Monday, January 30, 2023

Steve Fidyk: “Red Beats” (2023) CD Review

Jazz drummer and composer Steve Fidyk’s new album Red Beats features big band arrangements of his original material. He has several different people contributing the arrangements for the various tracks, and the tunes chosen for this album had previously appeared on his three earlier releases, though in quite different configurations. Steve Fidyk has assembled an incredibly talented group of musicians for this album, including members of Airmen Of Note and The U.S. Army Blues. By the way, some of the money raised from sales of this album go to No Kid Hungry, an organization working to end childhood hunger in the United States.

The album opens with “Bebop Operations,” a piece that was included on Steve Fidyk’s 2020 release Battle Lines. For me, it was one of the highlights of that album, and it’s a great choice to open this one, for even with the smaller group on that earlier album it had a big band vibe. On this new album, the arrangement is by Regan Brough (who is the bass player of The U.S. Army Blues), and the differences are apparent immediately. On the earlier version, Steve Fidyk got things going with a brief drum solo. On this new recording, that opening section finds him joined by the members of the brass section, starting things with a bright burst of energy. There is a good deal of joy to this piece, and this rendition features some cheerful, lively work by Tim Leahey on trumpet and by Walt Weiskopf on tenor saxophone. The horns are dancing and singing here, seeming to gather even more energy as they go. But what keeps that spirit moving is that great rhythm, and there is a brief, but excellent drum solo toward the end. That’s followed by “The Flip Flopper,” which has an exciting and funky vibe right from the start. This composition was previously featured on Steve Fidyk’s 2014 album Heads Up! in a very different arrangement. The arrangement here is by Joseph Henson, and this new rendition grabs us immediately. There is a powerful force at work here pushing things forward. This track features some cool work by Kevin Cerovich on trombone over that funky rhythm (you might know Cerovich from his work in Airmen Of Note, where he is known as Master Sergeant Kevin Cerovich). Then halfway through, we are treated to a delicious lead on organ by Brian Charette. This track also features a short drum solo.

Also from Heads Up! comes “Untimely,” this new version arranged by Andrew Carson, who also delivers an excellent lead on trumpet. This track features Xavier Perez (of The U.S. Army Blues) on tenor saxophone and the incredible Jack Wilkins on guitar. A strong sense of movement is developed on this track, in part through that wonderful bass line. This new recording is a couple of minutes longer than the original version. And speaking of the bass, it is that instrument that pulls us into “Churn,” a piece that was previously featured on Battle Lines. The arrangement on this new album is by guitarist Michael Kramer. This is an engaging and exciting composition, feeling like it could become unhinged at any moment. Christopher Ziemba (from Airmen Of Note) delivers some wonderful work on piano, and this track features some excellent work from Walt Weiskopf on tenor saxophone. And I love how on this version toward the end, there is a chaos swelling underneath, developing, threatening to burst up through. This is one of my favorite tracks, a thrilling ride from beginning to end.

Andrew Carson does the arrangement for “Food Court Drifter,” a piece that originally appeared on Steve Fidyk’s 2016 album Allied Forces. As it opens, it establishes a rather playful character. While there might be something of the goof to this chap, he certainly has his own thing happening, and as we get more immersed in his world, we come to see there is actually a seriously cool element, heard especially in that work by Xavier Perez on tenor saxophone. Is it that his walk becomes more of a strut? Has his sense of himself become elevated in some way? Whatever it is, this is a thoroughly enjoyable track, and it features some good work on organ, and also some more cool work on saxophone, this time by Joseph Henson on alto sax. Plus, there is a delicious drum solo near the end. And after that, things take an interesting, unexpected turn. Also from Allied Forces comes “Gaffe,” this time with an arrangement by Joseph Henson. This is another track with a seriously good bass line. This track features a strong lead by Tim Leahey on trumpet, and some fantastic work by Joseph Henson on alto sax. Those leads are what make this rendition stand out. This is another track that is significantly longer than its original version. “One For T.J.” is another piece that was originally included on Allied Forces. Here it is arranged by Jack Saint Clair. There is a playful sense to this track, and I like the way it moves, sometimes growing, sometimes relaxing, while a seriously cool groove continues. It features a wonderful lead on flugelhorn by Graham Breedlove (of The U.S. Army Blues), plus some excellent work by Chris Farr on soprano sax. And, yes, we are treated to a drum solo before the end.

One of my favorite tracks from Battle Lines is “Loopholes,” and Steve Fidyk revisits that composition here, with a new arrangement by Michael Kramer. That great groove still plays a central part in this new version, and there is a funky edge. This lively number features Brian Charette on organ, and Chris Farr on tenor saxophone. There is also something of a progressive rock vibe to this track at moments. Michael Kramer delivers some really good work on guitar. The album then concludes with “Good Turns,” a tune from Allied Forces. Here it is expanded to twice its original length, with an arrangement by Mark Allen, who also delivers a fantastic lead on baritone saxophone. This one also features some wonderful work by Harry Watters on trombone and by Joseph Henson on alto sax. Meanwhile that bass line keeps everything cooking. And in the second half we are treated to guitar leads by both Jeff Barone and Jack Wilkins, who have different styles and sounds. And to top it all off, there is a drum solo near the end. What more could you want?

CD Track List

  1. Bebop Operations
  2. The Flip Flopper
  3. Untimely
  4. Churn
  5. Food Court Drifter
  6. Gaffe
  7. One For T.J.
  8. Loopholes
  9. Good Turns

Red Beats is scheduled to be released on February 24, 2023.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Linda Gail Lewis: “Early Sides 1963 - 1973” (2022) CD Review

When Linda Gail Lewis started her musical career, her older brother Jerry Lee Lewis was already famous (and already infamous). She performed and recorded with her brother, but quickly proved she was a force on her own as well, not only delivering excellent renditions of other people’s material, but writing her own songs too. The compilation Early Sides 1963 - 1973 collects a lot of her early recordings, including two tracks with Jerry Lee Lewis. The songs are presented in chronological order by recording date, and the tracks features some talented musicians backing her. This release was produced and remastered by Danny B. Harvey.

This disc opens with one of the most energetic renditions of “C.C. Rider” I’ve heard. Linda Gail Lewis seriously rocks this song. It doesn’t hurt that the band backing her is totally on top of it, particularly Morris Tarrant on drums, W.R. Fields on keys, and Luke Wright on saxophone. The fun continues with her delightful rendition of “Nothin’ Shakin’ (But The Leaves On The Trees).” Linda Gail Lewis gives us a playful vocal performance, and Luke Wright again delivers on saxophone, particularly on that lead. Both of those first two tracks were recorded in 1963. She then turns to country with a wonderful cover of Charlie Rich’s “Sittin’ And Thinkin’,” which was also recorded in 1963. This track features some excellent work on keys, and a strong vocal performance.

The disc then moves to 1965 with “Break Up The Party,” a tune with a rhythm that is almost guaranteed to get you up off your chair. That’s Buddy Harman on drums. I also really like the guitar work in the middle of this track; it has that delicious mid-1960s wild garage sound. “The music was playing so loud/We were having fun with the crowd/And then the band began to play our tune/I looked, but he was nowhere in the room.” Linda Gail Lewis then slows things down a bit with “Small Red Diary,” featuring an excellent, heartfelt vocal performance. Things then get hopping with “Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes),” one of the tracks that feature Jerry Lee Lewis on vocals. In fact, he starts this one, singing, “Well, it takes more than a robin to make the winter go/And it takes two lips of fire to melt away the snow.” This track is a lot of fun, and includes some exciting work on piano. Is it a bit odd to have a brother and sister singing “And, baby, you’ve got what it takes”? Maybe, but who cares? We’re having too much of a good time to worry about such things.

The energy remains high for “Jim Dandy” (sometimes listed as “Jim Dandy To The Rescue”), this one featuring some fantastic work on guitar. This track is from 1966, coming a decade after the original recording by LaVern Baker And The Gliders. Linda Gail Lewis is cutting loose here, and the results are wonderful. Also from 1966 comes “Who Will Be The Next One,” a slower song. It seems to be on these slower numbers that she gives her most arresting and earnest vocal performances. We believe her as she sings, “Why must I always be a loser/Why can’t someone be true/So many times I have found love/But so many times I’ve been blue.” This is one of my personal favorites. Then from 1969 comes a strong rendition of Kris Kristofferson’s “My Heart Was The Last One To Know,” another slower song on which Linda Gail Lewis totally shines. “And when you worked your way to the back of my mind/It was too late to stop loving you/For my eyes grew accustomed to looking at you.” This track also features some nice work by Kenneth Lovelace on fiddle.

The first of this compilation’s songs written by Linda Gail Lewis is “Louisiana,” also recorded in 1969. This is another slower gem, with a sweet vibe. “Going to the land of dreams and New Orleans/Listen to the music and watch Cajun queens.” Kenneth Lovelace’s work on fiddle holds even more appeal on this one. That’s followed by “Gather ‘Round Children,” another original composition. This song was used as the flip side to the “My Heart Was The Last One To Know” single. It’s a sad song about the death of one’s mother. “Come gather ‘round, children/Bow your heads and pray/Come gather ‘round, children/While they lay mama away/She gave us all her good years/She gave us all her best/Come gather ‘round, children/While they lay our precious mother to rest.” That in turn is followed by another composition by Linda Gail Lewis, “What Is Love,” this one recorded in 1970. This song celebrates marriage, and features some good work on both fiddle and steel guitar. “Love is an arm around your shoulder/When you think you’re getting older/And he tells you you look prettier each year/And he makes you feel wanted and he makes you feel needed.”

Jerry Lee Lewis joins Linda Gail Lewis on “Before The Snow Flies,” a song about family. In addition to singing, Jerry Lee Lewis plays acoustic guitar on this one. But it is Linda who delivers most of the lyrics, with Jerry Lee Lewis joining her only at certain moments. That’s followed by “Working Girl,” a song written by Chip Taylor and originally recorded by Jeanne Fox. Linda’s rendition was released a few years after that one, in 1971. Then from 1972, we get “Smile, Somebody Loves You,” a song written by Tony Austin. Johnny Paycheck also released his version of this song in 1972. This version by Linda Gail Lewis features some good work by Pete Drake on pedal steel. That’s followed by “Ivory Tower,” also from 1972.  A tremendous vocal performance makes this one of the disc’s highlights.

The compilation’s final two tracks were written by Linda Gail Lewis and Hal Worthington, and recorded in 1973. And both feature Linda Gail Lewis on piano as well as vocals. The first is “I Wanna Be A Sensuous Woman.” On this one she sings, “And I know there’s a lot going on in this world around me that I don’t know about/Because I built my world around your gentle touch/I want to be a sensuous woman.” Certainly no feminist anthem, this. And the line “And I don’t want to join women’s lib, I don’t even know what it means” strikes us as dated and rather sad, though I suppose there are a large number of Republicans today who would cheer that attitude. This track features some nice work by Ed Kollis on harmonica. The second is “I Should Not Have Fallen In Love With You,” which features yet another strong and passionate vocal performance. “What happened should not have happened with you and me/For today all I have left is just your memory/I live alone and hope that someday you’ll be free.”

CD Track List

  1. C.C. Rider
  2. Nothin’ Shakin’ (But The Leaves On The Trees)
  3. Sittin’ And Thinkin’
  4. Break Up The Party
  5. Small Red Diary
  6. Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes)
  7. Jim Dandy
  8. Who Will Be The Next One
  9. My Heart Was The Last One To Know
  10. Louisiana
  11. Gather ‘Round Children
  12. What Is Love
  13. Before The Snow Flies
  14. Working Girl
  15. Smile, Somebody Loves You
  16. Ivory Tower
  17. I Wanna Be A Sensuous Woman
  18. I Should Not Have Fallen In Love With You

Early Sides 1963 - 1973 was released on July 15, 2022 on Goldenlane Records.

The Town And The City Festival’s 2023 Lineup Includes Some Excellent Performers

The Town And The City Festival is a two-day music and arts festival taking place in Lowell, Massachusetts at the end of April. It is named after the first book by Jack Kerouac, who grew up in Lowell. The festival takes place in various halls, bars, cafes and galleries throughout downtown Lowell, celebrating the spirit of Jack Kerouac, and featuring performers both local and national. This is the fourth year of the festival, and this year the lineup includes John Doe Folk Trio, Peter Mulvey & Sistastrings, Buffalo Tom, Ted Leo, Rhett Miller, Alisa Amador, Dalton & The Sheriffs, Robin Lane, Dave Herlihy, Ali McGuirk, and Nora Brown, among others. Two-day passes are only $65 (that includes the $7 ticket fee), and they allow access to all festival shows in all venues (though there might be some venue capacity restrictions). Individual day passes and show tickets will also be available. The festival is scheduled to take place on April 28th and 29th, 2023.

Kyle Spleiss at Nostalgia Bar & Lounge, 1-28-23: Photos

Last night Kyle Spleiss delivered a great set at Nostalgia Bar & Lounge in Santa Monica. It was set full of strong vocal work, delicious grooves and fun jams, with Kyle engaging the crowd and even playfully passing out 3D glasses to some of the folks. At one point he called out, “Nineteen,” acknowledging his co-workers from Station 19, a good number of whom were in the audience. Here are a few photos from his set:

Nostalgia Bar & Lounge is located at 1326 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica, California.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Cutty: “Cutty” (2019) Vinyl Review

Kyle Spleiss is a singer and songwriter based in Los Angeles, now performing under his own name. But back in 2019 when this record was recorded, he used the name Cutty, which as he explains is “Bay Area slang for sketchy.” Ah, but there is nothing uncertain or dishonest about the music on this album. In fact, it has that great raw blend of folk, country and rock sounds that will be familiar to fans of The Band and also groups like Buffalo Springfield and The Allman Brothers Band. The record contains mostly original material, written by Kyle Spleiss. The group is made up of Kyle Spleiss on vocals, acoustic guitar and fuzz guitar; Dan Marks on lead guitar and vocals; Jason Hiller on bass and vocals; Steve Kerwin on drums; Ian Morland on piano and organ; Sean Billings on trumpet; and Sam Robles on alto saxophone and baritone saxophone. The music is presented without pauses between songs.

Side A

The album opens with “Only Way I Know Best,” which has a delicious country rock sound, in the same realm as The Band, the similarities heard particularly in the vocal work. “And all my problems turn out the same/I never knew a man could fall so hard on his knees/I spent my whole life searching for that easy money.” This track features some nice stuff on organ. Then “Shaky Alibi” establishes a good, enjoyable groove, one to get your body swaying. This is a fun one, featuring some good work on acoustic guitar. The horns soon come in to add another wonderful layer, and a classic soulful touch. “For the first time in years I’m not stressing out about the money that’s not coming in/I thought that by this stage I would have conquered life.” I think a lot of us can relate to those lines. The song changes gears a bit just before the end, the band delivering a cool instrumental section, led by guitar, to conclude the track. This is one of my personal favorites.

“Ridin’ Dead” has a solid, meaner, slower groove, with more of a blues rock edge. There is certainly a 1970s influence here. The horns add some nice touches, raising things a bit from that raw, mean atmosphere. “And yet still here I am/Riding the rails all the way down.” That’s followed by “Bald Man’s Dream,” which begins with some good work on acoustic guitar, feeling like it might head more into the traditional folk realm. It then soon kicks in. This song, like the first track, will certainly appeal to anyone who is a fan of The Band. And honestly, who isn’t? Here Kyle sings, “I want to live off the grid,” an idea that holds more and more appeal. “‘Cause if I keep staying around here/It’s a one way ticket to the loony bin.” Ah yes, I think we are all in touch with that feeling. And again, the idea of getting back to nature is something that was prevalent in the very early 1970s, and the music here has that vibe. “There’s no more room for a man like me/Stuck in the past, twentieth century/While everybody’s moving ahead/I’m sitting, convinced I’m better off dead.” And yet this song has kind of a sweet vibe. It is another of my personal favorites. The first side of the record then concludes with “Hope Your Plans Include Me.” A lack of money is a theme that recurs in some tracks, and on this one Kyle sings, “I’m drowning in debt/Just to scrape by/I’m selling my soul/So you can stay dry.” There is a great energy to the vocals, and this track features some good work on both guitar and piano.

Side B

The second side opens with “California Avocado Blues,” and there is a bit of a funky edge to the groove as the song opens. I love that bass line. “One of these days when I’m old and wise I’m going to look back and laugh/But that day will never come if I keep heading down this path.” And the theme of lacking necessary funds continues, with Kyle singing “Had no money to pay for school, so I went straight to work” and “I told myself when I left this place, I’d never show my face again/Work my life living check to check is no way, no way to live.” Indeed. He stresses the point, repeating “No way to live.” Oh yes, you can hear the frustration in that final line. This track contains some good work from the horns. That’s followed by the album’s only cover, The Ramones’ “Pet Sematary,” a song written for the 1989 film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. It was never one of my favorite Ramones songs. I thought it was kind of dull. Well, this rendition, featuring an arrangement by Steve Kerwin and Kyle Spleiss, gives the song a 1970s sound, which actually gives it the fresh life and vibe it needed. This is a track for your Halloween play list, with lines like “Ancient goblins and warlords/Come out of the ground, not making a sound/The smell of death is all around.” These guys are certainly having a good time with this song, and there is some excellent work on guitar, particularly toward the end.

“Woman Of Mine” has a soulful vibe as it begins. It is an interesting sort of love song. Check out these lines, which touch on that theme of poverty: “You don’t care that I have no money/Or the fact that I failed at all my dreams.” Those lines are excellent, as they are simultaneously depressing and sweet. And isn’t that what life is like? Later in the track Kyle sings, “When it all falls to chaos,” another line that stands out because it has seemed like we’re on the edge of chaos for a while. This is another of the album’s highlights. It is followed by “Orange Line Fever.” Early in the song, there is what seems to be a reference to Airplane!, “Picked the wrong day to stop sniffing slime.” This track features a cool instrumental section that focuses on bass and drums. I love it, and wish they jammed on that groove a little longer. The record then concludes with “Four In The Morning,” that magical time in the land of song, a time mentioned in Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat,” Roger Daltry’s “Milk Train,” The Everly Brothers’ “Do You,” The Carpenters’ “I Need To Be In Love,” Josh Lederman Y Los Diablos’ “Four In The Morning (Or, Love Streams),” Sam Llanas’ “4 A.M.” and many others. The opening line caught me by surprise, and I found myself laughing: “About four in the morning, realized I was in love.” That’s a damn good opening line. This song also touches on the poverty theme that runs through this album: “And with my half tank of gas/And my pockets filled with no cash.”  This song has a surprising final line too, but I will leave that for you to discover and enjoy.

Record Track List

Side A

  1. Only Way I Know Best
  2. Shaky Alibi
  3. Ridin’ Dead
  4. Bald Man’s Dream
  5. Hope Your Plans Include Me

Side B

  1. California Avocado Blues
  2. Pet Sematary
  3. Woman Of Mine
  4. Orange Line Fever
  5. Four In The Morning

Cutty was released on October 27, 2019.