Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Left Banke: “Strangers On A Train” (1986/2022) CD Review

The Left Banke, known for the big hit “Walk Away Renée,” broke up in 1969 after releasing only two albums and several singles. They reunited in 1978 and recorded an album’s worth of material, which was not released until 1986 under the title Strangers On A Train (though in the UK it was released as Voices Calling). Now that album is being re-issued, with six bonus tracks that were previously unreleased, and new liner notes by Scott Schinder. Most of the original tracks were written or co-written by Tom Finn, while the bonus material was written or co-written by Michael Brown. As you’d expect, these tracks contain plenty of great harmonies.

The album opens with its title track, “Strangers On A Train,” which has a sweet, easygoing 1970s sound. “Strangers on a train/There’s nothing left to hide/But the love you have inside/You’re waiting to share.” And when it kicks in, the vocals have the sort of energy and sound that Paul McCartney had when he would suddenly tear into a lyric in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the song becomes exciting. Toward the end, the track really takes off and becomes a good jam. I wish that section went on a little longer. That’s followed by “Heartbreaker” (geez, how many artists recorded songs with that title in the 1970s?), this one written by Tom Finn and Steve Martin Caro. It features some nice work on electric guitar and some strong vocal work. “Love is all you want/It’s all you need to get you by/But love can make you cry/And I did for you and I.”

“Lorraine” is a pretty song, featuring some good work on piano and a passionate vocal performance. “Don’t you know that I wonder why/Did we have to say goodbye/When we could have gone on dreaming/Yes, dreaming/Lorraine, Lorraine/I know we’ll make it one day/Maybe Monday/I’ll be there with you.” That’s followed by “Yesterday’s Love,” which also begins as a mellow, pretty number, with some beautiful harmonies. Soon the lyrics are belted out with that delicious raw power. “Who wants yesterday’s wine/Those memories of time we once had/You lost yesterday’s love/And yesterday’s gone away.” This one was written by Tom Finn, Steve Martin Caro and George Cameron. Then “Hold On Tight” begins with rock and roll guitar intro that is part Chuck Berry, and part Beatles’ “Revolution,” and quickly becomes a fun track, with a good summer vibe and energy.

“And One Day” is one of the album’s best songs. It is moving and beautiful, with an excellent vocal performance. These are the song’s opening lines: “And one day/You’ll think of all the things she did/That made you laugh/You lost the way.” This song also features some wonderful work on strings. That’s followed by another of the album’s highlights, “You Say.” “You think/There’s no one here you can talk to/You say/No one’s crying but you.” It feels that way sometimes, doesn’t it? Both of those songs were composed by Tom Finn, Steve Martin Caro and George Cameron.

The lines from “I Can Fly” that stand out for me are “I have no need for truth/Or for lies/To see the light of dawn/In your eyes.” That’s followed by “Only My Opinion,” yet another strong track. “Maybe the sun won’t shine tomorrow/But that doesn’t mean my love will end.” The original album concludes with “Queen Of Paradise,” the only cover on it. It was written by Shade Smith and originally recorded by The Rumour. Both The Rumour and The Left Banke released this song as a single. This one has a definite 1970s pop feel, with disco elements.

Bonus Tracks

This re-issue contains six bonus tracks, recorded in 2001 and 2002, all of which were previously unreleased. The first is “Airborne,” the title now immediately calling to mind the pandemic. But of course that’s not what this is about, though it has the line “Where I can breathe.” This is a strangely beautiful song, complete with strings. “No one wants to understand/I’m climbing up the walls/You must try to see/This place is not for you/Or me anymore/Can’t we just be airborne.” That’s followed by “I Don’t Know,” a song that speaks to me right away, its opening lines being “I don’t know what I’m doing now/I don’t know what it’s all about/I don’t know how it’s going to sound.” This track features an excellent vocal performance supported by some wonderful work by Michael Brown on keys.

“Until The End” also features strings, and has a certain beauty. It was written by Michael Brown and Yvonne Vitale. “Until the end, until the end/I want to hold you until then.” That’s followed by “Buddy Steve (Long Lost Friend),” a wonderfully sad song. Check out these lines: “What is right and what is wrong/When you find that love is gone/Fading years pass with the dawn/And now is the fight of your life.” “Meet Me In The Moonlight” is a beautiful love song with some surprising lyrics: “I cried when the world died/But it’s better leaving it alone/Help me to live my life.” This is one of my favorite tracks. It was written by Michael Brown and Ian Lloyd. The disc then concludes with “High Flyer,” a moving song featuring good work on vocals and keyboards. “High flyer, she must never know/That you always loved her/Even when you cried alone/High flyer, the bells are ringing.”

CD Track List

  1. Strangers On A Train
  2. Heartbreaker
  3. Lorraine
  4. Yesterday’s Love
  5. Hold On Tight
  6. And One Day
  7. You Say
  8. I Can Fly
  9. Only My Opinion
  10. Queen Of Paradise
  11. Airborne
  12. I Don’t Know
  13. Until The End
  14. Buddy Steve (Long Lost Friend)
  15. Meet Me In The Moonlight
  16. High Flyer

This special expanded re-issue of Strangers On A Train is scheduled to be released on February 25, 2022 through Omnivore Recordings.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Albums Received Week Of January 9-15, 2022

These are the CDs I received the week of January 9-15, 2022:

  • The Rave-Ups: "Tomorrow"
  • Rain Perry: "A White Album"
  • Anders Koppel: "Mulberry Street Symphony"
  • Jackie Bristow: "Outsider"
  • Sarah Borges: "Together Alone"
  • The Waymores: "Stone Sessions"
  • Eliane Amherd: "La Degustation"
  • Eric Brace & Last Train Home: "Everything Will Be"

ViO: “Equanimity: A Futuristic Jazz Tale” (2021) CD Review

ViO is the project of Viktor Haraszti, a saxophone player and composer who was born in Hungary and is currently based in Holland. Equanimity: A Futuristic Jazz Tale, his debut full-length release, features all original material with music written by Viktor Haraszti and lyrics by Lisa Marie Simmons, who joins him on vocals for certain tracks. Also joining Viktor Haraszti on some of these tracks are Dave King on drums, and Marshall Curtly on drums and percussion. Otherwise, Viktor Haraszti plays all the instruments, including tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute, electronic wind instrument, bansuri, and keys, and provides some vocal work as well. The word “equanimity” is an interesting one to contemplate in these stressful days when millions of people seem completely out of their minds, both in our country and around the world. How do we reach such composure, such calmness of mind, such stability, in these crazy days? The music on this album reflects a personal journey in that direction. It is arranged in chapters, like a book, the tracks listed by chapter numbers.

The album opens with a short track simply titled “Intro,” which has a gentle vibe, featuring some moving work on saxophone, a single voice announcing its presence, its hopes, its needs. That’s followed by “Chapter One,” the first track to feature vocals. Here the lyrics are sparse, the vocalist functioning more like a narrator setting the scene. “To survive every new dawn/We need be steady, we need be strong.” And after a moment, she whispers “There’s an ebb,” and then “There’s a flow.” The instruments themselves tell the story, or act it out, the saxophone being the strongest voice or character, with other sounds seeming to pass by. At moments when the power builds, there is an unsettling effect. The track ends with Lisa Marie Simmons whispering, “Everything comes, everything goes.” Dave King plays drums on “Chapter Two.” There is an improvised feeling to this one, as we are introduced to a strange, unfamiliar world. There is an order at its core, but what lies around it feels just a bit unhinged. Then in the second half, a certain calm settles over the situation, and so helps us relax too.

“Chapter Three” eases in, calling to mind the opening moments of “Intro,” But rather than the saxophone immediately coming in, there is the sound coughing, a sound that is rather alarming during the pandemic. Some heavy breathing adds to the odd sense of discomfort, of trouble. We are in a darker land now, an electronic realm. Nearly halfway through, Lisa Marie Simmons comes in on vocals, and this time her presence is more central to the piece, as she describes the troubled times. “Our nature’s storms reminded us/Neglect might be our ruin, time to wake/A virus came, it detonated thus/A fear came here to nest within our hearts/A year came here to rival any past.” Interestingly, the music and her voice put us more at ease. And, even after she has finished her vocal part, the music contains a beauty. But then as the track is concluding, we again hear coughing and labored breathing, for no, the pandemic is far from over, even if there are moments when we are soothed.

“Chapter Four” features some good work by Marshall Curtly on percussion. Lisa Marie Simmons revisits some lines from “Chapter One,” but here expands upon them, giving them more context. “To survive each new dawn/We need be steady, we need be strong.” The lines are delivered as spoken word, as poetry, from a place of wisdom. “Like those branches/Bend with the wind/After calamity advances/Steady and strong because/There’s an ebb, there’s a flow/Everything comes, everything goes.” The lyrics are central to this piece, and in fact there is really no instrumental section to this one; the track ends moments after the lyrics reach their conclusion. This is the final track to feature Lisa Maria Simmons on vocals. There is more of a dance vibe to “Chapter Five,” as if approaching joy, or coaxing it into existence through willpower and movement. This is the last of the tracks to feature Marshall Curtly on percussion. In its final moments, the track’s tone changes, becoming more relaxed.

“Chapter Six” feels uncertain as it begins. It moves tentatively, like looking in on something unfamiliar and considering whether to join it. But soon there is a pretty aspect. Then “Chapter Seven” feels calm, relaxed, and features some vocal work by Viktor Haraszti, but no lyrics. That vocal work is soothing, even uplifting. After a minute and a half, the saxophone comes in, a stronger, more vibrant voice. And everything seems fine. Any uncertainty and fear seem to have faded. The album then concludes with a gentle piece titled “Epilogue,” featuring some wonderful work on saxophone. This track seems to tell us things are going to be all right. It is a track that speaks to us from the other side of trouble, and lets us know we can join it there.

CD Track List

  1. Intro
  2. Chapter One
  3. Chapter Two
  4. Chapter Three
  5. Chapter Four
  6. Chapter Five
  7. Chapter Six
  8. Chapter Seven
  9. Epilogue

Equanimity: A Futuristic Jazz Tale was released on December 12, 2021.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

The Heavyweights Brass Band: “Stir Crazy” (2021) CD Review

As the omicron variant runs rampant through the country, some fear another lockdown might be in the cards. So what could be more suitable than an album titled Stir Crazy? This new album from The Heavyweights Brass Band was recorded in March of 2020, just as everything was beginning to shut down. Remember that? It feels like ten years ago, and yet here we still are. Fortunately, we have groups like The Heavyweights Brass Band to provide some energy and joy to us in these bizarre times. Stir Crazy features mostly original material, composed by three different members of the band, along with a few interesting choices of covers, including “Black Hole Sun.”  The group is made up of John Pittman on trumpet; Paul Metcalfe on saxophone; RJ Satchithananthan on trombone; Tom Richards on tuba, trombone and keys; and Lowell Whitty on drums.  Joel Visentin and Aline Morales join them on organ and triangle respectively. These guys are based in Toronto, but a good deal of their soul resides in New Orleans. If you’re looking for a fun album to raise your spirits, Stir Crazy is just the thing for you.

The album gets off to a great, hopping start with “Sweet Pauly’s Boogaloo,” written by Paul Metcalfe. It has a delicious groove, a familiar and swinging vibe, and features a wonderful lead on organ by Joel Visentin, as well as some seriously energetic work on saxophone. It all works to get us off our seats, and to bring a dance back into our steps. Listening to music like this, it seems completely realistic for people to be dancing as they make their way down the streets. Then we get the first of the album’s three covers, a cool rendition of “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” the song originally recorded by Roberta Flack in the mid-1970s. Just before the two-minute mark, this rendition really starts getting good. That’s when these musicians make this song their own, when the horns get loose, straying from that main theme, and from there, it just gets better and better. The arrangement is by RJ Satchithananthan. They take things in a different direction with the lively dance song “Skank You Very Much.” If you’re feeling stir crazy, this track will undoubtedly help release some tension. It was written by Paul Metcalfe.

As “Manipogo” begins, you get the sense of a large creature waking, stretching, beginning to move, beginning to groove. The horns then call to it, celebrate it. There is a bit of funk to this one, and it soon becomes one of the most interesting and exciting tracks of the album, with a style all its own, somewhat playful in nature. It was written by Paul Metcalfe, and is my personal favorite on this album. That’s followed by “Rehab Intro,” which is just some crowd sounds, with a nice bit of organ playing over that. That’s Joel Visentin again on organ. That is then followed, naturally, by the album’s second cover, Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab,” a song that is a perfect fit for a brass band, the arrangement here by Tom Richards. It’s difficult to keep from singing “They tried to make me go to rehab/But I said, no, no, no.” Is there is something twisted, almost morbid, in the joy of those lines, considering the way Amy Winehouse died? Joel Visentin plays organ on this track too.

“Stir Crazy,” the album’s title track, is totally fun. I especially love the work on drums on this track, a beat to help you shake off any cares or worries that might be plaguing you. And that is only part of the delicious energy of this tune, this track featuring some lively and excellent leads on saxophone and trumpet. This one was written by John Pittman, and it’s all over much too soon. Things then get funky again with “Georgia Pine,” written by Tom Richards. I love when a funky bass line is actually delivered by a tuba. Seriously, how is that not a bass guitar? Tom Richards also plays keyboard on this track. That’s followed by “Manipogo’s Revenge.” Ah yes, the creature is back. It’s interesting that two different members of the group took inspiration from the Manipogo when compositing material for this album. This one is by Tom Richards, and it has a great, loose vibe. Here the creature seems to have left the lake and is stalking the streets, strutting down them, really, in shades and carrying a cane with a hidden blade. Watch out! This is the track to feature Aline Morales on triangle. And yeah, I mentioned that these guys cover Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” on this album, and that’s the track that wraps things up. I never saw Soundgarden in concert, but I did get to see Chris Cornell sing “Wild World” with Cat Stevens once. Anyway, “Black Hole Sun” might seem an odd choice to conclude an album that is largely a lot of fun, but The Heavyweights Brass Band delivers a strong rendition.

CD Track List

  1. Sweet Pauly’s Boogaloo
  2. Feel Like Makin’ Love
  3. Skank You Very Much
  4. Manipogo
  5. Rehab Intro
  6. Rehab
  7. Stir Crazy
  8. Georgia Pine
  9. Manipogo’s Revenge
  10. Black Hole Sun

Stir Crazy was released on November 5, 2021.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

We are done with the awful year of 2021, which had followed the even worse 2020. So that means things are improving, right? Let’s hope so. As we begin 2022, we may not be filled with as much hope as we were at the beginning of 2021 (that hope and optimism were dashed by the sixth day of that year), but there is still the sense that things could turn around. They certainly should! And we have plenty of good music to help us in that direction. Here are some brief notes on a few new jazz releases you might want to check out.

Kristen R. Bromley Quintet: “Bluish Tide” – Guitarist and composer Kristen R. Bromley presents mostly original material on her new album, which opens with “Pillar Of Fire,” the guitar work here having a wonderfully cheerful sound, that lead flying along as if without a worry, and we who are listening want to jump aboard. Joining her on this release are Ray Smith on tenor saxophone and alto flute, Steve Erickson on piano, Matt Larson on bass, and Jay Lawrence on drums, each of them getting moments to shine on this opening track. That’s followed by “Groove O’clock Time,” its title giving a pretty good idea what it’s all about. And check out Ray Smith’s lead on saxophone over that delicious groove. Then Kristen R. Bromley’s lead on guitar rocks. This is a lively and fun track. The only cover on this disc is “O Great God – How Great Thou Art!” This is a pleasant piece that features nice leads on piano and guitar. “Between Canyon Walls” also features a good groove and some excellent work on guitar. But perhaps the most fun number is the album’s title track, “Bluish Tide,” which is a delight from its opening moments, its main theme being rather catchy. It is her lead on guitar that is at the center of this one and makes this track stand out, her guitar dancing and popping and grooving. Plus, this track features a cool section featuring bass and drums. Then “Paint Me A Picture My Love” begins with a sweet guitar solo, and later features Ray Smith on alto flute (the only track on which he plays flute). “Just Walkin’” is another fun, enjoyable track with a groove that will bring a smile to your face. And check out that lively, hopping conclusion to “Junkyard Dawg.” This album was released on November 5, 2021.

Amos Gillespie: “Unstructured Time” – As alto saxophonist Amos Gillespie says in the liner notes, this new album is “about finding introspective peace in a loud world.” That is a theme and a goal I bet most people can appreciate in these crazy days of misinformation and loony conspiracy theories. The album opens with “Shades Of Red,” a seriously cool track that right away features some delicious and catchy bass work. It sets up the busy atmosphere the work is addressing, each instrument at times acting like a different voice, simultaneously adding to and reacting to sounds of a busy world. There is a good drum solo toward the end. The group is made up of Amos Gillespie on alto saxophone, Andy Schlinder on tenor saxophone, Gustavo Cortinas on drums, Paul Bedal on piano, Casey Nielsen on guitar, and Dan Thatcher on bass, with Alexandra Olsavsky providing vocals on many of the tracks. The second track, “Deconstructed,” is the first to feature Alexandra Olsavsky, and is song about breaking habits. “Take a look at your routine/Make it much less routine/Freeing up your thoughts.” Then “Like A Blossom” addresses how fleeting this all is, and also features the vocal work of Alexandra Olsavsky. “Finding peace and quiet in a storm/Listening to a little light from within.” It also features a beautiful lead on piano. “Sleepless” is about the anxiety that much of the country feels in this time of pandemic and the rise of fascism, with Alexandra Olsavsky singing, “Why is this happening, it makes no sense/I can feel the hopelessness on the rise.” The music itself takes on a sense of urgency and anxiety, and there is some excellent, powerful work on saxophone. That is followed by “Fewer Words,” which feels like it should be a key song in a musical about these strange times we find ourselves immersed in. It’s about how certain so-called news programs are deliberately leading people astray. The music itself feels like busy machinery, people in motion not stopping to think what it is they are doing. “What does it mean, nothing at all/I’m so annoyed, I’m ready to brawl/Disinformation, not okay.” I really like that lead on piano in the second half. The disc concludes with an instrumental number titled “Juiced,” with a vibe of excitement and joy, of life. This album is scheduled to be released on February 4, 2022.

Jeremy Monteiro & Alberto Marsico: “Jazz-Blues Brothers” – This album, in a somewhat different configuration, was originally released in 2014, except in North America. The new North American release contains some different tracks, and in a different order than the original disc. Joining pianist Jeremy Monteiro and organist Alberto Marsico are Shawn Letts on tenor saxophone, Eugene Pao on guitar, and Shawn Kelley on drums, with Miz Dee Logwood on vocals for two tracks (those being two of the tracks that were not on the original release). The album features mostly original material, beginning with “Opening Act,” which was composed by Alberto Marsico, and has a delightful energy, a tune to get you snapping your fingers and feeling good. I particularly enjoy that cool lead on saxophone, which kind of slides in to brighten our day. But really, everything about this track seems to encourage us to smile. What a perfect start to the album. Interestingly, it had a different placement on the original issue. That’s followed by the funky “Olympia,” written by Jeremy Monteiro and featuring a fantastic lead by him on piano. Everybody is grooving and having a good time. Then we get the first of the album’s two covers, “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water,” which was recorded live in London and features Miz Dee Logwood on vocals. This song was included on Lou Rawls’ 1962 album Stormy Monday, and Miz Dee Logwood delivers a great performance of it here. The other cover, also a live recording featuring Mis Dee Logwood on vocals, is “I’d Rather Go Blind,” which was originally recorded by Etta James, and here features an excellent lead on guitar. “Mount Olive,” written by Jeremy Monteiro, builds wonderfully and by the end totally rocks, especially his work on piano. That’s followed by a delicious and beautiful blues number, “Lou,” a tribute to Lou Rawls that features some absolutely wonderful work on saxophone. Then check out that guitar on “Jack-Pot.” So good! Alberto Marsico also really delivers on this one. “Catastrophy” moves a great clip, featuring a great bass line and some wild work on piano, as well a fun drum solo toward the end. The album concludes with “Wishy Washy,” another song that was not included on the original issue. This is a fun and lively song that was recorded remotely during the pandemic. This album was released on October 15, 2021.

Benjamin Schnake Ensemble: “The Joy Of Playing” – Guitarist Benjamin Schnake presents mostly original compositions on his new album, and we can hear the joy in his playing from the disc’s opening moments. That first track, “Marisol,” named after a woman he was seeing, features not only some excellent work on guitar, but some bright work from the horn section, made up of Dave Pietro on alto saxophone, Tim Struven on tenor saxophone, John Blevins on trumpet, Eric Quinn on trombone, and Jennifer Wharton on bass trombone. I want the good cheer of this track to spread out into the crazy world. That’s followed by the title track, “The Joy Of Playing,” which has a kind of playful sense about it, contains some interesting changes, and features some nice work by Santiago Leibson on piano. Also, I really like that section that features Paul Shaw on drums. “Fragment” begins with some solo guitar work that might seem simple, but has its own beauty. Nearly a minute in, he is joined by the other musicians as that chord progression continues for a bit, before Santiago Leibsen takes a lead on piano. Then Benjamin Schnake delivers an excellent lead on guitar, while the music swells at times below. This track also features some nice work by Sunhyun Yoo on alto saxophone, with Paul Shaw’s drumming rolling and moving everything forward. “She’s Gone” is a gentle, loving piece, featuring some sweet work from the horn section. Benjamin Schnake plays mandolin on “Lakitas,” a completely enjoyable piece that also features Ammon Swinbank on flute. In addition to the original compositions, Benjamin Schnake Ensemble covers a Chilean piece titled “Aju” and Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” This album was released on October 22, 2021.

The Dave Wilson Quartet: “Stretching Supreme” – On this album, saxophone player Dave Wilson pays tribute to the great work of John Coltrane, covering the first two parts of his 1965 album A Love Supreme. Those tracks, as well as two others, were recorded live at Chris’ Jazz Café in Philadelphia in 2017 (the other recorded in 2018). The album begins with a short introduction to “Acknowledgement,” which feels like spring to me, music of possibilities and joy. That leads straight into “Part 1: Acknowledgement,” Tony Marino getting it started on bass. The quartet, by the way, is made up of Dave Wilson on tenor and soprano saxophones, Kirk Reese on piano, Tony Marino on bass, and Alex Ritz on drums. Dan Monaghan plays drums on the two tracks that were recorded in 2018. There is a good amount of joy to “Part 1: Acknowledgement,” in the playing of all the musicians, but especially Dave Wilson’s work. It feels like a celebration of life, a nod to the wonder of our existing at all. The group is grooving and working together beautifully. Things then begin to get a little wild toward the end, exciting, before winding down for the track’s conclusion. That’s followed by “Part 2: Resolution,” which has a  bright energy from the moment it begins, Dave Wilson’s saxophone a strong voice. And I love Kirk Reese’s lead on piano here, the way it moves and flows, and then just takes charge at one point. Fantastic stuff. And that section of saxophone and drums is also exciting. That’s followed by an original composition by Dave Wilson, “On The Prairie,” the first of the two tracks from 2018, featuring Dan Monaghan on drums. This one was included on Dave Wilson Quartet’s 2015 release, There Was Never. This new version gets to its looser, more unhinged place more quickly, then eases into that sweet tone. There is something beautiful about this piece, and in its quieter moments it really grabs us. The other track from 2018 is a wonderful cover of Henry Mancini’s “Days Of Wine And Roses” that has a great warmth while being totally cool, and features a good bass solo. Then we return to the show from 2017 for the album’s final two tracks, two more written by John Coltrane. The first is a moving and thoughtful rendition of “Dear Lord,” the second a passionate version of “Naima.” This album was released on January 7, 2022.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Brian Straw: “Baby Stars/Dead Languages” (2022) CD Review

Brian Straw is a singer and songwriter who released a few albums between 2000 and 2006, and then was quiet as far as official output, while dealing with his own personal troubles. But in 2017 he began performing again and working on a new album which is now finished. Titled Baby Stars/Dead Languages, this new release features mostly original material, songs that address and chronicle his struggles and recovery. And though obviously very personal, these songs hold a larger appeal because of his talent as a lyricist. Joining him on these tracks are Rob Kovacs on piano and organ; Al Moss on pedal steel; Nick Cross on guitar; Chase Ockuly on guitar; Mike Tolan on bass; Bill Lestock on mandolin, guitar, bass and violin; Tony Cross on drums and percussion; and Dan Price on drums and percussion. Emily Keener, Bethany Jay and Alex Tapie provide backing vocals.

The album opens with “Sleep Study,” which quickly creates an interesting mood, with somewhat muted percussion at its base. The music begins to swell above that, creating a compelling atmosphere that seems to surround us and involve us. “When I find out who’s awake and who’s asleep/I stand at attention and plant my feet/In the dirt beneath.” The backing vocals highlight the beauty of this track. “Sunlight streaming down your face/Your eyes led me to this place/Where we begin/And end.” This one concludes with a rather pretty instrumental section, a continuation of the general mood of the piece, allowing us to drift away on its back. That’s followed by “I Have Not Wandered (Far From You).” Here he directly addresses his trouble with alcohol, the song’s opening lines being “I was thinking of finding my way/To a town where I’d get sober/Where revisionists couldn’t judge me/And drag me down.” This one too has an interesting atmosphere, but his vocals are in strong focus, and he delivers a really good performance. After a time, the electric guitar becomes prominent, like a second voice, then fades somewhat back into the overall atmosphere again, rising after that when it needs to. “I was lucky to find you when I did.”

“I Still Dream Of You” has a gentle, easygoing vibe, music that feels designed to be a comfort, an aid in tough times. That work on pedal steel in particular helps in that respect. “But I don’t regret you/I never do/Oh, I still dream of you.” This is the only track on the album that was not written by Brian Straw. Joseph Allen Beltram wrote this one. That’s followed by “Needle In The Creek,” which has more of a familiar folk sound as it begins, and features some wonderful work on guitar. “Don’t the moon look pretty, baby/Shining down on us/Waiting for the bus/To take us home.” And I love that work on violin. This song builds wonderfully , and is one of my personal favorites. A lot of lines stand out for me, such as “I ain’t giving into fear/But something tells me you have what I need to disappear” and “And if I tried to leave my body, would you come along.” Then the music of “Murmurations” rolls in on us like waves, feeling like a soft morning, the sunlight breaking through our own darkness, something arriving to put an end to our loneliness. This one also features some pretty backing vocal work. It concludes with an interesting instrumental section, like a vivid landscape, a place we could step into.

“Keys To My Room” features such an unusual and intriguing combination of sounds, folk (its first line calling to mind a Bob Dylan song) and a sort of industrial sound, with a strong percussive element, all of it working surprisingly well. “Your voice shaking against the gods/Waking up against the odds.” It ends with him singing, “Just know that I’m here to stay.” Now that is a line that each of us needs to hear from someone. And I wonder if it is also a line letting his fans know that there will not be another fifteen-year gap between albums. Brian Straw changes gears then with “Underground,” his voice at first supported by keyboard, the focus being on the lyrics. This track features one of the album’s best vocal performances, and the lyrics include some memorable phrases, such as “I didn’t choose who I would be,” and strong images, such as “Asleep on a bed of fire/Tangled up in buried wires.” That’s followed by “Shame & Desire,” which at first eases in gently. Then the sound grows and suddenly this song bursts open, taking on more of a rock edge, and a good beat. I really like the work on drums here. “Out of luck and out of time/Out of body and out of mind.” “Out Of Doors” then begins with a somewhat relaxed groove, and builds at certain moments to become powerful. “On the edge of my bed/Shadows in my head.”

“Microdream” begins with the sound of strings, and then, as if emerging from the mists in the distance, comes the beat, feeling like it is traveling toward us to deliver some truth, some wisdom. I love his vocal performance especially on this track, with many lines stated simply. “I walked over to your house/You looked pretty in the doorway looking out/My hand resting on your shoulder/As you dissolved, my heart falling like a boulder/And nothing was the same again.” At other moments, this song grows in power. “Tell me what you meant/When you said I couldn’t see/The mirror in front of me.” And that instrumental section in the track’s second half is beautiful, the way the various instruments contribute to the same thought in a pattern that could run forever, if the track didn’t begin to fade out. This is another of my personal favorites. Then some pretty guitar work begins “Close Enough To Know.” These lines stand out for me: “We’re in our forties now and time is speeding up/You wrote a note to me, I sobered up.” It is crazy how time moves faster the older we get. Sometimes I get angry at time for not being more accommodating to my own needs. Shouldn’t it adjust to us, at least once in a while? “Half-Buried Crow” likewise begins with some gentle, pretty guitar work. This one also features a moving vocal performance. Check out these lines: “No one really forgives/Just forgets and regrets/You have scruples, you insist.” This song, and thus the album, ends with him repeating the line “Run away, run away

CD Track List

  1. Sleep Study
  2. I Have No Wandered (Far From You)
  3. I Still Dream Of You
  4. Needle In The Creek
  5. Murmurations
  6. Keys To My Room
  7. Underground
  8. Shame & Desire
  9. Out Of Doors
  10. Microdream
  11. Close Enough To Know
  12. Half-Buried Crow

Baby Stars/Dead Languages is scheduled to be released on January 21, 2022.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Albums Received Week of January 2-8, 2022

These are the CDs I received the week of January 2-8, 2022:

  • Tim Gartland: "Truth"
  • Sarah Perrotta: "Blue To Gold"
  • Mace Francis Plus 11: "Isolation Emancipation"
  • Peggy James: "The Parade"
  • Neville Staple: "From The Specials & Beyond"
  • Jyrki 69: "American Vampire"
  • Left Banke: "Strangers On A Train"
  • Urge Overkill: "Oui"
  • Night Crickets: "A Free Society"