Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ivor S.K.: “Montserrat” (2017) CD Review

Montserrat is the first full-length CD by blues singer and songwriter Ivor S.K. (Ivor Simpson-Kennedy), following last year’s Delta Pines EP. Unlike that acoustic EP, this one makes use of electric instruments. However, like the EP, Ivor S.K. plays all the instruments on this album. He also wrote all the songs, the material encompassing several musical realms, not just strictly blues. And there are some damn good songs on this disc. I also have to mention one thing about the CD package that amuses me – the track list on the back of the case is presented as a menu, and the song lengths are listed as prices, on little white stickers, as if to say the prices had changed or perhaps often change. Ah yes, everything is in flux these days.

The album opens with its title track, “Montserrat,” a groovy blues number with a fun vibe. Check out these lyrics: “Everybody is cool/Man, you won't meet no affront/Immigration’s only policy is strictly no cunts/So come on, you said you want to know where I'm at/Look out, baby/Honey, I'm in Montserrat.” Well, that immigration policy means Trump and Pence and their associates can’t move there, and that means it’s a place we all want to be. It’s wild that Ivor S.K. plays all instruments on this tune, because it develops into a cool jam at one point, with some good work on guitar. This is an excellent start to the album, and it’s followed by “Don’t Say Goodbye,” which has a great raw bluesy folk vibe, like some of Tom Waits’ work. “Realized I been here too long/Just found out you've been doing me wrong/Don't say goodbye.” This one too has a cool little jam, and I’m still surprised there are no other musicians on this release.

This disc has quite a few surprises, actually. One of them is the third track, “Ain’t No Cross,” a song which just totally delights me. These are its opening lines: “I might be a killer/I might be a killer/Might sneak in your house about three/Kill you and your whole family/I might be a killer/I might be a killer/But at least/I'm not/A priest.” I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this song. It tickles me in all the right places. You know? It’s followed by “I Been Had,” which features a reggae beat, another surprise. Then “Take The Good With The Bad” has a delicious, raw feel, and a humorous bent in lines like “My woman don't look good/My woman don't smile/Ain't got no class/Ain't got no style/She can't cook/She can't clean/But she got more money/Than I ever seen/Ain't it sad/You gotta take the good with the bad.”

I’ve been itching to get back to New Orleans lately, and “Take Me Back To New Orleans” is making me think more seriously about making the trip. The song’s opening lines are “I wanna take you to a place I been/It's in Louisiana/It's called New Orleans/It's the city for me/It's the city for play.” I’m going to have to play this song for my girlfriend, for she has never been there and I’ve been talking about taking her. Hmm, it might be time to make a mix CD for the trip. “They got music that you won't believe/Funk, soul, blues, jazz/Man, whatever you need.” We need it all these days.

“Indianola” is an instrumental guitar tune (though at the beginning we hear Ivor say “One more time”). Something about this tune raises my spirits. The CD then concludes with “Good Mawnin’ Judge,” a playful story about a criminal who meets his judge on somewhat equal ground. It’s a good song, and at the moment I can’t help but think about Judge Roy Moore, and how that fucker ought to end up in jail. “I said good mornin' judge/I'll meet ya at the county jail.”

CD Track List
  1. Montserrat
  2. Don’t Say Goodbye
  3. Ain’t No Cross
  4. I Been Had
  5. Take The Good With The Bad
  6. It’s Raining
  7. Take Me Back To New Orleans
  8. Murder Tonight
  9. Indianola
  10. Good Mawnin’ Judge
Montserrat was released on May 26, 2017.

Jason Paul Curtis: “These Christmas Days” (2017) CD Review

Vocalist and songwriter Jason Paul Curtis’ new release, These Christmas Days, is an unusual holiday album in that it contains mostly original material. In fact, there are only two covers, and those two are certainly not traditional Christmas fare. As Jason Paul Curtis sings in one of those covers, “Christmas is coming again.” Indeed, and there is not a damn thing we can do to stop it. So we might as well relax and try to enjoy it, and do that with some good music. The songs on These Christmas Days are largely about spending the holiday with loved ones, with Curtis creating scenes of a family enjoying the time. Two different bands back him on this album, Swing Shift and Swinglab, each performing on half of the tracks.

Jason Paul Curtis opens the CD with a cover – a fun rendition of “(Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With The Bag,” a playful 1950s Christmas tune made popular by Kay Starr. This version has plenty of bright, joyous work on horns by the members of Swing Shift. And the excitement in Jason Paul Curtis’ voice almost makes me excited about the holiday myself, and that’s something. Will it be “the best and the merriest” December I’ve ever had, as is promised in the song? Probably not, as the love of my life is three thousand miles away. But with music like this, I think I’ll be able to enjoy it. That’s followed by “I’ll Feel Christmas,” the first of the original tunes. It’s a happy-sounding pop number with more nice work on horns by Swing Shift. “And I’ll feel Christmas long as you’re with me.” Ah, I miss my special someone, and even more when I hear lines like that.

I always love bass lines like the one in “Christmas Breakfast,” a bass line that seems able to smile. This song also features a nice instrumental section. The song is about opening presents, detailing some of the gifts the kids receive, the lyrics coming at you with the speed at which children open gifts. I’m wondering what the guy is going to do with that new spatula. After all, he’s pretty damn excited about it, much more so than he would be about making actual breakfast. Sorry, my thoughts can’t stay innocent for too long. That’s followed by “December Again,” a song from a father to his child, marking the child’s growth by the passing Decembers. It starts in 2004, when we all received a great gift in the form of a Red Sox World Series championship. Swinglab backs Curtis on this track, with some good work on guitar by John Albertson during a lightly swinging instrumental section. Dave Schiff joins the group on flute, delivering some delightful stuff in that same section. Toward the end of the song, Isabella Curtis joins Jason Paul Curtis on vocals, in the role of his daughter, a role she has in real life as well. She also joins him on the following track, “I Want Snow,” a somewhat playful duet. “I won’t spend Christmas without you/So let’s just drive ‘til you make up your mind/Either way, I want snow Christmastime.” I really like the work on keys by Jeremy Ragsdale on this track. Dave Schiff switches to clarinet for this one.

“These Christmas Days,” the album’s title track, is a mellow, somewhat cheesy number about the family being together on Christmas. This one doesn’t really do much for me (though I do appreciate the nod to A Charlie Brown Christmas), but it’s followed by what is perhaps the album’s best track, “Came Winter.” This one is not about a family gathering to open presents or anything like that. Rather, it’s about a relationship that ended in December. “Now you say you miss me and you wish that we could still be friends/How can I believe you when it’s Christmas Eve, let’s not pretend/I know that you’re lonely ’cause the only time you’re calling me/Midnight, the dead of winter, just a year from when you set me free.” It features a great groove, and some wonderful work on horns. It also contains what for me is the best vocal performance of the album. I completely love the vocal line to this song, Jason Paul Curtis’ delivery. “August was hot/September was not/October so fraught/November the plot/Came winter, you threw my heart away.” This is an excellent song.

While “Came Winter” is about a relationship that ended a year ago, the following track, “Christmas Clear,” celebrates a relationship that started a year ago at a holiday store. Hmm, the guy has a bit of a thing for those Santa dresses. It must be the white fur trim, or maybe it had a low cut. Either way, the relationship got off to a start because of it, as he repeats, “I love the way you wore your Santa dress so festively.” The song’s title is a play on the phrase “crystal clear.” I really like the instrumental section, which features some nice work by Ray Mabalot on piano. Then “New Year’s Vacation” is about getting away from the world for a bit. “All year long we work with good intention/So tonight I’m going to give you my complete attention/Let’s toast, dear/To good conversation/We’ll host, dear/Our own celebration/Just coast here/A New Year’s vacation with you.” The album began with one of its two covers, and it ends with the other cover – a pretty, romantic rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight,” written by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields. I’ve always loved this song, and Jason Paul Curtis does a good job with it. “Some day, when I'm awfully low/And the world is cold/I will feel a glow just thinking of you/And the way you look tonight.” Ah, yes.

CD Track List
  1. (Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With The Bag
  2. I’ll Feel Christmas
  3. Christmas Breakfast
  4. December Again
  5. I Want Snow
  6. These Christmas Days
  7. Came Winter
  8. Christmas Clear
  9. New Year’s Vacation
  10. The Way You Look Tonight
These Christmas Days was released on November 24, 2017.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Creation: “Action Painting” (2017) CD Review

It’s that time of year when we need to figure out what sorts of things we should purchase for our loved ones. Because no matter how much the holidays irritate us, there is just no way to avoid them. For the music lover on your list (and if someone doesn’t love music, why is he or she on your list anyway?), an excellent choice is Action Painting, the two-disc career retrospective by The Creation. Particularly for people who are fans of early work by The Who and The Kinks, for a lot of this music has something of garage rock sound with a psychedelic edge. This set contains nearly two and a half hours of music, including some previously unreleased tracks. And it comes in a great package, the extensive liner notes presented in a hardcover book, contained in a strong outer case. The liner notes include the brief, but interesting history of the band (including the personnel changes – hey, Ronnie Wood was a member of this band at one point), as well as notes on the recording sessions, some promotional material and plenty of photos.

And if you think you don’t know this band, think again. As soon as the first track begins, you’re likely to recognize it, particularly as it was featured prominently in the film Rushmore (a phenomenal film, by the way, one you should check out if you’ve somehow missed it so far). Titled “Making Time,” this is a fantastic song, with a strong and memorable guitar part, and some really good lyrics. “Why do we have to carry on?/Always singing the same old song/Same old song/The same old song.” It might be the only song by this band that you already know, which is kind of insane, because everything on these discs is quite good. “Try And Stop Me,” the flip side to the “Making Time” single, has more of a bright pop vibe, and is kind of catchy. “You’re the kind of girl you see/Always hanging round/You hung around me much too long/I’ve got to bring you down, yeah/Try and stop me, understand/Try and stop me, if you can.” But it’s that guitar that I really love.

The band’s biggest hit was “Painter Man,” released in 1966. And the story of the band’s stage antics around this song, detailed in this release’s liner notes, is pretty wild. The first lines of this song make me smile: “Went to college, studied art/To be an artist, make a start.” These lines also make me smile, but for a different reason: “Tried cartoons and comic books/Dirty postcards, woman’s books/Here was where the money lay/Classic art has had its day.” This tune has a good thumping beat during the chorus, and a delightfully goofy and surprising “la la” section toward the end. It’s a bloody good song, from start to finish. Its flip side, “Biff, Bang, Pow,” is a seriously fun rock tune. All four of these songs were written by band members Kenny Pickett and Eddie Phillips.

“Sylvette” is an instrumental track released as part of an EP in France. Man, this music is hitting the spot. You know? This is raw, driving rock with rhythm and blues elements, music without worries or agendas, music that says life is pretty damn good, music that tells you “Fuck it and dance.” Best to give in and enjoy yourself, right? “If I Stay Too Long” has a more serious sound, a more serious feel, and is quite effective. This is actually one of my favorite tracks. “So if I stay too long, it’s ‘cause I need you/Hope that you won’t make me cry/Like you did the other night/People stopped and stared at me/As if I wasn’t right/If I stay too long, it’s ‘cause I want you.” And then I can’t help but love the “la la la la la la la” backing vocals in “Nightmares,” the single’s flip side. I’m guessing a lot of other folks are going to dig them too.

Things get a little more trippy with “Life Is Just Beginning” and “Through My Eyes.” Both of these songs are good, but I am partial to “Through My Eyes,” which has a heavy groove and a strange beauty, a sort of haunting vibe. These songs were written by Bob Garner and Eddie Phillips, as was “How Does It Feel To Feel,” another psychedelic bluesy gem, which interestingly came out of the band rehearsing Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” (a song the band included on its LP, We Are Paintermen). The writing of this song is discussed in the liner notes. This track features a cool, guitar-driven instrumental section. The first disc contains a second version of this song.

“Can I Join Your Band” is a wonderfully fun tune with a reference to “Eight Miles High.” It’s one of those songs about starting out with high hopes, and it also seems to encourage everyone to join in on some magical, totally thrilling journey. It will likely remind you of The Who. And how can you not love a song whose main line is “The girls are naked and they dance”? Yes, “The Girls Are Naked” is another fun one. I want to travel to the delightful world of this music, or pull it out of the speakers and make it live here, because so much of this music feels like celebration to me. “The Girls Are Naked” is followed by a cover of an early rock and roll number, Larry Williams’ “Bony Maronie” (here listed as “Bonie Maronie”). And it’s a really good rendition too.  I soon found myself dancing around to this track (much the way I danced around to a cassette of the original when I was a kid). The band jams on it toward the end. That’s followed by another cover – “Mercy Mercy Mercy.” The Creation also covers “Cool Jerk.”

British artists in the 1960s seemed to have odd uncles. For The Who, it was Uncle Ernie (in “Fiddle About”). For The Mindbenders, it was “Uncle Joe, The Ice Cream Man.” For David Bowie, it was “Uncle Arthur.” For The Creation, it’s “Uncle Bert,” a song written by Kim Gardner, Kenny Pickett and Ronnie Wood. “Three cheers for an old man coming ‘round/’Tis Uncle Bert with his trousers hanging down.” The first disc also includes “I Am The Walker,” a really cool song that was recorded in 1967, but not released until 1973 on a British compilation titled ’66-’67.

The second disc is interesting in that it both goes back to the band’s earliest recordings (or nearly the earliest), when the band was The Mark Four, and also contains the newest mixes of Creation songs, stereo mixes of tunes included on the first disc, but also some surprises. Missing are the band’s first two singles – covers of “Rock Around The Clock” and “Try It Baby.” In the liner notes, it is mentioned that these recordings weren’t all that great, but it still would have been cool to have them included. The first track is the band’s third single, “Hurt Me If You Will,” released in 1965. Though it’s the band’s third single, it’s the first to feature original material, written by Kenny Pickett and Eddie Phillips. “Hurt Me If You Will” is a good song, but I prefer its flip side, “I’m Leaving,” a cool blues rock jam, which might remind you a bit of some very early work by the Rolling Stones. “Work All Day (Sleep All Night)” has a delicious, raw sound. The last of the Mark Four songs included on this disc is “Going Down Fast,” which features the line “They’re going down fast because they’re going nowhere.” I like these early bluesy tunes, and “Going Down Fast” might be my favorite of the four.

The new stereo mixes begin with “How Does It Feel To Feel,” and this version includes just a bit of studio banter at the beginning, as do the versions of “Nightmares” and “Life Is Just Beginning.” I love the new mix of “Can I Join Your Band.” While most of these new stereo mixes are of songs included on the first disc, there are some exceptions. There is a cover of “Hey Joe,” a song that was included on We Are Paintermen. I really like the backing vocals in this version. They somehow give the tale an eerie emotional edge. There is also a short spoken word section. “Hey Joe” is followed by another cover – Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone,” which was also included on We Are Paintermen. The second disc concludes with some instrumental tracks, including backing tracks of “Making Time” and “How Does It Feel To Feel” (both of which were previously unreleased), plus the full-length version of “Sylvette” and a fun instrumental titled “Instrumental 1.”

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Making Time
  2. Try And Stop Me
  3. Painter Man
  4. Biff, Bang, Pow
  5. Sylvette (edit)
  6. If I Stay Too Long
  7. Nightmares
  8. Life Is Just Beginning
  9. Through My Eyes
  10. How Does It Feel To Feel
  11. Tom Tom
  12. Can I Join Your Band
  13. Midway Down
  14. The Girls Are Naked
  15. Bonie Maronie
  16. Mercy Mercy Mercy
  17. For All That I Am
  18. Uncle Bert
  19. Cool Jerk
  20. I Am The Walker
  21. Ostrich Man
  22. Sweet Helen
  23. How Does It Feel To Feel (US Version) 
Disc 2
  1. Hurt Me If You Will
  2. I’m Leaving
  3. Work All Day (Sleep All Night)
  4. Going Down Fast
  5. How Does It Feel To Feel (US Version) (New Stereo Mix)
  6. Biff Bang Pow (New Stereo Mix)
  7. For All That I Am (New Stereo Mix)
  8. Can I Join Your Band (New Stereo Mix)
  9. Through My Eyes (New Stereo Mix)
  10. Tom Tom (New Stereo Mix)
  11. Midway Down (New Stereo Mix)
  12. Nightmares (New Stereo Mix)
  13. Life Is Just Beginning (New Stereo Mix)
  14. Painter Man (New Stereo Mix)
  15. If I Stay Too Long (New Stereo Mix)
  16. How Does It Feel To Feel (UK Version) (New Stereo Mix)
  17. Cool Jerk (New Stereo Mix)
  18. Hey Joe (New Stereo Mix)
  19. Like A Rolling Stone (New Stereo Mix)
  20. Making Time (Backing Track) Take 1
  21. Sylvette (full length)
  22. Instrumental 1
  23. How Does It Feel To Feel (Version 1 Backing Track) 
Action Painting was released on March 17, 2017.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Karen Souza: “Velvet Vault” (2017) CD Review

Vocalist Karen Souza is known for her soulful jazz renditions of pop hits, particularly songs from the 1980s such as “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?” and “Every Breath You Take.” On her new release, Velvet Vault, she expands her repertoire. Yes, there are still some pop hits, like Elton John’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” and 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” and even The Cure’s “In Between Days,” but there is also some classic material such as Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” as well as some original numbers, co-written by Karen Souza.

She opens the album with an excellent rendition of “I Fall In Love Too Easily.” Her delivery is so intimate, her voice feeling like it is right in our ears, like she’s confessing directly to us. It’s almost like she’s resting her head on my shoulder, and the track has a delicious, perfect late-night vibe. Her voice is the focus, with light touches on the piano, bass and drums that accompany her. That’s José Reinoso on piano. Reinoso also arranged and produced most of the tracks on this album. Then when the horn comes in, it’s as if to keep her company, to support her. That’s Sergio Wagner on trumpet. This is one of my favorite tracks. José Reinoso accompanies Karen Souza on guitar on the following song, an interesting and cool cover of Elton John’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” but Karen’s voice is still the focus. In fact, the song begins with her voice, rather than the piano which begins the original version. As the drums come in, the song takes on a brighter tone for the chorus, becoming closer to the original.

“I’m Beginning To See The Light” is a more playful tune from the start. It was written by Duke Ellington, Don George, Johnny Hodges and Harry James, and has become a jazz standard. Karen Souza’s rendition features a relaxed, groovy jazzy rhythm on guitar and bass. And again, her vocals have an intimate quality. The second half of the song includes some nice work on horns. Tom Malone plays trombone, and Sergio Wagner plays trumpet on this delightful track. Japanese vocalist and flugelhorn player Toku joins Karen Souza on “You Got That Something,” one of the disc’s original compositions. It was written by Karen Souza, Pamela Oland and David Nathan, and is delivered as a playful duet. She sings “I’m inclined to believe that you’re flirting, but I kind of like it,” and he sings “Making progress.” Yeah, it has that kind of a fun vibe to it. And I dig Toku’s work on flugelhorn. The album’s other original track is “In The Blink Of An Eye,” which features Fiorella Cominetti on flute. It was written by Karen Souza, Pamela Oland and Leandro Peirano. “Was it a dream/Felt your hands on my skin/And I burned with the touch/That could never begin.”

On Essentials, Karen Souza offered a cool jazz version of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus.” On this new release, Karen delivers an unusual and effective take on The Cure’s “In Between Days,” featuring some pretty work on keys by José Reinoso. Karen also gives us a fun, jazzed up rendition of Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side,” with a strong, pronounced Latin rhythm. There are no backing vocalists giving us the “doo doo-doo” bit. Instead, the horns do that part. The album ends with a thoughtful version of MGMT’s “Kids.” “Control yourself/Take only what you need from it.”

CD Track List
  1. I Fall In Love Too Easily
  2. Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
  3. I’m Beginning To See The Light
  4. Valerie
  5. I’m Not In Love
  6. You Got That Something
  7. In Between Days
  8. In The Blink Of An Eye
  9. Walk On The Wild Side
  10. Angel Eyes
  11. Kids 
Velvet Vault was released on December 1, 2017.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Richard Thompson Band: “Live At Rockpalast” (2017) CD/DVD Review

The first time I saw Richard Thompson in concert was when I was in college. He was on a bill with Joan Baez, and the tickets were rather expensive (for that time, anyway). I couldn’t afford the admission, but went to the show, thinking I’d be able to watch from the back, as it was an outdoor show at a park. But the fence was too high back there, and as I walked the perimeter in search of a low point in the fence, I ended up at the backstage entrance, and at that moment Richard Thompson was walking in. So I met him and went on in. Good show.

I’ve seen him a couple of times since then, and always enjoyed his performances. So I was excited when I heard about the new Richard Thompson box set. Titled Live At Rockpalast, it is a five-disc set (three CDs, two DVDs), containing two complete Richard Thompson Band concerts from the 1980s.

December 10, 1983 (CDs 1 +2, DVD 2)

The first show is from December 10, 1983. And yes, for some reason the first concert is included on the second DVD (though it is listed as being on the first DVD on the back of the box). It’s nearly two hours, and so takes up two CDs. This concert was performed at a relatively intimate venue in Hamburg, to an enthusiastic audience. It was filmed with multiple cameras, giving us close-ups of each of the band members. And there are two saxophones and an accordion. And check out the Cornflakes box guitar (which Richard jokes about when introducing the band partway through the set). The band is Richard Thompson on vocals and guitar, Simon Nicol on guitar, Pete Zorn on saxophone, Pete Thomas on saxophone, Alan Dunn on accordion, Dave Pegg on bass and Dave Mattacks on drums.

The introduction is done in German, and then Richard Thompson kicks off the show with “The Wrong Heartbeat,” a song with a fun, strong, catchy groove. The song title appears on screen, and that is done for each of the songs of the set, though sometimes whoever is in charge of doing it has trouble recognizing a song or is off on a bathroom break because a song title doesn’t appear until halfway through the song. But no matter, as you have the song titles listed on the box anyway. “The Wrong Heartbeat” is followed by “A Poisoned Heart And A Twisted Memory.” What a great song title. And the song itself is excellent. Richard Thompson can certainly write some damn good lyrics. “Is this the way it’s supposed to be/A poisoned heart and a twisted memory.” Richard Thompson is clearly enjoying himself. Watch the way he plays with certain words in his delivery. That’s followed by an energetic and totally fun rendition of “Tear Stained Letter,” featuring delicious stuff on saxophone and accordion. Both saxophone players and the accordion player take turns on lead before Richard Thompson takes over lead on guitar, and they just jam. It’s a rousing rendition that feels like a set closer. But the band is just getting started. Those first three songs, by the way, are all from Hand Of Kindness, which at the time was his newest release.

Though Richard and Linda Thompson had split a couple of years before this show, Richard still does a lot of material they recorded together, including “Night Comes In” from Pour Down Like Silver, and several tracks from Shoot Out The Lights (“Shoot Out The Lights,” “Don’t Renege On Our Love,” “Wall Of Death,” “Man In Need”). He also does a wonderful rendition of “Amaryllis” (spelled correctly on screen, but listed as “Amarylus” on the back of the box), which begins with drums and accordion and hand claps, and is a lot of fun. After that song, Richard thanks the audience. Then, realizing that’s the first time he’s spoken during the performance, he adds: “I just forgot to say hello. I’m very sorry. Good evening.” And, when introducing “Hand Of Kindness,” he says, “Well, I didn’t come here to advertise, but here’s a track off my last album, thank you.” Alan Dunn, the accordion player, sings lead on “Alberta,” another really fun track, with some clowning around between Richard and Pete Zorn.

Richard Thompson gives a delightful introduction to “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” perhaps the most surprising song of the set: “Did you ever live in fear of the day when you’d wake up and you’d like the same music your parents used to like? This is a very frightening thing. Well, it’s happened.” He goes on to say, “This is one my mom likes very much.” By the way, the bell needed for this song is attached to one of the saxophones. Yeah, the saxophones really drive this number. And hey, is the audience actually doing that whistling toward the end? Very cool. That’s followed by “How I Wanted To,” a seriously pretty song from Hand Of Kindness (which is mislabeled as “How I Wanted You” on the back of the box). Another highlight of the first show is “Two Left Feet,” also from Hand Of Kindness. This one too is ridiculously fun, particularly the work on accordion. The saxophone players seem to be having a blast. The set ends with “Back Street Slide,” from Shoot Out The Lights.

The enthusiastic crowd calls the band back for an encore, and as Richard Thompson begins to play “Both Ends Burning,” for some reason his name appears across the screen as it did at the beginning of the concert. This song is a delight, and I love the accordion. It’s followed by a playful rendition of “Danny Boy,” which kicks in to become a rockin’ number. The crowd calls the band back again (by the way, we are treated to shots of Richard Thompson backstage before he goes back out). This time the band does covers of a couple of early rock and roll numbers – an instrumental rendition of  “You Can’t Sit Down” and a damn good version of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls Of Fire,” which gets the crowd dancing. The audience calls the band back yet again, and they do “Highschool Hop,” another fun, high-energy rock and roll number. The audience keeps clapping for another encore, but the house music drowns them out.

The DVD contains no closing credits, but does include a special feature – an interview with Richard Thompson conducted after the show. He talks about different audiences and the effect they have on musicians. He does mention the whistling.

January 26, 1984 (CD 3, DVD 1)

The second show is from January 26, 1984, at Cannes, at a venue that is not as intimate as that of the first show, and before an audience that is not nearly as enthusiastic. This show has the same set list as the first show, up through “Two Left Feet,” which concludes the set. So, yes, it is significantly shorter. As Richard Thompson explains just before starting “Two Left Feet,” Van Morrison was coming up next, so there was a time restriction. As with the first show, the songs are identified on screen, sometimes quite late into the song. The band for this show is the same as the first show, with two exceptions: Rory McFarlane is now bass, and Gary Conway is now on drums. There is very little stage banter between songs, just an occasional “Thank you” and a note when the two saxophone players sit out for a few songs: “Saxophones have a rest now. They’ve been blowing hard.” And what is the deal with the spotlight that roams over the crowd between songs? Weird.

The music itself is quite good, of course. Richard Thompson delivers some excellent guitar work on “A Poisoned Heart And A Twisted Memory.” The band gives us another energetic rendition of “Tear Stained Letter,” with some wonderful back and forth between saxophone and accordion, and some delicious rock and roll guitar work by Richard Thompson. “Alberta” is wonderful, with some great stuff on saxophone. I love the shot of Richard smiling over the saxophone player’s shoulder while he plays. A moment later the saxophone player bumps into Richard. “How I Wanted To” is again beautiful, and is one of the show’s highlights.

This DVD is also without closing credits of any kind, and does not include any special features. However, camera credits and so on for both shows are included on the back of the liner notes booklet included in the set.

CD/DVD Track List

CD 1 (DVD 2)
  1. The Wrong Heartbeat
  2. A Poisoned Heart And A Twisted Memory
  3. Tear Stained Letter
  4. Night Comes In
  5. Amaryllis
  6. Shoot Out The Lights
  7. Don’t Renege On Our Love
  8. Hand Of Kindness
  9. Alberta
  10. Wall Of Death
  11. Pennsylvania 6-5000
  12. How I Wanted To
CD 2 (DVD 2)
  1. Man In Need
  2. Two Left Feet
  3. Back Street Slide
  4. Both Ends Burning
  5. Danny Boy
  6. Can’t Sit Down
  7. Great Balls Of Fire
  8. Highschool Hop
CD 3 (DVD 1)
  1. The Wrong Heartbeat
  2. A Poisoned Heart And A Twisted Memory
  3. Tear Stained Letter
  4. Night Comes In
  5. Amaryllis
  6. Shoot Out The Lights
  7. Don’t Renege On Our Love
  8. Hand Of Kindness
  9. Alberta
  10. Wall Of Death
  11. Pennsylvania 6-5000
  12. How I Wanted To
  13. Man In Need
  14. Two Left Feet
Live At Rockpalast was released on November 3, 2017.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Billy Lester Trio: “Italy 2016” (2017) CD Review

Honestly, I popped this CD in because of its title, Italy 2016. A simple title, certainly, but one which holds a strong attraction. My girlfriend is Italian, and we keep talking about going to Italy. As of yet, we haven’t managed it. But the country has an undeniable draw, and I thought this album might perhaps give me a taste of it. It was recorded in Italy last year, just as its title suggests, with the trio of Billy Lester on piano, Marcello Testa on bass and Nicola Stranieri on drums. All of the material is original, written by Billy Lester. I don’t know if the music gives me a feel for the country or not, but I can tell you it gives me joy.

It opens with a tune called “An Evening With Friends,” which just has a damn good feel about it, and works to improve my mood (something I seem to need more and more of, the deeper we get into the Donald Trump hell that is consuming our lives). It feels exactly as its title suggests – fun, kind of relaxed, sort of loose, but with good animated conversation. That is what this tune sounds like, and where it takes me in spirit. And like an evening with friends, this song has different voices. I particularly like what the bass has to say during its lead, with the drums supporting it, and the piano offering interjections. Hey, some friends can’t – and shouldn’t – remain quiet for long. This one might remind you of certain versions of “Just Friends.” It’s followed by “Yeah Man!” And, yeah, that excited, positive title is matched by the music, with the bass sounding like the instrument itself is smiling. And Billy Lester really delivers here, often having at least two things going on at once on keys, almost like he’s having a conversation with himself, or like two people are having a conversation with us, telling us a tale that they’re excited about. Halfway through, there is a delightful bass solo that might get you snapping your fingers and perhaps even exclaiming “Yeah man!” There are also several short, but cool drum solos, maintaining that good groove throughout.

“To Julia” is a somewhat mellower tune, with the bass and drums providing a romantic base, allowing the piano a freedom to get wilder right from the start. Billy Lester’s work here does have something of an improvisational feel, almost like he’s carried away with the emotion and perhaps even the motion of playing.  Marcello Testa delivers a gentle, loving bass solo. Is it just me, or does he tease “The Glory Of Love” just a bit? Billy Lester’s lead on piano which follows is fairly lively, over a relaxed rhythm, creating an interesting effect. Then “Pop Pop Train” comes on strong. This is a lively, fast-paced gem that indeed pops and doesn’t let up. I especially dig Nicola Stranieri’s work on drums. That’s followed by “Consolidation,” an enjoyable tune featuring more spirited playing by Billy Lester. Seriously, this whole disc has a tremendous amount of joy worked into the music, and it should help your mood whenever you need it (like anytime you happen to recall who is occupying the White House). The CD concludes with “Omens,” a track with a strong groove. And if you think that a tune titled “Omens” might be more of a downer, or have haunting or frightening aspects to it, do not fear. This is another fun, lively number, and features a really good bass solo. This is an album I think I’ll be turning to often.

CD Track List
  1. An Evening With Friends
  2. Yeah Man!
  3. To Julia
  4. Pop Pop Train
  5. Consolidation
  6. Omens
Italy 2016 was released on November 3, 2017 on Ultra Sound Records.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Gary Rex Tanner: “Return To Outlaw Country” (2017) CD Review

Singer and songwriter Gary Rex Tanner’s new album, Return To Outlaw Country, features all original material. The image of the cowboy is central to most of these songs. Yes, we now live in a world where, for better or worse, a lot of the romance has been drained from that image. The characters of these songs seem well aware of this, and that knowledge is perhaps the source of some of the poignancy of these songs. Yet this music also works to return some of that romance to the image. There is humor as well as sadness to some of the stories told in these songs, to some of the characters, and I’ve always found those two elements to be intertwined in the most effective art. These songs feature some good lyrics, like these from “One More Wild Horse”: “Why do you study these lines on my face/They’re just old road maps of pleasures I’ve chased/But if they entreat you, as you say they do/I can’t find a reason to argue with you.” Joining Gary Rex Tanner on this release are Eric Bikales on keys, Chris Leuzinger on guitar, Mike Loudermilk on guitar, Mississippi Slim on guitar, Dow Tomlin on bass, Richard Dodd on cello, Tom Corbett on mandolin, Steve Turner on drums, Dann Sherrill on percussion, Mitch Grainger on harmonica, and Edward Tree on backing vocals.

The album opens with “Just Like A Cowboy,” a somewhat confessional look inward. It opens with the line, “I’ve always been the restless type.” That line, at least for me, has a humorous bent because his voice has the relaxed quality of someone who is not out a-wandering. Perhaps he is restless in his mind, something most of us can relate to. And after all, he’s not saying he is a cowboy here. He has other characters liken him to a cowboy, which is more interesting, in lines like “Like someone’s idea of a cowboy” and “They think I’m just like a cowboy.” It’s an image he takes to heart, seeming to hope to be what they think he is. “I never do pretend to be/The answer to a woman’s dreams/I’m just a guy in boots and jeans/Hell, I’m just trying to be like a cowboy.” I love those lines. Gary Rex Tanner follows that with another song about being a cowboy, and being – or at least feeling – out of place as a result, but ultimately being secure in who he is. Titled “Cowboy Clothes,” here is a taste of the lyrics: “Don’t know much about fashions/Some of them are cute/I may wear a suit/But I still wear cowboy boots.” This song has a pleasant, positive vibe.

In “Hussong’s Cantina,” he sings about being a lonely cowboy, drinking and yearning for love. This song creates a compelling and interesting character, as well as a strong sense of place. “You never know when you might run into/Someone who can bust your bubble/Someone who is worth the trouble/Someone soft and warm to pull you through.” There is a spirited delivery to the song’s lyrics which I appreciate and which help make the song something special. “Unscheduled Day Off” is a lot of fun. It’s country, but with something of a pop flavor to its enjoyable rhythm. “I slept in late this morning/Woke up stretching and yawning/Called up the boss’ recorder/I said that my car’s out of order.” Ah, sometimes when you wake with a beautiful woman, the idea of going to work holds no appeal. And like he says in this song, “Sometimes a man’s simply got to/Stop and do something he wants to.” I also like these lines: “I could have gone in, but I just couldn’t get in the mood/I’ll show up tomorrow, complete with a new attitude.”

Some good work on harmonica opens “When I Was A Cowboy.” In this bluesy little gem, Gary Rex Tanner mentions Mississippi Slim, a musician who plays with him on this release as well as on earlier releases (not to be confused with other musicians named Mississippi Slim, such as the blues singer). Interestingly, he places himself and Mississippi Slim in another time (or conflates two time periods), so that they can encounter Jesse James. And that’s just one verse in this fun tune. It’s followed by a sweet and pretty song called “An Angel To Guide You.” “I know I’m not perfect, but I’ll have to do/’Til God sends an angel to guide you/You win a few battles/You lose a few friends/You take love for granted/It suddenly ends.” There is some nice work on keys. And, as always, I love the cello.

Several of these songs are told from the perspective of an aging cowboy, looking back at his exploits and taking stock in his life now. In “One More Wild Horse,” he sings, “Now someone may tell you that I’ve lost a step/But I’m here to assure you I’m not finished yet/So part your lips sweetly and kiss me again/And I’ll just keep waiting for a good second wind.” And in “Young Guns,” the song that closes the album, he sings, “I’ve got some fight left in me, but this may be my last” and “But if I’m half the man I was, I’ll chase them out of here.” And though he still delivers some lines with some bravado and swagger, bragging “The gals in California ain’t seen the last of me,” he is also well aware of mortality. “But won’t you let me sing a few more songs/Tomorrow I’ll be gone.”

CD Track List
  1. Just Like A Cowboy
  2. Cowboy Clothes
  3. Hussong’s Cantina
  4. Unscheduled Day Off
  5. I Don’t Care
  6. When I Was A Cowboy
  7. An Angel To Guide You
  8. One More Wild Horse
  9. Calgary Cowboys
  10. Young Guns
Return To Outlaw Country was released on September 1, 2017 through Little Frog Records.