Saturday, April 22, 2017

Grateful Dead: “P.N.E. Garden Aud. Vancouver Canada” (2017) Record Review

Yes, it’s Record Store Day. I hadn’t realized Record Store Day has been going on for ten years, but the banner outside the record store assures me it has. Boy, time sure does fly. And, perhaps because of the anniversary, the list of releases this time around was impressive. There were plenty of records that I wanted, though only a few that I ended up purchasing. One of the releases I was most excited about is this live Grateful Dead recording from 1966, P.N.E. Garden Aud. Vancouver Canada, featuring, the band’s first gig ever outside of the U.S. They played a few nights in Vancouver, British Columbia, doing fairly short sets. I admittedly get excited about all Grateful Dead releases, but I am always particularly excited to hear a record that contains songs that other releases don’t have (or that few releases have). And this one contains a tune called “Cardboard Cowboy” that Phil Lesh wrote. The song is known by a few other titles, such as “No Left Turn Unstoned” (which is the first title I ever heard for this one, and is how Bob Weir introduces it at this show), but by any title it wasn’t played all that much by the band. This two-record set contains a few other early gems that the Dead soon stopped playing. On the Record Store Day official web site, it says this release is limited to 4,000 copies, but on the actual record cover it lists the number as 6,600.

This set opens with an original tune, “Standing On The Corner,” a song the Grateful Dead didn’t play all that much. Actually, there is a brief introduction, after which you can hear Phil say, “Our fame has preceded us.” “Standing On The Corner” is one of the songs on this release that the band only played in 1966. “I was standing on the corner, wondering what’s become of me/Well, things don’t seem to be the way they used to seem to be.”  It’s followed by a short version of “I Know You Rider,” played faster than they’d later play it, and with that extra verse. You know, the one that goes, “I drink muddy water, sleep in a hollow log.” “Next Time You See Me” is a fun Pigpen song with plenty of organ. Yeah, the organ was prominent in the mix in these early shows. That is followed by an energetic rendition of “Sittin’ On Top Of The World,” a song the band played often in the early days (and included on the band’s first record). The first side concludes with “You Don’t Have To Ask,” another fun original number. There is a bit of jamming on this one, a jam to get you dancing, the first jamming of the evening. But really, there isn’t a whole of exploration at this show (except of course during “Viola Lee Blues,” but more on that in a bit).

There is some more Pigpen to open the second side of the first record, “Big Boss Man,” Pigpen playing harmonica. That’s followed by “Stealin’,” one I am always happy to hear. This is another the band played a lot in the early days, then dropped from their repertoire. There’s a bit of humorous stage banter before “Cardboard Cowboy,” which Bob introduces as “No Left Turn Unstoned.” Apparently, it was most often referred to as “The Monster.” It’s certainly not among the band’s best material (in an interview, Phil Lesh called it an awful song; it has lines like “Watching mashed potatoes dribble in the heat of reality’s earth,” though in this version it sounds like “Watching mashed potatoes shrivel”), but it is a total delight to hear this rare number. The Grateful Dead covered Bob Dylan songs throughout their career, and on this release we get an early rendition of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” “Cream Puff War” is a song that Jerry Garcia wrote the lyrics for as well as the music, and it ended up on the band’s first album. This version has a good, solid jam. After this song, Bob says, “We’ll be back, and we’re probably gonna play the last set tonight, and there’s gonna be a lot of entertainment in between, so stick around.” And he offers an unenthusiastic “Yippie.”

The real treat as far as jamming goes is of course the ten-minute “Viola Lee Blues” that opens Side 3, and it includes that odd little intro that they didn’t do too often. I love this song, and this is a really good version, with the jam getting pretty wild. The lines that often get stuck in my head are “I wrote a letter, mailed in the, mailed it in the air indeed/I wrote a letter, mailed it in the air/You may know by that letter I’ve got a friend somewhere.” Then “Beat It On Down The Line” comes on fast and strong. This version seems faster than most, or perhaps I’m getting slower. Who knows? Pigpen then delivers “Good Morning Little School Girl.” This is definitely not the best version of this song, with the sound of the vocals sounding less than perfect, and it seems we are missing something from the end. The band gets quieter at the end, but then it seems to quickly fade out. It’s weird, especially as the fourth side of this album is apparently from the following night. So the Dead came back, and just played three songs (or two, if “Viola Lee Blues” is actually from the first set)? I’ve read online that the show might actually be longer, but Owsley’s tape ran out. That seems odd too.

The fourth side of this album is from the following night, July 30th, at the same venue. From what I can gather, these four tracks were not played consecutively that night. It looks like “Cold Rain And Snow” was the second song of the night, “One Kind Favor” was the fourth, “Hey Little One” was the sixth, and “New Minglewood Blues” was the ninth and final song of the set. (Also, it looks like a lot of folks’ tapes of the 29th are incorrectly labeled as the 30th.) This “Cold Rain And Snow” has a lot of energy right from the start, and the organ is prominent. Jerry then gets bluesy with “One Kind Favor,” a song the Dead did just a few times in 1966. There is a little stage banter before they go into “Hey Little One,” another song the band only did in 1966. This two-LP set ends with “New Minglewood Blues” (which in the early days was listed as “New, New Minglewood Blues,” as it is here and on the band’s first album). The lyrics are delivered almost as a shout, and there’s a bit of stage banter at the end.

Record Track List

Side A
  1. Standing On The Corner
  2. I Know You Rider
  3. Next Time You See Me
  4. Sittin’ On Top Of The World
  5. You Don’t Have To Ask 
Side B
  1. Big Boss Man
  2. Stealin’
  3. Cardboard Cowboy
  4. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
  5. Cream Puff War 
Side C
  1. Viola Lee Blues
  2. Beat It On Down The Line
  3. Good Mornin’ Little School Girl 
Side D
  1. Cold Rain And Snow
  2. One Kind Favor
  3. Hey Little One
  4. New, New Minglewood Blues
P.N.E. Garden Aud. Vancouver Canada was released on vinyl on April 22, 2017. By the way, as it turns out, all of these tracks were released on the second disc of the fiftieth anniversary deluxe edition two-CD set of the Grateful Dead’s first album. So if you missed out on the Record Store Day edition, you can still own the music on CD.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Mick Kolassa & Mark Telesca: “You Can’t Do That!” (2017) CD Review

There have been a lot of tributes to the Beatles released over the years. The reason for that, of course, is that the music is so damn good. Like songs in the Great American Songbook, the music of the Beatles lends itself to a wide variety of interpretations. On You Can’t Do That! blues singers and guitarists Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca team up to deliver some wonderful acoustic blues renditions of Beatles songs. Their choices include some of the band’s most well-known numbers, such as “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Feel Fine,” and also some songs that aren’t covered as often, such as “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” and “Mean Mr. Mustard” into “Polythene Pam.” Joining Mick Kolassa (also known as Mississippi Mick) and Mark Telesca on this release are Jeff Jensen on guitar (Jensen also produced the album) and James Cunningham on drums and percussion. There are a few guest musicians who play on certain tracks.

Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca open with the album with “I’ll Cry Instead,” which of course is a perfect blues title. The song was originally on A Hard Day’s Night. And on this CD, this song is given a cool groove, with some wonderful touches by Marc Franklin on trumpet. Yeah, it’s blues, but it’s blues with a positive, happy sound. “I’ll Cry Instead” is followed by another song included on A Hard Day’s Night, “Can’t Buy Me Love.” This song was also released as a single in 1964, and reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Also a #1 hit for The Beatles in 1964 was “I Feel Fine.” Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca deliver a very cool, slow rendition of this one. Eric Hughes adds some good work on harmonica.

They then dip into some later Beatles material with a powerful and moving rendition of “Fixing A Hole,” a song from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. On this version, they repeat “Where it will go” at the end of a stanza (well, that, or whichever line ends the stanza). They then go back to earlier material with “You Can’t Do That,” which was the flip side to “Can’t Buy Me Love” (and used as the title to this CD). And wow, listening to this version, it’s plain to see that this really is a blues song. It works so well. Seriously, it makes much more sense in a blues context than it does in rock or pop, with its theme of jealousy and with its threats of ending the relationship. Plus, there is some cool guitar work here. Eric Hughes plays both harmonica and guitar on this track. This is one of the album’s highlights.

Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca deliver a groovy interpretation of “Got To Get You Into My Life,” and an interesting rendition of “Lady Madonna.” I love the addition of fiddle to the latter. That’s Tommy Boroughs on fiddle. No horns on this version. This is a laid-back, slow version of “Lady Madonna,” a song that was originally released as a single in 1968, another #1 single for The Beatles. This is another of the highlights of You Can’t Do That! It’s followed by “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road,” another song from 1968, this one appearing on The Beatles (the White Album). I like this version a lot; there is something kind of catchy about it. They then return to the earlier days with “She’s A Woman,” which had been the flip side to “I Feel Fine.” It’s interesting that Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca include both sides of the “I Feel Fine” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” singles. I dig the rhythm to this rendition of “She’s A Woman.” Marc Franklin plays flugelhorn on this track.

They then conclude this acoustic blues tribute to The Beatles with three songs from the second side of Abbey Road: “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam” and “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.” The first two are presented as a single track, “Mean Mr. Mustard” having a good rock feel. Toward the end of “Mean Mr. Mustard,” when he sings, “Lord, he’s a dirty old man,” I can’t help but think he’s talking about Donald Trump. Something in the way the line is delivered. The pace is then slowed for “Polythene Pam,” giving it a very different vibe from the original version. On Abbey Road, this song leads straight into “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.” Interestingly, though that song also follows “Polythene Pam” here, “Polythene Pam” actually fades out at the end. And then “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” comes on strong, a delightful mix of blues and bluegrass, with Tommy Boroughs on mandolin. The vocals have a kind of amused, playful vibe, particularly on a line like “She could steal but she could not rob.” Though my favorite cover of this song is still that by Joe Cocker, I absolutely love what Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca do with it here.

CD Track List
  1. I’ll Cry Instead
  2. Can’t Buy Me Love
  3. I Feel Fine
  4. Fixing A Hole
  5. You Can’t Do That
  6. Got To Get You Into My Life
  7. Lady Madonna
  8. Why Don’t We Do It In The Road
  9. She’s A Woman
  10. Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam
  11. She Came In Through The Bathroom Window 
You Can’t Do That! is scheduled to be released on May 5, 2017 on Swing Suit Records.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Honeybeat: Groovy 60s Girl-Pop (2017) CD Review

Sometimes it seems there is nothing better in the world than 1960s female vocal groups and solo acts. If you’ve got a hankering for some delicious, and largely forgotten, girl group gems, there is a new compilation that should totally delight you. Honeybeat: Groovy 60s Girl-Pop collects nineteen tracks from various artists, some of which you probably know, but several of which you may not have heard before. One of these songs was actually never before released. And Star Trek fans will be interested to know that what is probably the best track of this disc is a recording by Nichelle Nichols. Yes, Lt. Uhura. She does a fantastic rendition of “Why Don’t You Do Right?” But more on that in a bit. The folks that put together this compilation obviously have a lot of love and passion for the music, and in the extensive liner notes, information on each of the songs and artists is included, along with photos.

This CD gets off to a good start with “I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy” by The What Four. First of all, The What Four might be the best name for a quartet I’ve ever heard. And this song is a lot of fun, with some cool work on guitar. This track seems to be as much about the groove as it is about the vocals. It has a sudden ending. This song was released as a single in 1966. It’s followed by “You’re My Loving Baby” by The Sweet Things. And true to the band’s name, this song has a sweet sound. This one was also released in 1966. “Don’t Monkey With Me” is a bit on the silly side, with those “nah nah nah” vocals. They sound so young, so it’s strange when they sing “I’ve been hurt so many times before/I can’t take that kind of heartache anymore.” But I really like this track. There is a youthful joy and excitement and innocence that is wonderful.

One of my favorite tracks is Linda Carr’s “Sweet Hunk Of Misery.” The song definitely has a Surpremes-like sound, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s a twisted sort of love song, in which the woman knows her man isn’t a catch, particularly as he’s mean to her, but loves him all the same. The song opens with these lines: “He’s my big hunk of misery/And I love him/’Cause I can’t help myself.” Linda Carr gives us a somewhat playful vocal performance which helps make this an enjoyable tune. The title alone is amusing. “Sweet Hunk Of Misery” is followed by “If You Can’t Say Anything Nice,” a catchy song from Gia Mateo. Sandi Sheldon’s “Baby You’re Mine” was released as the flip side to her single “You’re Gonna Make Me Love You,” and it features a pretty vocal performance.

Skeeter Davis is one of the artists on this album that you’re likely familiar with. Known for her country albums, she began recording pop songs as well, including “I Can’t Stay Mad At You,” written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin. This song was a hit and was included on her Let Me Get Close To You LP. It’s a fun, bright pop tune, but is also about a woman staying with a man who’s probably not good for her. “You can run around/You can tell me lies/But there’s nothing I can do/I’ll never say goodbye/Because I can’t stay mad at you.” She even promises, “I’ll love you ‘til I die.” Poor girl. That one is followed by a song by another artist that you likely know, Erma Franklin. Sure, her sister Aretha became much more famous, but Erma recorded that phenomenal original version of “Piece Of My Heart” a year before Big Brother And The Holding Company also had a hit with it. On this compilation she sings “I Don’t Want No Mama’s Boy,” and it is her excellent, powerful vocal delivery that elevates this tune to something special.

“The Rider” is one of the most interesting tracks on the album. It’s by a band called The Pussycats, whom you might not have heard of. But you almost certainly have heard of band member Abigail Haness. She was later in the band Jo Mama, and also sang with James Taylor and Carly Simon, among others. She also played Janet in the original U.S. production of The Rocky Horror Show, and according to one book I read provided Janet’s vocals on the soundtrack to the film The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Anyway, “The Rider” is a cool, strangely haunting tune. This song is another with a sudden ending. In fact, because it’s so abrupt, I assumed the actual ending was missing. Fortunately, that’s cleared up in the liner notes to this collection.

Another of my favorites from this album is “No News” by The Glories.  This is a powerful song with passionate vocals, and some cool work on horns. This song was released as a single in 1968, one of the best and most intriguing years for music. Carmen Cole’s rendition of “I Just Don’t Understand” is another of this disc’s highlights. It’s such a cool tune. Ann-Margret’s rendition was included on The Definitive Collection, which was released in March. Carmen Cole delivers an excellent version, and this one too features good work on harmonica. That’s followed by an unusual take on Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” by Little Eva. You know Little Eva from her hit “The Loco-motion” (which later was also a hit for Grand Funk Railroad). In 1965, she released this rockin’ rendition of “Stand By Me,” which is another highlight of this collection.

But my favorite track is Nichelle Nichols’ version of “Why Don’t You Do Right?” I’ve heard a lot of covers of this song over the years, and while I don’t think a single one of them has been bad, this one is a total delight. It’s just so much bloody fun, going in some unexpected directions. This one moves at a good pace, and opens with backing vocalists singing “Get out of town, get out of town.” And then Nichelle Nichols clearly has a good time with it. This track was actually the flip side to her single “Know What I Mean,” which was released in 1967, during the time when the original Star Trek series aired. This collection concludes with “Talk That Sweet Talk” by Dorothy Jones, a track that was previously unreleased. You probably know Dorothy Jones from her work with The Cookies. Here she delivers a song written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. It was recorded in 1961, and it’s strange that it was never released before, because it’s a really good track, with a strong vocal performance. “Oh baby, you’re kneeling at my feet now/And telling me I’m sweet now/You’re saying things that only time will show/Honey, talk that sweet talk/On Monday morning/Then I might believe that it’s so.”

CD Track List
  1. I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy – The What Four
  2. You’re My Loving Baby – The Sweet Things
  3. Don’t Monkey With Me – The Lollipops
  4. Sweet Hunk Of Misery – Linda Carr
  5. If You Can’t Say Anything Nice – Gia Mateo
  6. Baby You’re Mine – Sandi Sheldon
  7. I Can’t Stay Mad At You – Skeeter Davis
  8. I Don’t Want No Mama’s Boy – Erma Franklin
  9. The Rider – The Pussycats
  10. Gonna Make Him My Baby – April Young
  11. No News – The Glories
  12. Be Good To Your Baby – The Avons
  13. Gee Dad – Andrea Carroll
  14. I Wish I Had Known – Sandra Phillips
  15. I Just Don’t Understand – Carmen Cole
  16. Stand By Me – Little Eva
  17. Why Don’t You Do Right? – Nichelle Nichols
  18. Hangin’ On To My Baby – Tracey Dey
  19. Talk That Sweet Talk – Dorothy Jones 
Honeybeat: Groovy 60s Girl-Pop is scheduled to be released on April 21, 2017 through Real Gone Music.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cheap Trick: “The Epic Archive Vol. 1 (1975-1979)” (2017) CD Review

I’ve heard from many different people over the years that Cheap Trick puts on a fantastic concert. Somehow I have never managed to see them perform, even though I’ve been a fan of their music since I was a kid. I remember when I was ten, my family visited a radio station in Los Angeles – an easy listening station where my uncle worked at the time (I think the call letters were KJOI). The woman who gave us the tour could tell I wasn’t into the music playing over the speakers and she said to me, “You probably like Cheap Trick.” I confirmed her suspicions. Well, now with the release of The Epic Archive Vol. 1 (1975-1979), I get a chance to delve into some rare Cheap Trick tracks, including early demos and live recordings. This compilation includes liner notes with thoughts on the songs by drummer Bun E. Carlos.

This collection opens with three demos from 1975 – “Come On, Come On,” “Southern Girls” and “Taxman, Mr. Thief.” Versions of all three of those songs would end up on the band’s two 1977 releases, Cheap Trick and In Color. (And the demos of “Come On, Come On” and “Southern Girls” were included on the expanded edition of In Color.) Obviously, these early versions have a rawer sound. I especially like “Southern Girls,” one of my favorite early songs. This version of “Taxman, Mr. Thief” is significantly longer than the album version. I love the different intro here, with just drums before the guitar comes in.

“You’re All Talk” is a song that ended up on In Color, but apparently it had originally been recorded for Cheap Trick. That early studio version is included on this release (it was also included on the expanded edition of Cheap Trick). Similar to the official version, this track is really good. (This collection also provides a live version from 1977.) And it’s followed by an early studio version of “I Want You To Want Me,” one of the band’s most popular songs. This song was on In Color, but the version we always heard was the live one from At Budokan. I remember getting At Budokan on cassette. Didn’t we all own that album back then? I think so. It was that live version of “I Want You To Want Me” that got played on the radio. Still is, I think. Well, the song was recorded for the self-titled debut record, and it’s that version that is included here. It includes a slightly longer intro than the studio release version, and playful delivery of some of the lines. “Lookout” is a song that was included on At Budokan, but wasn’t initially included on a studio album, though it was recorded. The studio version is included on this disc. A second version of this song is also included – a live version from April 27, 1978 that was, before now, only available on a promotional CD. It’s a damn good version.

“I Dig Go-Go Girls” is an odd one, and I appreciate Bun E. Carlos’ thoughts on it in the liner notes. The instrumental version of “Oh Boy,” which was used as the flip side to the single of “I Want You To Want Me,” is also included on this release. There are also alternate versions of two songs from Heaven Tonight – “Stiff Competition” (a fun song about erections) and “Surrender.” “Surrender” is, of course, another of the band’s most famous tunes. It was an important song of my youth, one that demanded I crank the volume up on my stereo and dance around like a maniac. Who was I to refuse? This song was also on At Budokan, and it’s that version that I listened to the most when I was growing up. The alternate version included here is a lot of fun, and it includes some variations on the lyrics in the verse about the mommy being in the Women’s Army Corps, plus some additional joking at the end as the song fades out. It’s definitely one of the disc’s highlights. The alternate version of “Dream Police” included on this CD is a rough mix from before the strings were added. I think I actually prefer this version.

There are several live tracks in this collection. In addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned, there is a great version of “Goodnight Now,” here titled “Goodnight.” It might not have quite the same energy as the version from At Budokan, but it’s still a version definitely worth hearing. The single edit of “Ain’t That A Shame” is included. I’m glad to have this, but it is definitely weird to trim a live performance, and two minutes are cut from the At Budokan version. The last three tracks are all from 1979, and were originally included on Budokan II – “Stiff Competition,” “How Are You” and “On Top Of The World.”

CD Track List
  1. Come On, Come On (Demo)
  2. Southern Girls (Demo)
  3. Taxman, Mr. Thief (Demo)
  4. You’re All Talk (Early Studio Version)
  5. I Want You To Want Me (Early Studio Version)
  6. Lookout (Studio Version)
  7. I Dig Go-Go Girls (Outtake)
  8. Oh Boy (Instrumental Version)
  9. You’re All Talk (Live ’77)
  10. Goodnight (Live ’77)
  11. Stiff Competition (Alternate Version)
  12. Surrender (Alternate Version)
  13. Ain’t That A Shame (Live at Budokan ’78 – Single Edit)
  14. Lookout (Live in Japan ’78)
  15. Dream Police (No Strings Version)
  16. Stiff Competition (Live at Budokan ’79)
  17. How Are You (Live at Budokan ’79)
  18. On Top Of The World (Live at Budokan ’79)
The Epic Archive Vol. 1 (1975-1979) is scheduled to be released on April 28, 2017 through Real Gone Music. It was made available digitally in 2015, though that version is without the second version of “Lookout,” the live version from 1978.

The Loft Club: “Heart’s Desire EP” (2016) CD Review

The Loft Club is a relatively new British band with a certain 1960s flavor to its music, which is rock with folk elements to certain tunes. Based in Exeter, the band consists of Daniel Schamroth on vocals and guitar, Jamie Whyte on bass and vocals, Kieran Chalmers on drums, Amy O'Loughlin on vocals and Dan Wright on guitar. Though The Loft Club is fairly new, this band was previously known as Daniel Schamroth And The British Wildflowers (apparently needing to change the name for legal reasons when they were signed to their label). The group’s debut release, Heart’s Desire EP, features all original music written by Daniel Schamroth.

The EP opens with its title track, “Heart’s Desire,” a catchy rock tune with a good groove and energy. “Step back, brother/Step back from your heart’s desire/Wash your mouth with soap and water/Dirty beggar, don’t speak your mind.” The band has released a music video for this song, which was shot in a museum. The EP also includes a remix of this song by Niklas Ibach, a young music producer based in Stuttgart, Germany. This rendition has quite a different feel, with an interesting intro and a different beat and tempo. It’s cool, though I prefer the original version. (By the way, there is also a music video for this version of the song, focusing on a dancer.)

“Heart’s Desire” is followed by “Flicker,” which has a prettier feel from the start, in the guitar work. It has something of a folk-rock vibe, and perhaps my favorite vocal performance of the CD. There is something warm and tender in the vocal delivery, a kindness and concern. “You flicker like a flame/You set the world on fire/Until you burn away/But it hurts me now/’Cause I feel your pain.” My favorite track, however, is “I’m Just A Man.” I love this one right from the start, with its great bass line, and that 1960s guitar like it’s ready to howl. And then when it kicks in, this song becomes something of a dance tune (maybe I’m crazy, but I could hear The Eurythmics doing this one). Yeah, this song has everything going for it. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Give me two strong arms/So I can protect myself/Give me a long last drink/So I forget myself/You know I would cry for you/So why’d you ask me to.” And I love the guitar at the end.

Then “Sticks & Stones” begins with lyrics delivered a cappella, sounding beautiful. “It’s only sticks and stones/Rolling me the wrong way home/Tangled in your spinning wheel/Goes so fast you just can feel.” After the song kicks in, it develops a very positive sound. This is one I like more and more each time I listen to this disc. “I’ve played the victim, I’ve played the fool/It’s no beginner that you’re talking to.”

CD Track List
  1. Heart’s Desire
  2. Flicker
  3. I’m Just A Man
  4. Sticks & Stones
  5. Heart’s Desire (Niklas Ibach Remix) 
Heart’s Desire EP was originally released on October 14, 2016 through Lightyear Entertainment, initially without the fifth track. The fifth track was released in November.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pete Kronowitt: “A Lone Voice” (2016) CD Review

Our nation has entered some seriously dark times. Just today I had two people tell me they were going to report me to the authorities for humorous comments I made about Donald Trump, and they were serious. And they were proud, and they felt righteous. It’s a case of the worst that this country has to offer suddenly feeling itself in a position of power, people who ordinarily might be silent suddenly shouting their insane thoughts to the rest of us and expecting us to bow under the heavy waves of their nonsense. In a time when we desperately need gun control, we have a delusional bastard at the helm eliminating the gun regulations that were in place, arguing that we need guns in schools and that the mentally ill should be allowed to purchase weapons. At a time when it is critical for us to address climate change, we have an administration that wants to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency altogether. Meanwhile our privacy is quickly disappearing, giving way to corporate and government interests (the two being difficult to tell apart these days), with Donald Trump eliminating online privacy protections. These are dark times.

Fortunately, there are many voices rising up against this dangerous tide of tyranny. One such voice is that of singer/songwriter Pete Kronowitt. On his fourth full-length album, A Lone Voice, Pete Kronowitt offers reason and truth, two things that are completely lacking in the current government. Joining him on this album are Phil Madeira on guitar, piano, organ and accordion; David Mansfield on guitar, mandolin, and violin; Chris Donohue on bass; and Dennis Holt on drums. Also, he is joined by backing vocalists on certain tracks. All of these songs are originals, written or co-written by Pete Kronowitt.

Pete Kronowitt kicks off the CD with “Change Is Gonna Come.” Yes, this song contains a positive, optimistic perspective and message, something we all need right now. “All it takes is just your voice/Change is gonna come.” One verse that I love is about the politician who won’t accept corporate funding: “I may not get elected/Without some change from everyone.” Of course I appreciate the play on the word “change.” By the way, this song has an upbeat, positive sound as well. On this song, Pete Kronowitt is joined by Halley Elwell, Eric Kamm, Justin Hetrick, Jack Kertzman, Judith May and Jaimeson Durr on backing vocals. “Change Is Gonna Come” is followed by “Got Guns?” I am diametrically opposed to guns. I don’t believe there is a single person on this planet sane enough to be allowed to own one. And the idea that the solution to the gun problem is more guns is just as absurd as it sounds. As you might guess, this song is one of my favorites, and it is sadly ever more pertinent each day, especially with Donald Trump apparently determined to get guns into the hands of children and the mentally ill. These lines, for example, seem particularly apt in light of Donald’s recent activities (and this album was released in the summer of 2016): “Don’t tell me that you’re too young/If you have a hand, get a gun/Guns on the playground, guns at school” and “Guns in asylums, guns in bars/What do you do without a gun in your car?” And hey, don’t be surprised if you find yourself dancing around to this song.

Not all of the songs on this album, however, have political messages. “Tears On The Back Of Her Head” is a mellow and incredibly moving song with a much more personal feel and some beautiful work on violin. Some lines of this song nearly have me in tears, such as “I’m trying to remember every word she ever said” and “She’s moving on without me.” That’s followed by “You Are Here,” a pretty and gentle song that might remind you a bit of some of Eric Clapton’s material. “Holding Your Hand” is a beautiful love song, and is one of my favorites of the album. Halley Elwell joins him on vocals on this one. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Years pass like a whisper/After all we’ve been through/But I can’t imagine time without you/The distance between us just disappears.” I am thankful for this song, for it’s making me feel closer to my love tonight. “There ain’t nothing like holding your hand.”

“Necessary Evils” is an upbeat country rock song with a strong message, and more good work on violin. The phrase “necessary evil” always seemed bizarre to me, like accepting of something that certainly shouldn’t ever be accepted. “Unemployment keeps wages down/So business makes profit, the economy is sound.” This song and at least one or two others remind me a bit of Elvis Costello. Then “Puppet Master” has a fun groove, and also a message. “That puppet master puts on a damn good show/You think you know what is true.” That’s certainly an issue these days. What is true? What is real? In a land where the leader lies with every single breath, while remaining completely unashamed, even cocky, Truth is a rare commodity. And the idea of it being a commodity is also part of the point, isn’t it? “Just because it’s shiny and new/Doesn’t mean it is true/Folks can be bought in this red, white and blue/We’re all bought and sold in this red, white and blue.”

“Body, Choice & Mind” is another important song, dealing with a woman’s right to choose (something else that is threatened by Donald Trump’s regime). “Don’t let personal circumstance/Dictate your stance, dictate your stance/Roe vs. Wade, it’s the decision/Don’t let them make a fatal revision/No butcher’s going to cut no friend of mine.  There is a cool instrumental section with some nice work on keys. This song has a bluesy edge. In “The Beast,” Pete Kronowitt sings, “I can’t read the paper/Too much bad news out there/All this violence and killing/Nobody seems to care.”  The album ends with an intimate song titled “Perfect Day.” “You had a perfect day/Then you went far away/And all the pain and all the fear/That one day did disappear.”

CD Track List
  1. Change Is Gonna Come
  2. Got Guns?
  3. Tears On The Back Of Her Head
  4. You Are Here
  5. Necessary Evils
  6. Puppet Master
  7. Holding Your Hand
  8. Body, Choice & Mind
  9. Follow The Leader
  10. The Beast
  11. She Gives
  12. Perfect Day
A Lone Voice was released on July 15, 2016 through Mean Bean Records.

James Gilroy Kane: “AMFIMINAL” (2017) CD Review

I am thoroughly enjoying UK singer and songwriter James Gilroy Kane’s new release, AMFIMINAL, the follow-up to his 2013 album, Behind the Blues. It features all original material, written by James Gilroy Kane. Joining him on this CD are Dave Gould on bass, banjo and backing vocals; Wilf Hodgson on bass; Geoff Bamford on drums; Paul Godden on dobro; Jean Godden on fiddle; and Keith Holmes on backing vocals.

The album opens with “Sinatra In The Rain,” one of my favorite tracks.  I love the easygoing folk and country rock vibes of this song. It has a friendly feel, which is something we can all use these days, particularly as things become nuttier and nuttier out there. There is even a bit of whistling at the end of the tune, and a little nod to “Singing In The Rain.” This is one of the tracks on which Wilf Hodgson plays bass. It’s followed by “Grandma’s Garden,” another of the disc’s highlights. This is happy folk tune with some nice work on banjo (an instrument that almost always makes me smile) and fiddle. It feels like friends gathered on someone’s front porch for a little fun. So grab a partner, and hold on tight. “Let’s all go out to play/Just like we did yesterday/Sitting in the sun/Swinging on the swing/All in Grandma’s garden/I know you, you know me/We’re all happy as can be/Tell a story/Tell a little lie/What is the problem if we cry.” By the way, in this song, he mentions kissing a woman named Molly. James Gilroy Kane has another song titled “Molly,” and so I’m wondering if these references are to a specific woman in his life.

“Simple Love Song” is, as its title promises, a simple and sweet love song that I can’t help but like. It has both pop and folk elements, and it rubs me exactly the right way, you know? It opens with these lines: “I can’t stop my feelings, I just love you/If you never knew before, you know now.” Indeed. That’s certainly one way to let someone know, in a love song that is, in a way, about love songs. “Here we are, talking about love songs that we knew/Things we thought we had lost, lovers not so true/I can’t help these feelings if I miss you/Even though you’re not so far away.” The lines that caught my attention the first time I listened to this disc, the lines I want to sing to a special someone, who will totally understand, are: “I can’t stop my arms that want to hold you/To feel your body close against my skin/And I can’t help but say to you, I love you.” Not bad, eh? Interestingly, this disc contains a second version of this song, with James Gilroy Kane on vocals and acoustic guitar (and, I’m guessing, foot stomping), unaccompanied by other musicians. I like both versions a lot. This second version has a more intimate feel.

“High Land” is a sweet-sounding country song, and is another of this album’s strong tracks. I think fans of Wilco and Son Volt will dig this song. This one delivers some good, positive vibes. “That’s where I belong/Always will.” Another favorite from this album is “The Bell,” partly because of that great folk rock groove, and also because of that wonderful work on dobro. “I will hear you call my name/I will see you smile again.” This song also features some nice work on fiddle. This CD concludes with a pretty song titled “Angel Of The South.” This is the track to feature Keith Holmes on backing vocals. “You wear your innocence with a smile/Trusting all you see/If I could reach to hold your hand/Have you close to me.”

CD Track List
  1. Sinatra In The Rain
  2. Grandma’s Garden
  3. Simple Love Song
  4. You Knew Me Better
  5. High Land
  6. Losing My Way
  7. Simple Love Song (solo)
  8. The Bell
  9. Digging My Hole The Movie
  10. Angel Of The South
AMFIMINAL is available now through Crow Cragg Music. At least, I assume it is. Strangely, there is very little information about this artist, and basically no mention of this album online, or even about the label (in fact, the web site listed on the back of the CD case doesn’t seem to exist). Actually, my listing it as a 2017 release is little more than a guess. I have absolutely no idea when this CD came out, or if it’s even out. It is very strange that there is no information about it.