Monday, February 19, 2024

Rafael Riqueni: “Versatae” (2024) CD Review

Rafael Riqueni is a flamenco guitar player from Seville. He released his first album, Juego de NiƱos, in 1986, and has followed that with several others, gathering prizes and accolades along the way. On his new release, Versatae, he puts his own spin on some familiar songs, mostly from the pop and rock realms, some that you might not guess would translate so well to this style. Apart from a couple of tracks toward the end of the disc, this album contains solo guitar pieces.

Rafael Riqueni opens the album with Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven,” an interesting choice to cover, for of course it’s a very personal song. But as is the case with most of Eric Clapton’s material it features some good guitar work, and so provides an opportunity for Rafael Requeni to shine. And it’s a pretty song, even if perhaps a bit heavy for an album opener. Rafael Riqueni delivers a moving and respectful rendition. He follows that with a cover of Santana’s “Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile),” here simply titled “Europa,” though it is that parenthetical title that is part of what makes this is a perfect number to follow “Tears In Heaven.” This is one of Santana’s most famous compositions (it was co-written by Tom Coster), and is an instrumental, making it an ideal selection for Rafael Riqueni. I love his approach to this piece. It is beautiful and stirring, and it fades out all too soon.

Ennio Morricone composed some absolutely fantastic music over his career, including for such films as The Battle Of Algiers, Teorema, A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, Once Upon A Time In America and Bugsy, among many others. On this album, Rafael Riqueni chooses to cover the main theme to Cinema Paradiso, giving us a touching and sweet rendition. That’s followed by a delightful rendition of “Just The Two Of Us,” the guitar so eloquently expressing the joy of the piece. He delivers some phenomenal work here, and this track is one of the highlights for me. “What A Wonderful World” is a song I have loved since I first heard it in my early teens. It never fails to move me. Rafael Riqueni here proves the song has that power even without its lyrics, though at times it’s difficult to keep certain lines from running through my head while I listen.

One of the album’s most surprising choices is “Dream On,” a song from Aerosmith’s first album. I listened to this band a lot during my childhood, especially the Toys In The Attic album. I saw them put on a great and fun concert in 1986, a free show at the Worcester Centrum. But the next year at that same venue, they had suddenly become incredibly polished, and that concert wasn’t nearly as enjoyable (they even shot a music video at the show). I definitely preferred the raw energy of the previous year’s show. After that (I was fifteen at that point), I kind of lost interest in them. It is a treat now to revisit one of the band’s most popular songs in this instrumental setting. Rafael Riqueni does an excellent job with it, giving me a fresh appreciation of the song. Follow Aerosmith with Henry Mancini? Sure, why not? Rafael Riqueni delivers a beautiful and thoughtful rendition of “Moon River.” He then goes back to classic rock with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven.” This is the first track I heard from this album, and is what got me excited about it. Led Zeppelin is another band I listened to a lot during my childhood and then moved away from, preferring to listen to the artists they had ripped off (such as Willie Dixon). But this gorgeous rendition is giving me a renewed appreciation for the band’s music. It’s not the full song, but it is enough.

Dolly Parton has written some excellent songs, including “I Will Always Love You,” a song that has become more associated with Whitney Houston (though Parton’s original is better in my opinion; you can hear it on her Jolene album), and one that Rafael Riqueni chooses to cover here. I wasn’t sure how this one would work without the vocals, but his guitar expresses the emotion so well. That’s followed by a cover of “Every Breath You Take.” This song was everywhere in 1983. It’s a beautiful song about stalking and possessiveness that many people thought was sweet and romantic at the time. Go figure. The entire record Synchronicity was great, arguably the best record of 1983. Anyway, Rafael Riqueni’s rendition is fairly faithful. Rafael Riqueni then moves in another direction, veering away from popular songs of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, and dipping into the 1920s with “Amapola,” a piece composed by Joseph M. LaCalle. It became more popular in the 1930s and early 1940s, and has been recorded by many artists over the years. Rafael Riqueni’s version has something of a magical sense to it, feeling like a wonderful fairy tale. He then delivers an excellent original number, “Cogiendo Rosas,” a piece that has its own magic. His playing here will transport you. And that’s how the main section of the album concludes. The remaining three tracks are bonuses, apparently not available on the vinyl version.

In August of 2022, a Ben E. King album titled Supernatural Soul was released. On this disc, classic Ben E. King material was re-cut, with additional performances added in. Rafael Riqueni plays guitar on “Spanish Harlem,” and that track is also included on this disc. It is the only track to feature vocals. That’s followed by a pretty, though short, version of The Beatles’ “Yesterday.” The disc concludes with that recording of “Spanish Harlem,” but this time with the vocals cut out.

CD Track List

  1. Tears In Heaven
  2. Europa
  3. Cinema Paradiso Main Theme
  4. Just The Two Of Us
  5. What A Wonderful World
  6. Dream On
  7. Moon River
  8. Stairway To Heaven
  9. I Will Always Love You
  10. Every Breath You Take
  11. Amapola
  12. Cogiendo Rosas
  13. Spanish Harlem
  14. Yesterday
  15. Spanish Harlem (Instrumental Version)

Versatae was released on CD on February 16, 2024. A vinyl edition is scheduled to be released on March 29th, and it is a nice pale green vinyl.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Kay Adams: “Little Pink Mack” (2024) Vinyl Review

Buck Owens must have been one of the busiest singers and musicians in the history of music. In addition to the large number of records he recorded and the television program Hee Haw which he hosted, Buck Owens did a half-hour syndicated show called The Buck Owens Ranch Show, which began running in 1966. Kay Adams was one of the regular performers on that program, and her new record Little Pink Mack collects her performances from 1966 to 1968. The songs were recorded live in the studio at Buck Owens Ranch, and feature Buck Owens And The Buckaroos backing her. Most of the tracks are covers, but there are some original numbers here. The songs are fairly short, so that ten songs fit on each side of this record. The release includes liner notes by Jim Allen, and the album is presented in pink vinyl.

Side A

The record opens with its title track, “Little Pink Mack,” a fun, rather adorable number about a female truck driver, certainly a rarity back then (and perhaps even now?). Kay Adams has her own delightful vocal delivery, especially heard on certain words, like “Mack” and “stack.” And yet we believe her when she says she can take care of herself, for she has spunk and is sure of herself. “Don’t mess around if you’re looking for a race/To be wiped out by a girl would be a disgrace.” That’s followed by “Roll Out The Red Carpet,” a song written by Buck Owens and Don Rich. Kay Adams covered several Buck Owens songs on her records. That makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, he wrote some of the best songs of that time. She clearly has a good time with “Roll Out The Red Carpet.” And don’t we all want the sort of treatment she sings about here? Then on “Let The Good Times Roll,” Kay Adams’ voice carries a sense of joy and excitement. Turn this one up, kiss your sweetheart and let the good times roll.

Kay Adams delivers a fairly energetic rendition of “Silver Threads And Golden Needles,” with just a bit of a rock flavor to the music. What a great vocal performance Kay gives, especially toward the end. She then gets bluesy with “Terrible Tangled Web,” delivered as a duet with Dick Curless. They sound great together. This track features some cool work on guitar, and is one of my personal favorites. That’s followed by “Anymore.” I love Kay’s energy and attitude on this one, right from the start as she sings, “Go ahead and fool around with every girl in town/I don’t care anymore.” And then listen to the way she raises her voice on “And now I’m free.” This is another of the record’s highlights, in large part because of her vocal performance. “Rocks In My Head” is another song written by Buck Owens, and another delightful number. He included it on his 1967 album Your Tender Loving Care. “Just like a puppy, I rolled over and played dead/Oh, I must have had rocks in my head.” And I love the attitude in her delivery of the line “While I live it up, well, you can live it down.”

“I Let A Stranger Buy The Wine” is an original number written by Kay Adams. Her delivery has more of an intimate vibe, almost a confessional tone, with a more serious feel. “Right or wrong, it was good to have his company/Tonight, I let a stranger buy the wine.” She included this song on her 1967 album Alcohol And Tears, and it is another highlight of this collection. Clearly she has a talent for songwriting as well as for singing. That’s followed by another original song, “Bottle Baby,” which was also included on Alcohol And Tears. Written by Kay Adams and Bobby Austin, this one is about deciding she’s had enough, that a relationship is over. She kicks the man out, declaring at the end, “You’re not Kay’s baby no more.” The first side of the record concludes with a beautifully sad country number titled “Get Out Of My Heart,” which features some great guitar work and an excellent and moving vocal performance. “You shouldn’t be here at all/You’re going to tear me all apart/Get out of my heart.”

Side B

Like the first side, the second side opens with a fun song about a truck driver, this time a male truck driver. The song, “Big Mac,” moves at a good pace. This truck driver says, “Why, you’re the sweetest thing that I’ve ever seen,” and the song is told from the perspective of the woman who received that compliment, a woman who works at a diner. This song was written by June Davis. Then Dick Curless joins Kay Adams again for “A Devil Like Me (Needs An Angel Like You),” the song a sort of conversation between the two. “If an angel like me had a devil like you/I’d stop your running around.” I love the quaver in Dick’s voice on the word “shady” in the phrase “with a shady past.” That’s followed by “Number One Heel,” a Buck Owens song written with Bonnie Owens, and included on the 1965 album Before You Go/No One But You. Kay Adams gives us a really good rendition on this record. “I’m the number one fool that still loves you/Yes, you’ll always be number one with me.” This track features a strong, prominent bass line.

There is a bit of laughter as Kay Adams begins “Old Heart Get Ready,” a track that features another of the record’s great vocal performances. It’s a fun song, and another highlight. It’s followed by “Six Days A Waiting.” Here she is adorable, her voice one of strength and grit. This song is a variation on “Six Days On The Road,” the other side of it, the answer to it from the woman waiting at home. Yup, in this one Kay Adams is not the truck driver, but the woman waiting for her truck driving man to get home. And you bet he’d better make it home tonight. This track features some excellent guitar work. Then “Down, Down, Down” is particularly catchy and moves at a great pace.  “Loose Talk” is a love song about the effects of people’s talk on a relationship. “I know you love me/And happy we could be/If some folks would leave us alone.”

Kay Adams slows things down with “You Don’t Have Very Far To Go,” a song written by Merle Haggard and Red Simpson. There is a beautiful ache in her voice as she sings, “But if you’re trying to break my heart/You don’t have very far to go.” And that pedal steel work is perfect. Then “Honky Tonk Heartache” directly addresses heartache, but does so with a higher level of energy. It was written by Chris Roberts and Scotty Turner. The album concludes with “Be Nice To Everybody,” which features a sweet vocal performance. In this one, Kay sings, “There you go driving in your big, long car/You got a house overlooking the town/But be nice to everybody on the way up/You’re going to meet them again coming down.” Hearing those lines, I can’t help but think of a certain ex-game show host who is finally coming down (but who has never been nice to anyone).

Record Track List

Side A

  1. Little Pink Mack
  2. Roll Out The Red Carpet
  3. Let The Good Times Roll
  4. Silver Threads And Golden Needles
  5. Terrible Tangled Web
  6. Anymore
  7. Rocks In My Head
  8. I Let A Stranger Buy The Wine
  9. Bottle Baby
  10. Get Out Of My Heart

Side B

  1. Big Mac
  2. A Devil Like Me (Needs An Angel Like You)
  3. Number One Heel
  4. Old Heart Get Ready
  5. Six Days A Waiting
  6. Down, Down, Down
  7. Loose Talk
  8. You Don’t Have Very Far To Go
  9. Honky Tonk Heartache
  10. Be Nice To Everybody

Little Pink Mack is scheduled to be released on March 1, 2024 through Sundazed Music.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Claudia Gibson: “The Fields Of Chazy” (2024) CD Review

Claudia Gibson is a singer and songwriter based in Austin, Texas. She released her first album, Step By Step, in 2016, and followed that a few years later with an EP titled Louisiana Sky. Her new album, The Fields Of Chazy, features mostly original material. The album was produced by Walt Wilkins and Ron Flynt, and was funded by her fans. Joining Claudia Gibson on this release are Chris Beall on electric guitar; Rich Brotherton on acoustic guitar, tenor guitar, mandolin and cittern; John Chipman on drums and percussion; Bart de Win on accordion; Mark Epstein on electric bass and acoustic bass; Ron Flynt on bass, piano and organ; Warren Hood on fiddle; Geoff Queen on pedal steel; Ray Rodriguez on cajon and percussion; Tina Mitchell Wilkins on backing vocals; and Walt Wilkins on backing vocals and percussion.

The album opens with its title track, “The Fields Of Chazy,” which tells the story of Claudia Gibson’s paternal grandfather. Chazy, by the way, is a town in New York. On this track, Claudia tells a moving story of sorrow and struggle, but also hope, with music playing a part in the latter, as Claudia sings, “Grandpa played accordion/With gnarled hands when I was young/The songs of old Acadia.” The song also takes us to the present, to Claudia’s present, as she walks the area where her grandfather lived, among the trees he planted. “The twisted ancient apple trees/The sweet fruit of his legacy.” That image is striking for me, perhaps because I grew up near an apple orchard, and had my first job there when I was thirteen. This track features some nice work on accordion. It is followed by “Unbound.” I love the optimism in the early line, “Unbound and ready to begin.” This is a song of being on the road, and having a destination. She is heading home, something that always holds great appeal in song. Here it is not just heading home, but also maybe starting over. There is sadness in it, yes, her voice expressing it so perfectly, but it seems the song looks to the future more than holds onto the past. This track features some beautiful work on pedal steel, and good harmonies, and it is one of my personal favorites.

“Laura’s Song” is about Laura Bullion, an outlaw in the wild west. This song tells her story, her romance with Ben Kilpatrick, delivered from her perspective. “Out on good behavior/Seven more years did I pine/I walked the straight and narrow path/While Ben did his hard time.” And before the end, she sings of Ben’s death, how he could not live an honest life. Death plays a part in “Rain” too, from its opening stanza: “I heard the news come through this morning/You’re gone, shook off your earthly chains/Blue skies have turned to black/And you ain’t coming back/And sometimes all it does is rain.” This one has a bluesy vibe and features some cool work on keys and some excellent guitar work. Death is certainly in the air these days, isn’t it? Perhaps that has always been the case, and these days we just can’t help but notice it. This song is another of the disc’s highlights, featuring one of the album’s best vocal performances.

“The Days” at first seems to live in memories, looking back to a time when the world felt like it was ours. Claudia then sings, “Well, maybe it's not our world anymore/It's burning like a house on fire/Hard to keep up the way we did before/But the truth still resonates.” Many of us can relate to those lines. Things have changed, people have gotten ugly, and it’s hard sometimes to recognize the world we loved. But she goes on to say, “This is our world, and these are the times.” Indeed, we are not gone yet. Why let go of the world when we are still a part of it, when we can still do some good? This is an ultimately positive and pretty song. Death makes itself known in the first line of “Promised Land,” “Papa died the 19th of September.” This song tells a story from the past, from this country’s history, regarding immigration. It is the story of Claudia Gibson’s maternal grandmother, who was a child when she came here from Russia. “There’s the lady with the torch/We’re living in the promised land/Oh, Lina, Liberty she stands/Shining in our newfound home/Welcome to the promised land, the promised land.” Ah yes, the Statue of Liberty was supposed to welcome people to this country. It seems things are a little different these days, sadly, but history tells us that immigrants faced adversity all along, though horror shows like that created by Texas governor Greg Abbott seem a step beyond (that scoundrel deserves a lonely, painful end, with no compassion shown him).

“The Night Visiting Song” is the one cover on the album. It is a traditional Scottish song, and special guest Pat Byrne joins Claudia Gibson on vocals for this beautiful rendition. This track features some wonderful work on fiddle. It is followed by “Angles Fly,” a song that looks back, a photo causing the memories to return. “Your photo fell out from a book/An old one I had overlooked/I saw us in our younger days/With ‘True Love’ on the title page.” And I wonder just what happened as I listen to lines like “How hard it was to reconcile/The man I loved with one reviled/You were not then what you became.” But at the end of the song she is looking upward and outward, not backward. The album concludes with “Shine On,” a beautiful song that acts like a friend, offering a shoulder, offering a hand. Claudia Gibson delivers a sweet, comforting vocal performance. “Sometimes the world feels so heavy/The burden of years as we toil and we strive/When luck is not even or steady/Keep your hand on the tiller/And eyes on the prize.” Oh yes, music helps us keep on going, helps us keep in mind what is important and what is true.

CD Track List

  1. The Fields Of Chazy
  2. Unbound
  3. Laura’s Song
  4. Rain
  5. The Days
  6. Promised Land
  7. The Night Visiting Song
  8. Angels Fly
  9. Shine On

The Fields Of Chazy is scheduled to be released on March 1, 2024.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Britti: “Hello, I’m Britti” (2024) CD Review

Brittany Guerin is a singer and songwriter from Baton Rouge and now based in New Orleans. Performing under the name Britti, she just released her debut full-length album, aptly titled Hello, I’m Britti. It was produced by Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys), and recorded and mixed at his studio, Easy Eye Sound Studios in Nashville. It features all original music, co-written by Brittany Guerin and Dan Auerbach. Dan Auerbach also plays electric guitar, acoustic guitar, synthesizer, electric sitar, and percussion on these tracks, and provides some backing vocal work. Also joining Britti on this release are Tom Bukovac on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and lap steel; Russ Pahl on electric guitar, acoustic guitar and steel guitar; Nick Movshon on bass; Ray Jacildo on piano, organ, harpsichord, mellotron, vibraphone, and glockenspiel; Mike Rojas on piano, electric piano, organ, clavinet and synthesizer; Jay Bellerose on drums and percussion; Sam Bacco on percussion; and Ray Mason on horns. Andy Gabbard and Trey Keller provide backing vocals.

The album grabbed me with its opening track, “So Tired,” a soulful and honest song with a good groove. Perhaps it was partly the straightforward delivery of the first line, “So tired, so tired,” which spoke to me after I had worked nearly seventy hours the week before and was still exhausted. Her delivery made me smile. And check out these lines: “So tired/Giving up when I should be moving on/So tired/Never dreamed it would ever take this long/So tired/Turn around, and before you know, it’s gone.” The line “Never dreamed it would take this long” is another that stands out to me. I love the use of the word dreamed there, fitting in a song about being tired. This is an excellent song, featuring a wonderful bass line and a vocal performance that is friendly and true and beautiful. It was written by Brittany Guerin, Dan Auerbach and Pat McLaughlin. Then “Still Gone” has a somewhat easygoing vibe as it begins. “Lightning strikes in front of me/Oh, I used to be so afraid/Life took you away from me/Canceled all the plans we made,” Britti tells us. She is immersed in memory, but maybe does not want to emerge from it, for the sound builds as she sings “Day after day, no escape/Because you’re still gone.” Sometimes we don’t want to be pulled from our memories, our longings. Interestingly, she sings “Now today is haunting me/Didn’t end up like it should.” It is the present, not the past, which haunts her. This track ends up being another beautiful number.

There is a gentle funkiness to “Nothing Compares To You,” and there is an intimacy as she delivers the song’s title line. There is an earnestness. Hers is a voice we believe. Her performance grows in power, and the horns join in that rising of energy, which is wonderful. This is such a cool little gem of a song. It was written by Brittany Guerin, Dan Auerbach and Pat McLaughlin. That’s followed by “Back Where We Belong,” which has more of a country vibe, with Russ Pahl delivering some sweet work on steel guitar. Britti’s voice is equally at home in this realm.  People say hello/To people they don’t know/If I don’t smile, is that a crime/When someone is your rock, and you let them roll away/What else can you do, but everything to make them stay/I pray that you’ll never be lonely.” What a beautiful vocal performance. This is a moving number, another of my favorites. “Keep Running” also has some country and folk elements. Here she sings, “I’m a young trailblazer with a rambling soul/I’m building fires everywhere I go.” And that guitar hook is catchy. When she sings “I’m a lonely soldier far away from home,” the drum work has something of a military feel. Mike Rojas plays both piano and clavinet on this track. “I keep running so I don’t feel the pain/I keep running through the wind and the rain.”

Take my kindness for weakness/I bet I would win the fight,” Britti sings at the beginning of “Silly Boy.” Her vocals have an intimate quality here too. This track features some nice work from the horns (both Ray Mason and Todd Simon play on this one), and another good bass line. There is a spoken word section that works perfectly, yet still comes a surprise: “Silly boy, you thought you’d have me forever/And that I’d never ever leave your side/It’s so hard to say this/And it don’t come easy/But I can’t let my, my true feelings hide.” That section adds to this song’s classic vibe.  Tom Bukovac plays lap steel on this one. A beautiful atmosphere is created as “Lullaby” begins. I love that percussion. “Sing me a lullaby/Like you always do/When I need you to.” And yes, there is need in her voice, though she seems to be speaking to that need within all of us who listen, but there is also something angelic about her delivery. This is a gorgeous track, another of the disc’s highlights. It was written by Brittany Guerin, Dan Auerbach and Roger Cook.

“There Ain’t Nothing” is a delicious and totally enjoyable track, mixing blues and soul, with some classic sounds on horns. “You can drink your pain away/It won’t erase the mistakes you made/You can tell yourself another lie/But that  won’t save yourself another cry.” This cool song was written by Brittany Guerin, Dan Auerbach and Bobby Wood. That’s followed by “Reach Out,” the music feeling like it is coming from some great lost 1970s so-called “exploitation” film. It has a fantastic vibe. It was written by Brittany Guerin, Dan Auerbach and Pat McLaughlin. That’s followed by “Save Me.” I’ve mentioned before that I have never heard a bad song titled “Home.” The same might be said for “Save Me.” I especially love songs with that title by Wagons and Aimee Mann, but also tracks by Queen, Melanie Safka, Neil Diamond, Wilson Pickett and Bonnie Tyler. Add to that group this song by Britti. There is a great energy to this song from the start. And check out these lines: “I was born in the stars/I’m not surprised if you think I’m from Mars/To look in my eyes is to look in my heart/I’ve got no secrets, I’m only human, there’s no illusion.” Ray Jacildo plays mellotron, vibraphone and glockenspiel on this one. The album concludes with “Once Upon A Time,” another beautiful song. “Dreaming about the love I used to know/Sadly, that was once upon a time.” This one builds in power until its gentle ending. A wonderful conclusion to an absolutely excellent album. I am looking forward to hearing more from this talented artist.

CD Track List

  1. So Tired
  2. Still Gone
  3. Nothing Compares To You
  4. Back Where We Belong
  5. Keep Running
  6. Silly Boy
  7. Lullaby
  8. There Ain’t Nothing
  9. Reach Out
  10. Save Me
  11. Once Upon A Time

Hello, I’m Britti was released on February 2, 2024 through Easy Eye Sound.