Monday, September 25, 2017

Everything I Know I Learned From Rock Stars: Conversations 1975 – 1995 (2017) Book Review

How much are we shaped by the music we hear in our youth? How much is our perspective affected by certain songs? And what do we learn from that music and those musicians? I remember reading interviews with certain artists even in my pre-teens, and perhaps weighing their words a bit more heavily than they deserved. But what about those folks who were doing the interviewing? Were their lives and perspectives changed as a result of the words and thoughts of the musicians they interviewed?

Bill Paige, in his new book, Everything I Know I Learned From Rock Stars: Conversations 1975 – 1995, seems to answer Yes. He has worked as a music journalist, as well as in public relations and promotion, and has interviewed many famous musicians over the years. The book contains a collection of published pieces, but also functions as personal memoir, always with the focus on music. At the beginning, he gives a bit of background on his childhood and early adulthood as it relates to music. (He, like I, was a radio DJ in college.) The pieces are arranged chronologically, with the name of the artist in question used as the chapter title, so that’s it easy to find pieces on whichever artists you’re most interested in.

There are snippets of interviews, including Burton Cummings of The Guess Who, and both Peter Wolf and Magic Dick of The J. Geils Band. It’s great that Peter Wolf and Magic Dick are interviewed together, because they riff off each other, and that’s part of what makes it such an enjoyable interview. There is also an interview with the members of Shoes, a band I knew basically nothing about. I like that the server’s lines are included. I also really like the Grace Slick piece, and the ones on Steve Goodman and Lindsey Buckingham. The book contains some interesting information about Genesis, and details of Electric Light Orchestra’s stage design. Some of the information is surprising. Roy Orbison didn’t perform in New York until 1972? That’s insane! And Boy George wanted to be in Bow Wow Wow? There are some humorous anecdotes, like that about a missing contact lens which was found by Joe Jackson, and about Roy Orbison’s “Claudette.”

Bill Paige provides introductions to each section, in which he shares some of the things he’s learned. For example, he writes: “Conversations with industry veterans Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane and Starship, ex-Fleetwood Mac guitarist Bob Welch, and Jay Ferguson, a founding member of the band Spirit who sang on the 1968 hit ‘I Got A Line On You,’ revealed that musicians are subject to a variety of mid-life crises” (p. 68). There are lots of interesting anecdotes and tidbits, though not really any big life lessons. As you might guess, as a result of reading this book, the list of albums I want to purchase has grown. I’m particularly interested in Mick Fleetwood’s The Visitor. It sounds like a fascinating and fantastic album, and I’m wondering how no one has turned me onto it before. I’m also wondering if that backing track Mick Fleetwood recorded for “Street Fighting Man” has been released yet.

This book is an enjoyable and fairly quick read, and it’s set up such that you can, if you so choose, pick certain sections to read and bounce around as your interests dictate. There are several pages of photos in the middle of the book, including one of a letter written by Kurt Vonnegut, one of my two favorite writers (the other being Shakespeare). The information on who is in each photo is contained at the back of the book rather than on the pages with the photos.

Everything I Know I Learned From Rock Stars: Conversations 1975 – 1995 was released on July 1, 2017 through Eckhartz Press. It is 443 pages.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Lynn Drury: “Rise Of The Fall” (2017) CD Review

Lynn Drury is a singer and songwriter based in New Orleans. She mixes folk, country, blues, soul, rock and pop elements to create her own appealing and engaging sound, largely focusing on original material. And she is a damn good songwriter, her songs speaking to us honestly and directly. (That line from “City Life” jumps to mind: “I guess I’d rather be messed up than pretty.” And this line from “That’s What You Mean”: “I only wanted to suffocate under the weight of a love that’s real.”) Her new album, Rise Of The Fall, features all original songs, written or co-written by Drury. Rise Of The Fall is, by my count, her eighth full-length release, and features Rene Coman on bass, Chris Adkins on guitar, Chris Pylant on drums and backing vocals, Derek Huston on saxophone, Jack Craft on cello, Sam Craft on violin, Jake Gold on organ, Trevor Brooks on piano and organ, as well as other guests on certain tracks.

The album opens with “Lifetime Of Living,” a kind of beautiful and moving number, with a good amount of experience apparent in Lynn’s vocals, which works to give weight to the advice she offers. Really, her voice and the strings are what make this song something special. “There’s a lifetime of living/Don’t you forget it/Don’t you regret it/Don’t jump ahead of it.” And there is something about this song that is making me feel good. What more could I ask for from a song? “Trust in what you know.” Trevor Brooks plays organ on this track.

That’s followed by “Anniversary,” which has a strong country feel and full-band sound. “There was something he’s supposed to remember, but he forgot/It’s just his anniversary, his anniversary.” Then in “11:11,” Lynn sings “It’s 11:11 and I, I love you.” It’s a thoughtful, somewhat moody night song, and that line sets the tone so well. So simple and yet it says quite a lot, doesn’t it? “It’s 11:11, and I, I love you.” And by the end, the song has built in power. This one was written by Lynn Drury and Judson Smith.

One of my favorites is “Water Your Words.” It’s a beautiful song, slow and moving, yet oddly catchy, and with an excellent vocal performance. “We’ve always been good/At riding that fence/Between black and white/So don’t make me choose/Between this life and you.” Arsène DeLay provides backing vocals on this track. This song dug into my brain, made itself a home there, where it is certainly welcome. I love this one more each time I listen to it. It’s followed by another of the album’s highlights, “What Good Is The Rain,” which has an adorable and quirky sweetness. These are the opening lines: “I want to wrap my hands around/Something that don’t get me down/And it don’t come with regret.” And check out these lines: “I’m sorry, I just thought/You wouldn’t want my heart/It’s weary and worn/Slammed shut from weathering too many storms/So what good is the rain/If it don’t wash away the pain.” Wonderful, right?

“Rise Of The Fall,” the CD’s title track, is another seriously strong song, with some beautiful work on strings. “Freedom Tree” is a slow, bluesy kind of haunting number. “I would never outgrow your touch/I would keep you through the winter of my love/My love.” Alex McMurray plays lead guitar on this track. “Taking All The Good People” is another favorite, this one written by Lynn Drury and Judson Smith. “Sometimes you don’t see the pain/When you’re walking down the street/And he’s hammering away on a dream that ain’t his/’Cause his skin ain’t the color of liberty/We have to stand up and say/We don’t believe in what they’re doing/Taking all the good people away.”

CD Track List
  1. Lifetime Of Living
  2. Anniversary
  3. 11:11
  4. Cold Feet
  5. Water Your Words
  6. What Good Is The Rain
  7. Rise Of The Fall
  8. Tuesday Lover
  9. Freedom Tree
  10. I Need You
  11. Taking All The Good People
  12. Shutter
Rise Of The Fall is scheduled to be released on September 29, 2017.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Lloyd Price: “This Is Rock And Roll” (2017) CD Review

Lloyd Price is an important figure in rock and roll and rhythm and blues, releasing records from rock’s very beginning, songs like “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” (which he also wrote), “Just Because,” “Stagger Lee,” and “Personality,” the last earning him the nickname Mr. Personality. I can’t imagine what the world would be like without these recordings, and I’m far from alone in feeling that way. Lloyd Price was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1998. He was also inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame. But even now in his eighties, Lloyd Price’s incredible career continues. He just released a new CD, This Is Rock And Roll, which finds him looking backward as well as forward, delivering wonderful new renditions of some classic songs. This disc includes liner notes written by Lloyd Price, which is cool. But I have to mention that there are multiple grammatical errors and such in those liner notes. Ordinarily I wouldn't mention this, but there are so many that I have to wonder who was in charge of proofreading. Anyone? I hope those will be corrected in the next printing, but of course they don’t detract from the music at all.

The album opens with “I’m Getting Over You,” a good tune with a certain pop energy and some nice work on sax. Listening to Lloyd Price’s vocals on this track, I would guess he was at least two decades younger than he is. “Took your picture off the wall/I’m not waiting on your call/If you really want the truth/I’m not missing you at all.” I also like the backing vocalists echoing him, “I’m getting over you.” That’s followed by a deliciously funky tune, “Nobody Loves Anybody Anymore,” urging people to set aside their differences and care for each other, a timely number. “Nobody helps anybody/If it’s gonna cost them a little money/Nobody helps anybody/If it’s gonna take them out of their way.” This one features some wonderful work from the horn section, plus some good percussion. And check out these lines: “I’m not trying to put you down/Or place the blame on you/For there are lots of people that are in command/They’re not doing all they can do/Nobody helps anybody anymore.” This song is, for me, one of the disc’s highlights.

Lloyd then gets a bit mellower (but just as passionate) with “The Smoke,” in which he tells a woman, “It’s the little things I’ll do/Girl, when I’m lying next to you/That will take your breath away/You’ll be begging, begging me to stay/And, girl, you know I’ll do/Whatever you want me to.” Oh yes, how could you doubt him? Lloyd follows that with a new version of “Bad Conditions,” a song he released in 1969. It’s now titled “Our World,” and somehow is even cooler than it was before, and just as relevant. “We’re living in bad conditions.”

Lloyd Price delivers an unusual rendition of “Blueberry Hill.” It has something of a loose, smooth, jazzy vibe, with some cool work on bass. He follows that with an excellent rendition of Jimmy Reed’s “Baby, What You Want Me To Do” (sometimes referred to as “Peepin’ ‘N’ Hidin’”), recorded live in New York. This is a song that Josh Lederman has been doing in the Cambridge-Somerville All-Stars and The Country Pleasures, and so it’s been in my head a lot lately. This version by Lloyd Price features some great work on keys, and I love the horns and harmonica. And then there is an excellent lead guitar section. Lloyd adds “This Is Rock ‘N’ Roll” to the rendition, with a cool call-and-response section, making this the title track. There is great energy here. This track is one of my favorites.

“I Can’t Help Myself Interlude” is a brief big band instrumental number that leads straight into “I Can’t Help Myself,” which is also known as “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),” a hit for The Four Tops in 1965. Lloyd Price gives a little nod to Blue Swede’s “Hooked On A Feeling” at the beginning of his version, and returning to it a few more times later in the song. Lloyd also gives his own spin to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” a song written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and originally a hit for The Shirelles. His version is a bit slower, with a romantic feel. That’s followed by a rendition of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin’” that features horns and piano, and has a big band groove, and works quite well, with a delightful confidence to Lloyd Price’s delivery, as if his vocals themselves could strut. The CD then concludes by going in an unexpected direction with “Belly Movement,” a song for belly dancers, with plenty of good percussion.

CD Track List
  1. I’m Getting Over You
  2. Nobody Loves Anybody Anymore
  3. The Smoke
  4. Our World
  5. Blueberry Hill
  6. This Is Rock And Roll
  7. I Can’t Help Myself Interlude
  8. I Can’t Help Myself
  9. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
  10. I’m Walkin’
  11. Belly Movement 
This Is Rock And Roll was released on September 22, 2017 through Universal Music Group.

Friday, September 22, 2017

UFO: “The Salentino Cuts” (2017) CD Review

On the new album, hard rock band UFO tackles some classic rock gems from the 1960s and 1970s, as well as a few more recent songs. The Salentino Cuts finds the band covering some of their favorite tunes. It is UFO’s first album of covers. The band, which has been through many personnel changes since its inception in 1969, now features Phil Mogg on vocals, Andy Parker on drums, Paul Raymond on keys and backing vocals, Vinnie Moore on guitar, and Rob De Luca on bass. (Both Mogg and Parker are founding members.)

The CD kicks off with The Yardbirds’ “Heart Full Of Soul,” here titled “Heartful of Soul” for some reason. I saw The Yardbirds perform this one earlier this year at the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival. Actually, they opened their set with this song. This version by UFO feels just a bit slower, heavier. And Vinnie Moore does some interesting things with that lead guitar part toward the end. It’s a good song with which to start the album, and it’s followed by another song I saw performed live at the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival, “Break On Through.” (Robbie Krieger opened his set with this one, after a brief tribute to Gregg Allman). This version opens with a different drum beat, and appropriately features some good work on keys. And yes, Phil Mogg sings, “She gets high, she gets high” rather than the strangely edited “She get, she get” from the Doors’ original studio version.

“River Of Deceit” is a song I wasn’t as familiar with, and is the most recent song chosen for this album. It was originally recorded by Mad Season and released as a single in 1995. UFO delivers a good and powerful rendition. I love what sounds like a whale’s cry, which I don’t recall being in the original version. Some wonderful stuff, that. “River Of Deceit” is followed by Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher.” I was thirteen the first time I saw Easy Rider (that was also the first night I ever smoked pot), and this is one of the songs that stood out for me from that film, in part because it’s the first song you hear. It wasn’t long before I bought a Steppenwolf compilation on cassette (and “Snowblind Friend” quickly became my favorite). Anyway, UFO does an excellent job with this song, keeping the spirit of the original while also making the song their own, particularly with the way Phil Mogg delivers the lyrics. He really owns this one, making this one of my favorite tracks. (One more thing about that opening scene of Easy Rider – Phil Spector, as the drug connection, looks directly into the camera lens twice.)

John Mellencamp’s “Paper In Fire” is one I don’t hear covered very often. Actually, I can’t think of a single other version of it offhand. Anyway, it was a hit in 1987, and is one of the more surprising choices on The Salentino Cuts. UFO does a good version of it. It’s followed by Montrose’s “Rock Candy,” one of those early seventies reliable hard rock tunes. Apparently Sammy Hagar still performs it in concert. It’s not a bad song, but always feels like it goes on a little longer than necessary, and begins to feel repetitive. UFO’s version of Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” feels a bit slower than the original, but with some really good work on guitar and plenty of cowbell.

Another of the surprising choices is Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” although lots of folks have covered it, including other hard rock bands. I actually really like what UFO does with this one. They rock that “I know, I know, I know, I know” section, which works well, but it is Phil’s vocal work right after that that I find most impressive. He delivers the next line a cappella, and it sounds great. Another highlight is “Too Rolling Stoned,” the Robin Trower song. Though a couple of minutes shorter than Trower’s original version, UFO’s rendition becomes a good bluesy rock jam led by some excellent work on guitar. This album concludes with a good version of The Animals’ “In My Life.” “Though I’m dressed in these rags/I’ll wear sable someday.”

CD Track List
  1. Heartful Of Soul
  2. Break On Through
  3. River Of Deceit
  4. The Pusher
  5. Paper In Fire
  6. Rock Candy
  7. Mississippi Queen
  8. Ain’t No Sunshine
  9. Honey Bee
  10. Too Rolling Stoned
  11. Just Got Paid
  12. It’s My Life
The Salentino Cuts is scheduled to be released on September 29, 2017 on Cleopatra Records. By the way, in addition to a CD release, The Salentino Cuts will be available on vinyl, in two limited editions.

Legendary Shack Shakers: “After You’ve Gone” (2017) CD Review

Legendary Shack Shakers are led by vocalist and harmonica-player J.D. Wilkes, who has lent his tremendous talent on harmonica to several other artists’ recordings over the years, including Lew Jetton & 61 South’s recent release, Palestine Blues. The band has been playing for a couple of decades, though with several changes in the lineup during that time. The band is currently J.D. Wilkes on vocals, harmonica, and piano; Rod Hamdallah on guitar and backing vocals; Fuller Condon on bass and backing vocals; and Preston Corn on drums and percussion. Their new album, After You’ve Gone, features all original material, and includes a few guest musicians – Liz Brasher on backing vocals, Shane Pringle on saxophone, and Chloe Feoranzo on saxophone and clarinet.

“After You’ve Gone” opens with “Curse Of The Cajun Queen,” a heavy and wild blues song, with a raw, steady, stomping groove, and of course some delicious work on harmonica. The vocals seem to be rising out of a portal to hell, forcing their way into our realm to claim our souls, the music getting us dancing. Oh yes, we should all be so lucky to dance our way to eternal damnation. That’s followed by the album’s title track, though the back of the CD case says “War Whoop” is next. “After You’ve Gone” has more of a classic rock and roll sound, with saxophone. There is something both innocent and exciting about the sound. “And this place just ain’t the same/And I’m calling out your name/Just an empty echo/After you’ve gone.”

“Single Boy” has a bit of Bo Diddley thing happening, which I love. This song is a whole lot of fun, the guitar coming at you with fury. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Now, when I was a single, I had women by the score/But now that I am married, well, they don’t come ‘round no more.” After “Single Boy,” we get “War Whoop (Chief Paduke’s Revenge),” a wild western tale that doesn’t fail to follow through on the promise of its title. (Hmm, Discogs seems to have the song order listed incorrectly too.)

One of my personal favorites is “(Sing A) Worried Song,” an absolutely delicious song with a something of an old-time vibe, and another that urges us to dance toward oblivion. “Well, sing a worried song/For it won’t be long/That we’ll be dead and gone/And be passing on/To the by-and-by.” I am so glad people are making music like this. “Well, see how the trees they grow/Pushing up the dead beneath your feet/You may chew your kudzu down/But it’s you more likely it will eat.” Halloween is coming up, and this song will be a perfect addition to your party play list. It’s followed by “Long Legs,” which begins with a cool bass line, then bursts in with a wild, demented energy, like from a rockabilly voodoo doctor who is part Carl Perkins, part Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Yeah, it’s fun, and I dig the interaction between the J.D. Wilkes and the backing vocalists.

Obviously, “Frankenstein’s Monster” would be another excellent choice for your Halloween party. It opens with the lines, “Well, I created a monster/And then I lost him.” This song itself becomes a fiery beast, with some wonderful work on harmonica, leading back to the line “Well, I created a monster,” which this time suddenly ends the song. By the way, another song you might consider playing at your Halloween party is “Garden Of Delights,” which features these lines: “You know your sins have salted the earth/And the worms will have their claim/And nothing wants to grow/And the garden looks like graves.” Yes, the song is about the end of a relationship, but the imagery certainly works for the holiday. And besides, it’s just a great tune.

“Get Outta My Brain (South Electric Eyes, Slight Reprise)” begins as an instrumental, and is another twisted delight. “Well, step into my eyes/And follow me down the drain/You’re welcome to my heart/But stay out of my brain.” “South Electric Eyes” is a song from Legendary Shack Shakers’ Pandelirium album. After You’ve Gone concludes with “Invisible Hand,” a song that features just J.D. Wilkes on vocals and piano. “But the stars on the chart are a lie/Made of paper instead of the sky/So I’ll lay down my head here and die/Because it’s all over now/I lost you somehow/I let go the invisible hand.”

CD Track List
  1. Curse Of The Cajun Queen
  2. After You’ve Gone
  3. Single Boy
  4. War Whoop (Chief Paduke’s Revenge)
  5. (Sing A) Worried Song
  6. Long Legs
  7. Garden Of Delights
  8. Frankenstein’s Monster
  9. Branding Iron
  10. Get Outta My Brain (South Electric Eyes, Slight Reprise)
  11. Silent Key
  12. White Devil (The Curse That Worked)
  13. Invisible Hand
After You’ve Gone was released on August 25, 2017 on Last Chance Records.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Sam Marine: “Big Dark City” (2017) CD Review

There is something about good, straight-forward roots rock music that makes me feel younger than I am. It takes me back to my youth, when – oddly – I was looking forward to being older, driving to concerts, getting into bars, exploring the world and so on. Remember those long days of summer, when dusk held out promises and possibilities and gave us the illusion of being grown up? I’m still holding onto that illusion, I think. Sam Marine’s new release, an EP titled Big Dark City, takes me right back to those days, with its excellent rock tunes, somewhat rough vocals, and its total lack of bullshit. Sam Marine is based in Los Angeles. Big Dark City is his third release, following 2013’s Lacktown and 2015’s New Home.

The CD opens with its title track, “Big Dark City,” a tune with a good steady beat that feels to me like the pulse of an eternal summer. The song takes place on a Sunday night, when you’re trying to hold on to the weekend, opening with the lines “Turned on the lights so I could see what I was looking for/Grabbed some cash and headed out for maybe just one more/And I ain’t really been to sleep for very long just yet/I’m a couple drinks ahead of you, I bet.” I’m definitely into this song. And it’s followed by a slightly faster and harder rock tune, “Dawn Come And Gone,” which makes me feel like I should be out dancing at a bar with a carefree crowd of friendly strangers. It’s driven by the guitar and by Sam Marine’s wonderfully gruff vocals. Ah, night doesn’t last forever, no matter how much we might it want it to. “Now the sun is shining/Dawn come and gone.”

“Freeze ‘Em Out” has something of an early Tom Petty feel, and is another strong track. “If you can give me just a second just to think so I can figure it out.” And I like this line: “Now all I need is a distraction just to keep the words from coming out.” Sure, it’s pretty straight-forward rock, but the lyrics aren’t lacking substance as a result. And that’s followed by a slower, more serious-sounding song, “I’ll Soon Be Gone.” “My face has no expression, my shake is true and firm/I’d gladly lend a hand, but only on my terms/And don’t ask me where I came from, ‘cause I’ll soon be gone.” This one has a touch of country, and apparently was also included on Sam Marine’s first album (though a different version). The CD then concludes with “Mike Lee,” which also has a bit of country to its sound, and which might be my favorite track on this disc. “Said he’s gonna head a little north to stay in the south/Until then, he’s just passing time for now/Mike Lee/If you get along with him, you’ll get along with me.” And I appreciate these lines: “All we’ve done all night is ride around/Still, there’s plenty more to see in this college town.”

CD Track List
  1. Big Dark City
  2. Dawn Come And Gone
  3. Freeze ‘Em Out
  4. I’ll Soon Be Gone
  5. Mike Lee 
Big Dark City is scheduled to be released on November 17, 2017.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Cait Brennan: “Third” (2017) CD Review

Cait Brennan’s recent release, Third, is the third studio album she’s recorded, but only the second she’s released, following Debutante. In addition, the album’s title is a nod to Big Star’s Third, which apparently is Cait’s favorite album. In fact, Cait’s Third was recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis, where Big Star recorded their albums, and Cait was able to use Chris Bell’s Gibson and Alex Chilton’s Mellotron on this album. All of that is interesting, of course, but wouldn’t matter if the music weren’t so damn good. All of the songs on Third are originals, written or co-written by Cait Brennan. And nearly all of the instruments heard on the album were played by Cait Brennan and Fernando Perdomo (there are guest guitarists on two tracks). I didn’t know that the first time I listened to this disc, and so the second time was even more impressed. This is a wonderful album, mixing pop, rock, glam, and even soul, some of it with a 1970s flavor.

I was on board from this album’s opening line, “Yeah, I’m the asshole who stole your boyfriend.” That line might get a laugh, but “Bad At Apologies” is kind of a serious song, and it rocks. At moments, it actually reminds me a bit of Aimee Mann, just in the phrasing on lines like “So let’s go direct to the scene of the tragedy.” And I love these lines: “Kinda tried to hide it, but I never denied it/And if you think that you can resist, then you’ve never tried it.” “Bad At Apologies” is followed by “Stack Overflow,” a song that demands some volume. It’s another powerful (and seriously fun) rock tune with a steady beat and some great vocals. Think of some of Eurythmics’ best rockers, and you’ll have an idea of the sound and feel of this one. And check out these lines: “I went before the lord/I begged him for a chance just to sing my song/He said ‘you’ll sing it loud, but you won’t sing it long.’” This one got me dancing.

“He Knows Too Much” is a song about having to kill someone, but with a pleasant early rock sound, even hand claps, and something of a Sweet sound to the vocals during the chorus. “Well, he knows (he knows)/Too much (too much)/I think we’ll have to kill him.” There is a humorous spoken word part at the end, which first explains that Cait is not really going to kill anyone, then reverses that position slightly in the final line, “So give the girl a break, and treat her with some respect, or she just might lose her shit.” Ah, you’ve got to love a kick-ass, slightly off-kilter chick with a sense of humor. And then suddenly she delivers a sweet love song, “At The End Of The World.” Sure, it’s an apocalyptic love song, but it’s heartfelt. “At the end of the world/When all of it’s through/I’ll be with you.”

“A Hard Man To Love” is a fun tune, with a seventies feel, reminding me a bit of ELO. This one was written by Cait Brennan and Fernando Perdomo. And then there is something strangely beautiful about “Caitiebots Don’t Cry.” I think you’ll know what I’m talking about when you hear it. That’s followed by “Benedict Cumberbatch,” a song that just makes me feel good. It’s a response to an ex, saying the guy doesn’t even deserve the song, and so it’s being given to Benedict Cumberbatch. And why not? He seems like a good guy. And he’s played Hamlet. And yes, there is a certain 1970s aspect to this song. And to the following song as well, “Shake Away,” which was written by Cait Brennan, Van Duren and Fernando Perdomo. Van Duren also plays guitar on this one. This song deals playfully with a near-death experience in 2016, the year of one death after another. (Boy, 2016 just completely fucking sucked from beginning to end. Any year that takes Leonard Cohen and leaves us with Donald Trump is a year that should be knocked senseless and left in a ditch at the side of the road.) “I said, the year’s trying to kill me but I’ll be fine/’Cause I ain’t great enough to slaughter by the deadline.” That’s followed by another song that deals with the same subject, “The Angels Lie.” This one calls out by name a few of the great musicians we lost last year – “Everybody let me go/Like Haggard, Prince and David Bowie/Gotta get me to the show.” Both of these songs are a lot of fun, and this one includes a bridge, during which she sings “Insert the bridge here/I think the bridge goes here.” Cait delivers this song with the energy and passion of a Meatloaf song, just really going for it, giving it everything, the way Meat Loaf does. And at the end, she sings, “Insert the end here/I think the end goes here.”

“Collapse” is a mellower tune, and one that really grew on me. Something about this is quite moving. Robert Maché (from the Continental Drifters) plays lead guitar on this track. “Everything you want, I’ll say it now/Any price you want, I’ll pay it now/Everything I am, just take away/Tired of being this every day.” And check out these lines from “Perish The Thought”: “When I see you/I see the worst of myself/The part I left in some corner of hell/When I see you/I kind of want it back.” Yeah, Cait can certainly write some damn good lyrics.

CD Track List
  1. Bad At Apologies
  2. Stack Overflow
  3. He Knows Too Much
  4. At The End Of The World
  5. A Hard Man To Love
  6. Caitiebots Don’t Cry
  7. Benedict Cumberbatch
  8. Shake Away
  9. The Angels Lie
  10. Collapse
  11. LA/Amsterdam
  12. Perish The Thought
  13. Goodbye Missamerica 
Third was released on April 21, 2017 through Omnivore Recordings.

Leonard Cohen: “From The Shadows” (2017) CD Review

From The Shadows contains the show that Leonard Cohen performed on June 5, 1976 at L’Oympia in Paris. It’s another of those unofficial releases based on radio broadcasts, but I will take whatever Leonard Cohen I can get. Strangely, on the back of the CD case the show is listed as being from May 5, 1976, but that is not correct. The front of the case has the correct date. From what I can gather, this disc contains approximately half the concert that Leonard Cohen performed that night, and it includes a couple of songs some folks may be unfamiliar with – “Store Room” and “Do I Have To Dance All Night.” Neither of those songs was included on Leonard Cohen’s studio LPs (at least not originally). This disc contains more than an hour of music, and features some absolutely fantastic performances.

It opens with “Bird On The Wire,” which was the first song Leonard Cohen played that night. It’s a beautiful rendition, with Leonard Cohen singing some of it in French. By the way, he is backed on vocals by Cheryl Barnes and Laura Branigan, and they are gorgeous here. That song is followed by “Who By Fire” (it seems that this disc skips “So Long, Marianne”). Cheryl Barnes and Laura Branigan have a strong presence on this track as well. Sid McGinnis is on guitar, and Johnny Miller is on bass, and both deliver some interesting stuff here. The band is rounded out by Fred Thaylor on keys and Luther Rix on drums.

“Store Room” was not originally included on a studio release, but was later included as a bonus track on the 2007 re-issue of Songs, his first album. This live version is a lot of fun, with some wonderful stuff by Fred Thaylor on keys. What’s interesting is that the lyrics are almost completely different from that of the studio recording. Sure, we know that Leonard Cohen sometimes continued working on a song after releasing a studio version. The obvious example is “Hallelujah,” which gained a few new verses over the years. But this song wasn’t even released back then, and it’s interesting to me that he continued working on it without releasing it. Anyway, here is a taste of the lyrics: “Shakespeare, he said it all/Then he said no more/And he left me feeling just like a two-bit whore/Well, the silence broke my heart/But I spread my legs apart.”

That’s followed by “I Tried To Leave You,” a song from New Skin For The Old Ceremony. This song would later develop into a showcase for each member of his touring band. But here it is a cool, jazzy number, with Fred Thaylor’s work on keys standing out. Cheryl Barnes and Laura Branigan deliver a wonderful vocal section which makes this rendition something special. Then in “Lady Midnight,” instead of “Where I kneeled on her floor,” Leonard sings, “Where I begged like a dog on her floor.” After a high-energy version of “There Is A War,” Leonard Cohen does “Do I Have To Dance All Night.” This is a song he performed fairly often at the time, but which he did not include on a studio LP. It was, however, released as a single in 1976, paired with “The Butcher.” The version here is a lot of fun, especially with that prominent bass line. There is a crackling sound near the beginning of “Avalanche,” but it is a good version. It’s followed by “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” at the end of which Leonard sings, “That’s all, baby, I don’t even think of you that often.” After this song, there is a radio station identification, in French. It’s kind of odd that the station identification is left in, since a lot of this show is apparently cut.

The version of “The Partisan” on this disc is interesting because of Luther Rix’s drum march which begins halfway through. There is another radio announcement after “The Partisan,” again in French. The backing vocalists nearly overpower Leonard Cohen at moments in “Famous Blue Raincoat.” It’s an unusual rendition, certainly not my favorite way that I’ve heard him perform it. He ends it with the spoken line, “Sincerely, a friend.” And for some reason there is yet another radio announcement. It’s kind of irritating at this point. I want nothing to interrupt a Leonard Cohen recording. And there is another radio interruption after “Lover Lover Lover.” What the fuck? Well, I totally dig this version of “Is This What You Wanted,” which has some interesting changes. This disc then concludes with “Suzanne.” “And you know she’s half crazy, but that’s why you want to be there.” Oh yes.

CD Track List
  1. Bird On The Wire
  2. Who By Fire
  3. Store Room
  4. I Tried To Leave You
  5. Lady Midnight
  6. There Is A War
  7. Do I Have To Dance All Night
  8. Avalanche
  9. Chelsea Hotel #2
  10. The Partisan
  11. Story Of Isaac
  12. Famous Blue Raincoat
  13. Lover Lover Lover
  14. Is This What You Wanted
  15. Suzanne 
From The Shadows was released on April 7, 2017.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Grateful Dead: “Harding Theater 1971” (2016) CD Review

Ah, early 1970s Grateful Dead. It’s hard to beat it. Harding Theater 1971 is a three-disc set containing the complete show the Grateful Dead performed at the Harding Theater in San Francisco on November 7, 1971. It’s another of the releases taken from radio broadcasts, but it’s a good package, with liner notes written by someone who is actually familiar with the band (sometimes they’re not), though it might be that portions of those notes were lifted from a Grateful Dead fan website. Anyway, it’s an excellent show, and the radio station identifications always come between songs, never over the music.

The first disc, at nearly 79 minutes, contains most of the first set. Yeah, this was a nice long show. The disc opens with some tuning and stage banter from Bob, Jerry and Phil, who address the radio audience. Jerry tells them they’ll hear the music faster than the folks inside the venue. They then get things off to a great start with “Truckin’,” which features a good jam. Bob then mentions that the monitors have cut out, and they don’t know what to do. “Hey, anybody out there?” They refer to Bob’s yellow dog story. As annoying as I’m sure it was to have their monitors cut out, from my perspective all these years later, it’s a good thing, because we get plenty of stage banter, something we didn’t get much of in the later days. And the radio station doesn’t interrupt it or cut away, which is wonderful. Eventually, they get things working and go into “Brown-Eyed Women.” But then the feed to the radio station becomes problematic, and the song cuts out a few times at the beginning, for just a second each time, and a few more times at the end, and again between songs.

Bob introduces “Beat It On Down The Line” as “the drummer’s choice.” And they begin it with sixteen beats (“Sweet sixteen”), many more than usual. This is a seriously energetic and fun rendition. And after it, Bob announces that the monitors have cut out again. Those technical difficulties lead the band to play “Hide Away,” an instrumental tune written by Freddie King. This was the first time the band ever played it, and actually they would play it only one other time, eighteen years later, when once again they were suffering technical troubles. It’s a good, full version here – reason enough to own this three-disc set.  Technical troubles may be at an end, and the band goes into “Sugaree,” with some interesting vocal phrasing by Jerry. He’s clearly having a good time, and the results are good for us. “Sugaree” is followed by “Jack Straw” and a rockin’ “Tennessee Jed.” There is a station identification after “Tennessee Jed.” It takes a moment to get “Cumberland Blues” underway, but it ends up being an absolutely excellent rendition. More stage banter and tuning follow before the band goes into “El Paso.” Bob’s vocals seem a bit low in the mix, but it’s otherwise a good version. It’s followed by a high-energy rendition of “Big Railroad Blues.” The first disc then concludes with a passionate “Comes A Time.”

The second disc begins with the final couple of tunes from the first set – “Mexicali Blues” and “One More Saturday Night.” There is a station identification between those two songs, and just before they begin “One More Saturday Night,” Bob says, “Oh boy, are you ever gonna love this one.”

The second set opens with “Ramble On Rose.” There is a sound problem at the start, but it seems like it’s the radio feed rather than something from the stage. That’s followed by a sweet rendition of “Me And Bobby McGee.” Someone then calls out a request for “Jack Straw.” The response: “We already did it.” What they choose next is “Loser.” It’s a seriously good version, and is followed by “Sugar Magnolia.” Bob forgets some of the lyrics, but it’s still a fun version and should get you dancing around your home or car or wherever you listen to this disc. It feels like a set closer, but the second set is really just getting going. What follows is the big juicy section of the show, beginning with “Dark Star.” It’s mellow at the start, the band is in no hurry, just exploring, see where it takes them, nothing to prove. And as you might expect, that leads to a damn good version. There are hints of “The Other One,” and then a drum solo leads into that song. And what a delicious rendition! The band does only the first verse, then gets into some spacey territory before emerging cleanly into “Me And My Uncle.” And then the moment they finish “Me And My Uncle,” they are right back into “The Other One,” and back into a good spacey jam before pounding into the second verse. After “The Other One,” the band stops to fix a broken string, and there is a longer radio station identification. Then, after a bit of tuning, the second disc comes to a close.

The third disc contains the rest of the second set and the encore. It begins with an energetic “Deal,” followed by a pretty rendition of “Brokedown Palace” and then “Playing In The Band.” This is one of the best versions of “Playing In The Band” from 1971. The song was still fairly new, and most versions from this time lacked those wonderful long jams you’d get later on. But this one has a good bit of jamming. There is another radio station identification after that song. During more technical troubles, Bob does his “dead air” joke, and Jerry asks, “Get it?” They engage the audience in some jokes. The band then gets things going again with a rockin’ rendition of “Casey Jones.” The second set concludes with “Not Fade Away” into “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” back into “Not Fade Away.” The band is on fire here, particularly during “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad.” Some of the crowd noise is cut before the encore. The encore is “Johnny B. Goode” and a wonderful “Uncle John’s Band.”

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. Intro
  2. Truckin’
  3. Brown-Eyed Women
  4. Beat It On Down The Line
  5. Hide Away
  6. Sugaree
  7. Jack Straw
  8. Tennessee Jed
  9. Cumberland Blues
  10. El Paso
  11. Big Railroad Blues
  12. Comes A Time
Disc Two
  1. Mexicali Blues
  2. One More Saturday Night
  3. Ramble On Rose
  4. Me And Bobby McGee
  5. Loser
  6. Sugar Magnolia
  7. Dark Star >
  8. Drums >
  9. The Other One >
  10. Me And My Uncle >
  11. The Other One 
Disc Three
  1. Deal
  2. Brokedown Palace
  3. Playing In The Band
  4. Casey Jones
  5. Not Fade Away >
  6. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad >
  7. Not Fade Away
  8. Johnny B. Goode
  9. Uncle John’s Band 
Harding Theater 1971 was released on February 12, 2016 through Left Field Media.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Grateful Dead: “Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 4: Spectrum 4-6-82” (2011/2017) CD Review

Real Gone Music is re-issuing the Grateful Dead’s Road Trips series of live recordings, starting at the end and working their way backward. They began with Vol. 4 No. 5: Boston Music Hall 6-9-76, which came out in June. The second re-issue in the series is Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 4: Spectrum 4-6-82. While most Grateful Dead live releases focus on the seventies (and with good reason), the band put on some excellent shows throughout the entire thirty-year career, and it’s great to have some early eighties recordings. Road Trips Vol 4 No. 4 contains the complete concert the Dead performed on April 6, 1982 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia (along with some songs from the previous night at the same venue).

The first disc contains the entire first set. “Cold Rain And Snow” is always a good opener, and Jerry Garcia’s voice sounds really good here. The energy builds well toward the end. Bob Weir then keeps things going with a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” with Brent Mydland delivering some nice stuff on keys. At this point, Brent had been with the band for a few years, though still, from what I understand, felt like the new guy. This version gets a bit messy, but is still pretty good. For me, things start getting exceptional with “Candyman.” This is a beautiful and interesting rendition, with Jerry on top of things musically, vocally, emotionally. And Bob matches him vocally on “C.C. Rider,” which follows. This is a seriously good rendition, in large part because of Bob’s vocal performance. And Jerry’s guitar sounds wonderful. Plus, they let the groove stretch out a bit. This is not a song I usually consider all that much, but this version is making me take another, closer look. This is certainly one of the best versions I’ve heard the band do.

They follow that with a damn good “Brown-Eyed Women.” Just listen to Jerry sing the “Daddy made whiskey and he made it well” verse. Excellent! Hell, even the pair of “Mama Tried” into “Mexicali Blues” has a certain flair. The band is on. “Big Railroad Blues” seems the natural choice to follow those two songs, flowing well thematically, and this is a good, rockin’ version. Bob then slows things down for a pretty and passionate rendition of “Looks Like Rain,” with some unusual stuff toward the end, making this a version worth paying attention to. That’s followed by an energetic “Jack-A-Roe.” The first set is rounded out with two more rockin’ numbers, “It’s All Over Now” and “Might As Well.”

The second disc contains more than half of the second set, as well as a portion of the first set from the April 5th show. Yeah, it’s set up weirdly. I understand and appreciate that they don’t want to break up that post-“Space” section, and I’m happy to have this music from the night before, but I would have put it on a fourth disc rather than sticking it in the middle of the second set. Because basically you need to take this disc out after “Space” and put the third disc in, and then return to the rest of this disc later. Anyway, the second set opens with “Shakedown Street,” which features a good, groovy jam. I dig that vocal jam, and especially that interplay between Jerry and Brent, a bit of call and response. That ends up being one of the highlights of the show. The band follows that with an okay “Lost Sailor” straight into a pretty good version of “Saint Of Circumstance.” “Terrapin Station” is really good, but oddly mellow, right? And for just a moment do they dip into “In The Hall Of The Mountain King”? Wild. “Terrapin” slides into the “Drums/Space” segment. “Drums” is quite good, becoming a beast at times, exploring interesting peaks and valleys, and sometimes becoming almost hypnotic. As “Drums” becomes “Space,” the drummers remain on stage for a short time, which is cool. This is kind of an intriguing “Space,” certainly one of the better ones I’ve heard.

And that’s where the second disc should end. But we’re treated to a few tunes from the first set of the previous night. Though the music is good, it is jarring to be ripped out of the middle of one show and deposited into another. The more I think about it, the more I realize it’s a terrible idea to include this music. It would have been better to just not include it at all rather than break up the flow of the second set. That being said, the three songs are “Deep Elem Blues,” from the middle of the first set, and “Althea” and “Man Smart, Woman Smarter,” which concluded the first set that night. “Deep Elem Blues” is a lot of fun, a jaunty rendition. This is a nice, relaxed “Althea.” And “Man Smart, Woman Smarter” is designed to get us all dancing.

The third disc then takes us back to the second set of April 6th, as “Truckin’” emerges from “Space,” with Bob Weir blowing that whistle. A moment of forgotten lyrics, and then a bizarrely changed lyric – the line “Living on reds, vitamin C and cocaine” switched to “Ever since she went and had her sex change.” Very strange. This is a fairly short “Truckin’,” without any jam to speak of, leading straight into an even shorter “The Other One.” It’s wild, but includes just one verse – the second one. And just as suddenly we’re into “Morning Dew.” This is an excellent version of “Morning Dew,” with Jerry’s voice sounding wonderful. It’s an incredibly moving rendition, getting delicate toward the end before building in power at its conclusion. This is definitely another of the show’s highlights. The second set then ends with “Sugar Magnolia.” The encore is a sweet and beautiful “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” concluding the show with another highlight.

The third disc then includes the first half of the second set from the night before, beginning with “Bertha,” which has something of an abrupt ending. That’s followed by a fantastic “Playing In The Band,” with a jam that gets into some interesting territory. It eases into a nice “Ship Of Fools,” and then into a “Playing In The Band” jam. Great stuff. I wish this release had a fourth disc with the complete second set, particularly as the band goes back into “Playing” again after “The Wheel,” so the segment contained on this disc feels incomplete.

CD Track List

Disc 1
  1. Cold Rain And Snow >
  2. Promised Land
  3. Candyman
  4. C.C. Rider
  5. Brown-Eyed Women
  6. Mama Tried >
  7. Mexicali Blues
  8. Big Railroad Blues
  9. Looks Like Rain
  10. Jack-A-Roe
  11. It’s All Over Now
  12. Might As Well
Disc 2
  1. Shakedown Street >
  2. Lost Sailor >
  3. Saint Of Circumstance >
  4. Terrapin Station >
  5. Rhythm Devils >
  6. Space
  7. Deep Elem Blues
  8. Althea
  9. Man Smart, Woman Smarter 
Disc 3
  1. Truckin’ >
  2. The Other One >
  3. Morning Dew >
  4. Sugar Magnolia
  5. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
  6. Bertha
  7. Playing In The Band >
  8. Ship Of Fools >
  9. Playing In The Band 
Road Trips Vol. 4 No. 4: Spectrum 4-6-82 was released on September 1, 2017 through Real Gone Music.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Rocker-T: “The Return Of The Tru Ganjaman” (2016) CD Review

Though I do like reggae, I don’t listen to a whole lot of it, partly because it sometimes begins to feel repetitive to me. But Rocker-T (Toby Petter Herskind Sorensen), on his CD The Return Of The Tru Ganjaman, does some interesting and delightful things with the form. And he’s joined by several guest musicians, including Mykal Rose and Ras Indio. This album really grew on me. Yes, it deals with a lot of the same subjects, same themes as most reggae music – peace, marijuana, and so on – but so much of it feels new here, even as those particular subjects are tackled. The main thing is that this music makes me happy, and we can all use some of that these days.

“Yankee & Yardee” is reggae with a heavy dance beat. I have absolutely no idea what he’s singing here, at least for much of the song, but I’m enjoying the groove. And toward the end he calls out a few familiar names: “Sugar, Dennis and Gregory/Peter, Bunny, Bob Marley.” Folks that current musicians acknowledge a debt to. Gappy Ranks (Jacob Lee Williams) then joins Rocker-T on “Need Some,” which has more of a familiar feel and has a positive sound. Mykal Rose and Mr. Williamz join him for “Disgrace.” “Why is it that they can’t unite?/Why is that they can’t stand together?” Good questions, and presented over a catchy groove.

The song that really got me excited about this disc is “Herbalist.” It is so catchy, so joyful, and it features Mama-T on vocals. The first time I listened to this album, this is the song that grabbed me, the song that turned my day around with its positive, bright sounds. It’s a wonderful track, dedicated to the herbalists “who bring all the healing,” and knocking the ridiculous war on drugs. “Let go the herbalist, you let him be/Let go the herbalist, you set him free.” And of course you can dance to it. So there. It’s followed by another stand-out track, “Man Ah Warrior.” It has just a bit of a New Orleans Dixie jazz vibe that makes me love it. It’s an overall fresh sound, and by this point in the disc I was totally in.

Bass player and vocalist Skip Wicked (Spencer Burton) of Indubious joins Rocker-T on “Chillum,” an unusual and excellent song with something of a tribal rhythm and some impressive vocal delivery. I want to lose myself in the beat, close my eyes and dance until the walls disappear. It has that kind of power, you know? And it’s followed by yet another highlight, “Garden Of Goodness.” It’s funny that a song celebrating marijuana should begin with the sound of someone coughing. But there you have it. This song is a lot fun, and has a delightfully fresh and bright feel. “In the garden of goodness/There’s a weed for releasing my stress/Oh yes, it’s the best/In the garden of goodness/Marijuana caught my interest.” Jah Wave and Ras Indio join Rocker-T on this track. Then Prezident Brown joins Rocker-T on “Blazing Everyday,” obviously another song about smoking marijuana.

Just a couple of months before the release of this CD, Rocker-T put out a disc titled Tru Ganjaman: The Remixes, which contains twenty-three versions of “Tru Ganjaman.” If that CD didn’t provide enough of that song for you, this CD gives you “Tru Ganjaman Megamix,” which I suppose is the title track. Oddly, I don’t find this track nearly as compelling or enjoyable as everything that precedes it. This one ends with coughing. And the tracks that follow it are all remixes of earlier songs, including two versions of “Real Singer Smoker” (I prefer the Phibes Remix) and two versions of “One Million Matches.”

CD Track List
  1. Yankee & Yardee
  2. Need Some
  3. Disgrace
  4. Herbalist
  5. Man Ah Warrior
  6. Chillum
  7. Garden Of Goodness
  8. Blazing Everday
  9. Life Over Death
  10. Tru Ganjaman Megamix
  11. Ganja Slengin (Nickynutz Remix)
  12. Real Singer Smoker (Mt. Analogue Remix)
  13. One Million Matches (Yungg Trip Remix)
  14. Militant & Real (Ill Text Trap-A-Lot Mafia Remix)
  15. Real Singer Smoker (Phibes Remix)
  16. One Million Matches (Mylk Remix)
The Return Of The Tru Ganjaman was released on June 17, 2016. By the way, the digital release of this album contains three more tracks.

Leo Bud Welch: “Live At The Iridium” (2017) CD/DVD Review

In these times of disasters and division, we don’t have a leader to pull us through. Instead, we have a president who is himself a national (though perhaps unnatural) disaster. So it is to music that we turn, and often to the blues. Blues guitarist and singer Leo Bud Welch is someone from whom we can take inspiration. Though he’s been playing guitar since his teens, he did not have a recording career until he was in his eighties. How is that for an example of never giving up! His debut album, Sabougla Voices, was released in early 2014, when Welch was eighty-one. His latest release, Live At The Iridium, is a two-disc set (a CD and DVD) recorded on March 7, 2016 (my birthday) at The Iridium in New York. Accompanied by only a drummer (Dixie Street) and by a backing vocalist (Vencie Varnado) on certain tracks, Leo Welch delivers a loose, intimate and honest performance of mostly covers. And though much of the material might have been written by others, Leo Bud Welch seems to have lived it, giving us the sense that this is the real thing.

Before launching into “Praise His Name,” Leo Welch says, “I don’t know what you come to do, I come to sing my songs.” “Praise His Name” is the lead-off track from Sabougla Voices, and is the only original track in the set. This track features Vencie Varnado on backing vocals. By the way, the DVD is a minute longer than the CD, and includes Vencie’s introduction, in which he says “We’re gonna bring you some gospel, some blues, more gospel, more blues” (a line that made me smile). That’s followed by a cover of Muddy Waters’ “Still A Fool,” which Leo introduces as “old school blues.” He doesn’t talk much between songs, however, and instead usually gives barely a pause. He gets rocking on “Got My Mojo Working.” On the DVD, watch him moving on his chair. It’s clear that even in his eighties, Leo Welch has his mojo working. For that tune, Vencie Varnado returns on backing vocals (and to dance around, totally grooving to the music).

Leo does offer a brief introduction to “Woke Up This Morning”: “When I woke up this morning, I don’t know about you, but my baby was gone. I ain’t had no love since my baby been gone.” Wait, so he hasn’t had any love since last night? That’s not so bad. Someone calls out during a pause in the song, surprising the drummer and making her laugh. I dig Leo’s rendition of Willie Dixon’s “My Babe.” This one is just fun. And then he totally owns “Sweet Little Angel.” Listen to the crowd respond to the way he delivers the first line, “Got a sweet little angel.” In this song, he sings, “I asked my baby, I asked her for a nickel/And she gave me a twenty dollar bill/When I asked her for a little, just a little drink of liquor, do you know what she did/She bought me a whiskey still.” Now that’s a good girlfriend! And I believe him when he sings that if she quits him, “I do believe, I believe I would die.”

For “Cadillac Baby,” Vencie Varnado returns on backing vocals and goofy dance moves, like he’s driving a giant Cadillac. That’s followed by “Po’ Boy,” one of my favorites. “I’m a poor boy/I’m a long way from home.” Oh yes. Interestingly, Vencie says to the crowd, “I’d like to ask Leo to pay a tribute to the legendary B.B. King.” Weird, because I get the sense this set list was planned pretty well. Anyway, he continues: “Leo and B.B. go back a long way, eh? Actually, B.B. had offered Leo an audition back in the fifties, but unfortunately B.B. couldn’t afford Leo’s room and board for one night in Memphis, so he didn’t pursue the opportunity.” He talks about B.B. King working as a radio DJ, and how Pepticon was one of the sponsors for his show. So he asks Leo to perform the jingle B.B. wrote for that sponsor. A strange tribute, eh? One of the oddest choices of covers. Dixie Street sits this one out at first, then adds a little hi-hat and hand percussion toward the end.

I’ve always dug “Good Morning, Little School Girl,” though the older the folks who sing it are, the more twisted it gets. However, when the singer is in his eighties, it becomes innocent and adorable, particularly as he sings, “Tell your mother and your father I am a little schoolboy too.” I love Leo’s take on this song. He turns to country for a good rendition of “Walkin’ The Floor Over You.” Leo Welch then stands up for his final number, “Me And My Lord,” with Vencie echoing Leo on backing vocals.

DVD Bonus Feature

The DVD includes an interview with Leo Welch, in which he talks about his youth and his work cutting timber. He tells a great anecdote about playing his first guitar (which wasn’t really his). During the interview, he plays “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” and there is also some footage of him recording “Walkin’ The Floor Over You.” Leo talks about what the blues mean for him, and about never giving up. Also included in this feature in a bit of an interview with Vencie Varnado about his connection to Leo.

Track List
  1. Praise His Name
  2. Still A Fool
  3. Got My Mojo Working
  4. Five Long Years
  5. No More Doggin’
  6. Woke Up This Morning
  7. My Babe
  8. Sweet Little Angel
  9. Cadillac Baby
  10. Po’ Boy
  11. You Don’t Have To Go
  12. Pepticon
  13. Don’t Let The Devil Ride
  14. Rollin’ & Tumblin’
  15. Good Morning, Little School Girl
  16. Walkin’ The Floor Over You
  17. Me And My Lord 
Live At The Iridium was released on March 31, 2017.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Little Mike: “How Long?” (2016) CD Review

I’ve been listening to a lot of blues lately, partly as a way of coping with the awful state our country has so rapidly slid into. Shit, I thought we had largely moved past that angry racism and homophobia, thought we had made some progress, and yet Nazis proudly march in the streets, and with the support of the president no less. What went wrong? What went so horribly wrong? I don’t know exactly, but I do know that the blues can help ease the pain, make us feel less alone. Ah, if only the blues could kill Nazis. Has anyone tried it yet? Anyway, I’ve been enjoying Little Mike’s 2016 release, How Long? It features mostly original music, written by Michael Markowitz. Little Mike is a talented harmonica player, and that instrument figures prominently in most of these tracks. The band also includes Cam Robb on drums, Dave Sweet on drums, Troy Nahumko on guitar, John Edelmann on guitar, Joe Fontenot on bass, Ken Stearns on bass and guitar, and Mitch Margold on organ.

The album gets off to a great start with “Cotton Mouth,” an original instrumental composition, driven by Little Mike’s harmonica. This song feels like a party, and already has me in a better mood. Just listen to that harmonica! And he doesn’t really take a break, just keeps it going. That’s followed by “How Long,” the album’s title track, on which Little Mike plays piano. This song was written by J.B. Lenoir, and has a verse familiar to those folks who enjoy “I Know You Rider.” “I laid down last night, tried to get my rest/Now my mind started rambling like the wild geese in the west.” There is a kind of easygoing jam that is perfect. At the end, Little Mike sings, “Well, then I want my body on that Brooklyn line.” He then adds, “That’s Brooklyn, New York, baby,” clarifying it for anyone who might have confused it with Brooklyn, Indiana or Brooklyn, Michigan or Brooklyn, Iowa (yes, those are actual places).

“Smokin’” starts with harmonica, and quickly develops into a fast-paced little gem about the lethal aspect of cigarettes, and how hard it is to quit the habit. He has no doubt about it, as he sings, “Well, cigarettes killed my mama and my papa too/And I know someday, lord, they’re gonna get me too/Cigarettes gonna kill me/They’re gonna make me die.” Nothing subtle about that. I’d love it if everyone quit smoking cigarettes, as the smoke makes me ill, and I’m so bloody sick of seeing cigarette butts on the ground. If you need to smoke something, switch to pot, folks.  “Smokin’” is followed by “Moanin’,” a cool instrumental written by jazz pianist Bobby Timmons. Interestingly, Little Mike plays harmonica, not piano on this track, and the tune gets a delicious blues treatment. In addition to harmonica, there is some really nice work on guitar here. And I love that bass line.

“When My Baby Left” is a good, solid blues tune with plenty of wonderful work on harmonica. That’s followed by a cover of Johnny Young’s “Slam Hammer,” an instrumental tune with a ton of energy. This one is a whole hell of a lot of fun, and is over before you know it. “Sam’s Blues” is a slow, very cool blues instrumental, led by harmonica. “Not What Mama Planned” is another cool tune, opening with a simple but catchy bass line, and developing into a good blues tune with a nice jam. How Long? ends with a delicious, slow blues tune, “Sittin’ Here Baby,” mainly bass and vocals. It’s interesting, as it sounds like it’s almost difficult for Little Mike to be this quiet. The song feels restrained in a way, like it’s eager to burst open and swallow someone whole, and so even though it’s a mellow song, it kind of has me on edge. “Sitting here, baby, worrying all night long/Worrying as the nighttime, nighttime turns into dawn.

CD Track List
  1. Cotton Mouth
  2. How Long
  3. Smokin’
  4. Moanin’
  5. When My Baby Left
  6. Slam Hammer
  7. Whatcha’ Gonna Do?
  8. Sam’s Blues
  9. Bad Boy
  10. Not What Mama Planned
  11. Tryna’ Find My Baby
  12. Sittin’ Here Baby
How Long? was released on September 1, 2016 on ELROB Records.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Gina Sicilia: “Tug Of War” (2017) CD Review

Last summer I was turned on to blues vocalist Gina Sicilia when she released a five-song EP titled Sunset Avenue. If you missed that release, no worries, as all five songs from the EP are also included on her new full-length album, Tug Of War, featuring mostly originally material written by Gina Sicilia. A lot of the songs on this album are about acknowledging and handling pain and adversity, but always with the idea that we’ll get through our troubles. As such, it should be particularly poignant for a lot of folks right now. The country is in shambles, and it’s difficult to remain unaffected by that. In addition, it seems that more people are having personal troubles these days. Maybe that’s just a matter of getting older, I don’t know. What I do know is that most people in my life feel they are at a crossroads of one kind or another, and that something has to change soon. I think people in that situation should find a kindred voice in Gina Sicilia, and in this album especially.

The album opens with “I Don’t Want To Be In Love,” a cool mix of blues and pop, a song about a woman who’s in love, much to her chagrin. “I thought I was happy here on my own/’Til you came along and showed me I was wrong/But I don’t want to be in love.” Arlan Oscar plays piano on this track, and Matt Tecu is on drums. “I Don’t Want To Be In Love” was written by Gina Sicilia and Dave Darling (Darling also co-produced the album with Glenn Barratt). Even though the next song, “Damaging Me,” is about life trying to beat her down, it ends up a more upbeat song, as the repeated line is “Picking up my pieces off the floor.” So even though she is in pieces, the song is about not giving up, no matter how shitty life can be. “I’m on my knees/Tired of this strife/It’s much too much/I’ve had enough.” I love the cool ending of this song. She expresses a similar (and stronger) resolve to not give up in “I’ll Stand Up,” in which she sings, “My feet ache/My legs shake/But I’ll stand up/My hands are weak/No words to speak/But I’ll stand, I’ll stand up.” “I’ll Stand Up” is one of my personal favorites.

“He Called Me Baby” is the first cover song of the album. It was written and recorded by Harlan Howard, though it was then titled “She Called Me Baby.” Gina Sicilia’s rendition is less country, more blues. It features a good groove, over which Gina delivers a powerful vocal performance. This is my favorite of the album’s three covers. I dig Joel Bryan’s work on organ here. The other covers are a fun rendition of “Tell Him,” which was written by Bert Berns and recorded by The Exciters, and a slow, passionate version of The Beatles’ “All My Loving.”

“Tell Him” was included on the Sunset Avenue EP. The five songs of that EP are presented together on this CD, though not in the same order as the EP. The first is “Never Gonna End,” the song which provides the album’s title in the lines “In a tug of war/We closed the door/On trying to make peace/With each other.” This song mixes some gospel elements into the blues/pop sound. That’s followed by another of my favorites, “I Cried.” Sometimes crying is the best thing we can do, get it all out rather than keeping it inside, and this song has a very positive and friendly feel. “Tomorrow I’m going to get up/Hold my head up high/But until then I’m going to hang it low/And cry, cry, cry.”  “They Never Pay Me” was, for me, the most interesting of the songs from the EP. It has an unusual and compelling sound, which works for me every time I listen to it. “What can I say/To prove I am worthy/What will it take to find/The respect I deserve/For what I have given.” “Abandoned” is a groovy blues song. “Love is who/Taught me to kiss you/Gone without a clue/Left me to miss you.”

This CD concludes with “Heaven,” an upbeat song with a gospel bent. This is probably the most fun, enjoyable song on the disc. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I have done a lot of things/That I can’t undo/And I know and I know/You’re going to see me through/There’s no light to be seen/From the place I stand/Tell me how to cross on over/To your land.”

CD Track List
  1. I Don’t Want To Be In Love
  2. Damaging Me
  3. He Called Me Baby
  4. I’ll Stand Up
  5. Never Gonna End
  6. I Cried
  7. They Never Pay Me
  8. Abandoned
  9. Tell Him
  10. All My Loving
  11. Heaven 
Tug Of War was released on June 2, 2017 on Blue Élan Records.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Chickenbone Slim: “The Big Beat” (2017) CD Review

I figured from the cover of this album that I was in for some fun, maybe with a bit of a classic rock and roll sound (because of the title). And we could all use some fun these days, right? Chickenbone Slim is the stage name of Larry Teves, a blues musician based in San Diego, and The Big Beat is his second album, following Gone. The Big Beat features all original music, written by Teves, and yes, it is some good blues to lift you from the mire and get you on your feet.

The album opens with its title track, a fun blues tune, with touches of rock, a strong rhythm and some great work on harmonica. This song kind of invites the listener to dance, “Once you got the beat, you just can’t get enough/We got the big beat/We got the big beat/The way that you move makes you feel the heat/We got the big beat.” I fucking love that classic 1960s-sounding guitar, and this song develops into a good and totally enjoyable little jam. I wish it went on longer actually. Chickenbone Slim takes us in a more blues rock direction with “Long Way Down,” a song with a catchy rhythm. “You never try and you never fail/You won’t get shocked if you don’t touch that rail.” This song features some excellent work on guitar.

Chickenbone Slim then dips into country with “Hemi Dodge,” a fun driving song which I’ll be adding to my road trip play list. This one has more good work on harmonica, and a playful vocal performance. “Ain’t no tread left on my wheel/But I’m waking up the dead with this souped up Detroit steel.” “Vodka And Vicodin” is more in the folk realm. Maybe I’m crazy, but something about this reminds me of Fats Domino’s “I’m In Love Again,” maybe if you speed it up just a bit. Anyway, I dig this song. “Get myself some chemical motivation, because sometimes reality sucks/I wouldn’t tell you how to live your life/Everyone does what they think is right/I medicate my blues away.” Then we get more heavily into the blues with the delicious “Long Legged Sweet Thing,” which features some nice work by Marty Dodson on drums. There is more great drumming on “Do You Like It?”

“Me And Johnny Lee” features a good, meaty blues jam led by the harmonica, and then later by guitar. That’s followed by “Man Down,” which is blues with a funky edge, and is one of the album’s strongest tracks. The CD then concludes with “Break Me Off A Piece,” another fun track. Yes, the album cover did not steer me wrong. “It’s hard to keep on traveling/Keep on moving all the time/I need a little something/To ease my worried mind.”

CD Track List
  1. The Big Beat
  2. Long Way Down
  3. Hemi Dodge
  4. Vodka And Vicodin
  5. Long Legged Sweet Thing
  6. Do You Like It?
  7. Me And Johnny Lee
  8. Man Down
  9. Break Me Off A Piece 
The Big Beat is scheduled to be released on September 15, 2017.

Whitney Rose: “Rule 62” (2017) CD Review

I became a fan of Whitney Rose’s music upon hearing the first song of her 2015 release, Heartbreaker Of The Year. Then earlier this year she followed that with South Texas Suite, an excellent six-song EP. Well, her new CD, Rule 62, is even better. It is a masterful and delightful album of mostly original material. Whitney Rose is in control here, her excellent voice driving, or at least guiding, the music, and our mood as well. So just give in, and let her take over for forty-four minutes. It will be the most enjoyable forty-four minutes of your day.

The new CD opens with “I Don’t Want Half (I Just Want Out).” This song has a glorious old-time country sound (I can imagine Dolly Parton or even Patsy Cline singing this one), and yet it’s an original tune, written by Whitney Rose. Boy, she can really tap into that timeless country magic, and she has the voice for it. She’ll be able to draw tears from her audience if that’s her goal, or make them fall for her if she so desires. This song is about the end of a marriage. I love this line: “You take the house, dear, I’ll take the train.” And the lines about the cat make me laugh: “And you can even keep the cat/I never liked that selfish brat.” This song features some nice work by Aaron Till on fiddle, and by Chris Scruggs on steel guitar. “Well, don’t you worry about me, or what becomes of my life/It’s already better now that I’m not your wife.” Whitney follows that with a more lively and fun number titled “Arizona.” This is one I saw her perform in Burbank in March of this year, and I’m glad she decided to include it on this album. Max Abrams joins her on saxophone, adding to the joyous atmosphere of the track.  At that show, she also covered Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” and Whitney’s own “Better To My Baby” has something of that early 1960s pop feel. Her voice is perfect for this kind of material, as well as for that great country stuff.

One of my personal favorites is “You Never Cross My Mind,” with Whitney giving us an intimate and beautiful vocal performance. “Everything can be controlled/No one here’s growing old/This life goes by so slow/It don’t fly right on by/You never cross my mind.” Really, it’s a captivating performance, over some beautiful playing by Chris Scruggs on steel guitar. Raul Malo also contributes some wonderful work on guitar. And here is where Whitney Rose may draw some tears from your eyes, as she tries to deny the truth of her feelings while simultaneously baring them. “You Never Cross My Mind” is followed by “You Don’t Scare Me,” another song I saw her perform in Burbank earlier this year. She paired it with Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” to conclude the first set.

“Can’t Stop Shakin’” is another of my favorites. It has a fun mid-1960s feel, like a song a band would be playing in one of those scenes taking place at a go-go, with girls in sweaters and tall boots dancing with clean-cut but somewhat enthusiastic boys. That rhythm, that guitar – and then the horn! That’s Max Abrams again on saxophone. And Jen Gunderman provides some wonderful work on organ, particularly during the instrumental section. This is pure fun. At least, the music is. But then listen to the lyrics. Here Whitney sings, “Someone please turn off the news/I’ve got the six o’clock blues/I can’t stop shakin’/No, I can’t stop shakin’/I ain’t going to let him win/No, I ain’t giving in.” So while the sound might take us back to another time, the lyrics are firmly in the present, in a very screwed up time where a delusional racist twit occupies the White House. And perhaps she’s helping us deal with our anxiety and fear, by turning one kind of shaking to another, to a more positive kind. It’s a case of dancing our blues away, and this is the song to do it.

Whitney Rose then turns to sweeter tones for “Tied To The Wheel,” one of only two covers on this album. This song was the title track to Bill Kirchen’s 2001 release, and Whitney Rose’s version features Jen Gunderman on accordion. The other song on the album not written by Whitney Rose is “You’re A Mess,” which was written by Carol MacQuarrie. It’s kind of a delightful pop tune that opens with these lines: “I’m trying to love you, baby/But it’s so hard.” Whitney Rose then ends the CD with a rockin’ country number titled “Time To Cry,” with a 1950s rock electric guitar part and plenty of good vibes. Yeah, she leaves us in a good place. “But now you’ve got the nerve to say you need me/To say you can’t believe I said goodbye/You watched me shed a thousand tears and then some/And now it’s your time to cry.”

CD Track List
  1. I Don’t Want Half (I Just Want Out)
  2. Arizona
  3. Better To My Baby
  4. You Never Cross My Mind
  5. You Don’t Scare Me
  6. Can’t Stop Shakin’
  7. Tied To The Wheel
  8. Trucker’s Funeral
  9. Wake Me In Wyoming
  10. You’re A Mess
  11. Time To Cry 
Rule 62 is scheduled to be released on October 6, 2017 through Six Shooter Records and Thirty Tigers.