Thursday, April 27, 2017

Carol Saboya: “Carolina” (2016) CD Review

These days I’m constantly on the lookout for music to raise my spirits. I don’t think I’m alone in that search, that need, what with the anxiety many of us feel due to the political situation here in the U.S. Things are basically fucked out there, and I keep hearing it will end soon, that Trump will be impeached, that he’ll be jailed, that…. Well, so far these promises of a better future haven’t paid off. So I turn to music. Over and over, I turn to music. Today I popped in Carol Saboya’s most recent release, Carolina, and immediately felt lighter. Something about her voice tells me not to worry, that things will be all right. Hers is a beautiful voice, to be sure, but it’s also a friendly voice, a comforting voice, so the music feels close to us. You know?

Carolina follows the 2015 release Copa Village by Carol Saboya, Antonio Adolfo and Hendrik Meurkens. On that album, they covered several songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Carol Saboya likewise does a few Jobim compositions on the newer CD. She also dips into some pop with songs by The Beatles and Sting. Joining her on this album are Antonio Adolfo on piano (he also did the arrangements), Marcelo Martins on flute and saxophone, Leo Amuedo on guitar, Jorge Helder on bass, Rafael Barata on drums and percussion, and André Siqueira on percussion (André Siqueira also played percussion on Copa Village).

Carol Saboya opens the album with one of the Antonio Carlos Jobim compositions, “Passarim.” It begins interestingly with flute, piano and percussion before Carol’s vocals come in. Her voice is both warm and pretty. And later there is a really nice instrumental section featuring good work on guitar and flute. But it is the following song, “1 X 0,” that really got me interested. It is totally delightful, and Carol Saboya does some wonderful stuff with her voice on this one. Seriously, this track commanded my attention, and the longer it went on, the bigger my smile grew, each new section better than the previous one. It’s fun and adorable, a treat for my ears. Carol Saboya follows that with a pretty song, “Senhoras Do Amazonas.” And then I love the flute on “Avião,” one of two songs on this album written by Djavan Caetano Viana.

As I mentioned she covers a couple of pop songs, including a mellow, pretty version of The Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye.” It has a relaxed groove, but there is still an energy to her vocal delivery, and there is a brief but excellent lead part on guitar. This version is without the coda of the original Beatles recording. She also delivers a gorgeous rendition of Sting’s “Fragile,” a song from …Nothing Like The Sun. Sting himself had also released the song in both Spanish and Portuguese on …Nada Como El Sol. Carol sings it in English.

The other two Jobim songs that Carol Saboya covers on this release are “A Felicidade,” which he wrote with Vinicius de Moraes, and “Olha, Maria,” which he wrote with Chico Buarque and Vinicius de Moraes. “A Felicidade” is from the 1959 film Black Orpheus, and this version by Carol Saboya is excellent, mostly because of her vocals. Interestingly, it ends with drums. “Olha, Maria” features some beautiful work on saxophone. Claudio Spiewak joins the group on acoustic guitar for “Faltando Um Pedaco,” a song by Djavan Caetano Viana. The CD then concludes with one of my favorite tracks, “Zanzibar,” written by Edu Lobo. I love the energy and that rhythm. I just want it to carry me away to a land without deceit, without racism, without fascism… a land without Trump. By the way, this song features a great lead on guitar by Leo Amuedo.

CD Track List
  1. Passarim
  2. 1 X 0
  3. Senhoras Do Amazonas
  4. Hello, Goodbye
  5. Avião
  6. Fragile
  7. A Felicidade
  8. Olha, Maria
  9. Faltando Um Pedaco
  10. Zanzibar
Carolina was released on May 23, 2016.

Tina Raymond: “Left Right Left” (2017) CD Review

Jazz drummer Tina Raymond has played on several artists’ recordings, and has now released her debut album as bandleader. Left Right Left is an interesting album of patriotic songs and folk songs. It might seem an odd idea to do protest and folk songs as instrumentals, because the subjects being addressed in those songs are then lost unless you’re familiar with the tunes. But then again most people are likely familiar with Tina Raymond’s choices of material, including songs by Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. The band on this album is the trio of Tina Raymond on drums, Art Lande on piano, and Putter Smith on bass. Yes, she’s playing with two incredibly accomplished musicians. Putter Smith is also a songwriter, and the trio plays a couple of his compositions on this CD. The album’s title is a reference to the general political landscape of the United States, with folks on the left largely situated on the two coasts, and folks on the right being in the middle. Of course, that’s a generalization, as some places in the middle – Illinois, Colorado, Minnesota – lean to the left, and some places on the east coast – North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia – lean to the right. The title also makes me think of military formation marches, with one guy calling out, “Left, left, left, right, left.”

Tina Raymond opens the album with Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures Of Plenty.” Woody Guthrie is one of the most important, prolific and influential songwriters in this country’s history. I believe that “This Land Is Your Land” is the true National Anthem, and it should be sung at sporting events and so on. Tina Raymond’s rendition of “Pastures Of Plenty” has a great vibrant quality, with some excellent work by all three musicians. It feels immediate, as it engages you, rather than feeling like it’s about long-past events. The song is about the plight and pride of migrant workers, and as such might remind of you John Steinbeck’s Grapes Of Wrath, the title of which comes from a line of “Battle Hymn Of The Republic”: “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” Whether it is for that reason or not, Tina Raymond follows “Pastures Of Plenty” with “Battle Hymn Of The Republic.”  It starts as a march, and then sort of deliberately devolves, fractures, just as the country is doing now. But what emerges is a delicious drum solo, followed by a cool bass solo, giving me hope that something wonderful will emerge from the current political state. Then they take up the main theme again, but it is still a twisted take on it.

America feels like it has in very serious and frightening ways ceased to be America. I joked with someone not too long ago that the Statue of Liberty was being taken down, and the person believed me. That’s the kind of reality we’re dealing with these days, where it’s actually not inconceivable that the Statue of Liberty would be removed. Certainly the poem at its base is no longer applicable or appreciated. And yet, listening to Tina Raymond’s take on “America The Beautiful” (here simply titled “America”), and hearing the lyrics in my head, I can’t help but think there is still beauty here, there is still majesty – in the landscape, in the people (not all of the people, of course – it’s difficult to imagine an uglier soul than that of the man currently pretending to lead the nation). And perhaps the so-called leaders might take a moment to consider a few lines of this song: “America! America!/God mend thine every flaw/Confirm thy soul in self-control/Thy liberty in law.” Tina Raymond’s rendition moves at a good pace, and goes in some interesting directions. It is certainly among the coolest versions I’ve heard.

Tina Raymond includes a second Woody Guthrie composition on this CD, “Union Maid,” delivering a very relaxed, mellow, late-night rendition. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it presented this way before. I’m used to robust renditions. But I do like it. She follows that with Joni Mitchell’s “The Fiddle And The Drum,” which was on Clouds, the first Joni Mitchell album I ever purchased. On that album version, Joni’s voice is unaccompanied, so it is certainly an interesting choice of songs to perform as an instrumental. But Art Lande’s piano sounds like a voice at times, as does some of Putter Smith’s work on bass here. The most beautiful and uplifting track on this disc is “Lift Every Voice And Sing.” This version is at times tender, and always emotionally stirring, and is one of my favorite tracks. The piano is the heart of this one, but there is a good bass lead, and I love the work on drums, especially toward the end.

There are two tracks written by bass player Putter Smith – “Xxmas In Baghdad” and “White Flight.” Perhaps it’s just because of the Christmas connection, but the beginning of “Xxmas In Baghdad” does remind me just a bit of Vince Guaraldi’s Peanuts music. But any similarity (if any indeed exists) disappears soon, and this piece has its own strong presence. “White Flight” teases at the beginning, then suddenly comes alive with a great energy, and even includes a good drum solo. This is one of my favorite tracks, and features some excellent playing by all three musicians.

There is something gentle and delicate in the trio’s delivery of Joan Baez’s “Saigon Bride,” a song from her Joan album. Tina Raymond concludes the album with Pete Seeger’s “If I Had A Hammer.” I’ve heard several unusual interpretations of “If I Had A Hammer” in recent years. Ruthie Foster’s sexy rendition jumps to mind. Tina Raymond’s version has a bit of swing to it, which is wonderful. It’s full of bright, positive and playful energy, and it contains a bass solo.

CD Track List
  1. Pastures Of Plenty
  2. Battle Hymn Of The Republic
  3. America
  4. Union Maid
  5. The Fiddle And The Drum
  6. Lift Every Voice And Sing
  7. Xxmas In Baghdad
  8. Saigon Bride
  9. White Flight
  10. If I Had A Hammer
Left Right Left was released on April 7, 2017 on Orenda Records.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mississippi Heat: “Cab Driving Man” (2016) CD Review

At a time when nearly the entire nation has a bad case of the blues, Chicago blues band Mississippi Heat offers some fun, uplifting tunes on the newest release, Cab Driving Man. Yes, it’s a case of using the blues to combat the blues, and I think it might be working. It’s working for me at least. Mississippi Heat is led by harmonica player Pierre Lacocque, who wrote most of the tunes on Cab Driving Man. The album features two lead vocalists. Inetta Visor sings lead on most tracks, with Michael Dotson singing lead on the tracks that he wrote. This band has been performing for more than twenty-five years, with different lineups. The lineup, as of the release of this CD, is Pierre Lacocque on harmonica, Inette Visor on vocals and tambourine, Michael Dotson on guitar and vocals, Giles Corey on guitar, Brian Quinn on bass, Terrence Williams on drums, and Chris “Hambone” Cameron on piano and organ. Joining them on various tracks are Ricky Nelson on bass, Kenny Smith on drums, Sumito Ariyo on piano, Dave Specter on guitar, Ruben Alvarez on percussion, and Sax Gordon on saxophone.

The band gets things going with “Cupid Bound,” a good tune to get you on your feet, with some great work on harmonica. “I never really planned/To ever want to settle down/No, I never dreamed, baby/To be one day Cupid-bound/So why do you care?/Why do you love me the way you do?” Sax Gordon plays sax on this track, and his playing helps give this song something of a classic feel. Sax Gordon also joins the band on the CD’s title track, “Cab Driving Man,” one of my favorites. I love the groove to this song, with Ruben Alvarez adding some delicious percussion, and the song has a something of a gypsy funk vibe. And in the middle of it all, there is a surprising and wonderful lead part on piano by Chris “Hambone” Cameron that is certain to wipe away at least some of your blues. “He knows your city well/He don’t need no fancy map/You can relax, let go/No need to sweat/You’ll get there in a snap.”

Both of those songs were written by Pierre Lacocque. They’re followed by one of Michael Dotson’s songs, “That Late Night Stuff,” fun Friday night party blues rock, with great touches on saxophone by Sax Gordon. As I mentioned earlier, Michael Dotson sings lead on this one. He also sings lead on “The Last Go Round” and “Can’t Get Me No Traction.” “The Last Go Round” kicks in with a strong groove. It’s about the end of a relationship, the lines that stuck out for me the first time around being “And I’m sorry, baby, so sorry for you/You can’t get it right no matter what you do.” We’ve all wanted to sing that to someone at some point, right?

“Flowers On My Tombstone” has an excellent, timeless blues sound, and is one of this disc’s highlights. It tackles a brutal subject, an abusive marriage, the woman staying because of the kids. She sings the song directly to her husband, a man who himself was beaten as a child. And Inetta Visor delivers a great vocal performance here. “It would be a miracle when I die/If you laid flowers on my tombstone/It’d be like watching blood dripping/Right off an old dried-up bone.” Wow. That’s followed by “Icy Blue,” a somewhat funky blues tune, interesting in the way it handles its subject. It asks an important question – what if following your dreams would put your relationship at risk? It shouldn’t, of course, but the woman in this relationship isn’t certain whether her man will stand by her the way she stood by him while he reached for his goals. “Would you leave me/If I followed through/Or would you still be mine/Or will you turn icy blue?/I don’t want to lose you/This ain’t about a man/It’s a chance I can’t miss/I hope you understand.” Yes, the songwriting is certainly one of this band’s strengths, tackling some serious subjects. This song contains a cool rockin’ jam, led by harmonica and then by guitar.

Another of my favorites is “Life Is Too Short.” It features a nice, light, jazzy groove, with delightful touches on harmonica (and a great lead on harmonica partway through). Inetta Visor delivers a wonderful vocal performance that begins smoothly and gently, as she tells us, “I’ve got a mind to travel/Explore this great wide world,” and then gains in power. Oh yes, I want to explore too. Seems like a good time to get the hell out of the United States, right? “Life is so short that I’m itching to go.” Kenny Smith plays drums on this one. This is a seriously good song. Then “Rosalie” is all about the groove, and features a cool bass lead, plus percussion by Ruben Alvarez. “Mama Kaila” is one of those great, relaxed blues numbers, with some wonderful work on harmonica right from the start. This one features another outstanding vocal performance by Inetta Visor. “Yes, please call Mama Kaila/Tell her we’re not going out today/You know, she’s got her claws deep inside me/And I am tired of being her sweet prey.” This track also features a really good lead guitar section by Michael Dotson. “Lonely Eyes” is a fun track. The “I have such a weak spot when I see a man in need” line made me laugh out loud the first time I listened to this album.

The album contains two covers. The first is “Don’t Mess Up A Good Thing,” written by Oliver Sain. Giles Corey joins Inetta Visor on vocals for this one. The second is a fun rendition of “Smooth Operator,” written by Clyde Otis and Murray Stein. I still prefer Sarah Vaughan’s recording of this one, but Mississippi Heat does a really good job with it, definitely getting into the spirit of the song.  The CD concludes with a joyful instrumental number titled “Hey Pipo!”

CD Track List
  1. Cupid Bound
  2. Cab Driving Man
  3. That Late Night Stuff
  4. Flowers On My Tombstone
  5. Icy Blue
  6. The Last Go Round
  7. Life Is Too Short
  8. Don’t Mess Up A Good Thing
  9. Rosalie
  10. Luck Of The Draw
  11. Mama Kaila
  12. Music Is My Life
  13. Lonely Eyes
  14. Smooth Operator
  15. Can’t Get Me No Traction
  16. Hey Pipo!
Cab Driving Man was released on October 21, 2016 on Delmark Records.

Mari Nobre’s Jazz Band: “Live And Alive: From Gershwin To Jobim… A Musical Journey” (2017) CD Review

Mari Nobre is a talented jazz vocalist, originally from Italy, who sings in several languages. Her new CD, Live And Alive: From Gershwin To Jobim…A Musical Journey, is a live album featuring selections from a concert she performed at Jan Popper Theater at UCLA on May 27, 2016. As the title promises, she covers music by Gershwin and Jobim, and also compositions by Benny Golson, Alberto Dominguez and Leonard Cohen. Yes, it’s that last one that first got me interested in this album. There isn’t much stage banter included, just a “thank you” at the end of a number, and thanks to the band members at the end. The focus is on the music, and the music is seriously good. Backing Mari Nobre on this CD are her husband Leo Nobre on bass (Leo Nobre also did most of the arrangements), Justo Almario on saxophone and flute, Angelo Metz on acoustic guitar and electric guitar, Sandro Feliciano on drums, and Daniel Szabo on piano.

She opens the CD with “Chega De Saudade,” a famous bossa nova number written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. Right away, the music sounds so positive, so full of joy, with Mari Nobre embracing life in such a strong and bright way that it’s difficult for the listener to not follow suit. There really is a lot of beauty in the world, she seems to be reminding us. Take the guitar work on this track, for example. The positive vibes of the music on this disc are likely to be at least partly due to the fact that Mari Nobre performed this concert just a few weeks after having surgery for cancer. Talk about bouncing right back, and not letting things get you down. Talk about strength. Mari Nobre covers two other Jobim compositions on this disc – “Retrato Em Branco E Preto,” which was co-written by Chico Buarque, and “Corcovado.” On “Retrato Em Branco E Preto,” Mari Nobre’s heartfelt vocal performance is at first accompanied only by Daniel Szabo’s delicate and beautiful work on piano, and that’s my favorite section of the track. The arrangement for this one was done by Mari Nobre.

One of my favorite tracks is Mari Nobre’s version of Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not.” This rendition begins with a slow, groovy bass solo, accompanied by just some finger snaps, establishing a cool atmosphere. And then, once it’s established, Mari Nobre comes in, and her vocals sound delicious. But everything about this track is delicious, including Daniel Szabo’s work on piano and a delightful lead on saxophone by Justo Almario. Though the Gershwin name is part of this CD’s title, Mari Nobre covers only one song by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, “Fascinating Rhythm.” Not a bad choice, though, right? She delivers an interesting rendition, beginning it slowly, then, when it kicks in, giving it a Brazilian rhythm. And I love Justo Almario’s work on flute. (By the way, if anyone hasn’t seen Eleanor Powell’s incredible tap-dancing scene in the 1941 film Lady Be Good, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s done to “Fascinating Rhythm,” and it makes me happy every time I see it.)

This album contains one original track, “Linda,” written by Mari Nobre and Patrick Lockwood, a song that was included on the Nobresil album Original. It’s a fun, joyful song. She also does a pretty rendition of “When I Fall In Love” and a fun version of “Frenesi.” But as I mentioned, the song I was most excited to hear (and the reason I first popped in this disc) is her rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me To The End Of Love.”  I love Leonard Cohen, and this is the song with which he kicked off every concert I saw him perform. It’s from my favorite Leonard Cohen record, Various Positions. This is a cool, jazzy rendition, as you might expect. The vocals have a lightness and a playfulness that caught me off guard the first time around, and there is even a bit of scat. Wait, does she skip the “Dance me to the children that are asking to be born” verse, or did I just miss it? There are some nice touches on sax, and some wonderful work on bass, including a bass solo – another surprise the first time I heard this track. And for good measure, there is a drum solo near the end.

CD Track List
  1. Chega De Saudade
  2. Whisper Not
  3. Retrato Em Branco E Preto
  4. Fascinating Rhythm
  5. Corcovado
  6. Linda
  7. When I Fall In Love
  8. Dance Me To The End Of Love
  9. Frenesi 
Live And Alive: From Gershwin To Jobim… A Musical Journey was released on April 21, 2017 on Chrome Records.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Sneetches: “Form Of Play: A Retrospective” (2017) CD Review

Even though music has played an important role in my life since early childhood, certain bands – for whatever reason – have nonetheless managed to escape my attention. Such was the case with The Sneetches. They were a pop band based in San Francisco, together for approximately a decade from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. And even though their last years were when I worked at a radio station in Oregon, I never heard them. Strange. But now I have the opportunity to become familiar with their music, through Omnivore Recordings’ new compilation, Form Of Play: A Retrospective. This disc includes twenty-two tracks, almost seventy-eight minutes of music, from the years 1987 to 1995. A few of the tracks on this CD were previously unreleased. The music here is some wonderful pop rock, with good harmonies and lyrics, and a bright, youthful energy. And there are some good lyrics, like this line from “What’s In Your Mind”: “It is too bad you had to go away to make my day.” All of the songs on this CD are originals. This collection includes liner notes from band member Alec Palao.

The CD opens with “Over ‘Round Each Other,” a ridiculously fun and catchy song from the band’s 1990 album Slow. This is pop at its best. How have I not heard this before? Near the end, around the two-minute mark, there is what sounds to me like a little Gershwin tease on guitar. It’s that bit from “Rhapsody In Blue,” the same part that Phish refers to on piano in the album version of “Bathtub Gin.” There is of course a bit of Beatles to this band’s sound too, heard in the guitars at the beginning of the next song “...And I’m Thinking.” This song was a single released in 1992. For “Voice In My Head,” another song from Slow, a horn section joins the band, adding another level of joy to this music. “The voice in my head has spoken for me once again/And if you will listen, he will be your closest friend.

One of my personal favorites is “Don’t Turn Back,” from the band’s 1988 LP That’s All We Have. (And no, the songs are not presented in chronological order in this collection.)  This song is a total delight right from its opening moments, with its sort of relaxed folk groove and finger snaps. At moments it reminds a bit of The Mamas And The Papas, partly because of its wonderful vocals. And it builds from there. There are nice touches on harmonica by Matt Carges, and Steve Cornell plays steel guitar on this one. “I just want to let you know that things are not that fine/Something’s got to change inside your mind.” Another of my favorites is “Heloise,” a song that was originally on Slow. The version on this compilation is a live recording from 1994, and is one of the disc’s previously unreleased tracks. I’ve listened to the album version, and I prefer this live version. It’s a bit longer than the album version, and develops into a cool jam. Plus, I dig that bass. Also previously unreleased is this compilation’s version of “Julianna Why,” a song that was included on Think Again.

“Looking For Something” is another fun track, a pop song with something of a punk style (reminding me a bit of The Buzzcocks), and it works really well. This song was previously included on an earlier compilation, 1985-1991. It’s followed by a mellower, pretty song, “A Good Thing.” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “She’s in love with him/But he is not alone/The thoughts inside her head won’t go away.” “Let Us Go” has something of a relaxed vibe, plus some nice percussion. “It’s getting late/We’ll have to turn in soon/Pull up the covers/And let us sleep again/I can’t believe/What we have done/Just look around/Makes me wonder sometimes.”

“Unusual Sounds” has a distinct 1960s pop sound and groove and style, reminding me of several different bands from that time at various points. This song is the opening track of Sometimes That’s All We Have. This compilation then concludes with three previously unreleased tracks. The first is a live version of “A Light On Above,” and this is another of my favorites. “So take me by the hand and lead me back there/And take me by surprise but not for granted.” This is from the same concert recording that gives us “Heloise.” And the following track, “The Weather Scene,” is also from that same show, September 12, 1994 at the Great American Music Hall. The final track is a demo of “How Does It Feel,” a song that would end up on Slow. “But maybe someday you’ll hear me say/I’m glad to be here today.”

CD Track List
  1. Over ‘Round Each Other
  2. …And I’m Thinking (Single Version)
  3. What I Know
  4. Voice In My Head
  5. Don’t Turn Back
  6. Only For A Moment
  7. Heloise (Live)
  8. What’s In Your Mind
  9. Julianna Why
  10. They Keep Me Running
  11. Behind The Shadow
  12. Take My Hand
  13. Looking For Something
  14. A Good Thing
  15. I Don’t Expect Her For You (Look At That Girl)
  16. Wish You Would
  17. Empty Sea
  18. Let Us Go
  19. Unusual Sounds
  20. A Light On Above (Live)
  21. The Weather Scene (Live)
  22. How Does It Feel (Home Demo)
Form Of Play: A Retrospective is scheduled to be released on April 28, 2017 through Omnivore Recordings.

Dead Testaments: “231 MLK” (2014) CD Review

Dead Testaments are about to release a new CD, Mississippi Ave. It is their first release in three years, after the band took a break when drummer Matt Livingston had surgery to remove a non-malignant brain tumor. And if you think the darker feel of the new material is because of Matt’s experience, well, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The music of the band’s first release, 231 MLK, released in 2014, has a similar feel. Rather than, say, the bright feel of back porch folk, this is like late-night basement folk, with the lights down low – and  perhaps a purple lava lamp in the corner – and it is seriously good. The band includes Abe Houck on guitar and vocals, Matt Livingston on drums, Dave Maki on bass, Jeremy Southern on guitar and Allie Stafford on violin. Joining them are Drew Hamilton on trombone, Margaret Houck on vocals, Lorin Jones on trumpet, Ethan Key on saxophone and Stacy Newman on euphonium.

The EP opens with “Eyes In The Leaves.” It eases in, establishing a mellow, but intriguing atmosphere and vibe. It is intriguing, because at moments it has almost a comforting warmth, while at other moments it holds the possibility of danger, so you’re not certain if you’re safe in the world of this song. Interestingly, it is the work on drums that makes us feel that perhaps we’ll be all right. Also, there is a cool, late 1960s feel to the guitar at certain points. “Eyes In The Leaves” is followed by “Walking Backwards,” and right away it is the vocals that pull you in, the first lines delivered in deep, thoughtful, quiet tones, almost spoken, almost whispered. When the song then kicks in, it has already grabbed hold of you. Throughout the song, it is the vocal work that stands out, but I also really love the violin. This song has an interesting ending, with some unusual vocal play.

“Death Of Houston” has a good rock groove and delicious, deep vocals. There is something strangely catchy about this song, the repeated lines and sections make themselves a home in our heads, clearing out a spot in a corner and claiming it. And hey, we’re happy to have this music stay with us. I should point out that even the darker feel of certain sections isn’t depressing. Is it possible to be dark and uplifting? It seems so. My favorite track on this disc is “Cold Cold Lake,” in large part because of the vocals. There is something gorgeous and moving about this song. And after a minute or so, it kicks in with a haunting force that I love. Then halfway through, it goes in a different direction, the violin lighting the way, and this part is beautiful and emotional and it seems to create a strange landscape where the weight of people is rendered ineffective, and characters, rocks, trees float above the ground, and we can move slowly through them, or stand back if we wish. Everything is in motion around us. This is an excellent song to conclude the CD.

CD Track List
  1. Eyes In The Leaves
  2. Walking Backwards
  3. Death Of Houston
  4. Cold Cold Lake
231 MLK was released on March 22, 2014.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Dead Testaments: “Mississippi Ave.” (2017) CD Review

Dead Testaments is a band based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, consisting of Isaac “Abe” Houck on guitar and vocals, Matt Livingston on drums, and Allie Stafford on violin and keys. They’ve been playing together since 2013, and in 2014 released their first CD, an EP titled 231 MLK. Now they’re following it up with another EP, Mississippi Ave. Why the three-year gap between CDs? Well, Matt had a brain tumor in 2015, and that required a couple of operations and a recovery period. But now that he’s back to health, the band is ready to continue, and this new CD contains four original songs. The sound of this album is mainly a kind of haunting folk rock, music that will draw you in and make you pay attention.

The EP opens with “Under The Sun,” a song that approaches you like some strange craft in a night when maybe you’ve had a bit too much to drink, or not quite enough – but regardless, you’re ready for whatever comes, be it answers or oblivion – for whatever it is, it promises to be interesting and different. Soon the song takes on a cool, dark groove, and the lyrics are offered quietly, simply, without unnecessary effort to reach us, for we’re already there: “We lit out for the west/Came back to the place where we began/Under the sun, under the sun.” And then that guitar part is just perfect. In the second half of the song, you find yourself drifting through the tunnel of a kaleidoscope where the colors are all deep shades of blue and purple and red. And voices remind you, over and over, “What has been will be again,” until past and future become meaningless, and you trust the groove, the voice, implicitly to carry you through.

“Under The Sun” is followed by “Ghosts Of The Civil War Trees,” which was the first single released from the EP, and was the song that got me interested in the band. It has a happier folk sound, a more positive feel right from the beginning, with light, playful touches, as if to reach out to the child in us all. Like a waltz from some collective past that we all dreamed one warm afternoon and then forgot.  And here suddenly it is again, beautiful and unnerving. “They are still swaying/Swinging low/Deep roots/Gorged on young blood/Full of seeds/Opening.” This is a wonderful song.

“Washed Up” is an interesting mix of folk and a kind of moody rock, with that electric guitar giving the song a kind of 1960s rock thing, at one point sounding almost like surf guitar. “There’s gold in those hills/I would take my bones and lay them in holes.” The EP then concludes with “Good Union Man,” which quickly creates a dark mood and atmosphere with its slow, nearly hypnotic groove.

CD Track List
  1. Under The Sun
  2. Ghosts Of The Civil War Trees
  3. Washed Up
  4. Good Union Man
Mississippi Ave. is scheduled to be released on April 30, 2017.

We Are Twisted Fucking Sister! DVD Review

In 1984, Stay Hungry was released. I got it, loved it, played that cassette over and over, especially “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” I turned up the volume and shouted the lyrics along with Twisted Sister lead singer Dee Snider, aiming my voice at my parents, at the world. I was twelve years old. Like a lot of people, I thought Twisted Sister was a new band. I was wrong. So wrong. The band was twelve years old too.

We Are Twisted Fucking Sister! (and, yes, that’s the title that appears on screen – fuck those bloody asterisks on the DVD cover) tells the story of this band’s long, slow rise to fame. Twisted Sister was essentially a bar band for a decade – the most determined, hardest working bar band ever, perhaps. It is a fascinating story for any music fan (no, you don’t have to be a Twisted Sister fan to enjoy this documentary), and for anyone who appreciates an overcoming-the-odds type of story. When the film opens, we hear an audio warning over a black screen: “The act you’re about to see is not for the faint of heart. Twisted Sister has been accused of using foul, indecent and profane language during the course of their show.” And then we’re treated to some concert footage from 1982. After a moment, a title card reads “3267 shows earlier,” and we’re back in New York in 1972. Yeah, holy shit! That’s more shows than the Grateful Dead played in thirty years, and that band toured all the time.

The documentary features interviews with the band members, focusing on guitarist Jay Jay French and lead singer Dee Snider. Jay Jay French takes us back to the earliest days of the band, when the lineup was different, including a different singer, telling us about the band’s first gig playing to an audience made up of soldiers. Among the lineup changes in those early times was the addition of Dee Snider, who had been in a band called Peacock. There is information on the New York music scene of the 1970s, and how the clubs didn’t want bands to play original music. For a while, Twisted Sister was a cover band, and the film treats us to footage of them covering David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” and “Rebel Rebel,” as well as Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” (which had an interesting audience participation moment).

In addition to interviews with band members (including original members), this documentary includes interviews with the band’s managers, club owners and fans. And Suzette Snider (Dee’s wife) talks about seeing the band for the first time, and tells some funny anecdotes, like about what got her to start making clothes for Dee and the rest of the band. The band’s look was important, and the documentary gets into some detail about the clothes and makeup and so on, with the band members offering their own thoughts on it.

But what is fascinating is the lengths they would go in their determination to make it, and the number of times they got so close only to have something go wrong. Like the time they sold out the Palladium in 1979 without a record contract, and then had to postpone the show after a band member had a seizure. And the idea of putting on an entire rock concert for one record label executive is insane. Even after they finally recorded some music, they couldn’t get a record deal, so they put out the music as singles on their own label. These guys even bought air time on the radio, ad spots for their shows, but with one of their songs playing throughout the ads so that it was almost like the song got airplay. Brilliant. And even after they signed with a British label and recorded an album in the UK, things still went wrong.

The story of the efforts to get them signed to Atlantic is also wild. This documentary tells the tale of the band leading up to Stay Hungry, but ends without getting into that record or mentioning that memorable music video for “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (with its ties to Animal House). In fact, neither of the band’s two biggest hits – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” – are heard or even mentioned in the film. The documentary is really about the band getting there, not being there.

Special Features

This two-disc set contains plenty of bonus material. The first disc features a commentary track by director Andrew Horn. He mentions that the disclaimer at the beginning was from a live tape from Vermont. He also says he wasn’t a Twisted Sister fan (interestingly, he was a Deadhead in high school), and tells the story of how he got the idea for doing this project, and how the project grew as he learned more about the band. It’s surprising that he had trouble getting financing for this film. The first disc also includes the film’s trailer.

The second disc is all bonus footage, deleted and extended scenes, arranged by subject, including more concert footage (they play “Train Kept A-Rollin’”) as well as more interview footage. Dee Snider talks a lot about connecting with the audience. He even mentions that a Twisted Sister concert was like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as far as audience participation. He also talks about singling out people who didn’t seem like they were enjoying themselves. There is also stuff about how Jay Jay and Dee would pretend they were high or drunk at concerts, even though neither of them ever drank or did drugs. They even sing, “Hey, hey, we’re the junkies,” a play on “(Theme From The) Monkees.” There is a funny anecdote about Jay Jay’s former teacher wanting a Twisted Sister T-shirt, and some hilarious stage banter about a new Olympic event. Jay Jay also tells a funny story about a stint as a waiter. There is plenty of interesting information in this bonus material. One fan mentions that Dee Snider would sit out the third set, and the band would just jam. There is approximately two and a half hours of bonus footage on this disc.

We Are Twisted Fucking Sister! is available as a two-disc DVD through Music Box Films.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Grateful Dead: “P.N.E. Garden Aud. Vancouver Canada” (2017) Record Review

Yes, it’s Record Store Day. I hadn’t realized Record Store Day has been going on for ten years, but the banner outside the record store assures me it has. Boy, time sure does fly. And, perhaps because of the anniversary, the list of releases this time around was impressive. There were plenty of records that I wanted, though only a few that I ended up purchasing. One of the releases I was most excited about is this live Grateful Dead recording from 1966, P.N.E. Garden Aud. Vancouver Canada, featuring, the band’s first gig ever outside of the U.S. They played a few nights in Vancouver, British Columbia, doing fairly short sets. I admittedly get excited about all Grateful Dead releases, but I am always particularly excited to hear a record that contains songs that other releases don’t have (or that few releases have). And this one contains a tune called “Cardboard Cowboy” that Phil Lesh wrote. The song is known by a few other titles, such as “No Left Turn Unstoned” (which is the first title I ever heard for this one, and is how Bob Weir introduces it at this show), but by any title it wasn’t played all that much by the band. This two-record set contains a few other early gems that the Dead soon stopped playing. On the Record Store Day official web site, it says this release is limited to 4,000 copies, but on the actual record cover it lists the number as 6,600.

This set opens with an original tune, “Standing On The Corner,” a song the Grateful Dead didn’t play all that much. Actually, there is a brief introduction, after which you can hear Phil say, “Our fame has preceded us.” “Standing On The Corner” is one of the songs on this release that the band only played in 1966. “I was standing on the corner, wondering what’s become of me/Well, things don’t seem to be the way they used to seem to be.”  It’s followed by a short version of “I Know You Rider,” played faster than they’d later play it, and with that extra verse. You know, the one that goes, “I drink muddy water, sleep in a hollow log.” “Next Time You See Me” is a fun Pigpen song with plenty of organ. Yeah, the organ was prominent in the mix in these early shows. That is followed by an energetic rendition of “Sittin’ On Top Of The World,” a song the band played often in the early days (and included on the band’s first record). The first side concludes with “You Don’t Have To Ask,” another fun original number. There is a bit of jamming on this one, a jam to get you dancing, the first jamming of the evening. But really, there isn’t a whole of exploration at this show (except of course during “Viola Lee Blues,” but more on that in a bit).

There is some more Pigpen to open the second side of the first record, “Big Boss Man,” Pigpen playing harmonica. That’s followed by “Stealin’,” one I am always happy to hear. This is another the band played a lot in the early days, then dropped from their repertoire. There’s a bit of humorous stage banter before “Cardboard Cowboy,” which Bob introduces as “No Left Turn Unstoned.” Apparently, it was most often referred to as “The Monster.” It’s certainly not among the band’s best material (in an interview, Phil Lesh called it an awful song; it has lines like “Watching mashed potatoes dribble in the heat of reality’s earth,” though in this version it sounds like “Watching mashed potatoes shrivel”), but it is a total delight to hear this rare number. The Grateful Dead covered Bob Dylan songs throughout their career, and on this release we get an early rendition of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” “Cream Puff War” is a song that Jerry Garcia wrote the lyrics for as well as the music, and it ended up on the band’s first album. This version has a good, solid jam. After this song, Bob says, “We’ll be back, and we’re probably gonna play the last set tonight, and there’s gonna be a lot of entertainment in between, so stick around.” And he offers an unenthusiastic “Yippie.”

The real treat as far as jamming goes is of course the ten-minute “Viola Lee Blues” that opens Side 3, and it includes that odd little intro that they didn’t do too often. I love this song, and this is a really good version, with the jam getting pretty wild. The lines that often get stuck in my head are “I wrote a letter, mailed in the, mailed it in the air indeed/I wrote a letter, mailed it in the air/You may know by that letter I’ve got a friend somewhere.” Then “Beat It On Down The Line” comes on fast and strong. This version seems faster than most, or perhaps I’m getting slower. Who knows? Pigpen then delivers “Good Morning Little School Girl.” This is definitely not the best version of this song, with the sound of the vocals sounding less than perfect, and it seems we are missing something from the end. The band gets quieter at the end, but then it seems to quickly fade out. It’s weird, especially as the fourth side of this album is apparently from the following night. So the Dead came back, and just played three songs (or two, if “Viola Lee Blues” is actually from the first set)? I’ve read online that the show might actually be longer, but Owsley’s tape ran out. That seems odd too.

The fourth side of this album is from the following night, July 30th, at the same venue. From what I can gather, these four tracks were not played consecutively that night. It looks like “Cold Rain And Snow” was the second song of the night, “One Kind Favor” was the fourth, “Hey Little One” was the sixth, and “New Minglewood Blues” was the ninth and final song of the set. (Also, it looks like a lot of folks’ tapes of the 29th are incorrectly labeled as the 30th.) This “Cold Rain And Snow” has a lot of energy right from the start, and the organ is prominent. Jerry then gets bluesy with “One Kind Favor,” a song the Dead did just a few times in 1966. There is a little stage banter before they go into “Hey Little One,” another song the band only did in 1966. This two-LP set ends with “New Minglewood Blues” (which in the early days was listed as “New, New Minglewood Blues,” as it is here and on the band’s first album). The lyrics are delivered almost as a shout, and there’s a bit of stage banter at the end.

Record Track List

Side A
  1. Standing On The Corner
  2. I Know You Rider
  3. Next Time You See Me
  4. Sittin’ On Top Of The World
  5. You Don’t Have To Ask 
Side B
  1. Big Boss Man
  2. Stealin’
  3. Cardboard Cowboy
  4. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
  5. Cream Puff War 
Side C
  1. Viola Lee Blues
  2. Beat It On Down The Line
  3. Good Mornin’ Little School Girl 
Side D
  1. Cold Rain And Snow
  2. One Kind Favor
  3. Hey Little One
  4. New, New Minglewood Blues
P.N.E. Garden Aud. Vancouver Canada was released on vinyl on April 22, 2017. By the way, as it turns out, all of these tracks were released on the second disc of the fiftieth anniversary deluxe edition two-CD set of the Grateful Dead’s first album. So if you missed out on the Record Store Day edition, you can still own the music on CD.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Mick Kolassa & Mark Telesca: “You Can’t Do That!” (2017) CD Review

There have been a lot of tributes to the Beatles released over the years. The reason for that, of course, is that the music is so damn good. Like songs in the Great American Songbook, the music of the Beatles lends itself to a wide variety of interpretations. On You Can’t Do That! blues singers and guitarists Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca team up to deliver some wonderful acoustic blues renditions of Beatles songs. Their choices include some of the band’s most well-known numbers, such as “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Feel Fine,” and also some songs that aren’t covered as often, such as “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” and “Mean Mr. Mustard” into “Polythene Pam.” Joining Mick Kolassa (also known as Mississippi Mick) and Mark Telesca on this release are Jeff Jensen on guitar (Jensen also produced the album) and James Cunningham on drums and percussion. There are a few guest musicians who play on certain tracks.

Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca open with the album with “I’ll Cry Instead,” which of course is a perfect blues title. The song was originally on A Hard Day’s Night. And on this CD, this song is given a cool groove, with some wonderful touches by Marc Franklin on trumpet. Yeah, it’s blues, but it’s blues with a positive, happy sound. “I’ll Cry Instead” is followed by another song included on A Hard Day’s Night, “Can’t Buy Me Love.” This song was also released as a single in 1964, and reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Also a #1 hit for The Beatles in 1964 was “I Feel Fine.” Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca deliver a very cool, slow rendition of this one. Eric Hughes adds some good work on harmonica.

They then dip into some later Beatles material with a powerful and moving rendition of “Fixing A Hole,” a song from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. On this version, they repeat “Where it will go” at the end of a stanza (well, that, or whichever line ends the stanza). They then go back to earlier material with “You Can’t Do That,” which was the flip side to “Can’t Buy Me Love” (and used as the title to this CD). And wow, listening to this version, it’s plain to see that this really is a blues song. It works so well. Seriously, it makes much more sense in a blues context than it does in rock or pop, with its theme of jealousy and with its threats of ending the relationship. Plus, there is some cool guitar work here. Eric Hughes plays both harmonica and guitar on this track. This is one of the album’s highlights.

Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca deliver a groovy interpretation of “Got To Get You Into My Life,” and an interesting rendition of “Lady Madonna.” I love the addition of fiddle to the latter. That’s Tommy Boroughs on fiddle. No horns on this version. This is a laid-back, slow version of “Lady Madonna,” a song that was originally released as a single in 1968, another #1 single for The Beatles. This is another of the highlights of You Can’t Do That! It’s followed by “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road,” another song from 1968, this one appearing on The Beatles (the White Album). I like this version a lot; there is something kind of catchy about it. They then return to the earlier days with “She’s A Woman,” which had been the flip side to “I Feel Fine.” It’s interesting that Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca include both sides of the “I Feel Fine” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” singles. I dig the rhythm to this rendition of “She’s A Woman.” Marc Franklin plays flugelhorn on this track.

They then conclude this acoustic blues tribute to The Beatles with three songs from the second side of Abbey Road: “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam” and “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.” The first two are presented as a single track, “Mean Mr. Mustard” having a good rock feel. Toward the end of “Mean Mr. Mustard,” when he sings, “Lord, he’s a dirty old man,” I can’t help but think he’s talking about Donald Trump. Something in the way the line is delivered. The pace is then slowed for “Polythene Pam,” giving it a very different vibe from the original version. On Abbey Road, this song leads straight into “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.” Interestingly, though that song also follows “Polythene Pam” here, “Polythene Pam” actually fades out at the end. And then “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” comes on strong, a delightful mix of blues and bluegrass, with Tommy Boroughs on mandolin. The vocals have a kind of amused, playful vibe, particularly on a line like “She could steal but she could not rob.” Though my favorite cover of this song is still that by Joe Cocker, I absolutely love what Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca do with it here.

CD Track List
  1. I’ll Cry Instead
  2. Can’t Buy Me Love
  3. I Feel Fine
  4. Fixing A Hole
  5. You Can’t Do That
  6. Got To Get You Into My Life
  7. Lady Madonna
  8. Why Don’t We Do It In The Road
  9. She’s A Woman
  10. Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam
  11. She Came In Through The Bathroom Window 
You Can’t Do That! is scheduled to be released on May 5, 2017 on Swing Suit Records.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Honeybeat: Groovy 60s Girl-Pop (2017) CD Review

Sometimes it seems there is nothing better in the world than 1960s female vocal groups and solo acts. If you’ve got a hankering for some delicious, and largely forgotten, girl group gems, there is a new compilation that should totally delight you. Honeybeat: Groovy 60s Girl-Pop collects nineteen tracks from various artists, some of which you probably know, but several of which you may not have heard before. One of these songs was actually never before released. And Star Trek fans will be interested to know that what is probably the best track of this disc is a recording by Nichelle Nichols. Yes, Lt. Uhura. She does a fantastic rendition of “Why Don’t You Do Right?” But more on that in a bit. The folks that put together this compilation obviously have a lot of love and passion for the music, and in the extensive liner notes, information on each of the songs and artists is included, along with photos.

This CD gets off to a good start with “I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy” by The What Four. First of all, The What Four might be the best name for a quartet I’ve ever heard. And this song is a lot of fun, with some cool work on guitar. This track seems to be as much about the groove as it is about the vocals. It has a sudden ending. This song was released as a single in 1966. It’s followed by “You’re My Loving Baby” by The Sweet Things. And true to the band’s name, this song has a sweet sound. This one was also released in 1966. “Don’t Monkey With Me” is a bit on the silly side, with those “nah nah nah” vocals. They sound so young, so it’s strange when they sing “I’ve been hurt so many times before/I can’t take that kind of heartache anymore.” But I really like this track. There is a youthful joy and excitement and innocence that is wonderful.

One of my favorite tracks is Linda Carr’s “Sweet Hunk Of Misery.” The song definitely has a Surpremes-like sound, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s a twisted sort of love song, in which the woman knows her man isn’t a catch, particularly as he’s mean to her, but loves him all the same. The song opens with these lines: “He’s my big hunk of misery/And I love him/’Cause I can’t help myself.” Linda Carr gives us a somewhat playful vocal performance which helps make this an enjoyable tune. The title alone is amusing. “Sweet Hunk Of Misery” is followed by “If You Can’t Say Anything Nice,” a catchy song from Gia Mateo. Sandi Sheldon’s “Baby You’re Mine” was released as the flip side to her single “You’re Gonna Make Me Love You,” and it features a pretty vocal performance.

Skeeter Davis is one of the artists on this album that you’re likely familiar with. Known for her country albums, she began recording pop songs as well, including “I Can’t Stay Mad At You,” written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin. This song was a hit and was included on her Let Me Get Close To You LP. It’s a fun, bright pop tune, but is also about a woman staying with a man who’s probably not good for her. “You can run around/You can tell me lies/But there’s nothing I can do/I’ll never say goodbye/Because I can’t stay mad at you.” She even promises, “I’ll love you ‘til I die.” Poor girl. That one is followed by a song by another artist that you likely know, Erma Franklin. Sure, her sister Aretha became much more famous, but Erma recorded that phenomenal original version of “Piece Of My Heart” a year before Big Brother And The Holding Company also had a hit with it. On this compilation she sings “I Don’t Want No Mama’s Boy,” and it is her excellent, powerful vocal delivery that elevates this tune to something special.

“The Rider” is one of the most interesting tracks on the album. It’s by a band called The Pussycats, whom you might not have heard of. But you almost certainly have heard of band member Abigail Haness. She was later in the band Jo Mama, and also sang with James Taylor and Carly Simon, among others. She also played Janet in the original U.S. production of The Rocky Horror Show, and according to one book I read provided Janet’s vocals on the soundtrack to the film The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Anyway, “The Rider” is a cool, strangely haunting tune. This song is another with a sudden ending. In fact, because it’s so abrupt, I assumed the actual ending was missing. Fortunately, that’s cleared up in the liner notes to this collection.

Another of my favorites from this album is “No News” by The Glories.  This is a powerful song with passionate vocals, and some cool work on horns. This song was released as a single in 1968, one of the best and most intriguing years for music. Carmen Cole’s rendition of “I Just Don’t Understand” is another of this disc’s highlights. It’s such a cool tune. Ann-Margret’s rendition was included on The Definitive Collection, which was released in March. Carmen Cole delivers an excellent version, and this one too features good work on harmonica. That’s followed by an unusual take on Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” by Little Eva. You know Little Eva from her hit “The Loco-motion” (which later was also a hit for Grand Funk Railroad). In 1965, she released this rockin’ rendition of “Stand By Me,” which is another highlight of this collection.

But my favorite track is Nichelle Nichols’ version of “Why Don’t You Do Right?” I’ve heard a lot of covers of this song over the years, and while I don’t think a single one of them has been bad, this one is a total delight. It’s just so much bloody fun, going in some unexpected directions. This one moves at a good pace, and opens with backing vocalists singing “Get out of town, get out of town.” And then Nichelle Nichols clearly has a good time with it. This track was actually the flip side to her single “Know What I Mean,” which was released in 1967, during the time when the original Star Trek series aired. This collection concludes with “Talk That Sweet Talk” by Dorothy Jones, a track that was previously unreleased. You probably know Dorothy Jones from her work with The Cookies. Here she delivers a song written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. It was recorded in 1961, and it’s strange that it was never released before, because it’s a really good track, with a strong vocal performance. “Oh baby, you’re kneeling at my feet now/And telling me I’m sweet now/You’re saying things that only time will show/Honey, talk that sweet talk/On Monday morning/Then I might believe that it’s so.”

CD Track List
  1. I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy – The What Four
  2. You’re My Loving Baby – The Sweet Things
  3. Don’t Monkey With Me – The Lollipops
  4. Sweet Hunk Of Misery – Linda Carr
  5. If You Can’t Say Anything Nice – Gia Mateo
  6. Baby You’re Mine – Sandi Sheldon
  7. I Can’t Stay Mad At You – Skeeter Davis
  8. I Don’t Want No Mama’s Boy – Erma Franklin
  9. The Rider – The Pussycats
  10. Gonna Make Him My Baby – April Young
  11. No News – The Glories
  12. Be Good To Your Baby – The Avons
  13. Gee Dad – Andrea Carroll
  14. I Wish I Had Known – Sandra Phillips
  15. I Just Don’t Understand – Carmen Cole
  16. Stand By Me – Little Eva
  17. Why Don’t You Do Right? – Nichelle Nichols
  18. Hangin’ On To My Baby – Tracey Dey
  19. Talk That Sweet Talk – Dorothy Jones 
Honeybeat: Groovy 60s Girl-Pop is scheduled to be released on April 21, 2017 through Real Gone Music.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cheap Trick: “The Epic Archive Vol. 1 (1975-1979)” (2017) CD Review

I’ve heard from many different people over the years that Cheap Trick puts on a fantastic concert. Somehow I have never managed to see them perform, even though I’ve been a fan of their music since I was a kid. I remember when I was ten, my family visited a radio station in Los Angeles – an easy listening station where my uncle worked at the time (I think the call letters were KJOI). The woman who gave us the tour could tell I wasn’t into the music playing over the speakers and she said to me, “You probably like Cheap Trick.” I confirmed her suspicions. Well, now with the release of The Epic Archive Vol. 1 (1975-1979), I get a chance to delve into some rare Cheap Trick tracks, including early demos and live recordings. This compilation includes liner notes with thoughts on the songs by drummer Bun E. Carlos.

This collection opens with three demos from 1975 – “Come On, Come On,” “Southern Girls” and “Taxman, Mr. Thief.” Versions of all three of those songs would end up on the band’s two 1977 releases, Cheap Trick and In Color. (And the demos of “Come On, Come On” and “Southern Girls” were included on the expanded edition of In Color.) Obviously, these early versions have a rawer sound. I especially like “Southern Girls,” one of my favorite early songs. This version of “Taxman, Mr. Thief” is significantly longer than the album version. I love the different intro here, with just drums before the guitar comes in.

“You’re All Talk” is a song that ended up on In Color, but apparently it had originally been recorded for Cheap Trick. That early studio version is included on this release (it was also included on the expanded edition of Cheap Trick). Similar to the official version, this track is really good. (This collection also provides a live version from 1977.) And it’s followed by an early studio version of “I Want You To Want Me,” one of the band’s most popular songs. This song was on In Color, but the version we always heard was the live one from At Budokan. I remember getting At Budokan on cassette. Didn’t we all own that album back then? I think so. It was that live version of “I Want You To Want Me” that got played on the radio. Still is, I think. Well, the song was recorded for the self-titled debut record, and it’s that version that is included here. It includes a slightly longer intro than the studio release version, and playful delivery of some of the lines. “Lookout” is a song that was included on At Budokan, but wasn’t initially included on a studio album, though it was recorded. The studio version is included on this disc. A second version of this song is also included – a live version from April 27, 1978 that was, before now, only available on a promotional CD. It’s a damn good version.

“I Dig Go-Go Girls” is an odd one, and I appreciate Bun E. Carlos’ thoughts on it in the liner notes. The instrumental version of “Oh Boy,” which was used as the flip side to the single of “I Want You To Want Me,” is also included on this release. There are also alternate versions of two songs from Heaven Tonight – “Stiff Competition” (a fun song about erections) and “Surrender.” “Surrender” is, of course, another of the band’s most famous tunes. It was an important song of my youth, one that demanded I crank the volume up on my stereo and dance around like a maniac. Who was I to refuse? This song was also on At Budokan, and it’s that version that I listened to the most when I was growing up. The alternate version included here is a lot of fun, and it includes some variations on the lyrics in the verse about the mommy being in the Women’s Army Corps, plus some additional joking at the end as the song fades out. It’s definitely one of the disc’s highlights. The alternate version of “Dream Police” included on this CD is a rough mix from before the strings were added. I think I actually prefer this version.

There are several live tracks in this collection. In addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned, there is a great version of “Goodnight Now,” here titled “Goodnight.” It might not have quite the same energy as the version from At Budokan, but it’s still a version definitely worth hearing. The single edit of “Ain’t That A Shame” is included. I’m glad to have this, but it is definitely weird to trim a live performance, and two minutes are cut from the At Budokan version. The last three tracks are all from 1979, and were originally included on Budokan II – “Stiff Competition,” “How Are You” and “On Top Of The World.”

CD Track List
  1. Come On, Come On (Demo)
  2. Southern Girls (Demo)
  3. Taxman, Mr. Thief (Demo)
  4. You’re All Talk (Early Studio Version)
  5. I Want You To Want Me (Early Studio Version)
  6. Lookout (Studio Version)
  7. I Dig Go-Go Girls (Outtake)
  8. Oh Boy (Instrumental Version)
  9. You’re All Talk (Live ’77)
  10. Goodnight (Live ’77)
  11. Stiff Competition (Alternate Version)
  12. Surrender (Alternate Version)
  13. Ain’t That A Shame (Live at Budokan ’78 – Single Edit)
  14. Lookout (Live in Japan ’78)
  15. Dream Police (No Strings Version)
  16. Stiff Competition (Live at Budokan ’79)
  17. How Are You (Live at Budokan ’79)
  18. On Top Of The World (Live at Budokan ’79)
The Epic Archive Vol. 1 (1975-1979) is scheduled to be released on April 28, 2017 through Real Gone Music. It was made available digitally in 2015, though that version is without the second version of “Lookout,” the live version from 1978.

The Loft Club: “Heart’s Desire EP” (2016) CD Review

The Loft Club is a relatively new British band with a certain 1960s flavor to its music, which is rock with folk elements to certain tunes. Based in Exeter, the band consists of Daniel Schamroth on vocals and guitar, Jamie Whyte on bass and vocals, Kieran Chalmers on drums, Amy O'Loughlin on vocals and Dan Wright on guitar. Though The Loft Club is fairly new, this band was previously known as Daniel Schamroth And The British Wildflowers (apparently needing to change the name for legal reasons when they were signed to their label). The group’s debut release, Heart’s Desire EP, features all original music written by Daniel Schamroth.

The EP opens with its title track, “Heart’s Desire,” a catchy rock tune with a good groove and energy. “Step back, brother/Step back from your heart’s desire/Wash your mouth with soap and water/Dirty beggar, don’t speak your mind.” The band has released a music video for this song, which was shot in a museum. The EP also includes a remix of this song by Niklas Ibach, a young music producer based in Stuttgart, Germany. This rendition has quite a different feel, with an interesting intro and a different beat and tempo. It’s cool, though I prefer the original version. (By the way, there is also a music video for this version of the song, focusing on a dancer.)

“Heart’s Desire” is followed by “Flicker,” which has a prettier feel from the start, in the guitar work. It has something of a folk-rock vibe, and perhaps my favorite vocal performance of the CD. There is something warm and tender in the vocal delivery, a kindness and concern. “You flicker like a flame/You set the world on fire/Until you burn away/But it hurts me now/’Cause I feel your pain.” My favorite track, however, is “I’m Just A Man.” I love this one right from the start, with its great bass line, and that 1960s guitar like it’s ready to howl. And then when it kicks in, this song becomes something of a dance tune (maybe I’m crazy, but I could hear The Eurythmics doing this one). Yeah, this song has everything going for it. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Give me two strong arms/So I can protect myself/Give me a long last drink/So I forget myself/You know I would cry for you/So why’d you ask me to.” And I love the guitar at the end.

Then “Sticks & Stones” begins with lyrics delivered a cappella, sounding beautiful. “It’s only sticks and stones/Rolling me the wrong way home/Tangled in your spinning wheel/Goes so fast you just can feel.” After the song kicks in, it develops a very positive sound. This is one I like more and more each time I listen to this disc. “I’ve played the victim, I’ve played the fool/It’s no beginner that you’re talking to.”

CD Track List
  1. Heart’s Desire
  2. Flicker
  3. I’m Just A Man
  4. Sticks & Stones
  5. Heart’s Desire (Niklas Ibach Remix) 
Heart’s Desire EP was originally released on October 14, 2016 through Lightyear Entertainment, initially without the fifth track. The fifth track was released in November.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pete Kronowitt: “A Lone Voice” (2016) CD Review

Our nation has entered some seriously dark times. Just today I had two people tell me they were going to report me to the authorities for humorous comments I made about Donald Trump, and they were serious. And they were proud, and they felt righteous. It’s a case of the worst that this country has to offer suddenly feeling itself in a position of power, people who ordinarily might be silent suddenly shouting their insane thoughts to the rest of us and expecting us to bow under the heavy waves of their nonsense. In a time when we desperately need gun control, we have a delusional bastard at the helm eliminating the gun regulations that were in place, arguing that we need guns in schools and that the mentally ill should be allowed to purchase weapons. At a time when it is critical for us to address climate change, we have an administration that wants to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency altogether. Meanwhile our privacy is quickly disappearing, giving way to corporate and government interests (the two being difficult to tell apart these days), with Donald Trump eliminating online privacy protections. These are dark times.

Fortunately, there are many voices rising up against this dangerous tide of tyranny. One such voice is that of singer/songwriter Pete Kronowitt. On his fourth full-length album, A Lone Voice, Pete Kronowitt offers reason and truth, two things that are completely lacking in the current government. Joining him on this album are Phil Madeira on guitar, piano, organ and accordion; David Mansfield on guitar, mandolin, and violin; Chris Donohue on bass; and Dennis Holt on drums. Also, he is joined by backing vocalists on certain tracks. All of these songs are originals, written or co-written by Pete Kronowitt.

Pete Kronowitt kicks off the CD with “Change Is Gonna Come.” Yes, this song contains a positive, optimistic perspective and message, something we all need right now. “All it takes is just your voice/Change is gonna come.” One verse that I love is about the politician who won’t accept corporate funding: “I may not get elected/Without some change from everyone.” Of course I appreciate the play on the word “change.” By the way, this song has an upbeat, positive sound as well. On this song, Pete Kronowitt is joined by Halley Elwell, Eric Kamm, Justin Hetrick, Jack Kertzman, Judith May and Jaimeson Durr on backing vocals. “Change Is Gonna Come” is followed by “Got Guns?” I am diametrically opposed to guns. I don’t believe there is a single person on this planet sane enough to be allowed to own one. And the idea that the solution to the gun problem is more guns is just as absurd as it sounds. As you might guess, this song is one of my favorites, and it is sadly ever more pertinent each day, especially with Donald Trump apparently determined to get guns into the hands of children and the mentally ill. These lines, for example, seem particularly apt in light of Donald’s recent activities (and this album was released in the summer of 2016): “Don’t tell me that you’re too young/If you have a hand, get a gun/Guns on the playground, guns at school” and “Guns in asylums, guns in bars/What do you do without a gun in your car?” And hey, don’t be surprised if you find yourself dancing around to this song.

Not all of the songs on this album, however, have political messages. “Tears On The Back Of Her Head” is a mellow and incredibly moving song with a much more personal feel and some beautiful work on violin. Some lines of this song nearly have me in tears, such as “I’m trying to remember every word she ever said” and “She’s moving on without me.” That’s followed by “You Are Here,” a pretty and gentle song that might remind you a bit of some of Eric Clapton’s material. “Holding Your Hand” is a beautiful love song, and is one of my favorites of the album. Halley Elwell joins him on vocals on this one. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Years pass like a whisper/After all we’ve been through/But I can’t imagine time without you/The distance between us just disappears.” I am thankful for this song, for it’s making me feel closer to my love tonight. “There ain’t nothing like holding your hand.”

“Necessary Evils” is an upbeat country rock song with a strong message, and more good work on violin. The phrase “necessary evil” always seemed bizarre to me, like accepting of something that certainly shouldn’t ever be accepted. “Unemployment keeps wages down/So business makes profit, the economy is sound.” This song and at least one or two others remind me a bit of Elvis Costello. Then “Puppet Master” has a fun groove, and also a message. “That puppet master puts on a damn good show/You think you know what is true.” That’s certainly an issue these days. What is true? What is real? In a land where the leader lies with every single breath, while remaining completely unashamed, even cocky, Truth is a rare commodity. And the idea of it being a commodity is also part of the point, isn’t it? “Just because it’s shiny and new/Doesn’t mean it is true/Folks can be bought in this red, white and blue/We’re all bought and sold in this red, white and blue.”

“Body, Choice & Mind” is another important song, dealing with a woman’s right to choose (something else that is threatened by Donald Trump’s regime). “Don’t let personal circumstance/Dictate your stance, dictate your stance/Roe vs. Wade, it’s the decision/Don’t let them make a fatal revision/No butcher’s going to cut no friend of mine.  There is a cool instrumental section with some nice work on keys. This song has a bluesy edge. In “The Beast,” Pete Kronowitt sings, “I can’t read the paper/Too much bad news out there/All this violence and killing/Nobody seems to care.”  The album ends with an intimate song titled “Perfect Day.” “You had a perfect day/Then you went far away/And all the pain and all the fear/That one day did disappear.”

CD Track List
  1. Change Is Gonna Come
  2. Got Guns?
  3. Tears On The Back Of Her Head
  4. You Are Here
  5. Necessary Evils
  6. Puppet Master
  7. Holding Your Hand
  8. Body, Choice & Mind
  9. Follow The Leader
  10. The Beast
  11. She Gives
  12. Perfect Day
A Lone Voice was released on July 15, 2016 through Mean Bean Records.

James Gilroy Kane: “AMFIMINAL” (2017) CD Review

I am thoroughly enjoying UK singer and songwriter James Gilroy Kane’s new release, AMFIMINAL, the follow-up to his 2013 album, Behind the Blues. It features all original material, written by James Gilroy Kane. Joining him on this CD are Dave Gould on bass, banjo and backing vocals; Wilf Hodgson on bass; Geoff Bamford on drums; Paul Godden on dobro; Jean Godden on fiddle; and Keith Holmes on backing vocals.

The album opens with “Sinatra In The Rain,” one of my favorite tracks.  I love the easygoing folk and country rock vibes of this song. It has a friendly feel, which is something we can all use these days, particularly as things become nuttier and nuttier out there. There is even a bit of whistling at the end of the tune, and a little nod to “Singing In The Rain.” This is one of the tracks on which Wilf Hodgson plays bass. It’s followed by “Grandma’s Garden,” another of the disc’s highlights. This is happy folk tune with some nice work on banjo (an instrument that almost always makes me smile) and fiddle. It feels like friends gathered on someone’s front porch for a little fun. So grab a partner, and hold on tight. “Let’s all go out to play/Just like we did yesterday/Sitting in the sun/Swinging on the swing/All in Grandma’s garden/I know you, you know me/We’re all happy as can be/Tell a story/Tell a little lie/What is the problem if we cry.” By the way, in this song, he mentions kissing a woman named Molly. James Gilroy Kane has another song titled “Molly,” and so I’m wondering if these references are to a specific woman in his life.

“Simple Love Song” is, as its title promises, a simple and sweet love song that I can’t help but like. It has both pop and folk elements, and it rubs me exactly the right way, you know? It opens with these lines: “I can’t stop my feelings, I just love you/If you never knew before, you know now.” Indeed. That’s certainly one way to let someone know, in a love song that is, in a way, about love songs. “Here we are, talking about love songs that we knew/Things we thought we had lost, lovers not so true/I can’t help these feelings if I miss you/Even though you’re not so far away.” The lines that caught my attention the first time I listened to this disc, the lines I want to sing to a special someone, who will totally understand, are: “I can’t stop my arms that want to hold you/To feel your body close against my skin/And I can’t help but say to you, I love you.” Not bad, eh? Interestingly, this disc contains a second version of this song, with James Gilroy Kane on vocals and acoustic guitar (and, I’m guessing, foot stomping), unaccompanied by other musicians. I like both versions a lot. This second version has a more intimate feel.

“High Land” is a sweet-sounding country song, and is another of this album’s strong tracks. I think fans of Wilco and Son Volt will dig this song. This one delivers some good, positive vibes. “That’s where I belong/Always will.” Another favorite from this album is “The Bell,” partly because of that great folk rock groove, and also because of that wonderful work on dobro. “I will hear you call my name/I will see you smile again.” This song also features some nice work on fiddle. This CD concludes with a pretty song titled “Angel Of The South.” This is the track to feature Keith Holmes on backing vocals. “You wear your innocence with a smile/Trusting all you see/If I could reach to hold your hand/Have you close to me.”

CD Track List
  1. Sinatra In The Rain
  2. Grandma’s Garden
  3. Simple Love Song
  4. You Knew Me Better
  5. High Land
  6. Losing My Way
  7. Simple Love Song (solo)
  8. The Bell
  9. Digging My Hole The Movie
  10. Angel Of The South
AMFIMINAL is available now through Crow Cragg Music. At least, I assume it is. Strangely, there is very little information about this artist, and basically no mention of this album online, or even about the label (in fact, the web site listed on the back of the CD case doesn’t seem to exist). Actually, my listing it as a 2017 release is little more than a guess. I have absolutely no idea when this CD came out, or if it’s even out. It is very strange that there is no information about it.