Sunday, April 30, 2023

Dex Romweber: “Good Thing Goin’” (2023) CD Review

Dex Romweber is known for his work in Flat Duo Jets, which he started with drummer Chris Smith in the 1980s when they were still in high school. Since the breakup of that group, Romweber has pursued a solo career, releasing albums under his own name and as the Dex Romweber Duo with his sister Sara Romweber (who was also a member of Let’s Active). His new album, Good Thing Goin’, is dedicated to Sara’s memory (she died in 2019). It features a mix of original material and covers. Joining him on this release are Mark Simonsen on piano, organ, bass, guitar, drums, conga, and tympani (Simonsen also produced the album); Dave Schmitt on drums; Aaron Oliva on double bass and electric bass; Crowmeat Bob Pence on tenor saxophone and baritone saxophone; and Laura Thomas on violin. There are some other guests on certain tracks.

The album opens with its title track, “A Good Thing Going,” which was written by Engelbert Humperdinck (who himself is releasing a new album in a couple of days). I love the opening lines: “We had a good thing going/It’s all over now.” That is basically how a lot of us felt about this country in 2016, and in the years since. But in this song, of course, he’s singing about a relationship. The original version was included on Engelbert Humperdinck’s 1969 album Engelbert. Dex Romweber delivers a seriously good rendition, completely throwing himself into it. And on certain words, when his voice takes on a raw edge, there is something of a Beatles feel. This track features some nice backing vocal work by Taz Halloween, Jody Kidney and Kristy Benson, who add to its energy. Kevin Dixon is on guitar, Stu Cole is on bass, Mike Walters is on organ, and Hunter Landon is on percussion. That’s followed by a cover of “If You Love Me (Really Love Me),” here titled simply “If You Love Me.” This track features a strong vocal performance. And again, he completely inhabits the song. It has that classic sound and vibe, particularly in the guitar work and that work by Laura Thomas on violin. “If you love me, really love me/Let it happen, darling, I won’t care.”

“Going Down” is the first of the album’s original compositions, though it too has a wonderful classic sound, with some delicious, moody work on saxophone and a raw edge. “I’m going down/I’m going down,” he repeats here. And man, there is no doubt about it, with that slow steady, brooding rhythm and sound. And we are right there with him. I fucking love this. That dark work on saxophone is just perfect. This is one of my favorite tracks. Melissa Swingle plays the saw on it. Then we get a cool, dark sort of rockabilly in his cover of Johnny Horton’s “Comin’ Home.” When he sings that he’s coming home, it sounds like it might contain a threat. Right? There is something ominous in the sound. Or perhaps together they’ll do something questionable, not to each other, but to the town he says they’re going to do tonight. Look out, citizenry!

“Andrieux Boogie” is an original composition, but again with a vibe from the past, and featuring the saxophone delivering some delicious work. And we get some delightful work on piano. This instrumental track is a lot of fun. I like that percussion. Really, everything about this is wonderful. I just wish it were a little longer. Then his cover of “For All We Know” comes as a surprise, in the way it is handled. This one is a solo effort, with Dex Romweber on piano and vocals, quite a bit different from that Hal Kemp recording from the 1930s, or the Dinah Washington or Spinners versions from the 1960s. It is kind of mesmerizing, which works well with the lines “For all we know/This could only be a dream.” And yes, it seems a good possibility, doesn’t it? “We come and we go/Like the ripples, like the ripples in the stream.” And then the song grows in power when he gets to the point: “So, baby, love me tonight/For tomorrow was only meant for some.”

When I was in my teens, I started to get really into the music of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and also into some of the films that came out during that time. One day I rented a videocassette of a movie called Wild In The Streets, and I loved it. The cast includes Hal Holbrook, Shelley Winters, Richard Pryor and Christopher Jones. There is a lot to enjoy about this movie, but certainly one of the main things is the music, particularly the song “Shape Of Things To Come,” which was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Well. You know, the team responsible for “We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” and “Shades Of Gray.” Well, Dex Romweber delivers a cool cover of it here. As much as I can recall the original, this one seems fairly faithful, and Dex Romweber at times offers a howling sort of vocal approach. I’m going to have to revisit that movie at some point. I believe I have the DVD around here somewhere. That’s followed by another instrumental track, “Twine Time.” It features some nice work on organ, and a drum solo in the middle, but it is that guitar work that I especially love about this track.

Perhaps the most surprising choice of covers on this album is “Tell Laura I Love Her.” It was written by Jeff Barry and Ben Raleigh, and was a hit for Ray Peterson. It had been a long time since I’d listened to this song, and I had completely forgotten that spoken word introduction. This is one of those teen tragedy songs that were popular for a time, and later poked fun at by “The Homecoming Queen’s Got A Gun” (which I suppose is no longer funny, due to this country’s grotesque love affair with mass shootings at schools and other places). Anyway, Dex Romweber delivers an earnest rendition, reminding us that this is actually a good song, a song with merit. Katherine Simonsen and Matt Levy provide backing vocals on this track. That’s followed by “Saturday Morning,” an original composition. This is a fun one. Here are its opening lines: “Friday morning/Got to go to bed/Who cares about the shape I’m in, the shape I’m in/Wish I was dead/Friday morning/Got to go to bed.” The next stanza is “Saturday morning,” but the rest of the lines are the same. Yeah, it’s totally delightful. On this one he is joined only by Mark Simonsen on drums, bass and piano. Mark Simonsen also plays bass and drums on “Sally,” another original song. I like that sudden change, which occurs twice, when he sings “You must think I’m a whore/You must think I’m a bore/I’m just getting off tour.” The album then concludes with a cover of Bert Kaempfert’s “I Found My Love,” a tune that was included on Kaempfert’s 1974 album The Most Beautiful Girl. This rendition features some good work on organ and saxophone.

CD Track List

  1. A Good Thing Going
  2. If You Love Me
  3. Going Down
  4. Comin’ Home
  5. Andrieux Boogie
  6. For All We Know
  7. Shape Of Things To Come
  8. Twine Time
  9. Tell Laura I Love Her
  10. Saturday Morning
  11. Sally
  12. I Found My Love

Good Thing Goin’ is scheduled to be released May 5, 2023 on Propeller Sound Recordings.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Jorma Kaukonen: “Live At The Bottom Line” (2023) CD Review

I’ve been a fan of Jorma Kaukonen’s work since my early teens, with of course the Jefferson Airplane albums functioning as my starting point. In 1989, I was lucky enough to attend a concert during the Jefferson Airplane reunion tour, where we were not only treated to two sets of Airplane, but a short set by Hot Tuna, Kaukonen’s side project with Jack Casady. It was a great night at Great Woods. And while Jefferson Airplane did not continue after that tour, Hot Tuna is still touring, still going strong. And likewise Jorma Kaukonen’s solo career is still going. And just last fall, the official release of The Legendary Typewriter Tape:6/25/64 Jorma’s House gave us a chance to hear Jorma a year or so before the founding of Jefferson Airplane (along with Janis Joplin before the creation of Big Brother And The Holding Company). It was released on vinyl as part of the Black Friday Record Store Day. And there have been some other recent Jorma Kaunonen Record Store Day releases, including Christmas, The Land Of Heroes and Too Many Years. Now Omnivore Recordings is giving us a two-disc live recording of a concert Jorma Kaukonen performed on August 8, 2003 at the Bottom Line in New York City. He did two shows at that venue that night, and this release contains the early show. Joining the singer and guitarist on these tracks are Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin, octave mandolin, tenor guitar and tenor banjo; and Cindy Cashdollar on steel guitar. This release includes liner notes by Gregg Bendian, along with a photo of a ticket stub from the concert.

Disc One

Jorma Kaukonen begins the show with “Blue Railroad Train,” which was the lead track on what was then his most recent release, 2002’s Blue Country Heart. It’s a song written by Alton Delmore and Rabon Delmore, and recorded by the Delmore Brothers in the 1930s. Jorma Kaukonen delivers a really good rendition, featuring some delicious work on guitar with a rather cheerful vibe. There is also some nice work on mandolin, particularly during the instrumental section in the middle of the track. Yes, this is certainly a good start to the show. That’s followed by another song that Jorma Kaukonen included on Blue Country Heart, Jimmie  Rodgers’ “Waiting For A Train.” What better way to start a night of folk, country and blues music than with a couple of classic train songs? He delivers more excellent work guitar here. And, by the way, the sound is really good. Everything is clear, and if you close your eyes, it’s easy to imagine you’re in the room with the musicians.

We next are treated to a cover of “Re-enlistment Blues,” a song written by James Jones, Robert Wells and Fred Karger, and recorded by Merle Travis in 1953. Jorma Kaukonen included it on The Land Of Heroes, which was released in 1995. “You know, I hit the bars Wednesday/Made me some friends on my own/I found a pretty baby/She wouldn’t leave me alone/Kept me buying booze.” And something about that familiar rhythm has me smiling. There is some good jamming on this track, and we can hear the crowd’s appreciative response. There is a bit of stage banter before they go into a cool rendition of “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” a blues number written by Rev. Gary Davis. He jokes about how the song makes people so happy. This is one that I first heard as done by the Grateful Dead, who included it on Live/Dead. Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady included this song on the first Hot Tuna album, released in 1970. The version here is approximately eight minutes long and contains some excellent playing. So, yeah, despite the song’s subject, this actually might make some folks happy. The musicians are clearly into it.

The first original song of the night, “Do Not Go Gentle,” is a tune from The Land Of Heroes. Jorma Kaukonen introduces it by telling the audience, “This song I wrote for my dad is after a Dylan Thomas poem,” and reminds folks that the poem itself has a different title, something I forget. I always think it’s called “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” Anyway, it’s a rather pretty instrumental. I like this rendition more than the studio recording. Jorma Kaukonen then returns to Blue Country Heart for “I’m Free From The Chain Gang Now.” In the introduction, he talks about how they followed a polka band at a gig in Bozeman, Montana a few days earlier on the tour (that was August 2nd at the Sweet Pea Festival). This is a sweeter-sounding folk number. “Know my mother’s poor heart was broken/For she knew that an untruth was spoken/There were tears on the mail/That she sent me in jail/And I’m free of the chain gang now.” That is followed by another song included on Blue Country Heart, “Blues Stay Away From Me,” which is another song by the Delmore Brothers. This track features some really nice vocal work, some good blending of their voices. “Love was never meant for me/True love was never meant for me/Seems somehow we never can agree.” This is one of my personal favorite tracks. It features some beautiful work on steel guitar, and some wonderfully sad lines, like these: “Life is full of misery/Dreams are like a memory/Bringing back your love that used to be.” The audience clearly appreciates this one too.

“I’ll Let You Know Before I Leave” is another original number, this one from his album Quah. And in the introduction, they talk about how that album was finally re-issued, with bonus tracks, and that it was available at the merchandise table, along with T-shirts. By the way, that introduction is included at the end of the previous track, rather than at the beginning of this one. “I’ll Let You Know Before I Leave” is a cool instrumental tune, this version featuring some good work on steel guitar. Jorma then goes back to Blue Country Heart for the show’s second Jimmie Rodgers song, “Red River Blues,” a more energetic number featuring some wonderful playing. The first disc concludes with another original composition, “Living In The Moment,” which would be included on Kaukonen’s 2007 album Stars In My Crown. When introducing it, Jorma and Cindy also talk about how the song was recorded for one of Cindy Cashdollar’s albums, Slide Show, at that time also not yet released (it would be released in 2004). This is a beautiful instrumental number, making living in the moment sound like a natural, relaxing thing to do, something we’d be crazy not to do ourselves.

Disc Two

The second disc opens with “Good Shepherd,” a song that was included on the Jefferson Airplane album Volunteers. In the introduction, Jorma makes no mention of that, instead saying they were going to “do an old spiritual song called ‘Good Shepherd.’” The audience of course is excited, as was I when I saw him do this song that night back in 1989. This is a wonderful version, featuring some excellent work on guitar. These guys allow themselves to stretch out on this one, and toward the end the song builds in power before returning to the main theme. This track is more than eleven minutes long, and it’s fantastic. That’s followed by “Uncle Sam Blues,” another song that was included on that first Hot Tuna record. It’s a great old blues number, and again the musicians get to stretch out a bit on this one, delivering an excellent blues jam. There is some stage banter and tuning at the end of the track, with Jorma joking that it might become a song, singing “Talk about your tuning problem.”

Jorma Kaukonen then goes back to Blue Country Heart for “Prohibition Blues,” a delightful blues tune. And it sounds like there is a brief nod to “Wipe Out,” which some folks in the audience seem to catch as well, but just as they react, that little nod is over, making us wonder if we heard it right after all. Well, no matter. This is a completely enjoyable track. There is some stage banter at the end of the track, where they talk about how different regions react to certain lines in the song. That’s followed by “I Am The Light Of This World,” the second Rev. Gary Davis song covered at this show, and one that Jorma Kaukonen had included on Quah. This one has a much more gentle feel than “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” and there is some more tuning and stage banter after it. “Didn’t you just get inducted into the Western Swing Hall of Fame?” Jorma says to Cindy, giving her a chance to talk about that honor.

The final song of the set is also the final of the show’s songs from Blue Country Heart, “Just Because,” a song written by Hubert Nelson and James Touchstone. Interestingly, Jorma again mentions the polka band in Bozeman, relating how those guys played this song too. It’s a playful number, with lyrics like “Well, just because you think you’re so pretty/Just because you think you’re so hot/Because you think you’ve got something nobody else has got.” The encore is “Hesitation Blues,” which was the lead track from that first Hot Tuna album. There is a bit of banter at the beginning, leading him to introduce the song as “The Excitation Blues.” What a great way to close the night (well, the first show of the night), with a delightful number with plenty of jamming.

CD Track List

Disc One

  1. Blue Railroad Train
  2. Waiting For A Train
  3. Re-Enlistment Blues
  4. Death Don’t Have No Mercy
  5. Do Not Go Gentle
  6. I’m Free From The Chain Gang Now
  7. Blues Stay Away From Me
  8. I’ll Let You Know Before I Leave
  9. Red River Blues
  10. Living In The Moment

Disc Two

  1. Good Shepherd
  2. Uncle Sam Blues
  3. Prohibition Blues
  4. I Am The Light Of This World
  5. Just Because
  6. Hesitation Blues

Live At The Bottom Line is scheduled to be release on May 26, 2023 through Omnivore Recordings.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Ally Fiola & The Next Quest: “Interblaze” (2023) CD Review

Ally Fiola is a saxophonist and composer based in Nova Scotia, known for her work in Unidentified Funk Object. She released her first album as band leader, Dreaming Away, in 2018, and is now following that with Interblaze, an album of mostly original compositions. Ally Fiola plays alto saxophone on this release. Joining her are Jeff Coffin (whom you know from his work with Bela Fleck & The Flecktones and Dave Matthews Band) on tenor saxophone, Chris Mitchell on baritone saxophone, Simon Oakey on trombone, Addison Sowery-Quinn on sousaphone, Shvan Kaban on guitar, Glenn Patscha (who has played with Willie Nelson and Bonnie Raitt, among others) on keys and accordion, and Andrew Miller on drums. Most of these musicians, apart from Addison Sowery-Quinn, did not play on her previous album. This release was produced by Ally Fiola and Chris Mitchell.

The album opens with its title track, “Interblaze,” which has funky groove, the music seeming to burst forth from a joyful place inside. It feels like it’s announcing an imminent party, one we can all take part in, and that main theme is certainly catchy. And there is a whole lot of great stuff on saxophone. There is also a playful element to this track, one section reminding me of the delight of The Muppet Show. That kind of joy, that sense of play, you know? And there is a short drum solo before the end. So basically this track gives me everything I could want. Then the sousaphone has a prominent spot in “Back Track,” right from the beginning, and there is a sense of an odd carnival, that sort of atmosphere. This track has a cool vibe, with something of a New Orleans flavor, which I love. And I dig how loose things get at certain moments. I am particularly fond of the work on drums. And the way the horns swirl and dance makes the whole thing a delight. It is a totally enjoyable tune. That’s followed by “Circular Beginnings,” which has a mellower, more thoughtful feel as it starts, moving at an easygoing pace, but still with plenty of wonderful work from the brass section. And there is a good lead on organ in the second half.

“Intuition” is another fun one, with some funk elements and a catchy theme. And then a minute in, it takes a turn, gaining a sort of down-home flavor, feeling like a gathering on someone’s porch or in someone’s yard. An interesting turn that works well. A minute later we are back in that funkier territory, and it all feels so natural. There is some soulful work on organ, and a drum solo in the second half. Chris Mitchell did the arrangement for this track. Then “Rocket Sunrise” begins with a brief drum introduction, and has a surprisingly mellow start, considering its title. It’s more sunrise than rocket, though apparently the song is named after her dog. There is a sweet and fond aspect to this piece, particularly in the work on saxophone, and I dig that work on organ. This one also contains a short drum solo. Another surprise is that a tune titled “Thoughts Of Home” would start is such a bluesy place with that guitar work. There is a certain power that builds during the track, but these thoughts of home are tinged with anguish and a yearning, heard particularly in that guitar work but also in the horns.

There is just a bit of studio banter heard before the musicians start “Underground.” This one has a delightful, playful vibe, particularly in that main theme early on. This track also features nice work on keys. This is the final of the album’s original compositions. The album concludes with its sole cover, “Amazing Grace,” with an arrangement by Ally Fiola, the horns sort of acting like bagpipes at the beginning. Then a minute or so into the track, it takes on a cool groove, shifting tones, and including a nod to Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” (“just call on me, brother, when you need a hand”), which works really well, flowing naturally. The musicians take the song in other interesting directions after that, delivering a lively, cheerful rendition, with everyone having moments to shine. In the liner notes, Ally Fiola says this track is a tribute to her grandfather, who died last year. It is a moving, joyful and fun way to celebrate someone’s memory.

CD Track List

  1. Interblaze
  2. Back Track
  3. Circular Beginnings
  4. Intuition
  5. Rocket Sunrise
  6. Thoughts Of Home
  7. Underground
  8. Amazing Grace

Interblaze was released on March 10, 2023.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Tina Hartt: “Absence Of You” (2023) CD Review

Tina Hartt is a jazz vocalist and composer who is originally from Montreal, and now based in Calgary. She recorded her first album, You Don’t Know Me, back in 2000, and though she has been performing since then, she did not release another album until this year. Absence Of You contains a mix of original compositions and covers, and, not surprisingly since so much time has passed, it features a completely different band backing her. Joining her on this release are Konrad Pluta on piano and accordion, Jeff Fafard on drums and percussion, Rob Hutchinson on double bass, Jonathan D. Lewis on viola and violin, Luis Tovar on percussion, dric Blary on clarinet, Keith O’Rourke on baritone saxophone, André Wickenheiser on flugelhorn, and Nick Bettcher on guitar. Tina Hartt sings in both English and French on these tracks. The album was produced by Konrad Pluta and Tina Hartt.

The album gets off to a beautiful start with a fantastic rendition of “Amour, Castagnettes Et Tango,” a song that was written by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, as “Hernando’s Hideaway,” for the musical The Pajama Game, and soon given French lyrics by Francois Llenas and Georges Bérard, and recorded by Gloria Lasso. It is a delicious tango, featuring some excellent work by Jonathan D. Lewis. And Tina Hartt’s delivery is wonderful. It is sexy, dramatic and playful. The song is sung mostly in French, but with a few lines delivered in English, and at least one in Spanish. Tina Hartt clearly knows how to get every listener under her spell with the very first track of the album. That is followed by an original composition, “Trust Your Heart.” The first lines make me smile: “Trust your heart, some say/But my head wouldn’t listen.” I love those lines, and I think we can all relate to them. This is a sweet song with a touch of melancholy. “Still the years stumbled on/Careful choices went wrong.” This one also features some really good work on strings, exploring a completely different mood from the first track. The tone and rhythm change a bit on the line, “Friends say try a little love affair,” which works well, as if for that moment she is considering the advice. But soon the mood shifts back as she dismisses the idea.

“Absence Of You,” the album’s title track, is another original composition. It has an interesting opening, with some good work on piano, and drama or tension in the strings, building toward something. “This grey day/Reflects my state of mind/Like the sun/Somehow it lost its shine/Know how it feels/I feel that way too/I’m kind of lost/In the absence of you.” Ah, but soon we learn it is mutual, for she sings, “When I clearly see/You are kind of lost/In the absence of me.” Then the song’s rhythm becomes the focus, carrying the music, like a dance. The piece then returns to the music of that opening instrumental section before moving toward a very cool lead on saxophone. I love these shifts in mood and style that seem to be a part of her approach, giving the songs the feeling of being stories, or of telling stories. Tina Hartt then delivers a cover of “Kiss Of Fire,” a song by Ángel Villoldo, which was then given English lyrics by Lester Allen and Robert Hill. Romance is thriving in this music, an exciting sort of romance that is undeniably sexy. “Since I first kissed you, my heart was yours completely/If I’m a slave, then it’s a slave I want to be/Don’t pity me, don’t pity me.” This one features accordion. And I love the work on strings as well, and the way the strings work with the accordion. But the main draw is Tina’s strong vocal performance. Toward the end, she delivers some lively scat. “Love me tonight, let the devil take tomorrow.”

“La Bohème” was written by Jacques Plante and Charles Aznavour. This one features some beautifully sad work on strings at the beginning, and another strong, passionate and moving vocal delivery. This one is, obviously, delivered in French. The music takes us into memory, making an earlier time come back in vibrant images, the violin working particularly well in that regard. The music and mood get lighter again with “J’attendrai,” also sung in French. Though there is a longing in this song, there seems to be a joy in the longing, like she is sure he’ll return to her, or at least she finds some comfort and pleasure in the waiting. You can hear that in her voice. What a beautiful performance. I also love the clarinet. The mood becomes more somber for her cover of “Ne Me Quitte Pas.” Tina Hartt delivers a stunning vocal performance. I don’t speak French, and yet was moved to tears by her performance. The longing is palpable, the sad desire. You can hear how futile it is, how doomed she is. The feeling of a dance returns for “I Can Look But I Can’t Touch,” an original composition in which she sings, “Don’t let this moment slip away/I can dream, but I can’t lie/You’d never ask, but could I follow.” Lines like these make this song a good choice to follow “Ne Me Quitte Pas.” This track features some wonderful stuff on flugelhorn.

Tina Hartt delivers a delightful rendition of “Paris S’éveille La Nuit,” a song written by Amália Rodrigues. There is something sweet and lovely about this song, and especially about her vocal performance. That’s followed by “J’ai Perdu Mon Coeur,” the final of the album’s original compositions, this one delivered in both French and English. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I am lost, can’t you see?/J’ai perdu mon coeur/Bring my heart back to me.” There is so much passion in her delivery. It would be difficult to not fall for her, to not be drawn to her. This track features some delicious percussion, and then a nice lead on bass. This wonderful album then concludes with a cover of “La Vie En Rose,” featuring another beautiful and moving vocal performance.

CD Track List

  1. Amour, Castagnettes At Tango
  2. Trust Your Heart
  3. Absence Of You
  4. Kiss Of Fire
  5. La Bohème
  6. J’Attendrai
  7. Ne Me Quitte Pas
  8. I Can Look But I Can’t Touch
  9. Paris S’éveille La Nuit
  10. J’ai Perdu Mon Coeur
  11. La Vie En Rose

Absence Of You was released on February 17, 2023.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Evelyn Cools: “Wilder Mind” (2023) CD Review

Evelyn Cools is a singer and songwriter originally from Belgium, and now living in the United States. In 2020, she released an EP titled Misfit Paradise, which featured some beautiful original material. I particularly enjoyed “Yosemite,” which is about getting out of the city and finding a more natural and wild landscape. And she is now releasing a new EP, Wilder Mind, featuring four original compositions. As with the earlier EP, this one was produced by Enrique Lara, and was recorded in different spots across the country, including Evelyn Cools’ home in New Jersey and Enrique Lara’s home in Los Angeles. Evelyn Cools provides the vocals, including her own backing vocals, and plays acoustic guitar on these tracks. Enrique Lara plays a lot of the instruments, including electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, drums and synthesizers, and also provides some backing vocals.

The EP opens with “Loving You,” which was released as the disc’s first single. Evelyn Cools chooses a gentle, soothing approach, the vocals having an ethereal quality at the beginning. “And all I know in this moment/I want to love you/For all that you are/All that you are/I want to hold you.” It is a pretty song, with a dreamlike feel to it. And isn’t that how we think of love at times? “There is nothing like loving you,” she sings. The song combines folk and pop elements, and features Jeff Howell on piano. At one point, she sings “Skipping stones in the ocean,” which is one of my favorite things to do. It is probably the most relaxing thing I do, and so that image itself works to put me in a relaxed mood, in a good place. That’s followed by the EP’s title track, “Wilder Mind.” I mentioned that “Yosemite” was my favorite track from the earlier EP. Like that one, this song also takes us into nature, at least at the start, opening with the lines “Somewhere on a mountain top/I heard you call my name.” From there, it goes into memory, which is a different part of nature, I suppose. Here she sings, “Once upon a different life/I felt a little peace/Long lost stories in my head/Resurface like a dream.” This one has a sweet pop vibe. Jeff Howell plays organ on this track, and Ron Kaplan is on bass. “All I want is to believe/A greater world locked inside of me.”

Evelyn Cools then goes more into the folk realm with “Control,” with acoustic guitars driving the song at the beginning. Adam Tressler joins her on acoustic guitar, electric guitar and baritone guitar, and Ron Kaplan is on fretless bass. These lines are so beautifully sad: “You pull me in so close/But I’m already drifting away, away, away.” And the way she delivers them, particularly the way she repeats “away,” we can almost hear her drifting farther away each time the word is said. And that third “away” sounds so final. The song then kicks in for the chorus, but maintains a pretty and gentle sound. This is my personal favorite track on this disc. “I fear that I’m losing it all.” The EP then concludes with “Into Your World,” which is also more in the folk realm, Evelyn Cools performing it solo. Here are the song’s opening lines: “Love, be still/You have nothing left to give/Hold my hand/You’ve been waiting for so long to land.” And I love the way she delivers the line “The world is feeling dark again,” especially how she gives a brief pause before the word “again,” which subtly changes the meaning, or rather adds to it, hinting that we’ve been here before, and so perhaps we can make it through again. And indeed, that seems to be the case, for soon she sings, “We find our home/In the middle of this treacherous road/And stronger we grow/If you let me into your world.” This is another beautiful song.

CD Track List

  1. Loving You
  2. Wilder Mind
  3. Control
  4. Into Your World

Wilder Mind is scheduled to be released on June 2, 2023.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Shawn Maxwell: “Story At Eleven” (2023) CD Review

Do television broadcasts still contain those little news story teases followed by the promise, “Story at eleven”? I don’t watch television much anymore, so I wonder. But that phrase certainly still conjures up those images, and that serious tone, for those stories were all about rather serious, scary subjects, and, if I recall correctly, often contained warnings. So that was going through my head as I put on Story At Eleven, the new album from saxophonist and composer Shawn Maxwell. This album is different from his previous releases, in that it contains four long tracks, all connected thematically. All four are original compositions. Joining Shawn Maxwell on this release are Collin Clauson on organ, Michael Barton on electric bass, and Greg Essig on drums. The album was produced by Shawn Maxwell and Nick Eipers.

The album opens with “Appointment With…,” which kind of eases in, the first moments like a curtain being opened to reveal a new day, with the hope and magic of that moment. And then as we take a look, there is something uneasy about what we view, as if the daylight were a trick, and we are in some sort of twilight. Expectations are set aside, and we find ourselves at the beginning of a journey. There seems to be just one path to travel upon, sort of like in a dream where we feel there are no choices, and whether we know or not where we are heading, we must go. That repeated them indicates as much. Interestingly, just as the music is getting more intense and busier, starting to rush toward some sort of possible confrontation, there is a pause, a breath, a silence, almost like closing one’s eyes to avoid facing whatever it is. And it works, for when the music begins again, we are in a calmer state. Things then begin to build again, but there is not that same sort of apprehension, that same worry. And I love the work on drums here. As things then mellow a bit once again, the saxophone works as a soothing agent for a time, before leading us into more interesting territory.  And then there is another pause, another breath, and the track returns us to that initial theme. It is as if we cannot escape that path. We are going to keep that appointment referred to in the tune’s title, one way or another.

“Internal Rift” begins with drums, but somewhat softly, as if at a distance. It’s not a beat that invites us to dance or sway, but a beat that seems to announce something, to call attention to a presence. The bass soon adds its voice, and we get the sense of something somber. When the organ is added, that somber sense continues. It has a strange, almost spiritual element too, the organ reminding me vaguely of church. It isn’t until Shawn Maxwell comes in on saxophone that the music begins to feel closer to us, and more inviting, though all the other elements remain in place. And then things change, and open up into a wider, brighter place. Or perhaps we are just now within the sound rather than looking on, and have adjusted our perspective, and we get some nice work on organ. Approximately halfway through the track, there is some hesitation. Perhaps we are unsure just how to proceed, and so we take short, tentative steps. And then, though we may still be unsure, we move more quickly forward, and things get gloriously wild. The track features some excellent work on saxophone and some intriguing use of percussion.

“Near Surrender” begins in a somewhat relaxed space. There is something tentative, yet pretty in the playing. Cautiously optimistic, perhaps. And interestingly, there is a lead on bass before long, that instrument seeming to suggest that things are going to be all right, for, though it emerges from the main theme, it feels able to step apart from it, if briefly. And then things take a sudden, unexpected turn, the saxophone leading the way, offering exclamations or interjections, before returning to that mellower place. Though now the saxophone is quicker to raise its voice, as if finding a way to create a new path and eager to lead us along it. There is an excitement in the playing. And soon there is a drum solo, one that is allowed to take its time to develop, which is great, for the power that emerges is felt much more strongly. The track returns to its main them at the end.

The album concludes with “Answer & Arrival.” Here the saxophone seems ready from the start to reach a more cheerful place, and feels more certain that it is possible. Sure, we’ll need some reassurance along the way, and the saxophone delivers it, along with the organ, in an early section. And then the saxophone freely expresses an excitement, even a joy, as the journey now seems something that we have a say in. We can alter the path, and therefore perhaps the outcome. At least, that feels to be the promise here. And yet, there is no rush forward. No need, now that we feel better about the journey itself. Things are lighter. And then when the goal is in sight, there is that final joyous push forward.

CD Track List

  1. Appointment With…
  2. Internal Rift
  3. Near Surrender
  4. Answer & Arrival

Story At Eleven was released on March 24, 2023.