Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Uncle Lucius: “The Light” (2015) CD Review

Uncle Lucius’s new album, The Light, was funded by fans, and perhaps partly for that reason has a much-appreciated optimism and an underlying faith in folks (which should transfer to the listener). This album at times feeling like a phone call from a friend who not only wants to catch you up on his life but wants to hear about yours, even offering thoughtful bits of advice, like “Don’t be afraid to change your mind/Don’t be afraid to change.” These songs have elements of rock, country and folk (man, I’d love to see them on a double bill with I See Hawks In L.A.), with a focus on the songwriting. I like these lines from “Nothing To Save”: “Time is a concept/A construct of man/Man could very well be/Dead wrong again.” Uncle Lucius is based in Austin, and “The Light” is the band’s fourth album.

This CD kicks off with “The Light,” the album’s title track. Interestingly, this is a song that is simultaneously about taking a more active approach to one’s life and also about looking inward rather than outward. It was written by singer/guitarist Kevin Galloway. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Instead of choosing to live in reaction mode/I set intention before me, let go and flow/To grow and know from the inside out/And shine light into shadows cast by doubt.” Not bad, eh? Plus, this song has a good groove, and some really nice work on keys by Jonathan Grossman.

It’s followed by “Age Of Reason,” which was written by Hal Vorpahl, the band’s original bass player. This is one of my favorite tracks, and it has a very positive vibe and groove and lyrics. “Oh, we say division/Comes from within/But how we’re different/Will never mean as much/As how we’re kin.” The song calls for an age of reason, which I think we could all get behind. This track takes on something of a funky soul vibe, akin to some of the late ‘60s, early ‘70s R&B recordings, as the band is joined by Tiger Anaya on trumpet and Mark Wilson on saxophone (both from Shinyribs).

I really like this album, and as I’ve said, a lot of its appeal for me is in the lyrics. Another of my favorites, “Taking In The View,” begins with a play on the idea of the devil being in the detail: “The devil’s in the detail shop/Waiting on his old ragtop/Wondering where the hell have all the real souls gone.” The main line, “And he’s going to spend his golden years taking in the view,” taken on its own, on the one hand sounds kind of sad, like giving up, but on the other hand, has a positive ring, as it’s a conscious choice, like taking some control. But the whole thing takes on a different feel when you see just who this character is, referred to as “the bright and morning star” in Revelation 22:16 (yeah, I looked it up). This song combines that description with ZZ Tops’ “Jesus Just Left Chicago” to give us the lines, “And the bright and morning star/Just left Chicago.” He has a stack of records, and in one section, this song makes reference to several of the records he’s listening to: Dylan, CCR, Beatles, and so on. I like taking these characters from religion and putting them into a sort of mundane context. And I like the addition of strings on this track (that’s Eleanor Whitmore). The opening instrumental section is beautiful. And the ending is intense. This is an all-round strong song, written by Kevin Galloway.

“No Time Flat” has a gorgeous mellow country feel at the start, and grows from there. “It’s a new day, a new time/A fresh chance to start right.” And the second time Kevin sings, “Slow down, slow down,” the song itself responds, slowing down. And the following line, “Just be here now,” is a reference to the Ram Dass book. So yes, this is a seize-the-day, live-in-the-moment song, and I’m starting to think there can’t be enough of these. It seems a message we need to hear on a regular basis, especially these days.

“No Time Flat” is followed by “Wheels In Motion,” written by Jonathan Grossman and Michael Carpenter, which takes us on a bit of an emotional ride, at first offering some depressing thoughts: “We are all broken/There is no new/No home left/Just someplace/We’re passing through.” But then it offers this: “Don’t be afraid to change/When your own skin/Seems so strange/And the right road/You can’t find/Don’t be afraid to change your mind/Don’t be afraid to change.” The song then takes us to the death of a young soldier before repeating, “The wheel’s in motion/And there’s no stopping.” For good or ill, it’s true.

The album concludes with “Someday Is A Far Cry,” which has a wonderful, fast groove during the chorus, and makes me think this band must put on a good concert.

CD Track List
  1. The Light
  2. Age Of Reason
  3. Taking In The View
  4. Ouroboros
  5. The End Of 118
  6. No Time Flat
  7. Wheels In Motion
  8. Gulf Coast Gypsies
  9. Flood Then Fade Away
  10. Don’t Own The Right
  11. Nothing To Save
  12. Someday Is A Far Cry

Uncle Lucius is Kevin Galloway on vocals and acoustic guitar; Michael Carpenter on electric guitar, acoustic guitar and vocals; Josh Greco on drums, percussion and vocals; Jonathan Grossman on keyboards, synth and vocals; and Nigel Frye on bass and synth.

The Light was released on June 9, 2015 through Thirty Tigers and Boo Clap Records.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Ronny And The Daytonas: “The Complete Recordings” (2015) CD Review

Oh yes, music can really save us sometimes, you know? I was in a foul mood, trying to deal with the landlord (actually, just trying to get the bastard to return my calls), when the Ronny And The Daytonas two-disc set arrived. I popped in the first disc, and was immediately in a better mood, no longer wanting to hunt the guy down and have him drawn and quartered. The Complete Recordings includes forty-eight tracks on two discs. There are some great 1960s surf and hot rod tunes, including their huge hit, “G.T.O.,” and four previously unreleased tracks. This wonderful collection also includes extensive liner notes written by John Buck Wilkin, singer, guitarist and songwriter for the band. He’s the “Ronny” of Ronny And The Daytonas. Yup, it turns out some really good surf music came out of Nashville. Go figure. There are lots of mellow tunes as well, like the pretty “Baby Say No.”

The collection opens with the band’s most famous tune, “G.T.O.,” a song which reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. This is such a fun tune, and I can’t believe I left it off of my recent list of songs for road trip mixes. I will have to start compiling a second list. John Buck Wilkin gives us some interesting information on this song in the liner notes. That tune is followed by “Hot Rod Baby,” about a girl named Sally who “lives way down in the valley” and “dreams about hot rod cars.” This one was written by Jerry Dean Smith.

“California Bound” is another tune to add to my list of music for road trips. It was written by John Wilkin, and released as a single, reaching #72 on the Billboard Hot 100. This was the follow-up single to “G.T.O.” “There’s nothing going on in this town/I’m going to rock it tonight/Gonna really get right/I’m California bound.” “Hey Little Girl,” the single’s flip side, is one of my favorites, mainly due to the cool vocal approach. This was also written by John Wilkin.

“Bucket ‘T’” is a goofy and delightful tune with lines like “All the girls want to take a ride with me/But there’s only seat in my bucket ‘T’” and a little nod to “Surfin’ Bird.” “Bucket ‘T’” is a Jan And Dean cover, written by Don Altfeld, Roger Christian, Dean Torrence and Jan Berry. Ronny And The Daytonas released this as a single. They also do a good job with Chuck Berry’s “Back In The U.S.A.”

John Wilkin co-wrote “Hot Rod City” with Bill Justis, who also produced a lot of these tracks. This tune features some nice work on keys. “They’re really getting their kicks out in Hot Rod City.” Then in the slow number “Teenage Years” Wilkins sings, “But good times never last/And my teenage years are going mighty fast.” No kidding. He also sings, “I don’t know what I’ll do/When my teenage years are through.” Yeah, most of us are still trying to figure that out, and we’re in our forties now.

I love the playfulness of “Little Scrambler,” written by John Wilkin, pointing out that his scrambler was “Made in Japan.” But the lines that I find just totally delightful are these: “Some people think I’m crazy because I drive a bike/But I don’t make too much money and I’d rather not hike/But if fellas with cars try to give me sass/I tell them I can go forever on a gallon of gas.” This tune was released as a single. Another seriously fun song is “Tiger-A-Go-Go,” about San Francisco. It opens in faux serious tones: “We didn’t see the bridge, or visit Chinatown/When we hit San Francisco, all we did was fool around.” And then it kicks in and is just a delight. John Wilkin co-wrote this one with Buzz Cason. That writing team is responsible for several other tracks in this collection, including “Bay City” (an instrumental), “No Wheels” and “Sandy.” “Sandy,” a slower song, was released as a single in 1965, and reached #27 on the Billboard Hot 100. (Its flip side was a slightly shorter instrumental version, also included here.)

The second disc is a lot mellower, at least for the first several songs, until we get to “Antique ’32 Studebaker Dictator Coupe,” which is a fun song written by Jerry Dean Smith. It was released as a single, but didn’t do anything on the charts. Even more fun is “All American Girl,” one of my favorites. It begins with some cool a cappella vocal work, then has a good groove and vibe. “She’s the hippest thing going with her pretty, long hair/And with a natural personality that’s good anywhere/Always where the action is and right with the trend.” “All American Girl” was written by John Wilkin. It was released as a single, with “Dianne, Dianne,” which John Wilkin co-wrote with Merle Kilgore. That single reached #69 on the Billboard chart.

I’m also really fond of “Winter Weather,” with its first lines being, “Put on your old coat with the big fur collar/And we’ll take a walk in the snow/And though it’s cold out and I ain’t got a dollar/There’s still a lot of places to go.” It has such a playful, catchy vibe. I like the bass line. “Winter Weather” was written by John Wilkin.

“Brave New World” is another good track, with an excellent mid-1960s rock feel, and a cool vocal performance. The title “Brave New World” is a Shakespeare reference. In the fifth act of The Tempest, when Miranda suddenly meets several men, she exclaims, “O wonder!/How many goodly creatures are there here!/How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world/That has such people in’t.” In “Brave New World,” John Wilkin sings, “It’s a brave new world/Look around you, girl.” He co-wrote this song with Buzz Cason.

“Delta Day (No Time To Cry)” is perhaps the most interesting song in this collection. It has quite a different feel from the other tracks, and was written by John Wilkin, Kris Kristofferson and Marijohn Wilkin (John’s mother, a country music writer). There is certainly a country element, but also a very serious tone. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Then awaking to hear the sound of one helicopter bursting in flame go down/Hold on, boy, don’t lose your mind/Hold on, boy, it’s no time to cry.” And check out this line: “I see the eyes of the enemy older than any child ought to be.” This song was released as a single under the name Bucky Wilkin rather than Ronny And The Daytonas. It’s a seriously strong track, though apparently the single didn’t make a dent in the charts. The other side of the single is a good cover of The Monkees’ “I Wanna Be Free,” which was written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.

Previously Unreleased Tracks

This two-disc set includes four tracks that were previously unreleased. The first is “Daytona Beach,” which was written by John Wilkin and Lee Kraft. This is a groovy, upbeat surfin' tune. That's followed by a different version of “Hey Little Girl.” It has a different intro and is a bit shorter than the original version. I really like this version a lot. Also included is a cover of “Chapel Of Love” and
a pretty tune called “Angelina,” which was written by John Wilkin and Wayne Usher and recorded in 1967.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. G.T.O.
  2. Hot Rod Baby
  3. California Bound
  4. Hey Little Girl
  5. Bucket “T”
  6. Little Rail Job
  7. The Little Stingray That Could
  8. Surfin’ In The Summertime
  9. Back In The U.S.A.
  10. Hot Rod City
  11. Teenage Years
  12. Little Scrambler
  13. Tiger-A-Go-Go
  14. Bay City
  15. Beach Boy
  16. No Wheels
  17. Sandy
  18. Sandy (Instrumental)
  19. Somebody To Love Me
  20. Goodbye Baby
  21. Hold Me My Baby
  22. Baby Say No
  23. When Stars Shine Bright
  24. Be Good To Your Baby
Disc Two
  1. If I Had My Way
  2. Nanci
  3. Come Into My Heart
  4. So In Love
  5. Then The Rains Came
  6. Antique ’32 Studebaker Dictator Coupe
  7. I’ll Think Of Summer
  8. All American Girl
  9. Dianne, Dianne
  10. Young
  11. Winter Weather
  12. The Last Letter
  13. Walk With The Sun
  14. Brave New World
  15. Hold Onto Your Heart
  16. The Girls And The Boys
  17. Alfie
  18. 4-Cast She’ll Love Me Again
  19. Delta Day (No Time To Cry)
  20. I Wanna Be Free
  21. Daytona Beach
  22. Hey Little Girl
  23. Chapel Of Love
  24. Angelina
The Complete Recordings is going to be released on June 30, 2015 through Real Gone Music. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Mick Abrahams: “Revived!” (2015) CD Review

Mick Abrahams is probably still best known as the original guitarist for Jethro Tull, but he has also released several solo albums over the years. His newest, Revived!, finds him dipping into some classic rhythm and blues and rock and roll. Most of the tracks here are covers, though there are some originals too (one track was written by his son). Mick Abrahams has quite an amazing group of musicians joining him on this project, including Graham Walker on drums, Mark Feltham on vocals and harmonica, and Bill Wyman on bass. Martin Barre, who took over for Mick on guitar in Jethro Tull, joins him on guitar for one track. There are some really good tunes on this album, and its title is clearly a playful nod to Mick's recent health issues. This CD includes liner notes by Mick Abrahams, with thoughts on each of the tracks. Also in the limited edition version of this release is a bonus disc, a DVD.

Mick Abrahams kicks off the album with an original tune, “Summer Day,” a kind of heavy bluesy rock number that features Peter Eldridge on vocals, and a good bass line by John Gordon. The album actually concludes with a different version of this tune, featuring Josh Phillips on Hammond. The rest of the musicians remain the same as on the first track. “Remember” is another original song, a wonderful blues number that features Mick on lead vocals as well as guitar. “Oh, I remember you, baby/The first time I saw you I fell in love with you.” Bernie Marsden (whom you might know from Whitesnake) joins him on guitar. This track also features some fantastic and passionate work on harmonica by Paul Jones.

Most of the other tracks are covers, including three songs written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. “What About Us?” is the first of the Leiber and Stoller covers on this CD. It’s a playful number that features vocals by Mick Abrahams and Patrick Walshe, and Nick Payn on saxophone. One of the CD’s most fun tracks is the groovy rendition of “I’m A Hog For You,” also written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Beverley Skeete does a completely delicious job on vocals, and Bill Wyman plays bass on this track. The first version I ever heard of this song was an early live version by the Grateful Dead, with a heavy blue edge due mainly to Pigpen’s influence. The version here has almost a bit of a swing to it, which is great. And I love the guitar. Beverley Skeete also provides vocals on “Poison Ivy,” another Leiber and Stoller tune. Bill Wyman is on bass for that one as well. By the way, Beverley Skeete also sings with Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. You can hear her on the five-disc set, Collector’s Edition Box Set, which was released in 2011.

Mick Abrahams does a good job on “On The Road Again,” the Canned Heat song, which was based on an earlier blues tune. Patrick Walshe does the vocals on this track, and Mark Feltham plays harmonica. Another song I’ve loved for a long time is “Bright Lights, Big City,” and Mick Abrahams does a wonderful rendition, with a steady blues vibe. He and Paul Jones share vocal duties on this track, and Paul Jones also plays a mean harmonica. Bernie Marsden is on guitar, and Jim Rodford is on bass (you likely know Jim from his work with The Kinks). This version does seem to end a bit prematurely.

Another highlight for me is “Goodnight Irene.” I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a bad version of this song. It’s just one of those inherently excellent tunes. And Mick Abrahams delivers an interesting take on it, giving it a soft blues edge, which works so well. He sings lead, but has some backup singers on the chorus. He also plays slide guitar on this track. Paul Jones is on harmonica.

Instrumental Tracks

This CD includes several instrumental tracks. The first, “Elz. & Abys Jam,” is a groovy track, with Chris Gore on keyboard, and a brass section. Elliott Randall (whom you probably know from Steely Dan) joins Mick on guitar. Mick and Elliott co-wrote this one. They also co-wrote “North By North West,” a great bluesy instrumental track which features just the two of them on guitar.

“Dragonfly” is a kind of sweet and pretty instrumental track, written by Alex Abrahams, Mick’s son, and performed by just the two of them on guitar. This is actually one of my favorite tracks. “Red River Rock” is a seriously fun instrumental, with both Nick Payn and Frank Mead on saxophone. Frank Mead also plays squeezebox on this track. Geoff Whitehorn is on guitar, and George Muranyi is on keys.

Bonus DVD

The second disc of the limited edition release of this album is a DVD, which contains an introduction by Mick Abrahams, where he talks about his health, mentioning the stroke he suffered from. He also talks about the song choices for the album, and the many musicians who appear on these tracks. Mick has a sweet, kind of playful disposition, and speaks highly of those working with him.

There is also footage from the studio, including the band working on “Nadine,” “On The Road Again,” “What About Us” and “Hungry For Love.” There are also some outtakes from Mick’s interview.

CD Track List
  1. Summer Day
  2. What About Us?
  3. Elz. & Abys Jam
  4. On The Road Again
  5. Nadine
  6. Remember
  7. I Can Tell
  8. I’m A Hog For You
  9. Bright Lights, Big City
  10. Dragonfly
  11. Boney Moronie
  12. Goodnight Irene
  13. Poison Ivy
  14. Red River Rock
  15. North By North West
  16. Hungry For Love
  17. Summer Day 
I’m not sure of the exact release date of Revived! According to the press release, it was released on April 7, 2015. According to the Gonzo Multimedia site, it will be released on June 29, 2015 (but that’s a Monday, which seems odd). And according to Amazon, it will be released on July 24, 2015. Well, whatever the release date, fifty percent of all royalties made from the sales of this CD will go to a children’s charity. To get the edition with the DVD, you have to order it directly from Gonzo Multimedia.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Bill Payne, Eva Lindal, Carol Liebowitz: “Payne, Lindal, Liebowitz” (2015) CD Review

The new, self-titled CD from Bill Payne, Eva Lindal and Carol Liebowitz is a strange, sometimes joyous, sometimes unsettling album. The music was completely improvised, and recorded in one day in June of 2012, with Bill Payne on clarinet, Eva Lindal on violin and Carol Liebowitz on piano. These musicians each have such interesting and diverse backgrounds, which clearly come into play in these improvised pieces. Bill Payne actually worked with the Ringling Bros. circus for several years, as well as other circuses. Eva Lindal is from Stockholm, and has been a member of KammarensembleN since 2008, and is also a member of Katzen Kapell. Carol Liebowitz attended the High School of Performing Arts and NYU, and is a singer in addition to being a pianist. You can hear her vocal work on Time On My Hands, a CD she recorded with Any Fite. One common element among the three musicians is Connie Crothers, with whom they've worked and studied. And of course they share a love of improvisation.

“Ever Since,” the CD’s opening track, has an oddly unsettling effect as each instrument gives us what feels like its own memory, its own feeling. It is somewhat pretty, somewhat haunting. And then they combine, reaching a moment together and building in intensity from there, before separating again, and then rising again together. It’s like toward the end they’ve accepted some common fate, perhaps even finding delight in it.

“It Happened This Way” has a more playful feel, though perhaps a bit disjointed at first, like each trying to tell a slightly different story simultaneously, but then teasing each other. It’s really interesting, the way the instruments converse, each having its own personality, then come together.

“Unspoken” begins softly, with a kind of eerie atmosphere. The strange little touches on each instrument work on your imagination, as you fill in the spaces with whatever might be preying on your mind. It’s followed by “B/E,” a delightful and playful track, like a sprite frolicking throughout the woods, perhaps looking for a bit of mischief, and quickly finding some playfellows and soon beginning a fanciful dance. This is one of my favorite tracks.

“Preludes” is another highlight for me. It’s an interesting track. The violin opens, with something urgent to say, grabbing out attention in fits and starts, then suddenly disappearing as the clarinet more gently announces its presence. It has a more joyous, pleasantly excited vibe. Then it too backs off for the piano to enter. The piano conveys both beauty and chaos, sweetness and anger. Then all three come together, bringing their various views and emotions into one intriguing piece. Things can get a little crazy, a little intense at moments. And the following track, “Holus Bolus,” is a wild, chaotic, excited piece, as if the voice of each instrument is striving desperately for our attention. Holus-bolus means “all at once; in one lump.”

“What We Are Saying” is kind of an odd track, and the title is appropriate, as in one section there are actually some vocals, though they’re my least favorite element of this track. My favorite sections are actually the solos. The CD concludes with “’Til Always,” which is another highlight for me. It's so pretty at times. It feels like a relationship of love and compromises, differing opinions, but so much passion.

CD Track List
  1. Ever Since
  2. It Happened This Way
  3. Unspoken
  4. B/E
  5. If Then
  6. Glissade
  7. Preludes
  8. Holus Bolus
  9. What We Are Saying
  10. Blue Flame
  11. ‘Til Always 
Payne, Lindal, Liebowitz was released on June 5, 2015 through Line Art Records, a new label. I don’t usually mention CD artwork, but in this case I have to point out that the painting on the inside cover is wonderful. It was done by Jeff Schlanger, and I cannot conceive a reason as to why it wasn’t used on the front cover.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Innovators In Music: Mickey Hart (2013) DVD Review

This DVD contains an episode of the Innovators In Music television series, which was filmed in 2010. It was shot at Mickey Hart’s home and studio in Sonoma County, California. Mickey is allowed to sort of narrate the show himself, though the filmed interviews. There is no introduction or information from outside sources. What the episode does is take us into the thoughts and drives of one of the world’s most interesting drummers.

Early on he mentions playing with the Grateful Dead and his other groups, saying, “All are part of my search for the meaning of life, and also what my place is in the infinite universe.” He talks about how even as a child he was drawn to the various sounds of things, from rain to wrecking balls. He says that music is “like nourishment for me.” And of course there is plenty of great drumming in this episode. We see Mickey perform in his studio, along with Zakir Hussein and Sikiru Adepoju.

This show also takes us into Mickey’s art studio, where he shows a bit of the process of creating his art. He talks about the relation between his painting (visual art) and his music, and how all of this comes from his philosophy and outlook on life and reality. “That’s what art is really all about: expressing the unknown in a form that you can share with someone else.”

Bonus Features

The actual episode is only twenty-four minutes long, but the DVD contains plenty of bonus material. The first, Ballophone Jam, shows Mickey, Zakir and Sikiru performing in his studio, with touches of “Fire On The Mountain,” which Mickey co-wrote, and a bit of banter at the end. This is approximately eight minutes long. Mickey Hart On His Instruments has Mickey talking about some of his instruments and demonstrating them, including a nice, close look at the Beam, which Grateful Dead fans will recall from the “Drums” segment of those concerts. This feature is approximately eight minutes.

Obama Rap is a segment of Mickey, Zakir and Sikiru performing in the studio a song that uses samples from speeches. A bit of this is seen in the program. If you watch closely, you’ll see little typed notes taped to an instrument. One of them reads, “Obama & Limbaugh Convo.” This is approximately nine and a half minutes. The Beast Jam is another musical segment, in which Mickey plays the Beast, a set of large drums that Grateful Dead fans will remember.

The bonus material also includes interviews with both Sikiru Adepoju and Zakir Hussein. Sikiru talks about the talking drum and its uses, and plays it for us. The sticks he uses are actually rolled leather. He also talks about first meeting Mickey Hart. Zakir also talks about meeting Mickey Hart, and about combining tradition with modern methods in music, particularly in drumming. The Sikiru Adepoju interview is approximately twelve and a half minutes; the Zakir Hussein interview is approximately seven minutes.

Innovators In Music: Mickey Hart was directed by Daniel Berman, and was released on DVD on August 6, 2013.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Fanny: “Fanny Hill (Expanded Edition)” (2015) CD Review

Fanny is an excellent all-female band from the early 1970s. I got turned on to them a couple of years ago when Real Gone Music re-issued their first album, titled simply Fanny. Now Real Gone Music is putting out an expanded edition of the band’s third album, Fanny Hill. The title had me smiling before I even popped the disc into my player. Because, yeah, if you have a band named Fanny, particularly if the band is all girls, you absolutely must have an album titled Fanny Hill. Fanny Hill, for those who don’t know, is the popular title of the erotic novel Memoirs Of A Woman Of Pleasure, which was published in the 1700s. Anyway, as much as I enjoyed Fanny, Fanny Hill is actually a much stronger album. Most of the songs are originals, and the two covers are given different and interesting spins. This expanded edition includes six bonus tracks, as well as new liner notes by three of the four band members, who talk a bit about each of the songs (including the bonus material).

Fanny Hill opens with one of its two covers, a seriously excellent and original take on Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar.” I love what they do with this song, particularly the way they handle the chorus. They give it a bluesy edge, and drop the “A peculiarity” line. This version begins with some cool percussion, and then check out June Millington’s work on slide guitar. I love Marvin Gaye, but this rendition is so much fun, and it has some fantastic instrumental sections that totally rock.

“Knock On My Door,” written by Nickey Barclay, has a nice intro on keys. And once the vocals come in, it has almost a sort of theatrical vibe to it. I like the different tones of this song, how the tone changes depending on what the woman of this song is thinking. For example, it has a serious, somewhat urgent tone when she sings, “I wonder how you kept it a secret/I think that I would die if she knew/I wonder what she’s going to say/When she finds that I’ve taken you.” And then it becomes much lighter when she sings, “Knock on my door/Knock on my door/I’ll be waiting for you,” for she’s clearly happy knowing he’s coming and is thinking of herself at this point, not about the other woman. It is a really well-structured song.

And then “Blind Alley” slowly creeps on you, then pounces. What a great opening. This is an unabashed rock song, with some powerful vocal work. “Blind Alley” was written by Nickey Barclay and Alice de Buhr. They follow it with “You’ve Got A Home,” which has more of a folk vibe, and is kind of a lullaby. It was written by June Millington. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Run to the bedroom and I’ll tuck you into bed/Read you a story, then I’ll kiss your sleepy head/Someday I’ll have to tell you the reason we live alone/You may not have a father, but you’ve got a home.” And check out this line: “I didn’t plan it, but I’m glad that you were born.” No empty pop lyrics here.

“Wonderful Feeling,” written by Jean Millington, has such a pretty feel to it, due largely to Jean’s vocals. “I'd been spending my nights with you/I was thinking that I'd be true/But the world doesn't end/You were really a friend/That I loved because I needed to/I don't want to lose that wonderful feeling/I don't want to choose.” There is also some really nice guitar work. The bonus tracks include the single version of this song.

I love the piano on “Borrowed Time.” This is a fun tune, written by Nickey Barclay. On this one, they’re joined by Jim Price on trumpet and trombone, and Bobby Keys on saxophone, giving it a full rock and roll sound. That one is followed by the album’s second cover, “Hey Bulldog.” (It’s interesting to me that on the original record, the covers kicked off each side.) They do a really good job with this song, adding a few lyrics of their own (with the Beatles’ blessing), and leaving off much of the goofing around at the end. Also, oddly, “You don’t know what it’s like to listen to your fears” becomes “I know just what it’s like to listen to my fears,” almost as if the girls are answering the Beatles.

“Rock Bottom Blues” is another fun rock tune, written by the entire band, with lead vocals by Alice de Buhr. Bobby Keys is on sax, and Jim Price plays trumpet and trombone on this track. The bonus tracks include the backing track for this song, as well as the version with the original vocal track, which might actually be better than what was released on the album. “I’m bitten by the rock and roll disease/So won’t you help me make a record please/It’s so fucking hard.”

The title “Sound And The Fury” is a Shakespeare reference. It comes from that fantastic speech by Macbeth in the fifth act: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more. It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing.” Writing just doesn’t get any better than that. And “Sound And The Fury” is one of my favorite tracks on this album. It’s a country song written by June Millington. “Now the sound and the fury have some place to go/Now the sound and the fury are all I know.”

Bonus Tracks

This special expanded edition of Fanny Hill contains six bonus tracks. Besides the ones I’ve already mentioned, these include “Tomorrow,” “Young And Dumb” and “No Deposit, No Return.” As great as this album is, these bonus tracks are actually among my favorites on this CD. “Tomorrow” is a wonderful folk tune written by June Millington. “Young And Dumb” is an incredibly fun and lively track, a cover of the Ike & Tina Turner song (Ike Turner wrote it). The main line is “Young, dumb and full of/Come on to me.” Not too subtle, Ike! Fanny does such a good rendition of this song, but I think the following track, “No Deposit, No Return,” is even better. It’s a delicious and playful little country song written by Nickey Barclay. I love the word play in this song. Check out these lines: “I give you your way/You get in my way/Your chosen highway/Is not a sure way/Yours is the wrong way/Until you find a righter way/Here is the doorway.” I just fucking love this song. It’s actually my favorite on this disc. “That's all!

CD Track List
  1. Ain’t That Peculiar
  2. Knock On My Door
  3. Blind Alley
  4. You’ve Got A Home
  5. Wonderful Feeling
  6. Borrowed Time
  7. Hey Bulldog
  8. Think About The Children
  9. Rock Bottom Blues
  10. Sound And The Fury
  11. The First Time
  12. Tomorrow
  13. Young And Dumb
  14. No Deposit, No Return
  15. Wonderful Feeling (Single Version)
  16. Rock Bottom Blues  (Backing Track)
  17. Rock Bottom Blues (Original Vocal) 
Fanny Hill (Expanded Edition) is scheduled to be released on June 30, 2015 through Real Gone Music.

So-Called Grateful Dead Farewell Shows To Be Released On CD/DVD

The surviving members of the Grateful Dead continue to milk these so-called farewell concerts. You can now order a box set of the three Chicago shows, which contains twelve CDs and seven DVDs (or seven Blu-ray discs, if you prefer). The box set is $174.98 (or $189.98 for the Blu-ray). Need I remind folks that these concerts haven't even occurred yet? Who knows if they will be any good? And why four CDs per show? Usually a Dead show fits comfortably on three discs. That makes me think they're planning on long shows, which is good. But it also makes me think they might have prepared set lists, which is not good. You can also order just the July 5th show, which is four CDs and two DVDs (or two Blu-ray discs), and that set costs $54.98 (or $59.98 for the Blu-ray). Also available is The Best Of, which contains two discs of highlights from the three Chicago shows. Again, these shows have not happened yet. A Best Of compilation from concerts which haven't been performed? It's absurd, but what's perhaps more absurd is that of course I want to buy the big box set. Oh, fuck me.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Textones: “Cedar Creek” (1987/2015) CD Review

Cedar Creek is the second full-length record from The Textones, a band fronted by Carla Olson. It was originally released in 1987, and has now been re-issued by Omnivore Recordings. I’m not quite as fond of this album as I am of the band’s first release, but there are still some really good tracks here, like “Austin” and “Gotta Get Back Home,” making this a disc worth listening to. Plus, this special re-issue includes eight bonus tracks, a live set the band did at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz on November 20, 1987. As with the re-issue of Midnight Mission, the band’s first album, this re-issue includes new liner notes by Mark Leviton.

Cedar Creek opens with “Not Afraid,” a bright pop tune written by bass player Joe Read, and featuring some nice harmonizing on the vocals and a good, though very brief, lead on saxophone. (For some reason, the rhyming of “self” with “shelf” always bothers me when I encounter it in a song, perhaps because it’s used in so many songs, and always feels forced.) “Every Angel In Heaven” has an excellent vocal performance by Carla Olson, who is backed by Julia, Maxine and Oren Waters, giving the song a good soul vibe. Pat Robinson plays piano on this track. “Every Angel In Heaven” was written by George Callins and Carla Olson.

One of my favorite tracks on this disc is “Austin,” written by Carla Olson. This is a sweeter, prettier, mellower song, with Carla delivering a beautiful vocal performance. “Austin’s looking more like L.A. every day.” And there is some nice work on saxophone by Tom Junior Morgan. Pat Robinson plays piano on this track. From what I’ve been hearing lately about Austin, this song might even be more pertinent today. “Gotta Get Back Home” is another of this album’s highlights, with a great beat and energy. The end features some nice work on harmonica by Ric Albin. This one was also written by Carla Olson.

“Cedar Creek,” the album’s title track, is another really strong song with a phenomenal vocal performance from Carla Olson, who wrote this song. Like on “Every Angel In Heaven,” she is backed by the Waters. And Tom Junior Morgan provides a nice lead on saxophone. The original album then concludes with “We Can Laugh About It,” a wonderful and emotionally engaging song written by Carla Olson and Kathy Valentine. (Kathy was an early member of The Textones, who left to join the Go-Go’s.)

Bonus Tracks

This special re-issue contains eight bonus tracks, a live set the band performed in November of 1987 in Santa Cruz, California. This set is made up of songs from their first two records, focusing more on Cedar Creek. They start with a nice, rousing version of “Gotta Get Back Home.” They keep things rocking with “Not Afraid,” “No Love In You” and “You Can Run.” They then take things down a bit with “Austin,” and the audience doesn’t seem as into this one as I am. They follow that with an energetic rendition of “Upset Me,” my favorite song from their first album, and round out the set with “Every Angel In Heaven” and “Standing In The Line.” There isn’t much stage banter, and there are inserted pauses between songs rather than simply having the audience noise continue between tunes. These tracks were previously unreleased.

CD Track List
  1. Not Afraid
  2. Every Angel In Heaven
  3. Another Soul Searcher
  4. One Love
  5. Austin
  6. Gotta Get Back Home
  7. You Can Run
  8. Cedar Creek
  9. We Can Laugh About It
  10. Gotta Get Back Home
  11. Not Afraid
  12. No Love In You
  13. You Can Run
  14. Austin
  15. Upset Me
  16. Every Angel In Heaven
  17. Standing In The Line 
This special re-issue of Cedar Creek was released on May 26, 2015 through Omnivore Recordings. Also released on that day was a re-issue of Midnight Mission.

The Textones: “Midnight Mission” (1984/2015) CD Review

Midnight Mission was The Textones’ first full-length album, originally released in 1984, at the height of fun ‘80s pop. And this band does have a bit of that glorious pop sound for sure, but has so much more going on, deliciously mixing genres like pop, rock, blues and country. The songwriting is really strong, and most of the tracks on this album are originals. It has now been re-issued by Omnivore Recordings, with five bonus tracks, including two that were previously unreleased. There are also new liner notes by Mark Leviton.

The album opens with “Standing In The Line,” a vibrant pop rock tune with a steady bass line and moments where Carla Olson’s vocals have a wild, raw edge. “Why are we standing here/Thinking things are fine/What are we waiting for/We’re just wasting time.” Ah, that’s what I think every time I’m standing in line, no matter what the line is for. It’s a good song, but I prefer the following track, “Hands Of The Working Man,” which was written by Tom Junior Morgan and Carla Olson. It has a bright 1980s pop vibe, with a cool bass line, but also a nice acoustic rhythm guitar and solid lyrics, like these lines which begin the song: “It used to be that a man could work an honest day/It used to be that a man could earn some decent pay/But now the wheels of progress are grinding to a halt/And everywhere you turn the people say it’s not my fault.” And I like Tom Junior Morgan’s work on saxophone.

“No Love In You” begins with a Rolling Stones-like guitar lick, and is a good, fairly straight rock tune, the kind you want to dance to outside in the summer sun. It was written by Michael Anderson. Then with “Number One Is To Survive” the band dips into country rock. This is one of the disc’s highlights, and features Ry Cooder on slide guitar. “Number One Is To Survive” was written by Carla Olson. Is it just me, or does Carla sound like Chrissie Hynde at the very beginning of “Midnight Mission”? She wrote that one with Barry Goldberg, who plays keyboards on the track. Don Henley provides backing vocals on this one.

My personal favorite on this CD is “Upset Me,” which was written by George Callins, who also provides vocals on this track. I love the drive and energy of this tune, and of course the saxophone is just perfect. I also really dig Carla’s lead guitar part. “I was over you/I thought we were through/Was I lying/I really want to know/Which way to go/Eighteen weeks since the thought of you upset me.”

“Clean Cut Kid” is another of the disc’s highlights. It’s a Bob Dylan song, though its first appearance on an album was here. Bob Dylan wouldn’t release his version until the following year, on Empire Burlesque. He let Carla have the song as a thank-you for appearing in his music video for “Sweetheart Like You.” This is a very cool rock tune with a bluesy edge and some great work on keys. That’s Barry Goldberg on keyboard. Ry Cooder plays slide guitar on this track. I love Carla’s vocals here.

Bonus Tracks

This special re-issue includes five bonus tracks. The first, “It’s Okay,” is one of my favorite tracks of this CD. It was written by George Callins, and has kind of a catchy vibe. “You know I’ll always be there for you.” “Just A Matter Of Time” is a fun pop tune, and I love the way Phil Seymour’s vocals work with Carla’s lead vocals. “It’s just a matter of time/Before we know if things will work out/It’s just a matter of time/We have to hope that things will work out.” The bonus tracks also include an alternate version of “Number One Is To Survive.” It has a more stripped down feel at the start, and when it kicks in, the groove feels more pronounced than in the other version. It’s a seriously good version.

The final two tracks are live recordings of two of the songs from this album, “Running” and “No Love In You.” These tracks were recorded at The Palace in Hollywood, and were previously unreleased. The sound quality isn’t perfect, but the performances are good.

CD Track List
  1. Standing In The Line
  2. Hands Of The Working Man
  3. No Love In You
  4. Running
  5. Number One Is To Survive
  6. Midnight Mission
  7. Upset Me
  8. Luck Don’t Last Forever
  9. Clean Cut Kid
  10. See The Light
  11. It’s Okay
  12. Just A Matter Of Time
  13. Number One Is To Survive (Alternate Version)
  14. Running (Live)
  15. No Love In You (Live) 
This special re-issue of Midnight Mission was released on May 26, 2015 through Omnivore Recordings.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Jamie Lin Wilson: “Holidays & Wedding Rings” (2015) CD Review

Jamie Lin Wilson is known for her work as a member of The Trishas, a band of four female singer/songwriters, all with gorgeous voices. I was turned on to The Trishas in 2012, and their High, Wide & Handsome  made it to my list of favorite CDs of that year. Then in 2014, band member Kelly Mickwee released her debut solo album, You Used To Live Here. Now, while the band is on a break, Jamie Lin Wilson has released her debut full-length solo album, Holidays & Wedding Rings. This CD features all original material, written or co-written by Jamie Wilson, with some really good lyrics. For example, check out these lines to “Just Some Things”: “Throw it all away for a kiss filled with regret/It’s like running for the edge and thinking you’ll fly/Knowing damn well that it’s suicide/And there ain’t no grey, only white and black/And there’s just some things you can’t take back.” It surprises me that people still – as someone did to me the other night – make blanket statements against country music. It’s clear that they haven’t heard discs like this one, which mixes country and folk. If you know somebody like that, let him or her hear this CD.

This CD opens with “Just Like Heartache,” a really good, upbeat country tune with an excellent chorus: “Oh, ain’t it just like heartache/To be something that you can’t shake/With just any old lover/Oh, I don’t want to be lonely/Do you think that you could hold me/Until the worst is over.” Wonderful, right? This song was written by Jamie Lin Wilson and Mike Ethan Messick. It’s followed by “She’ll Take Tonight,” a more relaxed song, with a cool vibe. This one is about a woman looking for love, and finding it any way she can. “She’s hoping for a kinder and a gentle man.” The lines that really strike me are: “She’ll believe you, because she needs to/Even if it’s all a lie/She’s hoping for tomorrow, but she’ll take tonight.” “She’ll Take Tonight” was written by Jamie Wilson and Dani Flowers.

One of my favorites is “Just Some Things.” This is one of the best songs about cheating – or the contemplation thereof – that I’ve ever heard. It’s performed as a duet with Wade Bowen, who wrote the song with Jamie Wilson, and told from the perspectives of a man and a woman who are about to be unfaithful with each other. It’s beautiful and sad and sweet. “Is it too late for me to change my mind/Because there’s just some things you can’t turn back.”

Another favorite is “Roses By The Dozen,” which Jamie Wilson wrote with Heather Morgan. I just love the overall feel of this song. It has a very cool, kind of twisted and haunting vibe. And like all of the tracks on this CD, it features some excellent lyrics. Here are the opening lines: “You thought you’d get the last word/But I got there first/And you don’t have much to say now, now, now, now.” And I love the idea of “pushing up roses by the dozen,” a play on the idea of pushing up daisies. This is such a good song.

I’m also really fond of “Seven Year Drought,” a song that Jamie Wilson wrote with Jon Dee Graham. Of course, living in Los Angeles these days, anything about a drought carries some weight. Check out these lines: “And we’re six years into a seven year drought/I won’t give in but I’m bound to give out/You can’t eat hope and you can’t drink doubt/Six years into a seven year drought.” But it’s Jamie Wilson’s work on harmonica that really helps to make this track a highlight.

Then Scott Davis’ work on banjo gives “Yours And Mine” a sweet, playful feel right from its start. This love song has such a great, positive vibe. And I dig the lap steel (which is also played by Scott Davis). “Here Tonight” is a truly pretty song that Jamie Wilson wrote with Owen Temple. “I don’t need your sympathy/But I’d sure like your company today/So just sit here and talk to me/Because I believe I have to go away.” It ends with these powerful lines: “Did you hear, at the end you see a light/Well, my dear, I can see it here tonight."

CD Track List
  1. Just Like Heartache
  2. She’ll Take Tonight
  3. You Left My Chair
  4. Just Some Things
  5. Moving Along
  6. Roses By The Dozen
  7. Seven Year Drought
  8. Yours And Mine
  9. Whisper On My Skin
  10. Nighttime Blues
  11. Here Tonight
  12. Old Oldsmobile

Joining Jamie Wilson on this album are Scott Davis on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, banjo, mandolin and lap steel; David Abeyta on electric guitar and 12-string guitar; Cody Foote on bass; John Ross Silva on drums and percussion; Wade Bowen on vocals; Courtney Patton on backing vocals; Emily Bell on backing vocals; John Evans on backing vocals; and Gordy Quist on backing vocals.

Holidays & Wedding Rings was released on May 19, 2015.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Tom Caufield: “Things I Heard While In The Womb” (2015) CD Review

Tom Caufield is a talented guitarist working in the instrumental realm. I hesitate to call this music ambient, for that word often leads people to believe something is dull, and this music certainly isn’t dull. Also, when you think of ambient music, you sometimes think of music that doesn’t really go anywhere. And that is also not the case with Things I Heard While In The Womb, Tom Caufield’s new release. In fact, quite the opposite is true. With these tracks, Tom Caufield seems to be exploring many areas, looking both inward and outward, playing with themes as well as improvising. The first time I listened to this CD, it was late at night, and it worked perfectly. But I’ve listened to it in the afternoon as well, and it’s interesting, because the music strikes me in a different manner during the day, still relaxing me but also giving me a strange, positive energy. I wonder if other people will have a similar experience.

“Waif Among The Reeds”

The first track, “Waif Among The Reeds,” is the CD’s longest, at nearly twenty-four minutes. It is mellow and relaxing, but early on has some short, surprising breaks from the acoustic guitar where electronic instruments briefly announce themselves, giving the tune a different feel, letting us know this won’t be just one musical theme repeated. The guitar is also backed by a simple drum beat, and there is some nice work on keys throughout the piece. But of course it is the guitar that is the focus, and there are plenty of interesting moments. The song has peaks and valleys, and one of my favorite sections is when it reaches a new plateau approximately six minutes in. It’s so pretty and uplifting. And around ten minutes in, the guitar-playing becomes more forceful, demanding your attention, and I really love that section as well. Then a few minutes later, it returns to that pretty section, but this time has even more power behind it, and it’s quite beautiful.

“Rubies On Fallen Leaves”

The longest track is followed by the CD’s shortest track, “Rubies On Fallen Leaves,” which is less than four minutes long, a mere breath in comparison. In fact, the first time I listened to this album, I nearly missed this one. This one feels like one of those perfect moments, when everything slows, and you can take in all the detail, seeing more and more, and nothing outside of it has any bearing on the moment. Where you almost disappear into what it is your seeing and experiencing, and there is a joy in it. And then it’s over, but a part of the moment remains with you, has changed you.

“Palace Of Broken Mirrors”

The CD concludes with “Palace Of Broken Mirrors,” a song which gently transports you to a time in the past, with gorgeous themes. This track makes good use of synth strings, and is actually my personal favorite on this disc. It’s also interesting that once the song has grounded us in a point in the past, it then changes, reminding us of the present with certain electric elements, before returning to the earlier theme. And this combination of different vibes works really well to take us out of ourselves and nearly out of time completely. It’s a really interesting and effective composition.

CD Track List
  1. Waif Among The Reeds
  2. Rubies On Fallen Leaves
  3. Palace Of Broken Mirrors 
Things I Heard While In The Womb was released on May 1, 2015 on Bohemian Embassy. And as I understand it, an expanded edition of this album has also been released, with four more tracks.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Chocolate Watchband: “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” (2015) CD Review

I’ve long been a fan of the late 1960s psychedelic music that was largely coming out of San Francisco. If I had a time machine, that is certainly one of the places and times I would visit. But as I don’t, I have to settle for all the recordings I can get my hands on. One of the bands in the San Francisco area at the time was The Chocolate Watchband, and though I’d seen that band’s name on several of those wonderful psychedelic posters, I actually hadn’t heard their music (apart from what they played in Riot On Sunset Strip). They put out a few records between 1966 and 1970, with lineup changes even within those few years, and then broke up. They then reformed in 1999, and have released a few more albums.

Their newest, I’m Not Like Everybody Else, is actually an interesting look back at some of their early material. It’s not a compilation, however. These are new recordings of some of the band’s best material. You might wonder why such a disc would be necessary. Well, on some of those early recordings, not all of the band members performed. Session musicians played on many of those recordings, even providing some of the vocals, which is crazy. So this is a chance for the band to provide tracks that are more in line with how they performed these songs live. The lineup for the band on these recordings includes David Aguilar, Bill Flores, Gary Andrijasevich and Tim Abbott, all of whom were in the band in the 1960s. Joining them is Alby Cozzette on guitar and backing vocals. What I love is that they really work to recreate the sound and vibes of the late 1960s, and the results are excellent. This album doesn’t have some kind of modern polish on it. This disc includes liner notes by Dave Thompson (and the CD packaging includes photos of four of those great psychedelic posters from back in the day).

The album kicks off with “Expo 2000,” the original recording of which, according to the CD liner notes, featured not a single member of the band. It was included on the band’s first full-length record, No Way Out. This is a cool, kind of trippy instrumental track with a little bit of a surf sound. It’s followed by “Gone And Passes By,” which was also originally included on No Way Out. Written by David Aguilar, this tune has a good Bo Diddley beat and an Indian flavor (Tim Abbott plays sitar), a really interesting combination. Add to this David’s cool work on harmonica, and you have a compelling track.

“Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love-In)” is a totally delicious late 1960s garage gem. It was originally released as a single and also included on No Way Out. In addition to Riot On Sunset Strip, The Chocolate Watchband appeared in the film The Love-Ins, and you can hear this song in the trailer for that film. It was written by Ethon McElroy and Don Bennett. “No Way Out,” written by Ed Cobb (who also wrote The Standells’ “Dirty Water” and Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”), was the other side of the single, and obviously was the title track to the band’s first album. It’s another great garage tune. Ed Cobb also wrote “Sweet Young Thing” (not to be confused with The Monkees song of the same name), which was released as a single, and “Inner Mystique,” the title track of their second full-length record, a mellow instrumental tune that concludes this CD.

The Chocolate Watchband does an interesting and good rendition of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” It’s not as beautiful or moving as, say, the Grateful Dead’s version when Jerry Garcia sang it, but it has a great energy, and I absolutely love the addition of flute. In this band’s hands it becomes a bit more of a rock tune, and it works really well. This is a song The Chocolate Watchband included on The Inner Mystique.

Another interesting track, and one of my favorites, is “Ain’t No Miracle Worker,” written by Annette Tucker and Nancie Mantz. There is something seriously catchy about this tune, and I completely love David Aguilar’s vocal performance. This is just a fantastic tune. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “But girl, I just can't offer/No storybook romance/’Cause if that's what you're looking for/We just don't stand a chance.”

I’m a big fan of The Kinks, and the song that gives this CD its title is a Kinks cover. “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” was written by Ray Davies, and was included on The Inner Mystique. The Chocolate Watchband does a really good job with it.

CD Track List
  1. Expo 2000
  2. Gone And Passes By
  3. Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love-In)
  4. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
  5. No Way Out
  6. Misty Lane
  7. I Ain’t No Miracle Worker
  8. Sitting There Standing
  9. Sweet Young Thing
  10. Don’t Need Your Loving
  11. I’m Not Like Everybody Else
  12. Let’s Talk About Girls
  13. The Inner Mystique 
I’m Not Like Everybody Else was released on May 26, 2015 on Purple Pyramid Records, a division of Cleopatra Records.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Frank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo: “Swing Zing!” (2015) CD Review

Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo are both incredibly talented guitarists who have recorded several albums together. On their newest, Swing Zing!, they do some excellent renditions of some of the most loved compositions of the 1920s through 1950s, including songs by Irving Berlin, Kurt Weill and Hoagy Carmichael. This is a completely delightful collection of tunes, featuring some fantastic playing. This CD also features some wonderful guest musicians, such as Olli Soikkeli, Julian Lage, Bucky Pizzarelli, Audra Mariel, Gary Mazzaroppi and Gene Bertoncini.

Swing Zing! opens with the wonderful standard “Cheek To Cheek,” written by Irving Berlin for the 1935 movie Top Hat. This is a seriously good and playful rendition, with a great swing, a perfect way to get this album off to the right start. It’s followed by “The Best Things In Life Are Free” (which is misprinted on the CD case as “The Best Things In Live Are Free,” but I imagine that will be corrected), a well-known song written by Ray Henderson (with lyrics by Buddy DeSylva and Lew Brown, though the version here is an instrumental). “The Best Things In Life Are Free” was used in the 1927 musical Good News, and later used in a 1956 film named after the song. The version on this CD has a joyous, bright sound which I love. Their rendition of “September Song” likewise has kind of a peppy spirit, which totally works. “September Song” was written by Kurt Weill, with lyrics by Maxwell Anderson (though again, this is an instrumental rendition).

The first version I ever heard of “Cry Me A River” was the rock version by Joe Cocker (from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen album), so I had something of a distorted idea of what the song was. “Cry Me A River” is a 1950s song written by Arthur Hamilton, and recorded by such folks as Julie London and Ella Fitzgerland, among others, before Joe Cocker released his rendition. The rendition by Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo is closer to Julie London’s take, being a slower, bluesy gem.

But one of my favorite tracks on this CD is “Joseph Joseph.” It is so much fun, so lively, so passionate – a total joy and delight to listen to. Guitarist Olli Soikkeli joins them on this track, helping to make this probably the best rendition I’ve ever heard of this song. It’s seriously impressive. Just sit back and enjoy.

Jazz vocalist Audra Mariel joins Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo on “All The Things You Are,” a song written by Jerome Kern, with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein III, and the only track on this CD to include vocals. Audra Mariel sometimes dips low and sounds sultry, making this track another highlight of the album. This track also features bass player Gary Mazzaroppi and guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli.

“Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans” is another favorite of mine. This version is so sweet and easy-going, and it moves you along on its gentle rhythm. “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans” was written by Louis Alter and Eddie DeLange, and sung by Billie Holiday in the 1940s. They also do a really nice rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust.” Whenever I hear this song, I think of that Leonard Cohen lyric, “So we're dancing close, the band is playing ‘Stardust.’”

One of the CD’s best tracks is the combination of Zequinha de Abreau’s “Tico Tico Nu Fuba” with Frank Vignola’s own “Djangomania.” Holy moly, this track features some seriously impressive playing, and just gets better and better. Guitar fans are going to go berserk over this track, in the best possible way. The album ends sweetly, with the pretty “Peg O’ My Heart” paired with “I’m Confessin.’”

CD Track List
  1. Cheek To Cheek
  2. The Best Things In Life Are Free
  3. September Song
  4. Cry Me A River
  5. Joseph Joseph
  6. I’m Getting Sentimental Over You
  7. All The Things You Are
  8. Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans
  9. Whispering
  10. Sleepy Time Gal
  11. Stardust
  12. Tico Tico/Djangomania
  13. Peg O’ My Heart/I’m Confessing Medley 
Swing Zing! was released on… Well, I’m not sure. The press sheet I received says it was released on June 5, 2015. Amazon lists April 1, 2015 as the release date. Frank Vignola’s official website lists March 3, 2015. So, who knows? CD Baby plays it safe, and simply lists 2015 as the release date. But anyway the point is the CD is available.

Frank Vignola has also recorded with David Grisman, and now I am anxious to get my hands on those CDs.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Norma MacDonald: “Burn The Tapes” (2015) CD Review

I first popped in Norma MacDonald’s new CD, Burn The Tapes, after a long day at work, with the intention of just listening to a song or two to get a feel for what she’s like, having never heard her solo work before. I knew Norma MacDonald only from her work with Bend The River (last year’s So Long Joan Fontaine is an excellent album, by the way). But I was immediately drawn in by her voice, by its warmth and beauty, and by the songs themselves. Burn The Tapes features original material, and she proves herself to be an incredibly talented songwriter as well as singer. I love these lines from “To Nebraska”: “It made you feel all right, it made you feel better/It made you feel someday instead of never.” “Before We Say Goodnight” is the only song whose lyrics she did not write (they were written by fellow Bend The River bandmate Ronok Sarkar). Norma MacDonald is joined on this album by Bend The River’s Adam Fine, Phil Sedore, and Matt Myer, and by several other talented musicians and singers, including Kim Harris, whose own Only The Mighty is another album that is definitely worth listening to. I feel like I’ve said this a lot lately, but fantastic music continues to come to us from Canada. Every track on this disc is strong, and I’d be surprised if this CD didn’t end up on my list of favorite albums of the year.

The CD opens with “Company,” a beautiful song. There is a bit of an ache in Norma's voice that you’ll feel yourself as she sings, “At the edge of the water, at the edge of the world/Thought I’d always be your small town city girl.” Adding to the emotional impact of this song is the fact that what she needs is so simple, so basic: “I sure do miss your company.” It’s so simply stated, that you end up feeling so much behind it. Dale Murray plays pedal steel on this track. Kim Harris and Gabrielle Papillon provide backing vocals.

“Company” is followed by “Blue As A Jay,” my personal favorite song on this disc, and one of the best songs I’ve heard so far this year. It opens sweetly, with Norma singing, “I’m never lost for something to say/I’m bold as a gull and blue as a jay.” Dan MacCormack plays banjo on this track, and it’s interesting how the banjo works with the percussion to create a compelling, almost haunting sound in those sections. This is a song that just completely owns me. I could listen to it all day. “And oh, can I take you home/Can I stay with you ‘til the morning/And why oh why does this feeling die/And these lonesome blue some a-callin’.” (By the way, you can also hear Dan MacCormack on banjo on So Long Joan Fontaine.)

As much as I love banjo, I’m even more of a sucker for cello, and “You Can’t Carry It Around” features Phil Sedore on cello. It also features some gorgeous backing vocals by Kim Harris and Gabrielle Papillon. And check out these lyrics: “Talking in a voice like an old cathedral bell/Waiting for a chance to pour your heart not made of stone/And you want to wear it like a jewel in your crown/And you want to shout from mountains all you’ve lost is found/But you can’t carry it around.” Wonderful, right? I also love the way the backing vocals work with Norma’s lead vocals on “Old Song,” particularly Gabe Minnikin’s vocals, on the line “It’s an old song you’ve been playing too long.” The results are so enjoyable. “Old Song” also provides this album with its title in the lines, “I’m not saying you should burn the tapes/I’m just saying let’s see what difference that it makes.”

Gabe Minnikin provides the second set of lead vocals on the duet, “Lighten Up,” a song that begins with some dark-sounding percussion. This one features some really good and interesting lyrics, Norma starting the song with these lines: “My heart is heavy like old books in a trunk/That I read back in high school/While my friends got drunk/Been dragging behind me since I was a kid/I should’ve left some behind me/Oh, but I never did.” And Gabe takes the second verse: “My heart is aching like that tooth I lost/After that misunderstanding/In the church parking lot/Oh, how I pushed it, how I worked it loose/But some things they hold rooted/And sometimes it’s no use.” This song grabs me every time, and is a highlight of the disc.

“Hard To Get Back” is another highlight, Norma's voice one of both innocence and experience. “Back in the day we used to say/You can’t stand still if it’s not in your bones/And we were right/And chased the lights/But I never thought it’d be so hard to get back home.” Phil Sedore plays accordion, and Dan MacCormack plays mandolin on this track.

CD Track List
  1. Company
  2. Blue As A Jay
  3. You Can’t Carry It Around
  4. Old Song
  5. Before We Say Goodnight
  6. Daysleeper
  7. Lighten Up
  8. Accidental Guest
  9. To Nebraska
  10. Hard To Get Back
Burn The Tapes was released on June 9, 2015. I can’t wait to hear more from Norma MacDonald. I need to get her other three CDs soon.