Monday, June 27, 2022

Gladiators: “One Love: The Best Of Their Nighthawk Recordings” (2022) CD Review

In 2018, Omnivore Recordings re-issued a couple of Gladiators albums, Symbol Of Reality and Serious Thing, in expanded versions. Now that label is giving us a new compilation titled One Love: The Best Of Their Nighthawk Recordings. It contains twenty tracks, taken from several different releases. It is more than an hour of music. And this is perhaps just what we need right now, uplifting music with a good groove and some meaningful lyrics to keep us from going too mad. Most of these songs are originals, written by Albert Griffiths, but there are also a few Bob Marley covers.

The compilation opens with the title track from Symbol Of Reality, a good choice in these days when reality in this country is somehow getting uglier. Weren’t we at least implicitly promised things would improve once the previous administration was gone? We need reminders that this isn’t the full reality. And besides, this tune offers a good, easygoing rhythm, and I love that work on organ in the track’s second half. “Where there’s reality, there is dignity.” That’s followed by “Fling It Gimme,” one of my personal favorite tracks from Serious Thing. Its sound immediately helps to lift my spirits. This track contains plenty of positive vibes. “Anywhere at all, girl, you can fling it gimme.” The first time I put on this disc was the morning when the so-called Supreme Court handed down its latest disastrous ruling, putting women across the country in danger, and I thought nothing could make me smile. But this song did the trick.

We return to Symbol Of Reality for “Mister Goose,” which has a rather playful vibe. “You see, when the cat is away, you know the mouse will begin to play/But what good is a song/That has no meaning.” Then “One Love,” this compilation’s title track, comes from a 1992 compilation titled Full Time, where it was the closing track. If the group asked, “But what good is a song that has no meaning?” in the previous song, on this one they deliver some meaningful lyrics, as well as a great groove. “Where is equal rights and justice?/It’s nowhere to be found, it’s nowhere to be found.” This is one of the disc’s best tracks. Clinton Fearon sings lead on it. “One love/Hear the children sing it/One love/They are singing in the background/One love/Hear the children shout it/One love/They are shouting in the background.”

“Reggae Jamboree” comes from a 1983 six-song EP titled 1983 U.S. Tour E.P. This is one I don’t recall hearing before, and am glad to have this song included here. “Come and dance to your favorite songs/The drum and the bass just mash it up.” Two other tracks from that EP are also included on this compilation. But next we go back to Symbol Of Reality for “Cheater,” a song that was originally titled “Big Boo Boo Dey” when it was recorded and released as a single in the 1970s. It’s a song about a woman who cares about money, going from man to man to get it. These lines stand out, and mean something a bit different in these days of the internet and social media: “I found you out, people will too/Your name soon be around from post to post.” That’s followed by “Full Time,” the title track from that 1992 release. This is a delightful, sweet song. Then from Serious Thing comes “My Thoughts,” this one also having a wonderfully positive and uplifting sound. The religious aspect of reggae music doesn’t hold much appeal for me, but the sound is so good, and this one features some nice work on organ in the second half.

“Fussing And Fighting” is the second of three songs from that 1983 EP, and it’s another good one, the first of three Bob Marley covers on this compilation. “Why is this fussing and fighting/I want to know, lord, I want to know.” That’s followed by the title track from Serious Thing, a strong song with, of course, a good groove. “Too much confusion goin’ on.” Indeed. Then “Bless Our Soul” comes from the 2018 expanded edition of Serious Thing. It was written by Clinton Fearon, who sings lead on this track. This one also features a horn section. It is a completely enjoyable track. It is followed by “Streets Of Gold,” from Symbol Of Reality. And again thinking about the Supreme Court, this line stands out: “Stand up, fight for your rights.” I hope those five justices aren’t allowed a moment’s rest. I hope people protest outside their homes around the clock, follow them wherever they go, and make their lives miserable. “Boy In Long Pants” comes from Full Time, and is another enjoyable number.

Another of this compilation’s highlights is “Dread Prophecy,” the title track from a 1986 release from Ethiopian & Gladiators. It was written by Leonard Dillon, who also provides vocals on this track. It has such a positive vibe. That is followed by the second of the Bob Marley covers, “Small Axe,” which comes from Symbol Of Reality. “If you are a big tree, let me tell you that I am the small axe/Ready to cut you down, ready to cut you down.” Oh, there are so many people I can think of right now who should hear those lines, but I would especially love to sing those lyrics to five Supreme Court justices. Then in “Mid-Range,” they sing, “Wake up everyone, now/Open your eyes and look within/Can’t you see the arrow/Pointing straight at you, my friend.” This one is from Serious Thing. And these lines especially stand out in these crazy times: “Can’t you see the time that we’re living in/Say you’ve got to be on your guard.”

The last of this compilation’s tracks to come from Symbol Of Reality is “Stand Alone,” which is also the final of the Bob Marley covers. “How could I be so wrong/Thinking we could get along.” I feel that way about those folks who say Democrats and Republicans should work together on solutions to the nation’s problems. How can you still think that is possible, particularly when many of the problems are caused by the Republicans?  That is followed by the last track to come from Full Time, “Bongo Red,” and then the final of three tracks from the 1983 EP, “You Little Rat.” “You Little Rat” was originally titled “Prince Tony’s Head” (or, “Prince Toney’s Head,” as it was spelled on the EP), and it is fantastic. It is another of the disc’s highlights. “You little rat/You’ll soon get chased by a cat/You little rat/You’ll soon get caught in a trap.” This compilation closes with “After You,” a song from Serious Thing, a wonderful track that includes some delightful work from the brass section. This music is certainly helping.

CD Track List

  1. Symbol Of Reality
  2. Fling It Gimme
  3. Mister Goose
  4. One Love
  5. Reggae Jamboree
  6. Cheater
  7. Full Time
  8. My Thoughts
  9. Fussing And Fighting
  10. Serious Thing
  11. Bless Our Soul
  12. Streets Of Gold
  13. Boy In Long Pants
  14. Dread Prophecy
  15. Small Axe
  16. Mid-Range
  17. Stand Alone
  18. Bongo Red
  19. You Little Rat
  20. After You

One Love was released on June 10, 2022 through Omnivore Recordings.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Opening Bands

When going to concerts, how do you guys feel about going early to see the opening bands? I always try to catch them, because of certain experiences which I talk about in this video.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Benjamin Koppel: “Anna’s Dollhouse” (2022) CD Review

Saxophonist Benjamin Koppel’s new release, Anna’s Dollhouse, is an unusual and intriguing album.  Its nine original compositions together tell the story of Koppel’s aunt, who, in her early twenties, had to flee Nazi-occupied Denmark in the 1940s. Having survived World War II, she married the man her parents had chosen for her, a man she did not love, and stayed with him until he died sixty years later. It was at that point that her life became her own, and she began playing piano again. It was also then that Benjamin Koppel got to know her. When she died in 2019, he decided to tell her story through music, something that was a passion in her life. All the tracks on this release were co-written by vocalist Caecilie Norby. Koppel wrote the music, Norby the lyrics. Joining them on this album are Kenny Werner on piano, Peter Erskine on drums, Johannes Weidenmueller on bass, and Jacob Andersen on percussion, along with a string section arranged by Anders Koppel, Benjamin’s father.

The album opens with its title track, the saxophone immediately taking us to another time, another place, which I love. This is a song about youth, and looking to the past, and also about hopes for the future. It is pretty, but knowing something of the story, there is a certain sadness in it, for the love mentioned in the song was not to be. She did not follow her heart, but instead followed the desires of her parents. However, before we get to that point, there is a beautiful lead on piano that represents that more carefree and happy spirit. Then the lead on saxophone seems to recount the more serious moments when she went to live with the man her family chose, but these are still not moments of despair. Before the track’s end, the lyrics return to the beginning, leaving us in a more hopeful frame of mind. That’s followed by “Mes Quatre Hercules,” which takes us back to her childhood and is about four brothers. Its opening lines, about being “So safe and yet so free,” are striking, particularly as we think of the way innocence was destroyed by the Germans. We can’t help but wonder what happened to these men. That short piece leads straight into “Black Water,” which begins with some solo work on bass that pulls us in with its rather somber sound. This is a song of separation, from home, from other family members, during the war, a song of escape and worry. It is a powerful and moving track, featuring some beautiful work on saxophone and an excellent vocal performance. “How do you explain war to a child?/How do you define death to a child?/Do they know the meaning of that star?/Screaming yellow, speaks of who you are.” This is a completely captivating track from beginning to end.

“Dying” is a song that celebrates music, and especially music’s ability to free our minds. And it is about the music within Anna, the music that apparently her husband was unaware of, which makes the song both exciting and sad. “You’re a stranger to the nightingale in me,” Caecilie Norby sings. What a heartbreaking line. This track features some wonderful, uplifting work on piano, and then some passionate playing on saxophone. I love that lead on sax, and the drum work beneath it is exciting as well. “Dying” is followed by “Drip Drop.” This song is interesting, for it starts with a somber instrumental section, but then takes on a playful feel when Caecilie Norby sings its title line, the contrast coming as a surprise. There is a youthful, even childlike feel to that particular line. There is a more serious vibe as she contemplates the rain and our relationship with nature,. “A quiet raindrop falls upon my face/This soft embrace gives back the hope/That we do belong/Somewhere.” The instrumental section signals a change, and soon Anna is in Sweden, and the track takes on a different feel. Then “Sketches Of Life And Death” has a lively, cheerful vibe. Here we seem to view the world through musical terms, which can be associated with all of life, and what joy in discovering that. I love the way the saxophone interacts with her voice. Then after the word “death,” the feeling changes. The strings fade, and the bass takes the piece in a different, more serious direction. The sax lead that soon emerges is rather beautiful.

“The Neighbour” is an arresting piece. What would any of us do in that situation? We think we could never save ourselves by sacrificing others. “Take my cousin instead/Oh no no, it’s not me – it’s the children they said/No, not me – it’s the children they shot/It’s not me – see, the children are dead/It’s not me, it’s not me, it’s not me, it’s not me.” The second half features some excellent work on drums. Then, interestingly, “Sketches Of Life And Death” is revisited before the end of the track. That’s followed by “Ghost Of Europe,” a song about war in Europe. “Empty streets, running feet/They say it’s war in Europe/Cities falling to the ground/Turning into stones.” The album concludes with “Anna’s World,” which is about her strength, her vitality. She remained a person who looked forward. “You won’t see no self-pity/No, she will search for strength in her heart/Make this strong brand new start/She’ll help all the people flee from sadness, madness!/‘Cause in Anna’s world, she’s still this fearless woman/Still believe in fighting every day for justice.” And you might think it would end there. But, no, this track grows in power, in intensity, and then just before the end, it returns to lines from “Ghost Of Europe,” because the war was clearly so defining. This remarkable album concludes with these lines: “Slalom through the cracks of fire/Burning bricks and bones.”

CD Track List

  1. Anna ‘s Dollhouse
  2. Mes Quatre Hercules
  3. Black Water
  4. Dying
  5. Drip Drop
  6. Sketches Of Life And Death
  7. The Neighbour
  8. Ghost Of Europe
  9. Anna’s World

Anna’s Dollhouse was released on June 7, 2022.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Rod Picott: “Paper Hearts And Broken Arrows” (2022) CD Review

Born and raised in New England, singer and songwriter Rod Picott has made Nashville his home for the last couple of decades. He’s released more than a dozen albums during that time. His new one, Paper Hearts And Broken Arrows, features all original material, written or co-written by Rod Picott. And the folks he has chosen to collaborate with on these songs are accomplished singers and songwriters themselves, people like Slaid Cleaves and Mark Erelli. Joining him on this release are Lex Price on bass and tenor guitar, Juan Solodzano on pedal steel and slide guitar, Evan Hutchings on drums, and Neilson Hubbard on piano and backing vocals.

This album opens with a gentle and beautifully sad song titled “Lover,” Rod Picott’s voice containing the ache and longing of which he sings. These are the first lines: “Been without love for so long/I’ve forgotten the words to that song.” Yes, he gets right to the matter. And these lines about aging stand out: “So, lover come find me/I know most of my best is behind me.” Those lines also remind me of a short Leonard Cohen poem: “Marita/Please find me/I am almost 30.” The last few years have been maddening for all of us, but imagine being alone during the pandemic, knowing you still have something to give, but having no one to give it to. There is still hope in his voice as he sings, “And I’m tired and I’m cheated/But I’m not defeated.” This track features some pretty work on both pedal steel and piano. Rod Picott then gets bluesy with “Revenuer,” which creates an interesting atmosphere, especially with that great work on electric guitar. Here his vocal delivery is full of attitude and danger.

“Mona Lisa” is a sweet love song about two ordinary people. In this one too he mentions being tired: “I’m tired and my engine is all torn down.” Ah, isn’t that the overriding state for most of us these days? And so it makes perfect sense that it is reflected in music. This song also has a cheerful, hopeful aspect, which is appreciated. “Someone will come someday/And there ain’t no telling when/And find all the parts of me and put me/Back together again/But I am waiting here for you/Are you waiting somewhere for me too?” That’s followed by “Dirty T-Shirt.” I love the way the pedal steel sets the tone. This is a pretty song. Check out these lyrics: “She was an angel on my shoulder/Sleeping deeply in a dream/I didn’t move so not to wake her/Though I had fire running in my veins/Forget the lipstick and mascara/You don’t need any disguise/I want you just the way you are.” Then “Frankie Lee” is a song told from the perspective of a man sentenced to die, a man who by the time of his execution is no longer the same person who committed the crime. So, in a way, this one too is about aging, something on all our minds these days, I suspect. This song was written by Rod Picott and Jennifer Tortorici. Rod Picott follows that with another portrait, “Sonny Liston,” this one about the boxer. This song reminds me a bit of Greg Brown.

Rod Picott’s previous album, Wood, Steel, Dust & Dreams, featured songs that he wrote with Slaid Cleaves, a lifelong friend of his. This new album includes two tracks co-written by Slaid Cleaves. The first is “Through The Dark.” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “This world is hard from the day you’re born/We spend our whole life long/Licking honey from thorns/Just trying to hold on to our hope.” These lines also stand out: “Oh, baby, don’t it feel like we’re/Headed to the end of times.” I think we can all relate to that sentiment. Then “Valentine’s Day” has a really good opening line, “You used to hold me, but I held you back.” I love that you can hear that line at least a couple of ways. This is a song of regret and longing, a song of some introspection, and it features an excellent vocal performance, supported mostly by acoustic guitar. There is some nice work on electric guitar in the track’s second half. That’s followed by “Washington County,” another powerful song, this one featuring some great work on harmonica. This song was co-written by Mark Erelli, a songwriter with whom you are likely familiar, for his material has been covered by several other artists. “Once a month we hit the food bank/Once a month we reach the end/Of the rope we’re clinging onto/And the check the county sends.” I love Rod Picott’s passionate vocal performance.

“Lost In The South” also shows what a talented songwriter Rod Picott is. Check out these lines, about a specific spot in Nashville: “Moved to down here/With everything to my name/Jammed inside an old Chevrolet/Stayed at a motel room on Trinity Lane/Hookers and the dealers/Saw my out-of-state plates/They were banging on the door all night long/I couldn’t sleep a minute for the carrying on.” These days the divide between the so-called red states and the blue is wider than ever, and it must be strange to live in the south, particularly for someone from the northeast. That song is followed by “Mark Of Your Father,” a song about the effect parents have on their children, and it includes lines about Marvin Gaye, who was shot dead by his own father. The album concludes with “Make Your Own Light,” the other track co-written by Slaid Cleaves, this one having an intimate sound, Rod Picott’s voice supported by acoustic guitar. “You ask again and again/In the dark of the night/You try and you fail and try again/To make your own light.”

CD Track List

  1. Lover
  2. Revenuer
  3. Mona Lisa
  4. Dirty T-Shirt
  5. Frankie Lee
  6. Sonny Liston
  7. Through The Dark
  8. Valentine’s Day
  9. Washington County
  10. Lost In The South
  11. Mark Of Your Father
  12. Make Your Own Light

Paper Hearts And Broken Arrows was released on June 10, 2022 on Welding Rod Records.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

As the world outside continues to be bafflingly stupid and dangerous, with psychotic fiends arguing for the freedom to own semi-automatic weapons, many people are turning inward. Fortunately, musicians are here to help us get through these troubling times. Here are brief notes on some new jazz releases you might be interested in checking out.

Peck Allmond Quartet: “Live At Yoshi’s 1994” – This album captures the performance of the Peck Allmond Quartet on July 5, 1994 at Yoshi’s in Oakland, California. The album opens with Sonny Rollin’ “Tenor Madness,” which starts with a cool solo from Peck Allmond. It is more than a minute before the other musicians come in, and though it feels a bit messy as they come in, that loose vibe is part of the track’s appeal. And soon Peck Allmond is taking the group into exciting territory. Ed Kelly then takes a turn at lead nearly halfway through, keeping things hopping with some impressive work on piano. Then John Wiitala delivers a solid, spirited lead on bass. This track just gets better and better, leading to some great drum solos by Bud Spangler, that section of course being my favorite. The group then turns romantic for a rendition of “Like Someone In Love,” which features a good lead on bass early on. I like that John Wiitala is given the space to stretch out and explore here. But it is the piano solo that especially stands out, at first for its gentle beauty that seems to stop whatever commotion may be around us. And it grows from there. The sense of romance then deepens with “I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You),” which features some sweet and tender work from Peck Allmond. Then Kenny Brooks joins the group on tenor saxophone for “Softly As in A Morning Sunrise,” a track that moves with a great energy. Peck Allmond is on trumpet for this one. This disc features two piano solos, the first being a warm, touching rendition of John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice.” Peck Allmond begins “Invitation” with a solo. That track also features some excellent work on piano. That’s followed by “Blues By Five,” which moves with a sense of urgency, and features some fantastic playing by all four musicians, with some especially exciting work on piano. The album concludes with the second of its two piano solos, “All Blues” by Miles Davis. This is a gentle, pretty rendition. This album was released on May 20, 2022.

Evan Drybread: “Tiger Tail” – Saxophone player Evan Drybread’s new release features all original material, most of which he composed. Joining him on this release are Mark Buselli on trumpet and flugelhorn, Christopher Pitts on piano and organ, Scott Pazera on bass, and Kenny Phelps on drums. The album opens with “Blackball,” which has a strong groove and features an excellent lead on piano.  Evan Drybead’s lead in the second half is also seriously good, and I wish that section where he is supported mainly by that delicious bass line went on a little longer. Wonderful work. That’s followed by “High Priestess,” a funky jazz fusion piece featuring some great stuff on both organ and drums, with an exciting lead by Evan Drybead that pulls us through the track. I especially love that drum work in the second half, and how the bass continues to play through that section. The track then ends with short drum solo. “The Queen Of Cups” is another of the disc’s highlights. This is one you just let carry you along on its own interesting journey, without imposing your expectations on where it should lead. Perhaps the most exciting piece is the album’s title track, which moves with a powerful energy and sense of purpose, and gets more interesting as it goes on. This one too contains some wonderful work on drums. “Atlantic Mirror” is the first of two tracks written by Christopher Pitts, a beautiful and contemplative tune featuring just Christopher Pitts on piano and Evan Drybread on saxophone. There are moments when the saxophone reaches some magnificent heights. “The Downey Wives” has an enjoyable, easygoing vibe. The group then gets funky with “Woodruff Place Town Hall,” a track that brings a smile to my face. It features some bright work from both Evan Drybread and Mark Buselli, and a cool lead on bass. The album concludes with the second of two pieces composed by Christopher Pitts, “Waltse,” which has something of a carefree sound. Like his other composition on this disc, this one features just Pitts and Drybread. This album was released on May 1, 2022.

Angela O’Neill And The Outrageous 8: “Light At The End Of The Tunnel” – The title of this one is of course appealing for all of us who keep hoping for a glimpse of that light. After two years of a pandemic, and the ongoing troubles caused by the previous administration, we are eager for such a light, which at times seems to be just around the bend. Well, this band is doing its part to will that light into existence with this wonderful album. The disc opens with “I’ve Grown Accustomed To His Face,” and in the liner notes they joke how during the lockdown people became very accustomed to each other’s faces. That’s followed by a fantastic rendition of “Cry Me A River,” featuring a strong vocal performance and a lot of great stuff from the brass section. It is certainly one of the disc’s highlights. The band, by the way, is made up of Angela O’Neill on vocals; Sam Morgan on tenor saxophone; Ron Cyger on alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute and clarinet; Rich Walker on baritone saxophone and flute; Paul Litteral on trumpet and flugelhorn; Harry Smallenburg on trombone; Rocky Davis on piano; Bill Bodine on electric bass; and Tony Pia on drums. There are also some guests on various tracks. This group delivers a really good version of “Come Rain, Come Shine,” a perfect choice of songs for a time when, figuratively speaking, it’s been mostly rain. The energy is then pumped up for “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die,” featuring guest vocalist Al Timss. Another great choice for these troubled times. That’s followed by “Now And Again,” the album’s only instrumental track. Death has been on my mind lately, and “New York Minute” hits me kind of hard. Check out these lines: “And in these days when darkness falls early/And people rush home to the ones they love/You’d better take a fool’s advice, and take care of your own/Because one day they’re here, the next day they’re gone.” Then Bill A. Jones joins the group on vocals for a spirited rendition of “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.” Another of this release’s highlights is “Hallelujah I Love Him So,” which features Beth Anderson and Jackie Gibson joining Angela O’Neill on vocals, and includes some good work on harmonica by guest musician Michael Rosen. Jackie Gibson then takes lead vocal duties on “It Might As Well Be Spring.” The group wraps things up with “When The Sun Comes Out.” This album was released on May 21, 2022.

The Paxton/Spangler Septet: “Ugqozi” – The title of the new album from trombonist John Paxton and percussionist RJ Spangler translates as “inspiration,” and in these tracks we get a sense of what inspires them, but also will find inspiration ourselves. The album opens with “You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos,” which features some delicious work on bass. It is the brass section, however, which lifts us up almost immediately. The brass has a full sound, many joyful voices. Toward the end, it feels like the track is concluding, but instead it returns to a more relaxed vibe, as at the beginning. The septet, by the way, is made up of Dan Bennett on saxophone, Kasan Belgrave on alto saxophone and flute, John Douglas on trumpet, Phillip J. Hale on piano, Damon Warmack on electric bass, Kurt Krahnke on acoustic bass, Sean Perlmutter on drums. This disc also features special guests Salim Washington on tenor saxophone, oboe and flute; and Alex Harding on baritone saxophone. “Ithemba” is a pretty piece with a welcoming, mellow vibe, its title translating as “hope.” We can all use a healthful dose of hope these days, and this music should give us just that. I imagine I am not the only one who turns to music for hope and inspiration. And this piece takes on a powerful and positive energy midway through. “Part Of A Whole” has a catchy groove that I want to sway and dance to. This track is a wonderful jam, with many moments where the musicians shine. There is a sweet, light sense to “Lwandle’s Lullaby,” a track composed by Salim Washington. It is like it is gently opening up a door to a fairy tale and inviting us inside. Once inside, we are surrounded by a loving and exciting sound. Then “Water No Get Enemy” features another great groove, with a certain funky element, and some passionate work from the brass section. “Pata Pata” is a fun piece with some bluesy elements, and a loose feel. Again, it feels designed to raise our spirits and get us moving. I love that work on piano. The disc concludes with “Jabulani – Easter Joy,” as you might guess from its title, there is an air of celebration. I love the pace and momentum, with the rhythm section propelling this track into some wild territory. We even get a good drum solo halfway through. This album was released on May 27, 2022.

John Wasson’s Strata Big Band: “Chronicles” – There is nothing like some good big band music to shake us loose from these stressful times. John Wasson’s Strata Big Band delivers some excellent original material, as well as some well-chosen covers. The album opens with an original number titled “Heat-Seeker,” which has some bright, exciting playing and a good deal of swing, and features fantastic stuff from Pete Clagett on trumpet and Jeff Robbins on tenor saxophone, over a delicious rhythm. I particularly love that work on drums at the end. That’s followed by “Funk City,” another original piece by John Wasson. As its title promises, this is a funky number, with Eric Hitt’s great bass work standing out. Noel Johnson delivers some wonderful stuff on guitar, and that lead by Chris Beaty on tenor saxophone feels like that giant heart of this track. So is a whole lot of fun. Then “Señor Salsa” features a totally delicious percussion section toward the end. That’s followed by a moving and warm rendition of Jiggs Whigham’s “Bodge,” which features some wonderful, soulful work by Dave Butler on trombone.  This disc also features an exciting, lively rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Blues For Alice,” featuring the trombone section. But probably the coolest of all this album’s tracks is “Tank!” From that work on bass at the beginning, it’s clear this track is something special. Apparently, this is the theme to an anime show. It is great fun, and that lead by Bruce Bohnstengel on alto saxophone is absolutely fantastic. The album concludes with another cool track, “The Detective Chronicles,” an original piece that creates its own atmosphere and characters, taking us along on a ride as a detective does his work. Suddenly in the middle of the action comes a pretty, though brief, solo on piano. And then, bam, we are right back in the chase. Then that section with saxophone and drums is one of my favorite parts of this entire disc. So good! This album was released on May 20, 2022.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Svetlana And The Delancey Five in Los Angeles, 6-19-22: Photos

A bit of New York came to Los Angeles this weekend in the form of a pop-up venue on Melrose celebrating the television series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I haven’t yet seen that show, but was excited because Svetlana And The Delancey Five were performing at this special event, and while I’ve been enjoying their music for several years I hadn’t before today had an opportunity to see them in concert. The pop-up venue included a recreation of the Blue Note stage, and it was there that the band performed. They did an absolutely delightful set, the highlight for me being an excellent rendition of “Someone To Watch Over Me,” one of my favorite songs. In addition to the music, there was food, drink and photo opportunities. It is a two-day event, and goes until 8 tonight (so if you hurry, you can still catch it). The band plays every hour.

Set List

  1. instrumental intro
  2. It’s A Good Day
  3. They Can’t Take That Away From Me
  4. Nice Work If You Can Get It
  5. Que Sera, Sera
  6. Someone To Watch Over Me
  7. Cute
  8. instrumental outro

Here are some photos:

The pop-up is located at 8175 Melrose Ave., in Los Angeles.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Record Store Day 2022, Part 2

Happy Record Store Day, everyone. Record Store Day Part 2, that is. In this video I talk about today’s RSD purchases, which I made at Freakbeat Records and Licorice Pizza, both located on Ventura Blvd. in the San Fernando Valley.

Friday, June 17, 2022

The Bacon Brothers: “Erato” (2022) CD Review

Though his film career had started several years earlier, Kevin Bacon became known to a lot of folks through Footloose, a movie that is all about the music. That was back when original soundtrack meant original soundtrack. And so it seemed perfectly natural when he started his own band a decade or so later with brother Michael Bacon. They’ve put out ten releases over the last twenty-five years. Their new EP, Erato, contains five original songs, with both brothers contributing material. Both Kevin Bacon and Michael Bacon sing and play guitar on these tracks, with Kevin also providing some work on percussion. Joining them are Paul Guzzone on bass and backing vocals; Tim Quick on guitar, mandolin and backing vocals; and Frank Vilardi on drums.

The disc opens with “In Memory (Of When I Cared),” the only track on which the brothers collaborated with other songwriters. It was written by Kevin Bacon, Michael Bacon, Desmond Child and Berkay Birecikli. Desmond Child has a lot of songwriting credits. He co-wrote “I Hate Myself For Loving You” with Joan Jett, Aerosmith’s “Angel” with Steven Tyler, and Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Livin’ On A Prayer,” among many others. Berkay Birecikli is a composer and music producer known by his professional name, Void Stryker. So there is a significant amount of talent behind this first track, and it shows. The track begins with some interesting percussion, creating a compelling atmosphere. The vocals are then in strong focus at the beginning, with the instruments somewhat softly supporting them. The song soon kicks in, a combination of rock and pop sounds, with a cool vibe running through it. “Lesson learned/Love ain’t fair/Even burned the bed we shared/This song’s in memory/In memory of when I cared.” Chris Day joins the bothers on lead guitar on this track, delivering some memorable work, particularly in the second half. “In Memory (Of When I Cared)” is followed by “Dark Chocolate Eyes,” which has a mellower, more laid-back vibe with a folk and country feel. This one was written by Kevin Bacon. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “You were looking like you just woke up/Something stupid written on a coffee cup/Ready for your close-up/Like magic in a chair/Dark chocolate eyes, angel hair.” There is a kind of dreamy, nostalgic groove to this one, which is wonderful. Then suddenly in the middle of the track, there is something an ELO-type sound to the vocals for a couple of lines. This is one of my favorites. Interestingly, this duo has also recorded songs titled “Grey-Green Eyes” and “Brown Eyes.”

“Let Me Happen To You Girl” has a more playful sound from the start, with an island sound. It’s a lot of fun, and I love that percussion. It’s a good one to dance to, feeling like a celebration designed to raise our spirits, just as the lyrics suggest. “Put your devils on the run/Bring you back into the sun/Let me happen to you, girl/Let me happen to you, girl.” And somehow it becomes even more enjoyable as it goes on. This song was written by Michael Bacon. We can continue dancing with “Erato,” the EP’s title track, written by Kevin Bacon. This is another completely enjoyable track, with more great summer sounds. Erato is one of the nine muses in Greek mythology, the patron of lyric and love poetry, so clearly a good choice of goddesses to be addressed in songs. “Here I am still staring into space/Are you a goddess or a muse/Are you just a figment of my blues.” I love that last phrase, “figment of my blues.” That’s great. This track features some strong vocal work, and I imagine it’s a crowd-pleaser at the duo’s live performances. It certainly has that potential. By the way, The Bacon Brothers are putting on several concerts in support of this new release, so check out their tour schedule to see if they will be near you. The EP concludes with “Karaoke Town,” an interesting song, with a surprisingly darker folk sound. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a song with that title, but I guess I was thinking it would be more of a pop tune. So, yes, this is far more interesting than what I’d imagined it would be, featuring a passionate vocal performance. It was written by Kevin Bacon, and produced by his son, Travis Bacon. “When they tried to take away the axe that you have learned to swing/You poured honey on your wounds and you got back in the ring.”

CD Track List

  1. In Memory (Of When I Cared)
  2. Dark Chocolate Eyes
  3. Let Me Happen To You Girl
  4. Erato
  5. Karaoke Town

Erato is scheduled to be released on July 8, 2022.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Music Memories: Dirty Dancing

In 1988, I attended a concert featuring some of the artists whose music is included in the movie “Dirty Dancing.” Please don't judge me too harshly for that. In this video, I recall my experience of that night.


Monday, June 13, 2022

Laura Orshaw: “Solitary Diamond” (2022) CD Review

Fiddler and vocalist Laura Orshaw has performed with several groups, and is a member of The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys. She has now released her debut solo album. Titled Solitary Diamond, this album contains some delicious bluegrass music, featuring mostly material written by other folks, along with one song that she co-wrote. Joining her on this release are Catherine “BB” Bowness on banjo, Reed Stutz on mandolin, Casey Campbell on mandolin, Alan Bartram on bass and backing vocals, and Tony Watt on guitar, along with several guests on various tracks.

The album opens with “I’ll Trade You Money For Wine,” which was written by Robbie Fulks and included on his 2013 album Gone Away Backward. That original recording features some good stuff on fiddle, and you can be sure that Laura Orshaw’s rendition does as well. This version also features some nice work on mandolin, and a strong vocal performance. Laura Orshaw is certainly not shy, not reluctant to belt out key lines. And check out these lyrics: “Pockets of change don’t drive my worry down/Diamonds don’t make me shine/It’s a short life and a long time underground/I’ll trade you money for wine.” Oh yes, I think we can all appreciate those lines. Life is short, and getting shorter all the time. I think I’ll have a drink. Tim O’Brien joins Laura Orshaw on harmony vocals on this track. We then get a sweet rendition of Jim Ringer’s “Linda’s Out There On Her Own,” here titled simply “On Her Own.” This version is delivered as a duet with Trey Hensley. “Oh, but didn’t we sound good when we sang together?” Yes, indeed! Plus, this track features a whole lot of good banjo work. In fact, there are two banjo players on this one. Eli Gilbert is the special guest on banjo here.

Laura Orshaw delivers a fast rendition of “After You,” a song written by Jerry Chestnut and originally recorded by George Jones. “After you, when someone smiles at me I wonder what’s the price/After you, I’ll be suspicious of anything that’s nice.” Though it is delivered at a more rapid pace, this version still features some pretty work on fiddle, particularly in that instrumental section in the middle. Also, there is some nice back and forth on mandolin and banjo. Jana Mougin and Garnet Imes Bowman provide backing vocals on this track. “Loving you, it’s just too good to last forever/So the world could end tomorrow, I don’t care.” Why is it that lines about the end of the world stand out these days? That’s followed by a cover of The Gordons’ “Rock-A-Bye Cindy.” It has a rather gentle bluegrass sound, but there is a darkness surrounding this song. “No, he ain’t the man I met long ago/But some trouble’s deceiving/Some tears fall slow.” I love the way Laura Orshaw delivers this one, the way she draws out certain words, like “night” on the line “Rock-a-bye Cindy, good night.” Lindsay Lou joins Laura Orshaw on backing vocals. That in turn is followed by a cover of The Kendalls’ “I’ll Be Hurtin’ Either Way,” a song from that duo’s 1979 album Heart Of The Matter. As you might guess from its title, this is a sad song, though this rendition has a rather cheerful sound, thanks in large part to the banjo. “I don’t want to go, but there’s no other way/But it’s so hard to leave you/And it’s so hard to stay/I can never win/In this circle that I’m in/‘Cause you know I’ll be hurtin’ either way.” Jana Mougin and Stephen Mougin join her on backing vocals.

“High Mountain Rising” is a slower number with a passionate vocal performance and a pretty instrumental section in the second half. Laura Orshaw’s work on fiddle in particular is gorgeous. Ronnie Bowman and Garnet Imes Bowman provide harmony vocals on this track. Laura Orshaw then picks up the pace with another Gordons cover, “I Can’t Settle Down,” which comes from Our Time, the same album that featured “Rock-A-Bye Cindy.” It is interesting to me that there is always something appealing in songs about rambling, while there is also always something appealing in songs about home. Go figure. This track features three fiddle players. Joining Laura Orshaw are Brittany Haas and Jenee Fleenor, with Fleenor also providing some harmony vocals. So, yes, fiddle is at the heart of this track. Fellow Po’ Ramblin’ Boys member Josh Rinkel is on guitar. Then we get “Lonely Is My Name,” which Laura Orshaw wrote with Josh Rinkel, who also plays guitar on it. It is the only song on the album that Laura Orshaw had a hand in writing, and it is one of my favorite tracks. Alecia Nugent joins her on vocals for this one, their voices blending beautifully. “And the need for just one more/Reason to sit there thinking/And drive yourself insane/I’m your new companion/Lonely is my name.”

“The Band Of Jesse James” is the second of the album’s songs penned by Jim Ringer, this one coming from his 1977 LP Tramps And Hawkers. Alecia Nugent joins Laura Orshaw again on backing vocals, along with Alan Bartram, who is also on bass. “He told me that he loved me just in passing/He was playing, but I’m still paying/‘Cause I fell.” That’s followed by “Veins Of Coal.” There are a lot of great songs about mining. In fact, the Freakons just put out an entire album of mining songs. On this album, Laura Orshaw delivers a powerful rendition of the Daniel Stearns song. Check out these lines: “Let the wind blow through my ribcage/Let the sunshine bleach my skull/One day my tears will reach the ocean/And my bones will turn into coal.” Alan Bartram provides some good harmony vocals. Laura Orshaw’s fiddle work is as moving as the vocal performances. This is another of the disc’s highlights. Then Jana Mougin and Stephen Mougin provide backing vocals on “Speak Your Heart,” a song written by Mark Simos. The album concludes with “Hank,” which was written by Cy Winstanley and originally included on the 2014 Tattletale Saints release How Red Is The Blood. Laura Orshaw’s version moves at a faster pace, and features some wonderful playing on mandolin and banjo. “I want to sing Hank Williams songs/They must be right, ‘cause honey he ain’t wrong.”

CD Track List

  1. I’ll Trade You Money For Wine
  2. On Her Own
  3. After You
  4. Rock-A-Bye Cindy
  5. I’ll Be Hurtin’ Either Way
  6. High Mountain Rising
  7. I Can’t Settle Down
  8. Lonely Is My Name
  9. The Band Of Jesse James
  10. Veins Of Coal
  11. Speak Your Heart
  12. Hank

Solitary Diamond was released on May 27, 2022 through Dark Shadow Recording.