Sunday, March 31, 2024

Ann Peebles & The Hi Rhythm Section: “Live In Memphis” (2022) CD Review

On February 7, 1992, Ann Peebles performed with the Hi Rhythm Section at The Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. That show, which was billed “An Evening Of Classic Soul” and also included Otis Clay, was recorded, and is the only known live recording of Peebles with The Hi Rhythm Section (the band had performed on some of her studio releases, including Straight From The Heart and I Can’t Stand The Rain). In 2022, the concert recording was released as Live In Memphis on both CD and vinyl through Memphis International Records. The set features some of her classic material. The Hi Rhythm Section is made up of Leroy Hodges on bass, Charles Hodges on keyboard, Howard Grimes on drums, and Thomas Bingham on guitar. Also performing with Ann Peebles on this recording are John Sangster on saxophone, Anthony Royal on trumpet, Dennis Bates on trombone, and David J. Hodson and Tina Crawford on backing vocals.

The album opens with “If I Can’t See You,” a song that Ann Peebles included on The Handwriting Is On The Wall, released in the late 1970s. The track has a brief introduction: “Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Ann Peebles,” and the band gets right to it. Ann Peebles delivers a strong vocal performance, soulful and sexy, with a bright power. In the second half of the track, she addresses the crowd: “I’d like to say good evening. Well, hello. How are you doing, Memphis? Did we come here to party tonight?” And we can hear the crowd respond. According to the liner notes by David Less, the crowd was small at this concert, but the folks there are clearly into it. She follows that with “Part Time Love,” the title track from her second album. In 1992, the year of this concert, Ann Peebles released a new album titled Full Time Love, that album’s title clearly a play on the title of this early album. It’s interesting that this set does not focus on music from the 1992 album. Anyway, “Part Time Love” is a very cool number. She released it as a single in 1970, and it was a hit for her.

We’d like to slow it all the way down,” Ann Peebles says in introducing “Didn’t We Do It,” a song that was included on Call Me, released in 1989. She goes on to say why she likes this song, that it helps her “go back down memory lane.” Here she gives one of the album’s best vocal performances, passionate and moving. “Sometimes it’s gotta rain/I won’t fool myself, oh no/When there was no one else but you/Boy, you made the difference/And a lot of our dreams came true/Now, didn’t we do it.” There is some nice work from the backing vocalists too. It’s a sweet number, and the crowd clearly appreciates it. That’s followed by “I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home.” You’ve probably heard several artists do this song over the years, including Albert King, Bette Midler and Etta James. But before all of those renditions, it was recorded by Ann Peebles, who included it on Straight From The Heart. As she starts it here, she asks, “Anybody familiar with this song tonight?” This track features some nice stuff on keys. In the middle, Ann Peebles delivers a spoken word section, telling the crowd, “You know, just because I said I feel like breaking it up don’t necessarily mean I’m going to go out there and do it.” She has a wonderful rapport with the crowd, and this spoken word section is cool. She then sings, “It gets so hard sometimes.” I love this added section. This rendition is quite a bit longer than her original studio recording of the song.

At the beginning of “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down,” she tells the crowd she would love a glass of water. I have to imagine someone immediately went to fetch it for her. This track is another highlight of the set, her voice so smooth as she begins the song. And, yes, this is another song you might have heard performed by other artists, but again Ann Peebles got to it first, including it on her 1974 record I Can’t Stand The Rain, and on a single before that. She follows it with “I Didn’t Take Your Man,” a fun number featuring some good stuff on keys. It begins with a spoken word section, addressed to a woman named Mary, her man’s previous girlfriend. This section was on her original studio recording too, on The Handwriting Is On The Wall. “I didn’t take your man/You gave him to me,” she repeats, until Mary accepts it. I love the horn section here.

“Hangin’ On” was written by Ira Allen and Buddy Mize, and originally recorded by The Gosdin Brothers. It’s also sometimes listed as “(Just Enough To Keep Me) Hangin’ On,” and sometimes as “(You Keep Me) Hangin’ On,” as Ann Peebles does here. That is also how she listed it on her single and on the I Can’t Stand The Rain LP. On this track, she delivers another delicious vocal performance. Just listen to her deliver these lines: “It’s true you’ve got me wrapped around your finger/Seems to me like, seems to me like that’s where I belong.” So good! Listen to those two lines and you’ll be hooked. That’s followed by “Let Your Love Light Shine,” another song from The Handwriting Is On The Wall, this one written by Don Bryant and Ann Peebles. The band delivers a wonderful rendition of this dance song, the track featuring some great work on sax. “Everybody’s got a little love light/All you’ve got to do is let it shine.” The album ends with “I Can’t Stand The Rain,” one of her biggest songs. Other people have covered it, but it’s hers. She wrote it with Don Bryant and Bernard Miller. Interestingly, she revisited it on that 1992 album Full Time Love, where it is the closing track. So this is the only song from the 1992 release that she includes here. When she delivers the first line, some folks in the audience applaud and someone yells out, “Yeah!” Indeed. This is a great song, and Ann Peebles gives a seriously strong rendition here, showing once again that this is her song. I wish this track went on a little longer. The ending feels a little sudden, with somebody shouting out, “We got to go.”

CD Track List

  1. If I Can’t See You
  2. Part Time Love
  3. Didn’t We Do It
  4. I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home
  5. I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down
  6. I Didn’t Take Your Man
  7. (You Keep Me) Hangin’ On
  8. Let Your Love Light Shine
  9. I Can’t Stand The Rain

Live In Memphis was released on April 29, 2022 on Memphis International Records.

Steve Drizos: “I Love You Now Leave Me Alone” (2024) CD Review

Steve Drizos is a singer, songwriter and musician who plays several instruments. He is the drummer for Jerry Joseph And The Jackmormons, yet on his new album, the playfully titled I Love You Now Leave Me Alone, he has Joe Mengis (of the band Eels) behind the kit. Drizos plays electric guitar, acoustic guitar, synthesizer and percussion on this one. Joining him, in addition to Joe Mengis, are Todd Wright on electric guitar and backing vocals, Tim Murphy on bass and backing vocals, and Jenny Conlee (of The Decemberists) on piano and electric piano. The album features all original material, written or co-written by Steve Drizos. Drizos also produced, recorded and mixed the album. This is his second album, following 2021’s Axiom.

The album opens with “Boomerang,” with a deliberately lo-fi quality to the sound as the song begins. “All you need is a reason and time/A little break and back to write/Another day, another fight/What else do you need to feel/How much grace is left to steal.” The song then kicks in to become a solid rock number. I’m so glad some folks are still writing songs like this. It has a strong beat and some powerful work on guitar. “Boomerang” is followed by “Troubled Heart.” This is the song that initially got me interested in this release. It has a somewhat more relaxed vibe, and that vibe and its lyrical content were what drew me to it. Here are the song’s first lines: “I know we don’t talk about it much/Lately there’s a distance between us/Sometimes I get lost alone in the dark/And it’s hard to say I love you with a troubled heart.” There is also some really nice work on guitar. “Please wait for me/I’m catching up to where I need to be/I need to be.” I think we can all relate to those lines as we try to get to where we feel we should be. Each of us needs to know that special someone will stand by us while we work things out. This is one of my personal favorite tracks. “Get back to the parts of us we miss.”

The zip code in the title of “Brooklyn 97202” lets us know he’s not singing about New York. No, this is about a neighborhood in southeast Portland, Oregon, where Steve Drizos lives. It comes in with a solid, driving beat. “It all comes down to how you see it,” he sings at the beginning. After a minute or so, it kicks in. And in those moments it makes me think of summer and youth, vibrant and exciting. Summer is especially anticipated in Oregon. I lived there for several years in the 1990s, and everyone would be so happy when the damn rain finally stopped. “The color’s back and I feel good/In my neighborhood/I’d keep the lights on if I could/You know I surely would/But I don’t complain/I don’t explain anymore.” This song was chosen as the album’s first single, released in July last year. Then “Kick Into Touch” has a lighter, more pleasant vibe as it begins. On this song, Steve sings, “Luckier than I should be/Lover, friends and family/Surrounding me/Stick around through thick and thin/Been to hell and back again.” Those lines remind us to appreciate what we have, and how lucky we are to have those special people in our lives.  Nearly two minutes in, the track picks up in power. And it is in this song that he delivers the line that is the album’s title. This is another of my personal favorites.

“Shadow Life” has a more somber vibe at the start, a sound that is grey, creating a feeling of something that is not quite complete, something that is being restrained. Check out these lines, which open the song: “Rise and shine/Wake to find/A chain around your heart/Shake the dream/It’s always been/Hiding in the dark.” Yet this one too kicks in, and spirits begin to rise. I love that moment when the song turns that corner, preparing us. “Waking up from the shadow life/The shadows will come no more.” It then returns to the main feel for the next verse, in which he sings, “The past/Tries to cast/Shapes upon the wall.” I love those lines. The song develops a certain beauty, and is another of the disc’s highlights.  These lines also stand out to me: “Things that used to turn you on/Only making you feel older.” That’s followed by “Katie,” which was chosen as the second single from the album. It was written for his wife. “Katie, sing me a song tonight/Something that’s beautiful and bright.” Sometimes it can be just a word from that special someone, and it feels like a song that can carry you through a day. But we need it. We need the truth of it. “And tell me please what’s my next maneuver/It seems that I lost the plot somehow.”

“Beautiful Nothing” kind of eases in, creating a sense of atmosphere, a swirling mist from which something will soon emerge, or into which we will go. “Fall into the beautiful nothing.” There is a slow build here that is compelling, and toward the end it bursts into another level. The album concludes with another of its best tracks, “Inside Outside,” which has a gentler sound. “Went out to the ocean side/Spilled my problems to the sea/The ocean don’t give a fuck about me.” Yup, the world itself doesn’t care about us. It continues with us or without us, and our personal woes have no effect on any of it. That can be completely depressing, but here he takes a different approach, singing “So I do my best to stay out of my own way/Stop worrying away my days, worrying away my days.”

CD Track List

  1. Boomerang
  2. Troubled Heart
  3. Brooklyn 97202
  4. Kick Into Touch
  5. Shadow Life
  6. Katie
  7. Beautiful Nothing
  8. Inside Outside

I Love You Now Leave Me Alone was released on February 16, 2024 on Cavity Search Records, and is available on vinyl as well as CD.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Canned Heat: “Finyl Vinyl” (2024) CD Review

Some bands go through a lot of personnel changes over the course of their existence, but somehow manage to keep the core idea and vibe of the music going. Take Canned Heat, for example. The band released its first album in 1967, a self-titled record of delicious blues covers. None of the people who played on that record are still in the band. None of them, in fact, are even still alive. The next year, the band released two fantastic albums, Boogie With Canned Heat (which featured “On The Road Again”) and Living The Blues (which featured “Going Up The Country”). By then, Adolfo De La Parra had replaced Frank Cook on drums. Adolfo De La Parra, who has played on all the band’s big hits, is still drumming in the band. The rest of the current members are all recent additions, but the band still boogies. In fact, on their new album, Finyl Vinyl, there are two tracks with “Boogie” in their titles. And yes, for those wondering, this album is going to be released on vinyl as well as CD. With that title, how could it not be? The band, in addition to Adolfo De La Parra, is made up of Dale Spalding on harmonica and vocals; Jimmy Vivino on guitar, keyboards and vocals; and Richard Reed on bass. Most of the songs on this album were written by the band members. One of the exceptions was composed by Dave Alvin, who joins the band on vocals and guitar. More on that in a bit.

The album opens with “One Last Boogie,” which begins with the line “One last boogie, turn up the heat,” a playful nod to the band’s name. This song has a classic Canned Heat sound. It was written by Jimmy Vivino, who also sings lead on it. This is just the thing you want to hear from this band. It features some great stuff on harmonica and guitar. I particularly like the guitar work at the end during the jam. “One more boogie, ‘til the clock runs down/What a way to go, you can boogie right into the ground.” That sounds like the way to go to me. Then we get the song written by Dave Alvin, “Blind Owl,” a song about the band itself, and particularly about founding member Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson. Dave Alvin sings lead on this track, delivering a cool performance, as he seems to always do. And in these lines he refers to the early Canned Heat hit “On The Road Again”: “Folks are dancin’ and sweatin’/Somewhere between salvation and sin/And when the morning sun rises/I’ll be back on the road again.” This track also features some excellent guitar work. There is a delicious jam in the middle, and I love that harmonica. It is fantastic that this song exists on this album, and is reason enough to purchase the CD or record.

“Goin’ To Heaven (In A Pontiac)” is pure fun from the moment it starts. It was written by Jimmy Vivino, who sings lead on it. This track is good ol’ rock and roll, and it features some really good stuff on keys and guitar. “I’m goin’ to heaven/Ain’t no turnin’ back/Don’t need no chariot of gold/Take me in a Pontiac.” Then, interestingly, the band revisits a song from its 1970 LP Future Blues, “So Sad (The World’s In A Tangle).” Though more folks are aware of environmental concerns now than were at the time of this song’s original release, there are still many people who deny climate change for their own political gains. The battle continues. The world is still in a tangle, so it seems fitting to revisit the song now. This version isn’t quite as long as the original, but still contains a good jam. Dale Spalding sings lead on this one, and Joe Bonamassa joins the group on guitar. And there’s a whole lot of excellent guitar work. This version includes an echo of “So sad.”

The other track with “Boogie” in the title is an instrumental titled “East/West Boogie,” which features a great bass line, giving the song a bit of a punk edge. This is a seriously cool instrumental track that transports us and features a strong rhythm.  Wally Ingram joins the band on percussion on this track. That’s followed by “Tease Me,” a playful blues number written by Dale Spalding and Adolfo De La Parra, and featuring Dale on vocals. Here he tells his woman he wants her to tease him all day. “You got to tease me all day/You got to love me, baby, with a thrill/If you don’t tease me right, baby/You know some other woman will.” And the line he tosses out then, “Oh, somebody tease me,” made me laugh out loud the first time I listened to this disc. Right after that line, there is a really good harmonica part. “I want you to tease me, baby/‘Til I go out of my mind.” Dale also sings lead on “A Hot Ole Time,” a song written by Sam Hollander and Chris Scianni, and one features a wonderful, delightful rhythm. Oh yes, this is designed to make you feel good, to get you on your feet.

The rhythm is then the driving force of “You’re The One,” one of my personal favorite tracks. It was written by Dale Spalding, who also sings lead, and here he delivers one of the album’s best vocal performances. This is a sweet blues number. “You’re the one, no one else/There ain’t no substitute/I never met nobody that was ever so fine as you.” This song has such a good vibe about it. And check out that harmonica work in the second half. That’s followed by “When You’re 69,” which has a classic, mean blues vibe. It was written by Jimmy Vivino, and he sings lead on it. It’s a song about aging, and yeah, this topic speaks pretty strongly to me these days. “Someday you’ll get there too,” he sings, then gives a laugh before adding, “And the same thing’s gonna happen to you.” Yup, if you’re lucky. Also, check out these lines: “Just like an old dog/When you can’t learn no new tricks/Every day you wake up/Somethin’ needs to be fixed.” The line about having no sense of time also rings true. This track contains another great lead on harmonica during that jam, and is one of the disc’s highlights.

“Independence Day” was written by Dale Spalding and Dean Zucherro, and Dale sings lead on it. This one has a catchy and cool groove, one that will have you smiling before long. “Looking over my shoulder/See the world I’m leaving behind/Never once more to hold her/Never more that moment in time.” The band then wraps up the album with a cover of Rollee McGill’s “There Goes That Train,” a song that McGill released on a single in 1955. Canned Heat delivers a fairly faithful rendition. Dale Spalding sings lead on this track, and does a great job capturing that classic vibe. The whole band gets into the spirit of the thing, making the song breathe. And  this track features some seriously cool work on harmonica.

CD Track List

  1. One Last Boogie
  2. Blind Owl
  3. Goin’ To Heaven (In A Pontiac)
  4. So Sad (The World’s In A Tangle)
  5. East/West Boogie
  6. Tease Me
  7. A Hot Ole Time
  8. You’re The One
  9. When You’re 69
  10. Independence Day
  11. There Goes That Train

Finyl Vinyl is scheduled to be released on April 5, 2024 on Ruf Records.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Arina Fujiwara: “Neon” (2023) CD Review

Arina Fujiwara is a pianist and composer from Saitama, Japan. She studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and then at Manhattan School of Music in New York. In October she put out her first album. Titled Neon, it features mostly original compositions, along with a couple of covers. Joining her on this release are Jaycee Cardoso on violin, Sammy Andonian on violin, Jeremy Klein on viola, Clara Cho on cello, Vid Jamnik on vibraphone, Brad Kang on guitar, Dan Finn on bass, and Mikkel Blaesild Vuust on drums.

The album opens with “Yuki Ga Furu,” an original composition. This track begins with the string section. There is a somewhat lonesome, contemplative air as the piece starts. Then it turns a corner, gaining energy, and feeling dramatic. The briefest of pauses leads to back to a mellower vibe, even as the drums come in. The track creates a changing landscape. The piano work has warmth, particularly in the way that instrument works together with the bass. The bass then gets a chance to lead, and that is another strong section. There is a beauty to this track, which is interestingly most striking when the music gains in intensity. The track ends in that more lonesome realm. That’s followed by “Hotaru Koi,” one of two covers on the album. This is a Japanese children’s song, here performed with an arrangement by Arina Fujiwara. It features an intriguing beginning, with that work on strings seeming to be more suitable for a thriller than a children’s song. And I love the beautiful melancholy sound of the cello. The piece then builds from there, moving about with a fleeting freedom and becoming pretty, even magical. The tone then changes nearly halfway through, with the addition of some progressive rock elements, something that is unexpected. This piece just gets more and more interesting. Toward the end, the rhythm takes over. One thing that is striking about this track is that there is uncertainty in its beauty.

Arina Fujiwara goes back to the original material with “Neon,” the album’s title track. This one begins gently, almost tentatively, on piano. The strings then help create an unusual mood, and when the vibraphone comes in, it is almost at odds with that mood. When the vibraphone and strings begin working together, an interesting magic occurs, a combination of moods, of desires, a fuller experience of the world. Arina Fuiwara’s lead on piano relaxes us, soothes us, and we feel lighter, particularly as the strings re-enter. That’s followed by “Komorebi.” There is an innocence as this one begins, and very soon it feels almost like the memory of innocence, as our perspective shifts and we find ourselves in a meditative place, a safe place, a beautiful place. We are alone with our thoughts, as the light plays upon everything around us, and on our skin. Knowing the past can’t hurt us, we feel at ease in the surroundings the music has created.

The last of the original compositions is titled “Vol. 1,” and it gets off to a lively start, like it is already in progress, already in motion. For a moment at the beginning the drum work is almost like a march on the snare. There is a bit of flurry to the tone and vibe of this track as it continues to drive forward. This track features some wonderful work on piano, plus really nice stuff on guitar in the second half. Then Arina Fujiwara changes directions again, surprisingly concluding the disc with a cover of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” to which she puts her own delightful spin. This is an excellent solo piano track. Her playing is impressive, and will likely put a smile on the face of anyone who listens.

CD Track List

  1. Yuki Ga Furu
  2. Hotaru Koi
  3. Neon
  4. Komorebi
  5. Vol. 1
  6. Maple Leaf Rag

Neon was released on October 2, 2023.