Thursday, March 30, 2023

Neal Smith: “Killsmith Goes West” (2023) CD Review

Though Neal Smith is pictured on the cover of his new album, Killsmith Goes West, with a guitar, he is primarily a drummer, known for his work drumming with Alice Cooper. He is also a vocalist and songwriter, and this new album features all original material. It’s a bit different from what you might expect from him. This album, as the title indicates, has more of a country rock sound, but a raw, bluesy, rocking, dangerous-sounding sort of country. This is his fourth solo album to use “Killsmith” in its title. Neal Smith plays drums, percussion, rhythm guitar and keyboards on this release. Joining him are Rick Tedesco on lead guitar, slide guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, keyboards and backing vocals; Peter Catucci on bass and backing vocals; Pete Hickey on keyboards; Stu Daye on slide guitar, rhythm guitar and backing vocals; Arlen Roth on guitar; and Gary Oleyar on fiddle.

Neal Smith kicks off the album with “Shaughnessy Highway,” which actually begins with directions, which I appreciate. Not sure in this time of bloody GPS whether anyone can remember and follow directions anymore, but I love the way this one starts: “Take Shaughnessy Highway to the fork in the road/Drive about a mile and turn on Cherokee Hill/Follow that down until the end of the road.” The directions lead to the home of the main character he sings about in this song. An interesting way of introducing her, right? This song has a raw sound, particularly in Neal Smith’s vocal work, and features some nice guitar work. That’s followed by “Tequila, Tamales & A Woman.” I love that title. This is a song about gambling and gunfights, perennial subjects for western songs. It’s told from the perspective of someone in jail, scheduled to die. “Tequila, tamales and a woman/That’s my dying request.” I’m not sure that counts as a last meal, but why not? Best to give this guy what he requests. You get the sense he might come back and haunt the hell out of you otherwise. “Tequila, tamales and a woman/Before they put my wicked body to rest.”

“Big Wheels Rollin’ West” is a song of the road that moves at a good clip. It is a lot of fun, a song that fits in with those classic truck driving numbers. There is some delicious work on a guitar, and of course a rhythm to keep you in motion, pushing forward. It’s a highlight of the disc, and obviously a good choice to have with you on those long drives. Neal Smith then changes gears with “Coffee, Beer & Borrowed Time,” a mellower number. Here he tackles another classic country topic, splitting up with a woman. “Yeah, my life’s off track and I’m down on my luck/Living on coffee, beer and borrowed time/A good woman’s damn hard to find/Time hasn’t been a friend of mine.” This track features some nice work on fiddle. “Too much coffee and too many beers,” he sings. But wait, just how many is too many? He then says, “If you see her, tell her that I’m fine,” though that doesn’t seem to be the case. In the track’s second half, there is a delicious lead on keys.

Neal Smith starts rocking on “Pull It Out Smokin’,” a song with more of a hard rock sound. This one too deals with gambling and gunfights, and bravado. I do get a bit tired of this track after a while, but that might be because I am diametrically opposed to firearms, and there is a lot of gun imagery in this one (there have been more than a hundred mass shootings in this country this year, and it’s not even April). Then “Sunsets Of Gold” has a sweeter sound, which I love. “The winter was lonely, lonely and long/Right here beside me is where you belong.” Those lines stand out in particular, because my girlfriend was on the other side of the country for the entire winter, and it was rough. This track features more wonderful stuff on violin, and some of the album’s best vocal work. It is one of my favorites.

“If Jesus Was A Gunfighter” places Jesus in the wild west and makes him a law man. “Hallelujah, hallelujah.” But don’t worry, “Jesus never kills, just shoots the gun from the outlaw’s hand.” The lines “He was born in a stable just outside Santa Fe/The savior of the west, alongside horses and the hay” make me laugh. This is obviously a playful number. It is followed by “Jukebox Rose,” a prettier tune about a girl who lets loose when the music plays. “She’s the only honky tonk girl for me/Tough, sweet and mean in skintight jeans/Let me tell you, she’s a bad boy’s dream.” And then suddenly the song takes a turn in the second half, and Rosie runs afoul of the law. Then “Evil Wind” begins with a wind sound effect. An evil wind sound effect? Sure. And then the guitar takes over. This track features another strong vocal performance, and is one of the album’s coolest songs. There is even the sound of a whip cracking. The album concludes with “Tattooed Cowgirl,” another character portrait. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “She’s hot when she’s dressed, even hotter when she’s bare/She’s so good-looking she should be illegal/Smoking hot and knows it too.” He then clarifies what it is she has done: “If broken hearts and promises were a crime/She’d be tossed in prison for a long, long time.”

CD Track List

  1. Shaughnessy Highway
  2. Tequila, Tamales & A Woman
  3. Big Wheels Rollin’ West
  4. Coffee, Beer & Borrowed Time
  5. Pull It Out Smokin’
  6. Sunsets Of Gold
  7. If Jesus Was A Gunfighter
  8. Jukebox Rose
  9. Evil Wind
  10. Tattooed Cowgirl

Killsmith Goes West is scheduled to be released on March 31, 2023 on Kachina Records.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Divine Horsemen: “Hot Rise Of An Ice Cream Phoenix” (2021) CD Review

I love Julie Christensen’s new album, The Price We Pay For Love, which comes out in a couple of weeks, and thought it was a good time to go back and listen to the most recent release from Divine Horsemen, Hot Rise Of An Ice Cream Phoenix, the band’s first studio release since the 1980s. Two years before this album came out, we were treated to a new album from The Flesh Eaters, a band that features some of the same musicians. It is fantastic that these folks are creating new music together. Divine Horsemen is made up of Chris D on vocals, Julie Christensen on vocals and acoustic guitar, Peter Andrus on electric guitar and acoustic guitar, Bobby Permanent on bass and acoustic guitar, and DJ Bonebrake on drums and percussion, with Doug Lacy joining them on several tracks. The album features a mix of covers and original material, with the musicians also revisiting a few of their older songs. The disc contains more than an hour of music.

The album opens with “Mystery Writers,” a song written by Chris D and Peter Andrus. And immediately these guys prove they still have that great raw punk edge, and can write a damn good lyric. Check out these lines, which begin the song: “Bliss is out of date/A stolen car from out of state/My exaltation got driven to burning hell/I died right before I cried out the story I had to tell.” This is music that will demand some volume from your stereo speakers. I’m especially digging that guitar work. That’s followed by another original song, “Falling Forward,” this one written by Lathan McKay and Julie Christensen, and also featuring some excellent lyrics. “Mirror, mirror, don’t you lie/I’ve let you win too many times/You can’t break my mind/It’s time to fall/We’re falling forward, we’re falling forward.” And I love the next line too, “The devil may care, but I don’t anymore,” a great play on the expression “devil-may-care.” And I love the way the song builds in power toward the end.

The first cover of the album is “Ice Cream Phoenix,” a Jefferson Airplane song written by Jorma Kaukonen and Charles Cockey, and included on the 1968 album Crown Of Creation. This is a great choice for Divine Horsemen, for Jefferson Airplane not only had female and male vocalists, but also a wild raw energy. So it is no surprise that Divine Horsemen deliver an excellent rendition of this song. “Are you so old that you’ve no childhood/Is your timeline so unreal/That all your sunsets come in the morning/Baby, tell me how do you feel/Shelves of books in your mirror reflected.” That’s followed by “Mind Fever, Soul Fire,” a song that Chris D. included on his Love Cannot Die solo album back in 1995 and is now revisiting with Divine Horsemen. The feel of the song is close to that of the original recording, but of course there are some differences, the most noticeable being the presence of Julie Christensen’s vocals. “My friends think that I’ve gone insane/My heart’s a sad balloon/Getting ready to burst/A shadow from the past is weeping like a ghost.” Doug Lacy plays accordion on this track. The band then revisits another older song, “Handful Of Sand,” this one being the title track of the group’s 1988 release, a song the band recorded just before disbanding. It is now getting a new life, the band completely rocking on this one. This is just bloody fantastic. “I need to change my life, it’s a mess” is a line that certainly speaks to me, and the same goes for the line “Days slip through my fingers, years of crumbling dust.” There is a great sense of urgency to this track, and there is something a bit unhinged as well, which is just exactly right. How can you not be affected by the band’s energy?

The album’s second cover is “Any Day Now,” a song written by Tim Lee and Susan Bauer Lee, and included on the 2013 Tim Lee 3 album Devil’s Rope. Julie and Chris trade lines at the beginning, then deliver some lines together, such as “You can’t succeed until you learn how to fail.” Well, all right then, I think it’s time for me to succeed. But this is not an optimistic number, which you can tell from lines like “Things are never quite as good as they used to seem/Any day now it’s going to end up in the ditch” and “Another knife going in your back.” Yes, this song seems in line with the mood of things in the world these days. Ah, perhaps that electric guitar can help dig us out of this reality. “Living in anticipation of things going wrong/It hasn’t happened yet, but it won’t be long.” That is followed by a cover of Patti Smith’s “25th Floor,” a song from her 1978 album Easter. This one is a fairly straightforward rock number, featuring more great raw energy.

But the most interesting and obscure and delightful choice of covers on this release is “Lame Motherfucker,” a song from the soundtrack to the 1970 film Pound, written and directed by Robert Downey Sr. (and featuring the first screen performance by Robert Downey Jr.). The movie’s soundtrack was released, but apparently in only a very small, private printing, and copies are rare (and yes, I absolutely want one). There is not a lot of information available about the music, other than that Charley Cuva wrote it. Anyway, Divine Horsemen deliver an excellent rendition of this song, re-titling the song “Can’t You See?” This song has bloody wonderful lyrics like “I’d love to kick your ass/Right through the middle class” and “You never felt the pain/There’s sawdust in your brain” and “Bow wow wow wow, you’re an ugly cocksucker” and “Can’t you see you’re a lame motherfucker/Asshole licker, you’re a bad coke cutter.” Oh yes, these guys are having a great time with this one. And you will have fun with it too. It is a joy to sing along to this one.

They go back to original material with “No Evil Star,” a fantastic song written by Chris D and Peter Andrus. This one has a different sound as it begins, with acoustic guitars. On the chorus, it takes on a more theatrical sound and vibe. This song features wonderfully unusual lyrics, such as “It’s cold in the alley, cold in the street/Cold in the back yard without any feet” and “Ice in the soul without any cream” and “Chaos destroys our dreams.” The final of the album’s covers is “Strangers.” And no, it’s not the Kinks song, but one written by Johnny Duke and Will Kimbrough. “How’d we get so good at pretending/We’re strangers now.” They do an excellent job with it, giving it a raw sort of desperation, and some of the guitar work reminds me of moments from the Neil Young album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Doug Lacy plays piano on this track.

“Barefoot In The Streets” is an original song written by Chris D and Julie Christensen, played on acoustic guitars. “Last night a profane dream crossed my sick mind/I saw you laughing at this sad tale of mine.” It’s a strangely pretty song, even as they sing “Cruel enough to betray, don’t court regret/Talking to you is talking to the dead.” Doug Lacy is again on piano. “Barefoot In The Streets” is followed by “Stony Path,” which comes on strong, yet seems to naturally follow the previous track, in part because of the early line “One bare foot in front of the other.” This one was written by Chris D and Peter Andrus. It gets pretty wild and fairly powerful. I love Julie Christensen’s backing vocals during that final section of the track. So good. The album concludes with “Love Cannot Die.” This is another song that was included on Chris D’s 1995 album, where it was the title track. That original version is approximately nine minutes, while this new recording is only six. Some lines are cut from this new version, such as the “Moisten my lips with your precious kiss” lines and the “Honey, our species is almost extinct” lines.

CD Track List

  1. Mystery Writers
  2. Falling Forward
  3. Ice Cream Phoenix
  4. Mind Fever, Soul Fire
  5. Handful Of Sand
  6. Any Day Now
  7. 25th Floor
  8. Can’t You See?
  9. No Evil Star
  10. Strangers
  11. Barefoot In The Streets
  12. Stony Path
  13. Love Cannot Die

Hot Rise Of An Ice Cream Phoenix was released on August 20, 2021.

What The Hell Happened To Blood, Sweat & Tears? Original Soundtrack (2023) CD Review

I am looking forward to seeing the new documentary What The Hell Happened To Blood, Sweat & Tears? because, while being a fan of the band’s music, I know very little of the story. I know these guys put out some fantastic material over a very short period of time, and then continued in various configurations without duplicating the early success. But that’s about it. And of course the documentary has a damn good soundtrack. What’s interesting (and wonderful) is that the soundtrack is not some ordinary greatest hits package. Sure, the hits are here. But the tracks are live recordings from concerts the band put on in the summer of 1970, at the height of its power, during the Iron Curtain tour. And all the tracks were previously unreleased. Now, how is that for a great soundtrack? The disc contains more than an hour of music. And it includes liner notes from original band member Bobby Colomby and from the film’s director, John Scheinfeld.

The album opens with “Something’s Coming On,” a song written by Joe Cocker and Chris Stainton, and included on the band’s third album. It’s a cool song, with that lonely horn blowing in the middle of the track, and featuring some delicious drumming. The jazzy jam then features some great stuff on organ. That’s followed by “God Bless The Child.” Sure, many people know this song because of Billy Holiday’s original version, but when I was growing up, it was the Blood, Sweat & Tears version that I heard first, and it was that version, from the band’s self-titled album, that made me fall in love with the song. The version here is nearly eight minutes long, and features an excellent vocal performance by David Clayton-Thomas. I love those moments when he pulls us in with a softer delivery and then the horns answer with a powerful burst. In the second half, the band suddenly starts cooking, and everything is working so well. By the way, the sound is excellent. The recordings were restored by Tal Miller at Next Gen Audio, and mixed by Allen Sides and Bobby Colomby.

“Spinning Wheel” is one of the band’s biggest hits, and as soon as they begin it, the crowd begins to clap along. This song was released as a single, and was also included on that incredible self-titled album (an album that should be in everyone’s collection). This is a really good rendition. I’m seriously digging the bass here, and of course the horns totally shine. “Somethin’ Goin’ On” is a song from Child Is Father To The Man, the group’s first album, when Al Kooper was the vocalist in the band. It is a song that Kooper wrote. The band delivers a seriously cool, raw, somewhat wild rendition. It gets loose, and is paired with “Blues – Part II,” a piece from the self-titled album. On this track, the longest of the disc at approximately fifteen and a half minutes, each of the musicians gets a chance to shine. There is a cool lead on bass, followed by an exciting drum solo, and the horns are completely mesmerizing. Toward the end, there are those “Sunshine Of Your Love” and “Spoonful” teases. Oddly, this track fades out at the end while David Clayton-Thomas is singing the lyrics of “Blues – Part II.” Seems like there is more of this song that is not included, perhaps another two minutes.

“Hi-De-Ho” is introduced as a new song “that we have never performed before.” This song was on the band’s third album, which was released in June of 1970. The audience is asked to sing along on the chorus. There is a funny moment during the introduction when the interpreter simply repeats what the band is saying in English rather than translating, leading them to urge him, “In Polish, in Polish.”  This song would be a hit too. It is a cool number, one that always makes me feel good. It was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. This version features another strong vocal performance, and I love that work on harmonica. That is followed by yet another fantastic track from the band’s self-titled album, “And When I Die.” As soon as they start it, the crowd gets excited. This song was written by Laura Nyro, and it features more great stuff on harmonica. I love the playfulness of this song, in some of the music, and in that great line, “I can swear there ain’t no heaven, but I pray there ain’t no hell.” And hey, there is even a shout of “Yee-haw!” “Carry on, children,” he shouts at the end. We then get another gem from that self-titled album, “Sometimes In Winter.” This one is a softer, sweeter number, written by Steve Katz, who provides the lead vocals.

“Smiling Phases” is a song written by Jim Capaldi, Steve Winwood and Chris Wood, and originally recorded by Traffic. But again, it was the Blood, Sweat & Tears version that I heard first. It too was included on that self-titled LP. This live version has a good energy. “Life is what you make it.” That is followed by yet another excellent song from that self-titled album, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.” This is a song that Brenda Holloway co-wrote and recorded first, but to this day I don’t think I’ve heard that version. It’s always been the Blood, Sweat & Tears recording, and the band delivers a really good rendition here. “I’m so glad you came into my life.” I love that vocal riffing toward the end of this version. The album then concludes with “I Can’t Quit Her,” one of the Al Kooper songs from the band’s first album. This one comes on strong, with a powerful vocal performance and a great, raw energy. I’m especially enjoying that guitar. There is a sort of odd ending to the song here.

CD Track List

  1. Something’s Coming On
  2. God Bless The Child
  3. Spinning Wheel
  4. Somethin’ Goin’ On/Blues – Part II
  5. Hi-De-Ho
  6. And When I Die
  7. Sometimes In Winter
  8. Smiling Phases
  9. You’ve Made Me So Very Happy
  10. I Can’t Quit Her

What The Hell Happened To Blood, Sweat & Tears Original Soundtrack is scheduled to be released on April 21, 2023 through Omnivore Recordings.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

The Scarlet Goodbye: “Hope’s Eternal” (2023) CD Review

The Scarlet Goodbye is a Minnesota band led by the duo of Daniel Murphy and Jeff Arundel. Those names are probably familiar to you. Daniel Murphy was the co-founder of Soul Asylum and a member of Golden Smog. Jeff Arundel is a singer and songwriter who has released several solo albums. Their styles and sounds might seem different, but they work so well together. As The Scarlet Goodbye, they released a few singles, and have now put out their first full-length album, Hope’s Eternal. On this album, both Murphy and Arundel provide vocals, play guitar and play piano. In addition, Jeff Arundel plays keyboards and percussion. They are joined by Ben Peterson on drums, Patrick Nelson on bass, Michael W. Nelson on percussion and keyboards, Kenny Wilson on lap steel, Pat Frederick on violin and piano, John Fields on shaker (Fields also mixed the album), and Jeff Victor on keyboards and backing vocals. The album features mostly original material.

The album opens with “Rosary,” in which they sing “Love is like a rosary,” the idea being to hold onto it. But the lines early in the song that grab my attention, also using religious imagery, are “The rapture’s coming, but it’s not for me/Shouldn’t take myself so seriously.” I appreciate the humor of those lines, and the idea behind them. This song was written by Daniel Murphy, and has a sort of relaxed rock vibe. It’s followed by “Panic & Blame,” which has more of a folk vibe as it begins, and is rather pretty. “You’re a bird that never sings” is a line that strikes me as incredibly sad. Being capable of something, something considered essential to your identity, and just not doing it obviously makes us wonder why. The song builds, soon having a fuller sound for the chorus. “Panic and blame running through my brain/I tried and I tried, and I can’t make it change/It’s Saturday night on the downside of town/The band counted four/And sang a song of wanting more.”

“Angel Dust” is more in the rock vein, with a good, steady beat, and guitar work that is slightly reminiscent of The Byrds. The first lines are striking: “Is it starting now/To get real for you somehow/Disavow/Images and sacred cows/Step out of the darkness/There’s something here you might want to see/We too shall find that the ties that bind/Could be our remedy.” There is such a good energy, particularly to the vocal delivery, and some nice guitar work. This is one of my personal favorites. It was written by Daniel Murphy, Jeff Arundel and Pedro Mariani. They mellow things out again at the beginning of “Paris.” This one too has opening lines that grab us: “I heard your name is Paris now/I suppose that you’re for sale.” Though there is a deliciously raw feel to this song, there is also a sweeter aspect to it. Then in the second half, it takes a slight turn, building in energy. Then “Charity” begins with some gentle, soft work on guitar. “Hey, is this Charity?/So glad I had your number on me.” It is interesting that in most of these early tracks they are addressing different individuals, some with unexpected names such as Paris and Charity. This track features some really nice vocal work.

I love that cool percussion and bass line as “Surprised” begins. This song has a somewhat darker, haunted vibe. Each of these songs has a lyric that stands out and pulls me in. In this song it is “She realized it’s the end of the costume party.” That is a strong line, giving us a vivid picture of this character and the situation. Also, it got me to thinking about reality in general, how things often seem to be a costume party, each of us in some form of disguise, playing some sort of charade. And it all has to come to an end at some point, right?  “Surprised” is followed by “The Ballad Of Julie Ann,” which has a darker aspect as well. “But we’ve been listening to liars/We could never seem to read a room.” Interestingly, this one too mentions costumes: “a steamer trunk with old costumes” and “Let’s dress up and play pretend.” But it is that guitar work during the instrumental section in the middle that really stands out for me. This track also contains some nice work on keyboards. It also gives the album its title in the lines, “Because we don’t know if you are coming back/Hope’s eternal when the skies are blue.” This is another of my personal favorites. Its power kind of sneaks up on you.

“Firefly” is another song that addresses an individual: “You say you lost your phone/I think you lost your mind.” Those lines make me smile each time I listen to this disc. And check out these lines: “Did I step on your lines, mangle some phrases/Not see the signs or go to those places/That you hold dear somewhere in your mind/Were we talking in tongues, speaking in code/Was it something inside that was supposed to explode.” And it ends with the line “We’re out of time,” which seems a fitting final line. That’s followed by “Sandy,” a really good pop song, which also addresses a specific person. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I know I never was your Valentine/The poem I wrote didn’t even rhyme/We never had an anniversary/Summer’s going to bring you back to me/Sandy, I’m getting drunk in my car.” Then we get the album’s only cover, “Celebrated Summer,” a song written by Bob Mould and originally recorded by Hüsker Dü and included on the 1985 album New Day Rising. The version here is quite a bit different from the original recording. These guys deliver a sweet rendition, beginning it with that moment in the original when Bob Mould suddenly quiets things down for the line “Then the sun disintegrates between a wall of clouds.” In this version, that is the first line. They then go back to deliver the song’s first lines.

“Fresh New Hell” has an intriguing opening, and is a song that comes out of the pandemic. “Who can I turn to/Never knew I’d look so good on you/Should we kill the virus.” And with lines like “We’re in some kind of fresh new hell” and “Don’t start with me, I’m not in the mood,” this is a song that is completely speaking to me right now. Things have been pretty screwed up in what I can see of the world, the pandemic only a part of it, and this song seems to speak to all of it. “If you feel a need, I want to feel it too/It’s not what we’ve done, it’s what we ought to do.” It looks at the larger world, then pulls it in closer for lines like “We wrote some songs in quarantine/Mostly sad songs, the way things are and often seem.” Haven’t we all been affected by this strange time? The song has a false ending before its odd final moments. The album concludes with “Minor Things,” a gentle and moving song, a strange sort of longing to it. “And I don’t think that this is how it was meant to be/You fell sick and I can’t catch a cold/Sing to me in harmonies/Childhood melodies/Of minor things in a major key/Please.” That “Please” offered on its own just kills me. There is some wonderful work on violin, and this song is strangely beautiful. It also hit me hard, making me think of my dad’s struggle with dementia last year. “No one wants to die all alone/Hearing voices through the trees/Making choices that no one sees.” This is another of the disc’s highlights.

CD Track List

  1. Rosary
  2. Panic & Blame
  3. Angel Dust
  4. Paris
  5. Charity
  6. Surprised
  7. The Ballad Of Julie Ann
  8. Firefly
  9. Sandy
  10. Celebrated Summer
  11. Fresh New Hell
  12. Minor Things

Hope’s Eternal was released on March 24, 2023 on Angel Dust Records, and is available on CD and vinyl.