and know just where to go. There is a good amount of joyful jamming before the band segues into “I Know You Rider.” And “Rider” is everything we want it to be. The disc then takes us to the show’s encore, “Uncle John’s Band.” It’s a cheerful rendition, a song to keep us smiling even after the music ends.

CD Track List

  1. U.S. Blues
  2. Brown-Eyed Women
  3. It Must Have Been The Roses
  4. Black-Throated Wind
  5. Loose Lucy
  6. Playing In The Band
  7. Ship Of Fools
  8. China Cat Sunflower >
  9. I Know You Rider
  10. Uncle John’s Band

Dave’s Picks 2022 Bonus Disc was released in early May. My copy arrived on May 5, 2022.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Grateful Dead: “Dave’s Picks Volume 42” (2022) CD Review

The new volume in the Dave’s Picks series of Grateful Dead concert recordings contains the complete show the Grateful Dead played on February 23, 1974 at Winterland in San Francisco. It is a good show, with some stellar playing in both sets. Highlights include fantastic versions of “Here Comes Sunshine,” “Weather Report Suite” and “The Other One.” There is a slight reordering of songs. The final two songs of the night are placed at the end of the second disc, rather than the end of the third disc in order to keep the flow of the second half of the second set intact. This is the middle show of a three-night run at Winterland, and those who bought a year’s subscription to Dave’s Picks also receive a bonus disc with this release, containing selections from the previous night’s show.

Disc 1

The first disc contains the complete first set. The band kicks things off with Chuck Berry’s “Around And Around,” a song generally used as a set closer. It’s like they wanted to set everything into high gear immediately. Sure, the song might be just a bit messy at moments, but no worries, the band is only getting started. And just listen to Bob Weir tearing into those vocals near the end. They follow that with “Dire Wolf.” For the first couple of lines, Jerry Garcia’s voice is a bit low in the mix, but that is soon fixed. This version feels just a little show, but is still quite good. Bob then delivers a sweet rendition of “Me And Bobby McGee.” His vocal microphone seems to be having some trouble, but Jerry’s guitar sounds great. There are some odd vocal issues at the beginning of “Sugaree” too, but this song is where things start getting really good. Phil Lesh’s bass has a dominant presence at moments, and he is delivering some excellent stuff. I love how this version suddenly gets mellow, only so it has more room to build again, which it soon does. Oh yes, the magic is starting to happen.

Bob then leads the band into a peppy, popping rendition of “Mexicali Blues,” with some surprising touches on guitar. Everything is working now, and the band is cooking along. Who would expect “Mexicali” to be a first set highlight? But it is. And it’s followed by another fantastic performance, “Here Comes Sunshine.” The Dead stopped playing this song after this show, and wouldn’t play it again for more than eighteen years. Listening to this version, you have to wonder why. Did they think they couldn’t top it after this night’s performance and decided to just let it rest? Maybe, because everything is flowing so well here. That jam is excellent, showing this song’s great potential. If this isn’t the band’s best performance of this song, it is certainly among the top two or three.

Bob Weir gets things rocking with a fun version of “Beat It On Down The Line.” Is that eleven or twelve beats at the beginning? This is such a joyous rendition. And then listen to Jerry’s beautiful vocal delivery at the beginning of “Ship Of Fools.” His vocal performance helps to make this yet another highlight of the first set. It is a passionate and wonderful rendition. That’s followed by “Jack Straw,” a song that would often come at or near the beginning of the set. This is a largely gentle, pretty version. A fun “Deal” follows, featuring some nice work on keys. And then Bobby delivers the second Chuck Berry song of the set, an energetic “Promised Land.” You might think things would end there, but they go straight into “Bertha,” keeping the energy high. But even that isn’t the end of the set. From there, they go straight into “Greatest Story Ever Told,” and that song ends up being the set closer. Donna Jean Godchaux really cuts loose toward the end there, and there is a lot of good work on guitar. A pretty damn good first set.

Disc 2

The second disc contains the first half of the second set, plus the last two songs of the encore (yeah, a three-song encore that night). While they wrapped up the first set with several high-energy songs, they actually open the second set in a mellow place, beginning with “Row Jimmy.” “Gonna get there, I don’t know/Seems a common way to go.” Bob keeps things in a mellow mood as he eases into “Weather Report Suite.” By the time I was seeing the Dead, the band had dropped the first two parts of this piece, and was only performing “Let It Grow.” It’s so good to hear the entire thing here, especially that pretty instrumental “Prelude.” This is a really good rendition, and the “Let It Grow” section becomes powerful at just the right moments, and includes a strong jam, the guitar flowing like a jazzy rain aiming to refresh whatever it lands on. The band has reached that magical level where they seem most at home, and everything is moving at a good pace, dancing across the terrain. This track is certainly a highlight of the second disc, and it eases into one of my favorite songs, “Stella Blue.” “In the end, there’s just a song.” Ah yes, and the Dead can take us right up to that moment, give us a glimpse of the end and make us smile at it, and make it smile at us, so later, perhaps, we won’t be afraid, we’ll be ready. “There’s nothing you can hold for very long.” It ends gently.

After a pause, Bob gets things moving with a cover of “Big River.” I love when Keith Godchaux rocks that piano. They follow that with a good version of “Ramble On Rose” that finds Jerry in high spirits, particularly vocally. Then Bob leads the group into “Me And My Uncle.” We hear a bit of the beginning of “He’s Gone,” just a tease to let folks know the order of things. That soon fades out. Then the last two songs of the second disc are the final two songs of the night, beginning with “Johnny B. Goode.” Three Chuck Berry songs in one night? You Bet! And this version has a tremendous amount of energy. This disc concludes with “And We Bid You Goodnight.” A sweet ending to a great show.

Disc 3

The third disc contains the rest of the second set and the first song of the encore. It picks up with “He’s Gone,” and as you might guess, this is where things really start to take off. “Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.” The jam has an easygoing vibe and still totally shines, leading to “Going where the wind don’t blow so strange.” Ah, where is that place? For we’d all like to go there right about now. But it is that vocal jam that really stands out. Fantastic stuff. They then get into something that starts to get bluesy, but then explodes into “Truckin’.” And that groove carries us pretty far, up over the hills, through the mountains, with hardly a moment to reflect on what’s transpired. And I love that moment when it bursts up through the trees and clouds and light itself, cutting a path to another realm. And once there, it’s time to explore, of course. Moments into that, Bill Kreutzmann creates a path of his own on drums, giving ethereal spirits a corporeal form with which to dance. And suddenly “The Other One” winds its way up through the ground and smashes through, fire igniting in the cracks, and all those seeking its warmth engage in a tribal dance, man and monster and even myth, all coming to life, spinning, swirling, morphing into different versions of each other, and then relaxing, perhaps even sinking. But just before we slip beneath the surface ourselves, the music snatches our hand, pulls us up for the next step or phase, which soon turns out to be a more delicate place. Our steps our tentative, but then it is like we are not stepping at all. Instead, things are moving around us, patches of light, flying reptiles, mouths full of teeth, a sharp breeze. Phil’s bass comes barreling upon us, a force that pushes its way in, then pauses, as if to see where it’s drive has gotten it. And what pretty thing creeps in on the air? And are there hints of “Slipknot!” contained in this jam, or has my imagination taken over part of this experience? No matter, for things have moved back to the main body of the song, a great pounding creature of impressive dimensions. And once it is all there, we get the first verse of the song. 

Soon after that, the song drifts off, and “Eyes Of The World” emerges, with that groove that always makes me happy. This song feels like a vast field of electric flowers and warm light from a bright blue sky. A song to make us feel good, with a groove to get us dancing. The song itself seems to dance. And this is 1974, so “Eyes” has that extra section toward the end of the jam. After a moment, the band launches into “One More Saturday Night” to conclude the set. It was Saturday, after all.  It’s an energetic rendition. The third disc ends with the first song of the encore, a good version of “Casey Jones” that begins in a rather relaxed fashion, but builds and builds in energy toward the end.

CD Track List

Disc 1

  1. Around And Around
  2. Dire Wolf
  3. Me And Bobby McGee
  4. Sugaree
  5. Mexicali Blues
  6. Here Comes Sunshine
  7. Beat It On Down The Line
  8. Ship Of Fools
  9. Jack Straw
  10. Deal
  11. Promised Land >
  12. Bertha >
  13. Greatest Story Ever Told

Disc 2

  1. Row Jimmy
  2. Weather Report Suite >
  3. Stella Blue
  4. Big River
  5. Ramble On Rose
  6. Me And My Uncle
  7. Johnny B. Goode >
  8. And We Bid Goodnight

Disc 3

  1. He’s Gone >
  2. Truckin’ >
  3. Drums >
  4. The Other One >
  5. Eyes Of The World
  6. One More Saturday Night
  7. Casey Jones

Dave’s Picks Volume 42 was released in early May. My copy arrived on May 5, 2022. This release is limited to 25,000 copies. My copy is number 928.