Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Davy Jones (1945 - 2012)

I love The Monkees. They were my first favorite band, as well as my first favorite television show. In 1976, re-runs of the show played on channel 56 in Massachusetts every afternoon. I watched them over and over, had every episode and every song memorized. I'm not sure if I've ever really had role models, but if I did, The Monkees were them. I wanted my life to be one long Monkees romp. And I still don't understand why it can't be.

In 1986, the albums were re-issued, and the band did a tour (minus Michael Nesmith). My parents took my brother and me to Foxboro to see them, and it was incredible. I can't even begin to describe what a thrill it was to see them that year. I got a couple of T-shirts (which of course I still have). And the following year I saw them again, that time at the Centrum in Worcester with friends. We had good seats for that show, and I remember dancing my ass off to "Goin' Down."

Soon after I moved to Los Angeles, the Monkees did a show at the Universal Amphitheatre. The highlight of the show - the one song that completely blew me away - was Davy's "Daddy's Song" from the film Head. I never expected to see them perform that one. It's a fantastic song, and that sequence in the film is one of my favorite moments in any film ever. When Davy started the song, you could tell which people in the audience were serious Monkees fans. They were the ones that completely lost their shit, and I was one of them. After the show, some kind angel handed me a backstage pass. This was in the days before I started taking my camera to concerts, so I had nothing to document the experience. But I did get a chance to say hi to the band members (and also made use of the open bar).

As great as that show was, it was completely surpassed by last year's show in Lowell, Massachusetts. The Monkees seemed to have more energy last year than ever before, and the song choices were unusual and inspired. (I finally got to see them perform my favorite Monkees song, "As We Go Along.") I included that show in my list of the best five concerts of 2011. So it came as a total shock to learn this morning that Davy Jones was gone. How could that be? One of the threads connecting me to my childhood is cut. This band is one of the few things that I have loved my entire life, my enthusiasm for them never abating. (Actually, the only other thing that I can say that about is the Red Sox.)

I consider myself fortunate to have been able to see Davy perform several times, and to have met him a couple of times. I finally did get a photo with him at a special screening of Head at the Egyptian (he was seated two seats to my left, and Peter Tork was seated directly behind me). He was incredibly kind, and wonderfully talented. He is going to be missed.

(The photos are: 1. The Monkees performing "It's Nice To Be With You," June 15, 2011; 2. The Monkees performing "Shades Of Grey," June 15, 2011; 3. The Monkees performing "Goin' Down," June 15, 2011; 4. Davy Jones during "I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone," June 15, 2011; 5. Davy and Peter at The Egyptian, November 12, 2008; and 6. Me with Davy Jones at The Egyptian, November 12, 2008.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Dunwells at The Hotel Cafe 2-27-12 Concert Review

British band The Dunwells performed their first Los Angeles show last night at The Hotel Cafe. They took the stage at 8:13 p.m., and went right into their first tune. No introductions, no stage banter. They got up there and played, opening their set with the title track from their debut album, Blind Sighted Faith . This band is really about the vocals. Five guys who can all sing the hell out of a tune. Individually they sound great, and together their harmonies are basically perfect.

The set consisted almost entirely of songs from Blind Sighted Faith. During their third song, "Oh Lord," I noticed that the crowd was completely silent, something almost unheard of from a Los Angeles audience. This band managed to hold the attention of everyone in the room, even the folks in the back at the bar. There were no conversations. I can't stress enough how rare this is in this city, and I doubt the band comprehended the power they had. By the way, the word is out on this band. The venue was crowded, and this was a Monday night. This was the first and probably the last time I'd get to see The Dunwells at a small venue.

Anyway, I was thrilled that they played all of my favorites from the album, including the sweet "I Want To Be," which they said was one of the first songs they ever wrote.

"Borrow Me" was the only song they played that was not from the album. And I totally dug it. In this one they sing, "You're not supposed to miss what was never yours."

Before playing the album's single, "I Could Be A King," they joked, "Do you know how much stress it was to get that banjo from England to here for one song?" Totally worth it, from my standpoint, of course. I love the banjo, and "I Could Be A King" is a really good song. They ended their set with another of my favorites, "Follow The Road."

The audience wanted an encore, but didn't get one. This venue is incredibly strict as far as the time allotted for a set. That's a shame, but what I love about The Hotel Cafe is that it's a venue that cares about the sound, and to me that's one of the most important considerations when going to a concert. The sound has to be good, and at every one of my experiences at this venue, the sound has been spot-on. That's particularly important with a band like The Dunwells, whose vocals really drive the songs.

Set List
  1. Blind Sighted Faith
  2. Elizabeth
  3. Oh Lord
  4. Only Me
  5. I Want To Be
  6. Goodnight My City
  7. Borrow Me
  8. I Could Be A King
  9. Follow The Road

Monday, February 27, 2012

Carole King: "Touch The Sky" (1979/2012) CD Review

Carole King's 1979 release, Touch The Sky, has quite a different sound from her previous release, 1978's Welcome Home . This one features an obvious country influence, particularly in a song like "Passing Of The Days." Her band for this album was made up of members of Navarro and members of Jerry Jeff Walker's band. Like Welcome Home, this album has not previously been available on CD in the United States except as expensive import (which is completely crazy). My favorite tracks are "Move Lightly" and "Dreamlike I Wander."

"Time Gone By"

There is no title track, but the opening track, "Time Gone By," comes close with the line, "We followed inner visions and touched the sky." "Time Gone By" is a good tune that recalls the days when people were guided by dreams and lofty goals, and is a song for those who haven't lost that drive. In 1979, that longing for those heady days of a decade earlier must have been pretty strong. And things were only going to get worse, as we moved into the Reagan years. (Geez, why am I thinking about that bastard now, especially while listening to Carole King?) Carole King plays piano on this track.

"Move Lightly"

"Move Lightly" has a bit of a funky thing in the bass line and a simple drum beat. It's like a dance song slowed down. It's actually a seriously cool tune, one of my favorites from this release. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "That's a hard and heavy foot/You've been usin' to put yourself down/Why don't you walk softly/If you win the world and lose your soul/What good will it do you - love don't come from gold." I love Carole King's vocals. There is a certain rough quality that sneaks in at times that is just perfect.

"Dreamlike I Wander"

"Dreamlike I Wander" is a wonderfully sad song of longing and loneliness. Her husband, Rick Evers, had died the year before this album was recorded, and it's impossible not to think of that when hearing Carole King sing lines like, "Dreamlike I wander through my life without you." And, "All I know is another night is over/And my bed is empty and cold/I can't forget you/Can't set myself free/I hope you find peace of mind/It's too late for me." This is a beautiful tune, with something of a country feel, particularly in the guitar. It's another of this CD's highlights.

"Good Mountain People"

"Good Mountain People" has an upbeat country bar feel, which fits the lyrics - "Good mountain people - they sure know how to have a rockin' good time." This song features some wonderful work on keys by Reese Wynans (though that lead section is too brief).

"You Still Want Her"

"You Still Want Her" is an interesting song about being in love (against one's better judgment) with a woman who is a bit of a wreck. Carole sings, "You don't think she's gonna last another winter/With all the snow she's rakin' in." And the song has a decidedly female perspective in the lines, "But you've always thought your love for her could save her/And that's how you get taken in." Carole King plays piano on this one.


"Crazy" is a pretty fun country rock tune. Mostly I like it for the lines, "I may be crazy/But I've been crazy for a long, long time." Okay, then. Carole King is on piano, and there is also saxophone, which comes a surprise in this song.

"Seeing Red"

Touch The Sky concludes with "Seeing Red," a mellow tune. Carole's vocals have a raw power that at times approaches Kim Carnes territory. This song also features some nice work on guitar.

CD Track List
  1. Time Gone By
  2. Move Lightly
  3. Dreamlike I Wander
  4. Walk With Me (I'll Be Your Companion)
  5. Good Mountain People
  6. You Still Want Her
  7. Passing Of The Days
  8. Crazy
  9. Eagle
  10. Seeing Red

Musicians appearing on this album include Carole King on vocals, acoustic guitar and piano; Reese Wynans on keyboards and piano; Dave Perkins on electric guitar and acoustic guitar; Bobby Rambo on acoustic guitar and electric rhythm guitar; Leo LeBlanc on pedal steel guitar; Tomas Ramirez on saxophone, flute and recorder; Rob Cobb on bass, saxophone and flute; Richard Hardy on saxophone; Fred Krc on drums and tambourine; Miguel Rivera on congas and percussion; Mark Hallman on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, synthesizer, and backing vocals.

Touch The Sky is scheduled to be released on February 28, 2012 through Rockingale Records and Concord Music Group. Also scheduled for release on that date are three other Carole King albums: Simple Things, Welcome Home (neither of which have been previously available on CD in the United States) and Pearls: Songs Of Goffin And King.

Carole King: "Welcome Home" (1978/2012) CD Review

Welcome Home is the second and final album to feature collaborations with Carole King's husband, Rick Evers. (The first, Simple Things, was released the previous year.) Rick died between the time this album was recorded and when it was released. (There is a short eulogy in the liner notes that Carole King wrote.)

All the songs on this album are originals. As on Simple Things, Rick Evers co-wrote three of the tracks. And also like 1977's Simple Things, Welcome Home features the band Navarro. However, this is an unusual album for Carole King, for it features several musical genres, including rock and disco.

This album has been available on CD in the U.S. only as an expensive import. It's great that it's finally getting a proper release. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite Carole King albums.

"Main Street Saturday Night"

Welcome Home opens with "Main Street Saturday Night," one of those 1970s rock songs about having a good time on a Saturday night, cruising the streets. The guitar even does that "woo-hoo" thing during the line about the "blonde-haired beauties, givin' it all they got." It's a fun song.

Here is a taste of the lyrics from the end of the song: "Here comes Little Willie - higher than a kite/He's been doin' some heavy duty hangin' out/If Willie's got a line on some of the best - it's got to be Dynamite/You know you can trust him/If the Law don't bust him." Nice. And are those lines a reference to Sweet's 1973 tune "Little Willy"?


"Sunbird" is a pretty tune that features Bob Harrington on hammer dulcimer. Co-written by Rick Evers, "Sunbird" features lines like, "Why can't we just be/And let the time of Spring to Fall not be a distance."

"Venusian Diamond"

"Venusian Diamond" is a strange and wonderful tune. It begins with a slightly trippy effect to Carole's vocals for the first section, as she sings, "On the thirty-first day of the summer moon/In the marketplace/Somebody touched my hand and said/I was a woman of taste." And then the next section of the song is one of those great, upbeat '70s rock vocal bursts (that makes me think of Kansas or Yes).

And yes, the trippy section sounds like something off The Beatles' Revolver. In the liner notes, Carole King admitted, "we added every Beatle lick we could think of." You'll certainly hear that in the guitar of the instrumental section a few minutes into the song. I can't help but completely love this song.

Anne Golia plays tamboura on this track. Georgia Kelly plays harp. And that's Rick Evers on cowbell.


"Changes" is a sweet, mellow pop song that's totally effective. It's a song about friendships ending, and not understanding why. (I can't help but wonder if this means anything to the Facebook generation, for whom "friend" means merely someone you bumped into once at a party.) I love these lines: "There's no wrong or right/It's just changes."

"Disco Tech"

Yes, Carole King does a full-on disco dance number, and it's great. The song's title comes from the idea that a discotheque is actually a school of sorts; thus, Disco Tech, where you "meet the Dean of Boogaloo" and "The only school records are the ones we play." Sure, it's a bit silly. But it's also a whole lot of fun. It even features a sax solo by Ernie Watts.

"Welcome Home"

The album concludes with its title track, "Welcome Home" which was written about the land in the mountains where Carole and Rick were living. This is a sweet and moving song, that has such a good feeling about it. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "In the waters I can see a clear reflection/Of the force that's all around/There's a harmony of season and direction/This is surely sacred ground."

"Welcome Home" features some wonderful backing vocals by Mark Hallman, Robert McEntee, Richard Hardy, Stephanie Spruill, Alexandra Brown and Ann White.

CD Track List
  1. Main Street Saturday Night
  2. Sunbird
  3. Venusian Diamond
  4. Changes
  5. Morning Sun
  6. Disco Tech
  7. Wings Of Love
  8. Ride The Music
  9. Everybody's Got The Spirit
  10. Welcome Home
Welcome Home is scheduled to be released on February 28, 2012 through Rockingale Records and Concord Music Group. Also scheduled for release on that date are three other Carole King albums: Simple Things, Touch The Sky (neither of which have been previously available on CD in the United States) and Pearls: Songs Of Goffin And King.

Carole King: Simple Things (1977/2012) CD Review

Carole King was initially known for her songwriting partnership with Gerry Goffin. She then released her first solo album in 1970. That and her second record, Tapestry, established her as an excellent singer as well as songwriter. She followed that with several more albums before switching labels in 1977. Her first record for Capitol was Simple Things.

On Simple Things, Carole King is backed by the band Navarro, featuring Robert McEntee and Mark Hallman.

How is it that this album had not previously been released on CD in the United States? There are some incredible songs on this record, particularly "Hold On" and "One." All tracks are originals, of course. Three were co-written by Rick Evers.

"Simple Things"

The album opens with its title track, "Simple Things." This song feels in some ways like a big production number to open a musical. But listen to that wonderful voice holding that note on "skies." Very impressive.

"Simple Things" was written by Carole King and Rick Evers. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "Simple things of the earth don't die/They just grow and change as time goes by/There are no questions without answers/I've found my answer to life is living."

"Hold On"

Carole King's vocals - which are always good - are just incredible on "Hold On." This is an excellent and powerful tune, and is my favorite track on this album. This is no simple pop tune. Written with her husband Rick Evers, this song features lines like, "We need each other now more than ever/Our love is the sun - young lord of the light/It's a shame that one such as you/Should have to walk this cold and lonely night." Carole King plays 12-string guitar on this track.

"In The Name Of Love"

"In The Name Of Love" is a pretty song in which Carole King sings, "Know throughout every season/You are the name of love/And you'll keep on feeling at home/Throughout the coming years/Change is for certain/This we all know/Each day opening the curtain/On a brand new show."

It ends with the line, "Live in the name of love/Forever." Her husband, Rick Evers, would be dead a year after this album was released.


"Labyrinth" has some cheesy lyrics that are made powerful by Carole King's delivery and some interesting music. But really, she works "rainbows" and "butterflies" into one line. This one has a bit of a theatrical feel, like the first track. You can hear it in lines like, "After awhile we will see/The labyrinth isn't anyplace we need to be/Then we can come out from the heart of the darkness/Into a brighter day."

"Hard Rock Cafe"

"Hard Rock Cafe" is a fun and somewhat goofy song. It's one of those songs that creates a party atmosphere by including background noise of people talking and laughing. It's a light, fluffy number that in some ways is in the same ballpark as the Village People's "Y.M.C.A." With lines like, "After a hard day's work I guarantee/There just isn't anywhere better to be/If you're unable to find good company/You can always sit down and watch the color TV/At the hard rock cafe." This song is unlike the rest of the album, except for the one slower part when she sings, "And if you're feelin' just a little bit lonely."

Love Songs

"Time Alone" is a slower, pretty love song with strings. I like these lines: "No sign of the changes we have come through/No mind of the strangers who think they know you."

"To Know That I Love You" is a sweet love song co-written by Rick Evers. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "Over and over again we light the flame/Rediscovering that we are the same and I love you/Ah - it feels so good to know that I love you."


Simple Things concludes with "One," which is one of its best tracks. It's a thoughtful composition about effecting social change through one's individual energy, and the connections we all make and have. Carole King sings, "Whenever I find injustice being done/And I wonder, what am I gonna do/What can one do except be one/Talking to two, touching three/Growing to four million/Each of us is one - all of us are one." It's actually a truly beautiful and positive song.

CD Track List
  1. Simple Things
  2. Hold On
  3. In The Name Of Love
  4. Labyrinth
  5. You're The One Who Knows
  6. Hard Rock Cafe
  7. Time Alone
  8. God Only Knows
  9. To Know That I Love You
  10. One
Simple Things is scheduled to be released on February 28, 2012 through Rockingale Records and Concord Music Group. Also to be released that date are three other Carole King CDs: Welcome Home, Touch The Sky (neither of which have been previously available on CD in the United States) and Pearls: Songs Of Goffin And King.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Carole King: "Pearls: Songs Of Goffin And King" (1980/2012 re-issue) CD Review

Gerry Goffin and Carole King are one of pop's best songwriting teams, having composed a lot of great top-ten hits such as "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Take Good Care Of My Baby," "The Loco-Motion," "One Fine Day" and "Pleasant Valley Sunday." They also wrote some seriously cool tunes which didn't reach the top ten, like "Porpoise Song," which The Monkees recorded for their 1968 film, Head. (Carole King also co-wrote my favorite Monkees song, "As We Go Along.")

And now re-issues of four Carole King albums are being released, three of which have never been available on CD in the United States. The fourth, Pearls: Songs Of Goffin And King, is an album of tunes written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and made popular by other artists. With one exception, the songs on this album were all recorded by other artists first, before Carole King began her solo career. It's a pleasure to be able to hear her own renditions. This is a really good album of songs you most likely already know, but of versions you might not have heard.

"Dancin' With Tears In My Eyes"

Pearls open with "Dancin' With Tears In My Eyes," a gloriously upbeat disco pop song. This is the only song on this record that wasn't previously recorded by another artist. It's a song about a woman still hitting the dance floor after a breakup.

"The Loco-Motion"

"The Loco-Motion" is one of Goffin and King's most famous songs. It was first recorded by Little Eva in 1962, and also recorded by Grand Funk Railroad, The Chiffons, Dee Dee Sharp, The Ventures, Kylie Minogue and Ringo Starr. Carole King's version features a nice sax solo. It also features Christopher Cross on rhythm guitar.

"One Fine Day"

"One Fine Day" might be the most well known composition by Goffin and King. It was recorded by The Chiffons, as well as Rita Coolidge and Natalie Merchant. And it's been featured in films like Fingers (1978), The Flamingo Kid (1984), The Joy Luck Club (1993), and of course the movie One Fine Day (1996), which was named after this song.

This is a good, brisk version, and has a fun saxophone lead part at the end. This version was also a hit, reaching #12 on the Billboard Hot 100.

"Hey Girl"

Certainly, you've heard The Righteous Brothers' rendition of "Hey Girl." Other artists who have recorded this song include Freddie Scott (who recorded the original version in 1963), Bobby Vee, Donnie Osmond and George Benson. I love Carole's vocals on this one. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "Hey girl, this can't be true/How am I supposed to exist without you/And hey girl, now don't put me on/What's gonna happen to me when you're gone."

"Snow Queen"

"Snow Queen" is the most interesting song on this release. This version has a sometimes jazzy piano that reminds me a bit of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" at the beginning. And halfway through, the guitar too takes on a jazzy vibe. The instrumental section is excellent. And the lyrics are good, with lines like "You may not think you're a loser/But in mid-air you'll be hung while you trip on your tongue/And it'll only amuse her."

"Snow Queen" was recorded by The Association, The Tokens, The City and Blood, Sweat & Tears.


Carole King's version of "Chains" begins with vocals and finger snaps before kicking in with that great rock beat that has a bit of swing. I really love this version. The horns are great. "Chains" was originally recorded by The Cookies, and then a little later by The Beatles (it was included on their first LP, Please Please Me).

"Hi De Ho (That Old Sweet Roll)"

"Hi De Ho (That Old Sweet Roll)" is probably the most fun track on the album, with a great brass section that gives it a bit of a New Orleans feel. Carole King's vocals are just so cool, particularly when she sings, "Once I met the devil - he was mighty slick/Tempted me with worldly goods/Said I could have my pick." This song also features some excellent backing vocals. I absolutely love this song, which was originally recorded by Blood, Sweat & Tears.

"Wasn't Born To Follow"

"Wasn't Born To Follow" is my favorite song from the album - a song I've always loved. This one will be familiar to anyone who has seen Easy Rider (and if you haven't seen it, seriously, what is wrong with you?). The Byrds' rendition was featured in that film. (The backing track for a Monkees version was included on the third disc of the deluxe edition of The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees.)

Carole King's own rendition is phenomenal. It starts with banjo, played by Mark Maniscalco, and also features Betty Whitlock on fiddle. The lyrics are definitely late-1960s, and absolutely wonderful: "And when it's time I'll go and wait/Beside the legendary fountain/Till I see your form reflected/It its clear and jeweled waters/And if you think I'm ready/You may lead me to the chasm/Where the rivers of our visions/Flow into one another." And Carole King really stresses that last line, "I was not born to follow."

Dare I say it? This version is better than that by The Byrds.

CD Track List
  1. Dancin' With Tears In My Eyes
  2. The Loco-Motion
  3. One Fine Day
  4. Hey Girl
  5. Snow Queen
  6. Chains
  7. Oh No, Not My Baby
  8. Hi De Ho (That Old Sweet Roll)
  9. Wasn't Born To Follow
  10. Goin' Back

Musicians on this release include Carole King on vocals and piano; Mark Hallman on guitar, harmonica, and backing vocals; Steve Meador on drums; Charles Larkey on bass; Reese Wynans on keyboards; Eric Johnson on rhythm and lead guitar; Miguel Rivera on congas and percussion; Richard Hardy on flute and saxophone; Christopher Cross on rhythm guitar; Mark Maniscalco on banjo; Betty Whitlock on fiddle; Ray Crisara on trumpet and cornet; Don Knaub on bass trombone; Bobby Meyer on trumpet and cornet; Tomas Ramirez on tenor sax; and Michael Munday on trombone.

Pearls: Songs Of Goffin And King is scheduled to be re-released on February 28, 2012 through Rockingale Records and Concord Music Group. Also to be released that date are three other Carole King CDs: Simple Things, Welcome Home, and Touch The Sky, none of which have been previously available on CD in the United States.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tony Bennett: "Isn't It Romantic?" (2012 Compilation) CD Review

Isn't It Romantic? is a compilation album featuring some of the best stuff Tony Bennett ever recorded. It's an album full of what he does best - beautiful, passionate, honest love songs. And he's accompanied by some of the world's best musicans, particularly Bill Evans on piano.

These tracks are taken from five albums: Sings 10 Rodgers & Hart Songs, Sings More Great Rodgers And Hart (those two were later released as a single CD titled Sings the Rodgers & Hart Songbook), Life Is Beautiful (1972), The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album (1975), and Together Again (1977). Six of these tracks were also re-issued last summer on The Best Of The Improv Recordings. And if you purchased the four-disc box set, The Complete Improv Recordings, then you already own all but six of these tracks, those six being the ones from The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album (because that album was originally released on Fantasy). However, if you don't already own any Tony Bennett, this is a really good place to start.

"Make Someone Happy"

Isn't It Romantic? starts off with "Make Someone Happy," a beautiful, mellow rendition featuring just vocals and piano. Tony Bennett's voice just radiates romance as he sings, "Love is the answer/Someone to love is the answer/Once you've found her/Build your world around her/Make someone happy/Make just one someone happy/And you will be happy too." That's pretty good advice. And Bill Evans' solo is wonderful - it's what really makes this a phenomenal rendition.

"Make Someone Happy" was written by Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jule Styne. This version was originally included on Together Again.

"Isn't It Romantic?"

"Isn't It Romantic?" starts with a sweet bit of horn before the cool bass line and Tony Bennett's vocals come in. Tony's voice is like a wonderful whisper in your ear. This song is so good that it's almost a worthy substitute for actual romance. Written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, this is the kind of song that makes you want to dance with a stranger you pass on the street. A definite highlight of this compilation.

"As Time Goes By"

"As Time Goes By" is one of the most famous songs ever written. And there's a good reason for that, and for its continuing appeal. This song will never lose its magic, as "moonlight and love songs are never out of date." This song, like its subject, will always be pertinent, always be welcome (unless we completely lose our humanity). And Tony Bennett's rendition is perfect. "As Time Goes By" was written by Herman Hupfeld.

"My Foolish Heart"

Tony's voice and Bill Evans' piano sound so great together on "My Foolish Heart." This one has a late-night feel. Both Tony and Bill are able to easily evince the kind of experience that makes a song like this one so effective. You can hear it in a line like, "I'm reluctant to start for we've been fooled before." And, "This time it isn't fascination/Or a dream that will fade and fall apart/It's love, this time it's love, my foolish heart." In addition to the experience you hear in his voice, there is also the hope for this new love.

"My Foolish Heart" was written by Ned Washington and Victor Young.

"I Could Write The Book"

"I Could Write The Book" is a cool jazzy tune. Tony Bennett's voice has a great, playful, happy quality on this track. And I love the guitar. "I Could Write The Book" was written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for Pal Joey.

"Days Of Wine And Roses"

Bill Evans starts "Days Of Wine And Roses," playing for nearly a minute before Tony begins singing. This is another of those late-night gems. You can imagine the bartender wiping the counter, getting ready to close, and Tony singing this one last song to you, the last remaining patron. It's such a short song, however, seeming to end too soon.

Written by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini, this track was originally released on The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album.


"Lover," a pretty song written by Rodgers and Hart, features the great line, "When you're away, it's awful/And when you are with me, it's worse." There is a section of this rendition that is just so damn cool, in which Tony takes his voice down to a low near-whisper, holding back, over this great groove on bass and guitar. So intimate, as he sings, "Lover, when I'm near you/And I hear you speak my name/Softly in my ear/You breathe a flame." This is my favorite track. It was originally released on Sings 10 Rodgers & Hart Songs.

"My Romance"

"My Romance" is another seriously cool tune with a great mellow jazzy vibe. Tony sings that his romance needs "no soft guitars" - ah sure, but they don't hurt, as this song proves. He sings, "Wide awake, I can make my most fantastic dreams come true/My romance doesn't need a thing but you." Written by Rodgers and Hart, this songs was originally included on Sings More Great Rodgers And Hart. I love the instrumental section in this rendition.

"Life Is Beautiful"

This compilation concludes with "Life Is Beautiful," a sweet, comforting, uplifting song that somehow manages to avoid being the least bit cheesy. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "Life is beautiful in every way/Life is lovely as a spring bouquet/Since I fell in love with you/Life is like a dream that has come true." The orchestra is perfect, with an arrangement by Torrie Zito. "Life Is Beautiful" was written by Fred Astaire and Tommy Wolf.

CD Track List
  1. Make Someone Happy
  2. Isn't It Romantic?
  3. As Time Goes By
  4. My Foolish Heart
  5. I Could Write A Book
  6. Days Of Wine And Roses
  7. Dream Dancing
  8. The Touch Of Your Lips
  9. Lover
  10. But Beautiful
  11. Young And Foolish
  12. We'll Be Together Again
  13. My Romance
  14. Lucky To Be Me
  15. Life Is Beautiful
Isn't It Romantic? was released on February 7, 2012 through Concord Music Group.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Moot Davis: "Man About Town" (2012) CD Review

I don't listen to a lot of new country music because I've been under the impression that it's a lot of posing in cowboy hats. The music doesn't have much to say. So, not having heard Moot Davis before, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I put the disc in. But right away my fears and notions were dispelled. The first track has a decidedly old-country feel, and so I happily settled in for what turned out to be a really good CD. If this album is representative of what country artists are doing these days, then I need to listen to more country.

There are some excellent songs here, particularly "How Long," "Black & White Picture" and the title track. And yes, it's true that not every track is stellar; there are some rather lame lyrics in a song like "Rust" for example ("There's rust growing on us and I must have left the sprinkler on overnight"), and the first line of "Rocket" is the over-used and never-amusing "I got a rocket in my pocket." But overall, this is a really good album, with pleasing rhythms and wonderful vocals. And Moot Davis mixes in some elements of early rock and roll on a few tracks.

"Rags To Rhinestones"

Man About Town opens with "Rags To Rhinestones," an old-flavored country song that has a fun, playful attitude. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "From rags to rhinestones/Shooting star from the great unknown/Yeah, you should have seen me then/From rags to rhinestones/And back again." This song clearly a sense of humor about itself, with the idea that fake, glass gems are the height of fashion and culture, or at least the most a country singer can hope to achieve. The song seems to be poking a bit of fun at country music, implying that artificial, worthless stones are the country equivalent of real gems and riches. Because obviously rhinestones are a long way from riches, and are much closer to rags.

"Day The World Shook My Hand"

"Day The World Shook My Hand" also has an old-time feel which I appreciate. The simple rhythm on bass and drums, as well as the fiddle, work to create that feel. And the bright vocals (with that great bit of twang) add to it. This is really country at its best, and features lines like, "Hang around here long enough/And all your soft edges just get tough." Nice.

"Queensbury Rules"

I love Moot's vocals when he really lets it rip, like on "Queensbury Rules," a song that definitely has a bit of a rock edge. The guitar is more rock than country. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "But your heart don't play by the Queensbury rules/And you're good at burying fools/Who wind up falling/In love with you/Well, my arrow/Lost sight of its mark." (By the way, Moot needs to fire whoever posted the lyrics on his web page. The lyrics to this song contain many errors, such as "your good at burying fools" and "my arrow lost sight of it's mark.")

"Crazy In Love With You"

"Crazy In Love With You" is a playful duet with Elizabeth Cook. This song reminds me a bit of Buddy Holly actually, in the vocal patterns. It's a sweet tune, one of those songs you find yourself swaying to. I like Elizabeth's voice, and she and Moot sound good together. (But again, the lyrics on his web site contain mistakes like "I think your crazy" and "Your one of those kind of women.")

"Only You" also has some early rock and roll influence, particularly Buddy Holly again.

"How Long"

"How Long" is one of my favorite tracks from Man About Town. It's more of that great, old-time country - just wonderful. I love that on-the-range rhythm, and the fiddle. This is the kind of country I could listen to all day. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "Well, I ride through these night times/Blue and all alone/And on I ride/'Cause I must find my way home/How long."

"Black & White Picture"

"Black & White Picture" is my vote for the album's best track. The instrumentation of this track is really impressive, particularly the guitar work. And I got caught up in the tale of a man who feels wronged by a woman, and the revenge he embarks on. He begins it with these lines: "I got a black and white picture/Of the man I used to be/Features they all look the same/But I swear it ain't me." An intriguing start, and from there the song just gets better and really pulls you in. This is a pretty amazing tune. After taking his revenge, "I turned my gun on everyone/'Cause I no longer cared." And when out of bullets he "went and sat down next to my love/And waited for my arrest." Everything just works perfectly here. I absolutely love this song.

"Everybody's Gal"

"Everybody's Gal" is more old-time country with a great twang. You can definitely hear Moot's love for Hank Williams in a song like this one, in the vocal delivery. "Everybody's Gal" is a simple, but fun tune. And I love the fiddle.

Here is a taste of the song's lyrics: "Well, I tried so hard to love you/But you just don't understand/You just keep on running, darling/Away from your true lovin' man/Because you're everybody's baby/Yeah, you're everybody's gal."

"Man About Town"

Man About Town concludes with the title track, a song which really features Moot's vocals, bringing them to the fore. This one is more in the folk vein, which helps it become one of my favorite tracks. With just vocals and guitars, this song has a raw and simple power. In this one Moot sings, "And ghost's shoes, they're hard to fill/Took me years to swallow that pill/But I'll keep travelin' this world around/And I'll always be a man about town."

CD Track List
  1. Rags To Rhinestones
  2. Day The World Shook My Hand
  3. Rocket
  4. Fade To Gold
  5. Queensbury Rules
  6. Crazy In Love With You
  7. How Long
  8. Black & White Picture
  9. Rust
  10. Only You
  11. Memory Lane
  12. Everybody's Gal
  13. Man About Town

Musicians appearing with Moot Davis on this release include Kenny Vaughan on electric guitar, Chris Scruggs on pedal and lap steel, Harry Stinson on drums, Paul Martin on bass, Hank Singer on fiddle, and George Bradfute on slide guitar.

Man About Town is scheduled to be released February 21, 2012 on Highway Kind Records, Davis' own record label. This is his third release, the other two being Moot Davis (2004) and Already Moved On (2007).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Los Angeles Gets Bullied Again (Finally!)

Bullied By Strings returned to Los Angeles Saturday night for a show at On The Rox. Formerly based here in L.A., and now based in Chicago, Bullied By Strings is a fantastic, strange, wonderful pop-punk-electronica group consisting of Kristen Rajterowski Rowland on vocals and flute, Gabriel "Front Row" Roland on drums and programming, and newcomer Mike Guidry on bass and saxophone and backing vocals.

Before their set, a DJ was spinning records, and Gabe got behind his kit and began playing along with the songs. This led into a short drum solo as Kristen and Mike joined him on stage.

They went on at 11 p.m., and actually opened with a cover of the Beatles tune "Things We Said Today." It was a great version. They had posted their version of it online, so it didn't come as a surprise, but still came as a delight. They then went into their original material, starting with one of their older songs, "Big Mouth." Always a pleasure to hear that one. They mixed in some newer material too, like "You Lift Me Up So High," "Breathe New Life" and (maybe my favorite) "Oh Boy Oh Boy."

They ended their set with a couple of classics - "What If I Like It" (in a different configuration than before, but still fantastic, and a great song to dance to) and "Reach Out." "Reach Out" always is a high-energy tune, and finds Kristen contorting her body is all sorts of impossible ways. They didn't do the extended ending with the hand percussion in front of the stage like they used to, but it was still an excellent version of the song, and had the crowd dancing and calling out for an encore (which they didn't get).

Set List: 2-11-12 On The Rox, West Hollywood, CA
  1. Things We Said Today
  2. Big Mouth
  3. You Lift Me Up So High
  4. Sweet Surrender
  5. Line Of Fire
  6. Breathe New Life
  7. Oh Boy Oh Boy
  8. What If I Like It
  9. Reach Out
I love this band, and I hope they move back to Los Angeles at some point. For those who are unfamiliar with Bullied By Strings, you might remember Salon K, the band Gabe and Kristen were in prior to this one. And of course Gabe was in one of the greatest bands of all time, The Peak Show.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Dunwells: "Blind Sighted Faith" (2012) CD Review

The Dunwells are a relatively new British band featuring two brothers on guitars and vocals. In fact, in October of last year, they changed their name from The Dunwell Brothers Band to The Dunwells. Blind Sighted Faith is the band's debut CD.

Their sound has clear Celtic influences (at times they remind me a bit of Flynn). But a heavier influence on this band seems to be the 1970s soft rock groups, the ones that focused on harmonies like Crosby, Stills & Nash, Poco, Little River Band and Seals And Croft (You can really hear that influence on a track like "In The Moment").

Of course it's not enough to just have excellent vocals - there needs to be something worth singing. The Dunwells seem to spend just as much time and energy on their lyrics as they do perfecting their vocal chops. Take the first line of "Hand That Feeds" for example: "I'm not afraid of falling, I just don't want to hit the ground." Deceptively simple, these lyrics work like the best lyrics, by being non-specific enough to feel applicable to everyone who listens. Thus, it's a song that a listener can internalize and make his or her own. And yes, there is the occasional clunky line, like "Blind sighted faith - feel the feeling" in the album's title track. But the music is good enough that we can overlook those lines.

"I Could Be A King"

Blind Sighted Faith opens with "I Could Be A King," which was released earlier as a single. The song begins as a sweet upbeat folk tune, and then the drums come in taking the song to another level. It's a brilliant combination of folk and pop with a Celtic influence. This song transcends genre, and it is the song that made me interested in this band. It has a great, positive vibe. And I really dig the backing vocals two and half minutes in, which remind me of the joyous vocals of the Afternoons (now called Shadow Shadow Shade).

The chorus is: "I could be a king/I could be anything I want/I could be a poem/I could be some writing on the wall/I could be a super hero - staring down the barrel of a gun/I could be a piece of artwork fading in the sun." I absolutely love this song.

"Blind Sighted Faith"

The CD's title track has one of those perfect steady drum beats which always make me smile. This song features the line, "They say time's a healer, but I can't forget because I live my life full of regret." The harmonies definitely remind me of CSN, particularly their 1970s work.

"Only Me"

"Only Me" is a pretty acoustic song with some good lyrics, such as these lines: "I’d rather be escaping from the truth/It’s only me I’m blaming/It’s me who changed the lanes and crashed down hard." When the harmonies come in, the song really reminds me of CSN in the 1970s. It's nearly three minutes in before the electric guitar and drums come in, and they don't break up the natural flow of the song at all. This track is one of my favorites.


Another of the album's highlights is "Elizabeth." I've always loved that name, and I love this song. It's wonderful acoustic pop, with lines like "And oh my lonely heart stopped beating/And oh my lonely eyes deceive me."

"Follow The Road"

It's strange: "Follow The Road" has a few lines that border on cliches ("life is up to you," "time heals everything"), and yet still feels fresh, and is actually my favorite track on this CD. It has this impassioned intensity, some nice guitar work and a good beat that I can imagine really getting lost in during a live performance. Yes, you can dance to it. I particularly love the music during the repeated line, "Follow the road." This is a very cool tune.

"I Want To Be"

"I Want To Be" is a sweet love song. It's simple, but completely effective. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "I’m sure we’ll have our ups and downs/But I’ll tell you now I’m not going anywhere/Oh girl you’ve got me lying here on the floor."

"Oh Lord"

The album concludes with "Oh Lord," which feels like a slow, low fire. It's a song about the end of a relationship. You get caught up in its rhythm and momentum, and then it breaks through with an electric guitar part a few minutes in that seems to say things the voice is unable to, to express this hurt and longing. And then the vocals become louder, more emotional and plaintive, more energized and desperate.

CD Track List
  1. I Could Be A King
  2. Blind Sighted Faith
  3. Hand That Feeds
  4. Only Me
  5. Elizabeth
  6. Follow The Road
  7. In The Moment
  8. Goodnight My City
  9. I Want To Be
  10. Perfect Timing
  11. Oh Lord


The Dunwells are Joseph Dunwell on guitar and vocals; David Dunwell on guitar, banjo and vocals; Jonny Lamb on drums; Dave Hanson on guitar; and Rob Clayton on bass.

Blind Sighted Faith is scheduled to be released on February 14, 2012 through Playing In Traffic Records (and distributed by RED Distribution/Sony Music Entertainment).

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Frank Sinatra: "The Concert Sinatra" (1963/2012 re-issue) CD Review

The title of this record might seem a bit misleading, at least to us nowadays who think of a "concert" as a live performance. This is not a live album; that is, there is no audience. It was recorded with a large orchestra in a soundstage at Samuel Goldwyn Studios in February of 1963. This album is made almost entirely of compositions by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. This special re-issue contains two bonus tracks.

This album is not the type of Sinatra record I usually listen to - it's not Sinatra with a big band. This is him with an orchestra, and so it's a very different sound. But of course it's really about his vocal performance. These songs were arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle.

This edition of the album was produced from the original recordings, which had been stored in film canisters for approximately fifty years. The recordings went through a digital restoration process, and the results sound pristine.

"I Have Dreamed"

The Concert Sinatra opens with "I Have Dreamed," a love song written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein for The King And I (1951). This recording really highlights Frank Sinatra's great voice, which sounds so comforting in this configuration, backed by an orchestra. His voice really stands out, although perhaps the orchestra gets a bit too powerful at the end - it's better backing him than competing with him.

"My Heart Stood Still"

"My Heart Stood Still," written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, features the perfect lines, "I took one look at you/That's all I meant to do/And then my heart stood still." This song really needs no other lyrics than those (though the rest are wonderful). Originally written for A Connecticut Yankee, Nelson Riddle's arrangement on this version is beautiful.

"Ol' Man River"

Frank Sinatra gives us an excellent, slow version of "Ol' Man River," the famous song written by Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern for the musical Show Boat. Though it is a bit odd hearing Frank Sinatra sing, "Let me go away from the white man boss," I really love this rendition. My favorite moment is when the orchestra disappears entirely and Sinatra holds onto one word on the line, "You get a little drunk and you lands in jail" - just the way he sings the word "jail" and holds onto it. It's a fantastic moment, probably my favorite bit on this record. The song then builds again, becoming gloriously intense. And boy, what a vocal performance. This is a definite stand-out track - so powerful that I'm surprised when the album continues. It feel it should be over after that.


As great as "Ol' Man River" is, by far my favorite tune on this album is "Bewitched." It's fun, playful, and yet also beautiful. And Sinatra's vocal performance is absolutely wonderful and moving. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote this one for Pal Joey in 1941 (on the soundtrack, its title is "Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered"). Here is a taste of the lyrics: "I'm wild again/Beguiled again/A simpering, whimpering child again/Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I."


The original album concluded with "Soliloquy," a strange rumination about fatherhood. This song finds Sinatra carrying on about the son he's expecting and what sort of person he'll be. And then nearly five minutes in, it occurs to him, "What if he is a girl?" The song changes then, and he creates the child all over again, this time as female. According to the CD's liner notes, when Sinatra first heard this song, he had recently become a father, and the song really stood out for him. "Soliloquy" was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein for Carousel.

Bonus Tracks

This special re-issue contains two tracks not included on the original release. The first is "California," written by James Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, a love song to the state. According to the liner notes, this song was written for a Sacramento gala, and was issued on a 45 and given to those who attended. Wow, what a great bit of swag! It would have been worth sitting through whatever political speeches were given in order to get a copy of it. But here it is now, for everyone to enjoy.

The second bonus track is "America, The Beautiful," a song I've never cared much for. I'm among the least patriotic people you'll ever meet. Still, this is a good rendition, with a choir and everything. And of course this is a much better song than the National Anthem.

CD Track List
  1. I Have Dreamed
  2. My Heart Stood Still
  3. Lost In The Stars
  4. Ol' Man River
  5. You'll Never Walk Alone
  6. Bewitched
  7. This Nearly Was Mine
  8. Soliloquy
  9. California
  10. America, The Beautiful
This special re-issue of The Concert Sinatra was released on January 17, 2012 through Concord Music Group.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Todd Rundgren: "Todd" (2012) DVD Review

In September of 2010, Todd Rundgren did a series of six shows where he performed his 1974 double album Todd. This DVD is of the show from September 14th, 2010 at Keswick Theater in Philadelphia (Rundgren's hometown). Todd is an interesting choice to perform in its entirety because it doesn't contain the huge hits that a casual Todd Rundgren fan knows (songs like "I Saw The Light" and "Bang The Drum All Day"). But it's a good choice for a live performance because it has a definite theatricality to several of the songs (including a cover of a Gilbert & Sullivan tune), and it also touches upon a fairly wide range of musical types.

The DVD jumps right in, with only a few seconds of a wide shot of the closed curtain before the concert starts. And right away it's clear that Todd is going for a 1970s type vibe with his wardrobe. He has a silver sparkly long wizard coat on, and when he removes that he reveals a sort of 1970s Elvis suit. The rest of the band is in odd outfits as well. And this performance has a theatrical element in its staging. Band members come and go, depending on when they're needed. Even the drum kit is on a wheeled platform, and is pushed onto the stage when the drummer is needed, and removed when he isn't. It seems a bit silly, a lot of effort put into it.

The drummer, by the way, is Prairie Prince, who drums for The Tubes. Other band members include Jesse Gress on guitar and backing vocals, Kasim Sulton (from Utopia) on bass and backing vocals, Greg Hawkes (from The Cars) on keyboards and backing vocals, and Bobby Strickland on saxophone and backing vocals. None of those musicians played on the original album.

Todd Rundgren (and the other musicians) have headset microphones, so that they're able to move easily around the stage. Multiple cameras captured this show, and there is a lot of fluid camera movement.

Some of the songs from this album are fantastic, and others aren't that good. Perhaps my favorite song on this DVD is the strange and wonderful "An Elpee's Worth Of Toons," on which Todd plays keyboard. I also really like "A Dream Goes On Forever," which is dominated by keyboards, and "Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song," a song written by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. The latter is deliciously relentless, giving Todd almost no moments to breathe. At the end he playfully spins himself around.

I'm also really fond of "Drunken Blue Rooster," which feels like the music for some insane, wonderful, dizzying film. It's strange to see shots of the audience, because they're quite still, seated as if watching a play rather than a rock concert. Of course it is an odd combination of the two.

Some members of the audience do rise to their feet during "Everybody's Going To Heaven," a straight hard rock tune that gets them dancing. It has an instrumental intro, and then when the vocals come in, it's like balls-to-the-wall rock, with some nice work on drums. It goes straight into "King Kong Reggae," which is not reggae and is not one of my favorites. That's followed by "No. 1 Lowest Common Denominator," which has an odd spoken word section that seems to be one of the targets of This Is Spinal Tap (the intro to "Stonehenge"). Before that song, Todd jokes, "We'll get it right by the seventh show" (there being only six shows), a rare bit of stage banter in this performance.

"Useless Begging" reminds me a bit of Paul McCartney. It's a cool tune, though the line "Useless begging won't help me" is a bit redundant. And in the middle there is some silly (and mediocre) tap-dancing by drummer Prairie Prince.

Missing from this performance is "In and Out the Chakras We Go (Formerly: Shaft Goes to Outer Space)," the first song from the fourth side of the original album.

After the cool tune "Don't You Ever Learn?" Todd leaves the stage. He then returns to introduce the band, each member coming out one at a time (and in different outfits). So the encore is "Sons of 1984," which is weird, because after all it is the final song on the record, so it's no surprise that they're playing it. A choir joins the band for this song. And the audience is finally all up and dancing. The audience actually continues singing the song after the band has finished, which is really cool.

It's a good performance, but perhaps an even better reason to own this DVD is the special feature, an interview with Todd Rundgren conducted by Roy Firestone on September 13, 2010 at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. There is a seven-minute introduction and a six-minute film montage of Todd's career before he even comes out on stage. And the interview itself is over an hour, and I was completely fascinated. He of course talks about the early days with the Nazz, and about Albert Grossman, who came up with ideas to promote his music and then screwed him over. He talks about Janis Joplin, but Ray Firestone cuts him short, which is a shame. Todd's influences are discussed - folks like Burt Bacharach, The Beatles and Frank Zappa. And he tells the story about producing some of the Badfinger songs but not getting any credit.

Oddly the only song from Todd that they talk about is "A Dream Goes On Forever." I thought they might focus more on that album. The interview ends abruptly and it turns out that it's only part one of the interview. On the screen it says, "To be continued in part two," but doesn't say where exactly that will be found. My guess is that it will be on the DVD of his live performance of Healing, which will be released later. (Both albums were performed at the same shows in September of 2010.)

This live performance of Todd is also being released on CD. Both the DVD and CD were originally scheduled to be released on February 14, 2012, but now will be released on February 28, 2012.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Mitch Ryder: "The Promise" (2012) CD Review

Like a lot of folks, I know Mitch Ryder primarily for his incredibly energetic covers of great rock and roll tunes, covers that sometimes eclipsed the originals. So it's a total treat to hear his new CD, The Promise, an album made up almost entirely of original material.

This is his first U.S. studio release since 1983's Never Kick A Sleeping Dog. And it's seriously good. Produced by fellow Detroit native Don Was, this album features rock tunes infused with funk and soul. I really dig his voice, and the years haven't hurt him. It's the voice of a true rock and roll spirit. And he's not afraid to tackle the topic of aging in this batch of songs. For example, in "Thank You Mama" he sings, "Now that I am older, it seems that life keeps testing me/Sometimes I get weary if it ain't what it should be." The first line of "One Hair" is "I am getting older," "Crazy Beautiful" also finds him singing "We grow older." But these songs aren't full of weariness or regret. They're mostly positive and hopeful.

"Thank You Mama"

The Promise kicks off with high-energy bluesy, funky little gem titled "Thank You Mama." It's a tribute to his folks, and sure it's a bit emotional, but not sappy. And there's a good lead guitar part by Randy Jacobs over a great groove by Reggie McBride on bass. Mitch sings lines like "Yes, I miss you/Thank you for the price you paid" and "Wish the two of you were here." It might seem an unusual topic for a rock song, but it totally works, and "Thank You Mama" is one of the CD's best tracks.

"The Promise"

The album's title track starts off right with a cool bass line and some nice percussion. Mitch Ryder sings, "Loving for the sake of love/Helped us live through that last dark night." This song has a positive attitude about the future, featuring lines like "My child will have doctors/My child will have good schools/My wife will have medicine/My work will have good tools" and "I see change and I'm feeling stronger/There's nothing left to fear." There is a religious angle to the song, but it doesn't get in the way. It mentions prayers, plus the line "We thank the one that brought us here."

"One Hair"

"One Hair" has a good funky rhythm, and is actually a song about dancing, rocking and grooving as one gets older. He sings, "I want to dance, but my legs they do their own thing." And he admits, "And I do get a little edgy when my routine falls apart." He touches on subjects I don't often hear sung about in rock tunes (in this, and other songs). And again, there is a positive outlook in lines like "There is no limit to what we'll be given." And this line made me laugh: "Let's have a party where everybody's shaking/And not from some bad physical disease." Images of a nursing home rave popped into my noggin.

"My Heart Belongs To Me"

"My Heart Belongs To Me" is actually an older tune, which Mitch Ryder first released on Got Change For A Million? (1981). It's a fun rock tune with a good dose of soul. And with some odd lyrics: "My heart is a muscle hard as a rock/You can't steal it from me, girl, or pick it like a lock." This newly recorded version has a great sound, retaining the sense of play from the original (it's a bit more soul, a bit less pop than the original version).

Exactly what is he singing about in these lines: "There's only one muscle for the loving you need/It can satisfy you, it can make you bleed/So if you're getting lonely and you want a little loving/Take this muscle special-built for pushing and a-shoving." Still the heart?

"Crazy Beautiful"

Mitch Ryder slows the tempo on "Crazy Beautiful," a song which features Patrick Leonard on keyboards. (Leonard Cohen fans will recognize his name from Cohen's newest release, Old Ideas). This song also makes different vocal demands on Mitch Ryder. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "Life is crazy beautiful/It's a ride worth taking/It's magical/Life is crazy/Life is crazy beautiful."

"Let's Keep Dancing"

Mitch Ryder changes the tempo again on "Let's Keep Dancing," which has a wonderful Latin groove (I love the percussion). There is also some truly interesting vocal work on this one, different from that on the other tracks. The vocals really impress me on this CD. I also really like the repeated keyboard line toward the end of the song.

"If My Baby Don't Stop Cryin'"

"If My Baby Don't Stop Cryin'" is a very odd and fun little rock tune whose lyrics feature wet panties. Really. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "If my baby don't stop crying, I will walk away/There ain't no reason for that baby to cry/Every time her panties wet I buy her new ones dry." So I think it's about an actual baby. But then he sings, "If my baby don't stop buying, I will walk away/She keeps on shopping 'til she 'bout to drop." So now I just don't know what to think. Is it about a girlfriend? Maybe his daughter gets older as the song progresses? Either way, the song has a simple, catchy rhythm. From some reason, the idea of just walking away from a crying baby makes complete sense to me.

"What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted"

The album's sole cover song is also the album's only live track. It is a bit odd to throw a live song in, and it seems out of place, especially as it's clearly the last song of the set. Toward the end of the song we hear, "I want to thank you all for coming tonight." And then: "Give it up for the great Mitch Ryder." Who is saying this? That being said, it's a decent rendition. But it really breaks up the momentum of the album. I personally would have left it out.

CD Track List

  1. Thank You Mama
  2. The Promise
  3. One Hair
  4. Everybody Loses
  5. My Heart Belongs To Me
  6. Crazy Beautiful
  7. Let's Keep Dancing
  8. If My Baby Don't Stop Cryin'
  9. Get Real
  10. What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted
  11. Junkie Love
  12. The Way We Were

Musicians appearing on this album include William Levise (Mitch Ryder) on vocals and backing vocals, Jamie Mahuberac on keyboards, Reggie McBride on bass, Randy Jacobs on guitar, James Gadsen on drums, Michito Sanchez on percussion, Hillard "Sweet Pea" Atkinson on backing vocals, and Arnold McCuller on backing vocals. (And, as noted, Patrick Leonard plays keyboards and organ on "Crazy Beautiful.")

The Promise is scheduled to be released February 14, 2012.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Leonard Cohen: "Old Ideas" (2012) CD Review

Leonard Cohen is the best living songwriter. It's as simple as that. It's strange to me that there are still many people who are unaware of who he is. After all, his songs have been covered by a large number of artists, including Judy Collins, U2, R.E.M., Pixies, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, John Cale, Neil Diamond, Martha Wainwright, Linda Thompson and Concrete Blonde. And his songs have been used in films like Breaking The Waves, Pump Up The Volume, A Wedding and Natural Born Killers. And he's put out some incredible records.

And now at age 77 , he's released a new batch of tunes under the title Old Ideas.

Like a lot of fans who caught shows on his recent world tour, I was hoping that "Feels So Good" and "Born In Chains" would be included on this release. But my disappointment at the absence of those particular songs evaporated the moment I put the disc in. This is an incredible album.

Of course, it's true that I'm a bit overwhelmed at getting to enjoy all this new material - and it's uncertain just where this record will fit into his overall output after a few years of listening to it - but my initial reaction is that this is among his best recordings.

Here are some thoughts...

"Going Home" - A song about the relationship between Leonard the person and Leonard the performer. This isn't the first song in which he's written about himself or included his own name in a lyric. "Famous Blue Raincoat" comes to mind, in which he signs the letter (thus, the song), "Sincerely, L. Cohen." And more recently, on his 2004 release Dear Heather, he presented "Because Of," in which he has women sing, "Look at me, Leonard." Present in this song, as in "Because Of," is his wonderful sense of humor. He refers to himself as "a lazy bastard living in a suit." The line, "Going home without the costume that I wore" makes me wonder if this was written right at the end of his world tour.

"Amen" - One of Leonard Cohen's most famous songs is "Hallelujah" (from 1984's Various Positions - one of my favorite records). And now he gives us "Amen." It's interesting how often Leonard Cohen uses religious imagery and language in his songs, and he seems to take those lofty words and ideas and bring them down to a human level of sweat and desire. And in doing so, to raise the physical to a more spiritual level. And that raises us all, doesn't it? This is one of the CD's best songs. The music is beautiful (Robert Korda is on violin). And of course the lyrics are excellent, with lines like "Tell me again/When the day has been ransomed/And the night has no right to begin/Try me again/When the angels are panting/And scratching at the door to come in."

"Show Me The Place" - Leonard has that great deep voice that makes your body quiver and your soul smile. In this one, he sings, "But there were chains/So I hastened to behave/There were chains/So I loved you like a slave." Oh man. And that's Jennifer Warnes singing the woman's parts.

"Darkness" - This is the one I knew before, having seen him perform it in concert a few times. The first time was in San Jose in 2009, and I was totally blown away. I might have been crying, laughing - I don't know - I was three or four feet above my skin, and recollections are emotionally charged so I'm not sure of their accuracy. "I thought the past would last me/But the darkness got that too." This song is so damn cool, so sexy, with lines like "You were young and it was summer/I just had to take a dive" and "I ain't had much lovin' yet/But that's always been your call." And the full band from his tour is present on this track, which is wonderful.

"Anyhow" - Leonard Cohen makes even the most twisted of relationships sound appealing. "I know you have to hate me, but could you hate me less." When he sings, "I'm naked and I'm filthy," I think how I'd love to be even one tenth as sexy at 40 as he is at 77.

"Crazy To Love You" - It's so great to hear a song with just acoustic guitar and vocals, reminiscent of his earliest material. This is one of the album's best tracks (perhaps my favorite, if I were forced to choose). The first line is "Had to go crazy to love you." And I love these lines: "But crazy has places to hide in/That are deeper than any goodbye." A phrase like "souvenir heartache" shows you just what an excellent writer he is. So much is said with two words.

"Come Healing" - Angelic voices open this song, singing for nearly a minute before Leonard Cohen comes in. This is an uplifting and hopeful tune with lines like "Come healing of the body/Come healing of the mind."

"Banjo" - This song has a playful spirit, and is a bit silly and delightful. It finds a "broken banjo bobbing/On the dark, infested sea." The wind took it from someone, and now Leonard Cohen watches it. I think of a banjo as a bright and happy instrument, and in this song it is then positioned in a "dark, infested sea." I love this song, and it features Dino Soldo and Neil Larsen, two members of The Unified Heart Touring Band.

"Lullaby" - The first of the new material presented on Leonard Cohen's world tour was "Lullaby." Unfortunately, I wasn't present at any of those particular shows. So this is my first exposure to it. Here's a taste of the lyrics: "Well the mouse ate the crumb/Then the cat ate the crust/Now they've fallen in love/And they're talking in tongues/If your heart is torn/I don't wonder why/If the night is long/Here's my lullaby/Here's my lullaby." And yes, it's a perfect song to listen to before drifting off to sleep. Sharon Robinson sings on this track (she also sings on "Amen," "Darkness" and "Banjo").

"Different Sides" - I love the opening line, "We find ourselves on different sides/Of a line nobody drew." This song feels a bit like his late 1980s, early 1990s material - the steady rhythm, the keyboard. That's Neil Larsen on the Hammond B3, piano, the synth bass and percussion on this track. The last line of this song, and thus the album, is "You want to change the way I make love/But I want to leave it alone."

CD Track List
  1. Going Home
  2. Amen
  3. Show Me The Place
  4. Darkness
  5. Anyhow
  6. Crazy To Love You
  7. Come Healing
  8. Banjo
  9. Lullaby
  10. Different Sides
Old Ideas was released January 31, 2012.

Now I hope Leonard Cohen gets right to work on the next release (with "Feels So Good" and "Born In Chains"). I'm also hoping he'll follow through on the tentative plans to release the final concert of the tour on CD and/or DVD. There was some talk of it at the time, but that it wouldn't happen until after this studio release came out. That live album would give us "Born In Chains," but unfortunately not "Feels So Good."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ruthie Foster Is On Tour

Last night I was lucky enough to catch a short set by Ruthie Foster. After hearing her excellent new CD, Let It Burn, I was excited to see her perform. And what a joy it was. She has such warmth and vitality and honesty - these qualities emanate from her and infect the audience. She's one of those performers who inspirits you. And then of course there is her incredible voice.

Her band was a tight trio: Ruthie on vocals and guitar, Tanya Richardson on bass and backing vocals, and Samantha Banks on drums and backing vocals. As expected, the song selections for their short set focused on the new release.

One of the tracks that really blew me away from her new album is her take on the Pete Seeger song, "If I Had A Hammer." And Ruthie opened her set with that song. It's a seriously sexy rendition, and I was thrilled to see her play it live. She followed that with another track from Let It Burn, "Aim For The Heart." This one is an original. She played two other songs from Let It Burn: her slow, interesting rendition of "Ring Of Fire" and another original, "Welcome Home" (which leads off the album and features The Blind Boys Of Alabama).

She also played "Up Above My Head (I Hear Music In The Air)" off of her 2007 release, The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster, and "Stone Love" from her 2009 release, The Truth According To Ruthie Foster. Both songs were also included on her live album, Live At Antone's (2011). The encore was "Travelin' Shoes," which featured a groovy bass lead by Tanya Richardson and some wonderful work on drums by Samantha Banks.

Gibson Showroom, Beverly Hills, CA 2-1-12 Set List
  1. If I Had A Hammer
  2. Aim For The Heart
  3. Up Above My Head (I Hear Music In The Air)
  4. Ring Of Fire
  5. Welcome Home
  6. Stone Love
  1. Death Came A-Knockin' (Travelin' Shoes)

Cherish Lee also performed, doing a fun (but quite short) opening set.

Ruthie Foster Tour Schedule (Many of these dates are with Paul Thorn)

February 2 - Aladdin Theater, Portland, OR
February 3 - The Bing Crosby Theater, Spokane, WA
February 4 - The Triple Door, Seattle, WA
February 6 - Sierra Nevada Bewing Co, Chico, CA
February 7 - Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA
February 8 - Napa Valley Opera House, Napa, CA
February 9 - Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA
February 10 - UC Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA
February 11 - The Compound Grill, Phoenix, AZ
February 12 - Berger Performing Arts Center, Tucson, AZ
February 14 - Strings Music Pavillion, Steamboat Springs, CO
February 16 - Fort Lewis College, Durango, CO
February 17 - Vilar Center For The Arts, Beaver Creek, CO
February 18 - Swallow Hill Music Presents at L2 Arts & Culture Center, Denver, CO
February 23 - Dosey Doe Cafe, The Woodlands, TX
February 24 - Antone's, Austin, TX
February 25 - Sam's Burger Joint, San Antonio, TX
March 6 - Ramshead, Annapolis, MD
March 7 - Birchmere, Alexandria, VA
March 8 - WCL, Philadelphia, PA
March 9 - City Winery, New York, NY
March 10 - The Sanctuary Concerts, Chatham, NJ
March 14-16 - SXSW
March 17 - Kessler Theater, Dallas, TX
March 23 - Eddie's Attic, Decatur, GA
March 24-25 - Savannah Music Festival, Savannah, GA
March 28 - Knucklehead's, Kansas City, MO
March 29 - Old Rock House, St. Louis, MO
March 30 - The Castle Theater - Bloomington, IL
March 31 - Schaumburg Prairie Center For The Arts, Schaumburg, IL