Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Dom Martin: “Buried In The Hail” (2023) CD Review

Dom Martin is a guitarist and songwriter based in Belfast and working mainly in the blues realm. He released his first studio album, Spain To Italy, in 2019, following that in 2022 with A Savage Life, and then last year with Buried In The Hail. This newest album features mostly original material, some acoustic and some electric numbers. Joining him on this release are Ben Graham on bass and double bass, and Jonny McIlroy on drums.

The album opens with a pretty instrumental track, “Hello In There.” The guitar has a soothing and welcoming sound. In the second half of the track, the sound of children playing is added. That is followed by “Daylight I Will Find,” featuring a solid blues groove and some excellent guitar work. “It ain’t about the money/Brother, I ain’t made a dime/Now I would love to help you/But I don’t have the time.”  These lines also stand out: “It’s not for you to decide/Not like you to lie/Leave the fear behind you/My, my, how the good times fly.” Dom Martin then slows things down with “Government.” “It’s time to call it a day,” he sings after a rather sweet instrumental introduction, and there is warmth to his delivery. And soon he says, “You make me sick/To my stomach,” lines you’d imagine fitting well in a punk song, yet delivered here in a rather beautiful setting. Dom Martin has said that this song is not about a specific government, but about governments in general. However, I can’t help but think of the bloated fascist bastard who was at the head of our government just a few years ago, and, though facing many criminal charges, is somehow the leading candidate for that party again. What must the rest of the world think of us? I imagine the thought of Trump winning again makes the whole world sick to its stomach. This track concludes as it began, with some nice work on guitar.

Dom Martin then turns to a strong electric blues sound for “Belfast Blues,” where he sings, “Of all the rats in this town/You had to be the one/That we have to fight with/For you to have your fun.” And check out these lines: “Well, I grabbed that shovel/And I dug that hole/I threw myself in/And I watched myself grow.” Those lines are fantastic, combining images of a grave with the idea of planting seeds, the end and the beginning. And the lyrics are delivered with a passionate, raw sound, a sort of intimate growl. That’s followed by the album’s only cover, “Crazy,” a song written by Willie Nelson and made popular by Patsy Cline. The guitar work at the beginning has a haunted feel, setting the tone for this unusual and intriguing rendition. This blues version will make you appreciate the song with fresh ears. There is pain and longing in his delivery. There is also a lonesome vibe about it, and when he sings “Crazy for feeling so lonely,” you can feel it. Then halfway through, the song kicks in, the guitar wailing in a sort of lament. This is a remarkable take on the song.

“Unhinged” was released as a single back in June, and is the track that initially got me interested in this album (a music video was also released for it). This one has a heavy electric blues sound, with a solid groove. “So when you say hello/I know it’s all for show/When you know you’re falling down/But you’re falling slow/Well, just so you know/I’ve heard it all before.” Oh yes, there are so many less-than-genuine people out there, and some of them have played their parts so long they no longer seem to realize they are full of shit. I appreciate these lines: “Getting these stupid prizes/Playing stupid games/Playing stupid games.” But it’s that guitar work that especially stands out. Then “The Fall” opens with the sounds of birds, and soon a soothing, gentle sound on acoustic guitar. So the lyrics come as a surprise: “Can feel the river flowing/Crushed below the rocks/And ruined by the poison.” A strange doom seems to have settled over us. And yet he still reaches out, telling us, “It’s not yet too late.” But there is something haunted about the whole thing. “We’re ready for the fall.”

“Howlin’” is a tribute to Howlin’ Wolf, with that kind of vibe, the band getting into the groove. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Making women shake/And grown men cry/Making babies born/And birds take to the sky/With his howlin’.” That’s followed by the album’s title track, “Buried In The Hail,” a slow, captivating number. Its first lines are striking: “Take a train into your mind/See what’s left.” The song is like a journey inward, when perhaps you don’t like what you see. And its lyrics contain a nod to Hunter S. Thompson: “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” The sounds of a storm and people arguing provide an unusual bridge in the middle of the song. This is a dark ride, and a highlight of the album. Then “Lefty 2 Guns” is a song inspired by the book Donnie Brasco, and specifically by Benjamin “Lefty Two Guns” Ruggiero, and also by some people that Dom Martin has known in his life. There is an excellent guitar lead in the track’s second half. As the album began, it concludes with a short instrumental piece, this one titled “Laid To Rest,” feeling like a final statement.

CD Track List

  1. Hello In There
  2. Daylight I Will Find
  3. Government
  4. Belfast Blues
  5. Crazy
  6. Unhinged
  7. The Fall
  8. Howlin’
  9. Buried In The Hail
  10. Lefty 2 Guns
  11. Laid To Rest

Buried In The Hail was released on September 22, 2023 on Forty Below Records.

Mike Zito: “Life Is Hard” (2024) CD Review

Life Is Hard is the title of singer and guitarist Mike Zito’s new blues album, and that title reflects the feelings of many folks these days. With rent being too high in many places, and wages not keeping up with the cost of living, and what with trying to hold onto one’s sanity in a time when nearly half the country has gone ‘round the bend (and that’s the portion that is also armed – yikes!), life certainly is hard (and that’s not even taking into consideration everyone’s personal troubles). But the blues make life a little less hard, don’t they? This album contains mostly covers, along with a couple of original tunes, and the tracks feature some fantastic guitar work and rousing vocal performances. Joining Mike Zito on this release are Joe Bonamassa on guitar, Josh Smith on guitar, Reese Wynans on keyboards, Calvin Turner on bass, Lemar Carter on drums, Jade MacRae on backing vocals, and Dannielle Deandrea on backing vocals, along with some guests on a few tracks.

Mike Zito opens the album with a cover of Little Milton’s “I’m A Lonely Man,” here called “Lonely Man,” this version having a good, hopping groove. “Baby, don’t you know, don’t you know that I love you?” Paulie Cerra plays saxophone on this one, delivering some delicious work to help give a classic feel to the track. And check out that great work on keys. The band gets a chance to jam a bit here, and a really good guitar lead follows that stuff on keys. The track is mainly powered by Mike Zito’s energetic vocal performance. That’s followed by the album’s title track, “Life Is Hard,” a song written by Fred James, and previously included on Mike Zito’s live album Blues For The Southside, which was released in 2022. “Life ain’t easy/It’s a long, hard, rocky road,” Mike Zito sings at the beginning of this one. Well, I don’t know about the “long” part; it feels so incredibly short to me. But you can’t argue with these lines: “No matter how you try/Life is hard, and then you die.” And Mike Zito’s vocal performance is passionate. He pulls us right to the edge on this track, and that electric guitar adds its own testimony to back up everything he’s been singing. Oh man, that guitar is like a fiery knife ripping open the sky and daring the heavens to rain. Fantastic stuff.

Then we get a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Have A Talk With God,” a song from his excellent 1976 double album Songs In The Key Of Life. This track has such a great groove, with a bit of funk, and it turns out to be the perfect choice to follow “Life Is Hard,” for here Mike Zito sings, “But when you feel your life’s too hard/Just go have a talk with God.” This track contains some wonderful backing vocal work. That’s followed by the first of the album’s original compositions, “Forever My Love,” a slower number featuring another passionate vocal performance. “Forever, my love/I will always be true/Forever, my love/I will always be with you/Until the end of time.” It’s a love song, yes, but with heartache in his voice preparing us for the lines, “Now that you’re gone/This love carries on.” The guitar aches too, sharing the burden, and is able to let loose, releasing some of that ache by expressing it. “This pain I feel inside/Will always be my guide/And never leave my heart.” You can feel that, can’t you? That line about pain being his guide is heart-wrenching. This is a powerful number.

“No One To Talk To (But The Blues)” is a song written by Wayne Walker and George Sherry, and recorded by Lefty Frizzell and Shirley Caddell in the late 1950s. And there is something of that classic vibe in this rendition by Mike Zito. I love the work on keys, and of course there is some excellent stuff on electric guitar. And this track lightens the mood somewhat after the emotional impact of the previous song. Mike Zito then delivers a heavy, pounding rendition of “Dying To Do Wrong,” a song written by Tinsley Ellis. “Well, liquor make me evil/Make me mistreat my best friend/Cocaine make you crazy/You lose your mind in the end.” That’s followed by an interesting rendition of “These Eyes,” written by Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings. As it begins, it has a strong 1970s vibe. This track features a really good vocal performance by Mike Zito, plus some wonderful stuff from the backing vocalists. It also features Jennifer Kumma and Anna Spina on French horn.

This album also contains an excellent rendition of Tab Benoit’s “Darkness.” As Mike Zito sings, “She’s dragging me low,” we can hear the truth of it in his voice, particularly his delivery of the word “low.” This is another performance from right on the edge, where some of the best blues music thrives. “So please, please forgive me/Let’s walk side by side/Fill in this darkness between you and I.” And the guitar is just as eloquent in its plea. That’s followed by the album’s second original composition, “Without Loving You.” “What am I going to do/With all this love I have for you?” he asks at the beginning. What do you do with that love when the person you love is gone? Put it into the blues. This song has a strong groove, and features another passionate vocal performance. Then Mike Zito tackles Walter Trout’s “Nobody Moves Me Like You Do.” As this track begins, it has a cool, heavy 1970s sound, which I immediately dig. And then that wild blues guitar takes off from there.

The final track on the disc is a cover of “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” written by Reverend Gary Davis (also sometimes known as Blind Gary Davis). This is a song I first heard done by the Grateful Dead. This version by Mike Zito is powerful and comes as a surprise. The first several lines are delivered a cappella, and the silence between lines is striking, particularly in contrast to all that has come before. He is soon backed by some great gospel vocal work (Steve Ray Ladson joins him on backing vocals on this one). And then the instruments join their voices. This is a compelling and phenomenal rendition. You can hear the pain particularly in the instrumental section in the middle. I highly recommend checking out this track. Its sudden ending is startling; it’s like death has grabbed hold again. Wow. By the way, the CD case lists a twelfth track, “Forever My Love (Radio Edit),” but it’s not there, at least not on my copy.

CD Track List

  1. Lonely Man
  2. Life Is Hard
  3. Have A Talk With God
  4. Forever My Love
  5. No One To Talk To (But The Blues)
  6. Dying To Do Wrong
  7. These Eyes
  8. Darkness
  9. Without Loving You
  10. Nobody Moves Me Like You Do
  11. Death Don’t Have No Mercy

Life Is Hard is scheduled to be released on February 23, 2024 on Gulf Coast Records.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Ted Russell Kamp: “California Son” (2024) CD Review

The best thing about living in Los Angeles (yes, even better than the weather and being able to work in the film industry) is the music. There is some tremendous talent in this city, and often musicians will lend a hand on each other’s projects, so it’s possible to see some of the same folks in many different contexts playing a variety of different music. One such talented musician is Ted Russell Kamp, who has performed with a good range of artists, usually on bass (I wish I’d been at the Cinema Bar a few weeks ago when he sat in with Hot Club Of Los Angeles), and also has his own material. He is an important part of that delicious southern California sound, and Los Angeles often provides subjects for his songs. His new album, California Son, features all original material, written or co-written by Ted Russell Kamp. On this album he plays bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, dobro, organ, and percussion. Yes, he’s a full band by himself, but he does have some guests joining him on various tracks.

The album opens with its title track, which begins with these lines: “I left New York in the rear view/With the open road ahead.” There is always something appealing about hitting the road, isn’t there? And of course that’s how most of us got to Los Angeles. This is a song about being a musician, and he mentions several of those iconic places of Los Angeles, including Laurel Canyon and the Troubadour. There is no question but that Ted Russell Kamp is a California son, and the song speaks to all of us who have adopted this land, and have felt adopted by it in turn. “I’m not the only one/But I’m a California son.” Brian Whelan is on guitar and backing vocals on this track, and Zachary Ross also plays guitar. Sasha Smith is on keyboards. That’s followed by “Hard To Hold,” which has more of a rock vibe as it begins, with a strong beat. Dave Raven is on drums. This song’s first lines mention a car (“an old Chevy Nova”) and driving, which of course is a big part of Los Angeles. We spend a lot of time in our cars, not always by choice. “She’s driving through the hot night/Been putting up a good fight/With only one headlight/To see.” Driving continues to play a part throughout the track: “She’s rolling through a stop light/But it’s going to be all right/She’s going to spend midnight/With me.” John Schreffler joins Ted Russell Kamp on guitar and backing vocals on this track. “Hard To Hold” was written by Ted Russell Kamp and Eli Wulfmeier.

Ted Russell Kamp slows things down just a bit for “One Word At A Time,” which has a more introspective feel. Here he sings, “Another empty page today/Another search for something to say/But it’s the life I chose/And I’m going to find my way/One word at a time, one word at a time.” Yes, this one too is about being a songwriter. Both Jenny Van West and Ed DesJardins join him on backing vocals on this track. Ted Russell Kamp played bass on Jenny Van West’s 2018 album Happiness To Burn. These lines stand out for me: “And these lines I write are the best way out the door/When I’m all stuck inside/I paint a picture in my mind/And I’m one step closer to what I’m hoping to find.” Bart Ryan adds some nice work on guitar, and Jamie Douglass plays drums. If I recall correctly, I heard Ted Russell Kamp play this song at that Tuesday night jam at Ireland’s 32 in December. And it’s followed by a song I saw him perform at his show at Ireland’s 32 on December 29th, “Shine On.” This one was co-written by Rob Waller and Paul Lacques, members of I See Hawks In L.A. I’m still coming to terms with Paul Lacques no longer being here. He was another of those musicians who made a great impact in this city, and played with a wide variety of artists himself. He plays on this track as well. Paul Marshall and Rob Waller also lend their incredible voices to this song. So, yeah, three of the four members of I See Hawks In L.A. perform on this track. It’s probably no surprise that this is one of my personal favorites, though I find myself fighting tears while listening to it. “Shine on, shine on/Like a flame that dances just above the ember/Shine on, shine on/Like a dream that you just can’t quite remember.” It’s a beautiful song. There is a phrase in its lyrics that was the title of a screenplay that I wrote a couple of decades ago (I should dig that thing out), “Halfway To Somewhere.” Jim Doyle plays drums on this one.

“The Upside To The Downslide” is a bluesy country rocker, a fun track. “The upside to the downslide/Is there’s nothing left to lose/I may be coming in too hot/But at least I’m on the move.” Yup, it’s a song that speaks to me and makes me glad I have a beer in my hand. Tommi Viksten plays guitar on this track, and Janne Haavisto is on drums. Then Dan Wistrom joins Ted Russell Kamp on “Ballad Of The Troubadour,” another beautiful number, another of the disc’s highlights, and another about music, featuring a heartfelt vocal performance and gorgeous work on pedal steel. Dave Raven is again on drums, and Matt Lomeo delivers some wonderful work on harmonica. “Down every road to every show/It’s the only life he’s ever known/Ballad of the troubadour.” This song was written by Ted Russell Kamp and Shane Alexander, and is followed by “High Desert Fever.” There is a joy in the delivery of this cheerful country number right from its opening moments. This one also places us on the road early on: “Well, I’m rolling down Highway 29/Headed to a place that would ease my mind.” Brian Whelan and John Schreffler provide backing vocals, and you might be singing along before too long. Jim Doyle provides some really nice work on drums. “High Desert Fever” was written by Ted Russell Kamp and Ted Wulfers.

“Firelight” has a gentler vibe as it begins, with some pretty work on guitar and a sweet vocal performance. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Cicadas break the silence/As I light a fire/Magic in the flames/As they grow higher/With all that stands before me/And battles left to fight/I’ll keep this fire within me burning bright.” Shane Alexander and Justine Bennett provide backing vocals on this moving song. Ted Russell Kamp picks up the energy again with “Miracle Mile,” another song about Los Angeles, about a specific part of L.A. that includes a section of Wilshire Blvd., and is about driving. Well, here it’s referred to as cruising, which makes being stuck in your car sound so much better. “I want to pick you up right around a quarter to four/So we can cruise around town.” Later in the song he sings, “I’ve got a full tank of gas, my baby and a bottle of wine.” Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, or maybe it’s because I’m poor, but these days when I hear about a full tank of gas, I think, “Man, that’s at least sixty dollars.” Anyway, this is another fun number. “It’ll be fun in the sun/While we’re rolling down the Miracle Mile.” This song was written by Ted Russell Kamp and Mike Dawson.

“Hangin’ On Blues” begins with a catchy bass line. And when Ted’s vocals come in, they are supported by just that bass line, which is great, giving this number its own special sound. “It’s like everyone’s living on minimum wage/It’s more than enough to drive a man to rage/But if you can’t afford the book, you can’t turn the page/All about the hangin’ on blues/I’ve been hangin’ on/For so damn long/Trying to make sense of it all.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who relates completely to this song. And though it’s the blues, this song has a rather upbeat feel. It is yet another of the disc’s highlights. It’s followed by “Roll Until The Sun Comes Up.” Brian Whelan co-wrote this one, and provides backing vocals. Stephen Musselman and Elijah Ocean play guitar on this track. This track also features some good work on keys. There is a nice energy to this track, in the guitar work and Ted Russell Kamp’s vocals. The album concludes with “Every Little Thing.” There is a certain amount of attitude in Ted Russell Kamp’s delivery as he sings those opening lines, “Sometimes you get blindsided/And you get pushed around/You walk right into a sucker punch/You get knocked down/Then you dig your own deep grave.” But the song offers hope and a more positive outlook in its chorus, and that’s what we hold onto.

CD Track List

  1. California Son
  2. Hard To Hold
  3. One Word At A Time
  4. Shine On
  5. The Upside To The Downslide
  6. Ballad Of The Troubadour
  7. High Desert Fever
  8. Firelight
  9. Miracle Mile
  10. Hangin’ On Blues
  11. Roll Until The Sun Comes Up
  12. Every Little Thing

California Son is scheduled to be released on March 22, 2024.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

E.G. Phillips: “Outlaw The Dead” (2023) CD Review

Some musicians have their own particular way of looking at the world, and of expressing what it is they see, what it is they experience. What’s wonderful is that while at first the resulting music might seem out there, might seem strange, it quickly becomes apparent that what is expressed is something that is universal. There is that delicious moment of recognition, when the listener hears his or her own thoughts and concerns revealed through the music, and maybe that leads to some self-reflection. Or maybe it doesn’t. Either way, the music of these musicians tends to stand out. E.G. Phillips is certainly among their number. I loved his 2022 release Alien From An Alternate Earth, an album that displayed his sense of humor. Some of the same folks who played on that album worked on his new release, Outlaw The Dead, including keyboardist Kevin Seal, upright bass player Paul Eastburn, percussionist Chris McGrew, and saxophonist Daniel Cesares. Christopher Fortier plays guitar and electric bass on this release. There are some other guests on certain tracks, including two vocalists.

The album opens with its title track, “Outlaw The Dead.” As it begins, it has dark pop vibe with a solid beat, and E.G. Phillips sings, “They post an eviction notice/On the cemetery gates/Uproot tombstones like theyre weeds/And start unearthing graves.” Soon we learn that a new strip mall is being built there, and I can’t help but think of Poltergeist, and how in that film a neighborhood was built over a cemetery. But this song is not really about the deceased, though there is still a bit of a delicious Halloween vibe to it. It is about those that might seem unnecessary or unimportant to those in power, the poor who don’t have a voice and who might as well be dead in their eyes. And at the end, E.G. Phillips sings, “We are the dead.” Grace Renaud joins E.G. Phillips on vocals for this one. That’s followed by “Boil The Ocean.” There is something pretty about the keyboard work, which is sort of unsettling itself, contrasting with the song’s lyrics and general vibe. “The currents out here can sweep you away/Especially if you tend to drift/I have kept afloat, but I am sinking now/Now theres one option left/Boil the ocean.” There is a strong sense of loneliness as the song progresses, and so it seems this character might be reaching out in anger and despair. The song paints a harsh picture, one of the slow destruction of an individual.

Grace Renaud provides the lead vocals on “A Bridge Too Far (MacArthur Station),” a song with a bossa nova vibe. It’s about being stuck waiting for a train to get back to San Francisco from Oakland, its title a nod to the Richard Attenborough war film. “It’s a frigid little purgatory surrounded by the highway/Waiting on this open air platform after missing a connecting train/Once again the one connection on which Im forced to rely/Is the one I can’t rely on at all.” This one too has a sense of loneliness. These lines also stand out: “A mad man rants, my signal’s failed/The whole damn worlds determined to go off the rails.” That “rails” line makes me smile every time I listen to this disc. First of all, it’s true that the world seems dead set on going sideways, but that line can be taken in other ways as well. Obviously, there is the play on the metro, but also there is the idea of people determined to clog the roads with their own vehicles rather than taking public transport. This is an unusual and compelling song. It is followed by “It Ain’t Good To Be In Love With You.” Ethan Levitt plays alto saxophone on this track, delivering some wonderful work and helping to create an interesting effect, for there is something of a classic jazz vibe to this track which works in some contrast with the vocal work and what is being said. “It’s been an all-day eclipse/With hints of apocalypse/It’s the last words/I heard from your lips.” There is an odd bit of joy heard in the line “With hints of apocalypse.” This song is about a relationship that has ended, or is ending, a love song about how this love is just no good for him. Yet there is something of a romantic vibe about it. Isn’t that how things are, that we feel two things at once, torn as we feel ourselves going in two directions? That great stuff on sax is part of what makes this track stand out. And I love the way things build here.

“(I Can Pay You In) Bottles Of Wine” also features some cool work on saxophone, this time by Daniel Cesares on baritone sax, and has a cool vibe. Check out these lines: “There are remnants of her in this apartment/A chest in the closet, a blanket thats stained/And the poison she tried to hide from me/Is now the only currency with which Im paid.” This is a number that grows in power, becomes livelier as it goes, and is another of the disc’s highlights. It is easy and wonderful to get caught up in its motion. Jazz vocalist Mar Vilaseca sings lead on the disc’s final track, “I Am The One Who Ghosts.” This one mentions the pandemic and mortality in its first verse: “Wish I’d made my escape/With the coming of the plague/It was the perfect opportunity/For me to exit this stage.” It seems then to be about death, but there is a play on the word “ghost,” how now people use the word to mean “suddenly cutting off all communication with someone without explanation,” and so perhaps it is a different sort of escape she sings about, a different sort of stage she is exiting (not the Shakespearean sense of stage meaning the entire world). E.G. Phillips likens the disappearance to a “soldier who abandons his post.” There is an undeniable beauty to this song, due in large part to Mar Vilaseca’s performance. This track also features some nice work on keys and percussion, and there is a haunting atmosphere behind the song’s beauty.

CD Track List

  1. Outlaw The Dead
  2. Boil The Ocean
  3. A Bridge Too Far (MacArthur Station)
  4. It Ain’t Good To Be In Love With You
  5. (I Can Pay You In) Bottles Of Wine
  6. I Am The One Who Ghosts

Outlaw The Dead was released on November 2, 2023.