Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Blind Boys Of Alabama: “Atom Bomb” (2005/2016) CD Review

Omnivore continues its series of expanded re-issues of the work of The Blind Boys Of Alabama. In May of this year, we were treated to expanded editions of both 2001’s Spirit Of The Century and 2002’s Higher Ground. And now we get 2003’s Go Tell It On The Mountain and 2005’s Atom Bomb. Atom Bomb includes some traditional gospel music, as well as some interesting choices of covers, with songs written by Norman Greenbaum and Eric Clapton, mixing gospel with other musical realms, as they had done on previous releases. This special expanded edition contains seven bonus tracks, all previously unreleased, as well as new liner notes. The group, at the time of this recording, included original members Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter and George Scott, as well as Joey Williams, Ricky McKinnie, Bobby Butler and Tracy Pierce. David Hidalgo, from Los Lobos, joins them on many tracks, and there are some other guests as well.

This CD opens with its title track, “(Jesus Hits Like The) Atom Bomb,” written by Lee V. McCullom and recorded by The Pilgrim Travelers. Oh yes, a song that compares Jesus to a destructive bomb. The first line is “You know now, everybody’s worried about that atom bomb.” With this election, there is a whole lot of other stuff to worry about too. They follow that with these lines: “No one seems worried about the day my lord shall come/You’d better set your house in order/For he may be coming soon/And then he’ll hit like an atom bomb when he comes, when he comes.” Ah, the vengeful, angry Jesus in full-attack mode. The song, with George Scott on lead vocals, also provides a bit of a history lesson.

Then on Norman Cook’s “Demons” the group mixes gospel and rap, with Timothy Parker (of the hip hop duo Blackalicious) joining them on vocals. This track also features Billy Preston on organ and piano, and David Hidalgo on guitar. They then get into more traditional gospel fare with a bluesy version of “Talk About Suffering,” which features some wonderful work by Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica. “Talk about suffering here below/Let’s keep talking about Jesus.” Clarence Fountain provides the smooth and wonderful lead vocals. And I love the way all their voices blend on “Jesus.” John Chelew, who produced the album, adds another voice with the organ.

The Blind Boys Of Alabama deliver an excellent rendition of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The Sky,” a song that was also a hit for Doctor And The Medics. Charlie Musselwhite joins The Blind Boys on harmonica, and David Hidalgo is on guitar. One of my favorite tracks is “New Born Soul,” with George Scott on lead vocals. This one has a very cool vibe, and of course some excellent vocals. David Hidalgo is again on guitar. “I’ve got a new way of preaching, a new way of teaching/Since the holy ghost took control/Souls are winning, a new beginning/Thank the lord I’ve got a new born soul.” That’s followed by another of the disc’s highlights, “Presence Of The Lord,” a song written by Eric Clapton and originally recorded by Blind Faith. On this track, The Blind Boys are again joined by Billy Preston on organ. These recordings were among the final recorded performances by Billy Preston, who died the following year.

The original album concludes with “Moses,” which is driven by the group’s vocals, accompanied only by some work by Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica and John Chelew on organ. Timothy Parker also adds his voice to the mix.

Bonus Tracks

This expanded edition contains seven bonus tracks, and interestingly they are all instrumental versions of tracks from the original album. I say it’s interesting, because it might seem an odd choice to included instrumental renditions of the work of what is essentially a vocal group. But, as these tracks so clearly show, there is a lot more going on here than just this group’s stellar vocal work, and it’s great to have the work of the musicians featured. The instrumental tracks are “I Know I’ve Been Converted,” “New Born Soul,” “Old Blind Barnabas,” “Presence Of The Lord,” “Spirit In The Sky,” “Talk About Suffering” and “Faith And Grace.”

CD Track List
  1. (Jesus Hits Like The) Atom Bomb
  2. Demons
  3. Talk About Suffering
  4. I Know I’ve Been Converted
  5. Old Blind Barnabas
  6. Spirit In The Sky
  7. Faith And Grace
  8. New Born Soul
  9. Presence Of The Lord
  10. Moses
  11. I Know I’ve Been Converted (instrumental)
  12. New Born Soul (instrumental)
  13. Old Blind Barnabas (instrumental)
  14. Presence Of The Lord (instrumental)
  15. Spirit In The Sky (instrumental)
  16. Talk About Suffering (instrumental)
  17. Faith And Grace (instrumental) 
This expanded re-issue of Atom Bomb is scheduled to be released on November 4, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings.

The Blind Boys Of Alabama: “Go Tell It On The Mountain” (2003/2016) CD Review

This year’s batch of Christmas releases and re-issues includes a special expanded edition of The Blind Boys Of Alabama’s 2003 holiday album, Go Tell It On The Mountain. If anyone can make Christmas sound both cool and holy, you know it’s The Blind Boys Of Alabama. Plus, on this release they are joined by some great guests, including Solomon Burke, Tom Waits, Chrissie Hynde, Richard Thompson, Aaron Neville, Mavis Staples and George Clinton. Most of the songs are ones you know well, but don’t worry, there is no “Rudolph” or “Frosty” or any of that junk. The Blind Boys Of Alabama, at the time of this recording, featured founding members Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter and George Scott, as well as Joey Williams, Ricky McKinnie, Bobby Butler and Tracy Pierce. This expanded edition includes three bonus tracks and new liner notes.

They get things off to a great start with a lively rendition of “Last Month Of The Year,” featuring some good work by John Medeski on organ. The song begins a cappella, which of course is the perfect way to begin any Blind Boys disc. What excellent voices! The band then kicks in, and things get hopping. Has Christmas ever sounded so good? They follow that with “I Pray On Christmas,” a song written by Harry Connick, Jr. and included on his When My Heart Finds Christmas album. So this was a recent song, only a decade old when The Blind Boys Of Alabama released their rendition. This version begins with some cool work on bass by Danny Thompson, and features a fantastic vocal performance by Solomon Burke. There is also more wonderful stuff from John Medeski on organ.

Tom Waits then joins the group for the CD’s title track, “Go Tell It On The Mountain.” The Blind Boys Of Alabama had covered Tom Waits previously, opening their 2001 release Spirit Of The Century with his “Jesus Gonna Be Here.” Here he adds his distinctive, wild, rough vocals to this special, bluesy rendition of the spiritual. I especially dig that section that begins with Tom Waits singing, “Now, people, when I was a seeker…” That’s followed by “Little Drummer Boy,” one of the popular Christmas songs that I’ve actually always enjoyed (in part because when I was nine or so, Joan Jett released a great version of it). The Blind Boys Of Alabama offer an interesting version, featuring a spoken word delivery by Michael Franti, with the Blind Boys echoing him in song. It’s quite different from other versions I’ve heard over the years, but I like it. By the way, Michael Jerome is on drums.

Chrissie Hynde takes on lead vocal duties on “In The Bleak Midwinter,” a song that might not be as familiar as most others offered here. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “In the bleak midwinter/Frosty wind made moan/Earth stood hard as iron/Water like a stone/Snow had fallen, snow on snow/More than you could know/In the bleak midwinter/A long, long time ago.” Richard Thompson plays guitar on this track. That is followed by a delicious a cappella rendition of “Joy To The World,” with Aaron Neville’s lead vocals working in wonderful contrast to The Blind Boys.

Mavis Staples joins the group on “Born In Bethlehem,” a song that The Staple Singers included on their 1961 record Swing Low. The version included here has a great, positive energy, and a good groove to get you moving. It’s loose and fun, like a gospel party, and has a cute moment at the very end. Then country singer Shelby Lynne joins them for “The Christmas Song,” written by Mel Tormé and Robert Wells. It is presented as a duet with Shelby and Clarence Fountain. By the way, in 2010 Shelby Lynne released her own Christmas album, titled Merry Christmas (it does not include “The Christmas Song”).

George Clinton, the Prime Minster of Funk, joins the Blind Boys on “Away In A Manger.” That might sound like a very strange choice, but the result is the best version of this song I’ve ever heard (at least, that I can recall). Guest musician Robert Randolph is on pedal steel. Then Meshell Ndegeocello is on lead vocals and piano on “O Come All Ye Faithful,” here titled “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.” As with “Little Drummer Boy,” the lead vocals are delivered as spoken word. Les McCann is on vocals and piano on Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” the first half of which is delivered as scat, the lyrics not being sung until close to the two-minute mark. The original album concludes with a wonderful version of “Silent Night,” without any special guest vocalists. Clarence Fountain takes lead vocal duties.

Bonus Tracks

This expanded edition contains three bonus tracks, all of which were previously released. The first, a gorgeous and moving a cappella rendition of “My Lord What A Morning,” was originally included on the 2004 edition of Go Tell It On The Mountain. The other two tracks – live versions of “Go Tell It On The Mountain” and “Amazing Grace” – were included on the 2005 DVD, Go Tell It On The Mountain: Live In New York. “Amazing Grace,” as on Spirit Of The Century, is done to the tune of “House Of The Rising Sun.”

CD Track List
  1. Last Month Of The Year
  2. I Pray On Christmas
  3. Go Tell It On The Mountain
  4. Little Drummer Boy
  5. In The Bleak Midwinter
  6. Joy To The World
  7. Born In Bethlehem
  8. The Christmas Song
  9. Away In A Manger
  10. Oh Come All Ye Faithful
  11. White Christmas
  12. Silent Night
  13. My Lord What A Morning
  14. Go Tell It On The Mountain (live)
  15. Amazing Grace (live)
This special expanded edition of Go Tell It On The Mountain is scheduled to be released on November 4, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings.

The Legal Matters: “Conrad” (2016) CD Review

The Legal Matters are the trio of Andy Reed, Chris Richards and Keith Klingensmith, folks familiar to the Michigan music scene because of bands like Hippodrome, The Phenomenal Cats, An American Underdog and Chris Richards And The Subtractions. Their new album, Conrad, the band’s second full-length release, features all original material, with each of the three guys contributing songs. They are joined by Donny Brown and Andy Dalton, both on drums. The band’s name, by the way, comes from The Who’s “A Legal Matter,” but don’t expect these guys to sound at all like The Who. They are more pop than rock, and with a focus on the vocals, though there are definitely some 1960s influences on their sound.

The CD opens with “Anything,” written by Chris Richards. This is a sweet-sounding pop tune. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I want you to know everything/And I’ll be anything you want/Anything you need/I just need you to laugh/This paradox could be/So good for you and me/If you believe all you read.” It’s followed by “I’m Sorry Love,” written by Andy Reed. This is one that has clear 1960s influences in the approach and sound, plus some wonderful blending of voices. But that playful instrumental section is what really gets me interested, and makes me fall in love with this song. Then the other instruments drop out briefly for a section that is just vocals and keys. “I’m sorry love, could you just hang on/And give me one more minute of your time/I’ll trade in my desire to comply/If you give me a reason for the line.”  That playful section is repeated at the very end, leaving me smiling. Absolutely delightful.

There are more 1960s influences on “Minor Key,” which refers directly to The Beatles in the line “We share a love for ‘Let It Be.’” And its first line is a nod to The Beach Boys: “I’m feeling the warmth of the sun.” The band ventures more toward rock with “Short Term Memory,” a song I like more each time I listen to it. “It makes me wonder who’s pulling all the strings/If we all jump off the merry-go-round we can bring back everything.”

The chorus of “More Birds, Less Bees” has a cute, light, happy sound. The title aggravates the grammar hound in me, as it seems like it should be “More Birds, Fewer Bees,” but the line in the song is “she’s talking more birds and less bees.” This song uses the old “self”/“shelf” rhyme, which always bothers me. Something about that rhyme always seems forced. “More Birds, Less Bees” is followed by one of my favorites, “Pull My String,” written by Keith Klingensmith. I particularly love the chorus, the delicious, positive sound of it, though the song is about a man who is lonely after a breakup, dealing with the platitudes people offer as help, like “these things serve to make you stronger.” And he’s not ready to move on. “Pull my string: I still love you/Pull my string: I am right here/Pull my string to hear the same things every day.”

She called me to say you’re wasting my time,” the main line of “She Called Me To Say,” makes me smile every time I listen to this disc. “Lull And Bye” is a short, sweet, pretty song that is all about the vocals, and might remind you of The Beach Boys. The disc then concludes with “Better Days,” written by Andy Reed. “A memory we’re making could be gone before too long/Well, I never know what to expect/Should I lay down my hand, let’s forgive and forget?” There is a false ending. The song comes back in unnecessarily, which actually works to detract from the its power.

CD Track List
  1. Anything
  2. I’m Sorry Love
  3. Minor Key
  4. Short Term Memory
  5. More Birds Less Bees
  6. Pull My String
  7. She Called Me To Say
  8. The Cool Kid
  9. Hip Hooray
  10. Lull And Bye
  11. Better Days 
Conrad was released on October 28, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Security Project: “Live 2” (2016) CD Review

Earlier this year Security Project released Live 1, an album of Peter Gabriel material. They’ve now followed it with Live 2, with performances of more Peter Gabriel and Genesis songs. On lead vocals and acoustic guitar is Brian Cummins, and his voice possesses many of the same qualities as Peter Gabriel’s voice. But his performances feel honest, nuanced and full of passion (check out “Wallflower,” for example), rather than simple imitations. Peter Gabriel fans will certainly enjoy this CD, as it gives us a chance to revisit some of Peter Gabriel’s material we might not have listened to in a while. After all, the song selections don’t include big hits like “Shock The Monkey,” “In Your Eyes,” “Sledgehammer,” “Big Time” or “Red Rain.”

Security Project, in addition to Cummins, features Michael Cozzi on guitar and backing vocals, David Jameson on keyboards and Eigenharp, Trey Gunn (from King Crimson) on guitar and vocals, and Jerry Marotta on drums and backing vocals. (Jerry Marotta played drums on several Peter Gabriel recordings, including one of my favorites, that great self-titled 1980 release with “Games Without Frontiers.”) The recordings on this CD are from February and March of 2015, as well as May of 2016. At times I forget this is a live album. First of all, it’s a very good, clear recording. But also, there is nothing messy about these tracks; these are polished performances. And there isn’t much stage banter included, with the focus being on the material.

This CD opens with “Family Snapshot,” a song from that 1980 self-title record. (The first four Peter Gabriel solo albums are all self-titled.) This rendition by Security Project features a really good vocal performance. Near the end, the vocals are delivered nearly a cappella, and those moments are compelling, and will certainly draw you in. That’s followed by “Moribund The Burgermeister,” which is the opening track from what is arguably Peter Gabriel’s best album, the self-titled one from 1977, his first solo record. (It’s the album that also features “Solsbury Hill.”) As with the original, this one features a great, kind of creepy voice on the line, “But I will find out, I will find out, I will find out.” I love it. Also from that album is “Humdrum.”

From what is still probably Peter Gabriel’s most popular album, So, comes “Mercy Street.” (I’m glad Security Project didn’t choose “Sledgehammer” or “Big Time,” two songs I never cared for.) In one of the CD’s few bits of stage banter, the band introduces this song, “This is from me to you, and it proves everybody deserves just a little bit of mercy.” The band delivers a delicate, moving rendition, which is actually quite a bit different from Peter Gabriel’s original version. It’s also somewhat shorter.

While the majority of these tracks are from early in Peter Gabriel’s solo career, Security Project does cover “Father, Son,” from Gabriel’s 2000 release OVO. Then, interestingly, they reach much farther back in Gabriel’s career to his time with Genesis, covering two songs from the 1974 record The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. They do the first two songs from this double album – the title track and “Fly On A Windshield.” The CD then concludes with “On The Air,” the first tune from Peter Gabriel’s second self-titled album. The audience clearly knows the song, as you can hear them echo “On the air” – one of the only moments when the audience plays a key part in the recording.

CD Track List
  1. Family Snapshot
  2. Moribund The Burgermeister
  3. Humdrum
  4. Mercy Street
  5. Wallflower
  6. White Shadow
  7. Father, Son
  8. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
  9. Fly On A Windshield
  10. On The Air
Live 2 was released on October 21, 2016.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Jeff Collins: “The Keys To Christmas” (2016) CD Review

It’s that time of the year again, the time when you are legally bound to feel and express joy, the time when a simple trip to the store becomes a much dreaded ordeal, the time when a whole lot of Christmas albums are unleashed upon the public. Much of the music tied to this holiday is awful (check out my critique of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” for example). But each year, some good Christmas CDs are released among the bunch. I tend in general to enjoy the instrumental albums more (because Christmas music contains some of the worst lyrics ever), and I’ve been digging a lot of pianist Jeff Collins’ new CD, The Keys To Christmas, an instrumental release containing some traditional Christmas fare as well as a few other songs associated with the season. This is actually Jeff Collins’ second CD of Christmas music, the first being Christmas Sessions. On this new one, he doesn’t repeat any of the material from the previous release. Here he is joined by some excellent musicians, including Tony Creasman on drums, Jeremy Medkiff on bass and guitar, Jason Webb on Hammond B3, Tim Surrett on bass, Roger Fortner on bass, David Johnson on guitar, Sam Levine on saxophone, David Davidson on violin, and Steve Patrick on flugelhorn and trumpet.

The Keys To Christmas opens with a medley of traditional Christmas songs: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Joy To The World.” And it’s a big production, with orchestral arrangement by Cody McVey. It comes on with a giant burst of energy before settling a bit, and at moments has the tone of a rousing musical production number. It’s a bit much, but things then become more relaxed for a sweet, romantic instrumental rendition of “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” always one of my favorite songs of the season, and one that is not strictly a Christmas tune. This is a nice version, and features Sam Levine on saxophone.

That’s followed by “The Man With The Bag,” originally titled “(Everybody’s Waiting For) The Man With The Bag,” a tune written by Irving Taylor, Dudley Brooks and Hal Stanley. This is a lively number, and a lot of fun, with a tone that is both playful and joyful. This is one of my favorite tracks from this CD, and one I’ll be adding to my holiday play list. It’s also a song that’s better as an instrumental, as it is presented here, than with its lyrics (“He’ll be here/With the answer to the prayers that you’ve made through the year/You’ll get yours/If you’ve done everything you should/Extra special good”). This version not only features some delightful stuff on piano, but also some great stuff on horns and percussion.

Another favorite is Vincent Guaraldi’s “Linus And Lucy,” a tune I am always happy to hear, regardless of the time of year. A Charlie Brown Christmas is far and away the best Christmas special ever to air on television, and in large part that is because of the music. This is a very cool rendition, with some nice touches and additions, including some good work on guitar at the end. The track fades out during that guitar part, and I actually wish it went on longer.

“Mary, Did You Know,” as originally recorded in 1991 by Michael English, is a song I don’t care for at all. It is certainly improved greatly by removing the lyrics and those terrible vocals. This version by Jeff Collins is a thoughtful meditation, featuring David Davidson on violin. It’s followed by a fun rendition of “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” with a surprising Latin rhythm which works quite well.

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” is another of this CD’s highlights. This is one that is obviously not a Christmas song, but rather a song appropriate to the season. It was written by Frank Loesser, and was a hit for The Orioles in 1949. Jeff Collins delivers a sweet, relaxing, pretty rendition. It’s one that will make you want to curl up with that special someone, preferably by candlelight, and hold him or her through the night. That’s followed by a kind of intense reading of “Carol Of The Bells,” with a sort of anxious vibe, at least at first. It then finds a cool, swinging groove, and I dig the bass, before getting intense again. If you are curled up with your loved one by candlelight, you might not want to let this track play directly following “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” The CD then concludes with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” featuring beautiful work on strings.

CD Track List
  1. Medley: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; O Come, All Ye Faithful; Joy To The World
  2. Baby It’s Cold Outside
  3. The Man With The Bag
  4. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  5. Linus And Lucy
  6. Go Tell It On The Mountain
  7. Mary Did You Know?
  8. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow
  9. What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?
  10. Carol Of The Bells
  11. O Come, O Come Emmanuel 
The Keys To Christmas was released on October 7, 2016 on Crossroads Records.

Charlie Faye & The Fayettes at The Hotel Café, 10-25-16 Concert Review

Charlie Faye & The Fayettes performing "One More Chance"
Sometimes nothing feels better than some good, sweet girl group vocals. And last night was one of those times, with Charlie Faye & The Fayettes bringing their special brand of pop and rock to the Hotel Café in Los Angeles. They focused on tracks from their self-titled debut album, which came out this summer, opening with “Sweet Little Messages.” Such a fun song, and a palpable joy immediately emanated from the stage, completely washing away the craziness from a little earlier.

See, on the way to the venue, as I was crossing the street, in a crosswalk, a driver decided not to wait for me, or even stop, or even slow down, and went in front of me to make a right turn. That driver parked half a block down, and had enough trouble parallel parking that I actually caught up with him before he’d straightened his vehicle out. “Hey, please don’t barrel through a red light when someone is in a crosswalk,” I said to the driver. “It’s not safe.” He was very nice and understanding, said “Okay,” but as I was walking away, his boyfriend in the passenger seat started yelling at me. So I turned around and walked right up to him. “What, are you crazy?” he said. “Maybe,” I answered. Who’s to say? These days I think we’re all a little mad. “Well, maybe I am too, bitch,” he said. Yeah, probably. And speaking of crazy, earlier in the day in a store this woman kept staring at me. You know those cheap rain ponchos that folks bring to baseball games and then throw away? She was wearing one of those, and a pair of those clear plastic gloves that employees at Subway wear when they’re making your sandwich. And nothing else. But don’t worry, my fashion consultant assures me this look will not catch on.

The Fayettes wore solid bright colors, totally in line with the positive, fun vibes of their 1960s-style music. They followed “Sweet Little Messages” with another tune from the CD, “Loving Names.” They then did their first cover of the night, Otis Blackwell’s “Let’s Talk About Us,” a song that Jerry Lee Lewis also famously recorded, and they did a great job with it. After that, Charlie Faye put down her Gretsch guitar to focus solely on vocals for the next few tunes. Well, vocals and some choreographed movements with the Fayettes – BettySoo and Akina Adderley. On “Eastside,” one of the most fun songs from the album, the gals had some adorable moves, really calling to mind those vocal groups of the 1960s. When they sang “I-I-I,” on each “I,” one of them turned, creating a kind of wave effect. Plus, that song featured some great guitar work by Marcus Watkins. They followed that with “One More Chance,” one of my favorites from the album.

Perhaps the most surprising song choice of their set was their cover of The Ramones’ “Rockaway Beach.” Apparently, they’ve been performing it for a little while, but this was the first time I saw them in concert, and it came as a delightful surprise to me. And of course it was completely effective. After all, though it’s a punk song, it was written in the style of early 1960s surf music.

Charlie got her guitar again for “Heart,” another tune from the CD. There was very little stage banter during the set, but Charlie did introduce the two Fayettes before going into “See You Again.” They did a good cover of “Chains,” beginning it a cappella (well, accompanied by some finger snaps). This song also featured some good stuff on keys. “Chains” was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and was originally recorded by The Cookies (and also by The Beatles). They followed that with “It’s All Happening” before wrapping up their set with the opening track from the album, the absolutely delightful “Green Light.” For this one, Charlie put down the guitar for some more coordinated movements with the Fayettes. The show ended at 9:44 p.m.

Set List
  1. Sweet Little Messages
  2. Loving Names
  3. Let’s Talk About Us
  4. Eastside
  5. One More Chance
  6. Rockaway Beach
  7. Heart
  8. See You Again
  9. Chains
  10. It’s All Happening
  11. Green Light 
Here are a few photos from their set:

"Sweet Little Messages"

The Hotel Café is located at 1623 1/2 N. Cahuenga Blvd. in Los Angeles.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Lawrence Morrill Glass: “Extended Play” (2016) CD Review

Lawrence Morrill Glass is a singer and songwriter based in Austin, Texas. His new EP, the appropriately titled Extended Play, features all original material, written or co-written by Lawrence Morrill Glass. This EP is a taste of his upcoming full-length release, Neanderthal. Joining him on this CD are folks like Marty Muse, Johnny Dango and Son Volt’s Andrew Duplantis.

It’s the end of October, and so just about time for the annual onslaught of Christmas albums. Because of that, some might actually read a jolly note of optimism in the opening track’s title, “No Christmas This Year.” But this is actually a sweet and sad tune about being lonely on the holiday and lacking the necessary cheer, but going about the routine by habit. “Cut the wood to build a fire/But it doesn’t seem to warm me now/Nothing matters anyhow.” Lawrence’s vocal delivery is perfect; it’s emotional, but turned inward, so without overtly seeking sympathy from the listener. And that makes us feel it all the more, the sadness and confusion of having lost one’s love. He looks back with some fondness, even losing himself in the past for a moment (that section of the song is happier, and he sounds more excited – a nice touch), but sees no joy in the present. And the past is intangible. “Now it’s all, it’s all a dream.”

That is followed by “Mary Contrary,” a somewhat goofy and strange pop song in which Lawrence sings, “I like Katie/Katie really hates me/It only makes me/Wish that she were mine.” Something about the vocal line reminds of mid-1960s rock music, bringing to mind bands like The Lovin’ Spoonful. Yeah, it’s fairly catchy, and I find myself digging it. This might actually be my favorite track. “The Habit Of You” is more standard fare, co-written by James Stevens and Lawrence Morrill Glass, but I really like the main lines, “I’ve got the habit of dreaming/The habit of you.”

The last time I watched Saturday Night Live, Tina Fey was still a cast member. She was a reason to watch the show. On this CD, Lawrence Morrill Glass delivers a love letter to the comedian in the song “Tina Fey.” Hey, who isn’t in love with her? She is both funny and sexy, a rare and very desirable combination. This song also touches on the problems of being in love with someone who is more fantasy than reality, how crushes on celebrities, even ones who come across as intelligent as Tina Fey does, are rather sad. “No, no, not another Saturday night with a TV screen/What a lonely life, what an empty dream/I can't go on this way/With nothing left to say/But I love Tina Fey.”

The EP concludes with “Californ-i-a,” a song about going astray. Some good lyrics are what make me interested in this one. Lines like “Then years got away from me/I was otherwise occupied/You see, I’m mad and melancholy/But she kept me satisfied” and “For why she gave up on our romance/And gave me back my name” are particularly good.

CD Track List
  1. No Christmas This Year
  2. Mary Contrary
  3. The Habit Of You
  4. Tina Fey
  5. Californ-i-a 
Extended Play is scheduled to be released on October 30, 2016.

Nina Diaz: “The Beat Is Dead” (2016) CD Review

Nina Diaz is the singer and guitarist of Girl In A Coma, a great trio from San Antonio, Texas. The band has put out a few full-length CDs, as well as some singles and EPs, and has supported folks like Morrissey and The Pogues on tour. And now Nina Diaz is releasing her first solo album, The Beat Is Dead, featuring all original material. On this one, she not only provides the vocals and plays guitar and keyboards, but also bass on certain tracks. She is joined by David Garza and Patricio Dávila, with other guests on a few tracks.

She kicks off the album with “Trick Candle,” which begins with a solid dance beat from Patricio Dávila, then kicks in to become a fun, lively song, driven by Nina’s commanding vocals. “I wait a while/I’ll bring it back/I think I’m in style/Then again, I am like a child/When I sing.” This is a great track to get things going. Nina Diaz follows that with “Queen Beats King,” which has something of a delicious 1980s pop vibe (due mainly to Nina’s work on keys). This is the song that gives the CD its title, in the line “And the beat is dead.” This tune features some seriously good lyrics, including these lines that stand out for me each time through: “It was over with one last kiss/One that you’ll never miss.” And check out these lines: “Trust what you feel/’Cause when you breathe in the silence/You create your own violence/To turn and kill and kill.” This is one of several favorites of mine.

“Rebirth” is another favorite. This powerful song was released in September, and it’s one of the tunes that cemented my interest in this CD. It’s an incredibly cool tune with a fantastic vocal performance by Nina Diaz. I can’t get enough of this song, and I’m guessing I’ll be far from alone on that. “I’m back from the dead/Like I told you, friend/I will not love you until you are my enemy.” Patricio Dávila provides some backing vocals on this one. “Rebirth” is followed by “January 9th,” which is the first song I heard from this CD, and is the song that got me really excited about this release. I’m loving it even more now, in large part because of Nina’s incredible vocal performance, which I find more impressive each time I hear this song. It’s her voice that really drives this one. “Every time I try to find another place to stay/Every time I try to look away, I seem to cave/In the back of the mind, in the back of my mind/Every time I try to look away I scream your name.” On this track, Nina is joined by Travis Vela on guitar and Emily Booher on cello. And yes, the presence of the cello adds to the song’s beauty, and helps make it one of the best songs of the year. (Emily Booher also plays cello on “Dig.”)

“Fall In Love” has a catchy rhythm and is something of a glorious pop song. “Here I am/I am the voice that plagues you/Although you look the other way.” I also really like this line: “Last act, but not the final scene.” “It” is a harder song with a steady beat. I particularly like the way sometimes Nina’s vocals rise above that beat, and at other times are almost part of it. “Down” is like punk-dance, and is a whole lot of fun. On this track, Nina is joined by Travis Vela on guitar, Austin Valentine on bass, Jorge Gonzalez on drums, Priscilla Iree on keys, and Jaime Ramirez on keys and backing vocals. “I know all your secrets/I will push you to the ground/And you say oh, why you kick me while I’m down.”

“Star” is another powerful and moving song, with Priscilla Iree again joining on keys. The last listed track on the CD is “For You,” a pretty song. However, it’s not the last song on the CD. There is a hidden tune, “Morticians Musician,” which begins at 5:49 on the track. It begins with some studio banter. The song itself is some playful doo-wop, with some delightful backing vocals. Nina is clearly having fun with this one. “Oh, I’m not a fool for writing songs/I’m just a fool for trying to make you sing along/And I’m not a fool for writing melody/I’m just a fool for trying to make you see what I see.”

CD Track List
  1. Trick Candle
  2. Queen Beats King
  3. Rebirth
  4. January 9th
  5. Fall In Love
  6. Young Man
  7. It
  8. Screaming Without A Sound
  9. Down
  10. Dig
  11. Star
  12. For You (and Morticians Musician)
The Beat Is Dead is scheduled to be released on October 28, 2016 on Cosmica Records.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Grateful Dead: “Cambodian Refugee Benefit” (2016) CD Review

A lot of Grateful Dead concerts were broadcast live on the radio for folks who weren’t able to get tickets. And lately some of these recordings have been popping up as CD releases. The latest such release is Cambodian Refugee Benefit, which, although is only a single CD, actually contains most of the concert the Grateful Dead performed on January 13, 1980 at the Oakland Coliseum. It does not, however, contain the entire show, despite the claim in the CD liner notes. This seems a rather hasty release, as the liner notes contain other bogus information – such as crediting the drum solo to Robert Hunter and Bob Weir. Robert Hunter was one of the band’s main lyricists, and Bob, of course, was on vocals and guitar, so neither had anything to do with the drum solo. And, interestingly, a good chunk of the text in the liner notes was lifted from a blog titled Lost Live Dead (specifically the entry from December 4, 2014).

Anyway, it was a short show because the Grateful Dead were not the only folks on the bill that night. Also performing were Joan Baez, The Beach Boys, Carlos Santana and Jefferson Starship. So the Dead did just one set. What is missing from this CD release is the first song of the set, which was “Jack Straw,” and the encore, which was “U.S. Blues.” The CD kicks off with “Franklin’s Tower,” and again it is a bit odd to be missing “Jack Straw,” because “Jack Straw” leads directly into “Franklin’s Tower,” and so you can hear just the very end of “Jack Straw” at the beginning of this disc. It’s a good, fun rendition of “Franklin’s Tower,” with some jamming. The sound isn’t perfect, with a bit of hiss, reminding me of some of my old tapes. By the way, this was the first show of 1980, and at the time of this show, Brent Mydland had been a member of the band for only nine months or so. He provides some tasty stuff on “New Minglewood Blues,” which follows “Franklin’s Tower.” (Did Bob forget where he was? He sings, “It’s T for New York City.”) There is certainly a lot of energy at the beginning of this set, and both “New Minglewood Blues” and “Tennessee Jed” are crackling at times.

From what we can hear on the disc, some people in the audience are very excited when Bob starts “Looks Like Rain,” the only mellow song of the set. The band follows that with “Don’t Ease Me In,” which has a strange shift in sound near the beginning. “Playing In The Band” provides the only real opportunity for the band to get out there, and though they definitely jam on this one, they never get into truly weird territory. The energy level remains pretty high, and they seem to be having a great time, keeping that engine flying down the tracks. It slides right into “Drums” (though this CD still has it as the same track; then, like two minutes into the drum solo, it becomes a new track). At one point the audience becomes part of the drum solo, providing hand claps. This “Drums” is actually for me one of the highlights of the disc, and I wish it were longer. It leads into a cool jam (not “Space”) which very quickly announces itself as “Not Fade Away,” but doesn’t quite go into that song for a little while, though definitely does so before this disc starts a new track. The new track point indicating the beginning of “Not Fade Away” seems arbitrary, especially as by that point the band has clearly already been playing the song for a while. On the back of the CD case, it says that Carlos Santana plays with the band on “Sugar Magnolia,” but it sounds to me like he’s playing on “Not Fade Away.” And I’ve read in a few sources that indeed he plays with the band on “Not Fade Away” as well as “Sugar Magnolia.” I’ve also read on two websites that John Cipollina plays with them on “Not Fade Away.” At any rate, it’s an unusual and pretty cool  and incredibly energetic rendition of “Not Fade Away,” and it leads directly into “Sugar Magnolia,” which concludes the set (and this disc).

Strangely, “Sugar Magnolia” fades out near the five-minute mark. So this disc is missing all of the “Sunshine Daydream” part of the song. I am assuming this is due to time constraints on the CD.  However, the CD is 75 minutes 54 seconds, and the missing part of “Sugar Magnolia” is less than three minutes, so it should have fit. But again, this seems like a hastily assembled release. While it’s good to have this show on CD, there are actually better quality recordings available online.

CD Track List
  1. Franklin’s Tower
  2. New Minglewood Blues
  3. Tennessee Jed
  4. Looks Like Rain
  5. Don’t Ease Me In
  6. Playing In The Band
  7. Drum Solo
  8. Jam
  9. Not Fade Away
  10. Sugar Magnolia
Cambodian Refugee Benefit was released on October 7, 2016 through Golden Rain.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Highway Prayer: A Tribute To Adam Carroll (2016) CD Review

Adam Carroll is a talented and respected singer and songwriter based in Texas. He’s released several CDs over the past fifteen or so years, and his songs have been covered by other singer/songwriters. Highway Prayer: A Tribute To Adam Carroll features an excellent line-up of artists, including James McMurtry, Slaid Cleaves and Band Of Heathens, playing songs that Carroll wrote. I’m actually more familiar with some of these artists than I am with Adam Carroll’s own recordings. And, in part because of this, I realize that this CD could work well as an introduction to the songwriter’s material. Interestingly, each of the artists on this CD introduces the song he or she is covering, often simply stating the song’s title, which is also in itself a little tribute to the songwriter, as Adam Carroll does the same thing on some of his own albums. Most of the folks on this album are, like Adam Carroll, based in Texas, and they let these songs speak for themselves, delivering heartfelt renditions without adding anything unnecessary. Every one of these songs has lines that will stand out, such as “My only luxuries are my memories/And they make room for my dreams” from “South Of Town” and “Waiting in the dark/For anything that shines” from “Rain.” The CD also includes a song by Adam Carroll at the end. And why not? It’s like the guest of honor being given a chance to speak. Seems right to me.

James McMurtry kicks off the CD with a cover of “Screen Door,” the song that opens Adam Carroll’s 2000 release Lookin’ Out The Screen Door. James McMurtry is such a great songwriter and storyteller, and it’s clear here that he can convince you of a character’s truth even if he didn’t write the tale. Joining James McMurtry on this recording are Cornbread on bass and Daren Hess on drums. That’s followed by the closing number from Lookin’ Out The Screen Door, “Girl With The Dirty Hair,” here performed by Hayes Carll. Hayes Carll had previously recorded Adam Carroll’s “Take Me Away,” including it on his Little Rock album. He does a really good job with “Girl With The Dirty Hair,” though oddly changes the opening line to “Scarface in the corner, he’s stumbling for a fight” (the original is “looking for a fight”). I love the weary quality to his delivery, which works perfectly.

Slaid Cleaves chooses “South Of Town,” the title track to Adam Carroll’s 2001 release, and delivers a good version. Slaid sings, “You can think of me in terms of how it used to be/But you’ll never hear me complain.” The original line is “You can think of me in terms of your memories.” Both lines are actually really good, and also effective. This isn’t the first time that Slaid Cleaves has covered Adam Carroll’s material. He included a rendition of “Racecar Joe” on his 2006 release Unsung. Then Band Of Heathens does a wonderful version of “Oklahoma Gypsy Shuffler,” a perfect choice for this band. As I mentioned earlier, these songs all have lines that stand out. The ones from this song that caught me my first time listening to this disc were “He did it with a guitar late into the night/Trying to live just like the songs that he would write.” By the way, Adam Carroll had co-written “Maple Tears,” a song on The Band Of Heathens’ 2008 self-titled release.

You probably know Jamie Lin Wilson (and her own songwriting abilities) from her work with The Trishas. She also released her debut solo album last year, Holidays & Wedding Rings. On this tribute album, she covers Adam Carroll’s “Hi Fi Love” (here titled “Hi-Fi Love”). This song certainly contains some surprising lines, surprising rhymes, particularly these: “But I just can’t get enough/Of your old French ticklers, no one in particulars/And your sundown hi-fi love.” I love the way Jamie Lin Wilson delivers those lines. (And the last line of this song makes me laugh.) She is joined on this track by Lloyd Maines. Lloyd Maines also joins Verlon Thompson on the cover of “Lil' Runaway,” a song from Adam Carroll’s 2014 release, Let It Choose You. Verlon Thompson is a songwriter whose own material has been covered by many artists over the years, including Guy Clark, Sam Bush, Trisha Yearwood and Kenny Rogers. On “Lil’ Runaway,” he follows Adam’s near-spoken word vocal delivery. This track also features Diana Burgess on cello, an instrument I always appreciate. The last line of this song is “Come on back and make it rain.” It is then followed by Scott Nolan’s rendition of “Rain,” a nice touch. BettySoo, of Charlie Faye & The Fayettes joins Scott Nolan on vocals. Scott Nolan was featured on a track of Carroll’s Old Town Rock ‘N’ Roll album, the CD most covered on this tribute.

Some of the best guitar work on this CD is by Matt The Electrician on his excellent rendition of “Old Town Rock ‘N’ Roll.” He is joined by Rich Richards on percussion, and by Curtis McMurtry (James McMurtry’s son) on banjo. One of the lines from “Smoky Mountain Taxi” that stood out for me was “He was hitting on a waitress with a good set of teeth.” Banjo player Danny Barnes delivers a really good version of that song on this CD. He plays both banjo and guitar, and is joined by Lloyd Maines on mandolin. The other line that caught me the first time I put this disc on was “I heard more bluegrass music than I wanted to hear.” Danny Barnes’ rendition has more of a bluegrass feel all the way through, even before that great, fast section at the end. That ending section in this version has a different sound, as from an old recording.

Noel McKay and Brennen Leigh’s rendition of “Karaoke Cowboy” has a different feel from Adam Carroll’s original from the Lookin’ Out The Screen Door album. It has an appropriate country bar vibe, and features Lloyd Maines on pedal steel and Jeff Plankenhorn on dobro. That is followed by one of my favorites, Mando Saenz’s version of “Home Again.” “I see his name in everyone/Just like I see myself.” These lines also stand out for me: “Old times always stay the same/And brand-new days are strange/But you never lose yourself/And all you do is change.” Walt Wilkins delivers an earnest rendition of “Highway Prayer,” the song chosen as the title for this collection. Walt is joined by Lloyd Maines on pedal steel and Diana Burgess on cello, while BettySoo provides harmony vocals on this track.

This CD concludes with a new Adam Carroll song, “My Only Good Shirt” (and yes, he does introduce it). Interestingly, this song is actually a tribute of sorts to Lloyd Maines (and his shirt). “I’m a long way from my roots/I’ve still got sand in my boots/They call me the spiritual kind/And they say this shirt’s damaged goods/And I’d trade it in if I could.

CD Track List
  1. Screen Door – James McMurtry
  2. Girl With The Dirty Hair – Hayes Carll
  3. South Of Town – Slaid Cleaves
  4. Oklahoma Gypsy Shuffler – Band Of Heathens
  5. Hi-Fi Love – Jamie Lin Wilson
  6. Lil’ Runaway – Verlon Thompson
  7. Rain – Scott Nolan
  8. Old Town Rock ‘N’ Roll – Matt The Electrician
  9. Black Flag Blues – Tim Easton and Aaron Lee Tasjan
  10. Smoky Mountain Taxi – Danny Barnes
  11. Errol’s Song – Jason Eady
  12. Red Bandana Blues – Terri Hendrix
  13. Karaoke Cowboy – Noel McKay and Brennen Leigh
  14. Home Again – Mando Saenz
  15. Highway Prayer – Walt Wilkins
  16. My Only Good Shirt – Adam Carroll
Highway Prayer: A Tribute To Adam Carroll is scheduled to be released on October 28, 2016 on Eight 30 Records.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Michael Robertson: “All My Stories” (2016) CD Review

Michael Robertson has been making music for decades in various bands, including The Robertson Brothers Band, Maybe August, and Honesty And The Liars, all based in Michigan. He has now released his first solo album, All My Stories, featuring all original material. On this CD he plays guitar, lap steel and mandolin. Of course, it’s not exactly a solo album, as he is backed by many of the musicians from his other bands, including Scott Robertson, Honesty Elliott, Rosco Selley, Keith Carolan, Mike Thomas, Donny Brown and Andy Reed.

Michael Robertson kicks off the album with its title track, “All My Stories,” which has a sweet, positive country vibe, and a nice blending of male and female vocals. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “The voice outside sounds just like you/Saying some dreams do come true/And you know all my stories.” This is one of my favorites, and it leads straight into “The Highway Song,” a song I will be adding to my road trip play list. There is a powerful beauty to this song, tinged by a sadness that makes it all the more poignant, with lines like “All of my wishes didn’t get us too far.” I love that harmonica part halfway through. “Take your maps and the pictures and throw ‘em away/With the plans that you’ve made for the rest of your days.” Jim Alfredson plays organ on this track.

And if I could just keep my tongue out of my cheek, I might not be condemned to eternal damnation” is a line that really stood out for me the first time I listened to this disc. It’s a great line from the beginning of “Sale On Salvation,” a song about people struggling with their various issues, a song with a sense of humor. “So he cashed in his pension/Drove to a place we can’t mention/And laid it all down on Red 44.” (Though maybe I’m mishearing that, because I don’t think roulette wheels go up that high. Maybe it’s supposed to be Red 34.) At the end, Michael sings a bit of “Amen,” that song made popular by The Impressions. Jim Alfredson plays organ, and Bill Silverthorn plays drums on this track. This is a song that Michael has performed with Maybe August, and that band also included the “Amen” section.

“It’s Not What You Think” is one of the most interesting songs on this release. It begins like a dirty limerick, “There once was a man from Nantucket...”  But when we expect a certain rhyme, Michael surprises by instead singing, “One day he woke up and said… funny how there’s no one to blame.” And while there are other humorous lines and wordplay, the sound of this song is rather serious, pensive, melancholy. “It is what it is, it’s not what you think.” There is some wonderful stuff on guitar during the instrumental section in the second half of the song. Ryan Fitzgerald plays bass and Mike McHenry plays drums on this track.

“Blame It On You” is kind of catchy and has something of a 1970s vibe, particularly that guitar part. And check out these lyrics: “But I don’t know which me I’m supposed to be/And it takes too long to get from your head to some place I understand/It takes too long to heal the wounds from the holes in your hands/It takes too long to get down off of this mountain where you stand/Maybe I’ll just turn and walk away like I don’t give a damn/And blame it on you.” This is another of my favorites.

The album concludes with an acoustic version of its title track, which is quite pretty. I think I actually prefer this version. “Take me now for what I am.”

CD Track List
  1. All My Stories
  2. The Highway Song
  3. Old Man
  4. Sale On Salvation
  5. It’s Not What You Think
  6. Blame It On You
  7. Little Man
  8. Shut Up And Go To Sleep
  9. All My Stories (Acoustic) 
All My Stories was released on June 2, 2016.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

James Young: “Songs They Never Play On The Radio” (2016) CD Review

I think anyone who has ever heard Nico sing is struck by her voice, her style, her… well, struck by her, really. James Young performed and recorded with Nico in the 1980s, playing keyboard and piano in The Faction, the band that backed her. He published a memoir about those times titled Songs They Never Play On The Radio (some editions are titled Nico The End). Then in 1994 he released a CD also titled Songs They Never Play On The Radio, featuring songs based on his memoir, as a tribute to Nico. Now he is releasing a new CD titled Songs They Never Play On The Radio. This isn’t exactly a re-issue of the 1994 album, though a few tracks from that album have made their way onto this disc. Most of the songs were written by James Young, the only exception being a cover of “My Funny Valentine,” a song that Nico And The Faction included on the 1985 record Camera Obscura. James Young plays most of the instruments on this CD. And, as you might expect, a lot of this music has a beautiful, haunting quality.

The album opens with its title track, “Songs They Never Play On The Radio,” which was also the title track to the 1994 release, and features Henry Olsen on guitar and drums. Olsen also produced the track, which was the closing track on the 1994 album. The vibe is mellow and thoughtful, with a strong, steady heartbeat on drum throughout, making the song feel like a living entity, or the clear memory of one. There is something oddly comforting about this song. “One night we’ll laugh at nothing at all/Like we used to do/And we’ll close the window on it all/Just like we used to do/And I’ll do the best I can/And you’ll try to understand/And we’ll slowly dance the night away/As we listen to the songs they never play/On the radio.”

That’s followed by “Breathe For Me,” an instrumental piece that feels like part strange lullaby, part mechanical expression, all the while with the sound of a life support apparatus going. Nico had wanted to incorporate that machine into a recording after her son had been hospitalized. She never got to it, but James Young has done it here. Is the person on life support taking part in the music through the machine, or does the music work to almost mask the sound of the machine and what it means? And that last breath – is the person suddenly able to breathe on his own, or is it the person’s final breath? Either way, the music is over.

It was a lovely day… for a funeral” is the first line of “Down By The Wannsee,” a strange, distant, haunting song, which creeps up on you, then recedes. James Young plays piano and harmonium on this track, and is joined on vocals by MacGillivray (Kirsten Norrie). Her beautiful vocals remind me of backing vocals on certain Leonard Cohen recordings. This song mentions Nico by name: “They said Nico was in town/She needs a bed/Down by the Wannsee.” (Wannsee is a lake near Berlin, but it was also the name of the conference in which the Nazis discussed the implementation of the so-called “final solution.”)

I love the way “She’s In My Eyes” draws you in, slowly, carefully, almost sweetly. James Young plays melodica on this track. The song feels like a loving meditation, particularly in the first half. It becomes more lively, more awake in the second half.

The CD case and liner notes list “Planète Poussière” as the seventh track, but actually “The Cigarette Ends” is before, not after, that song. Here is a taste of the lyrics from “The Cigarette Ends”: “When the cigarette ends/I rush to your defense/When the cigarette ends/It’s the end of our pretense.” My favorite lines are “The wall fell down/Now it’s a postcard town.” Not bad, eh? “Planète Poussière” is one of the tracks that was included on the 1994 release, though under the title “Planet Pussy.” In this one, James sings, “I could go out and dance all night/I could make love by candle light/Buy a long-stemmed rose in a Chinese restaurant/Get down on my knees, give you everything you want/All I can do/Is look at you.” “Listen To The Rain” and “Curious” were also included on the 1994 release (though “Curious” was titled “Curious (Elvis Has Left The Building”). (By the way, “Curious” contains a reference to The Tempest in its use of the phrase “into thin air.”)

Exploding Plastic Inevitable was a series of multimedia performances in the 1960s organized by Andy Warhol and featuring The Velvet Underground and Nico. James Young switches the name around a bit for his “Plastik Exploding Inevitable,” an interesting track that gives you that sense of several different realms coming together for an event.

The last two tracks on this CD – “Dog” and “My Funny Valentine” – were recorded live in Berlin in 2008, as part of a tribute to Nico titled Nico 70/20. The name of the event was 70/20 because it was held when Nico would have been seventy years old, twenty years after her death. The name is also a play on her song “60/40” (which is also written as “Sixty Forty”). “Dog” is a haunting, compelling piece, performed on piano. “My Funny Valentine” is the CD’s only cover, written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. It’s a song that Nico covered on her 1985 record Camera Obscura, and one which she also performed in concert. Here James Young delivers an instrumental rendition.

CD Track List
  1. Songs They Never Play On The Radio
  2. Breathe For Me
  3. Down By The Wannsee
  4. The Door
  5. Burn Away
  6. She’s In My Eyes
  7. The Cigarette Ends
  8. Planète Poussière
  9. Listen To The Rain
  10. Plastik Exploding Inevitable
  11. Curious
  12. Dog
  13. My Funny Valentine 
Songs They Never Play On The Radio was released in the UK on August 19, 2016, and is scheduled to be released in the US on November 4, 2016.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Boomtown Rats: “Live Germany ‘78” (2015) DVD/CD Review

When I was in my early teens I bought The Fine Art Of Surfacing on cassette, after hearing “I Don’t Like Mondays” on the radio, The Boomtown Rats’ biggest hit, a song written after a sixteen-year-old girl fired a gun into an elementary school, killing two and injuring several others. It was right around the time that I bought that cassette that Bob Geldof recorded the Band Aid record, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and soon after that organized the Live Aid concert. But before Live Aid, before Band Aid, before Bob Geldof starred in Pink Floyd: The Wall, even before The Fine Art Of Surfacing, The Boomtown Rats put out their first two records, and it is from these two albums that most of the songs from Live Germany ’78 come. Gonzo Multimedia released this concert last year as a two-disc set, a DVD and CD, along with a booklet of photos and, interestingly, a copy of the tour contract rider.

The show was recorded at a fairly small venue, with the audience in the front seated around tables. I had listened to the CD first, and assumed from the energy of the music that the audience was dancing. Before they start the set, Bob Geldof tells the crowd: “This is the first time we’ve played in Germany. We did our record in Cologne, but this is the time we’ve played here.” The band then kicks off the set with “Close As You’ll Ever Be,” a tune from their self-titled debut record, and right away Bob comes alive, jumping off the stage and rushing at one of the cameras in the audience. He really plays to the cameras, even beckoning one of them to come closer at one point. But what’s up with that weird green light?

There is barely a pause after the first song before they go into “Never Bite The Hand That Feeds You.” The energy is fantastic. How is the crowd remaining so still? Maybe they were asked to, as this seems to have been filmed for a broadcast. In a couple of shots, you can see one of the cameras, and it looks like one of those large television cameras. And during “Neon Heart,” look at the guy in the front. He’s playing with a rat puppet or plush toy. Later you can see it on the table. Was that supplied by the band, or was that something that fans brought to shows?

In introducing “(It Feels) So Strange,” Bob says, “The next song is about when you wake up in the morning and you realize that you’ve just lost a war.” Check out the audience member in the black leather jacket. He looks so distrustful, so wary of what Bob might do next. Well, what he does next is introduce “Kicks” by telling the crowd, “In England, they think the next song is an excuse to kick people, especially the person beside you.” He also says the song’s title is “I Get My Kicks From You.” I like it when Bob tries to direct the camera, pointing at which band member should be featured in the shot, and then giving the camera man the thumbs up when he complies. Bob also interacts with some of the audience members, at one point asking: “What? Gabba gabba what?” That’s just before the band goes into “(She’s Gonna) Do You In,” one of the highlights of the set. Bob Geldof plays harmonica on that one.

This is a very energetic and totally enjoyable set. Even if you’re not familiar with the songs, you’re likely to enjoy this performance. The concert on the DVD is approximately fifty-one minutes, while on the CD it’s a few minutes shorter, as the song introductions are cut for some reason. The DVD includes two bonus songs: “Banana Republic” from a television appearance in November of 1980, and “House On Fire” from a television appearance in May of 1982. It’s difficult to tell if the band is really playing on these two songs or not. It seems like they are, but then often Bob doesn’t have the microphone anywhere near his mouth, and you can hear him just fine, which makes it seem like a pre-recorded track. And then it seems like the songs are fading out, but both times the picture cuts before we can really tell.

Track List
  1. Close As You’ll Ever Be
  2. Never Bite The Hand That Feeds You
  3. Neon Heart
  4. (It Feels) So Strange
  5. Kicks
  6. She’s So Modern
  7. Joey’s On The Street Again
  8. Don’t Believe What You Read
  9. (She’s Gonna) Do You In
  10. Do The Rat
  11. It’s All The Rage
  12. Mary Of The 4th Form
  13. Lookin’ After No. 1 
Live Germany ’78 was released on August 7, 2015 through Gonzo Multimedia.

Teresa James And The Rhythm Tramps: “Bonafide” (2016) CD Review

Teresa James And The Rhythm Tramps are a cool blues band based in Los Angeles (though Teresa James is originally from Houston), and have released several albums over the past fifteen years or so. Their new one, Bonafide, features mostly original material written by bass player Terry Wilson. It follows the band’s 2012 release, Come On Home. The Rhythm Tramps have gone through a lot of configurations over the years, and the lineup for this release is Terry Wilson on bass, guitar, organ, percussion and backing vocals; Billy Watts on guitar and backing vocals; Red Young on organ; Mike Finnegan on organ and piano; Phil Parlapiano on piano; Lewis Stephens on piano and organ; Tony Braunagel on drums; Jay Bellarose on drums and percussion; Jim Christie on drums; Herman Matthews on drums; Lee Thornburg on trumpet; Darrell Leonard on horns; Mark Pender on horns; Ron Dziubla on saxophone; Sean Holt on saxophone; Jerry Peterson on saxophone; Richard Wedler on bowed saw; and Greg Sutton on vocals. And of course at the heart of this recording is Teresa James on lead vocals and piano. Her voice is one of those delicious blues voices that can get rough and raw when necessary, but also can soothe and woo you if she so desires.

Teresa James And The Rhythm Tramps kick off this CD with a great cover of The “5” Royales’ “I Like It Like That,” a song written by Lowman Pauling and originally released in 1954 as the flip side to “Cry Some More.” Oh yes, back to the roots of rock with some excellent rhythm and blues. And just listen to the way Teresa delivers the lines, “Well, me and my baby fuss and fight/And then we get together, make love all night.”  Wonderful! Plus, she delivers some delightful stuff on piano. I am always a sucker for that kind of playing; it works for me every time. This is one of only two covers on this release.

They follow that with the CD’s title track, “Bonafide,” a blues tune with a cool, quirky rhythm. In this song, she is taking charge, and her vocals leave no question about it. “I got your bags all packed out on the front lawn.” She’s determined to get her life together – something we’re all attempting, right? Perhaps this song will help. Just turn it up and get to work. “Spit It Out” is another cool blues tune, with some nice touches on horns by Darrell Leonard. “I’m just saying what’s on my mind/Trying to get close to you is sure taking some time/I ain’t complaining, just telling it like it is.” Horns also add to the great vibe on “The Power Of Need.” This time Mark Pender and Ron Dziubla are on horns. I really like Teresa James’ vocal performance here, both powerful and intimate.

Then “Hollywood Way” shows something of a playful side that I appreciate, with that great pause in the line “You might catch it on You Tube… eventually,” and a bit of a funky edge. This song also contains a reference to The Picture Of Dorian Gray, as the dream in Los Angeles is of not aging. Just have your image captured by the camera, and in a way you never do age. There is the play on the meaning of “Way” here, as both method and the street that leads to the Burbank airport. And how literal is she when she sings, “We’re all on shaky ground”? That playful sense is also prominent in the following track, “My God Is Better Than Yours,” which has the positive message that we shouldn’t let religions divide us, that the fighting between religious groups is insane. I particularly like these lines: “A thousand years later came the Crusades/Now two thousand years, no progress made.” No kidding! I also really like the backing vocals by Terry Wilson and Billy Watts: “Oh no, no, no, you’re wrong again.”

My favorite track is “You Always Pick Me Up.” I love the classic, powerful feel of this song. It features another excellent vocal performance by Teresa James, and also some great stuff from Ron Dziubla on saxophone and Lee Thornburg on trumpet. “You had dreams you could remember/Oh, where did they go/Another place, another time/Baby, we’ll never know.” I love this song, and I can’t believe it hasn’t been a part of my life for years already. It has that feel, you know?

I hate the marketing slogan “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” which seems designed to appeal to the worst aspects of human nature, encouraging people to cheat and then keep it secret, while of course spending plenty of money. Part of it is that I despise Las Vegas, which I think exists solely by appealing to those worst elements inside of all of us. So I have a bit of trouble getting into “What Happens In Vegas,” though the song seems to be a warning of sorts (“You’d better watch out, there ain’t no doubt/You’re going to lose your honey if you lose your money”), and features some nice work on piano by Mike Finnigan.

One of this CD’s highlights is “No Regrets,” another with that great, old feel, a thoughtful song of passion and love. “Love seems to come so easily to you.” Plus, there is some really nice playing by Sean Holt on saxophone, as well as great stuff on keys. The CD concludes with its second cover, John Hiatt’s “Have A Little Faith In Me.” It’s interesting that Teresa James And The Rhythm Tramps decided to begin and end the album with covers. This is such a beautiful song, and certainly not a bad choice with which to end the album. I love the way Teresa delivers these lines: “When your back’s against the wall/Just turn around, just turn around and you will see/I will catch you, I will always catch your fall/All you got to do is have a little faith in me.” Jerry Peterson plays saxophone on this track.

CD Track List
  1. I Like It Like That
  2. Bonafide
  3. Spit It Out
  4. The Power Of Need
  5. Hollywood Way
  6. My God Is Better Than Yours
  7. You Always Pick Me Up
  8. What Happens In Vegas
  9. Too Big To Fail
  10. Funny Like That
  11. No Regrets
  12. You Want It When You Want It
  13. Have A Little Faith In Me 
Bonafide was released on October 14, 2016 on Jesi-Lu Records.

Velvet Crush: “Pre-Teen Symphonies” (2016) CD Review

Velvet Crush is a rock band from Providence, Rhode Island, getting its start in 1989, and releasing its first full-length album in 1991. Probably Velvet Crush’s most popular album is Teenage Symphonies To God, released in 1994. Leading up to that album, the band recorded some demos, which are included on Pre-Teen Symphonies, along with some live tracks from November 1994. These tracks were previously available on the band’s own label, Action Musick, on Melody Freaks and Rock Concert. Now they’re available to a wider audience through this new compilation by Omnivore Recordings, with liner notes by drummer Ric Menck. Most of the songs were written by the band’s three members, Paul Chastain, Jeffrey Underhill and Ric Menck.

Melody Freaks

The first eight tracks of this compilation were previously included on Melody Freaks. These are demos of songs which, in large part, would end up on Teenage Symphonies To God. The disc opens with “Hold Me Up,” which would be the lead-off track on that album, and would also be released as a single. It’s a good, solid tune, with lines like “Time down the road/Nothing much to show/Suffer as the days/Linger on and on/Miles and miles away/You hold me up when I'm gone.” That’s followed by “My Blank Pages,” which also follows it on Teenage Symphonies To God. The lines that always stick out for me are “All I do, all I say, never close enough/All I do, all I know, doesn’t mean that much.” (Interestingly, those lines would be changed slightly on the album to “All I think, all I say, never close enough/All I know, all I do doesn’t mean that much.”)

“Time Wraps Around You” has a mellower, sweeter sound, and is one of my favorite tracks. This song would also be included on Teenage Symphonies To God. “This time wraps around you/And I'll wrap around you/You know I'll stay.”

“Turn Down” is one of only two songs on this CD not written by the band. It was written by Darren Cooper and originally recorded by his band, Three Hour Tour, and included on the Valentine’s Day seven-inch. It’s one of those positive, peppy-sounding pop songs, with the line “We’ll take something bad and turn it around.” And it works. I was in kind of a shitty mood the first time I put this disc on, and this track brought a smile to my face.  Of course, it’s followed by a song titled “This Life Is Killing Me,” a harder, rawer rock number that seemed more fitting to my mood that night with lines like “It's your saving grace, but it's not saving me” and “I can’t go out, the sky is closing in on me.”

There is a bit of 1960s jangly folk-pop to the sound of “Weird Summer,” another tune that would be included on Teenage Symphonies To God. It’s one of those tunes you can’t help but like. “Star Trip” kicks right in, without that intro on the album version. By the way, joining the band on the Melody Freaks tracks are Phil Hurley on guitar, Mike Deneen on keyboards, Mitch Easter on guitar and David Gibbs on backing vocals.

Rock Concert

The second half of this disc is from a concert the band did in Chicago in November 1994, and features live versions of some of the songs from the first half of the CD. These tracks were previously released as Rock Concert. The first track is “Window To The World,” an energetic rock number with plenty of guitar. Tommy Keene had joined the band at this point, adding another guitar and voice. This song was the lead-off track to the band’s first full-length release, In The Presence Of Greatness. It’s followed by “My Blank Pages,” with the lyrics to those lines I mentioned earlier delivered as they are on the album.

Also from In The Presence Of Greatness they do “Ash And Earth,” but most of the songs are from Teenage Symphonies To God, including “Time Wraps Around You,” an energetic rendition of “Atmosphere,” “This Life I Killing Me” and “Hold Me Up.” This CD ends with its second cover, “Remember The Lightning,” written by Ron Flynt and originally recorded by 20/20, included on that band’s first album. Velvet Crush does a really good, fun rendition. There isn’t much stage banter between songs, just some thanks and very brief song introductions (like “This song is called ‘Atmosphere’”).

CD Track List
  1. Hold Me Up
  2. My Blank Pages
  3. Time Wraps Around You
  4. Not Standing Down
  5. Turn Down
  6. This Life Is Killing Me
  7. Weird Summer
  8. Star Trip
  9. Window To The World
  10. My Blank Pages
  11. Ash And Earth
  12. Time Wraps Around You
  13. Atmosphere
  14. This Life Is Killing Me
  15. Hold Me Up
  16. Remember The Lightning
Pre-Teen Symphonies was released on July 22, 2016 through Omnivore Recordings.