Monday, July 31, 2023

Mick Jagger’s 80th Birthday Stones V Beatles Bash, 7-30-23 Concert Review

RJ Bloke performing "19th Nervous Breakdown"
On July 26th, Mick Jagger turned 80, and to celebrate the occasion, a special concert was held yesterday at Tom Bergin’s in Los Angeles. RJ Bloke (Jay Souza, of Patrolled By Radar) hosts Bigtop Bandstand Summer Concert Series, a weekly concert series in a large tent outside of the bar, and this was a deviation from the normal format of two bands playing from 6 to 8 p.m. A total of twelve artists performed, and the show started two hours earlier than usual. Each artist played three songs – one Rolling Stones song, one Beatles song, and one original.

Los Angeles is in the middle of a heat wave (actually, I hear much of the country is suffering from extreme temperatures), and the tent, while providing some shade, did not do much to stop the heat, though there were misters set up. RJ Bloke began the show. “It’s hotter than two rats fornicating in a wool sock,” he noted. “I don’t say that often. If ever.” He then opened the show with “19th Nervous Breakdown,” one of my personal favorites. My grandfather bought Hot Rocks for me on vinyl when I was a kid, and that was a song that stood out to me then. He followed that with his Beatles selection, “She Said She Said,” one of the best songs from Revolver. RJ Bloke chose not to do an original number, in order to keep things moving. He was followed by Stephanie Erin Wittmer, who began her set with her Beatles choice. Interestingly, it wasn’t a Beatles original. She chose “Act Naturally,” a song originally recorded by Buck Owens. She was one of two artists who picked covers for their Beatles songs, the other being The Doohickeys, who played “Twist And Shout,” which was originally recorded by the Top Notes and made a hit by The Isley Brothers before The Beatles released their version in 1963. Kind of strange, with all the great original Beatles songs to choose from, that two artists played covers. Anyway, Stephanie Erin Wittmer, for her Stones selection, played “Dead Flowers,” from the great Sticky Fingers album. “When Jay asked me to do this, I Googled ‘Easiest Rolling Stones song,’” Stephanie said in her introduction. Her original number was “Always Been A Sucker,” a song from her Pilot EP. Greg West accompanied her on guitar, and then his band performed next. From Exile On Main St., Greg West picked “Sweet Virginia.” And for his Beatles song, he played “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” first telling the crowd: “This next one we practiced. It’s hard. The Beatles were a studio band when they did this one.” And indeed, The Beatles had stopped performing two years before The White Album was released (the famous rooftop show being the only exception). Well, the band delivered a really good rendition.

The Doohickeys were up next, and for their Stones song, chose “Honky Tonk Women.” It was a fun rendition, even though the bridge to Haley’s violin broke during it. But, as she said afterward, there’s no fiddle needed for “Twist And Shout,” which was, as I mentioned, their Beatles choice. Curt Barlage played his original song first, then delivered a really nice rendition of The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down.” He followed that with his Stones selection, “Street Fighting Man.” Eagle Noise played “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” (from the White Album) and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” that second song leading straight into their original number, “Eager Noise Jr.” A few folks in the audience wore either Beatles or Rolling Stones T-shirts, and the bass player for Eagle Noise made it clear where her allegiance lay, from the style of bass she played to her T-shirt, which read “Who the fuck is Mick Jagger?” Frisky Jones played “I Saw Her Standing There,” from The Beatles’ first album, Please Please Me. They then talked about how Mick Jagger is an underrated lyricist and how he’s written some brilliant songs. “This song is not one of them” was the introduction to “She’s So Cold,” a song from Emotional Rescue. It’s true that “She’s So Cold” is no lyrical masterpiece, but it’s still one hell of a fun song, and Frisky Jones delivered a good rendition. The band’s original song, “Full Face Leather Mask,” was also a lot of fun, and the audience sang along to this punk number. From punk to bluegrass? Why not? Gilbert Louie Ray Band followed Frisky Jones, playing the Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper” and The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends,” both excellent choices. I also enjoyed the band’s original number, “Lonesome Can Of Beer.”

This is Jay Souza’s concert series, and this show was his idea, and so not only did he open the show as RJ Bloke, but his band, Patrolled By Radar, also did a set. For the Stones song, the band played “Waiting On A Friend,” from the Tattoo You album, released in 1981 (the most recent Stones song of the evening). This is one that Patrolled By Radar had played in concert before, and these guys did a wonderful job with it. They then did their original song, “The Widow Next Door,” before going into The Beatles’ “For No One,” a song from Revolver, Jay adding some nice harmonica work to it. Patrolled By Radar was followed by Wyman & The Wolves, who played “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” and “Paint It Black.” They totally nailed both songs, and I especially loved the sitar-guitar work on “Paint It Black.” They joked before staring their original song, “These are the shortest sets ever.” Then Kilo Bravo took the stage, a band from Long Beach, “not to be confused with Kilo Tango, not from Long Beach,” they joked. Kilo Tango was scheduled as part of the lineup for the show, slated to play between Gilbert Louie Ray Band and Patrolled By Radar, but wasn’t able to make it. Kilo Bravo chose “Dig A Pony” from Let It Be, and “Some Girls,” the title track to the Stones’ 1978 LP. One of the best original songs of the evening was Kilo Bravo’s “Don’t Count On Me,” and the band jammed on it. I need to get a copy of Kilo Bravo’s Chew This Slow record. The final band of the evening was Ryan Hahn & The Believers. “Thank you, Mick Jagger, for existing,” Ryan Hahn said before starting the set. “And thank you to the Beatles for also existing.” They decided to begin with their original song, “Alright.” Then from Some Girls, they chose “Beast Of Burden,” and wrapped up the show with “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” from Abbey Road. That was a fantastic ending to a wonderful evening of music. The show ended at 8:15 p.m., exactly four hours after it began.

Here are some photos from the show:

Stephanie Erin Wittmer performing "Act Naturally"

Greg West performing "Sweet Virginia"

The Doohickeys performing "Honky Tonk Women"

Curt Barlage performing "Don't Let Me Down"

Eagle Noise performing "Happiness Is A Warm Gun"

Who the fuck is Mick Jagger?

Frisky Jones performing "She's So Cold"
Gilbert Louie Ray Band performing "Mother's Little Helper"

Patrolled By Radar performing "Waiting On A Friend"
Wyman & The Wolves performing "Norwegian Wood"

Kid Bravo performing "Dig A Pony"

Ryan Hahn & The Believers performing "Beast Of Burden"

Tom Bergin’s is located at 840 S. Fairfax Ave. in Los Angeles, California.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Su Andersson: “Train Stories” (2020) CD Review

There is still something romantic, something appealing about traveling the country by train, and it’s something I’ve never done. My girlfriend has done it a few times, and she says there are sections of the ride that are just incredible. Su Andersson, a singer and songwriter from Sweden, did it, and then she put out an album of songs based on her experiences. Appropriately titled Train Stories, it was released at the beginning of the pandemic, when all travel came to a sudden halt. It features all original material. Su Andersson plays guitar and timpani on this release. Joining her are Henning Sernhede on guitar, bass, lap steel and backing vocals; Hampus Andersson on drums, piano, organ and tambourine; and Tobias Ljungman on drums and tambourine. There are also guests on certain tracks.

The album opens with a pretty song, “For Roses And Rain,” her vocals at first supported by some gentle work on guitar. I’m guessing most folks who hit the road in some capacity can relate to these lines: “Some disorder in my handbag/Keys and tickets and some lipsticks and coins/Some black colored hair ribbons and a notebook without lines.” There is always a bit of disorder, and it is always important to have something to write on. And we are on this journey with her. Halfway through the track, some percussion is added, and there is more power in her voice then. And Nanni Johansson plays bass and tambourine on this track. Then “On The Train Part I” has more of a rock vibe, with full band, featuring some good stuff on guitar and piano. There is a bit of Chrissie Hynde in her delivery at times. “Now I just want to breathe/The landscapes, the sounds/The sun and the moon.” That sounds so appealing, doesn’t it? It is what a lot of us want, I bet.

On “A Bunch Of Flowers In San Francisco,” Su Andersson’s voice is supported by piano during the first section, a beautiful opening. Check out these lines: “Listen to some tender jazz/Picked up from New Orleans/And before I go to sleep/There’s a song out on the sidewalk/Vanilla in the sky/Sunflowers by the porch.” That’s followed by “A Fisherman And His Son,” which a more serious sound, to the music and to her vocal performance. And anyone who has traveled in recent years has heard or read the warnings, the directions to report any suspicious behavior. And she delivers those lines as spoken word, which is perfect: “Report suspicious behavior/Someone who’s acting nervous/Or abandoned a car near the station/Anyone taking photos of strange things or in strange angles/Making drawings or notes/Or staring at Amtrak employees/When will they come for me?” Of course, that’s me, making notes, so perhaps I am the one demonstrating suspicious behavior. But this song is about more than just that, for once you get past those warnings, though perhaps they remain in your mind, there is magic, there is beauty. In a sunrise, in a sunset. And this track features a good rhythm.

As “The City Of Dark And Bright Angels” begins, Su Andersson’s vocals are supported by just bass, her voice having an intimate sound and feel. And then when the guitar comes in, so too does the cello. That’s Maja Molander delivering some beautiful and moving work on cello. The track builds from there, adding a steady beat on drums. “I see the dark angels/Whose belongings weigh less than my carry-on case/Whose shelter for the night/Is some canvas on the road/Before pushed away.” This song is about the extreme differences between the rich and the poor of Los Angeles, the bright angels and the dark angels. It is one of my personal favorites. The song ends as it begins, with her voice supported by just bass. “For most of the people/A time of life isn’t enough.” Then “The Dark Blue Of Mine” has more of a country vibe, with lap steel. This track also features some really nice work by Johannes Mattsson on harmonica. “I fix my pillows, try to close my eyes/But I am just a child/Need water, one more hug, another story/Light? No, I want it dark/Want it dark, want it dark.”

The cello sets the mood at the beginning of “Early Morning Alleys,” gorgeously sad and contemplative, a lonesome tone putting us in the right frame of mine. For soon she sings, “Feeling the light breeze through the streets/As soon as I get off the train/The mist remains in the early morning alleys/Waiting for the sun to come.” She is alone, for the town is asleep, though the other musicians soon join her, creating a beautiful sound. This track features some pretty work on piano. Then “Two Feathers From An Eagle” begins with some whistling and gentle work on guitar. It is about a Native American acting as tour guide in Arizona. “So many of us/Together on the verge/We make a crowd/But in the all, we’re small, just so small.” There is a bit of whistling again before the end.

“Hibiscus Margaritas” has a serious tone, particularly in her vocals, and yet with a rather catchy element to the piano. “A beam is covering the main door/Beware of the dog/Grass growing through the pavement/Some stores are closing down/All cars that aren’t in the junk yard/Are heavy rumbling ‘round.” There is a haunting quality to her vocal delivery here. This track is another of the disc’s highlights. The album concludes with “On The Train Part II,” with a groove something like that of “Stray Cat Strut,” so I’m digging it immediately. Martin Holmlund plays contrabass on this one. Though what Su Andersson describes at first is at odds with this fun vibe: “Abandoned houses in high, pale grass/With camel colored cliffs just behind/Houses like sheds, like coaches/Made by rusty metal/Leaning to each other.” But soon the landscape changes, and she tells us, “The trees have turned into red/The kind of color that I love.”

CD Track List

  1. For Roses And Rain
  2. On The Train Part I
  3. A Bunch Of Flowers In San Francisco
  4. A Fisherman And His Son
  5. The City Of Dark And Bright Angels
  6. The Dark Blue Of Mine
  7. Early Morning Alleys
  8. Two Feathers From An Eagle
  9. Hibiscus Margaritas
  10. On The Train Part II

Train Stories was released on April 4, 2020. Then in July of 2022 she released Brave.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Chris Pierce: “Let All Who Will” (2023) CD Review

Chris Pierce just opened a series of concerts for Neil Young, and now has an excellent new album coming out. If you haven’t yet heard this incredible voice, this is a perfect time to get turned onto this artist. I first heard him in 2017, when I saw him open for The Dustbowl Revival, and his vocal work knocked me over. I mean, he had the audacity to begin his set with an Otis Redding cover, and quickly proved himself to have that same kind of power, that same heart. His new album, Let All Who Will, contains mostly original material, written or co-written by Chris Pierce. In fact, there is just one cover, and it’s an interesting choice. But more on that in a bit. Joining him on this release are Doug Pettibone on guitar, Kelvin Holly on guitar, Kaveh Rastegar on bass, Michael Jerome on drums, Deron Johnson on piano and keyboards, Dave Palmer on piano, Charles Jones on organ and backing vocals, Maiya Sykes on backing vocals, and Jessica Childress on backing vocals. There are also a couple of special guests. The album contains nearly an hour of music.

The album opens with a powerful and moving number, “Batten Down The Hatches,” which features some great work by Deron Johnson on grand piano. Chris Pierce’s vocal performance is soulful and friendly as he begins, and then check out the way he belts out certain lines, such as “On the sea with no sight of the shore.” Yes, he tackles the current state of the world in this excellent opening song, with certain lyrics standing out, such as “What is sacred anyway, when you can swipe it all away/And a perfect picture is your dying wish” and “It’s never been great, so stop fooling yourself/While you’re at it, start making it better,” that last an answer to the question that we ask those Make America Great Again people, “When exactly was it great?” This is a song with a message, but he is not up on some soap box here. Rather, he is in the thick of things. This a voice shouting up from the fray, and raising us all up in the process. Plus, this track features special guest Ginger Murphy joining him on cello. It’s a fantastic song, one of his best.

Chris Pierce then gets bluesy with “45 Jukebox,” which has a catchy rhythm once it gets going. “Spirit like a 45 jukebox/Waiting on the drop of a dime/Records are my road to freedom/I’ve been waiting this whole damn life for my song to arrive.” This track is so delicious, and it features some great backing vocal work and some good guitar work. And Chris Pierce delivers a cool harmonica part in the middle. There is more fun harmonica work as the song is reaching its conclusion. This one was written by Chris Pierce and Sam Hollander. That’s followed by “Overdue,” also written by Chris Pierce and Sam Hollander. This one also has a blues element, along with a catchy rhythm. “Something’s gotta give, can’t take no more/For a hundred years, we’ve been here before/Check your clock, hold the line/Push on through ‘til we see the light.” This is an empowering song, encouraging action, and it has a positive, optimistic sound, rather than an angry one, and that makes change feel all the more inevitable. You know? May we all remain as positive as this song.

“Meet Me At The Bottom” has a fantastic, soulful vibe. This is another song where the power and heart of his voice are so striking, and also so inviting. It begins with these lines: “Walked through hell in a raincoat/Seen too many storms/Every day it rains on me/Can’t take anymore/And I know you’ve been strugglin’/Like I’ve been strugglin’ too/You can meet me/Meet me at the bottom.” This track contains more great backing vocal work, and some excellent work by Dave Palmer on piano. Then “Tulsa Town” creates an intriguing atmosphere at the beginning, with that drum work and the gorgeous strings (that’s Ginger Murphy again). Chris Pierce gives a compelling, haunting vocal performance. Check out these lyrics: “Yesterday we’d both agree/What’s this got to do with me/If they’d just, sweet lord, let me be/Here in Tulsa Town/But they never listened to my plea/And tied me to this hanging tree/But that’s the way it goes, you see/When they’re burnin’ Tulsa down.” That backing vocal work is like a ghost moving through the ashes, just incredible. And that work on strings is so moving. This is a highlight of an album where all the tracks are strong. It was written by Chris Pierce and Mark Malone.

On “Mr. McMartin,” also written by Chris Pierce and Mark Malone, Chris Pierce switches to a lighter tone with a pleasant vibe, yet with lyrics that don’t shy from saying something. “It really, really doesn’t matter/The same old broom will sweep up after/Miles of sidewalk day on day/He wonders of another way/But human hearts are slow to change.” This is a wonderful character sketch, and on another level the character addressed is our larger nation. That’s followed by “American Silence.” This song was the title track to Chris Pierce’s 2021 album, and he revisits it here with a new rendition, this time with a fuller sound but still featuring that nice work on harmonica. This is another strong track, more firmly in the folk realm, featuring a passionate vocal performance. “Can we sing a song for you/Will music move your heart and mind/Will our song arrest you/American silence is a crime.” “Sidney Poitier” establishes an interesting atmosphere as it starts. This is a song about the world losing Sidney Poitier, who died last year. There is a spoken word section in the second half: “Sidney, Los Angeles will miss you, though it no longer remembers why/That’s okay, that’s okay.” This is an excellent tribute. It’s followed by “Time Bomb,” a song written by Chris Pierce and Sunny War. Sunny War joins him on vocals and guitar on this thoughtful, soulful number. “Rewrite the story ‘til you’re happy in it.”

“Home” has a Bo Diddley-type beat that always works to raise our spirits and get our feet moving. I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a bad song titled “Home.” Seriously, there are excellent songs with that title by artists like Ellis Paul, Erica Blinn, Michelle Malone, The Evangenitals, The Spongetones, Modern English, The Ides Of March, Joe Walsh, James Houlahan, Janiva Magness, Angela Easterling, Iggy Pop, Fernando Perdomo, Christina LaRocca and Anton Fig. And Chris Pierce adds to that list of great songs with this track, in which he sings, “You can always go home/No matter where you’re coming from/Come on in, sit down now/There’ll be no questions asked/Leave your trouble at the door/In here the past is the past is the past.” This one was written by Chris Pierce and Kaveh Rastegar. That’s followed by “Magic And Light.” In this song he sings about how sometimes you can’t find a friend. Well, his voice acts as a friend, a friend to all who listen, to all who need a little encouragement. “And when there’s only clouds/And raindrops coming down/Be your own silver lining/And when life lets you down/All your hopes and dreams.” We all get lost and lonely from time to time, and music like this is there to help us through the darker times.

“Get Yourself Right” has a nice groove, and contains some lines that stand out, such as “This city’s insane, it will eat you alive” and “But now things have changed, speeding out of control.” I think we can all relate to that feeling. And of course the line “Get yourself back to where you belong” makes me think of The Beatles. That’s followed by “We Can Always Come Back To This,” a beautiful song that was featured in a few episodes of This Is Us. It was written by Chris Pierce and Siddhartha Khosla. “You’re not alone/Oh, I’m always, I’m always here with you/No matter where we go from here.” Then we get the album’s sole cover, and it’s a surprising choice, “Drive” by The Cars, a song from that band’s Heartbeat City album, released in 1984. This song even back then was kind of a surprise, different from the rest of the band’s output (at least what I had heard), and sung by Benjamin Orr rather than Ric Ocasek. Chris Pierce does a great job with it, delivering a moving rendition, one that might very well bring tears to your eyes. Just listen to him sing, “Who’s gonna pay attention to your dreams/And who’s gonna block your ears when you scream/You can’t go on/Thinking nothing’s wrong/Who’s gonna drive you home tonight.” The album then concludes with “Ain’t No Better Time,” featuring another beautiful and soulful vocal performance. “But if there’s one thing I’ve learned/Tables can always turn/Yesterday’s gone and tomorrow’s on its way.” Oh yes, I bet there are a lot of folks who need that reminder, that hope. As Chris sings here, “It’s not too late.” This is another of the album’s highlights.

CD Track List

  1. Batten Down The Hatches
  2. 45 Jukebox
  3. Overdue
  4. Meet Me At The Bottom
  5. Tulsa Town
  6. Mr. McMartin
  7. American Silence (Revisited)
  8. Sidney Poitier
  9. Time Bomb
  10. Home
  11. Magic And Light
  12. Get Yourself Right
  13. We Can Always Come Back To This
  14. Drive
  15. Ain’t No Better Time

Let All Who Will is scheduled to be released on September 1, 2023.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Peter Case: A Million Miles Away (2023) DVD Review

It took me a while to learn that the music that I loved wasn’t necessarily known and appreciated by everyone else on the planet. That is, in fact, why I started this music blog, to let folks know about some of the great music that is out there, to get them interested. And that is also part of the point of the documentary film Peter Case: A Million Miles Away, to introduce folks to an artist that they really should have known about and loved already. Because, truly, once someone hears Peter Case, it is damn near impossible to not love him, and I would be suspicious of anyone who claimed otherwise. But this documentary does a whole lot more than simply make people aware of an extraordinary artist. It also functions as a source of inspiration, to keep at whatever it is you love, no matter the struggle, no matter the lows. And it reminds folks of the power of music to combat darkness, both personal and societal, something that is more and more important in this country.

As the film begins, there is footage of The Plimsouls performing their hit song “A Million Miles Away” in Los Angeles in 1982, then shifts to Peter Case performing at McCabe’s in Santa Monica in 2019. In between those two bits of footage is the question, “What happened?” David Geffen asked that of Peter Case, who then turned the question back at him: “You’re David Geffen, you tell me what happened.” And indeed, why didn’t The Plimsouls become more popular? “A Million Miles Away” was a hit, and the song was featured in the 1983 movie Valley Girl. And in fact you can see the band perform the song in the movie (and see the band’s name as the characters enter the club). So, what happened? The movie does get into that question a bit, but I suppose the more important question is what happened next, and that’s what this documentary really delves into. When The Plimsouls did not sell as many records as expected, what did Peter Case do next?

But first the movie goes back in time a bit to give some biographical information, with Peter Case briefly acting as tour guide in Hamburg, New York, where he grew up, and mentioning that his influences were blues musicians and poets like Allen Ginsberg and Robert Frost. He recounts the time when he hitchhiked to Boston and spent his last couple of dollars to see Lightnin’ Hopkins perform in Cambridge, a show that had a big impact on him, showing him just what a solo performer could do. The film then takes us to San Francisco, where he used to jam with people on the streets, like at Broadway and Columbus. The documentary features some great old footage of him in San Francisco. Peter Case says, “While other people my age were going to college to get a higher education, I was on the street, getting a lower education.” But he was also getting a more normal education at the City Lights book store, where he read as much as he could and sometimes slept. And it was in San Francisco that The Nerves were founded, this documentary including a good interview with Jack Lee, the band’s guitarist. About The Nerves, Peter Case says, “If The Nerves would have gotten along with each other, we probably could have taken over the world.” But, instead, Peter Case founded The Plimsouls.

After The Plimsouls, Peter Case went solo, and a whole new career began. He played a gig at McCabe’s, and then soon opened for Jackson Browne. The movie gets into the making of his Sings Like Hell and Full Service No Waiting albums, and then takes us to Boulevard Studios in 2019, where Lady Blackbird and Chris Pierce are recording “Two Angels,” a song that Peter Case wrote. About songwriting Peter says: “I really don’t know what I think about things or what I feel about things without writing a song about it. That’s why I write. It’s a way for me to, like, be alive and know myself and know what I think and know what the world is.” Earlier in the film, he says, “I think it’s a magical act, writing.” Peter Case is one hell of a fantastic songwriter.

In addition to interviews with Peter Case, this movie features interviews with Steve Earle, Victoria Williams, Denise Sullivan, John Lombardo, Jeff Davis, Greg Allen and Cheryl Pawelski (co-founders of Omnivore Recordings), Gary Calamar (who used to host a fantastic music series at The Federal Bar), Willie Aron, Ben Harper, Van Dyke Parks and many other folks. And of course the film contains plenty of great music. And toward the end, it does get into the current state of the music business, mentioning how streaming doesn’t generate revenue for the artists, and the changing ways people approach music, how in general folks don’t pore over the liner notes anymore. But I imagine the people who watch this documentary are the sort of folks who do still care about the information contained in liner notes, that do still listen to complete albums, that do still care about the artists. The kind of people who attend benefits for musicians, like the one for Peter Case when he had to have heart surgery and did not have insurance.  This documentary is for anyone for whom music is important, which is basically anyone who would care enough to read a music blog. It was directed by Fred Parnes, and released on DVD on June 13, 2023. The DVD includes the film’s trailer.