Saturday, December 31, 2022

New Riders Of The Purple Sage: “Lyceum ‘72” (2022) CD Review

New Riders Of The Purple Sage is one of those groups I learned about because of the connection to the Grateful Dead. Both Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart played on the band’s first album, which came out in 1971. And the New Riders often shared bills with the Dead, including on part of the Dead’s famous Europe ’72 tour. In July of this year, the show the Grateful Dead played on May 26, 1972 at Lyceum Theatre in London was released. Two months later, the NRPS set from that same show was released through Omnivore Recordings. It is one disc, seventy-eight minutes of music. The band at that point was made up of John Dawson on rhythm guitar and vocals, David Nelson on lead guitar and vocals, Dave Torbert on bass and vocals, Buddy Cage on pedal steel guitar, and Spencer Dryden (from Jefferson Airplane) on drums. The sound is excellent, by the way, and that is probably due to the fact that the Grateful Dead’s people were responsible for the original concert recording. The release was mastered by David Glasser at Airshow Mastering.

As the disc begins, there is a bit of stage banter before the band goes into “Leaving On Her Mind.” “See if we can pull this Charley Pride tune off for you here.” Though Pride released one of the first recordings of the song, it was written by Jack Clement. Interestingly, New Riders Of The Purple Sage also played this song to kick off their November 23, 1972 show, which was released as Thanksgiving In New York City a few years ago. Well, it’s a good choice to get things going. It features some great vocal work, something the band was known for. John Dawson wrote much of the material for the New Riders, and the first of his songs the band played at this show was “Whatcha Gonna Do.” They introduce this one: “It’s called ‘Whatcha Gonna Do On The Planet,’ which is really very tiny of course.” This song was included on the band’s first album. “Where ya gonna go on the planet today/Oh, Missy there’s so much to see/Whatcha gonna do on the planet today?” Sure, the planet is small, but I love how this song reminds us of how the possibilities are fairly large, fairly wide open. Sometimes we feel stuck, but really, there are many options.

I have always enjoyed hearing NRPS cover “Hello Mary Lou,” a song that was included on The Best Of New Riders Of The Purple Sage, which was the first NRPS album I ever bought.  It’s just a fun number. And check out Buddy Cage’s wild work on pedal steel in the second half, the way it seems to coil its way up the steepest mountains, threatening to burst in on the heavens. Wonderful! That’s followed by another John Dawson tune, “Lochinvar.” This one was included on the band’s Powerglide album, which was released in 1972. This song has a sweet, gentle vibe. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “When we both were very small/I asked you, would you leave it all/And come and ride away with me/You said, wait and see.” I also love the line “And dreams should not be left behind.” This is one of my personal favorites. They then increase the energy and sense of play with their rendition of “Truck Drivin’ Man.” There is some great playing here, and of course some delicious harmonies.

“Glendale Train” is another of my favorite New Riders songs, and is certainly the one that gets in my head the most often. Basically every time I drive through Glendale, it is running through my head. It’s a great song, written by John Dawson, and this is a particularly good version, the band digging into it and cutting loose with it, delivering a nice jam. And it’s a request. You can hear a guy shout out “Glendale Train” before they start it. That is followed by “California Day,” which was written by Dave Torbert, and included on Powerglide. “On the sandy shores I ran until I could not run no more/Left it far behind in dreams of death.” Crazy to think that almost the entire band you hear on these tracks is now gone. Only David Nelson remains. They then follow that with a cover of “Duncan And Brady.” They introduce this one by saying, “This song is about the heat, you understand.” It’s a strange and kind of humorous tune. I mean, there is a shooting, and the comment that follows is “Been on the job too long.” John Dawson introduces Dave Nelson’s lead by saying “This is David Nelson, he’s going to tell you a little bit about this thing here,” and then he introduces Buddy Cage’s lead by saying “This is Mr. Cage’s part of the story, here we go.”

When they mention the next song they’re going to play, the crowd is clearly excited. It’s a cover of “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music),” the song that was the lead track on Powerglide. It was written by Joe Maphis, Max Fidler and Rose Lee, and was recorded by several artists before New Riders, and even more since then. They then tell the crowd, “We’re going to play ‘Doctor’ in case you need one here.” “I Don’t Need No Doctor” is another song the band covered on Powerglide, and is another one the band stretches out on a bit. The energy is high, the band rocking, delivering some great stuff on guitar. Also from Powerglide comes “Rainbow,” this one an original composition by John Dawson. It’s a sweet love song. “And if you love me, tell me you do/Reason I’m asking is ‘cause I love you, honey/Oh, don’t you know that I love you.” And what better choice to follow “Rainbow” than the Rolling Stones’ “Connection”? Though of course “Rainbow Connection” was still several years away. “Connection, I just can’t make no connection/All I want to do is to get back to you.” A whole lot of folks did not make their connecting flights this past week, and I have to imagine at least a few them had this song playing in their heads. Buddy Cage delivers some more fantastic work on pedal steel.

“Sailin’” is an original composition. It was included on the band’s Gypsy Cowboy, which was released in 1972, and is another sweet number. “The sun in the morning is her only wine/She wakes me and takes me with her to the sea/Oh, we often go sailin’, my lady and me.” After “Sailin’” someone calls out a request for “Louisiana Lady.” The band responds that they’ll get to it. But first they dive into “Dirty Business,” the longest song from the band’s first album. On that record, the track is nearly eight minutes. Here it is a bit longer, the guys delivering a good, relaxed jam. This is more somber number, about a mine town. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Well, I make two bucks a day/And that ain’t a healthy pay/My kids are only just beginning to get sick/There’s talk been going the rounds/How they’re gonna shut it down.”  Also from the band’s first album comes “Last Lonely Eagle,” one of the band’s best songs. It was written by John Dawson, and it features a moving vocal performance. “‘Cause the people who live ‘round the bend in the river/Have forgotten their dreams.” Then they get to that guy’s request, delivering a delightful, energetic rendition of “Louisiana Lady,” another of this band’s gems, and another from the band’s debut album. There is a bit of banter before the band’s final number of the set, a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women,” which is introduced as an “English import.” It’s a fun rendition. They put their own spin on it, singing “back home in ‘Frisco.”

CD Track List

  1. Leaving On Her Mind
  2. Whatcha Gonna Do
  3. Hello Mary Lou
  4. Lochinvar
  5. Truck Drivin’ Man
  6. Glendale Train
  7. California Day
  8. Duncan And Brady
  9. Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)
  10. I Don’t Need No Doctor
  11. Rainbow
  12. Connection
  13. Sailin’
  14. Dirty Business
  15. Last Lonely Eagle
  16. Louisiana Lady
  17. Honky Tonk Women

Lyceum ’72 was released on September 23, 2022 through Omnivore Recordings.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Sally Terrell: “Feel Alive” (2022) CD Review

Someday someone will do a comprehensive study of the music to come out of the pandemic and resulting lockdown, and I imagine it will be of great interest to future generations in relation to our human needs and spirit. When things were shut down and we all found ourselves out of work, vocalist Sally Terrell, who had released her first solo album in 2019, began to write songs. It was a way to keep sane, keep busy, and a way to deal with the stress and craziness and uncertainty of the situation. Those songs were worked on and eventually recorded and included on Feel Alive, an album that also contains some standards. On her original compositions, Sally Terrell does not shy away from addressing the serious issues that have been on our minds the last few years, but she addresses them with an optimistic spirit. Joining her on this album are John di Martino on piano, organ and keyboards; Aaron Heick on saxophone, clarinet, alto flute and English horn; Tim Ouimette on trumpet and flugelhorn; Wesley Amorim on guitar; Lonnie Plaxico on bass; Vince Cherico on drums; and Samuel Torres on percussion. She is also joined by backing vocalists on several tracks.

The album opens with one of her original compositions, “Feel Alive,” the album’s title track, a song that deals directly with the pandemic. Its opening lines set the scene: “Another day in lockdown paradise, another week, another month, it’s all a blur/And all the suffering and loss is just staggering, so broken down by the state of the world/Sometimes it’s easy to crawl into a shell.” I remember at the beginning when it was said that possibly a hundred thousand people could die, we were terrified by that number. Imagine if we’d known then what the actual number would be. None of us would have emerged from our beds. But this song is about fighting those impulses, about persevering, about living. “Gonna kick that door open wide,” she sings. What made me feel okay during those first few months was finding some musicians who played nightly concerts in my neighborhood, gathering at the end of their respective driveways and performing a few songs together. That had such a positive, life-affirming feel, and this song has that same spirit. This is one of the tracks to feature the backing vocalists. Reginald Bowens, Christie Dashiell, Mariah Kamau and Danielle Withers join Sally Terrell on vocals. They also sing on the second version of this song, a track positioned near the end of the album. That version is nearly a minute shorter than the first version, and includes a section at the end where the vocalists perform a cappella, riffing on the song’s title.

The album’s first cover is Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies.” Sally Terrell delivers a somewhat slow, thoughtful rendition, with certain lines really coming into strong focus, such as “Never saw the sun shining so bright/Never saw things going so right/Noticing the days hurrying by.” This version is about making the decision to focus on what was good, or at least making that attempt. For while we were worried at the beginning of the pandemic, time did not stand still. The sun still came out, time still rushed along. And we are not out of this pandemic yet. At the very end of this track, she adds a little nod to “Here Comes The Sun.”  And who knows? Perhaps this will be there year when this thing is finally brought under control. She follows that with “Choose,” an original composition. This line grabbed me the first time I listened to this disc: “And the poison you’ve been drinking hoping someone else would die.” What a striking, wonderfully blunt line. “And all of the answers you’ve searched your life to find/Asking the wrong questions, believing all the lies.” You might recall, at the beginning of this pandemic, there was a different guy occupying the White House, someone for whom the truth was a stranger. Truth was hard to come by for a long while. And for some, the truth is still something to shun. “Time to open your eyes/Set yourself free and see this through.” This song has a positive bent, seeming to urge the listener to live deliberately. This is another of the tracks to feature some nice backing vocal work.

The album continues to alternate between original compositions and covers, with Sally Terrell next delivering a good rendition of “Almost Like Being In Love.” “There’s a smile on my face/For the whole human race.” There were moments at the beginning of the pandemic when it seemed this struggle might unite everyone, and there were scenes of spontaneous beauty, like the musicians playing from their windows in Italy. It felt like we could push through this together (though physically apart). Of course, quickly we learned that the people in leadership positions in our country were going to be no help whatsoever, that they did not have the fortitude or humanity or even interest to step up. No one here had a smile for their fellow citizens, never mind for the whole human race. “Almost Like Being In Love” is followed by “Lights And Sirens,” an original song. At the beginning of this one, there is a bit of spoken word delivered by special guest Giacomo Gates. This song also directly addresses the pandemic: “Suddenly we’re in a shutdown, a lockdown, we break down inside the fear.” But this one also addresses the larger atmosphere in this country, where extreme division, racism and police violence were creating even more troubles while the pandemic raged on. There is an appropriate intensity to this track, to the message. I love the saxophone. “In an age when truth and decency are compromised, it’s no surprise we lost our way.” I wonder if we can regain our way. I am usually optimistic, but in this case I cannot maintain that optimism. However, I think Sally Terrell is able to keep a positive perspective. That saxophone certainly helps. Giacomo Gates delivers a spoken word section halfway through: “Sometimes it feels like down is up and up is down, and what is up with hatred in the name of free speech on one side and cancel culture as the supreme arbiter on the other?

Sally Terrell offers a pretty rendition of “When I Fall In Love,” with warm tones, particularly on piano. And in the strange, uncertain climate of our country, these lines stand out: “In a restless world like this is/Love is ended before it’s begun.” There is a gentle, wonderful instrumental section in the second half. Then “Beautiful” begins with some good backing vocal work. This is a song about how we don’t connect with each other on a true, human level, that we don’t really see each other. And it is about the violence that results from bigotry, from a lack of empathy, a lack of understanding. The song itself attempts to reach out. “Can’t you see it? It could be beautiful, to see each other as we are/If you could see it, it could be beautiful, and that’s a start.” The backing vocal work here has a wonderful gospel vibe, and the track features some passionate sounds from the sax. Again, Sally Terrell is hopeful, even optimistic, that sense heard in lines like “If we walk together in compassion and love, imagine the power we are capable of.” That’s followed by a cover of “You Don’t Know Me.” This is such a beautiful song, and Sally Terrell does a wonderful job with it. I love John di Martino’s work on piano, and that instrumental section will gently carry you to a different place, a different time.

“Out In The Blue” has something of a light bossa nova vibe as it begins. “And parting is the sorrow, and the mystery of tomorrow helps us cherish the sweet today.” Ah yes, that is what it is about, isn’t it? The pandemic caused many of us to take another look at our priorities. And for a lot of us, it was family and friends that came into focus, particularly when we couldn’t be with them and had to stay in contact via phone. There is something soothing about this track, even as it reminds us of the brevity of life, and how our loved ones are gone all too soon. “The seasons of life, less certain than the tides.” That’s followed by a cover of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most,” which begins with some pretty work on acoustic guitar, and features an intimate vocal performance. The album concludes with “Some Other Time.” How well did you use the time when everything was shut down? That’s what I’m thinking about when hearing the lines, “Where has the time all gone to/Haven’t done half the things we want to.” And the next line, “Oh well, we’ll catch up some other time” is hopeful and also so sad, because there is that feeling that it will never happen. Sally Terrell’s vocals are supported by piano on this track. This is a beautiful, intimate, moving way of ending the album.

CD Track List

  1. Feel Alive
  2. Blue Skies
  3. Choose
  4. Almost Like Being In Love
  5. Lights And Sirens
  6. When I Fall In Love
  7. Beautiful
  8. You Don’t Know Me
  9. Out In The Blue
  10. Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most
  11. I Feel Alive (Alt.)
  12. Some Other Time

Feel Alive was released on April 22, 2022.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Joe Louis Walker: “Weight Of The World” (2023) CD Review

Many people are trying to shake bad cases of the blues these days, and often the only remedy seems to be some delicious blues music. Enter Blues Hall Of Fame member Joe Louis Walker with his new album, Weight Of The World. If you’ve been feeling that weight lately, this music will help lift it from you. Good vibes abound on these tracks. The album features original material, some of it written by Joe Louis Walker, some by Eric Corne. Joe Louis Walker, in addition to providing both lead and backing vocals, plays guitar, slide guitar, and harmonica on this album. He is joined by Scott Milici on organ, piano, keyboards, clavinet and backing vocals; Geoff Murfitt on bass; John Medeiros Jr. on drums; and Eric Corne on guitar, percussion and backing vocals. There are also a few guests on various tracks.

The album opens with its title track, “The Weight Of The World,” a soulful and lively song with a good, joyful groove and some nice work on guitar. Eddie Jackson plays bongos on this one, and Gia Ciambotti provides some backing vocal work. That’s followed by “Is It A Matter Of Time?” This one has a classic rhythm and blues vibe, and features some good work on keys. “Time will tell, I’ve been told/But I don’t believe that anybody knows/What the future will hold/You got to wait until you get old.” There is a certain cheer to the song’s rhythm, and of course to the horns. Mark Pender is on trumpet, and David Ralicke is on saxophone. It feels like that saxophone in particular is going to keep the future at bay for at least the length of this song. In line with its classic sound and vibe, this song makes references to several 1960s songs, such as “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “Time Is On My Side,” “Time Has Come Today” and “Spinning Wheel.”

“Hello, It’s The Blues” has an intriguing opening. This one takes us to a mellower place, where the blues address us directly. “So when you go to sleep at night/I’ll be right by your side/It’s me, I’m the blues/Don’t be afraid, I’ll be good to you.” Sometimes it feels like the despair is almost like a friend because we’ve grown to know it. And, yes, it seems to know us. “And when you go to bed and cry/I’ll comfort you at night.” Wow, yes, these lyrics are perfect. The blues will be there for us until the pain is gone. This is a fantastic song, one of my personal favorite tracks. It features some wonderful work by Eric Gorfain on violin, as well as some excellent work on guitar. And the song builds in power, as if to draw the pain away from us. I highly recommend checking out this song in particular. That is followed by “Waking Up The Dead.” The drum beat at the beginning promises us more energy and joy, and indeed, this is a song to energize us. It is certainly more fun, and includes some good work on keys.

Things then get smooth at the beginning of “Don’t Walk Out That Door,” a song with something of a classic vibe, like from several decades ago. At the beginning, he pleads, “Please don’t tell me you’re leaving/Please don’t say you’re going to go.” This track has a solid beat, and also features Mark Pender and David Ralicke on trumpet and saxophone respectively. “Every good thing must come to an end/But I just want you back again/Think about me once in a while/When you do think, put on a smile/I’ll do the same, the same for you.” There is something so sad about those lines, but the music tells us to keep going. There are happy endings in music, right? There is a good deal of passion in the vocal performance. The band raises the energy on “Count Your Chickens,” a tune with a funky element and an insistent beat. I also dig that work on keys. The musicians jam on this one toward the end. And then with “Blue Mirror,” things really start to rock, start to get loose. Just follow that piano to the party and enjoy the fun. And then the guitar begins to fly, and everything is moving. It seems that if we keep rocking, we’ll slip past the blues, slip out of the blues’ grasp. The band jams on this one too.

“Root Down” has a strong groove, and features some good stuff on harmonica. “You know I get around/But I never never never really put a root down.” That’s followed by “Bed Of Roses.” This one begins with him getting a letter from his woman, letting him know things are over. “It’s no bed of roses/Watching you fall/Another door closes/Another missed call.” The album concludes with “You Got Me Whipped.” Joe Louis Walker establishes a loose vibe right at the start of the track when it is announced, “‘You Got Me Whipped,’ take one.” This one has a delicious groove.  So, baby, I’m your man/I’ll do the very best that I can/Baby, you’ve got me whipped.” That’s not the worst feeling, is it? And on this track, we are treated to more great stuff on keys and a very cool lead on guitar. I love that the musicians are allowed to stretch out a bit. And near the end of the song, there is a nod to “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water.”

CD Track List

  1. The Weight Of The World
  2. Is It A Matter Of Time?
  3. Hello, It’s The Blues
  4. Waking Up The Dead
  5. Don’t Walk Out That Door
  6. Count Your Chickens
  7. Blue Mirror
  8. Root Down
  9. Bed Of Roses
  10. You Got Me Whipped

Weight Of The World is scheduled to be released on February 17, 2023 on Forty Below Records.

James Houlahan: “Beyond The Borders” (2022) CD Review

James Houlahan continues to prove himself to be one of the country’s best songwriters. His new album, Beyond The Borders, features mostly original material, with just a couple of covers. As on his last few albums, he is joined by the talented Fernando Perdomo on bass, keyboards and vocals; Danny Frankel on drums and percussion; and Esther Houlahan on vocals (she was previously credited as Esther Clark, but the two married last year). And as on James Houlahan’s 2020 release Ordinary Eye, the incomparable Scarlet Rivera joins him again on violin. Also performing on these tracks are Joel Martin on pedal steel, Scott Doherty on piano and keyboards, and Leeann Skoda on vocals. The album was produced by Fernando Perdomo and James Houlahan.

The opening track, “Far From Me,” begins with the sound of water, fitting with the album’s cover photo (taken by Esther Houlahan, by the way). I’m generally not a fan of water and rain sounds on songs, but it works with a recurring theme of this album. And besides, this song itself is excellent. James Houlahan right away shows what a great knack he has for crafting meaningful lyrics. These are the song’s first lines: “All my castles have turned to rubble/All my armor has turned to rust/I’ve been hustled down a lonely road/Of those gone too soon/But there’s a light/Far from me.” Yeah, those lines speak strongly to me, of being stripped of defenses, and left open to what might happen next. The song has the feel of coming from a friend who is perhaps troubled but is trying to sooth your own worried soul. It contains some nice backing vocal work too, adding to the sweet and friendly tone. Then “Back To The Start” comes on with more energy, featuring a steady beat prominent in the mix. This too has strong opening lines: “I need a reason/For the bad shape that I’m in.” Ah, a reason isn’t too hard to find these days. This one has a country rock vibe, and features some really good work on pedal steel. “I’ll take this battered heart/I’m going back to the start.”

The music turns bluesy with “Lonesome Love,” that cool guitar work announcing the song’s intentions at the start. The violin then is a surprising and wonderful addition, and of course Scarlet Rivera delivers some phenomenal work. This song too has some good opening lines. While a lot of blues songs begin with the singer saying he woke up this morning, this one finds James Houlahan singing “I’ve been feeling so tired/But my head won’t let me sleep.” I know most of us have been in touch with that feeling in the last several years, as anxiety has been running high and running deep. Then “Merge” begins like a mellow 1970s soft rock gem, with some smooth backing vocal work. This song has such a sweet and pleasant vibe. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “There’s a song we’re singing/Like the river’s flowing/Like the grass is growing/Like the wind is blowing.” This track features a good bass line and some nice work on electric guitar. And when James Houlahan sings of a joyful dance, I can almost see it taking place in a field far from all troubles, even if one created just by desire within the middle of a busy city.

“Wave On Wave” creates a gentle, soothing atmosphere that seems to come out of the darkness, greeting the dawn alone. It’s a different world, isn’t it, when everyone else is still asleep? It sometimes feels like we too are still within a dream. Here the music does a great job of telling us things before the lyrics do. We get a strong sense of mood and place before the first line, “Early morning ocean dreaming.” And check out these lines: “On the shoreline of this dark mood/I feel a pulsing of desire for/Wave on wave.” The energy then builds, in the vocals and in the guitar work. That’s followed by “Through The Water,” which has something of a Neil Young vibe as it starts. This one shifts perspectives, focusing on the story of a family. “The daughter’s hearing voices/Behind a papered wall/With a father who conspires/To put his art above it all/But the guilt he feels is burning/A hole down deep inside/As madness comes upon them all/Like a cruel and rising tide.” Then “Ballad Of The Lazy Preacher” has a folk sound, with some nice work on acoustic guitar. This track has one of my favorite vocal performances of the album. Something about the honesty is his voice brings me close to tears. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Everywhere I go/People want to know/What they can’t deny/Will it sneak up from behind/And set them on a path/Right into a pit of fire.” And I love that lonesome harmonica that briefly rises in the distance.

“The Deep End” has a delicious, raw energy right from its start. This one also finds him in the water, a recurring element or image in this album’s material, but this time he is in need of help: “Looks like I’m waving/But I’m really drowning/Water, water/Everything around me.” And check out that powerful work on violin. Fantastic! That is followed by “Powderfinger,” one of only two covers, this one written by Neil Young and included on the 1979 Neil Young & Crazy Horse LP Rust Never Sleeps. This track contains some good work on guitar, particularly during that instrumental section in the middle. And then we get the album’s other cover, “O What Is That Sound,” its lyrics coming from a W.H. Auden poem. This track has a strong Bob Dylan vibe, sounding like it would fit well on Desire. And that makes some sense, as Scarlet Rivera provides a good deal of that record’s power and appeal. And here she delivers some outstanding work, helping to make this track one of the disc’s highlights. This track also features a passionate, strong vocal performance. By the way, while the lyrics are by W.H. Auden, the music is by James Houlahan, and he’s created a wonderfully frightening and tense atmosphere.

I love the deliciously sad sound of the pedal steel at the beginning of “And The Horse Began To Dance.” The verses of this song are delivered almost as spoken word, emphasizing the sense of story, the sense of history in this song. That’s followed by “Bloom,” which features some pretty work on violin. This is yet another song whose lyrics grabbed me right away. Here are its opening lines: “Go now, ease your spirit/Into that long dark void/May your truth and beauty/Bloom from what’s destroyed,” lyrics that are both sad and optimistic, which is the overriding feeling these days. This is a beautiful song. The album then concludes with “You Are Free.” There is a strange, unexpected laughter at the beginning of this track. That and its strong rhythm set this song apart immediately. And speaking of optimism and looking ahead, check out these lines: “Such a good day I haven’t had in years/Where a sun ray suddenly appears/Make the light stay, drying up my tears/There’s a new way of getting past these fears.” And the ability is squarely on our own shoulders. It’s an empowering, uplifting song, and it features some good work on guitar and keys.

CD Track List

  1. Far From Me
  2. Back To The Start
  3. Lonesome Love
  4. Merge
  5. Wave On Wave
  6. Through The Water
  7. Ballad Of The Lazy Preacher
  8. The Deep End
  9. Powderfinger
  10. O What Is That Sound
  11. And The Horse Began To Dance
  12. Bloom
  13. You Are Free

Beyond The Borders was released on November 18, 2022.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Michael Kaeshammer: “The Warehouse Sessions” (2022) CD Review

According to the liner notes of The Warehouse Sessions, each of the tracks on the album was a first take, the idea being to capture the initial energy of tackling certain songs. And the results are completely delicious. The three musicians – Michael Kaeshammer on piano, David Piltch on acoustic bass, and Johnny Vidacovich on drums – are clearly having a great time, getting loose and really listening to each other. Basically, they are living in the moment, as this is a sort of live recording without the audience. And though Michael Kaeshammer is a composer as well as musician, the songs chosen here are all covers, tunes the musicians could get loose on, tunes that will be familiar to most listeners.

The album opens with “You Got It In Your Soulness,” a tune written by Les McCann and included on the 1969 album Swiss Movement by McCann and Eddie Harris. What a fun choice to kick off the album. There is a short bit of banter about how to start the song, but there is nothing hesitant about this track once it starts. In fact, it opens with a great burst of energy, and then grooves and rocks with joy, abandon and cool. There is also a bit of banter at the beginning of “How Long Blues,” some talk about wanting the track to feel like they’re getting onto a train. And as they begin, they talk about which key to do it in. The groove is soon established, and Michael Kaeshammer starts to take off on piano. There is a wonderful vibe about this one, and this track features a nice lead on bass.

Michael Kaeshammer begins to toy with “Down By The Riverside,” and someone shouts out, “Is that what we’re playing?” And once it gets going, this track has that delicious New Orleans vibe, particularly in the drumbeat. This music feels like a celebration of life, just the sort of thing we need. At one point, things slow down a bit for a bass solo. Then as Michael Kaeshammer comes in with some comments on keys, the cool groove continues, and it builds from there, the joy rising again. It feels like it ends too soon, but is a delightful rendition. That is followed by “Caravan.” There is no banter at the beginning of this one. Rather, it begins with some good work on drums. So, yeah, it’s cool right from its start, and it never loses that sense, that vibe. If anything, it somehow gets even cooler as it progresses. There is a strong atmosphere, and some fantastic work on keys. There is also a groovy lead on bass. What I especially love is that great, loose playing on drums. Basically, these three give you everything you might want from this tune.

There is a cute introduction to “Bourbon Street Parade,” and then the drums set things in action. Soon there is a light, playful sound on piano, supported by some excellent work on drums. There is such a joyful air about this track, and with a groove that will make you want to shake your bones and join that great human dance that I imagine snakes its way through New Orleans every evening. And toward the end, Michael Kaeshammer adds his voice to the celebration, singing about that exciting city. This is the only track to feature vocals. That’s followed by “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas.” At this point, when I hear “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas,” I can’t help but thinking of the British show Coupling, which used the song – in its English form, “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” – in its opening credits sequence. The version here contains no opening banter, but begins with that familiar theme on piano. This is a wonderful rendition, and is probably as tight as the trio gets on these tracks, particularly in the first half. When that great bass lead comes in halfway through, things do get a bit looser, wilder.

There is just the slightest bit of banter at the start of “Ain’t She Sweet,” and when they get going, I can’t help but smile. This is another light, joyful piece, featuring some wonderful, delightful work on piano. And these guys take the song into some exciting places, with some surprising touches. They then give us Ornette Coleman’s “Ramblin’.” Ornette Coleman is one of the many artists I learned about through the Grateful Dead (Jerry Garcia played on one of his albums in the late 1980s). This one begins with some good work on drums, and, like this entire album, soon has a cool and joyful vibe about it. If you’re looking for something to raise your spirits, you should pick up a copy of this disc. The album concludes with Horace Silver’s “The Preacher,” a track featuring a good groove and plenty of great work on piano. It is that lead on bass that really makes this one stand out. It’s a fun conclusion to an excellent album.

CD Track List

  1. You Got It In Your Soulness
  2. How Long Blues
  3. Down By The Riverside
  4. Caravan
  5. Bourbon Street Parade
  6. Quizas, Quizas, Quizas
  7. Ain’t She Sweet
  8. Ramblin’
  9. The Preacher

The Warehouse Sessions was released on October 7, 2022.