Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye, 2016

Well, 2016 has certainly been one hell of a crappy year. Donald Trump ran a campaign of brazen racism and misogyny, and that campaign allowed the shittiest Americans to have a loud political voice, to have their worst qualities validated. And somehow he won the electoral vote, though not the popular vote. As horrible as that is, it’s not the worst that 2016 had to offer. We lost Leonard Cohen, which is the most difficult cruel turn of the year to accept. We also lost David Bowie, Paul Kantner, Leon Russell, Prince, Merle Haggard, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Rob Wasserman, Dan Hicks, Ralph Stanley, Guy Clark, Maurice White, Buckwheat Zydeco, Signe Anderson, Andy “Thunderclap” Newman, Pete Burns, Glenn Frey, Billy Paul, Bobby Vee, Sharon Jones and George Michael.

And yet, it’s been an excellent year for music. We got new albums from long-time favorites Leonard Cohen, The Monkees, Bob Weir, and Dolly Parton. Plus, there were lots of great albums from other artists, like Yael Naim, Henry Wagons, Tommy Womack, Ronok Sarkar, Pansy Division, Lee Harvey Osmond (though that disc was released in Canada in 2015), Willie Nile, Town Mountain, James Houlahan, Nudie, The Honeycutters, Old Man Kelly, Marley’s Ghost, Elouise, Nina Diaz, Tim Hockenberry, Ted Russell Kamp, Samantha Farrell, Whalebone, Paul Kelly & Charlie Owen, and Lex Grey And The Urban Pioneers. We also got some great expanded re-issues from folks like The Blind Boys Of Alabama and The Muffs, as well as compilations by folks like Loudon Wainwright III, The Bangles and Porter Wagoner.

There were also plenty of live performances to make the year better. Both Bob Weir and Cat Stevens did tours of intimate venues, and those shows were certainly treats. Three of the four members of End Construction reunited for a house concert, which was fantastic. Both Henry Wagons and Yael Naim did some shows here in the U.S., and I’m hoping they’ll tour here more often. And Michael Nesmith joined the other two living Monkees for what might have been his final performance with the group. I also finally got to see The Mekons.

So there was plenty to keep us going, and that’s the stuff I suppose I should focus on. It’s just so difficult with that rat bastard Donald Trump and his hand-picked gang of racists, shitheads and assholes getting ready to tear apart anything that might be remotely useful or good about the country. See, there I go again. Is it going to be like that for four years? One pessimist I met at a recent Holland & Clark show said it will be like this for eight years. Holy hell! And that’s the thing – as screwed up as 2016 was, 2017 is bound to be worse. Happy fucking New Year.

Okay, okay. Before we get too morose and angry, I know for a fact that there are going to be a lot of great CDs released in the coming year. And as I mentioned recently, Holland & Clark will be going into the studio in the early spring. So let’s not give up hope. The music will pull us through.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Holland & Clark at Cheetahs Club, 12-17-16 Concert Review

Holland & Clark perform "Surf Rider"
Last night Holland & Clark returned to Cheetahs Club, a bikini bar on Hollywood Blvd., for another night of music and scantily clothed dancing girls. The place smells like sixty years of cigarette smoke covered by two days of disinfectant, and the atmosphere is a little odd, but I never pass up an opportunity to see this band. This was a night in which they performed under the name Daddy And The Ladies, the name they use when they focus on cover material. The night before at Mrs. Fish had been a mix, with the focus on original material. So this was a different venue, different crowd, different vibe, but the same great, positive feel to the music. And that, after all, is what it’s all about.

Before the show, the sound guy/DJ played Bob Marley, which got us all feeling pretty darn good.  Though when the first dancer took the stage, the music changed somewhat. The first dancer (I think her name is Chloe) was absolutely beautiful, and without any tattoos, which was a pleasant surprise, but her bikini top had fake flowers or something attached, which struck me as a tad silly. She had a great look – part sexy, part sweet, which made her seem friendly and approachable, which I find much more attractive than that distant, kind of bitchy demeanor. Though it was Saturday night, it was still early, and there wasn’t much of a crowd yet. I think the band and dancers outnumbered the patrons at that point. It got crowded later, but was never completely packed. Maybe that’s because it’s just before Christmas, and perhaps people think they should spend their money on their loved ones rather than throwing it in the direction of strange, sexy women on a stage. I don’t know. A lot of Los Angeles clears out at this time of year. The film and television industry has at least two weeks off, and everyone is eager to be somewhere else for that time – with family, friends, or just away for the sake of being away. Perhaps that too was responsible for the crowd being slightly smaller than the last time Holland & Clark played here. Who knows? One dancer stepped on the stage in a sexy fur vest, but she took it off before dancing. Oh well.

Holland & Clark took the stage at 10:02 p.m., and by then there was more of a crowd, and got the first set going at 10:05 with “I Found Fun.” Yes, they got things off to a good start. I love what Holland does with her voice on that song. After the song, the sound guy announced that the girls would be dancing during the band’s performance (maybe to reassure the regulars). Holland & Clark then did “Be My Baby,” the classic Ronettes song, with Bri Schaefer on lead vocals, and Holland on backing vocals and maracas. Bri also sang lead on “Spooky,” with Dana Wilson then taking over lead vocal duties for “Good Love, Bad Love.” It’s interesting that of the first four songs of the night, Holland sang lead on only one.

The sound guy called specific dancers up to the stage in the brief pauses between songs, which was a strange element to add to the show, like announcing Bingo numbers or something. After “Bad Things” (a tune with a great groove), he said, “Hot girls and a hot band.” No argument from me. Another thing perhaps worthy of note is that the dancers threw money at each other. Those bills really got around last night. By the way, the sound was decent, the only trouble being on “Fool Around.” When Holland played electric guitar for the first time of the night, her vocals ended up being a bit too low in the mix.

Later in the first set, Lee Beckley took over lead vocal duties for “Deeper And Deeper,” a seriously good song from Deep Throat Part II. Bri then sang “No Diggity,” and the band ended the first set with the new original Christmas song, “Santa’s Magic Trick.” The first set ended at 10:53 p.m.

After a forty-minute set break, Holland & Clark got the second set underway with the energetic “Down In Mexico,” with Dana Wilson on lead vocals. They then gave us a little Murdergram action with a couple of Misfits songs – “Vampira” and “Hollywood Babylon.” They followed that with a cool lounge rendition of “Baby Got Back.” Yes, seriously. It was a lot of fun. Lee then sang Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” a song that seems to speak louder these days. During that song, a dancer named Malice grabbed the pole by the band for a bit, but then did something that cracked me up. There was a guy seated right next to the dancer’s runway, and he was busy sending a text message, and not paying any attention to Malice. So she got down right in front of him, with her head just inches from his, and remained perfectly still until he noticed. Then she gave a surprised, goofy stare, which was wonderful. Holland & Clark then played a song specifically for her – Tom Waits’ “Alice,” but with the name changed to “Malice.”

Bri delivered a great vocal performance on the band’s cover of “Glory Box,” a highlight of the second set. During “Baby Be Mine,” the sound guy actually spoke over the song, even over Holland’s vocals. He was a really nice guy, and was very complimentary of the band, but he really needs to cut that shit out. Then during “Stuck” (one of the few originals of the night), that dancer in the fur vest returned to the stage and left the fur on for a bit while dancing, which I appreciated. Holland & Clark wrapped up the night with a cover of “After Dark,” with Dana on lead vocals. The show ended at 12:30 a.m.

Set List

Set I
  1. I Found Fun
  2. Be My Baby
  3. Spooky
  4. Good Love, Bad Love
  5. Rock With You
  6. Bad Things
  7. Fool Around
  8. The Rumble
  9. As Long As I’ve Got You
  10. I Only Have Eyes For You
  11. Deeper And Deeper
  12. No Diggity
  13. Santa’s Magic Trick
Set II
  1. Down In Mexico
  2. Vampira
  3. Hollywood Babylon
  4. Baby Got Back
  5. Let’s Go Crazy
  6. Alice
  7. Addicted To Love
  8. Glory Box
  9. Surf Rider
  10. Baby Be Mine
  11. Stuck
  12. There Is An End
  13. After Dark
Here are a few photos from the show:

"I Found Fun"
"Be My Baby"
"Rock With You"
"Deeper And Deeper"
"Deeper And Deeper"
"Santa's Magic Trick"

Cheetahs Club is located at 4600 Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Holland & Clark at Mrs. Fish, 12-16-16 Concert Review

Holland & Clark performing "As Long As I've Got You"
With all the craziness and horror in the world these days, we are going to need good music more than ever. Seeing Holland & Clark reminds me that the world is actually not a bad place, that there are plenty of good people, that there is plenty of beauty. Last night they played at a venue called Mrs. Fish in downtown Los Angeles. It was not exactly a listening room, and with the band’s volume fairly low I did wonder if those not in the immediate vicinity of the stage could hear the music at all. But everyone I spoke with there – both patrons and staff – was incredibly kind, and the place had a great vibe. And I managed to grab a spot right in front (though the couches in the front had been reserved).

Holland & Clark did two sets, delivering a mix of original material and covers. They opened the show with a cover of “I Only Have Eyes For You,” that classic tune The Flamingos recorded in 1959. Holland Greco was on keys for this one. They then got into the original material, beginning with the cool “What Is Dark” and following it with “100 Proof,” a song that Holland has been performing for quite a while now. For that one she switched to the electric ukulele. I always love hearing that one, and she followed it with another favorite, “Bedford Stuyvesant,” on which she also played the ukulele. 

Happy Friday night,” Holland said, before then going into the fun “Guilty Pleasure Zone.” Then, after a cover of The Charmels’ “As Long As I’ve Got You,” Holland grabbed her electric guitar for “Solace,” a nice, mellow tune that just feels so damn good. I loved that one the first time I heard it, and appreciate it even more now. The first set also included “Fool Around,” with a great old-time groove, and “Speedway,” another of Holland’s excellent early tunes. They ended the set with Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You.” (And in the second set they covered his “Baby Be Mine.”) The first set ended at 11:14 p.m.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, what with a name like Mrs. Fish, yes, this venue has a large aquarium. There are different levels to this place, and the fish tank is in the upper level (but visible from below), and it is home to some brightly colored, beautiful and quite active fish. The venue was fairly crowded. Downtown L.A. has clearly become a more lively and vibrant place than it was in years past, though the streets are still populated by assorted lunatics, junkies, dipshits and beggars. What do those folks make of all the clubs, bars and lofts that have sprung up in their domain in recent years?

Right at midnight, band members started returning to the stage, and at 12:05 they kicked off the second set with “Stuck,” another gem from early in Holland’s solo career. I love the bass line that Erika Takagi plays on this tune, really giving the song a different life. After “Only Up From Here,” Holland said, “So I wrote a Christmas song.” And though the song has been available online for several days, last night saw the debut concert performance of “Santa’s Magic Trick,” a fun song with a classic rock and roll holiday vibe. Certainly one I will be adding to my Christmas play list. “Let me tell you about a guy I know/He lives way out in the North Pole/He’s the sweet and generous type/Kind of makes you want to wait up all night.”

Later in the set, backing vocalist Dana Wilson stepped to the front of the stage to take over lead vocal duties on a cover of “Addicted To Love.” I have started to appreciate this song more now that Holland & Clark are performing it. She also sang lead on a delightful cover of The Coasters’ “Down In Mexico,” while Bri Schaefer sang lead on a cool rendition of Classics IV’s “Spooky,” changing the gender to “a spooky little boy like you.”

The second set also included “Flashback,” and it was a great, groovy version thanks in large part to Clark’s work on guitar. They ended the second set with the hauntingly gorgeous “Spirit.” The second set ended at 12:56 a.m. There was no encore. By the way, here is some great news for music fans: Holland & Clark are planning on going into the studio in March to record a new album. That will help get us through these screwed up times. And in the more immediate future, Holland & Clark are actually playing a show tonight at Cheetahs Club.

Set List

Set I
  1. I Only Have Eyes For You
  2. What Is Dark
  3. 100 Proof
  4. Bedford Stuyvesant
  5. Guilty Pleasure Zone
  6. As Long As I’ve Got You
  7. Solace
  8. The Flight
  9. The Rumble
  10. Fool Around
  11. Be Good To Me
  12. Speedway
  13. Rock With You
Set II
  1. Stuck
  2. Only Up From Here
  3. Santa’s Magic Trick
  4. We Can Still Get It On
  5. Baby Be Mine
  6. I Found Fun
  7. Addicted To Love
  8. Flashback
  9. Freak Flag
  10. Down In Mexico
  11. Spooky
  12. Spirit
Here are a few photos from the show:

"I Only Have Eyes For You"
"I Only Have Eyes For You"
"The Rumble"
"I Found Fun"
"Freak Flag"
"Down In Mexico"
"Down In Mexico"
Mrs. Fish is located at 448 S. Hill St. in Los Angeles.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Rev. Billy C. Wirtz: “Full Circle” (2016) CD Review

There are quite a few holy men out there giving the faithful a daily dose of the good word  – Reverend Horton Heat, Reverend Peyton, Reverend Freakchild, and Reverend Billy C. Wirtz among them. Full Circle, the new CD from Rev. Billy C. Wirtz, provides us with an energetic sense of fun that we desperately need these days, a reminder that we ought not take ourselves too seriously. If you feel down, or left behind, I highly recommend putting on this disc. Plus, I read somewhere that you’re guaranteed a nice apartment in the afterworld if you listen to Rev. Billy C. Wirtz. This album is a combination of studio tracks and live numbers, original material and covers, and features the members of The Nighthawks backing the good reverend. Also joining him on certain tracks are Bob Driver on guitar and vocals, Steve Riggs on bass and backing vocals, and Ronnie Owens on harmonica and backing vocals.

Reverend Billy C. Wirtz kicks off the album with “Too Old,” great bar music, stuff to get you moving, shouting, drinking, laughing. This song features some good work on harmonica. “You know, I may not know Jack, but I’ve had my fun with Jill/Climbed every mountain, just another hill/Too young to be a legend, too old to be the news.” Yes, another song about aging. There seems to be a lot of them these days, or perhaps I’m just paying more attention to them. That’s followed by a delicious, fun old time bluesy rock and roll instrumental tune titled “Smokie Part 2,” originally done by Bill Black’s Combo. I love that piano. He also delivers a groovy cover of “Your Last Goodbye,” an instrumental by pianist Floyd Cramer. Also on this disc he covers Charlie Rich’s “Breakup,” a song from Charlie’s 1960 debut LP, Lonely Weekends.

“Mama was a deadhead” is a song that was included on the reverend’s 1994 release, Pianist Envy, which happened to be the first CD of his I ever heard. At the time I was a DJ at KWVA, and a big Grateful Dead fan, and so when that CD came in, I had to give it a listen. I dug it, particularly this song, which made me laugh, and actually I thought I took that disc home with me. But I just now spent close to an hour searching through my CDs and I can’t find it. What the fuck? I blame Donald Trump. Well, Reverend Billy revisits the song on this album, though at the beginning he says about the song, “And for whatever reason I never got it on a record before.” Wait, did he forget about the other album? Or have I gone mad? It’s hard to tell. Anyway, the song is filled with references to specific Dead tunes, like “Casey Jones,” “Dark Star,” “Sugaree,” “Morning Dew” and “Turn On Your Lovelight.” Clearly, Billy knows a thing or two about the band, for he sings, “I had the Jerry Garcia activities book that said, ‘Color all the T-shirts black.’” This is a live track. Also recorded in front of an audience is “Daddy Passed Away,” and at the beginning he tells the story of how the song came about, a woman telling him, “Yeah, Daddy passed away and my stepmother ran off with her favorite girlfriend.” This track includes a false start.

In “Who Dat? (The Rev’s Theme),” Reverend Billy C. Wirtz occasionally sings about himself in the third person. But don’t worry, God gave him the okay to do that. He follows that with “I’m A Senior,” another song about being old. It makes me laugh every time, as he shouts the lyrics since, you know, he’s a senior, opening it with these lines: “I don’t hear her voice when she calls me dear/I’m not mad, I just can’t hear.” Other lines that make me laugh include “Why oh why do I have to pee every time that I sneeze” and “I got a red pill to help me when I can’t poop/A blue one to help me when I go droop.” He ends it with the line “We’re all seniors.” Yup, getting that way, isn’t it?

His rendition of Stick McGhee’s “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” (here titled “Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee”) is a whole hell of a lot of fun, and should you get you dancing and feeling good, even if – God forbid – you’re sober. I expect we’ll all be drinking to excess in order to get through the next four years of bullshit and horror. This track is actually one of my favorites. He follows it with another fun one, “Mennonite Surf Party,” the title of which alone is enough to make me laugh. There is more great stuff on keys. And check out that harmonica work by Mark Wenner. “A Mennonite girl got a fine set of lungs/Roll me on the floor, you make me talk in tongues.”

And don’t worry, before the end of the album, we get a good sermon in “The Hand Of The Almighty,” a song written by John R. Butler. “Well, sinner do not stray/From the straight and narrow way/You know that the almighty’s watching you/When you see the devil’s den/Turn around and don’t go in/Lest the hand of the almighty falls on you/He’ll fuck you up/Yeah, God will fuck you up/If you dare to disobey his strict commands.” Consider yourselves warned, sinners!

CD Track List
  1. Too Old
  2. Smokie Part 2
  3. One Point Five
  4. Mama Was A Deadhead
  5. Rockin’ Up To Gloryland
  6. Your Last Goodbye
  7. Daddy Passed Away
  8. Breakup
  9. Who Dat? (The Rev’s Theme)
  10. I’m A Senior
  11. Daddy Was A Sensitive Man
  12. Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee
  13. Mennonite Surf Party
  14. The Hand Of The Almighty
  15. Reprise (Smokie Part 2.5)
Full Circle was released on September 16, 2016 (or perhaps on October 21, 2016, according to the press sheet) on EllerSoul Records.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Michika Fukumori: “Quality Time” (2016) CD Review

I first listened to jazz pianist Michika Fukumori’s new album, Quality Time, several months ago, and loved it. It was exactly what I needed. Then for some reason I set it aside, and just now came back to it. And again it is exactly what I need. Things are going sideways out there, folks, as I am sure you are well aware. Just today some twit on Twitter said he reported me to Secret Service because of a comment I made about Donald Trump, so yes, U.S. citizens are turning into eager little Nazis already. I hope those Secret Service guys enjoy reading my music reviews. Anyway, I feel very strongly that it is music that is going to carry us through the upcoming quagmire. And Michika Fukumori’s CD seems just the thing to get me through the night. Nothing like some good relaxing piano jazz to make us feel human again, eh? Here she delivers some beautiful renditions of familiar tunes, as well as treating us to some original material. Joining her are Aidan O’Donnell on bass and Billy Drummond on drums.

Michika Fukumori begins the album by covering a couple of well-known composers: Jule Styne and Antonio Carlos Jobim. And what a great and surefire way to improve anyone’s mood. Jule Styne’s “Make Someone Happy” will work every time. As the lyrics tell us, “Love is the answer/Someone to love is the answer.” You get that message clearly in this instrumental rendition too. Plus, there is a good lead section on bass. Then her rendition of Jobim’s “Someone To Light Up My Life” has a certain sweet joy. It sounds in this version that the person has found that special someone and is no longer questioning where he or she will be found.

Michika Fukumori then gets into her original material, beginning with “The Story I Want To Tell You,” which has a light and friendly touch, a warmth, particularly in her work on the piano. Aidan O’Donnell provides another good lead on bass. That’s followed by “Luz,” which is one of my personal favorites. It is beautiful, tender, thoughtful and gentle. At times, this music is like a caress, so light as to not wake us if we do drift off into sleep, music that will watch over us, keep us safe.

The pace then picks up with a version of Steve Kuhn’s “Looking Back,” a tune that was the title track of the Steven Kuhn Trio’s 1991 release. By the way, Steve Kuhn, a well-known jazz pianist himself, produced this album. This track features some great playing by Billy Drummond, including brief drum solos. Michika then returns to two more original compositions, including “Quality Time,” the disc’s title track, which features a nice bass solo. “Cat Walk” is a very cool, playful tune, with even something sexy in its bass line. This is another personal favorite.

“Cat Walk” is followed by Duke Ellington’s “Solitude,” a song that has been covered by a lot of folks over the years and somehow always manages to be effective. Another of the disc’s highlights is Michika’s rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s “Lucky To Be Me,” a song from the musical On The Town. This track has a wonderful, positive vibe, something we can use more and more of these days. I love the honest joy of her playing. Michika Fukumori concludes the CD with a lively, delightful version of “That’s All,” a tune written by Alan Brandt and Bob Haymes, and famously recorded by Nat King Cole.

CD Track List
  1. Make Someone Happy
  2. Someone To Light Up My Life
  3. The Story I Want To Tell You
  4. Luz
  5. Looking Back
  6. Quality Time
  7. Cat Walk
  8. Solitude
  9. Velas
  10. Lucky To Be Me
  11. Somewhere
  12. That’s All
Quality Time was released on June 3, 2016 on Summit Records.

Joe Policastro Trio: “Pops” (2016) CD Review

Joe Policastro Trio is based in Chicago, where the group has a residency at Pops For Champagne. The newest CD from the trio is titled Pops, a title which is partly in celebration of that venue, and also a succinct description of the type of music the band performs here, which includes covers of tunes by Stevie Wonder, Prince, Bee Gees and The Cars. Recorded in January of 2016 in Chicago (though not at that venue), this disc contains jazz instrumental renditions of familiar pop and rock songs. But these aren’t the type of jazz covers where the original songs that you love all but disappear in the interpretations. They are very present. Joe Policastro Trio is composed of Joe Policastro on bass, Dave Miller on guitar and Mikel Avery on drums. Joining them for certain tracks on this release are Andy Pratt on guitar and Andy Brown on guitar.

The CD opens with “Wives And Lovers,” written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. This rendition has a strong rhythm. In the CD’s liner notes Joe Policastro mentions the song has questionable lyrics. Well, this version does away with the vocals, so you’re just left with a good groove. There is even a cool section where the bass takes the lead. By the way, here is a taste of the lyrics (see if you think them questionable): “I'm warning you/Day after day, there are girls at the office/And men will always be men/Don't send him off with your hair still in curlers/You may not see him again/For wives should always be lovers too.” Wow.

“Harvest Moon” is a very pretty, comforting Neil Young song, and these guys do a great job with it. This track is making me feel better after I made the mistake of reading more about the current political landscape. I have to remember not to do that, and to rely on the music to see me through these dark times. This tune certainly does the trick. Joe Policastro provides a lead on bass a little more than halfway through. That’s followed by Stevie Wonder’s “Creepin’,” a song that the Tony Kadleck Big Band also covered on 2014’s Around The Horn album. This version by Joe Policastro Trio gets really fun and funky toward the end.

I love The Pixies’ “Wave Of Mutilation,” and I’ve always preferred the “U.K. Surf” version heard in the film Pump Up The Volume. That is the version that this trio takes its inspiration from for their rendition, and they do a fantastic job with it. At times it’s meditative, and at other times grooving. Andy Pratt joins them on guitar for this one. (Hey, am I mad, or does the guitar do just a bit of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town?” Listen at 2:50-2:52 and 3:01-3:05 and let me know what you think.) This is one of my favorite tracks. They follow that by dipping into disco with a cover of Bee Gees’ “More Than A Woman,” featuring some cool stuff on percussion. Andy Brown joins them on guitar for this track.

At the center of this album are two Prince songs: “Condition Of The Heart” and “Diamonds And Pearls.” “Condition Of The Heart” is a song from Prince’s 1985 record Around The World In A Day (the album that also contains “Raspberry Beret”). I love Joe’s lead on bass. “Condition Of The Heart” leads right into “Diamonds And Pearls,” the title track from Prince’s 1991 album. This version begins with a bass solo and becomes a seriously damn good jam, and is another of this disc’s highlights. I love this track. Joe Policastro Trio follows that with “Me And Mrs. Jones,” a song by Billy Paul, who, like Prince, left this world in 2016. (We lost a lot of great musicians and songwriters this year.) Andy Brown plays guitar on this track.

Joe Policastro Trio ends this release with a cover of The Cars’ “Drive,” which is an interesting choice.  I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a jazz cover of this song. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve heard this song at all since the 1980s. We were all fans of The Cars back then, and this song was a big hit for them in 1984. I might have to dig out my old cassette of Heartbeat City. This song always struck as me as incredibly sad, because the questions aren’t answered. Sometimes when I’d listen to it, I felt like the singer is offering to be the answer, to be the one to drive her home, and sometimes I felt there just was no answer, that we’re all alone. Andy Pratt joins Joe Policastro Trio on guitar on this track.

CD Track List
  1. Wives And Lovers
  2. Harvest Moon
  3. Creepin’
  4. Wave Of Mutilation
  5. More Than A Woman
  6. Condition Of The Heart
  7. Diamonds And Pearls
  8. Me And Mrs. Jones
  9. Us And Them
  10. Take It With Me
  11. Drive
Pops was released on June 27, 2016 on JeruJazz Records.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

AJ Hobbs: “Too Much Is Never Enough” (2017) CD Review

Ted Russell Kamp sure has his hand in a lot of great music these days. I’m not sure just how many bands I’ve seen him play with, or how many CDs he’s appeared on, but I’ve learned to pay attention to any project he’s a part of. He not only plays bass on AJ Hobbs’ new release, Too Much Is Never Enough, but also co-produced the album. Too Much Is Never Enough is AJ Hobbs’ first full-length release, following two EPs (one of which was released under the name Cal King). This album features some honest, shit-kicking country tunes driven by guitar and vocals. In addition to Ted Russell Kamp, Hobbs is backed by Storm Rhode IV on guitar, Jeremy Long on guitar and pedal steel, John Schreffler Jr. on pedal steel, Aubrey Richmond on fiddle, Brian Whelan on keys, Matt Lesser on drums and Jim Doyle on drums. Makeda Francisco, Oya Thomas and Kitten Kuroi provide backing vocals. At least some of those names are likely familiar to you. Makeda Francisco, for example, sang on Mavis Staples’ One True Vine album. Kitten Kuroi sang with Elvis Costello. John Schreffler, Jr. plays pedal steel and electric guitar on the Lasers Lasers Birmingham EP Royal Blue. Aubrey Richmond plays fiddle on CDs by Funkyjenn, Kelly’s Lot and Michael-Ann. Anyway, you get the idea. These are all accomplished musicians and singers, and they all seem to be having a great time with these tracks. Most of the songs here are originals, written or co-written by AJ Hobbs.

Too Much Is Never Enough opens with its title track, a good country rock tune about a musician’s troubles with alcohol, with lyrics that mention Johnny Paycheck and his song “Fifteen Beers.” “And was I singing like Johnny Paycheck, or just drinking his fifteen beers/My memory’s a little rough/I should just lay off the stuff/Because one is too much, and too much is never enough.” AJ Hobbs himself has had his own battles with the bottle, and certainly gets a good part of his inspiration for this song from those troubles. “Life Without You” features some really good lyrics, such as these lines: “When I call you from Nashville/It won’t be ‘cause I miss you/It will be ‘cause I’m feeling alone.” And those are followed by another line I love: “You can call me crazy, but girl, what’s the use?” And yet this song is a love song, of sorts. He even speaks of marriage with the woman in question. “But it ain’t worth a damn living life without you.” There is also a delightful little jam featuring some great work on guitar in the song’s second half.

The album’s first cover is Merle Haggard’s “The Bottle Let Me Down,” a song from his 1966 record Swinging Doors. “Tonight the bottle let me down/And let your memory come around.” Ah, it’s so sad when alcohol doesn’t do its job. But boy, this is a great rendition. The CD’s other cover is actually a song by Ted Russell Kamp, “A Whole Lot Of You And Me,” an excellent tune which was included on his Night Owl album as well as on The Low And Lonesome Sound. This country version works quite well, and of course Kamp is on bass. “A little bit of you is all that I’m looking for.”

I absolutely love the backing vocals on “Shit Just Got Real.” For me, they really make that song, adding a delicious touch of soul to this country rock number. There is also some good stuff on keys and pedal steel. “And we were supposed to see your mama/But I can’t make it now/Don’t your mama hate me anyhow?” By the way, “Shit Just Got Real” is a song that AJ Hobbs had previously included on his Cal King EP, where it was the title track. And on “Take It Slow,” Dominique Pruitt joins AJ Hobbs on vocals. Pruitt, a sexy redhead with a distinct and delightful voice, also co-wrote the song. This one is whole lot of fun. “The quicker we get out of here, the slower we can go.” Oh yes!

Another favorite is the disc’s closing track, “Tomorrow I’ll Be Hurtin’,” a relaxed and thoughtful country song about being a traveling musician. “I’ll play you every song I know, and then I’ll play them all again/I think I’ve seen this place before, but I can’t remember when/It’s all sinking in, I can’t turn back now/Shaking hands and paying the band, and getting by somehow.”

CD Track List
  1. Too Much Is Never Enough
  2. Life Without You
  3. The Loser
  4. The Bottle Let Me Down
  5. Daddy Loved The Lord
  6. Eastside
  7. Shit Just Got Real
  8. Are You Going To Tennessee?
  9. A Whole Lot Of You And Me
  10. Take It Slow
  11. Waylon & Merle
  12. Tomorrow I’ll Be Hurtin’
Too Much Is Never Enough is scheduled to be released on February 17, 2017 on Booker Records.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Richard Palmer-James: “Takeaway” (2016) CD Review

Richard Palmer-James was a founding member of Supertramp and also a songwriter for King Crimson, co-writing songs for three of the band’s 1970s studio releases. In 1998, he released a compilation album with King Crimson’s John Wetton titled Monkey Business 1972-1997. But until this year he had not released a solo album. Why such a long wait? I don’t know, especially as the CD, titled Takeaway, is really quite good and original, with some excellent lyrics. Richard Palmer-James provides the lead vocals, and plays acoustic guitar, electric guitar, slide guitar and mandolin. Joining him on this release are Evert Van Der Wal on drums, guitar, and bass; Alex Klier on bass; Theo Degler on piano and accordion; and Peter Bischof and Friederike Sipp on backing vocals. All of the tracks are originals. Richard Palmer-James is currently based in Munich, where he’s lived since the 1970s, and apparently plays regularly in that area. I hope this debut solo CD will soon be followed by more and perhaps also by some touring of the states.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first popped this disc into my player, but the opening track, “Aerodrome,” is a quirky, mellow pop song that won me over fairly quickly. Check out these opening lines: “So this is where you spend your nights/In a crowded dream/Entertained by sound and lights/And a drum machine.” And the chorus is oddly catchy, and is what cemented my appreciation for this song. You’ll know what I mean when you hear it. “This used to be an aerodrome/There used to be planes here/They used to fly.” That’s followed by “A Very Bad Girl,” which is more of a rock tune with a good groove. “The last thing the world needs now is another bad girl.” Well, that depends on which way she’s bad, I suppose. This song has a sense of humor which I appreciate. “Well, I’ve been saving my money/And I’ve been hoarding my pay/No sense waiting for Christmas/I just might throw it away/On a very bad deal, for a very bad girl/Enough is never enough for a very bad girl.” This song ended up being one of my favorites.

Then “Baker’s Dozen” has kind of a pretty vibe. As I already mentioned, these songs feature some really good lyrics. I love this line, which stood out for me the first time I listened to this disc: “And if there was a lesson learned, you sure don’t let it show.” “Dance For Me” has a cool, bluesy sound on guitar, mixed with some pop and country elements to become a catchy, delightful number. “I’m gonna sell my radio/Gonna turn off my TV/I’m gonna hide from the world outside/Before it shoots at me – they’re shooting at me.”

I really like these lines from “Highway Code”: “She says, the help I need ain’t the same as the help I’m owed/But this life I lead took a turn down a dark side-road/If you go down there, better swallow the truth you’re told, babe.” Not bad, eh? “Doing Time” then begins like a folk song sounding about ready to explode, with a great rhythm. “You do time for your money/And time for the air you breathe/For this world is your prison/Ain’t nothin’ you’ll take with you when you leave.”

One of my favorites from this album is “Guano Blues.” It is a bluesy pop gem with a good groove. Something about that groove and Richard Palmer-James’ vocal approach here remind me just a bit of Marc Bolan from T. Rex. And check out these lines: “I got the feeling you’re gone/Although your perfume in the cushion on the sofa lingers on/Like a beautiful song/I wonder, baby, where the hell did I go wrong?/Please let me know if it was something I said/Or was it something you heard?” Also, the song’s title makes me laugh.

From “So We Meet Again,” one line that stands out for me is “My good intentions leave when you walk in.” I also like these lines: “Just another chance encounter in the company of ghosts/And another road to reason we have closed.” Did I mention this CD boasts some excellent lyrics? The album then concludes with its title track, “Takeaway,” the disc’s only song to have been co-written by Richard Palmer-James with Evert Van Der Wal (Palmer-James wrote the lyrics, Van Der Wal wrote the music). “No one could touch you underneath your sorrow/Or judge the life within.” This song has a friendly warmth. “I’ll wrap you tight and warm/And hold the world at bay/And in another life/I’ll take you far away.”

CD Track List
  1. Aerodrome
  2. A Very Bad Girl
  3. Baker’s Dozen
  4. Chances Passing
  5. Dance For Me
  6. Half Remembered Summer
  7. Honest Jim
  8. Highway Code
  9. Doing Time
  10. Guano Blues
  11. Saving You From Drowning
  12. So We Meet Again
  13. Takeaway 
Takeaway was released on October 14, 2016.

Brigitte DeMeyer and Will Kimbrough: “Mockingbird Soul” (2017) CD Review

Both Brigitte DeMeyer and Will Kimbrough have been writing, performing and recording for years, and have collaborated on albums like Brigitte DeMeyer’s 2014 release Savannah Road. But until now they haven’t released an album as an official duo. That will change in late January with the release of Mockingbird Soul, a wonderful album featuring mostly original tracks written by DeMeyer and Kimbrough together. Brigitte DeMeyer plays ukulele, and Will Kimbrough is on guitar and harmonica. They are joined by Chris Donohue on upright bass, and by a few guest musicians on certain tracks. The focus, however, is on their songwriting and their vocals, with some delicious harmonies.

They open this album with “Everything,” a song with a sweet, comforting vibe and a great blending of vocals. “Come another summer, yeah, you may be gone/But I’ll be coming for you if you’re gone too long/All you are to me is everything.” Don’t we all want to hear someone say that to us? I really like this track, which features Jano Rix on percussion. Then “Broken Fences” has a bit of a heavier vibe, with some really nice guitar work. Will Kimbrough sings lead on this one. “Make me rich if rich means free.”

Brigitte DeMeyer takes lead vocal duties on “The Juke,” a tune with a good groove and a cool, bluesy back porch feel, with Will Kimbrough providing great touches on harmonica. This track has an excellent energy too that helps to make it one of the disc’s highlights. I just love this track more and more as it goes on. Jano Rix joins them on this track. “Turn down your sorrow and turn up the juke.”

“Mockingbird Soul,” the CD’s title track, is a loose, kind of sparse, but very cool bluesy tune with an impressive vocal performance by Brigitte DeMeyer and some nice work by Chris Donohue on bass. “Rainy Day” too has a sparse instrumentation, letting the vocals really take focus. On this tune, Chris Wood plays upright bass, and the instrument has a special prominence. Great stuff.

Another favorite is “I Can Your Voice,” in which they sing, “I can hear your voice in everything/Everything/I’d give anything to hold you close/Right now.” This song is both sweet and heartbreaking, about an aging parent. Maybe it’s because we’re all feeling a bit fragile these days, but this song had me in tears. “I still need you, but you’re leaving.” And yet it expresses a positive outlook about the future. They follow that with a more playful number, the delightful “Honey Bee,” with Brigitte singing, “Yes, I could be your little honey bee/I’d go on buzzing up around your tree/Sit on your shoulder, but I would not sting/I’d be as gentle as a hurricane/If I could be your little honey bee.”

“Until Then” begins somewhat delicately with just Brigitte’s voice and ukulele. “Until then, I’ll see you in my dreams.” And when Will Kimbrough comes in on guitar and vocals, the song has something of the feel of a lullaby. The album then concludes with its only cover, a rendition of The Incredible String Band’s “October Song,” a song from that band’s self-titled 1966 debut album. Brigitte and Will begin it with a nice instrumental section.

CD Track List
  1. Everything
  2. Broken Fences
  3. The Juke
  4. Running Round
  5. Mockingbird Soul
  6. Rainy Day
  7. Little Easy
  8. I Can Hear Your Voice
  9. Honey Bee
  10. Carpet Bagger’s Lullaby
  11. Until Then
  12. October Song
Mockingbird Soul is scheduled to be released on January 27, 2017.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Thomas Dolby: The Speed Of Sound (2016) Book Review

It is likely that a good number of people still know Thomas Dolby primarily for his hits “She Blinded Me With Science” and “Hyperactive!” But a few years ago he released A Map Of The Floating City, which featured some of the best music he’d ever recorded, and was one of my favorite CDs of 2011. And, it turns out, he’s been involved in a great deal of other work over the years, much of which is detailed in his new book, The Speed Of Sound: Breaking The Barriers Between Music And Technology.

The book is divided into two main parts, the first dealing with his early career in music, the second with his foray into the business of technology, including cellphone ringtones. I was initially more interested in reading about the first subject, but found, to my surprise, that the second was equally intriguing. He basically tells his tale chronologically, and there are plenty of anecdotes to engage any music fan, including moments where he himself is the fan, such as working his way into an Elvis Costello gig. And of course he tells that now-famous anecdote of finding a synthesizer in the dumpster, which really led to his start in music. He talks about his early bands, like Bruce Woolley And The Camera Club, a band that actually recorded the first version of “Video Killed The Radio Star.” (The Buggles’ version became the hit.) One of the craziest stories was about being ripped off after recording what was to be his first solo single and ending up as a street musician asking for change in Paris for a while.

Thomas Dolby takes us behind the scenes of the music industry, letting us learn, just as he learned, what might cause a single to stall at a certain point or drop off the charts entirely. And because he’s a tech guy, he’s specific about the various pieces of equipment he used at different stages of his musical development, which I find fascinating. Also fascinating is the material on the specifics of how an appearance on Top Of The Pops is conducted. And for those who are mostly interested in “She Blinded Me With Science,” you won’t be disappointed. He offers some interesting tidbits about that song, like how he had the story idea for the music video before he’d written the actual song.

He’s worked with some interesting folks over the years, including David Bowie and Jerry Garcia. I had no idea that Thomas Dolby was a Grateful Dead fan. It still seems strange to me, but Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir actually worked on one of his songs. As a Dead fan myself, I am particularly intrigued by this portion of the book. I don’t have that album, but now am determined to get myself a copy of Astronauts & Heretics.

The second part of the book deals with his work with technology and business, including video game scoring, which requires a non-linear approach to music. And don’t worry, you don’t have to be a tech person to enjoy this section. I’m not a tech person at all. In fact, technology and I rarely get along. Sure, there were a few terms that I wasn’t familiar with, but this section is a fairly easy and interesting read. He also goes into the stresses of running a business, and all of this is really a long, winding journey back to music.

He does give a bit of information about A Map Of The Floating City at the end, but I wish he’d included a lot more about this excellent album. That part felt a bit rushed and incomplete. One other small thing that I found irritating is his use of “effing” in the line “It could only play one note at a time and had a single oscillator and filter, but cranked up through a beaten-up Ampeg SVG bass amp it sounded effing great” (p. 25). Just please write “fucking” if you mean “fucking.” Or, if you don’t want to say “fucking,” then just pick another word entirely.

The Speed Of Sound: Breaking The Barriers Between Music And Technology was released on October 11, 2016 through Flatiron Books.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Whitney Rose: “South Texas Suite” (2017) CD Review

I was turned onto Whitney Rose last year with the release of her Heartbreaker Of The Year album. I immediately loved her voice and style, and was excited to hear more from her. Well, in January she will release a new six-track EP titled South Texas Suite, featuring mostly original material inspired by her move to Austin. When she released Heartbreaker Of The Year, she was based in Toronto, but after doing a residency at the Continental Club she decided to stay in Texas. South Texas Suite contains some great old-time country vibes, with some girl group pop flavors. She’s put together an incredible band for this release, including Bryce Clark on guitar, Sophia Johnson on guitar, Redd Volkaert on guitar, James Shelton on steel guitar, Tom Lewis on drums, Kevin Smith on bass, Erik Hokkanen on fiddle, and Earl Poole Ball on piano.

Whitney Rose opens the EP with “Three Minute Love Affair,” an original song that features Michael Guerra on accordion. It is a sweet tune about dancing with someone, and how for the length of the song the world is just the two of you. Yes, those can be magical moments, as the music determines the world and how long it will last. “Now there’s no one else, no darling, it’s just you and me/We ain’t got no future and we got no history.” This song has a “cha cha cha” ending. It’s followed by “Analog,” one of my favorites. It was written by fellow Austin singer/songwriter Brennen Leigh, who says it’s about the desire to go back to simpler things. This is a song I appreciate, expressing feelings that I have too (a lot of us do, it seems), with lines like “I don’t want advertisements on my telephone/I don’t want form letters, robo-calls” and “Now I’m not down on it just because it’s new/But in gaining a little, we’ve lost something too/When you climb into bed with a phone in your face/It feels like you’re lightyears away from this place.” Amen. Whitney Rose delivers an excellent rendition, and I love Erik Hokkanen’s fiddle on this one.

“My Boots” is a fun country tune written by Whitney Rose. It starts off with a sweet introduction, and then when it kicks in, it immediately transports us to a honky tonk dance hall. It’s a song about following one’s own personal style and feelings, no matter the surroundings. Here is the chorus: “I’ll go if I can wear my boots/I don’t feel like high heel shoes/And that don’t mean that I’m crazy/That don’t mean I ain’t a lady/Ain’t going to go as no one else/Only going as myself/I’ll go if I can wear my boots.” And I dig that piano part in the second half of the song. Boots or high heels or no shoes at all, you should be dancing by the end of this one.

“Bluebonnets For My Baby” has a sweeter sound, with a kind of classic girl group pop vibe mixed into its country elements. It’s a nice romantic slow dance number, written by yet another Austin singer/songwriter, Teri Joyce, and included on her 2010 release Kitchen Radio. Whitney Rose’s delightful voice seems custom-made for this type of material. She follows that with an original, “Lookin’ Back On Luckenbach” (yeah, it’s a cute title), a mellow tune about thinking back to a place one has left. “My mind is full with memories and dreams/I don’t need one more than the other/I need them both like I need air to breathe.” Whitney Rose then concludes the CD with “How ‘Bout A Hand For The Band,” a short instrumental number that was originally intended to be the ending of “My Boots.” And if you play it directly after “My Boots,” you’ll hear how it is the natural continuation of that song.

CD Track List
  1. Three Minute Love Affair
  2. Analog
  3. My Boots
  4. Bluebonnets For My Baby
  5. Lookin’ Back On Luckenbach
  6. How ‘Bout A Hand For The Band
South Texas Suite is scheduled to be released on January 27, 2017 on Six Shooter Records.

Albert Marques Trio: “Live In The South Bronx” (2016) CD Review

Albert Marques is a jazz pianist based in New York (though from Barcelona), and his new album is a live recording from July 11, 2015 at Pregones Theater in the Bronx. Live In The South Bronx features mostly original material, with just a couple of covers. The trio features Walter Stinson on double bass and Zack O’Farrill on drums.

The opening piece, “Double Sur,” is an intriguing track, at times playful, even sly, and moving easily from one path to another, seeming to threaten to build into an orchestral giant if other musicians suddenly joined them. It is dominated by Albert Marques’ piano, but the bass and drums are often what add a sense of daring to the composition. “Double Sur” was composed by Albert Marques, as was the following track, “IDN,” which begins with a bass solo that is almost delicate at moments, quietly, gently pulling us in. The tune then takes on a strange, somewhat dark tone as the other instruments come in, like a tentative step into a surreal reality with glass trees and deceptive, angular women coming toward us from impossible places, the piano sometimes describing the scene, sometimes conducting it. But then once we’re firmly part of the landscape ourselves, it’s hard not to take that next step. In fact, this world has hold of our feet and face and sometimes pulls them in opposing directions; yet there is no pain, we change and adapt, mostly. The drums present an irregular heartbeat, the bass then moving through the landscape with us, and returning us, at least in part, back to our reality.

The first cover of the album is “Iris,” written by saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and recorded by Miles Davis (it appears on the 1965 record E.S.P.). This track begins in a more mellow way, but has its own peculiar energy, heard at times in that great lead on bass, and then in that sudden fiery burst on piano around the four-minute mark. Each of these tracks feels like a living, breathing, moving entity, a beast with hunger, needs, problems and anger and joy. Check out “Jazz Is Working Class” for a perfect example. This one gets angry, then as if having exhausted itself, relaxes a bit. Then listen to that great section with bass and drums. There are also some vocals; that is, vocal noises, no lyrics, like the beast is finding a new way to communicate and is testing it out. An expression of joy or an attack? Or both?  That leads to a very cool drum solo, a more basic and always effective form of communication, and the crowd responds enthusiastically.

Then “Cançó Pel Pare” has a more intimate feel from the start, but still with a slightly chaotic edge at moments, as if to say we can’t control even our most personal affairs. There is always that element of chance, of the unknown, of something darker around a corner. I love that brighter, happier piano part that emerges nearly halfway through. A comforting sound, even as the drums retain a wildness and the bass a tenseness. It’s like a soft beauty in the darkness, and it comes out triumphant. It’s followed by the album’s other cover, a really good rendition of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which begins as a piano solo, then takes on a kind of funky edge as the bass and drums come in, before settling into that familiar groove.

The CD concludes with one track composed by bassist Walter Stinson and one composed by drummer Zack O’Farrill. The first, “Alan Watts,” was written by Stinson, and has a contemplative vibe and makes effective use of pauses. It then builds into something beautiful. “Foggy Conscience” was written by O’Farrill, and its mood is darker and intense. And right when it’s about to break you or consume you, there is a change, becoming kind of playful, even if there is a twisted side to its playfulness.

CD Track List
  1. Double Sur
  2. IDN
  3. Iris
  4. Jazz Is Working Class 
  5. Cançó Pel Pare
  6. Ain’t No Sunshine
  7. Alan Watts
  8. Foggy Conscience
Live In The South Bronx was released on November 4, 2016 through Zoho Music.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Erin Hill: “Christmas Harp” (2016) CD Review

Earlier this year, harpist and singer Erin Hill released an album of beautiful covers, including a particularly passionate and moving rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and an excellent delivery of “Habanera.”  I was struck by her voice as much as I was won over by that gorgeous harp. And now she has released a holiday album titled Christmas Harp, which features both instrumental tracks as well as vocal recordings. There is something magical about a harp. It’s an instrument that almost automatically transports us out of our current reality, our current time, and puts us in touch with something eternal, or outside of time. And that is something that is quite desirable now.

She begins the album with “What Child Is This?” This is a beautiful song, though I prefer the original “Greensleeves.” She follows that with “Christmas Canon,” one that’s not all that familiar to me, a song by Trans-Siberian Orchestra from their The Christmas Attic album. I prefer the instrumental sections, which have a pretty innocence, and are basically “Pachelbel's Canon.” So, interestingly, she begins the album with two Christmas songs that are based on earlier pieces. For “Christmas Canon,” Erin Hill has recorded several vocal parts, accompanying herself, and the results are beautiful.

“My Favorite Things” is not really a Christmas tune, but I suppose it’s related to the holiday in as much as it lists things she likes, which could be read as a Christmas wish list. Plus, the list includes “sleigh bells,” “snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes” and “silver-white winters,” which are all part of the holiday. I’m not a fan of this song, and I’ve never been able to make it through The Sound Of Music, but I do like the instrumental sections of this rendition. She follows that with an absolutely beautiful instrumental version of “Carol Of The Bells,” one of my favorite tracks of this CD. And then she delivers a stunningly gorgeous version of “Ave Maria.” This is an incredible performance, and in my opinion is the best track of the disc. If this doesn’t move you, something has gone horribly wrong.

I’ve always loved Bach’s “Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring,” and Erin Hill does a wonderful job with it here. She also delivers a very pretty rendition of “Silent Night.” Here too she harmonizes with herself, and the results help make this track another of this CD’s highlights.

Debussy’s “The Girl With The Flaxen Hair” isn’t a Christmas song, but it’s a pretty piece, especially as Erin Hill presents it. She then concludes Christmas Harp with “Pie Jesu,” which translates roughly as “Jesus’ Foot” (just kidding, of course). On this composition, Erin delivers another impressive and moving vocal performance.

CD Track List
  1. What Child Is This?
  2. Christmas Canon
  3. My Favorite Things
  4. Carol Of The Bells
  5. Ave Maria
  6. O Come, O Come Emmanuel
  7. Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring
  8. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
  9. Silent Night
  10. White Christmas
  11. The Girl With The Flaxen Hair
  12. Pie Jesu
Christmas Harp was released on October 28, 2016 through Goldenlane Records, a division of Cleopatra Records.

Dark For Dark: “All Dressed” (2016) CD Review

Dark For Dark is the trio of Jess Lewis, Melanie Stone and Rebecca Zolkower, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They put out their debut full-length CD, Warboats, in 2013, and have now followed it up with All Dressed, an EP of original material written by Rebecca Zolkower. By the way, you might know Rebecca Zolkower from her many appearances on other artists’ releases. She sings on CDs by Old Cabin, Ronok Sarkar and Corey Isenor, among others. She is also a member of Dance Movie. And you might be familiar with Jess Lewis through her Cactus Flower project. And you might know Melanie Stone through her work with The Heavy Blinkers. So, yeah, these are three talented and experienced singers and musicians. On their new CD they are joined by Asa Brosius on pedal steel and Matt Gallant on drums. This is an excellent disc.

The EP opens with “Orchard,” a song that is a total delight, with a joyful and innocent sound. It’s heavily influenced by 1960s folk rock, heard in the approach on guitar and the blending of vocals. There is also a touch of The Nields at one key moment here. “Over and underneath the sky/I forced my body back inside/But it’s not true/What they are telling you.” That’s followed by “Moon Full Moon,” which has a slightly darker feel about it, reminding me a bit of Velvet Underground at the beginning. But there is something oddly pretty about this tune.

“Blue Morning” has sort of a Cowboy Junkies vibe (Cowboy Junkies are also a Canadian band), with a haunting country sound. This track features some gorgeous vocals. “Maybe there’s a plan/For picking up on chances/Maybe at the end of the day/You’ll get it anyway/Because it’s a blue morning/You want to be yourself.”   Then “Owls” has a 1960s thing happening in the guitar, as well as in the drumbeat.

“Unseasonal” is a mellow and beautiful piece. “We were unfamiliar, I was scared/But now you’re everywhere/Like a warm breeze/It’s unseasonal, we couldn’t breathe.”  Dark For Dark then concludes the EP with “The Roof.” There is something both uplifting and comforting about this song. “Our eyes will adjust in the dark.”

CD Track List
  1. Orchard
  2. Moon Full Moon
  3. Blue Morning
  4. Owls
  5. Unseasonal
  6. The Roof
All Dressed was released on June 24, 2016 on Headless Owl Records.

Corey Isenor: “A Painted Portrait (Of The Classic Ruse)” (2016) CD Review

Corey Isenor is a singer, guitarist and songwriter based in Nova Scotia. His new album, A Painted Portrait (Of The Classic Ruse), features all original material. This is the first CD of his I’ve heard, and I was struck by both his songwriting and his honest and friendly delivery. These songs contain some excellent lyrics, with certain lines standing out, like the main line of “Forces Of Our Nature” and these lines from “Forms Of My Desire”: “Oh, the beauty of vision, it can also be a curse/And with every woman that I see, the pain gets worse.” The music has a familiar and sweet vibe, and it’s hard to believe I haven’t heard this artist before. His voice and style are such that we can immediately connect with his music. On this disc he is joined by Liam Frier on electric guitar, Chris Meaney on bass, Benn Ross on drums, Jordi Comstock on percussion, Donald MacLennan on violin, and Andrew Sneddon on pedal steel, as well as a few other guest musicians on certain tracks. Rebecca Zolkower and Desiree Gordon provide backing vocals.

An album that opens with the line “I’ve been dreaming for a long time” is an album that I know is going to speak to me. “Forces Of Our Nature,” the lead-off track, is a pretty song, and I love the violin. As I mentioned, I really like the main line, “We are forces of our nature.” This song features folk and country elements. Corey Isenor follows that with “Losing My Mind,” a song which shows the compassion in his voice. Every time I listen to this disc, the line “I’ve got horses in the stable, but they’re all unhappy” amuses me. In this song he wonders, “Am I losing my mind?” Ah, who can tell these days? Recent events here in the U.S. have me questioning reality on a daily basis.

“The Navy Blues” has a nice, relaxed country vibe, and also has a delightful, playful sense, which I appreciate. You can hear it in lines like “Been hanging around with those darker hues” and “Dressed in denim to only confuse.” This is also the song that provides the album with its title. I liked this song the first time around, and like it more each time I listen to this disc. It’s followed by one of my personal favorites, “Ferry Tale.” I love Corey’s vocals, that catchy guitar part, and the whole vibe of this tune. It makes me smile every time. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Breaking the speed limit/All of your heart in it/Nothing will keep you from trying/Hell of a day/But this car’s in my way/And I can’t get by/Time slips away/As the sky turns to grey.” And I love the piano part by Steve Chapin, who joins Corey on this track.

“Diamonds On The Moon” begins as a pretty, thoughtful guitar instrumental piece, and adds some animal sound effects, which I could take or leave. Then the band comes in and the tune takes on a brighter, happier tone. Rosalind McPhail adds some great touches on flute, which in a way relate to the earlier bird sounds. “And it’s been said/There is more to you than meets the eye/Of this oncoming storm/And I’ve been forewarned/There is still much to learn/From this skin yet unburned/Hidden away/Always a look, but never a line to be heard.” Rosalind McPhail also plays flute on “Burning The Hickory,” an instrumental track.

Another highlight of this disc is “From Towers To Windmills.” That moment when the song really kicks in is tremendous, like a gorgeous burst of positive energy and emotion. I can’t help but be moved by this song. You should definitely check it out. Music like this can do us all some good. Mike O’Neill plays bass on this track. The album then concludes with another instrumental track, “The Dark Horse.”

CD Track List
  1. Forces Of Our Nature
  2. Losing My Mind
  3. Queen Of Calgary
  4. The Navy Blues
  5. Ferry Tale
  6. Diamonds On The Moon
  7. Forms Of My Desire
  8. Burning The Hickory
  9. From Towers To Windmills
  10. The Dark Horse
A Painted Portrait (Of The Classic Ruse) was released on September 16, 2016.