Sunday, December 31, 2017

Peter Case: “On The Way Downtown: Recorded Live On FolkScene” (2017) CD Review

Peter Case, a member of The Nerves and The Plimsouls, began his solo career with a seriously good self-titled album in 1986 (which was re-issued last year), and has been releasing excellent solo work ever since, mixing in elements of punk and rock with folk in his original material. His new release, On The Way Downtown: Recorded Live On FolkScene, features music from two performances on the radio program FolkScene on KPFK in Los Angeles – one from 1998, the other from 2000. Here you have all that raw, exciting energy of one of his concert performances, but without the crowd noise. The sound is excellent. None of these recordings have been previously issued on CD.

The first nine tracks were recorded on March 1, 1998. The musicians backing him on this session are Andrew Williams on guitar and backing vocals, Greg Leisz on guitar, Sandy Chila on drums, Don Heffington on percussion, and Tony Marsico on bass. The first track includes a brief introduction by Howard Larman, calling the band Peter Case And Friends. And then Peter Case gets things going with “Spell Of Wheels,” the lead track from his then brand new release Full Service No Waiting. This song tells the story of five young small-time criminals who make a getaway through the snow, ending up in a different location, but the same place. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “We get to Minnesota, spend the winter in monochrome/Fall in with small time criminals just like the ones at home/Watchin’ through the windows for what the night reveals/And waitin’ for the spring to come/Beneath the spell of wheels.”  Sometimes when I listen to this song, I wonder who it is that the character is singing to; after all, there is the line “I’m on my way back home to you,” sung when he thinks they are all about to die. “Spell Of Wheels” was written by Peter Case and Joshua Case. Peter Case plays harmonica on this track.

Peter introduces the next song, “On The Way Downtown,” the song used as this release’s title track, “This is about a visit back to the town where I grew up.” “On The Way Downtown” is also from Full Service No Waiting. In fact, all nine songs from this first radio show are from that album, and the first five are performed in album order. “On The Way Downtown” was also written by Peter Case and Joshua Case, and is one of my favorite tracks. This one really moves me. “I had a fight with the woman that had my kids/Couldn’t get along with anyone, what if I did/I’m going back to the corner where we used to meet/When our dreams were young and the nights were sweet.” Wow, this recording is reminding me what a strong album Full Service No Waiting is. Check out these lyrics from “Green Blanket (Part 1)”: “It’s too late tonight/For a miracle cure/And if this rain keeps on falling/It’ll wash me away/Down through the gutter/And out to the bay/Where the red and the gold/And the silver fish play/That’s someplace where no one will find me.” Then “Honey Child” is a lot of fun, sounding like a celebration at a cool road-side tavern out away from the city somewhere. At the end, Peter, apparently not satisfied, asks, “Howard, can we do that one again, man?

He introduces “Crooked Mile,” saying, “I guess I’m going to play it alone.” To the other musicians he then says, “If any of you guys feel like jumping in, go ahead. I feel kinda weird with all these guys just sitting around looking at me while I play.” I love his guitar work on this song. This is a powerful, strong rendition. The guys can’t help but applaud him at the end of it. Peter Case ends this first session with “Until The Next Time,” a song whose beauty somehow always catches me by surprise. “Until the next time/The race starts close to the finish line/And down in my heart/I know this could be the start of something.”

The other nine tracks are from July 30, 2000. As with the earlier session, here Peter Case is promoting a studio release, this time Flying Saucer Blues. However, this time not all of the songs are from that new release. Joining him for this session is David Perales on violin and backing vocals. There is no introduction this time, and Peter Case starts with “Something Happens,” identifying it as a song from Flying Saucer Blues. This is a beautiful and sweet song. “Each time I hold you in my arms/I’m set free from all harms/I seem to know what to do/Something happens when I’m with you.” Oh yes, that’s an incredible feeling, isn’t it? May we all experience that in the coming year.

Peter Case follows that with a cover of Mississippi John Hurt’s “Pay Day,” a song not included on Flying Saucer Blues. Actually, I don’t think it’s on any of his studio releases. (It was, however, included on the compilation, A Tribute To Mississippi John Hurt: Live At The Cambridge Arts Theatre.) Peter jokes a bit at the beginning, asking David if he wants to play a John Hurt song, then immediately adding, “Sure you do.” And it’s a damn good rendition. Peter then returns to material from Flying Saucer Blues, playing “Blue Distance” and “Walking Home Late.” Between those two songs, there is an introduction, a station identification of sorts: “Live from Studio A, our guests are Peter Case and David Perales.” Then Peter Case tells us a bit about “Walking Home Late” before they start the song. “Today at noon I thought I’d disintegrate/But it’s cooling off now, and I’m walking home late.”

Peter dips into his earlier work with “Icewater,” a blues song from his self-titled debut album. This is a delicious and fun version, with Peter playing harmonica. David’s work on violin is absolutely wonderful here, helping to make this track one of the CD’s highlights. They then play “Beyond The Blues,” a song from Six-Pack Of Love, and a perfect choice to follow a blues tune. This one was written by Peter Case, Tom Russell and Bob Neuwirth. “We hit the fork in the road/Where we all have to choose/Between the darkness and life beyond the blues.” Peter follows that with two more songs from Flying Saucer Blues – “Coulda Woulda Shoulda” and “Paradise Etc.” – before wrapping things up with a cover of Charlie Poole’s “Leaving Home.” I love this line from “Paradise Etc.” (another of my favorite tracks): “The apocalypse is over and I still owe rent.” Seems rather fitting these days, doesn’t it?

CD Track List
  1. Spell Of Wheels
  2. On The Way Downtown
  3. Let Me Fall
  4. Green Blanket (Part 1)
  5. Honey Child
  6. Crooked Mile
  7. Still Playin’
  8. See Through Eyes
  9. Until The Next Time
  10. Something Happens
  11. Pay Day
  12. Blue Distance
  13. Walking Home Late
  14. Icewater
  15. Beyond The Blues
  16. Coulda Shoulda Woulda
  17. Paradise Etc.
  18. Leaving Home
On The Way Downtown: Recorded Live On Folkscene was released on October 27, 2017 through Omnivore Recordings.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge: “Full Moon (Expanded Edition)” (2017) CD Review

Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge were married in 1973. That same year they released their first album together. Titled Full Moon, it includes some covers and some original material, including two songs that the couple wrote together. It’s an excellent album that somehow had not been issued on CD in the U.S. until this year. Crazy, right? This CD release is an expanded edition, including six bonus tracks, none of which had been previously released, and new liner notes by Joe Marchese.

The album opens with a cover of Larry Murray’s “Hard To Be Friends,” certainly an interesting choice for a first song from the couple. Rita sings lead at the beginning (“It's so hard to be friends/When it was so easy to be lovers”), but then they sing the rest of the song together, their voices blending perfectly. “So hard to step forward/So easy to turn inward/Too soon to be ended/Too late, too late to be mended.” That’s followed by “It’s All Over (All Over Again),” one of the tracks they wrote together. On this one, they trade lines at the beginning, then harmonize on other lines. It’s a song about second chances, and has an uplifting vibe that I appreciate, even though you get the sense that perhaps they’re heading for trouble again. The song plays on the phrase “all over” in the lines “Oh, darlin' we're starting all over/It's all over, all over again.”  And check out these lines: “We know that we've both got so much to lose/And the rest of our lifetime to pay/’Cause we could be good to each other/Better than we've ever been.”

“From The Bottle To The Bottom” is a fun country tune and has one of the two best song titles of the album. They trade off lines on this one too, with Rita starting it, “You ask me if I’m happy now/That’s as good as any joke I’ve heard/Seems that since I’ve seen you last/I’ve done forgot the meaning of the word.” Kris responds, “If happiness is empty rooms/And drinking in the afternoon/Well, I suppose I’m happy as a clam.” This one was written by Kris Kristofferson and is one of my favorites. It features some nice work on fiddle by Vassar Clements (a talented musician I learned about through his work with Jerry Garcia in Old & In The Way). The other great song title is, of course, “I’m Down (But I Keep Falling),” which is the second of the two songs written by Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristofferson. Rita sings lead on this one.

They do a really good cover of Bobby Charles’ “Tennessee Blues,” beginning it with the vocals rather than the instrumental section that opens Charles’ rendition. Kris sings lead on the first verse, with Rita singing lead on the second verse. “If I had my way/I’d leave here today/And leave in a hurry/I’d find me a place/Where I could stay/And not have to worry.” This is another of the album’s highlights. I also love their cover of “I Heard The Bluebirds Sing,” a song written by Hod Pharis and released as a single by The Browns in the 1950s. It’s a sweet and cheerful tune, and Kris and Rita do a wonderful job with it. That’s followed by “After The Fact,” a beautiful and moving track featuring perhaps the best vocal performances on the album. The original album concludes with a Kris Kristofferson composition, “A Song I’d Like To Sing,” a light and enjoyable tune with an island beat.

Bonus Tracks

This expanded edition includes six bonus tracks, though only one of them is from the sessions for this album. That one is “Hobo’s Lullaby,” a song written by Goebel Reeves and recorded by many folks over the years, including Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie, Emmylou Harris, Pete Seeger and The Kingston Trio. Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge do an excellent job with it, and I wonder why it wasn’t included on the original release of Full Moon. Well, no matter now, I suppose, as we get to enjoy the recording on this new edition.

The other tracks are all Rita Coolidge solo recordings from the years 1972-1974. Two were written by Marc Benno, who played with Leon Russell in Asylum Choir before starting his solo career. The first of those, “Lost In Austin,” would end up being the title track to one of Benno’s solo albums, but this recording by Rita Coolidge predates that release by several years. It was recorded during the sessions that resulted in 1974’s Fall Into Spring. The sweet country sound of this track makes it fit right in with the songs of Full Moon. The other Marc Benno song is “Speak Your Mind,” recorded in 1972 during the sessions for The Lady’s Not For Sale, which is still my favorite Rita Coolidge album. This version is good, but it does feel like it goes on longer than it needs to.

“Our Child Will Be Born,” recorded in 1973, has a kind of country pop feel. That’s followed by “Someone Loves You Honey,” a song written by Don Devaney and originally recorded by Johnny Rodriguez. That recording was released in 1974, the same year that Rita Coolidge recorded this version. A few years later Charley Pride had a big hit with it. It’s kind of cheesy, but sweet. “I’m glad that I’m the one/That you come to when you need someone/That’s what my love is for/It’s a shoulder to lean on, a port in a storm.” Also included here is Rita Coolidge’s cover of “Girl To Be On My Mind,” a song written by Graham Nash and included on the Graham Nash/David Crosby album. Here it is done as “Man To Be On My Mind,” and is an absolutely wonderful rendition. This was recorded in 1972, another outtake from The Lady’s Not For Sale.

CD Track List
  1. Hard To Be Friends
  2. It’s All Over (All Over Again)
  3. I Never Had It So Good
  4. From The Bottle To The Bottom
  5. Take Time To Love
  6. Tennessee Blues
  7. Part Of Your Life
  8. I’m Down (But I Keep Falling)
  9. Heard The Bluebirds Sing
  10. After The Fact
  11. Loving Arms
  12. A Song I’d Like To Sing
  13. Hobo’s Lullaby
  14. Lost In Austin
  15. Our Child Will Be Born
  16. Someone Loves You Honey
  17. Man To Be On My Mind
  18. Speak Your Mind
This special expanded edition of Full Moon was released on June 2, 2017 through Real Gone Music.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Rita Coolidge: “Beautiful Evening: Live In Japan Expanded Edition” (2017) CD Review

I saw Rita Coolidge in concert once, more than a decade ago at an Earth Day event, and she was wonderful. I wish I’d recorded that concert, as it also featured Richard Thompson and Michelle Shocked, and my memory is getting a bit hazy on certain things. I think Rita Coolidge’s performance was during the time of Walela, the vocal group she had with her sister. Anyway, it was a pleasure to see her perform. And now I’m enjoying the recording of a much earlier performance of hers. Real Gone Music has released an expanded edition of her Beautiful Evening: Live In Japan album, which was recorded and originally released in 1980. This was her first live album, and this expanded edition is actually the first time it’s been officially released on CD. It includes five bonus tracks, and new liner notes by Joe Marchese.

The album opens with “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher And Higher,” a song from her 1977 LP Anytime…Anywhere, and one that was also included on her 1980 Greatest Hits compilation. The song itself was originally “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher,” but Rita Coolidge made several key changes to it for her version. The version on this live album begins with backing vocalists singing the title line as someone introduces Rita Coolidge. And when the song kicks in, the audience claps along. This is a good, energetic version. She follows that with “Cheap Thrills,” a song that David Allan Coe would choose to lead off his 1983 LP Castles In The Sand. Rita’s beautiful voice gives the song a different feel than that version, but this is still a playful number. “Shoo-rah, Shoo-rah” is a totally fun and enjoyable tune, written by Allen Toussaint and recorded by Betty Wright in 1974. I have to imagine the crowd was dancing to this one, but maybe not, as Rita is quoted in the liner notes as saying the Japanese “would be so polite throughout the concerts.” At any rate, this song is full of bright energy, with some nice work on keys.

Rita Coolidge then slows things down with “Fool That I Am,” a pretty song from the soundtrack to Coast To Coast, and one included on Greatest Hits. She introduces it as her new Japanese single. “Oh, I tried to/Make the best of/All the sweet love/That you gave me/Maybe I’m crazy/But I keep on losing ground/Fool that I am, fool that I may be.” This is one of the highlights of the album. And it’s followed by another highlight, “Fever.” I always love this song (except for Madonna’s completely misguided interpretation). Rita Coolidge included this on The Lady’s Not For Sale, which is probably still my favorite of her albums. This live version isn’t quite as cool as that earlier recording, but still has everything that makes this song so great and very little that detracts from that. Rita can totally work this song. And it leads directly into a good cover of “Precious, Precious,” which Jackie Moore had a hit with a decade earlier. Oddly, this recording fades out at the end, as if it were a studio recording.

Rita Coolidge also covers Jimmy Cliff’s “Footprints,” a song from his 1978 album Give Thankx. The bonus tracks include Rita’s studio recording of this song, which was released as the flip side to the Japanese single of “Fool That I Am” (but not the American version). It’s definitely cool to have this recording, and I’m glad it’s included here. Rita Coolidge also delivers an absolutely gorgeous rendition of “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” a song that the Japanese audience recognizes right away. Rita recorded a studio version of this song, and it was released as a single in Japan. That version is included in this disc’s bonus tracks, and it’s beautiful. The original album concludes with a cover of “One Fine Day,” the Gerry Goffin/Carole King song that Rita included on her 1979 album Satisfied.

Bonus Tracks

This expanded edition includes five bonus tracks. Interestingly, none of them are live recordings, as you might expect. These are all studio tracks that were originally included on Japanese releases. In addition to the two I’ve already mentioned, these tracks include a cover of “Best Of My Love.” I am not a fan of The Eagles, but this version is okay. It’s kind of sweet, kind of smooth. There is also an extended version of “Love From Tokyo,” which was released as a Japanese single in 1984. This track is unmistakably a 1980s recording right from its start, especially the sound of the keyboards and drums. A shorter version of this song was included on Inside The Fire, also released in 1984. “Sweet Memories,” also released as a single in Japan in 1984, is a beautiful song featuring a strong and moving vocal performance from Rita Coolidge. “Don’t ask me, baby, if I am happy/I never could lie/Friends help me get by.”

CD Track List
  1. (Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher And Higher
  2. Cheap Thrills
  3. Shoo-rah, Shoo-rah
  4. Fool That I Am
  5. Fever
  6. Precious, Precious
  7. Footprints
  8. Somethin’ ‘Bout You Baby I Like
  9. I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love
  10. Don’t Cry Out Loud
  11. One Fine Day
  12. Best Of My Love
  13. Love From Tokyo (Extended Version)
  14. Sweet Memories
  15. Footprints
  16. Don’t Cry Out Loud
This special expanded edition of Beautiful Evening: Live In Japan was released on September 9, 2017 through Real Gone Music.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Tim Buckley: “Venice Mating Call” (2017) CD Review

I became aware of Tim Buckley pretty early on in my life because of his appearance in an episode of The Monkees, my favorite television show when I was growing up. In the episode – one of the series’ best, by the way – you can hear Micky Dolenz introduce him from off screen, “This is Tim Buckley,” and Tim sits down to play a song, “Song To The Siren.” There is no real fanfare, no explanation. It was like you were supposed to know who he was, and so I wanted to learn who he was, particularly as the song was so good. The song was beautiful and delivered with honesty and simplicity, an interesting folk song. I soon learned that Tim Buckley did not limit himself to folk music, and used a fairly wide range of styles to suit what he wanted to say at any particular time. You can hear that in the new two-disc live album, Venice Mating Call, which features previously unreleased concert recordings from 1969 (a year after his appearance on The Monkees). These were recorded at the Troubadour in West Hollywood at a series of shows that also yielded the 1994 release Live At The Troubadour 1969. None of the tracks from that release are duplicated here. Apparently, Tim Buckley did five shows at the venue over the course of a few days, so there were several versions of each of the songs to choose from.

The first disc consists of songs that came mainly from two studio albums, Happy Sad and Blue Afternoon, the latter of which hadn’t yet been released. It opens with “Buzzin’ Fly,” a song originally included on Happy Sad. It is a wonderful love song that speaks pretty strongly to me these days, with lines like “You're the one I talk about/You're the one I think about/Everywhere I go/But sometimes, honey/In the mornin'/Oh, I miss you so/That’s how I know I’ve found home.” This is a really good version, building in power. That’s followed by “Strange Feelin’,” another song from Happy Sad. The jazz element isn’t as strong on this version as on the album version. To my ear, it has more a psychedelic vibe, and it features an excellent, interesting vocal performance. Obviously, these songs aren’t necessarily in the order they were performed at the time, or even from the same show. At the very end of this track, you can hear Tim say, “You want to do ‘I Don’t Need It To Rain’?” But then that track is followed by “Blue Melody.” The liner notes for this set feature some good photos, as well as snippets from interviews with Lee Underwood and Larry Beckett, but I wish they also included information on which tracks come from which shows. Anyway, “Blue Melody,” a song from Blue Afternoon, features another unusual and impressive vocal performance, with jazz influences. I really love the mood of this one. “Late in evening/I'll sing in your dreaming/Down from the mountains/Along with the breezes.” At the end of this track, he calls out the next number, “(I Wanna) Testify,” but that is not the next song on the disc.

When I was a kid, and first getting into Tim Buckley’s work, I found some of his music had a haunting quality. At that time, it was unlike anything else I’d heard, and it was intriguing. “Chase The Blues Away” certainly possesses that quality. It is also from Blue Afternoon. It’s easy to get caught up in this song, to let its mood envelop you. Tim Buckley then displays his sense of humor as he introduces “Venice Mating Call,” the instrumental tune used as the title track for this release. He says, “This is called ‘Venice Mating Call,’ or ‘All We Are Saying Is Give Smack A Chance.’” This tune has a very different vibe from the previous tracks, with a bit of funk, a bit of soul, a loose, groovy tune with some cool percussion. This song was also included on Live At The Troubadour 1969 (where he introduces it the same way), but the version here is significantly longer. It leads straight into “Gypsy Woman,” a wild, long tune from Happy Sad, featuring another seriously good vocal performance. The jam includes a section that is vocals and percussion, and then just percussion. There is a weird cut in the song, where we get six seconds of silence, just before the seven-minute mark. “Gypsy Woman” is followed by another cool, long tune, “I Don’t Need It To Rain.” Wow, at eleven minutes, it’s still a good ten minutes shorter than the version included on The Copenhagen Tapes. Tim Buckley introduces the band after this tune, and that’s how the first disc ends.

The second disc includes every song that would be included on his 1970 studio release Lorca, as well as one song that Tim Buckley never included on a studio release. This disc opens with “Driftin’,” a track which has more of that haunting, moody style. “But for me you were a lover/Gently under your cover/Your sheet reeks of others/I came here to hold and be held for a while.” That’s followed by “(I Wanna) Testify,” a song that was not included on any of his studio releases. The jam has something of a San Francisco psychedelic quality, particularly in the electric guitar. And, yes, I’m definitely digging it. There is also some cool work on bass. “(I Wanna) Testify” leads straight into “Anonymous Proposition.” The lyrics are somewhat different from those that would be included on Lorca. The first lines in this rendition are: “Love me as if someday you’ll hate me/For what I am now/How long will our love last/Now that I care/Only as long as you’re mine.” The version of “Lorca” included here is also different from the album version, in some of the lyrics, but also in the sound, in the vibe. I actually much prefer this live version, with that cool percussion, and it ends up being one of my favorite tracks. I also really like “I Had A Talk With My Woman,” which follows it. Check out these lines: “Lord, I’m but half a man without her by my side/Oh, but her memory I hold inside/It’s a dream that I believe.” The second disc then concludes with “Nobody Walkin’,” the song that also would be the closing track for Lorca.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Buzzin’ Fly
  2. Strange Feelin’
  3. Blue Melody
  4. Chase The Blues Away
  5. Venice Mating Call
  6. Gypsy Woman
  7. I Don’t Need It To Rain 
Disc 2
  1. Driftin’
  2. (I Wanna) Testify
  3. Anonymous Proposition
  4. Lorca
  5. I Had A Talk With My Woman
  6. Nobody Walkin’
Venice Mating Call was released on October 13, 2017 on Manifesto Records.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

61 Ghosts: “…To The Edge” (2017) CD Review

If you’re looking for some good, bluesy, raw rock to sink your teeth into, check out 61 Ghosts, a duo made up of Joe Mazzari on vocals and guitar and Dixie Deadwood on drums and backing vocals. Earlier this year they released …To The Edge, an EP of original material, featuring J.D. Sipe on bass. You might be familiar with Dixie’s drumming from her work with Leo Bud Welch. You can watch her on Welch’s Live At The Iridium DVD, where she is credited as Dixie Street. Actually, I have no idea what her real last name is. There she is Dixie Street, here she is Dixie Deadwood, elsewhere she is Dixie Swearingen. Dixie, if you read this, let me know what’s up with all the different names, as I’m curious. Joe Mazzari has played and recorded with Johnny Thunders, as well as fronted bands like Two Saints and the Joe Mazzari Band. Joe Mazzari wrote all the songs on …To The Edge, as well as produced the CD.

The EP opens with “Heartbeat,” which begins with just guitar easing us in. But it isn’t long before the song kicks in, signaled by Joe’s “Huh,” and becomes a good, raw rock number, Joe Mazzari’s vocals with just the right rough quality as he delivers lines like “I heard her screaming like a train whistle.” And I absolutely love these lines: “I’ve been lonesome, even in my dreams/When you’re here, I don’t feel quite so low/When you’re gone, it ain’t as bad as it seems.” Maybe it’s because of the long-distance aspect of my relationship, but those lines are really effective. Anyway, this track works as a solid rock tune, but also is not lacking substance. You know? It’s followed by “No One At Your Door,” which also begins with the guitar part, which has almost a punk vibe at the start. I dig the urgency in the rhythm and vocal line. “Is it me or is it him/I don’t know the score/This game is wearing thin/You don’t need me anymore.” It’s not quite anger in his voice. It’s like he wants to be angry, but things have been going on like this for long enough that maybe he’s just ready for the end. By the song’s finish, however, his voice is raised, as if to put an end to it on his terms.

“World Gone Crazy” is a cool tune right from its start. “In a world gone crazy/In a world of sin/Cyclone ripped me out of my shoes/Whirlpool sucks me in.” It draws you in, feels like it might pounce at any moment, that guitar teasing us, luring us to the song’s center where it can do with us as it pleases. It’s a song with power, and one of my personal favorites. And that lead guitar part halfway through is wonderful, the way Joe lets a note play and fade, the way he incorporates pauses so that we pay even more attention to what is played. And the song’s title certainly seems apt these days, doesn’t it? I still can’t believe that racist dipshit is in the White House. Toward the end, when Joe shouts “Let’s go,” I feel like we are already there. The tune then grows quiet just before one last explosion at the very end.

“World Gone Crazy” is followed by “If Tears Were Dirt,” in which Joe tells us, “I ain’t gonna live with this broken heart,” the line delivered in a straight-forward way, almost as spoken word. That helps make it feel like truth. “And I know you’re hurt, hasn’t been the best of years/We ain’t gonna live a day apart, day apart.” After a minute or so, this song suddenly is kicked up several notches. And as there are peaks like that, there are also valleys to this one, making for an interesting journey. Yes, this song is another of the EP’s highlights. Then “Show Me Your Scars” has a gentler folk vibe, which I love. “When your thoughts run like rivers, I will slow them down/When you lose your way, I’ll turn you back around.” And as he sings the title line, the experience in his voice gives us the impression that he too has his own scars. The EP then concludes with “Passion Tipped Arrow,” which also is more in the folk realm.

CD Track List
  1. Heartbeat
  2. No One At Your Door
  3. World Gone Crazy
  4. If Tears Were Dirt
  5. Show Me Your Scars
  6. Passion Tipped Arrow
…To The Edge was released on June 15, 2017 through Bluzpik Media Group.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Ghalia & Mama’s Boys: “Let The Demons Out” (2017/2018) CD Review

I listen to a lot of music, and sometimes I’ll put a disc on without any expectations or knowledge of the artist and end up getting completely drawn in. It might take a few tracks, but with Let The Demons Out, the new CD from Ghalia & Mama’s Boys, it took about two seconds. I was hooked right out of the gate. Ghalia Vauthier has a sexy voice and style, and the band backing her has a raw power. It’s blues you’d find along the long, dark road to hell, where everyone is aware of the destination and no one gives a fuck because they’re having too good a time. Yeah, the band rocks and cooks, and Ghalia’s voice leads us all in this wonderfully twisted celebration. She knows exactly what she’s doing, the power she has over us, and delights in using it. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The album gets off to a great start with “4 AM Fried Chicken,” a fun, rockin’ blues tune taking place in New Orleans, featuring some playful touches by Ghalia on vocals (as on lines like “Been drinkin’ a lot of moonshine and having a heck of a time”). I could do without the “Finger-licking good” bit at the very end, but other than that I love this track. It’s an original song, written by Ghalia Vauthier, as are most of the tracks on this album. Johnny Mastro is a force of his own on harmonica. That’s followed by the CD’s title track, “Let The Demons Out,” which has a cool, raw, tough, immediate sound. Ghalia leads the ceremony, urging her congregation to “Let the demons out.” And you know by the end of the song, things are going to get pretty crazy. “You can let them out, just let them out/Let them out, just let them out.” Perhaps we’ll all be a lot more healthy if we let our demons out. We’ll find out. Sometimes I love music with a dangerous vibe. Who doesn’t love a woman who could kick our ass? And within the music of “Press That Trigger” lurks the sense of possible danger or pain, as she readies to unleash her own desires. We all know pleasure and pain are closely united, and in this music it is like there is no difference at all. It’s fantastic and raw and real. “Come on, babe, find the right tool/To polish my jewel/You know what’s on my mind/Don’t be kind.”

“Hoodoo Evil Man” is a lot of fun. While we fall under Ghalia’s spell, she sings about people falling under a man’s spell in this one. “And if he looks at you, you get mesmerized/And no doubt, you’ll get paralyzed.” I love the use of backing vocals on this track, on the word “hoodoo.” That adds to the fun of this song. There is also some nice work on both guitar and harmonica. And then in “Addiction” I love that section led by harmonica. Man, this song really digs its way into you and takes over. “Well, I know he’s gone for good/Down back south/I’d go with him if I could/Just to feel the fire of his mouth.” Wow.

The only cover on this CD is “I’m Shakin’,” a song written by Rudolph Toombs and originally recorded by Little Willie John. Ghalia & Mama’s Boys do a great job with it, and this ends up being another of my favorite tracks. That’s followed by “Waiting,” a song written by Johnny Mastrogiovanni (Johnny Mastro) and Lisa Mastrogiovanni, and here lead vocal duties are shared by Ghalia and Johnny Mastro. This is a solid blues rock tune. “Hey Little Baby” first feels to me like a strange, haunted gospel tune. Sure, there isn’t much to the lyrics, but it’s Ghalia’s voice that pulls you in, almost regardless of what she’s singing, and this ends up being a really effective track. The only track I don’t care all that much for is “Hiccup Boogie,” which ends the album. It’s just not as interesting as the others, and the hiccup sounds are kind of off-putting. But the rest of the album is seriously good.

CD Track List
  1. 4 AM Fried Chicken
  2. Let The Demons Out
  3. Press That Trigger
  4. Have You Seen My Woman
  5. Hoodoo Evil Man
  6. Addiction
  7. All The Good Things
  8. I’m Shakin’
  9. Waiting
  10. See That Man Alone
  11. Hey Little Baby
  12. Hiccup Boogie
Let The Demons Out is scheduled to be released on January 12, 2018, but apparently was released in Europe in October.

Paul Moran: “Smokin’ B3 Volume 2: Still Smokin’” (2017) CD Review

On Paul Moran’s new album, Smokin’ B3 Volume 2: Still Smokin’, he tackles some well-known jazz compositions, as well as performing jazz renditions of pop and rock songs. He also delivers a few original tunes. Paul Moran plays Hammond organ, trumpet and flugelhorn on this release. He is joined by Nigel Price on guitar, Jim Mullen on guitar, Laurence Cottle on bass, Mez Clough on drums, Adam Roman on drums, Michael Osbourne on percussion, and Jeff Scantlebury on percussion.

As on the first volume of Smokin’ B3, Paul Moran opens this disc with a Beatles song. This time it’s a cool rendition of “Come Together,” with Moran’s organ taking the vocal line during the verses. But it’s the rest of the tune – apart from the verses – when this version really shines. It becomes a very good, lively jam, with the organ delivering some surprising stuff, and Nigel Price providing some great work on guitar. Plus, I really like the percussion on this track. That’s followed by an original tune titled “Scallywag,” a tune with a good groove with some swing to it, with some lighthearted work on organ. With a title like “Scallywag,” you can expect it to be a playful and fun tune, and you won’t be disappointed. Nigel Price delivers more wonderful work on guitar, and then halfway through, Paul Moran switches to horn. That’s followed by a delightful bass solo. Paul Moran then dips into a mellower, more romantic mood on “Moments,” another original composition. This one has something of a nostalgic quality.

Paul Moran gives us a good rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “One Note Samba,” but for me it’s the guitar part that’s especially exciting. That’s followed by a cover of The Chi-Lites’ “Have You Seen Her,” an interesting choice as The Chi-Lites are mainly a vocal group, and this song’s verses are delivered as basically spoken word. Like with “Come Together,” the organ takes on the vocal line. And like “Come Together,” this track is more interesting during the other sections, when the tune is less constrained, though still keeping that basic rhythm. In those moments, there is some wonderful work on both guitar and organ.

One of the disc’s highlights is the cover of Nat Adderley’s “Work Song,” which features some delicious work on organ. That’s followed by another original tune, “Ruby Blues,” which has some wonderful work on bass by Laurence Cottle, including a solo toward the end. Another of this disc’s highlights is “Fried Chicken,” an original composition featuring some excellent work on organ. Here it is unleashed at times, and rises joyously over that catchy rhythm. This track is a whole lot of fun. The CD concludes with Richard Rodgers (misspelled as “Rogers” in the liner notes) and Lorenz Hart’s “Where Or When,” from Babes In Arms. This song usually doesn’t interest me, but this rendition is quite good, with a cool bass solo.

CD Track List
  1. Come Together
  2. Scallywag
  3. Moments
  4. One Note Samba
  5. Have You Seen Her
  6. The Work Song
  7. Ruby Blues
  8. Blueberry Hill
  9. Fried Chicken
  10. Working In The Coal Mine
  11. Where Or When 
Smokin’ B3 Volume 2: Still Smokin’ was released on September 29, 2017.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

NRBQ: “Happy Talk” (2017) CD Review

I am constantly in need of music to lift my spirits these days, what with the country run by racist imbeciles hell-bent on making themselves a buck at the expense of the planet and everyone else living on it. Well, the very second that the latest NRBQ release began, I started feeling great. This band – in various configurations – has been around for fifty years, and is still making excellent music. At this point, the only original member is Terry Adams, with Scott Ligon on vocals and guitar, John Perrin on drums, and Casey McDonough on vocals and bass. The new release, Happy Talk, is five-song EP featuring a couple of original tunes along with a few interesting covers. Conrad Choucroun plays drums on three of these tracks.

The EP opens with “Head On A Post,” a fun tune written by Terry Adams, with a bit of a classic rock and roll thing happening, and a spirited, delightful vocal delivery. Yeah, the song has a loose vibe, and I dig Adams’ work on piano. As I said, this song lifted my spirits the moment it began, and I think it will have the same effect on others. So if you’re in need of that sort of thing as we make our way through the holidays, check out this song. That’s followed by the EP’s other original tune, “Yes, I Have A Banana,” a playful song on the joys of poverty, the song itself being a play on another playful tune, “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” from the 1920s. “I just blew into town/The loneliest guy around/And I don’t have a pot to call my own/Before you get too sad/This way of life ain’t bad/Because if you’ve got troubles/You’re never alone.” Ha! Wonderful! Things are fine as long as one has a banana, and I enjoy hearing the different words they choose to rhyme with “banana” – “Montana,” “Hannah,” “piana.” And the line that leads into the totally enjoyable instrumental section is “Ah, peel one off.” Yes, I absolutely love this song. It was written by Terry Adams, Scott Ligon and Casey McDonough.

The other three tracks are covers, beginning with a nice rendition of “Only The Lonely,” the Roy Orbison hit. This version has more of a relaxed country feel, which works quite well. Ah, it can be lonely out on the range. This rendition works so well in part because they don’t try to sing it the way Roy Orbison did. After all, no one else has that voice. But these guys approach the song from a completely different angle and make it their own, thus avoiding comparisons in a way. They follow that with a wonderful take on Abb Locke’s “Blues, Blues, Blues.” Here they sing, “Everybody’s got the blues, blues, blues, blues, blues.” True, so true, but maybe hearing this song will help alleviate them a bit. Certainly worth a try, right? “My woman gave me the blues/I’m feeling so hurt and misused/I don’t want to hear nothing but these good old blues, blues, blues, blues, blues.” And I love the little jam at the end of the track. They conclude the EP with its title track, “Happy Talk.” I can’t help but smile while listening to their earnest take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic song from South Pacific. “You’ve got to have a dream/If you don’t have a dream/How you gonna have a dream come true?

CD Track List
  1. Head On A Post
  2. Yes, I Have A Banana
  3. Only The Lonely
  4. Blues Blues Blues
  5. Happy Talk 
Happy Talk was released on October 20, 2017 through Omnivore Recordings.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The McKee Brothers: “Moon Over Montgomery” (2017) CD Review

The McKee Brothers are Denis McKee on vocals, guitar, keyboard, bass, and cowbell; and Ralph McKee on vocals, bass and lap steel. Their musical history is quite lengthy, but they didn’t release an album together until last year’s Enjoy It While You Can. On the cover of that album is a photo of a blender, and – instead of “liquefy” and “ice crush” and so on – the buttons are labeled “funk,” “blues,” “soul,” “rock,” “jazz,” “gospel” and “Latin.” The album cover is spot-on, and would work just as well for their new release, Moon Over Montgomery. The music on this new CD is blues, rock, soul, jazz, funk and even country. And as on their first release, The McKee Brothers are joined by a large number of talented musicians and vocalists. The album features a lot of original material.

The album opens with “Pig Feet,” a somewhat odd number featuring some nice work on harmonica. “We don’t serve no pig feet/No, not at this time/When it comes to a pig foot/That’s when I draw the line.” It was written by Bobby West, who plays keyboards on this track. Actually, Bobby West wrote a good number of the songs on this album, including the following tune, “Confidential,” a fun song about a popular girl from New Orleans. “She was just as cool as she was hot/Man, the way she rocked a pair of jeans/Could hold up traffic and create a scene.” The song has a New Orleans-type rhythm, and some good touches on horns, as well as some nice work on guitar during the instrumental section in the second half.

Those are both good songs, but the album really begins to pull me in during the third track, a great cover of King Floyd’s “I Feel Like Dynamite.” I fucking love those backing vocals in this rendition. What a great addition to this song. And the lines “I can do anything that I want to do/I can sing anything that I want to sing” seem particularly apt for this band, the way they tackle all sorts of musical genres. This track feels like the party is seriously getting underway. That’s followed by “Worried About Tomorrow,” a song written by Denis McKee. This one has a country rock flavor, and features some great blending of voices. I love the energy to the vocal delivery. This is a song I like more each time I listen to this disc. “They say freedom is worth the price we pay/But I’m not sure whose fight is it anyway.”

The album’s title track, “Moon Over Montgomery,” is a total delight. It has such a cheerful and positive vibe about it, a good rhythm and great stuff on horns, all working to raise my spirits. This one was written by Bobby West, and is among my favorite tracks. I definitely recommend checking it out. The following track, “Kicks,” also written by Bobby West, contains a play on a line from Hamlet. At the beginning, Bob Schultz sings, “But between me and you/That’s not exactly true/There’s a method to my magic/And in everything I do.” The phrase “a method to his madness” is from Hamlet, though the actual line – spoken by Polonius – is “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t.”  This song has a wonderful big band flavor, featuring more great work on horns over a good groove, with the vocals rising gloriously over it all.  

“Late At Night” features a cool bass line and some 1970s disco elements. Larry McCray takes lead vocal duties on this one (and also plays guitar). The song is about suddenly running into an old flame, and wondering what might have been or what might still be. “It’s been a long time, I know, since we went our separate ways/I’m fine, looks like time’s been good to you/I must admit you piqued my curiosity/And now I just don’t know what to do/’Cause it’s late at night and I’m alone.” This one was written by Denis McKee. “Flat, Black & Circular” is one that Denis McKee and Ralph McKee wrote together, and is about a trip to the record store, and about how music can transport us. So, yes, I do appreciate it, particularly as the song is rather dismissive about downloading tracks and listening to music on one’s phone. (Seriously, how the fuck can anyone listen to a song on a phone? It’s like going back to a crummy little transistor radio.) “There’s just nothing like it, nothing’s quite the same/Spinning all them old discs, lighting up that flame.” Oh yes.

The album concludes with a Kenny Loggins cover, and one that is perfect for the holiday, particularly for those of us who are far from our loved ones. “Celebrate Me Home” is the title track from Kenny Loggins’ first solo album, released in 1977, and begins with the lines “Home for the holidays/I believe I miss each and every face.” Melissa McKee takes lead vocal duties on this track, and does a good job with it. “Play me one more song/That I'll always remember/That I can recall whenever/I find myself too all alone/I can make believe I'm already gone/Let me know where I belong/Sing me home.”

CD Track List
  1. Pig Feet
  2. Confidential
  3. I Feel Like Dynamite
  4. Worried About Tomorrow
  5. You Know How I Lie
  6. Moon Over Montgomery
  7. Kicks
  8. Bayou Man
  9. Go 2 Work!
  10. Where You Getting’ It?
  11. Runaway Love
  12. Late At Night
  13. Remember When
  14. Flat, Black, & Circular
  15. Blues Of The Month Club
  16. Celebrate Me Home
Moon Over Montgomery was released on October 1, 2017.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Johnny Cash: “Greatest Hits” (2017) Vinyl Review

I love the renewed interest in vinyl. There is something both exciting and comforting in just holding a record, and in putting the needle in the groove. The new limited edition Johnny Cash record, Greatest Hits, made me happy before I even opened it. The back of the sleeve is designed with those old 1950s and 1960s records in mind, though the liner notes contained there are clearly current (mentioning, as they do, the film Walk The Line). The argument continues about whether the sound is better on CD or vinyl (I’ve heard some say that the best sound is actually on cassette). Maybe it’s psychological, but I love the sound of vinyl, particularly when it comes to an older release. I mean, it’s just sounds right with Johnny Cash, you know? After all, his is a raw, powerful country sound, and it’s kind of weird to listen to it as a digital download. On vinyl, it has a truer, more immediate feel. It’s the way it was meant to be. And the tracks on this record are newly remastered from the original Sun master tape reels, mastered at half-speed and sounding excellent.

Titled Greatest Hits, this record features some of his best early work, the stuff from those Sun Records years, all of these songs having been released as singles. It begins with one most people know, “Cry! Cry! Cry!” This song has some excellent lyrics, like these opening lines: “Everybody knows where you go when the sun goes down/I think you only live to see the lights of town/I wasted my time when I would try, try, try/When the lights have lost their glow, you’re going to cry, cry, cry.” It’s followed by one of his most famous songs, “Folsom Prison Blues,” which still works every time. “But I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die/When I hear that whistle blowing/I hang my head and cry.” And listen to his voice get low when he sings the line, “And that’s what tortures me.” Man, he just doesn’t hide anything, but gives it to you straight, and it’s all there in his vocal delivery. For me, that’s one of the keys to his great and continued appeal. Another of his most popular songs, “I Walk The Line,” is included (I always love that hum he delivers). The film Walk The Line turned a new audience onto this song, as well as several other Johnny Cash songs, including “Home Of The Blues,” which is also included on this record.

The Johnny Cash song I’ve probably heard the most is “Big River,” though as done by the Grateful Dead. The Dead turned me on to a lot of country and folk songs, and it was one of their recordings of this song that I first heard back in my early teens (it might have been the version released on Steal Your Face, but more likely it was a bootleg tape). But Johnny Cash’s original rendition, included here, has more attitude, and is bloody fantastic. “She loves you, big river, more than me.”

Though it’s a compilation of hits, some of these tunes might not be as well known to everyone, songs like “So Doggone Lonesome,” “Straight A’s In Love,” and “Katy Too.” But these are little gems too. I love what he does with his voice on certain lines of “So Doggone Lonesome,” a strange sort of love song. It’s almost like a little laugh, or slight quaver. “Well, I know I’ll keep on loving you ‘cause true love can’t be killed/I ought to get you off of my mind, but I guess I never will/I could have a dozen others, but I know I’d love you still/’Cause I get so doggone lonesome.” How is that for a declaration of love? One of my favorite tracks is “Train Of Love.” Like a lot of songs about trains, the music itself has the feel of a train moving along the tracks. But it is the vocal line and the lyrics which really make this one something special. Check out these lines: “Now stop your whistle blowing/’Cause I've got ways of knowing/You’re bringing other people's lovers/But my own keeps going/Train of love this evening/When she's not gone, she's leaving/Ever so often everybody's baby gets the urge to roam/But everybody's baby but mine's coming home.”

“Guess Things Happen That Way” is a ridiculously delightful song, in part because of those somewhat goofy backing vocals, and then the way Johnny Cash interacts with them. But it’s about carrying on after losing his woman, and features some wonderfully honest lyrics. You won’t find any answers here, and it’s because nobody has any answers. “Well, you ask me if I’ll forget my baby/I guess I will someday/I don’t like it but I guess things happen that way.” I love that pause he gives before the word “someday.” “You ask me if I’ll find another/I don’t know, I can’t say/I don’t like it, but I guess things happen that way.” “The Ways Of A Woman In Love” is another of his well-known hits and features some nice work on piano toward the end. I also like the piano part in “Thanks A Lot.” In “You’re The Nearest Thing To Heaven,” Johnny Cash sings, “I have searched for happiness so long and far/But my search for love was through/The day that I found you/Because you’re the nearest thing to heaven, yes you are.” That’s how I feel about my girlfriend, but if I said that to her, she would likely roll her eyes and tell me I was being mushy and corny. I don’t think anyone ever accused Johnny Cash of being corny.

Track List

Side 1
  1. Cry! Cry! Cry!
  2. Folsom Prison Blues
  3. So Doggone Lonesome
  4. I Walk The Line
  5. There You Go
  6. Train Of Love
  7. Next In Line
  8. Home Of The Blues
  9. Ballad Of A Teenage Queen
  10. Big River
Side 2
  1. Guess Things Happen That Way
  2. Come In Stranger
  3. The Ways Of A Woman In Love
  4. You’re The Nearest Thing To Heaven
  5. Thanks A Lot
  6. Luther Played The Boogie
  7. Katy Too
  8. Straight A’s In Love
  9. I Love You Because
  10. Oh, Lonesome Me
Greatest Hits was released on November 3, 2017 through Charly Acquisitions.

Tomato/Tomato: “Pinecones & Cinnamon” (2017) CD Review

Christmas will be here in a few days, and there is plenty of holiday music out there to help you celebrate or cry or whatever it is you do on December 25th. One of this year’s holiday releases that is definitely worth listening to is the new disc from the husband and wife team of John and Lisa McLaggan, better known as Tomato/Tomato. I was turned on to this duo a few years ago when they released their debut full-length CD, So It Goes, an album that lifted my spirits the moment it began. So I figured their holiday CD would have much the same effect. Titled Pinecones & Cinnamon, it largely does what I was expecting and hoping it would do, delivering cheerful-sounding Christmas fare with a folk and bluegrass bent. Yet my favorite track on the disc is a more serious number, but more on that later. Joining the McLaggans on this release are G. Maxwell Zemanovic on drums; Kris Karlsson on banjo; Jon Estes on piano, organ and bass; Spencer Cullum, Jr. on pedal steel; Jeremy Fetzer on electric guitar; Ray Legere on fiddle and mandolin; Andrew Sneddon on dobro; and Lucy McLaggan on vocals. A large portion of the tracks are originals, written by John McLaggan.

They kick off the CD with “Christmas Keener,” a playful, upbeat country song about a first Christmas in a new house, and the excitement of not only owning a home but being able to decorate it for the holiday, and as a result once again feeling the kind of joy one felt in childhood. Sure, she brags a bit (“My tree’s a little greener than yours/My star is burning brighter/My snow’s a little whiter”), but who can blame her? And ultimately she invites all to join her in her celebration, if not in her house. That’s followed by “Avalanche,” a song taking place on Christmas Eve, a song dominated by memories of past years as he heads to the mall. John sings lead on this one. This song also provides the album with its title in these lines: “Hit me like an avalanche/All the Christmas days of past/Colored lights and memories/Strung around the tree/Pinecones and cinnamon/Mix it up and breathe it in.” And I love these lines: “When I heard my daughter sing ‘Silent Night’/I turned and faced the window/So she wouldn’t see me cry.”

“What’s The Big Deal About NYE” is a delightful tune with a classic-style country sound in its rhythm and in the great pedal steel. It’s a song about the pressure associated with New Year’s Eve. “What’s the big deal about New Year’s/Why make such a fuss/It’s one more night on the calendar/Most likely it’s a bust.” I appreciate the message of the song, though it does end the way you’d expect it to. She doesn’t stick to her guns, and ends up speaking in favor of New Year’ Eve by the song’s conclusion. Still, it’s a totally enjoyable song.

The album’s first cover, “Jingle Bells,” is an inherently weak song. But as far as this song goes, Tomato/Tomato delivers as good a rendition as you could ever hope to hear, with nice work on banjo by Kris Karlsson. I much prefer the following song, “The Trouble With Mittens,” an adorable and surprisingly soulful song (no, you wouldn’t expect that from the title), featuring some wonderful blending of their voices. “The trouble with mittens/Is they’re like a prison/Four fingers in a woolen cage/The trouble with mittens/Is there’s no division/So throw ‘em away.” They follow that with a cover of Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s “I Believe In Santa Claus,” a holiday song written as a duet and so a perfect one for this duo. “I believe love should prevail at any cost.” Lucy McLaggan joins them on vocals for this one.

“Christmas Grump” is the last of the album’s original tunes, and I guess is the one most directly aimed at me. The opening lines are “This one goes out to the Scrooges/The Grinches, the whiners, the grumps/If you think that eggnog’s disgusting/Listen up, this is your song.” Yup, it’s my song, and I love it. It’s kind of a country waltz about the lesser aspects of the holiday, such as crowded parking lots, long lines, being dragged to a church, wrapping presents. I appreciate these lines: “The holidays come just once a year/And I say thank god for that/There’s such a thing as too much good cheer/People just need to relax.” And yes, I’ve been called a “Scrooge” on more than one occasion. (Give me Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day!) That’s followed by a lively version of “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” featuring Andrew Sneddon on dobro, Kris Karlsson on banjo, and Ray Legere on both fiddle and mandolin.

The album ends with my favorite track, “Silent Night/Hallelujah.” Simon & Garfunkel combined “Silent Night” with a news cast, and I always loved the effect of that juxtaposition. Tomato/Tomato combines it with one of the best songs ever written, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It begins with “Silent Night,” the first line delivered a cappella. Their voices sound gorgeous. Tomato/Tomato takes advantage of the line “Heavenly hosts sing hallelujah,” going directly into the Leonard Cohen song from there. They do not do all of Leonard Cohen’s song, but rather the chorus, followed by the first verse and then the chorus again. Then they go back into “Silent Night,” once again delivering it a cappella, and sounding absolutely beautiful. What a wonderful way to conclude the CD.

CD Track List

  1. Christmas Keener
  2. Avalanche
  3. What’s The Big Deal About NYE
  4. Jingle Bells
  5. The Trouble With Mittens
  6. I Believe In Santa Claus
  7. Christmas Grump
  8. Go Tell It On The Mountain
  9. Silent Night/Hallelujah 
Pinecones & Cinnamon was released on November 24, 2017.

(Note: I have also posted a review of Tomato/Tomato’s 2016 release, I Go Where You Go.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst: “Sometimes Jesse James” (2018) CD Review

I’ve learned to pay attention to the projects that certain musicians choose to be a part of, and John McDuffie and Carl Byron are two such musicians. They haven’t steered me wrong yet, and they are both part of Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst, a band that I was turned onto a few years ago with the release of Endless Sky. This group crafts and delivers some wonderful songs, mixing country, folk, blues, pop and rock elements, and their new EP, Sometimes Jesse James, features mostly original material, written or co-written by Steven Casper. The band is made up of Steven Casper on lead vocals and guitar; Carl Byron on piano, accordion and organ; Herb Deitelbaum on bass; Jay Nowac on drums; and John McDuffie on guitar, pedal steel and lap steel. As on Endless Sky and I Feel Like I’ve Got Snakes In My Head, Sometimes Jesse James was produced by Ira Ingber, who also adds some work on guitar, keys, percussion, bass, dulcimer, cittern and backing vocals.

The EP opens with “Down,” which begins with a cool Bo Diddley beat – a kind of “Who Do You Love” vibe – and then adds a Tom Petty-like pop sound, with some Byrds-like harmonies at moments. Yes, this song is an interesting and sometimes surprising combination of blues, pop and folk elements, with lyrics that hold a lot of appeal. “Come with me in the early morning light/Come with me and let fantasy take flight/Just leave your old life behind/Walk away and see what you find/Don’t let it drag you down, down, down.” That’s followed by “The Best Days Of Our Lives,” which has a sweeter folk sound, and is probably my favorite track. It’s a beautiful song, featuring a strong, moving vocal performance. “Then breathless in a quiet grove/And above, a bird’s soft cry/Oh, we lay down in the damp grass/On the best day of our lives/And the sun made diamonds that shone through the trees/As it danced across the sky/Oh, we knew it was late, but we didn’t care/On the best day of our lives.” I love how this music can make us feel what the two people in the song feel. There is something magical in that, isn’t there?

The EP’s only cover is “My Wrecking Ball,” a song written by Ryan Adams and originally included on his 2014 self-titled release. This is a good rendition, with more of a full folk sound than the original, and delivered at a somewhat quicker pace. That’s followed by “They Call It Love,” an interesting blues pop tune with a darker vibe. “My heart is wounded from poisoned darts/And they call it love.” “Born To Lose Blues” is also a blues tune, but with a catchy groove. This is the song that provides the EP with its title in the lines, “Sometimes I was a preacher/Sometimes Jesse James/Didn’t matter which I was/Things wound up the same.” There is also a cool instrumental section. “Yeah, I used up my second chance/My third and fourth and fifth/I was looking for a life vest/On a sinking ship/And I found you.” The EP then concludes with “Mi Sueño, Mi Dolor,” a pretty instrumental tune written by Steven Casper and John Groover McDuffie.

CD Track List
  1. Down
  2. The Best Day Of Our Lives
  3. My Wrecking Ball
  4. They Call It Love
  5. Born To Lose Blues
  6. Mi Sueño, Mi Dolor
Sometimes Jesse James is scheduled to be released on February 9, 2018.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Dustbowl Revival at The Federal Bar, 12-17-17: Photos

The Dustbowl Revival performing "Got Over"
The Mimosa Music Series continued yesterday with an excellent set by The Dustbowl Revival. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, it’s put on at The Federal Bar in North Hollywood and hosted by Gary Calamar. There is a nice, relaxed vibe to these shows, which I appreciate. People drink mimosas and eat breakfast while enjoying the music. I’ve spent some damn good Sunday mornings and early afternoons at these shows. And yesterday The Dustbowl Revival made me happy the moment they started playing. Horns and a mandolin? Oh yes, I’m on board!

The band focused on material from the new, self-titled album, playing “Gonna Fix You,” “Busted,” “Got Over,” “Debtors’ Prison” and “The Story.” And, perhaps because the show was billed as the “Gala Holiday Show,” The Dustbowl Revival played a Christmas song. They delivered a really pretty and heartfelt rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” They also did an absolutely wonderful rendition of Supertramp’s “Breakfast In America,” and the appropriateness of the song was certainly not lost on the band or the audience. This was probably the best cover version I’ve ever heard of this song, with some excellent work on mandolin, violin and horns. Seriously, it was fantastic.

Here are a few photos from the show:

Gary Calamar introducing The Dustbowl Revival 
"Got Over"
"Debtors' Prison"
"Breakfast In America"
"The Story"

The Federal Bar is located at 5303 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood, California. If you go, I recommend getting the bread basket. It’s delicious.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Chris Pierce at The Federal Bar, 12-17-17: Photos

Chris Pierce performing "Trouble Man"
I have to admit that mimosas are growing on me. I don’t like champagne, and the first time I tried a mimosa (which was last year at one of these concerts), I hated it. But you see, when you go into The Federal Bar, you’re handed a couple of tickets for free drinks, and the only drink you can get with those tickets is a mimosa. I like to drink. And I love to drink for free. So the past few shows I attended there, I had mimosas. And today I can finally say that I enjoyed them.

Today’s show was The Dustbowl Revival, with Chris Pierce delivering a delicious soul set to kick off the day. Chris Pierce opened his set with an Otis Redding song, “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” and before the end of it, proved himself to be the real deal. He did some other covers, such as Al Green’s “I’m A Ram” and Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man.” He also sang some originals, including “We Can Always Come Back To This” (one of my favorites of the set) and “Come Home To Me” (a new song). He concluded his set with a cool soul version of “White Christmas.” A seriously good set from beginning to end.

Set List
  1. That’s How Strong My Love Is
  2. You Better Move On
  3. I’m A Ram
  4. Trouble Man
  5. We Can Always Come Back To This
  6. Come Home To Me
  7. Don’t Fight It
  8. White Christmas
Here are a few photos:

"That's How Strong My Love Is"
"I'm A Ram"
"Trouble Man"
"We Can Always Come Back To This"
The Federal Bar is located at 5303 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood, California.

Caroline Cotter: “Home On The River” (2018) CD Review

In the liner notes of her new album, Home On The River, Caroline Cotter tells us that the songs were written for her parents and grandmother. She goes on to say, “They were recorded for you and yours, in hopes that we all may be at peace with what is and feel at home on the river.” That’s what most of us seem to be looking for and needing desperately these days. It certainly doesn’t seem easy to come by. Peaceful feelings and thoughts come in spurts, usually when I am not reading the news. But the music on this disc is definitely helping, and I appreciate that. Something about Caroline Cotter’s voice is capable of easing tensions and making us feel that perhaps things aren’t as horrible as they seem to be. Her voice and this music also remind us that the current troubles will come to an end, but the things that truly matter will go on long afterward. This is a beautiful album, containing mostly original material, written by Caroline Cotter.

She opens the album with “Peace Of Mind,” and on this track her voice reminds me of Nanci Griffith. “I don’t want to keep up with fashion/I don’t want to pick a fight/I don’t want to say I love you/Just to make this feel all right/I don’t want to make a buck/Just to spend it to feel fine/I just want some peace of mind.” I think this song will speak to a lot of people. It’s been a rough couple of years, and the end of the troubles remains just out of reach. And everyone I know is bloody exhausted, and in need of peace of mind. “I don’t want to know about/The mess this world is in/And I don’t want to cry/Or blame or say it’s such a sin.” Backing vocalists join in at the end, as if to say, yes, we all feel this way. We are not alone.

“Peace Of Mind” is followed by “1 4 3,” a pretty and bright-sounding folk song. The title is interesting, playing with our expectations of it being “I am with you 1-2-3,” playing with the order, like a step into the future, then back into the present, giving us a sense of the eternal. It’s also a reference to “I love you” (one letter, four letters, three). And so for me it seems like an unending love, untouched by death.

“Home On The River,” the album’s title track, is one of the disc’s best songs. It has such a wonderful vibe, with some cool percussion and an excellent vocal performance. Check out these lyrics: “There are rocks and stones/That hold the house on the river/Where I have my home/And I’ll hold you there/In my arms by the river/To keep from feeling cold.” Adding to the delightful sound of this track are Putnam Smith on banjo and Annabelle Chvostek on fiddle. I also really like Rob Morse’s work on bass. That’s followed by another of the album’s highlights, “When I Think Of You.”  It’s a gorgeous country number, with something of a classic, timeless vibe at moments, delivered directly to her father. “I’ve seen the maps around your room/And I’ve seen the places they’ve taken you/Still it’s just fine to feel so lost/My home is my heart and my heart is dust.”

There is something about “Can’t Stop The Waves” that really works for me. This one has a more intense feel, is strangely pretty and haunting. “I’ll be beside you when you wake/I can’t stop the waves/Find me whole or find me frayed/I can’t stop the waves.” Caroline Cotter reaches some great heights vocally, and this track also makes good use of backing vocals. Caroline Cotter opens “Hey Mama” by reminding her mother (and us) that it’s all right to cry, and then begins a tale that might actually make us tear up. But it’s ultimately a positive-sounding song, in part because of Jefferson Hamer’s work on mandolin. It’s followed by another positive song, “Found,” a song I really appreciate. “I wake up next you/And say I’m excited for today/The sky’s that shade of blue/Her beauty mirrored in the bay.” The album then ends with its sole cover, a pretty rendition of “My Peace” delivered a cappella. It’s an interesting bookend working with the album’s first track, for she’s apparently found the peace she’d sought, and now wishes to spread it, to give it to others, to us.

CD Track List
  1. Peace Of Mind
  2. 1 4 3
  3. Home On The River
  4. When I Think Of You
  5. Eternal Light
  6. Can’t Stop The Waves
  7. My Washroom
  8. Hey Mama
  9. Found
  10. My Peace
Home On The River is scheduled to be released on February 9, 2018.