Thursday, August 31, 2023

Marsha And The Positrons: “Energetic” (2023) CD Review

Education is important. As seemingly self-evident and noncontroversial as that statement is, or should be, these days we find ourselves having to make an argument on behalf of education. The Republican Party, which is now little more than a criminal organization, has done its best to limit the subjects that can be discussed in the classroom, and some of its members, including at least one currently running for the office of President, have spoken in favor of eliminating the Department of Education altogether. Insane, right? Yet here we are. And obviously the future of the nation is at stake. When these children grow up to be ignorant fools, who will be there to run the country? Well, once again musicians are stepping up where many politicians fail. Marsha And The Positrons, a group led by Marsha Goodman-Wood, a former cognitive neuroscientist, offer music that teaches as well as delights. The band’s name is obviously inspired by science (you guys remember science, right?), and carries the additional meaning of being positive, which the band’s music certainly is. And that’s important, particularly these days, not just for children, but adults too. All of the songs on the band’s new album, Energetic, are originals, and address not only schoolroom education but also social education, with messages about kindness and cooperation. Marsha Goodman-Wood is on vocals and acoustic guitar. Backing her are TJ Lipple on drums, bass, trombone, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vibraphone and backing vocals; Ayanna Gallant on djembe and backing vocals; David Durst on piano, organ, synthesizer and accordion; Jon Guo on bass; Nick Anderson on electric guitar and acoustic guitar; and Jonathan Parker on alto saxophone, tenor saxophone and soprano saxophone. There are also a few special guests on various tracks.

The band kicks off the album with “Buzz Buzz,” and immediately the album’s title proves accurate. This song has a delicious energy, featuring some nice work on organ. It is about bees, and how they communicate. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “And all the bees say buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz/And they do a little dance, because/It’s a way to share their messages quickly.” It’s a fun number, no question. It should get the little ones dancing, and maybe the adults in the room as well. That’s followed by “Counting On My Brain.” This song’s first line made me laugh out loud the first time I listened to it: “You’ve got one, one little brain in your head.” This song describes the parts of the brain, and is also a counting song. This one features some wonderful stuff on piano. And this is the track that TJ Lipple also plays trombone on, and that instrument adds even more energy. Plus, there is a great joy in Marsha’s vocal delivery. Again, adults will enjoy this as much as children.

SaulPaul joins the group on vocals on “Starlings,” delivering a rap in the second half: “It’s okay to be different/You can do your thing.” Melvin “Tony” Harrod joins the band on electric guitar. On this song, Marsha sings, “When we are together, let nothing divide us/The starlings fly/Shapes in the sky/Never collide.” The song is about groups of birds moving together in those great, ever-shifting shapes. Then “Whether The Weather” has a cool, jazzy vibe, with TJ Lipple playing vibraphone. Melvin “Tony” Harrod plays on this track too, delivering some really nice work on guitar. And Joe Lipple joins the group on upright bass. The song is about checking with a meteorologist before getting dressed and heading out, and provides a reminder to wear sunscreen, something my dermatologist is adamant about.

As I mentioned, adults can enjoy these tracks just as much as kids will. But also adults can learn a thing or two. As for me, I knew very little about ghost forests before listening to “Ghost Forest Investigators.” I also appreciate the playfulness of the song’s title, as well as some of the lyrics, joking on the idea of paranormal investigators, with Marsha singing, “That grayish white hue makes me think you’ve got ghouls hiding near.” And then she educates us: “When you walk in the woods, those waves should be out of reach/The bark fell off, the trunks turned white/The leaves could no longer grow and stay green/Sea level rise, that’s what made this spooky scene.” And again, it is all delivered with a great energy. The whole family can learn while dancing. “Meet Me In My Dreams” is one of my personal favorite tracks. I dig the groove right from the start, and the friendly vocal delivery. But it’s also this song’s lyrics that make it so appealing. Here is a taste: “Sometimes you’re pulled away from an amazing day/When the alarm clock calls you to reality/What if you meet me in my dreams/Outside it’s dark skies, stars and moonbeams/But when you meet me in my dreams/I want it to be as real as it seems.” Adding to this song’s magic is Chelle Fulk’s work on violin. David Strauss plays guitar on this track. Then “Kinetic And Potential Energy” has a good pop energy, particularly during the chorus.

Keith Grimwood, one half of the duo known as Trout Fishing In America, joins Marsha And The Positrons on “Road To Bremen,” playing bass. This is a fun song about music, and different instruments are added one at a time. Marsha sings, “We also need a bass line/So everybody get down low/We’re going to make some music/Sing along, how low can you go?” And Keith Grimwood has a chance to deliver a great lick. Then when the piano is introduced, we get a bit of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” It’s a fun, cheerful number, and it includes some nice work on accordion. That’s followed by “Shoelaces,” another song with an opening line that makes me laugh, “Shoelaces always come untied.” Ah yes, I find they come untied when I’m out, and then when I get home they are in some kind of demonic knot that requires force and concentration and prayer to untie. But one thing I love about the beginning of this song is that it opens with a burst of energy, then comes to an unexpected halt before that first line. And that’s just how it is when you run outside only to have to stop to tie a shoelace. Tina Kenny Jones provides some delightful backing vocals on this track, and Russ Jones is on electric guitar.

“No More Doctor Blues” is about going to your regular checkup, something I need to do soon, though there are no toys in the waiting room where I go. What’s up with that? “I’m not scared of my shots,” Marsha sings in this one. “When I was even younger/I used to be afraid of shots/I worried and felt anxious/My stomach was tied up in knots.” That was true of me when I was younger, and it’s true of me now. But maybe when I’m in my sixties or seventies, my fear of needles will disappear. Probably not. Leo Lipple provides some backing vocals on this one. That’s followed by “Fly Ladybug Fly,” which is about finding a ladybug inside and urging it to return to the great outdoors. The track contains some good work on saxophone. Then “Sound Of The Cicadas” has a pleasant vibe, and provides plenty of information on the insects. Plus, I appreciate Marsha rhyming “cicadas” with “hiatus.”

We’re going to the library/Adventure awaits inside,” Marsha sings at the beginning of “We’re Going To The Library.” Then she sings, “Working our way from A to Z/Through every age of history.” Oh, that is a dream of mine, to start at one end of a library, and read absolutely everything (well, with a few exceptions, such as anything by Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh). Wouldn’t it be great to have that sort of time? Anyway, this is another delightful track. That’s followed by “New Leaf,” a sweet and soothing number. “I’m starting fresh/It’s going to be fine/If you put your hand in mine.” I like that work on piano. The album concludes with “High Fives,” in which she sings about positive energy: “It’s my positive energy/That keeps me happy/And when our hands touch, it’s true/You’ll feel that positive energy too.” On this track she is joined by Jamaal “Black Root” Collier on beat box. And Dumi Right does a rap in the middle: “Every time it happens, we all feel good/I’d give the whole world a high five if I could.”

CD Track List

  1. Buzz Buzz
  2. Counting On My Brain
  3. Starlings
  4. Whether The Weather
  5. Ghost Forest Investigators
  6. Meet Me In My Dreams
  7. Kinetic And Potential Energy
  8. Road To Bremen
  9. Shoelaces
  10. No More Doctor Blues
  11. Fly Ladybug Fly
  12. Sound Of The Cicadas
  13. We’re Going To The Library
  14. New Leaf
  15. High Fives

Energetic is scheduled to be released on September 1, 2023.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Nick Wade: “Feeling Good Is Good Enough” (2023) CD Review

Feeling good is good enough, and the blues often have the power to make us feel good, to remove the power our troubles seem to have over us. The blues can declaw those troubles, tame them, put them into perspective, show them to be smaller than we first imagined. And Nick Wade knows just how to do that, as he demonstrates on his new album Feeling Good Is Good Enough. This is a solo album, with Nick Wade singing and playing guitar, joined only by one other musician on one track. In addition, he wrote all the songs on this disc. The songs were performed live in the studio and also outdoors.

Nick Wade opens the album with “Sky Line Drive,” which, though it’s an original composition, has a classic blues sound and feel. His approach is clearly influenced by some of the great blues players, and he is at home among them. “Woke up the next morning/Blues was all around my bed/I’m going back down to Virginia/Only thing that will make me glad.” This track features some delicious guitar work, That’s followed by “Sing With The Angels.” I love the sound of this track, the rawness, the passion. It’s a gospel blues song that looks forward to death. Again, if you’d told me this song was written a hundred years ago, I would have believed you. Nick Wade is carrying on a great tradition of songwriting and performing here. “I want to go to heaven when I die/I want to go to heaven and be with my dear mother.”

On “Broke And Busted” he touches on one of those perennial blues themes, singing “Said I’m broke and I’m busted, I ain’t got no place to go.” I think a lot of us in Los Angeles are going to be there soon if these strikes aren’t resolved. And then he’s surprised when a friend doesn’t treat him well. And like the previous song, in this one he sings of a mother who’s gone: “I said I’ve been mistreated ever since my mother’s been dead.” Then at the beginning of “Ease On Down The Road” he sings, “Time to leave here, time to ease on down that road.” Why is it that leaving always sounds so appealing? Even if the circumstances are poor, which they most likely are in a blues song, it sounds appealing. It sounds like the right move, like leaving means moving in the right direction. “That’s why I’m so sad and blue/And if I don’t talk to you soon, baby, I just, I just don’t know what I’m going to do.” That second “I just” adds to the line’s sense of uncertainty and need.

On “Lonesome Copperhead Snake,” Nick Wade is joined by Li’l Ronnie Owens on harmonica. This is the only track to feature a guest musician, and Ronnie Owens delivers some delicious work. “I’m a lonesome copperhead snake/And I make my home down in the ground/Later on in the evening, you know that’s when I come out and I crawl around.” I totally buy it, the way he delivers those lines. He’s a snake who travels “from city to city/Little girl, you know I’m just trying to get satisfied.” I love this song, even though at one point he sings “2 a.m. in the morning,” which of course is redundant. That’s followed by “Ragamuffin,” a short, fun, playful instrumental tune. “When You Bury My Body” is another blues song addressing death. Nick Wade sings, “When you bury my body, I do not want for you to moan.” Death seems to be lurking nearby, doesn’t it? And the blues seem capable of both welcoming it and pushing it back, for the blues will meet death on their own terms. That’s the feeling I get, anyway.

Some cool guitar work begins “The Broken Hearted Man.”  I would have drove all night, mama, just to get to you/But I’m sitting here with my heart broke down and blue.” As is the case with a lot of blues songs, certain lines are repeated, and here one of those repeated lines is “I would have drove all night, mama, just to get to you,” emphasizing what he would have done before revealing that he’s seated there and blue, not going anywhere. This song is another that deals with loss, and is another highlight of the disc. “I wish I knew the reason why you had to leave this world and die/Sometimes I wish I knew the reason why/Sometimes I wish I knew the reason why/Sometimes I wish that I knew the reason why/Every time I think about it, I just drop my head and cry.” But there is still a positive bent to the song, as he sings at the end, “Mama, I will see you again someday.” “Down The Way” also features some really good guitar work, as well as a great raw vocal performance.

“Engineer Blues” is another song about leaving, this time on a train that leaves just before dawn. And again leaving is something positive. “I’m going to ride in the sunshine now/I’m going away to stay.”  I love the way he delivers certain lines, like “I declare the birds will start singing and the sky will start turning blue,” adding a sort of a growl on the word “singing.” That’s followed by “Crucifixion,” a slow blues number told from the perspective of Jesus Christ, even addressing Judas early in the song. “Judas, I still love you/Judas, you know I still love you/But you have turned on me.” Oh yes, even Jesus gets the blues. “My father, please won’t you tell me, why have you forsaken me?” The album then concludes with another delightful short instrumental number, “Raggin’ My Blues Away.”

CD Track List

  1. Sky Line Drive
  2. Sing With The Angels
  3. Broke And Busted
  4. Ease On Down The Road
  5. Lonesome Copperhead Snake
  6. Ragamuffin
  7. When You Bury My Body
  8. The Broken Hearted Man
  9. Down The Way
  10. Engineer Blues
  11. Crucifixion
  12. Raggin’ My Blues Away

Feeling Good Is Good Enough is scheduled to be released on September 15, 2023.

Tell Everybody! 21st Century Juke Joint Blues From Easy Eye Sound (2023) CD Review

Easy Eye Sound is an independent record label owned by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. It is a relatively new label, founded in 2017, though the Easy Eye Sound studio has been around longer. Artists such as Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, Robert Finley and, of course, The Black Keys have released albums on the label, and now a compilation of tracks has been released. Titled Tell Everybody! 21st Century Juke Joint Blues From Easy Eye Sound, this disc contains previously unreleased tracks from several artists delivering different types of the blues. This release was produced by Dan Auerbach, who performs on most of the tracks.

The disc opens with a track from RL Boyce, “Coal Black Mattie,” a cool number written by Ranie Burnette. RL Boyce, in addition to providing the vocal work, plays electric guitar. He is joined by both Kenny Brown and Dan Auerbach on guitar. Eric Deaton is on bass, Adam Schreiber is on drums, and Sam Bacco is on percussion. The track has something of a loose feel, which I love, reminding me of some 1960s recordings. That’s followed by the album’s title track, “Tell Everybody,” written and performed by Robert Finley. Kenny Brown and Dan Auerbach are again on electric guitar, with Eric Deaton again on bass and Sam Bacco again on percussion. This time Kinney Kimbrough is on drums, and Christy Johnson provides backing vocals.  Tell everybody that the party is starting now,” Robert Finley sings early in the song. With a line like that, you might expect a fast-paced number, but this is a delicious, slow gem, easing us into the party. “If you want to have a good time/Come on out to the shack/‘Cause you’re gonna have the time of your life/And you might not ever go back.” Robert Finley has a new album coming out in late October titled Black Bayou (and no, this track is not on it).

“Tall Shadow” is an interesting track by the Moonrisers, a group made up of Libby DeCamp on dobro guitar and Adam Schreiber on drums and percussion. This instrumental track is one of only a few that Dan Auerbach does not perform on. DeCamp and Schreiber create an interesting atmosphere and mood, and this is a quietly compelling track. Then we get an original number by Dan Auerbach, “Every Chance I Get (I Want You In The Flesh).” It’s a perfect track to follow “Tall Shadow,” for it eases in, seemingly straight out of the other track, and its first moments are all about atmosphere. Then it kicks in with a rhythm that sounds like something from Norman Greenbaum or T. Rex, and Dan Auerbach gives us a cool, sexy vocal delivery. I also dig that lead on electric guitar halfway through. Dan Auerbach plays electric guitar, percussion and synthesizer on this track. Russ Fahl and Billy Sanford both play electric guitar on this track, and Dave Roe is on bass, Gene Chrisman is on drums, and Sam Bacco is on percussion. “Nothing’s gonna stop me/Acid rain or fire/Touch me and you got me/In the flames of your desire.” This track seems like it’s leading into a good jam as it begins its long fade-out.

“Catfish Blues” is a song that Jimmy “Duck” Holmes included on his 2019 album Cypress Grove. The recording on this compilation is a previously unreleased mono version. It features Dan Auerbach on electric guitar and percussion, Eric Deaton on bass, and Sam Bacco on drums and percussion. Gabe Carter has two songs on this compilation, the first being “Anything You Need,” in which he sings, “I want to please you, baby/Make you feel relief/I want to serve you, baby/Anything you need.” This track also features some really good guitar work. Gabe Carter, Kenny Brown and Dan Auerbach all play guitar on this one. And he offers one of those great blues promises: “Never quit me, baby/And I’ll be there for you.” That’s followed by “Willow Witchin’,” another track on which Dan Auerbach does not appear. This is a solo performance by Nat Myers on vocals and dobro. It’s an original song, though it has that great sound and appeal of a classic blues number. “Tell me, honey, where to dig my well/My water divining honey sure do cure dry spell.” This song also includes the word “dowser,” not a word I come across in very many songs. A different version of this song was made available to stream in 2021.

I love Leo Bud Welch’s story, as well as his music. He put out his first album, Sabougla Voices, when he was 81, and released a couple of other albums before he died in late 2017. A final album, titled The Angels In Heaven Done Signed My Name, was released in early 2019. The song “Don’t Let The Devil Ride” was included on that final album. It is also included on this compilation, this track being a previously unreleased mono version. Dan Auerbach plays bass, electric guitar and percussion on this track. Leon Michels is on organ, Russ Fahl is on electric guitar, and Richard Swift plays drums. This one has something of a blues rock vibe. By the way, there is a documentary about Leo Bud Welch titled Late Blossom Blues: The Journey Of Leo “Bud” Welch. We then get a song from The Black Keys, “No Lovin’,” a seriously cool tune featuring an excellent electric guitar lead in the middle. “Got no lovin’ in my home.” Sam Bacco joins the duo on percussion, as he has done on the last couple of Black Keys albums. This song was written by Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney.

Glenn Schwartz has two songs in this collection, both recorded back in 2016 and not released until now. The first is “Daughter Of Zion,” a track that features Joe Walsh joining him on electric guitar, in addition to Dan Auerbach. Dan Auerbach has mentioned that both he and Joe Walsh saw Glenn Schwartz perform in their formative years, that he had a tremendous impact on both of them, and so it’s wild that all three perform on this track. It helps that it’s a great song, written by Larry L. Hill and Glenn Schwartz, and originally recorded by Glenn Schwartz’s band The All Saved Freak Band in 1973. On this new version Leon Michels plays organ, Nick Movshon plays bass, Homer Steinweiss is on drums, and Sam Bacco is on percussion. This recording rocks, featuring a delicious bass line, and it is certainly a highlight of the disc. Glenn Schwartz died two years after making this recording. “Daughter Of Zion” is followed by the second Gabe Carter song, “Buffalo Road,” which has a cool, mean groove. Eric Deaton is on bass, Adam Schreiber is on drums, and Sam Bacco is on percussion. Gabe Carter, Kenny Brown and Dan Auerbach play electric guitar. This wonderful album then concludes with the second Glenn Schwartz song, “Collinwood Fire,” and here the approach is quite different from the first track of his. No Joe Walsh on this one, no Dan Auerbach, no anyone except Glenn on vocals and guitar. There is a bit of banter at the beginning as he picks the song. I love the loose vibe of this one. He even sniffles at a few points. Somehow that adds to the power of the song. What a great way to wrap up this compilation.

CD Track List

  1. Coal Black Mattie – RL Boyce
  2. Tell Everybody – Robert Finley
  3. Tall Shadow – Moonrisers
  4. Every Chance I Get (I Want You In The Flesh) – Dan Auerbach
  5. Catfish Blues – Jimmy “Duck” Holmes
  6. Anything You Need – Gabe Carter
  7. Willow Witchin’ – Nat Myers
  8. Don’t Let The Devil Ride – Leo Bud Welch
  9. No Lovin’ – The Black Keys
  10. Daughter Of Zion – Glenn Schwartz
  11. Buffalo Road – Gabe Carter
  12. Collinwood Fire – Glenn Schwartz

Tell Everybody! 21st Century Juke Joint Blues From Easy Eye Sound was released on August 11, 2023.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Keturah: “Keturah” (2023) CD Review

Keturah is a singer and songwriter from a village in Malawi, a country in eastern Africa. She traveled to the United States to record her debut album, a self-titled release that features all original material, written by Keturah, Jason Tamba and Harlan Steinberger. The tracks were recorded at Hen House Studios in Venice Beach, California, and feature talented musicians backing her, including Mermans Mosengo and Jason Tamba of Afro Fiesta, and some special guests such as John Densmore and Mark Pender.

The album opens with “Ku Nyumba.” There is such a pleasant and positive vibe to this track, and I especially love that percussion. Mermans Mosengo is on drums, and Magatte Sow is on congas and shaker. Keturah has a beautiful voice that seems to promise a brighter day, and here she delivers a reminder that it is up to us to make it happen, and to keep our roots in mind, something I’ve been thinking about more and more lately. Jason Tamba delivers some really nice and rather catchy work on guitar, and Kaveh Rastegar adds a wonderful bass line. The sound and spirit of this song lift my mood each time I listen to it. “Mvula” has a more introspective feel to it, while the percussion remains a prominent element. On this one, Mermans Mosengo plays drums and shaker, Harlan Steinberger plays surdo and conga, and Magatte Sow plays djembe and talking drum. In this track’s steady rhythm, there is something peaceful, something comforting. It seems to say we will persevere, that things will be okay. And Keturah’s voice assures us with a gentle power.

“Kwanumkwanu” was released as a single in March, and a video of a live performance of the song was released at that time. There is a sweet and comforting vibe to this song. And on this track John Densmore (yes, of The Doors) plays shaker. Both Jason Tamba and Louis Mhlanga play guitar on this one. And on this one, a few lines are delivered in English. “Take me around the world/Show me beautiful places,” Keturah sings. Most of us have a longing to visit beautiful and exciting places, but it’s wonderful to know that home is there awaiting our return with warmth and love. Her voice has that warmth to it, particularly toward the end. That’s followed by “Nchiwewe (Ode To Willie Nelson),” which was the second single from the album. It has quite a different flavor from the other tracks. Part of it is the presence of piano (that’s Chris Tuttle on piano) and part of it is Mickey Raphael’s work on harmonica. This track also has a relaxed and soothing rhythm. But the main draw of this track is Keturah’s vocal performance. At times her voice is soothing, yet there are some powerful, striking moments. It is a captivating performance. This is one of my personal favorite tracks. John Densmore plays tambourine on it, and Chris Pierce provides some wonderful backing vocal work. Oh yes, there is quite a bit of a talent here.

“All The Way From Africa” is cheerful right from the start, touching again on the themes of travel and of home. And, as you likely inferred from its title, some of it is sung in English. The joy of her delivery can’t help but have an effect on you. This track also features some really nice work by Jason Tamba on guitar. Then “Sukulu” has a different sound. While there is still a strong rhythm, on this one the strings stand out. In addition to some wonderful guitar work by Jason Tamba, this track features excellent playing by Prince Diabate on kora, as well as some beautiful work by Jake Falby on violin, viola and cello. And of course at the center is Keturah’s voice, which seems to offer support, warmth and guidance. “Udzafele Zina” comes as a surprise, with its delicious jazzy element. Mark Pender (yes, the Loveman himself) plays trumpet on this track, delivering some excellent work right from the start, and his playing is a part of this track’s great appeal. This song also has a catchy groove. It is another of the disc’s highlights.

On “Samala,” the backing vocalists come in before Keturah, establishing the tone. Mermans Mosengo, Bella Mosengo, Simone Mosengo, Satchita Mosengo and Meagan M. Ryck provide those backing vocals. This track features some beautiful work by Prince Diabate on kora. And Matt DeMerritt adds some wonderful touches on saxophone. There is a positive bent to this track as well. This music is relaxing me and restoring my optimism (something I seriously needed after making the mistake of reading the news, reading of more and more shootings). Prince Diabate delivers more wonderful work on kora on “Chimbalame.” This track’s steady rhythm tells us to keep going, to not give up, reminding us we have the ability to follow our dreams. And Keturah makes doing so sound as natural as rain falling or sun shining, as natural as breathing or a heart beating. The album concludes with “Wewe,” which was written by Keturah, Jason Tamba, Harlan Steinberger and Kaveh Rastegar. It eases in with some pretty work by Jamael Dean on piano, and then soon kicks in to become a dance song with a funky edge. You’ve got to love that bass work by Kaveh Rastegar. It’s a dance song with a great beauty. Chris Pierce again lends his tremendous vocal talent, delivering backing vocal work, and this time he is joined by Kara Mack. And Jamael Dean’s piano work throughout the track is excellent.

CD Track List

  1. Ku Nyumba
  2. Mvula
  3. Kwanumkwanu
  4. Nchiwewe (Ode To Willie Nelson)
  5. All The Way From Africa
  6. Sukulu
  7. Udzafele Zina
  8. Samala
  9. Chimbalame
  10. Wewe

Keturah was released on May 19, 2023.