Sunday, July 31, 2022

Val Starr & The Blues Rocket: “Healing Kind Of Blues” (2022) CD Review

The blues do have a healing power. Somehow singing of our troubles seems to soften them, if not dispel them entirely. Giving voice to them takes away some of their power over us, and thus lightens our load. Val Starr & The Blues Rocket acknowledge and celebrate that healing aspect of the blues on their latest album, Healing Kind Of Blues. I like the playful photo on the album’s cover, though it is interesting that the guitar is receiving the healing fluids through the IV rather than delivering them. And Val is taking the guitar’s pulse, as if to check whether it is still alive. The album features all original material, written by Val Starr, much of it composed during the pandemic, when folks took a new look at their priorities, took stock of their lives, and perhaps felt closer to oblivion than usual. Many of these songs deal with aging, something that has certainly been our minds lately. The band is made up of Val Starr on vocals and rhythm guitar, John Ellis on bass and slide guitar, Paul Farman on drums, Tim Brisson on lead guitar, and Frankie Munz on harmonica. Some special guests join them on various tracks. One last note about the CD case: on the back, Val is pictured holding another guitar. Does that mean the one on the front didn’t make it?

The album opens with “Ridin’ That Memphis High,” a tune that has an easygoing vibe, like a warm summer breeze, and features some nice work on harmonica, a good bass line and some wonderful stuff on guitar. This song pays tribute to one of the important music cities of this country. “Memphis is that magic place where music fills you up/And you can get a belly full of blues/Memphis is ground zero, where much of it began/It doesn’t matter if you play or if you’re just a fan.” Then Todd Morgan joins the group on keys for “All About The Shuffle.” For me, this one is all about the groove. Well, that, and Val Starr’s vocal performance, which is delightful. There is a sort of cheerful dance to her delivery at times. This is a cool and totally enjoyable tune. “The music gets you moving, gets you spinning around, oh yeah.” That’s followed by “Slow Blues Grinder,” its title telling you just what to expect from this track’s sound. Val Starr delivers a sexy, seductive, and powerful vocal performance in this blues song about the blues. Here she compares the blues to other music realms, with some humorous lines like “And reggae makes you lazy.” I love this song, though she mispronounces the word “forte,” a common mistake. (For those who are wondering, the word is one syllable, rhyming with “port” and “snort.”) Todd Morgan plays organ on this one.

“Healing Kind Of Blues,” the album’s title track, opens with Val Starr asking, “What kind of blues are you in the mood for?” This one has a jazzy vibe, and features some excellent work on saxophone from special guest Danny Sandoval. This entire country seems in need of a healing, and not just due to the pandemic, but also the gun violence, and the politics of hatred and fear being pushed by the Republicans. Todd Morgan is again on organ, and Horacio Socarras is on percussion. That’s followed by “If You Ever Change Your Mind,” which has a bit of a swing, a delicious groove, and more great work by Danny Sandoval on saxophone. I love the style of this one, especially Val Starr’s vocal approach, which takes us back several decades. The bass line and that delightful lead on piano also help make this track one of my personal favorites. Debra Power plays piano on this one. There is also some really nice work on drums. Everything about this song works perfectly.

“Age Is Just Is Number” is another totally enjoyable number, featuring a catchy rhythm. I’m not sure I agree with the message of this one, though I’d certainly like to. I often feel quite young inside, but then my knee hurts or I can’t remember what the hell I was doing, or I have to put on a different pair of glasses to read the CD’s liner notes, and then age is not just a number. This track features some great stuff on harmonica. Todd Morgan is on keys. That’s followed by “Pretty Girl Blues,” which also deals with aging. It has a classic blues rhythm, and Debra Power delivers more delicious stuff on piano. There is a certain humor to this one, to its approach, as Val sings, “Why do all the pretty girls always get their way?/Don’t you realize I have just as much to say/Well, I walk into a room, and the guys all look away.” She makes comparisons to the younger women, but ultimately sings of being secure in herself and where’s at in her life. There is a delightful joy to this song. Then “Don’t Love ‘Em” is a very cool, slow number featuring another stellar vocal performance. “Don’t love ‘em if they can’t give back/You need to feel it too before the night is through.” I also dig that guitar.

“Outside Looking In” has more of a rock thing happening. Check out these lines: “We slave our lives away/Just to live another day/And every time you think they’ve come around/Someone comes along and knocks you down/And once again you’re on the outside looking in.” But this song is really about not giving up. That’s followed by “We’re Not Getting Older,” another song about aging, its main line being “We’re not getting older, we’re getting better.” I appreciate that positive outlook. I don’t think my girlfriend will agree with that line, but I feel the truth of this line: “No matter what I say or do, I am so much better with you.” And I love that lead on guitar. Then “Blues Family” begins with some cool work on bass. This is a cheerful tune about the blues and dancing out troubles away. It features Ilana Katz Katz on fiddle. Horacio Socarras is on percussion. Here Val Starr urges listeners, “Join our blues family.” The album then concludes with “Get Over It,” this one having a rock and roll vibe. It also deals with aging, again with a positive bent. “You look into the mirror/Is that person really you/Well, I’m here to say/You need to stay/Away from feeling blue.” Todd Morgan delivers some excellent stuff on keys, and this song also features some nice stuff on harmonica. “So why do you let little things in life still get you down/Remember what’s important, and thank god you’re still around.” This song looks forward to an even brighter future.

CD Track List

  1. Ridin’ That Memphis High
  2. All About The Shuffle
  3. Slow Blues Grinder
  4. Healing Kind Of Blues
  5. If You Ever Change Your Mind
  6. Age Is Just A Number
  7. Pretty Girl Blues
  8. Don’t Love ‘Em
  9. Outside Looking In
  10. We’re Not Getting Older
  11. Blues Family
  12. Get Over It

Healing Kind Of Blues was released on January 21, 2022 on Sandwich Factory Records.

Unspoken Tradition: “Imaginary Lines” (2022) CD Review

It seems that the lines that separate us in this country are stronger than ever, that boundaries between people have solidified, and feel permanent. And in a time when a common problem, the pandemic, should have united us, making this division all the more distressing and strange. Like many bands, Unspoken Tradition used the time of canceled gigs to work on learning new material. And it seems the band had those boundaries, those barriers, in mind, for some of the songs that make up Imaginary Lines address overcoming the things that separate us. The album’s title refers to those barriers. Countries themselves are imaginary, for in many cases there are no actual barriers, no actual lines separating them. They exist only in our heads. So what is it that keeps it so difficult for us to remove those barriers, to erase those imaginary lines? Unspoken Tradition is based in North Carolina, and is made up of Saravanan Sankaran on bass and vocals, Audie McGinnis on guitar and vocals, Zane McGinnis on banjo, Ty Gilpin on mandolin, and Tim Gardner on fiddle and vocals. Imaginary Lines was produced by Jon Weisberger, who also co-wrote a couple of its tracks.

The album opens with “Carolina And Tennessee,” a sweet song with a friendly vibe, a tune that seems to reach out to us across those boundaries. Bluegrass music feels perfect for making those connections between people, doesn’t it? This song features some good lines, such as these: “I would give you the mountains and majesty to show my love/I would give you the colors of October leaves if you should blush.” This song also gives the album its title in the lines, “Walked in the shadows of hard times, waiting for the sun to shine/Finding out that our boundary’s imaginary lines.” That’s followed by “Irons In The Fire,” a song about working, struggling to make a living, and looking for freedom in this land of the free. “Lacing up my boots, hoping I might find/A chance to get away and leave it all behind/Where’s all the freedom I’ve been hoping for for so long?” And do we find that freedom within? “The hardest part of moving on is letting go.”

“Crooked Jack” is another song about working, this one specifically about working on the hydro dam. I’ve heard a lot of versions of this one over the years, for it tends to show up on Irish music compilations. Unspoken Tradition gives us a really good rendition, with a passionate vocal delivery and an excellent instrumental section. John Doyle (who has recorded his own version of this song) joins the group on vocals and bouzouki on this one. “Soldiers Of Dust” also features some wonderful playing, particularly on mandolin. This song is about a poor town. Check out these lines: “Leave it or love it, when push comes to shove it’s the same/The colors are not black or white, red, blue or grey/Love is a crime when your heart’s on your sleeve/Sisters of mercy look sad-eyed to me/Drowning in rivers of rust/Like angels of dust.” This one was written by Ty Gilpin, and it’s one of the album’s most powerful tracks.

“California” was co-written by Thomm Jutz and Miriam Speyer. There has always been something appealing to me in songs about California, and I imagine that is true even for those odd people who claim to hate the state. Perhaps it is because California is still the land of dreams (and dreamers). But this song asks “Where do you go, where do you turn to/When you’re running out of dreams?” and is about someone who has left California to pursue music in Nashville, and longs to be in two different places at the same time. “How do you know what you’ve been missing/If you never turn to leave/Is this all I ever wanted/Or am I just plain naïve?” This song is beautiful, especially for the first verse before it kicks in.

Unspoken Tradition delivers a completely enjoyable rendition of “The Old Swinging Bridge.” Everything moves in such a way that all troubles seem to be vanishing. Here is a song that seems capable of crossing all imaginary lines that separate people. After all, who among us can’t relate to the spirit of this song? Who doesn’t look back at some special moment from years ago? Who doesn’t get lost in those memories? That’s followed by “At The Bottom Again,” one of my personal favorites. It has a cool vibe, and features some excellent playing as well as some strong vocal work. “The light at the top is slowly getting dimmer/I’m back in the darkness without end/Heading down to the bottom again.” This is one of the songs co-written by Jon Weisberger, in this case with Justin Carbone. It’s followed by the other song co-written by Jon Weisberger, “Back On The Crooked Road” (this one written with Tim Stafford). As we learned in school, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But of course most of us find ourselves on crooked roads, which turn out to be more enjoyable. “I was born on a crooked road/I grew up where the trees would bend in the winter wind/I walked many a mile on a path too straight and narrow/Now I’m back on the crooked road again.”

The group then covers “Bounty Hunter,” a song written and originally recorded by Mike Cross, who used it as the title track of his 1979 album. “Bounty Hunter” has a darker folk sound from the start, fitting for the tale this song tells, a tale of impending death. This track features some good work on guitar and fiddle. The album concludes with “Lookout Mountain,” a song written by Charles Humphrey III (from Songs From The Road Band) and Phi Barker (from Town Mountain). It’s a song of leaving, but about being forced to leave, when the land where his family lived is sold to make way for a resort for the wealthy. “There ain’t no voice of reason when there’s a fortunate to be made.” And check out these lines: “Once a road that carried me home now carries me far away/Mountains in my rearview as blue sky fades to grey/Gonna make my way even if I hide on a greener mountainside/To find a place where progress ain’t caught up to the times.” This song features some excellent work on banjo. I also love that bass line. But the vocals are at the track’s heart.

CD Track List

  1. Carolina And Tennessee
  2. Irons In The Fire
  3. Crooked Jack
  4. Soldiers Of Dust
  5. California
  6. The Old Swinging Bridge
  7. At The Bottom Again
  8. Back On The Crooked Road
  9. Bounty Hunter
  10. Lookout Mountain

Imaginary Lines was released on June 10, 2022.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Ben Tatar And The Tatar Tots: “Seconds” (2021) CD Review

Ben Tatar And The Tatar Tots formed in 2014, and put out their first release that year. Titled Food!, its tracks were all related to food. They followed that up last year with the appropriately titled Seconds, continuing that food theme. That’s right, all of this group’s songs deal with food. I assume there is a buffet set up at their live performances. Ben Tatar is a music teacher in Illinois, and plays multiple instruments, including trombone, glockenspiel and guitar. He also wrote all of the material on this album, and provides the vocals on these tracks. He is joined by Mike Bruno on drums and percussion, Kevin Kozel on keyboards, Colin Scott on bass, Brandon Hunt on electric guitar, Anthony Bruno on tenor saxophone and clarinet, and Quentin Coaxum on trumpet, along with some guests on various tracks.

The album opens with a song titled “Jambalaya.” No, it’s not the oft-covered Hank Williams song, but an original composition. Still, it has that New Orleans vibe, with that Bo Diddley-like beat. The LowDown Brass Band joins the group on this track. It has a playful beginning, like an announcement that the Tatar Tots are back. “We heard that you were asking for more to eat/Well, grab yourself a plate and find yourself a seat.” There is also a funny reference to “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”: “One fork, one spoon, one bowl” (after all, this music is aimed mainly at children). The song also draws a line between food and music: “I like a little trumpet in my dish/A little bit of sax is my next wish.” Because, yes, we all want to be served some delicious tunes. This is a fun tune, and I love the horns. That’s followed by “Peanut Butter!” (again, an original composition, not to be confused with the Marathons song, which was later covered by J. Geils Band and Billy Vera And The Beaters). It is sort of a love song to peanut butter, and has a fun lounge vibe.There is some humorous backing vocal work, like the line “He likes them equally,” referring to the line “Creamy or the crunchy, it don’t matter to me.” Anthony Bruno joins Ben Tatar on vocals, as well as tenor saxophone and clarinet. Corbin Andrick plays flute on this track. Even as the track is coming to its close, it offers some cute spoken word lines “Excuse me, miss, have you tried peanut butter today?

“Can You Write A Song About Broccoli?” is delightfully goofy right from its first line, which is its title line, “Can you write a song about broccoli?” Again, the backing vocals responding “It can’t be done, it can’t be done” is part of its charm. Amyna Love and Meleesa Sullivan provide backing vocals. And of course I love the brass work. Then “I Got The Greens” is a bit of funky blues, featuring some nice work on keys. “Oh, I hit the salad bar/I said I got the greens/I got spinach and avocado/And even lima beans.” Ah yes, avocado makes everything better. The greens are a good antidote for the blues, and that’s what Ben Tatar is saying here. There is a cool instrumental section in the middle. That’s followed by “The Breakfast Song (Start It Right)” has an easygoing vibe, like a 1970s folk-pop song. “Today will be a good day if I start it right.”

There is a wonderful and large brass section added for “Bake Me A Cake,” giving this track a big band sound, which is great. “Bake me a cake, make me a pie/Oh, I shouldn’t need a reason why.” Indeed! My sweetheart and I tell ourselves exactly that whenever we order a chocolate pie at Republic Of Pie. No reason needed, other than it is delicious. This is another fun number. Then the LowDown Brass Band joins the group again on “Back To The Buffet,” another enjoyable track. In addition to the excellent work from the brass section, this track features some very cool work on percussion. There is a playful spoken word section halfway through: “Chocolate on turkey, that’s gross/Is that meat, what kind of meat is that?/I don’t know either, did they have that here or did you bring that?/I don’t think you can take that whole tray of salmon.” That spoken word section even mentions tater tots, a nod to the band itself.

When I first glanced at the track list on the back of the CD case, the song I was most interested in was “Thinking Of Pizza.” Pizza always works for me. At work, when they bring in pizza as the evening snack, some people grumble. I don’t. As long as the pizza is halfway decent (nothing from Domino’s Pizza, please), I would welcome it every day, twice a day. So yeah this song is for me. “Let’s sing about something that we all love,” Ben Tatar says in the song’s introduction. “Every morning, noon and night I’m thinking of pizza/Every time I feel uptight, I’m thinking of pizza/I like mine with extra cheese/Brings me down to my knees.” That’s followed by “Oh Cookie,” a delightful song that makes me laugh every time at the beginning when he sings the title line. It is adorable and innocent, just what we need these days. When he sings, “Holy guacamole,” I can’t help but think of that old George Carlin routine about food. And of course I agree with the line “Avocado, avocado, avocado makes everything great.” I’ve said that line many times (in fact, I think I said something like that earlier in this very review). This track also features some nice work on guitar. The album then concludes with another delightful tune, “Sweet Nectarine,” which has an old-time jazz vibe. LowDown Brass Band once more joins the group, and Al Scorch plays banjo. This track feels like a great celebration.

CD Track List

  1. Jambalaya
  2. Peanut Butter!
  3. Can You Write A Song About Broccoli?
  4. I Got The Greens
  5. The Breakfast Song (Start It Right)
  6. Bake Me A Cake
  7. Back To The Buffet
  8. Thinking Of Pizza
  9. Oh Cookie
  10. Sweet Nectarine

Seconds was released on November 12, 2021.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Buck Owens & Susan Raye: “Together Again” (2021) CD Review

Last year, Omnivore Recordings re-issued a lot of Buck Owens material, focusing primarily on his late 1960s and early 1970s output. At the end of the year, that label released Together Again, a compilation of recordings by Buck Owens and Susan Raye, along with some solo tracks by Susan Raye, those solo tracks being songs written by Buck Owens. The tracks have been mastered by Michael Graves at Osiris Studio, and this release includes new liner notes by Randy Poe.

The compilation opens with Susan Raye’s version of “Foolin’ Around,” which comes from her 1970 release One Night Stand. The song was written by Buck Owens and Harlan Howard, and was released as a single by Buck Owens in 1961. Susan Raye does an excellent job with it. “And when you’re tired of foolin’ around with two or three/Just come on home and fool around with me.” That’s followed by “High As The Mountains,” also from 1970, this one coming from the Buck Owens & Susan Raye album The Great White Horse. It’s a sweet and rather lively love song, with each of them taking lead vocals on different verses.

We then move forward a few years for Susan Raye’s recording of “Nobody’s Fool But Yours.” This track comes from her 1973 album Plastic Trains, Paper Planes, and it features some nice work on steel guitar, fiddle and piano. “A toy to play with/And when you are through/You throw me away/And find somebody new/But I’m nobody’s fool/Nobody’s fool/Nobody’s fool but yours/And although you do me wrong/I still tag along.” Yup, fools in love still exist and always will. I’ve mentioned before how Buck Owens was incredibly prolific and productive, putting out multiple albums in single years. Well, Susan Raye was likewise productive in the early 1970s, for this compilation’s next track, “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” comes from another album she released in 1973, Cheating Game. This is such an uplifting, optimistic track. Susan Raye’s rendition is wonderful, her voice just beautiful. “Love’s gonna live here again/No more loneliness/Only happiness.” That’s followed by their duet of “Sweethearts In Heaven,” also from 1973, coming from that year’s The Good Old Days (Are Here Again). Though of course Buck Owens had recorded it himself several times before that, first in 1956, then again in the 1960s, and also, interestingly on another release from 1973, In The Palm Of Your Hand, one of the Buck Owens albums re-issued last year. This song is so beautiful, and features some pretty work on fiddle. I assume I’m not alone in having death on my mind a lot lately. We are all getting older, first of all. But also with all the mass shootings, it seems none of us is safe and death could descend upon us at any moment. But mostly I’ve been thinking about my own sweetheart, and how I didn’t meet her until I was in my late thirties. The thought of this just ending is too much to bear sometimes. Is there anything after this life? Probably not, but who knows?

The disc then goes back to Susan Raye’s solo work with her version of “My Heart Skips A Bit,” a light and kind of adorable tune from her 1972 album My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own. That’s followed by “Together Again,” the song used as this compilation’s title track. Their voices blend so well, and I love that little ache in Buck’s voice as he sings, “The long, lonely nights are now at an end.” This is a song that puts things into some perspective, particularly with the lines, “And nothing else matter now/We’re together again.” Things are mad and maddening out there, but sometimes all that matters to me is being with the woman I love. This wonderful song comes from the 1970 album We’re Gonna Get Together. That in turn is followed by a song with a similar theme, “I Don’t Care (Just As Long As You Love Me),” with Buck singing, “I don’t care if the sun don’t shine/I don’t care if the bells don’t chime/Just as long as you love me.” This is a track from The Great White Horse. “Think Of Me” is also from The Great White Horse, and it features some wonderful blending of their voices on the chorus. “Think of me when you’re lonely/Think of me when you’re blue/Think of me when you’re far away/For I’ll be thinking of you.” This track also features some excellent work on guitar. This one was written by Don Rich and Estrella Olson. “Your Tending Loving Care” is another track from The Great White Horse, and another strong love song. “Day goes by so slow when you’re not with me/Nights are long and oh so hard to bear/Everything is nothing, dear, without you/And I’m nothing without your tender loving care.”

“How Long Will My Baby Be Gone” is a lively, fast-paced number from Susan Raye’s 1971 solo album, Pitty, Pitty, Patter. This song was also recorded by Buck Owens and included on his 1968 album Sweet Rosie Jones, which was re-issued last year. Susan Raye changes a couple of lines to adjust for her gender, singing, “For you took the sunshine from my world/When you walked away with another girl” in place of Buck’s “For I could never understand/How she could turn to another man.” That’s followed by “I’ve Got You On My Mind Again,” one of my absolute favorite tracks on this compilation. Susan Raye delivers a beautiful and moving rendition, with an excellent vocal performance. This track comes from yet another of her 1973 releases, Love Sure Feels Good In My Heart. Everything about it just works perfectly.

The title track from We’re Gonna Get Together is a fun, fast-paced tune, delivered as a playful duet, with Buck singing, “Well, now I come from the country,” and Susan replying “And I come from the city.” Ah, back then it might not have been a problem; but these days, who knows? This song also mentions Johnny Carson, with Susan Raye singing that she likes him. Buck’s reply? “Well, let’s go see the parson.” I love it. How do you follow “We’re Gonna Get Together”? With “Togetherness,” of course, a song that comes from that same album. This one was written by Freddie Hart. Then we get the title track from The Great White Horse, a sort of fairy tale song written by Buck Owens and Leanne Scott. But before the end, they come to the realization, “And the only world I want is here with me.” That’s followed by Susan Raye’s rendition of “The Kansas City Song,” which was written by Buck Owens and Red Simpson. Buck Owens included his version on a 1970 album, where it was the title track. That album was also re-issued by Omnivore Recordings last year. Susan Raye’s rendition, from Cheating Game, is fun and sweet.

Another of this compilation’s highlights is “I’ll Still Be Waiting For You.” This comes from Susan Raye’s Pitty, Pitty, Patter, and it is a slower gem, featuring a gorgeous, passionate vocal performance. “When you think your world has come to an end/I’ll still be waiting for you.” That’s followed by “Looking Back To See,” a fun duet. This song ought to put a smile on your face. “The Good Old Days (Are Here Again),” the title track from one of those many 1973 releases, is yet another highlight. It features some beautiful vocal work, and I love the fiddle. Everything about this song makes me feel good. “Arms Full Of Empty” comes from that same album. This song was also recorded by Buck Owens for another 1973 release, In The Palm Of Your Hand, as well as for yet another 1973 album, where it was the title track. “Great Expectations” is the last of the Susan Raye solo tracks, this one coming from her 1975 album Whatcha Gonna Do With A Dog Like That. The compilation concludes with song that was not written by Buck Owens, “Love Is Strange,” a song that was a hit for Mickey & Sylvia. Buck Owens and Susan Raye’s rendition comes from We’re Gonna Get Together, and, yes, in it, Buck says, “Oh Susan, how do you call your lover boy?” It’s goofy, for sure, but it’s fun.

CD Track List

  1. Foolin’ Around
  2. High As The Mountains
  3. Nobody’s Fool But Yours
  4. Love’s Gonna Live Here
  5. Sweethearts In Heaven
  6. My Heart Skips A Beat
  7. Together Again
  8. I Don’t Care (Just As Long As You Love Me)
  9. Think Of Me
  10. Your Tender Loving Care
  11. How Long Will My Baby Be Gone
  12. I’ve Got You On My Mind Again
  13. We’re Gonna Get Together
  14. Togetherness
  15. The Great White Horse
  16. The Kansas City Song
  17. I’ll Still Be Waiting For You
  18. Looking Back To See
  19. The Good Old Days (Are Here Again)
  20. Arms Full Of Empty
  21. Great Expectations
  22. Love Is Strange

Together Again was released on December 10, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings.

Friday, July 8, 2022

The French Dispatch Original Soundtrack

In this video, I talk about the vinyl soundtrack to The French Dispatch.

Boo Sutcliffe: “You’re The Same As Me” (2022) CD Review

Last year singer and songwriter Boo Sutcliffe released his debut album, Blink, which featured Claire Helm on backing vocals on a couple of tracks. Now he has followed that with an EP titled You’re The Same As Me, with Claire Helm joining him again on vocals. Andy Wright, who did the string arrangement on his debut’s opening track, joins him on violin on one track on this release. Other than that, this is a solo effort by Boo Sutcliffe, who wrote the songs, performed them and produced them.

The EP opens with its title track, a cool song with an interesting combination of sounds and elements, including electronica, pop and even folk. Claire Helm joins him on lead vocals, as well as backing vocals. “You had your chance there on the mezzanine/Anything more obvious would have been obscene/Found your courage in a glass/Just as the moment passed.” There is something subtly catchy about this track, and by the time you are halfway through it, you realize you’re just completely into it. Part of it is the song’s cheerful vibe. “We’re just floating on the breeze/Can you see us falling free?/Can you see us fluttering?” Then “The Last Train” begins beautifully with guitar, violin and some vocal work by Claire Helm. It is a captivating opening. Then Boo Sutcliffe’s vocal performance is intimate and true, completely engaging. “Your honesty was your first mistake/You don’t know about me/I’m not sure about you.” This is a wonderful song, featuring some gorgeous work by Andy Wright on violin at key moments. I also really like that guitar work. This is my personal favorite track on this release, and I highly recommend checking it out.

“The Time, The Time” also has some folk and country elements mixed with pop. “I could have been someone who gave a damn,” Boo Sutcliffe sings here. This track features some excellent backing vocal work from Claire Helm. Like the EP’s first track, this one grows on you, so that nearly halfway through you’re kind of in love with it. Part of it is the way their voices blend, and part of it is the hook of the title line. I also like the work on keys. The EP concludes with “A Thousand Things,” which has a darker, more haunting vibe, seeming to move toward a progressive rock realm at moments. Claire Helm takes lead vocal duties on this one. “And all I see/Is a hole in the place where you used to be/And all for me/I'm scared of the open door right in front of me.”

CD Track List

  1. You’re The Same As Me
  2. The Last Train
  3. The Time, The Time
  4. A Thousand Things

You’re The Same As Me was released on June 3, 2022.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Dale Watson: “Jukebox Fury” (2022) CD Review

Dale Watson is one hell of a good country singer and songwriter, and also performer. I saw him in concert a few years ago, and he put on a great show. On his new album, Jukebox Fury, he covers the material of other songwriters, including Stephen Stills, Waylon Jennings and John Fogerty. And he has some special guests playing with him on these tracks, folks like Linda Gail Lewis and Steve Cropper. Also backing him on these tracks are Danny B. Harvey on guitar, piano, keyboards and pedal steel; Ray Gann on bass; Pierre Pelegrin on bass; Chris Rhoades on bass; and Adam Hamilton on drums. Dale Watson makes some interesting choices of material to cover here, not sticking strictly to the country realm. But all the songs are given his personal spin, delivered with that strong, distinctive voice of his.

The album opens with a cover of Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page.” And what a great rendition this is. It feels like it was always meant to be played like this, as a lonesome country number, with a passionate vocal performance. His voice leaves no doubt that he has lived the song’s lyrics. This track also features some excellent stuff by Danny B. Harvey on guitar. Plus, Earl Poole Ball is on keys. Dale Watson follows that with a seriously good version of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown,” a song that was a hit for Lightfoot in the mid-1970s. This version features some great work on guitar, the guitar being the focus at times. Denis O’Donnell and Annie Marie Lewis provide some nice backing vocal work. “Sometimes I think it’s a sin/When I feel like I’m winning when I’m losing again.” Linda Gail Lewis joins Dale Watson on both vocals and piano for a moving and pretty rendition of “Always On My Mind,” certainly a highlight of this release. Annie Marie Lewis provides backing vocals.

Things then get rocking with a fun version of Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie.” Dale Watson’s voice is perfect for that spoken word introduction. Why do I always laugh at the line “a gator got your granny”? Here, I think it’s partly Dale Watson’s delivery. He is clearly having a good time with this one. That’s followed by “For What It’s Worth,” a song that has been covered quite a bit lately, and for good reason. “I think it’s time we stop/Children, what’s that sound/Everybody look what’s going down.” It was written by Stephen Stills and originally recorded by Buffalo Springfield. This is a lively rendition, particularly because of that guitar work. Denis O’Donnell provides backing vocals. That in turn is followed by another song from the 1960s, “Treat Her Right,” and it is on this track that Steve Cropper sits in on lead guitar. As you’d expect, he delivers some wonderful stuff. And Brady Van Hyne plays saxophone on this track, adding to the fun. And, yeah, this track is a whole lot of fun. It ends with the final line, “You gotta treat that woman right, now,” delivered a cappella.

One of the album’s best, strongest vocal performances is on Waylon Jennings’ “I’ve Always Been Crazy,” and here Dale Watson is joined by Lorrie Morgan on vocals. And it is Lorrie Morgan who first delivers that delightful line, “I’ve always been crazy, but it’s kept me from going insane.” This is another of the disc’s highlights. I love that work by Earl Poole Ball on piano. Mark Frappier plays bass on this track. Dale Watson delivers another seriously good vocal performance on CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” There is an ache in his voice that is perfect. That’s followed by a good rendition of “Bluer Than Blue.” I do like this song, but there is certainly something odd about it, particularly in the things he says he can do now that he is alone. “After you go, I’ll stay up all night long if I feel like it/And when you’re gone, I can run through the house screaming/No one will ever hear me.”  Those are kind of funny lines, yet the tone of the song is rather serious. But that’s life, I suppose, isn’t it?

My parents used to play Kenny Rogers records, especially Greatest Hits, so I heard “The Gambler” a lot while growing up, and came to love it. Dale Watson’s version is really good, and features some nice work by Danny B. Harvey on pedal steel. Anne Marie Lewis and Kevin Fox provide backing vocals. That’s followed by “A Horse With No Name,” which has one of the dumbest lines in all of music, “The heat was hot.” This version isn’t as relaxed and laid-back as the original. It has more of a drive to it. Linda Gail Lewis, Annie Marie Lewis and Denis O’Donnell are on backing vocals. Dale Watson wraps up the album with “Act Naturally,” a song originally recorded by Buck Owens. The first version I ever heard, however, was that by The Beatles. On this track, Dale Watson is joined by Emanuela Hutter on vocals. She takes a verse in the second half. Oliver Baroni is on standup bass. Hunter and Baroni are from the band Hillbilly Moon Explosion.

CD Track List

  1. Turn The Page
  2. Sundown
  3. Always On My Mind
  4. Polk Salad Annie
  5. For What It’s Worth
  6. Treat Her Right
  7. I’ve Always Been Crazy
  8. Have You Ever Seen The Rain?
  9. Bluer Than Blue
  10. The Gambler
  11. A Horse With No Name
  12. Act Naturally

Jukebox Fury was released on April 22, 2022 on Cleopatra Records.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

What has gone wrong with this country? A president tried to overthrow the government, aided by armed white supremacist groups, and a significant number of citizens still support him. The illegitimate Supreme Court has decided to do its part to aid the gun nuts, destroy the environment and take away women’s rights. And there have been more than three hundred mass shootings this year, a year that is only half over. What the hell? We look around, and the country isn’t even recognizable anymore. More and more, I am leaning on music to get me through the day. Fortunately, artists are continuing to release excellent albums. Here are some brief notes on a few new jazz releases you might be interested in checking out.

Beverly Church Hogan: “Sweet Invitation” – Vocalist Beverly Church Hogan put out her debut album in 2019, and is now following it up with Sweet Invitation, supposedly at the age of 86 (though I don’t buy that for a second; just look at the photo on the cover; she’s gorgeous). Joining her on this release are John Proulx on piano, Bob Sheppard on saxophone, Grant Geissman on guitar, Lyman Medeiros on bass, Clayton Cameron on drums, Dean Koba on drums, and Kevin Winard on percussion.  And the album was produced by Mark Winkler. She opens the album with a fun rendition of “Don’cha Go ‘Way Mad,” featuring a playful and seductive vocal performance, as well as a groovy lead on bass. There are a couple of short percussion solos in the second half. She follows that with a delightful take on “Falling In Love With Love.” Here her performance begins with a sense of intimacy, supported by excellent work on bass, and it grows from there. This track also features really good leads on both saxophone and guitar. There is more excellent work on saxophone on “Here’s That Rainy Day,” the instrument setting the mood. That’s followed by “I Got Lost In His Arms,” Beverly Church Hogan delivering a beautiful, moving vocal performance. This track also includes some wonderful and pretty work on piano. Another of the disc’s highlights is “I’m Foolin’ Myself,” mainly because of her vocal performance. This sort of song is where she especially shines, where she can be playful, and both vulnerable and wise. She just completely nails it. And check out that work on drums. On “When October Goes,” Beverly Church Hogan is at first supported by some gentle, beautiful work on piano. The other musicians come in after a minute and a half or so, and still it is the piano and the vocals that have our focus. The album then concludes with “Why Try To Change Me Now,” which begins with some excellent and expressive work on saxophone. “Don’t you remember I was always your clown/Why, why try to change me now?” This album was released on June 10, 2022.

Minas: “Beatles In Bossa” – Minas is led by the duo of Orlando Haddad and Patricia King. While they are known for their songwriting as well as their vocal work, on their new album they cover some of their favorite Beatles songs. They open the album with an interesting rendition of “Blackbird,” which begins as you might expect any version to, with vocals and some pretty work on guitar. Then comes that Brazilian rhythm, and the track grows from there, and includes an extended instrumental section. The track then concludes with that familiar guitar part. That’s followed by “Come Together,” the drums starting this one before the vocals and other instruments come in. The rhythm of this one works so well, with a hint of funk, helping to make this track one of the disc’s highlights. And check out that lead on saxophone. They then deliver a rather gentle rendition of “She Loves You,” with Patricia King Haddad on lead vocals. Minas clearly has a good time with “Day Tripper,” delivering a fun version that swings and grooves, particularly during that delicious jam. Jordan Haddad takes lead vocal duties on a breezy rendition of “I Will.” Another of the disc’s highlights is “Eleanor Rigby,” which works incredibly well with this approach. This is one of the best renditions of “Eleanor Rigby” I’ve heard. That’s followed by the most interesting song choice of the album, “Within You Without You.” And it is on this track that the musicians have a chance to explore, to get a bit loose. This version is nearly ten minutes long, and contains different sections, including some pretty wild moments. It is, for me, another of the highlights, and I would have enjoyed another ten minutes of it. The album concludes with a rendition of “Get Back” that cooks, moves with a certain joy, the drums and percussion propelling everyone forward. The musicians on this album are Orlando Haddad on vocals, guitar and berimbau; Patricia King Haddad on vocals, piano and keyboards; Jim Stager on acoustic bass and electric bass; Tom Cohen on drums; John Swana on electronic valve instrument, flugelhorn and trumpet; Andrew Neu on saxophone and flute; Cyro Baptista on percussion and berimbau; Jordan Haddad on vocals; and Rob Hyman on accordion. This album was released on May 26, 2022.

Randy Napoleon: “Puppets: The Music Of Gregg Hill” – This is an interesting album, presenting musical depictions of puppets, composed by Gregg Hill and arranged by guitarist Randy Napoleon, with vocal work by Aubrey Johnson. The album opens with “Andy’s Lament,” which features some sweet vocal work as it begins, before settling into a cool groove. Then it is Randy Napoleon’s guitar that takes focus, with Rodney Whitaker’s groovy bass work supporting him. Whitaker then delivers an excellent lead in the track’s second half. Then “Fan-O-Gram” begins with a short drum solo. This track features Will Crandell on drums, and Brandon Rose on bass. It moves at a good pace, with Randy Napoleon’s guitar seeming to dance. Rick Roe also delivers a wonderful lead on piano, and there is a longer drum solo toward the end, which I love. “Lyrica” has an easygoing vibe, like a nice summer breeze, and features some really nice work by Quincy Davis on drums, as well as a great lead on guitar. “Puppets,” the album’s title track, features lyrics written by Randy Napoleon. Here is a taste: “Watch them dance like puppets on a string/Hypnotized by their own suffering/They think they’re warriors/Not merely puppets/They think their thoughts are free/Not pulled by strings.” Those are some good lyrics. I wonder what people he had in mind while writing those lines. For me, the people who took part in the insurrection on January 6th leap to mind. This track also features a seriously good lead on bass, as well as more great work on guitar. Then I love the way “Still Life With Tuba” builds, particularly the journey the guitar takes us on in the track’s first half, while the rhythm creates an exciting atmosphere. “The Unknown Ballade” also contains lyrics by Randy Napoleon, as well as some nice work by Seth Ebersole on bass clarinet. “Is it real or just illusion?” Aubrey Johnson asks in this one. Gregg Hill wrote the lyrics for “Truck Driver’s Blues,” which has a very different feel from the rest of the tracks, this one dipping into the country realm. Aubrey Johnson delivers a wonderful vocal performance. The disc then concludes with “Wide River,” presented as a duet with guitar and vocals, the lyrics composed by Randy Napoleon. “No fears or cares can stop this wide river/Headed to the sea.” This album was released on May 20, 2022.

Dan Olivo: “Day By Day” – Often these days I look to music to raise my spirits, and vocalist Dan Olivo’s debut album does so from its very beginning. It opens with the album’s title track, which features some wonderful work on saxophone. Backing Olivo on this release are Ian Robbins on guitar, Lyman Medeiros on bass and ukulele, Joe Bagg on piano and organ, Kevin Winard on drums and percussion, Kyle O’Donnell on tenor saxophone and flute, Jamelle Adisa on trumpet, and Garrett Smith on trombone. Dan Olivo follows “Day By Day” with an unusual and cool rendition of “I’m Walkin’” (yes, the Fats Domino song), which features some great touches by the brass section and also the organ, working like responses to Dan Olivo’s vocals. This track also contains an excellent lead on guitar. There is a whole lot of joy to the playing here, helping to make this track one of my personal favorites. Olivo then changes gears with a really nice rendition of “It Had To Be You,” which contains one of the disc’s best vocal performances, as well as some delicious work on drums. Another highlight is the ridiculously cool version of “Time After Time.” Dig that bass! And Dan Olivo’s energetic performance is delightful. Then Renee Myara Cibelli joins him on vocals for “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” a track that also features some sweet work on piano. I’m also extremely fond of Dan Olivo’s rendition of “Sway,” which turns the whole world into a dance floor. And when you think things just couldn’t get any better, these musicians give us a completely enjoyable rendition of “How Come You Do Me Like You Do?” I especially love Dan Olivo’s playful vocal performance here. And the song takes us deeper into New Orleans territory as it goes, so how could you do anything but love it? This disc also contains an excellent version of “Come By Me” that contains some delightful surprises, then wraps up with a gentle rendition of “All The Way” that features some nice work on piano. This album is scheduled to be released on July 8, 2022.

Patrisha Thomson: “Wild Is The Wind” – Vocalist Patrisha Thomson delivers wonderful renditions of some classic material on her new album, Wild Is The Wind. She kicks off the album with a delightful version of “In A Mellow Tone,” written by Duke Ellington and Milt Gabler. When she sings, “Everything’s okay/The livelong day,” I believe her. How can the country be such a mess when songs like this are being sung? Ken Wild delivers a cool bass line, and there is some great play between Ira Nepus on trombone and Tom Peterson on tenor saxophone. Patrisha Thomson herself gets playful on certain lines, such as “From an old trombone/Or a saxophone” (lines that come soon after that great section of trombone and sax) and “You play it sweet/You play it hot.” This track ought to lift your spirits, not always an easy feat in these uncertain times. She then offers a beautiful vocal performance on “Dindi,” which also features some pretty work by Steve Rawlins on piano and a sweet lead on guitar by Grant Geissman. Things then start to groove and swing with a fun rendition of “Route 66,” which features Mon David joining Patrisha Thomson on vocals. They both engage in some delightful scat in the track’s second half, and then riff together about traveling across the country. Gears change again for a gorgeous rendition of the title track, featuring Scott Mayo on flute. The brass section is then at the center of “There Is No Greater Love,” with Scott Mayo again on flute, Tom Peterson on saxophone, Michael Stever on trumpet, and Ira Nepus on trombone. This track also features some great stuff from Jennifer Leitham on bass, and Bob Leatherbarrow on drums. “Just Squeeze Me” is another of the disc’s highlights, in part because of Ken Wild’s work on bass, but mainly because of Patrisha Thomson’s wonderful vocal performance. She completely owns this one. “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” is another of the album’s delights, featuring some excellent work on piano and guitar, and a delicious vocal performance. “Frim Fram Sauce” is also a lot of fun. While most of the material here is at least fifty years old, Patrisha Thomson concludes the album with an original composition, “The Happy Birthday Song,” a short piece that starts off sweetly and then wraps up with an island vibe, featuring the brass section. This album is scheduled to be released on CD on July 11, 2022 (and was released digitally last year).

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Freedy Johnston: “Back On The Road To You” (2022) CD Review

It is certainly a cause for joy when Freedy Johnston releases a new album. And it’s been quite a while since the last one, Neon Repairman, which came out before the country went sideways. Seems like ages ago, doesn’t it? His new one, Back On The Road To You, not only features some great original material, with Freedy’s own style of delivery, but it also includes some fantastic guest musicians on certain tracks, including Aimee Mann and Susanna Hoffs. The group backing him is made up of Dusty Wakeman on bass, David Raven on drums and percussion, Doug Pettibone on lead guitar and steel guitar, and Sasha Smith on keyboards.

Back On The Road To You opens with its title track, a song that is so delightful that even though I was in a foul, stressed out state when I popped the disc in, within like twenty seconds I was smiling and feeling good. This is just what I needed. I love this song’s sense of humor. “You’re the one I want/You’re the one I need/And I still got a set of your keys.” Speaking of keys, I love that lead by Sasha Smith. “I’m pretty tired, but I feel all right/Because I’m going to see you tonight.” Ah yes, knowing I’m going to see my sweetheart at the end of an exhausting day makes all the difference in the world. That’s followed by “There Goes A Brooklyn Girl,” which was released as a single in early May. This one has a cheerful vibe, and some pop elements. These lines in particular stand out for me: “And she’s off to some office I’d never seen/And I’m tending bar and playing guitar/And getting by somehow in between/You know, living the dream.” That last line is a standard response at work when someone is asked “How are you doing?” It is never meant sincerely. But here? Maybe, maybe. Will the characters of this song make it? Maybe not. But the song is catchy, even including some finger snaps. And there is a sweet aspect to it, which makes us hope for the best for them.

“Madeline’s Eye” also has a sweet pop vibe, and is a surprising sort of love song, about a woman who is not quite real. “With a face from a long lost dream/When she tells me how she feels/Man, she’s almost real/Looking in Madeline’s heart, Madeline’s heart/I see the problem right from the start/She’s been wondering why and wondering when/So I set her to default again.” Wonderful, right? Especially in these days when machines seem to constantly step in to help avoid actual human interactions. Then Aimee Mann joins Freedy Johnston on vocals for “Darlin’,” another of the disc’s highlights. Aimee Mann is one of my favorite singers and songwriters, and it’s great to hear her on this track. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “You know you did everything that you could, darlin’/And none of it ever did any good, darlin’/He’s gone and it’s not your fault/He could not live ‘cause he could not stop/Everything’s gonna be all right in the morning.” This song has country elements, including nice work on steel guitar.

“Tryin’ To Move On” is a song that was recorded and released back in 2019 (that earlier version seems to have been completely removed from the internet, something I didn’t know was possible). Freedy Johnston played it when I saw him in July of that year, along with “20 Radios,” which did not make it onto this album. This is a lively and fun number. Check out these lines, which begin the song: “The first thing is I break my neck/Picking up my last check/And then I total the rental car/Backing it into the hotel bar.” Well, it’s difficult to back up a car with a broken neck, so it’s totally understandable. This is a song for all folks to whom the world keeps saying “Tough luck, loser.” But don’t give up, keep trying to move on. I love this song. It features some good work on guitar. Then Susan Cowsill joins Freedy Johnston on vocals on “The Power Of Love” (not to be confused with the Huey Lewis And The News song of the same name). “But if you’ve been around the universe/You know that everything runs on love/From the deepest diamond mine to the endless stars above/Someday the wind will blow/Someday the sky will fall/Baby, here we go.”

“Somewhere Love” has a mellow, easygoing vibe and features a string arrangement by Stevie Blacke. “But until then, you gotta try/To make it on your own/You’ve gotta find your friends/And you gotta make a home.” Wally Ingram is on percussion. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the brevity of life, and partly for that reason the opening lines of “That’s Life” grab me: “Well, there’s a moment when you’re born/And there’s a moment when you’re not here anymore.” Susanna Hoffs joins Freedy Johnston on vocals for this one. This song has a wonderfully uplifting feel. And check out these lines: “But you’d better not pout and you’d better not cry/When you find out the ticket only works one time.” Yup, that’s right, so far as know. This is it. This is life. And this is a sweet song of advice. It’s followed by “Trick Of The Light,” which has a strong vocal performance, and something of a 1970s vibe, with a string arrangement by Stevie Blacke. “To see you one more time/I’d give up the rest of my days/Just to hold you in my arms one more time/Is that you or just a trick of the light.” The album concludes with “The I Really Miss Ya Blues,” in which Freedy Johnston sings, “You’re always down there in my mind/Where you won’t be hard to find/And there ain’t nothing that I can do/For these I really miss ya blues.” This album, from beginning to end, is really good, and will likely raise your spirits.

CD Track List

  1. Back On The Road To You
  2. There Goes A Brooklyn Girl
  3. Madeline’s Eye
  4. Darlin’
  5. Tryin’ To Move On
  6. The Power Of Love
  7. Somewhere Love
  8. That’s Life
  9. Trick Of The Light
  10. The I Really Miss Ya Blues

Back On The Road To You is scheduled to be released on September 9, 2022 through Forty Below Records.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

The Exquisite Mekons

In this video, I talk about the vinyl release of The Mekons’ “Exquisite.”  This band continues to surprise and delight me, and this album might be the group’s most interesting release yet.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Sara Syms: “The Darkest Light” (2022) CD Review

It has been several years since singer and songwriter Sara Syms put out her last album, Way Back Home. But the long wait is over, and her new album, The Darkest Light, is gorgeous and powerful and moving. It features all original material, written by Sara Syms. Ari Teitel produced this album, and plays guitar on most of its tracks. As for the rest of the musicians backing her on this release, Sara Syms has different people playing with her on various tracks, depending on what each song seems to call for. Sara Syms is based in Nashville, but recorded this album in New Orleans at Esplanade Studios and Neutral Sound Studio.

This album grabbed me from the initial moments of its opening track, “The Darkest Light,” the title track. This song is haunting and captivating from those first lines, “I dare you, look inside your heart/Prepare to look inside your soul/It’s dark, I know/But underneath is light.” It is not just those lines and her delivery, but her work on piano as well which holds us. Plus, this track features some beautiful work on cello, an instrument that I love. Jack Craft plays cello here. Dave Easley adds some excellent work on pedal steel, helping to create a strong atmosphere. These sounds work so well together. “Each time you look inside, you will be stronger/You will believe.” That’s followed by “Fear And Love.” Her voice seems to come to us from across the dusty plains, across empty highways, reaching us in the half-light to offer guidance, compassion, a gentle hand, which we willingly accept. I love that work on percussion, supporting her voice. Jamison Ross is on drums. And Art Teitel delivers some really nice work on guitar. “I am dark, I am light/I am loneliness in the middle of the night/I am one, I am all/I am solid ground here to break your fall.” And as she sings “On the other side of fear is love,” I am reminded of one of my favorite Leonard Cohen songs, “Heart With No Companion,” which begins with the lines, “Now I greet you from the other side of sorrow and despair/With a love so vast and shattered it will reach you everywhere.” For those folks who feel steeped in fear these days, and I guess there are many, this song will deliver a needed comfort.

At the beginning of “Where Do I Belong,” Sara Syms asks, “Where do I belong, where is my place/Out on a ledge, in this open space,” lines that are particularly effective in these uncertain times. “I lie awake and wonder why/My heart feels the way it does deep down inside/Confusion sets in, where shall I begin.” The drums here have a steadier feel, which gives us a more positive sense that she – and we – will soon figure out answers to these questions. Her vocals express this feeling too toward the end, as she sings “Ooh, yeah/Ooh, yeah.” Trenton O’Neal plays drums on this track. This one also features some good work by Rob Kellner on organ. This song was released as a single. It is followed by “Unknown Road,” which was also released as a single. This one has more of a bluesy vibe as it begins, that great work on guitar creating a strong atmosphere. But it is Sara Syms’ seriously cool vocal performance which is at this track’s heart. “Not sure which way to go/I’m near, I’m far/My own North Star, please save me.” Then “The Game” is a surprise as it begins, a change of gears, with a delightful, twisted carnival sound. It feels like this entire country has been caught on some bizarre carnival ride for the last six years, doesn’t it? This track features Edward Lee on tuba, and Nick Ellman on clarinet, and they both deliver some fantastic stuff. Sara’s vocal performance is quite a bit different here too. I am completely nuts about this track. “And right inside is the other side of you/No one knows the other side of you.” This song is over all too soon.

This country is a total mess, thanks in large part to four years of an incompetent, raving asshole at the wheel. The world has shifted, and every day we find ourselves wondering if it can be put right again. The evidence is not in our favor, as even the so-called Supreme Court has gone completely off the rails and is no longer to be trusted or respected. We look around and ask, Is this the world we’re living in? What the hell happened? Sara Syms in “World We Live In,” asks, “Is this the world, is this the world we’re living in?” It is a question for which we need an answer. This track features a beautiful vocal performance. I also love the combination of piano and organ. Then approximately halfway through, there is a wonderful lead on flugelhorn, which seems to push through the dark clouds. And indeed after that, Sara sings, “Something’s come along.” As the song is reaching its conclusion, Sara sings, “I want to live in a new world, my friend.” I think a lot of us feel that way. That is Aurélien Barnes on flugelhorn. Aurélien Barnes then plays cornet on “River Of Life.” This is a cheerful and fun song, with a delicious rhythm, and a great New Orleans flavor. TJ Norris is on trombone. This is one of my favorite tracks. It contains a joyous conclusion.

“Shadow Hunters” seems to look both inward and outward. Some of the shadows may be within ourselves, but the idea is that the light will make its way in. And we feel that at moments on this track, for this is ultimately an optimistic, hopeful piece. That’s followed by “Good Times Never Last,” which begins with some pretty work on piano. And when Sara Syms sings that first line, “God, you’ve been crying for days, you’ve been crying for days,” I find myself fighting back my own tears, and eventually I lose. Dave Easley contributes some wonderful work on both pedal steel and dobro. “Wishing we could just start over, reinvent the past/If only for a moment, the good times never last.” This incredible album concludes with “Change In The Air,” a song that comes from the pandemic and those times of isolation, addressing the change of perspectives which many people felt in this time. It features another beautiful vocal performance. “Lost in a dream we have drawn from our scenery/Finding a treasure we lost long ago/Our love, again and again and again.”

CD Track List

  1. The Darkest Light
  2. Fear And Love
  3. Where Do I Belong
  4. Unknown Road
  5. The Game
  6. World We Live In
  7. River Of Life
  8. Shadow Hunters
  9. Good Times Never Last
  10. Change In The Air

The Darkest Light is scheduled to be released on August 5, 2022.