Sunday, January 19, 2020

Jonathan Ng: “The Sphynx” (2019) CD Review

Jonathan Ng is a jazz violinist and vocalist. On his new release, an EP titled The Sphynx, he focuses on the former, delivering excellent instrumental numbers that take us back to the 1930s and 1940s, music with a certain amount of swing and a tremendous amount of joy, music to get us moving and smiling. Joining him on this release are Albert Alva on tenor saxophone, Luca Pino on guitar, Chris Dawson on piano, Seth Ford-Young on upright bass, and Josh Collazo on drums.

Jonathan Ng opens the EP with its title track, “The Sphynx,” the only original composition on the disc, and a tune I love from the moment it begins. It has that delicious classic gypsy jazz sound, which is so wonderful. There is a feeling of glee, of cheerful abandon, to this sound, and the whole band is hopping here. How can you help but start shaking and moving to this music? By the way, on the back of the CD case next to the title of each song a number is listed. For example, for “The Sphynx,” it is “232BPM.” BPM indicates tempo, but it also means heart rate. And for me, here it seems to refer to both, for it is the heart that is most affected by this music, feeling the joy of the music, and pumping it out to all areas of our bodies.

We then get a delicious rendition of “Maelstrom,” a song by Leon “Chu” Berry And His Stompy Stevedores. As you might guess, there is some totally cool work on tenor saxophone here. I just want to immerse myself in this music, in its world, in its rhythm, and when I emerge find that the rest of the world has been changed, colored by this music too. In addition to plenty of good work on fiddle, this track features some really nice work on guitar. But again, it is the saxophone that is at the center of this one. That horn is like a character in a film or story; it is that distinct, that expressive. You know? And of course I dig that work on drums. That’s followed by Ray Charles’ “Rockhouse, Pts. 1 & 2,” a fun tune with more delicious sounds and vibes, along with a good groove. The sweet work on violin toward the end is like a hand guiding you onto the dance floor and pushing the rest of the world away. There is no need to be self-conscious, just let yourself go, and let the rhythm and the moment take over.

Chris Dawson on piano gets things going on a great rendition of Erskine Hawkins’ “Gin Mill Special,” a track with a playful, loose, casual vibe. Jonathan Ng’s work on violin has an inviting sound, and the bass keeps things pumping along. Again, it is a joy listening to this music. That is followed by “Embryo,” a tune by Illinois Jacquet And His Orchestra. This track is a lot of fun, with some delightful work on bass. My entire body feels like it’s smiling while this music plays. If you need a break from the insanity and ugliness of the country (and who doesn’t?), put this disc on. The EP concludes with an absolutely wonderful rendition of “Stardust,” featuring some gorgeous playing on violin. This song always works for me, and this version has a rhythm like a gentle river at night under a twinkling and loving sky, easing us along, perhaps toward a better world.

CD Track List
  1. The Sphynx
  2. Maelstrom
  3. Rockhouse, Pts. 1 & 2
  4. Gin Mill Special
  5. Embryo
  6. Stardust
The Sphynx was released on December 6, 2019.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Sinne Eeg & The Danish Radio Big Band: “We’ve Just Begun” (2020) CD Review

I was turned on to the music of Danish jazz vocalist Sinne Eeg in 2015, when she released Eeg - Fonnesbaek, a collaborative effort with Thomas Fonnesbaek in which they delivered mostly standards. That album earned her another best jazz vocal album award (her fourth) at the Danish Music Awards. Then her 2017 release, Dreams, showed that in addition to being an incredibly talented vocalist, she is also a talented songwriter. A song from that release won her The Carl Prize for song of the year. Her new album, We’ve Just Begun, also contains some excellent original material, along with some good covers. This one finds her joining forces with The Danish Radio Big Band, a group that was formed in 1964.

And right from the start of the first track, “We’ve Just Begun,” that joyful big band sound washes over me and lifts me up. On this track, the album’s title track, there are some sweet and intimate moments vocally, and then moments that are filled with a glorious power. Overall, there is an excitement to her performance, and to the playing, particularly the horns. There is a bit of scat toward the end, which ends up being one of my favorite sections of the song. It is playful, and the horns add their own touches. “We’ve Just Begun” is an original composition by Sinne Eeg, with lyrics by Mark Winkler and Shelley Nyman. That’s followed by another original composition by Sinne Eeg, “Like A Song,” a mellower, romantic-sounding number. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Love is like a song/A melody that lingers on/And takes you back/To days gone by.” I love that instrumental section of piano, bass and drums, and how the horns begin to gently rise from that. Absolutely wonderful.

There is something wistful about Sinne’s delivery on “Those Ordinary Things,” a song she wrote with Helle Hansen. The song tells of a relationship that has ended. “You see him in the street/They’re walking hand in hand/His kind, familiar smile/This wasn’t what you planned/You know the door just closed/But what you really miss the most/Those ordinary things, those ordinary things.” I love that she then equates those ordinary things with extraordinary things, because isn’t that the truth. Those ordinary things with the person you love really are the extraordinary things in life, and we have to take notice of them, appreciate them. That’s followed by “Talking To Myself,” a totally enjoyable song with a bass line that I love. Of course her vocal delivery is at the heart of this one, and she gives us a delightful performance here, including some more scat halfway through. I also really dig that lead on guitar in the second half, and wish it went on a bit longer.

When “Hvorfor Er Lykken Sa Lunefuld” begins, it has a more serious, haunting sound, which pulls me in. It then takes on a lovely groove. This is a song from an old Danish film. I don’t speak the language, but love this track, despite having no idea what she’s singing about. I just enjoy the gorgeous sound of her voice, and the song’s vibe. This one too includes some scat. One of my favorite elements of this track is the way those horns strut about in the second half. This track is certainly a highlight of the album. That’s followed by a cover of “My Favorite Things.” We’ve all heard countless versions of this song, but here Sinne Eeg offers a truly interesting rendition, giving us a fresh appreciation of it. She brings a certain magic to it, changing the pace partway through, and I love the horns. There is also an excellent drum solo near the end. Sinne shifts gears again with “Samba Em Comum,” which has a kind of sweet vibe.

Sinne Eeg delivers a wonderful rendition of “Detour Ahead,” written by Herb Ellis, Johnny Frigo and Lou Carter. The lyrics may indicate trouble ahead, but her voice seems to promise that love will be a smooth road. That’s followed by another standard, “Comes Love.” I love the way she presents this one; it is perhaps the best vocal performance of the entire album, seductive and beautiful and fun. And the way the horns support her is great, almost like they are her dance partners, surrounding her, lifting her up, catching her. This track features a very cool, sexy scat section. The horns then take over, and things somehow get even better. That moment when they suddenly stop is surprising, and that pause before Sinne begins to sing again is perfect. “Comes a nightmare, you can always stay awake/Comes depression, you can get another break/But comes love, nothing can be done.” This is my favorite track. The disc concludes with “To A New Day,” a song written by Martin Schack, with lyrics by Sinne Eeg. This is an uplifting, soulful, positive number with a nice lead on trumpet. It’s a song to rekindle those feelings of optimism we are so eager for. A good place to leave us, don’t you think?

CD Track List
  1. We’ve Just Begun
  2. Like A Song
  3. Those Ordinary Things
  4. Talking To Myself
  5. Hvorfor Er Lykken Sa Lunefuld
  6. My Favorite Things
  7. Samba Em Comum
  8. Detour Ahead
  9. Comes Love
  10. To A New Day
We’ve Just Begun is scheduled to be released on February 21, 2020.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Lois Bruno: “And So It Begins” (2019) CD Review

Lois Bruno has sung with many artists over the years, and has now released her first solo album, titled And So It Begins, featuring mostly standards. Backing the vocalist on this album are Kenny Shanker on saxophone (Shanker also produced the album), Michael Eckroth on piano, Yoshi Waki on bass, and Brian Fishler on drums.

The CD opens with “When Sunny Gets Blue,” featuring a vocal performance that is gentle and intimate, and also rather sexy at moments. I also love the bass line. The saxophone acts as a second voice, first adding little comments, backing Lois, and then taking the lead, becoming beautiful. “When Sunny Gets Blue” was written by Marvin Fisher and Jack Segal. It’s followed by an unusual take on Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale,” which has a fuller, brighter sound almost from the moment it starts. Lois Bruno decides to begin it with the chorus. There is a great energy behind this version, and it feels like it could carry us all off to some glorious land. Yoshi Waki and Brian Fishler really keep things moving, and I like Michael Eckroth’s work on piano. But it is that lead on saxophone that really stands out on this track. Kenny Shanker’s saxophone seems to be dancing at times, and there is a lot of joy behind his playing.

Lois Bruno begins “Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered” a cappella, which works really well. I love the way she delivers this one, at a few moments so softly you might find yourself leaning toward your stereo speakers, wanting to be closer to her. Her voice is the focus here, though this track also features an excellent lead on saxophone. This is one of my personal favorite tracks. It’s followed by “That Old Black Magic,” which features some delightful work on bass. It is the bass that starts this one, and at first it is the only instrument backing Lois Bruno’s vocals, which is cool. This rendition really moves, in part because of Brian Fishler’s wonderful work on drums. There is a delicious momentum to it, like that old black magic itself is at the reins here, and we will all get caught up in it before long. As Lois sings “I should stay away, but what would I do,” you get the sense there is absolutely no way she could stay away. She is powerless here, just like the rest of us.

Lois Bruno’s rendition of “Always On My Mind” is so beautiful, so touching, so sweet, so honest. This track is another of the disc’s highlights, and it is nearly heartbreaking when she sings lines like “And maybe I didn’t hold you/All those lonely, lonely times/I guess I never told you/I’m so happy that you’re mine/Little things I should have said and done/I just never took the time.” This song acts as a reminder to tell the love of your life how important he or she is to you, and to tell him her or her often, hold that person as much as you can. The saxophone has a gorgeous bittersweet sound. That’s followed by a version of “But Beautiful” that has a rather cheerful vibe, in large part because of the work on bass, which has a sort of bouncy feel. Then with “Feeling Good” Lois Bruno is at her most seductive, particularly when she hits those lower notes. So damn delicious. This is a seriously cool version, featuring some great work on piano and another excellent lead on sax. I’m a little sad when this one starts to fade out, for the ending comes too soon. It feels like it is still going strong and has more to say.

A good, cheerful beat is established at the beginning of Lois Bruno’s take on “My Romance,” and there is certainly a lot of joy in this rendition, both vocally and in the music. “Wide awake, I can make my most fantastic dreams come true/My romance doesn’t need a thing but you.” Lois follows that with “Over The Rainbow.” She includes that opening section that was not in the version Judy Garland sings in the film. What is it about this song that always makes it so effective? Every time I hear it, it works its magic on me. “Over The Rainbow” is followed by “Cry Me A River.” My introduction to this song was the Joe Cocker version from Mad Dogs And Englishmen, which of course is quite a bit different from other renditions. I have come to love the slower, jazzy renditions, of course, and Lois Bruno’s take is certainly in that realm. This rendition begins on bass. Lois Bruno’s voice has a sexy, sultry quality that is wonderful. Lois Bruno then concludes the album with “Somewhere,” a song from West Side Story. I’m not a big fan of that musical, but some of the music is really good, and Lois delivers a passionate rendition.

CD Track List
  1. When Sunny Gets Blue
  2. Love For Sale
  3. Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered
  4. That Old Black Magic
  5. Always On My Mind
  6. But Beautiful
  7. Feeling Good
  8. My Romance
  9. Over The Rainbow
  10. Cry Me A River
  11. Somewhere 
And So It Begins was released on October 24, 2019 on Wise Cat Records.

The Claudettes: “High Times In The Dark” (2020) CD Review

The new album from The Claudettes is something I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time, almost since the release of Dance Scandal At The Gymnasium, their last album, one of my favorite discs of 2018. There have been hints and teases and rumors and promises for several months, and now it is here – the new Claudettes release, High Times In The Dark. That title certainly speaks to our wishes these days, right? After all, we could all use some high times, particularly now as the entire country has been plunged into a darkness that seems to have no end. And the album delivers those high times, with a sound that seems unique to this band, combining pop and jazz and blues and soul, with a sense of the theatrical as well that makes the whole thing seem like a living creature. The album features all original material, written by Brian Berkowitz (perhaps better known as Johnny Iguana). It was produced by Ted Hutt, who played guitar in Flogging Molly, and produced albums by Go Betty Go and Dropkick Murphys.

The new album opens with “Bad Babe, Losin’ Touch,” a delightful tune with a cool groove and some sweet vocals from Berit Ulseth. “You used to check on me at night/Ask, is everything all right/Spend an hour on the phone/You get so dirty when you’re stoned.” There is something exciting about the song’s rhythm and overall sound, which is full and vibrant, with lots of playful touches, including a big finish. The keys really drive this one forward and give the song a timeless feel. This is a wonderful opening track. That’s followed by “24/5.” Johnny Iguana begins this one on keys, with some rather pretty work. Soon the track busts open with a glorious force, and Berit’s vocals are a strong part of it. This one is playful too, the idea being that 24/7 with someone is too much: “24/7’s a joke/I’ll offer 24/5.” There is a great humor to this one, and it includes a reference to the Smothers Brothers: “This is like a comedy act and you’re the Smothers Brothers/Smothering me with your love.” Johnny is really rocking the keys here. This track is a whole lot of fun, a monster you don’t want to tame.

Berit delivers a wonderful vocal performance on “I Swear To God I Will,” taking us all sorts of places with those variations in her delivery. The first time I listened to this track, I was enjoying her performance so much that I failed to take in most of the lyrics, paying more attention to the sound than the content. But the next time I focused more on the lyrics, which are about attraction and desire. “Smile at me, and I swear to god I’ll dream about you tonight.” There is a bit of a 1970s flair to the music of this one at moments. Then there is a strange intensity to “Creeper Weed” at times, like pop music pumped full of adrenaline. There is some wild stuff on keys in the second half of the track. That’s followed by “Grandkids Wave Bye-Bye,” which as it starts has more of a straight-forward rock vibe. But as we get into it, we find a lot more going on here, particularly lyrically, with lines about the rich looking down on the poor. “I was given mine/When I was born/And here is mine/But where is yours/Don’t feed the animals.” There is a certain scum that through an unfortunate trick of fate became the president of this country, and that orange stain comes to mind when I listen to this track. “There’s really nothing we can do for you/You’ve got to want it/If you’re to have it/You’ve got to work for it/And I’ve just had it with you animals/I will not feed you animals.”

At the beginning of “One Special Bottle,” Berit sings “I’ve got one special bottle I’ve been saving/I’ll open it up/But only on the day/When what I wanted comes to pass.” Oh, if I saved a bottle until what I want to happen comes to pass, it may never get opened. And who can make it through a day without at least one drink? The line “I’ll smash the thing, I’m not above it” made me laugh aloud the first time I listened to this track, in part because of Berit’s wonderful delivery. Then “Declined” is a delight, a song with attitude and joy. “Dear sir, I wish you the best in all your future endeavors/But sir, there is no interest whatsoever/Declined/Please do not apply again.” Hey, you can probably think of a person or two you would have liked to sing this song to.

“I Don’t Do That Stuff Anymore” has a mellower vibe at the start, but with some cool and prominent percussion. But the lyrics are what really stand out for me on this track. Here is a taste:  Endless battles amount to war/So I settle down, I don’t settle the score/I tiptoe around, I don’t slam the door.” This one develops a peculiar beauty and ends up being one of my favorite tracks. Then “Most Accidents Happen” begins with a great beat, and though it is a song about fear, it is actually a lot of fun. “But numbers don’t lie that most accidents happen/If you don’t want to die, then you’ll listen/And be afraid of those unlike yourself/Of anyone who claims to need your help.” I love that guitar work too. That’s followed by “You Drummers Keep Breaking My Heart,” yet another of the disc’s highlights. Check out these lines: “But then there was the accident/And he went and found religion/I wasn’t done carousing yet/I couldn’t go there with him.” There are some interesting changes, and the track becomes rather beautiful in the middle there. “The third and the fourth ones were both named Nick/One got sick of me, the other just got sick/I should switch to guitarists/That would be smart/Because drummers are always breaking my heart.” The album then concludes with “The Sun Will Fool You,” a gorgeous song featuring another impressive and effective vocal performance by Berit, backed by some moving work on piano. “You must be giving off just enough warmth/To keep me clinging to life/Around you.”

CD Track List
  1. Bad Babe, Losin’ Touch
  2. 24/5
  3. I Swear To God I Will
  4. Creeper Weed
  5. Grandkids Wave Bye-Bye
  6. One Special Bottle
  7. Declined
  8. I Don’t Do That Stuff Anymore
  9. Most Accidents Happen
  10. You Drummers Keep Breaking My Heart
  11. The Sun Will Fool You 
High Times In The Dark is scheduled to be released on April 3, 2020 on Forty Below Records.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Lizzie Thomas: “New Sounds From The Jazz Age” (2020) CD Review

Vocalist Lizzie Thomas delivers exciting and passionate renditions of some beloved standards on her new album, New Sounds From The Jazz Age, adding her own touches to the familiar material. She is backed by John Colianni on piano, who also did the arrangements, and by Jay Leonhart on bass, Boots Maleson on bass, Russell Malone on guitar, Matt Chertkoff on guitar, Omar Daniels on tenor saxophone and flute, Felix Peikli on clarinet, Bernard Linette on drums, and Doug Hendrichs on percussion.

I’ve said this many times, but you can never go wrong with Gershwin, and Lizzie Thomas chooses to open this album with a totally fun and enjoyable rendition of “Fascinating Rhythm,” which features its own fascinating and delightful rhythm. Lizzie Thomas delivers an excellent and lively vocal performance that features a bit of scat. But the entire band backing her is cooking here, and I particularly love Felix Peikli’s work on clarinet, that instrument seeming to have an energy all its own. And, hey, Lizzie Thomas follows that with another Gershwin composition, “Our Love Is Here To Stay.” The opening lines of this song always strike me as being pertinent: “The more I read the papers/The less I comprehend/The world in all its capers/And how it all will end/Nothing seems to be lasting.” Her delivery of those lines is backed by some gentle and cool work by Russell Malone on guitar. When the song kicks in, it takes on a nice groove, and I love John Colianni’s work on piano. “I Didn’t Know About You” also features some nice work on keys, the sound of this one conjuring images of cool jazz clubs from another time, the song effortlessly transporting us there. Plus, this track includes a wonderful lead on saxophone.

Lizzie Thomas’ rendition of Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” opens with a rockin’ section that caught me by surprise, particularly that guitar. It is a bit of “It’s Nice To Go Trav’ling,” written by Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen. The track then quickly transitions into “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.” There is a joy to Lizzie’s vocal performance that is certain to make you feel good. She doesn’t hold back. She offers a bit of scat, which quickly leads to a fantastic lead on saxophone, almost taking its cue from the scat, like it was continuing that thought. That is followed by another Cole Porter song, an interesting rendition of “In The Still Of The Night” that begins with a Latin groove.

Lizzie Thomas gives us a fast rendition of “One Note Samba.” It begins at a quick pace, so when it gets to that normally fast section, it reaches an almost frantic pace, which is interesting and also impressive, particularly the vocals. This track also features some great stuff on piano. This one really races along, and, perhaps because of the pace, is a fairly short rendition. She follows that with “Cheek To Cheek,” which she begins slowly, opening with the line “And I seem to find the happiness I seek” rather than “Heaven, I’m in heaven.” When it kicks in, it has a delightful and cheerful vibe, John Colianni’s fingers dancing on the keys. This track also has a cool bass line. Lizzie belts out the line “Dance with me,” like the other person has no choice but to obey. It’s an interesting moment before returning to the main feel of the song. She then offers a kind of fun version of “Close Your Eyes,” not as romantic as, say, the version by Ruth Etting, but with its own charm. Felix Peikli adds some wonderful stuff on clarinet, and I love Matt Chertkoff’s work on guitar.

Lizzie Thomas concludes the album with “The Very Thought Of You,” a song that always reminds me of that montage at the end of Home For The Holidays. It is a beautiful song, one I am always happy to hear. This version has a different and prominent rhythm that gives it a different vibe. What I love is the passion of Lizzie’s delivery. This song sometimes brings tears to my eyes, but this version has much more cheer to it. Things are good, and Lizzie Thomas is celebrating that, celebrating her love, spreading the joy she feels to all who are listening.

CD Track List
  1. Fascinating Rhythm
  2. Our Love Is Here To Stay
  3. I Didn’t Know About You
  4. You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To
  5. In The Still Of The Night
  6. One Note Samba
  7. Cheek To Cheek
  8. Close Your Eyes
  9. The Very Thought Of You 
New Sounds From The Jazz Age is scheduled to be released on January 24, 2020.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

I See Hawks In L.A. at Mr. T’s Bowl, 1-8-20 Concert Review

I See Hawks In L.A. performing "Hills On Fire"
I am always happy when I get a chance to see I See Hawks In L.A.; somehow the world seems like a better place when they’re playing, a place that makes more sense, a place populated by good people. Last night I See Hawks In L.A. put on an absolutely wonderful set at Mr. T’s Bowl. And, yes, before you say anything, I am fully aware that the venue is now called Highland Park Bowl, but it will always be Mr. T’s Bowl to me, even though it looks completely different than it did the last time I was there, more than a decade ago, when Arlo was the sound guy (best sound guy in L.A.). First of all, when did Highland Park become such a popular place? I got to the venue a bit early and expected to find an empty parking lot in the back, like the good ol’ days. But it was full. I had to park at the next lot, which was nearly full as well. The meters in that lot run until 9 p.m., and someone had kindly paid for my spot right up to that time. (Thank you, stranger.) Then I discovered that you can no longer enter the venue through the back door. I could hear the sound of people bowling through that locked door, something I’d never experienced there (during concerts, the bowling lanes had been hidden behind a thick curtain). After a bit of exploring, I learned that you now enter through a door on Figueroa, and that the stage is just to the right, in a room I don’t believe I’d ever been in before. And that sound of people bowling? Well, that was people bowling. Because the concerts are held in a different room, the two activities can proceed simultaneously. And so they did. The problem with that, of course, is that the sound leaked in from the bowling lanes, noticeable particularly during those moments between songs.

I got turned onto a lot of good bands at Mr. T’s Bowl over the years, and I’m glad to find that tradition continues. Great Willow delivered an excellent opening set last night. The Los Angeles-based trio includes a cello, an instrument I am always happy to hear. Apparently the group is working on a new album, and the set focused on that material. But it was all new to me anyway. I was particularly impressed by their harmonies. And the final song of their set featured a great lead on cello that drew applause from the crowd.  By the way, apart from the external noise leaking into the room, the sound was quite good.

I See Hawks In L.A. was scheduled to go on at 9:30, and actually started a few minutes early, at 9:26 p.m. Rob Waller greeted the crowd: “Hey, everybody, we’re The Hawks. Nice to see you.” And they got right into the music, opening their set with “Carbon-Dated Love,” a song from Hallowed Ground, the band’s 2008 release. And I was immediately feeling great. And I wasn’t the only one. Bass player Paul Marshall seemed really happy right from the start of the show. It was great to see him back. This was the first time I’d seen him play with the band since his eye surgery. They followed “Carbon-Dated Love” with “Planet Earth,” from 2018’s Live And Never Learn. In introducing it, Rob mentioned how he’d just come back from Berlin and was “still pretty jet-lagged, folks.” Well, you’d never know it from his playing or singing. This song featured some wonderful harmonies. I’ve said this before, but Rob Waller’s is one of the absolute best voices in music these days, and last night it showed no signs of wear from his travels.

The set included several songs from the band’s latest release, a joint effort by I See Hawks In L.A. and The Good Intentions titled Hawks With Good Intentions. The first of these songs was “Things Like This,” and while introducing it, the band joked about Rob’s pronunciation of “Nevada.” And the crowd got into it as well. Then, during the song when Rob sang the line “He sure won't make Nevada,” he smiled, a certain twinkle in his eye as he ignored the way others pronounced the state name. After that song, he introduced Paul Lacques on electric guitar. Someone in the audience asked, “Did you cut your hair off, Paul?” Paul responded, “Yeah, all of it.” Indeed, I almost didn’t recognize him at first without his long hair. Rob then joked about his own hair: “I got a haircut in Berlin. I told them to give me the Galdalf. I just need a staff and a robe.” They then played “If You Remind Me,” a song from 2013’s Mystery Drug. This is such a sweet country tune, and those backing vocals remind me of early 1960s pop music. They have that delightful sort of vibe, you know?

“Live And Never Learn” is one that seems particularly apt these days, don’t you think? Paul Lacques delivered some really nice stuff on electric guitar. That was followed by “White Cross,” a song that was included on both Live And Never Learn and Hawks With Good Intentions. “One of the kinds of speed was white crosses,” Rob told the crowd before the song. This one also featured some excellent stuff from Paul Lacques on guitar. Then Paul Marshall took lead vocal duties on “Blue Heaven,” another song from Hawks With Good Intentions. On the album, it is Peter Davies (of The Good Intentions) who sings lead, and the song’s lyrics actually mention The Hawks: “We had guitars and we flew with the Hawks, and hey/It was blue, blue heaven.” It was wonderful hearing Paul Marshall sing this one. He did a fantastic job on this folk song. After that, Rob told the anecdote of the time he had a gun pulled on him at Mr. T’s Bowl and was aided by Arlo, the sound guy I mentioned earlier. “Arlo saved my life that night, talked some sense into a very drunk man,” Rob said. “Wherever Arlo is. Thanks, Arlo.”

They delivered a good, rockin’ rendition of “Ballad For The Trees,” Victoria Jacobs keeping time on the floor tom. “Here's a song just for everyone/Writing down their dreams/Or a ballad for the trees.” Victoria then stepped out from behind her kit to sing lead on “Hills On Fire,” another song from Hawks With Good Intentions, and one that is really pretty and moving. The band then totally shifted gears with a cover of “Take Me Lake Charles,” a fun song by Shinyribs. Paul Marshall sang lead on this one. What a treat to get to hear him do two songs in one set. This was such an enjoyable tune that it ended up being a highlight of the set for me. They concluded the set with another song from Hawks With Good Intentions, the gorgeous and touching “Flying Now.” If you need evidence that Rob Waller has one of the best voices in music, listen to this song when you get a chance. “I just might grow old/My face carries the lines/Of the winds that have whipped me/Now they push from behind/And I'm flying now.” For the encore, they chose another beautiful song, “The River Knows,” from Mystery Drug. The show ended at 10:32 p.m.

Set List
  1. Carbon-Dated Love
  2. Planet Earth
  3. Things Like This
  4. If You Remind Me
  5. Live And Never Learn
  6. White Cross
  7. Blue Heaven
  8. Ballad For The Trees
  9. Hills On Fire
  10. Take Me Lake Charles
  11. Flying Now
Encore
  1. The River Knows
Here are a few photos:

"Carbon-Dated Love"
"Carbon-Dated Love"
"Planet Earth"
"Things Like This"
"Blue Heaven"
"The River Knows"
Mr. T’s Bowl is located at 5621 N. Figueroa St. in the Highland Park section of Los Angeles.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Forrest McDonald Band: “Blues In A Bucket” (2020) CD Review

Forrest McDonald has been performing for more than fifty years, delivering some delicious blues and blues-related music. His new album, Blues In A Bucket, features all original material, written or co-written by McDonald. This band can groove and rock, then drop you deep into the blues and pull you out again. It features Andrew Black on lead vocals, and includes a horn section. Blues In A Bucket follows the band’s 2017 release Stand My Ground.

The album opens with “Boogie Me Till I Drop,” which – as you might guess from its title – is a fun number. This tune has a wonderful New Orleans vibe and rhythm, the horns urging us to join together on the dance floor. Yeah, the band is throwing a party, and it seems we are all invited. Time to cut loose, enjoy ourselves. “When she puts that stuff in motion, lord, the walls come tumbling down.” The Forrest McDonald Band then gets a whole lot deeper into the blues with “Blues In The Basement,” Andrew Black’s voice being the focus here. He gives a really good, powerful vocal performance – sometimes smooth, sometimes gloriously raw. “‘Cause when you’re living your life down in the basement/Lord, mercy, it’s filled with despair/Yeah, so much despair.” This track features some really cool, expressive work on guitar, plus some sexy stuff on keys.

The moment the title track “Blues In A Bucket” begins, its bright vibe works to raise my spirits. Ah, it’s wonderful how the blues can do that. And let’s give credit here to the bass line, because, yeah, it’s working well. “Put my blues in a bucket/Gonna throw it in the sea/I’ll sit and watch the tide roll away from me.” I think we all want to chuck our blues at this point. How great it would be to watch them pulled away by the tide. And for me, really, that means tossing Donald Trump into the ocean, and watching the waves pull him out to sea, never to return. Goodbye, blues. This track becomes a good jam there in the middle. “Windy City Blues” immediately establishes a wonderful groove that is familiar and soulful. This track features some absolutely delightful touches on keys, and a really good vocal performance. “I got them Windy City blues/I’ve got to face the facts/I gave my love to a woman/And she never gave it back.” I also love those horns, the way they are at first so gentle, like caresses offered in the night, and then later more lively, particularly when joining with the guitar in the second half of the song. That lead on guitar is excellent, each note so clear, so precise, so effective. This is one of my favorite tracks.

“Go To The Light” has a fun groove and a cheerful, totally enjoyable lead vocal performance. But what I really love about this song are those gospel-sounding backing vocals and the way they are supported by the horns. Wonderful stuff there. “Everyone is so confused/They don’t know what to do.” Yup, that’s just about right. By the way, whenever I hear someone say anything like “Go to the light,” I can’t help but think of that scene from Poltergeist, with JoBeth Williams shouting, “Run to the light, Carol Anne!” “Go To The Light” is followed by “Misery And Blues,” its opening lines being “The whole world’s gone crazy/It’s filled with misery.” Again, yes, that’s just about right. And every day it is getting crazier. I love the way the backing vocals echo “Misery.” Beautiful. “There’s no more peace and love/Just pain everywhere I see.” This is a serious song with a darker vibe, but it features some great stuff from the horns, plus some excellent work on both guitar and harmonica. That harmonica becomes the soul of the song, crying out and expressing the pain and worry so many are experiencing. “We can’t go on like this, or we’re all going to lose/I don’t know about you, baby, but I’ve had enough of this misery and blues.” I’ve been saying that for three years now. Please, an end to Donald Trump means an end to this country’s misery; or, at least an end to a large portion of it.

Becky Wright joins the band on lead vocals for “Powerhouse,” a strong, mean blues number, with some lyrics to match that sound, that vibe. Check out these lines: “I’ve been standing at the crossroads with a hellhound on my trail/And at the stroke of midnight, he’s going to take your soul to hell/Wish you well.” I love that “Wish you well,” and the way she delivers it, that attitude. Becky Wright turns in one hell of a good performance here. The album began with a fun track, a party song, and it ends that way as well, with “Let The Love In Your Heart,” featuring another great rhythm. Becky Wright again joins the band on vocals, and on this one we have both female and male lead vocals. “There’s a breeze rolling in/A change is going to come/Beyond the yonder mountain/I can see the rising sun/Open up your heart/Listen to your mind/Forget about yesterday/Leave it all behind.” And, yes, I can’t help but smile at the phrase “yonder mountain,” being a big fan of Yonder Mountain String Band. Plus, this track features more good stuff on guitar and harmonica. This track leaves us in a good place, and for that I am thankful.

CD Track List
  1. Boogie Me Till I Drop
  2. Blues In The Basement
  3. Blues In A Bucket
  4. Blue Morning Sun
  5. Hard To Lose
  6. Windy City Blues
  7. Go To The Light
  8. Misery And Blues
  9. Powerhouse
  10. Going Back To Memphis
  11. Let The Love In Your Heart
Blues In A Bucket is scheduled to be released on February 7, 2020.